Friday, October 20, 2006

Pentecost 20, Oct. 22, 2006

A personal word: A few weeks ago I wrote about the health problems of my wife’s mother (Jean) and uncle (“Grits”). Things have not gotten better. Indeed in Jean’s case, they have gotten much worse. Grits, (it’s a silly nickname he got in the army because he wouldn’t eat them. He’s not a redneck, far from it. He’s a globe-trotting chemical engineering consultant with tours in China and Argentina and Russia among other places) had surgery to remove his tumor. They got most of it, and he has been sent home. He is engaged in a treatment regimen.

Jean has been diagnosed with widespread cancer and there are no treatment options, no surgery, no chemo. We are awaiting a hospice bed. No real predictions of course, but time is relatively short.

Compared to that, my troubles are minor. We came to Gibsonville on Sept. 20.
I had my first Sunday on September 24. We got the call about Jean on the 25th. Deborah has been at her side at the hospital ever since. I have been looking for us a place to stay, we still have a house somewhere else to look after and I’m staying in an extended stay hotel, waiting for the condo I’m renting to open up.

So pray for us. I’m not able to help much with this week’s texts. I was struck by the line in the Hebrews lesson which say, “in the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard.” He was heard, and yet he died.

When I was about 12 or 13 years old, I was in the Boy Scouts. (I was a lousy Boy Scout. I knew one knot, I never earned a merit badge, and I got caught smoking on camp outs). Our troop was sponsored by the Red Bank Ruritan Club, of which my Daddy was a member. One night at Scouts, we were running a race and I tripped. I fell face down in the gravel on the side of the road. I lodged a piece of gravel in the skin on my forehead. The local Doctor was also our assistant Scoutmaster, so he took me to his office a quarter mile down the road. Daddy was there that night helping out and went with us.

I laid there on that cold table, hurting and scared. Dr. Tullidge was a good doctor but his bed-side manner ran a bit to the brusque side. He came at me with a huge needle . I was and still am deathly afraid of needles. I looked at Daddy standing in the corner and started crying and yelling, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, don’t let him hurt me, please Daddy. Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.

Dr. Tullidge threw a huge leg over me to hold me down , put his left arm down on my chest and proceeded to insert the needle. I continued to cry and beg Daddy to make him stop. And just as the needle entered, I saw my Daddy’s knuckles turn white as he clutched my jacket. I looked up at his face and saw a tear in the corner of his eye. It was the only time in my youth that I saw him cry.
DADDY, DADDY, DADDY! I WAS heard, and I was denied.

Jesus cried to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard, and yet he was denied. This is the mystery of our faith, the mystery of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah, the mystery of the Cup of wrath and the Baptism of Death of our Gospel lesson. It is in the contemplation of this mystery that we find both our God and our calling.



Saturday 5 PM Here's ther sermon I came up with:
PENTECOST 20 October 22, 2006

Isaiah 53:4-12
Psalm 91:9-16
Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:35-45

Title: “And He Was Heard?”

Father Ed was pastor of a tidy little Catholic Church on the strip in North Myrtle Beach. A few years ago on Good Friday morning, he removed the purple Lent banners from the three wooden crosses in the churchyard and carefully draped the crosses with long black shrouds.

He took a few minutes to pray and enjoy the spring sunshine, then he went back to the office to write sermons and prepare bulletins for the Great Three Days ahead.Early on that Good Friday afternoon, Father Ed received a phone call from the North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce. A tense and angry voice said,

Look Preacher, we’ve been getting some complaints about those black crosses out in your churchyard. Now inside the church, who cares? But out front, where everybody can see them, they’re offensive.
The retired people here don’t like them–they’re depressing! And the tourists don’t like them either. People come down here to get happy and have a good time, not to get depressed. IT WILL BE BAD FOR BUSINESS!

The Cross was, and still is, Offensive, Depressing and Bad for Business.

All three of our Scripture lessons make reference in one way or another to the offense of the cross, the suffering and death of Jesus offered as a sacrifice to Gad and a ransom for our souls.

In Isaiah 53, we read of the person whom the scholars called
“The Suffering Servant”. (Point out and read verses 4 and 5)Though it is doubtful that the prophet Isaiah clearly foresaw a person like Jesus fulfilling this role far into the future, it is clear that Jewish religious thinking had made a connection between one or a few suffering and dying to spare and free the many. And it is no surprise that the early Christians, all Jews and all familiar with the Prophetic writings, immediately recognized in Isaiah’s description of the Suffering One the life and death of Jesus.

The verses in Mark which occur immediately before our Gospel lesson have Jesus clearly explaining to the disciples what is going to happen to him. Listen:

The son of man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.

And almost as soon as these words were out of his mouth,
James and John said,
Can we be the #1 and #2 power people in your Administration?

Obviously, they didn’t get what he was talking about. So Jesus tries again. The talk about Cup and Baptism refer to the Cup of God’s Wrath and the Baptism of Death. Jesus refers to the cup again in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prays that the Cup might pass over him.

They still don’t get it, so Jesus just shakes his head and says,
You will suffer and die, but honors are up to God not me.

Verses 7, 8 and 9 from Hebrews point again to the cross:

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all....

The Rabbis taught that there were three levels of prayer
1) verbal: outloud or silent, it is thought out and controlled
2) Loud cries: shouting at God
3) Tears: pure emotion and pain

Notice our text, in an obvious reference to the Garden, says that Jesus engaged in all three: Prayers and supplications, loud cries and tears pouring out his fear and pain to God. The Chamber of Commerce man from North Myrtle Beach said the Cross was offensive and depressing. Well, if we feel like that just thinking about it, this text lets us know how Jesus felt when he stared it in the face and knew it was his fate.

Jesus was not suicidal, not a “willing martyr,” happily going to his death with visions of grandeur in his mind, he was not deluded. He was very much aware of what this meant and he fought against it, crying out as the text says:

"to the one who was able to save him from death and he was heard."

This cuts to the very heart of the issue. Jesus knew that his path led to death. Jesus knew that God could save him from this fate. And Jesus was not ashamed to let his fears and feelings be known.

What agony! You could save me if you would! But you won’t!
Why won’t you? Why won’t you?
My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?!

He was heard . . . the text says, and yet he died. And yet he died.

When I was about 12 or 13, I was in the Boy Scouts. Our troop was sponsored by the Red Bank Ruritan Club. My Daddy was a member and was one of the Dads who helped out. One night we were playing around in the parking lot after out meeting and fell while racing some other boys, I het squarely on my forehead in the gravel, and a piece of gravel got lodged under the skin against my skull. You can still see the scar.

Our Scoutmaster was also the local Doctor and his clinic was across the road, so he and Daddy took me in there to tend to my wound. I was scared and hurting as I shivered on the cold examining table. Dr. Tullidge was a good doctor, but he had a lousy bedside manner, more appropriate for crusty farmers than little boys.

He washed his hands and then made some instruments ready, all the while chatting with Daddy about the deer he had killed on his last hunting trip. Suddenly he turned toward me with a needle the size of a baseball bat, or so it seemed to me. I never did like needles. I looked at Daddy and started crying and yelling
DADDY, DADDY, DADDY don’t let him hurt me1 please, please, DADDY, DADDY, DADDY.

Dr. Tullidge threw a huge leg over me to hold me down and put his left arm across my chest and swabbed my wound with alcohol, then approached with that needle. I continued to cry and beg Daddy to make him stop. And just as the needle entered my forehead, I saw my Daddy’s hands, clutching my jacket. The knuckles had turned white. I looked up at his face and saw a tear in the corner of his eye, the only time I ever saw him cry.

DADDY, DADDY, DADDY! I was heard, Oh yes, I was heard. And I was denied.

Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered, and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation . . .

That is the great mystery of our faith. That where we are,
in the midst of sin and suffering, decay and death;
Christ has been, fully completely, totally.

Whatever is the worst that you have been through, no matter how scared, lonely, lost and forsaken you have been, Jesus has been there!

Have you ever felt abandoned by God? Jesus has been there!

Have you ever wondered how you were going to make it one more day? Jesus has been there!

And the promise of the Gospel is that where Jesus is now, we are going. The Gospel is that God brought Jesus through to the other side of the Cross. The Gospel is, God can and will carry YOU through as well.

God calls us to follow Him. It is not an easy way, it is not a painless path, it is not smooth sailing. Jesus’ way is the Way of the Cross. But the joyous paradox and mystery of the Gospel is:


For all of us, from the greatest to the least, from the oldest to the youngest,
from the power brokers to the powerless, from the first to the last,
all roads lead to, and through and beyond the Cross to Christ.

"Who was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities,
upon him was the punishment which made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed."

Amen and amen

Friday, October 13, 2006

PENTECOST 19: RCL Texts for Ovt. 15, 2006

Pentecost 19 October 15, 2006
Texts: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15, Hebrews 4:12-16, Mark 10:17-31

Title: The Rich Young Ruler and Us

I have a question for you. How rich are you? The story in our gospel lesson is often called the story of the Rich Young Ruler because Matthew calls him young and Luke calls him a ruler and all three call him rich. So we know he’s rich. The question is, do we think his story applies to us? How rich are we?

Economist Robert Heilbroner suggests a little mental exercise that will help us to see what daily life is like for more than a billion people in the world. Close your eyes and imagine your home.

1 - Take all the furniture out of your home, except for one table and a couple of chairs. Use a blanket and pads for beds.

2 - Take away all of your clothing except your oldest outfit and only one shirt or blouse. Leave only one pair of shoes.

3 - Empty the pantry and the refrigerator except for a small
bag of flour, some sugar and salt, and a few potatoes, some onions and some dried beans.

4 - Dismantle the bathroom, shut off the running water, and
remove all the electrical wiring in your house.

5 - Take away the house itself and move the family into the tool shed.

6 - Move out of your current neighborhood into a ghetto of
makeshift buildings and mud streets.

7 - Cancel all subscriptions to all magazines and newspapers
and get rid of all books.

8 - Leave only one radio for the whole community.

9 - Move the nearest hospital ten miles away and replace the doctor with a mid-wife.

10 - Throw away all your bankbooks, stock certificates, pension plans and insurance policies. Leave the family a cash hoard of $10.

11 - Give yourself a few acres outside the ghetto on which you can grow cash crops. On this land you earn $300 a year,of which one third will go to the landowner, and one tenth to the loan shark.

12 - Lop 25 years off your life expectancy.

Now, sit and think about it, what it would feel like. And now, realize that one BILLION people in this world live like that.

Here’s the question again; how rich are you?

And the answer is, Pretty Darn Rich in the eyes of the rest of the world.

Keep that in mind as we listen again to the story in our Gospel lesson: (read again Mark 10: 17-22)

If we don’t think we’re rich, we might hear that story and think to ourselves, “How sad for that young man. He just couldn’t let go of all that money and accept Jesus.” And we shake our heads and feel sorry for him.

BUT, if we realize that in comparison with billions around the world, we are the rich; then we will hear this story differently and we will begin to challenge ourselves as to how we have responded to Jesus’ call, especially in respect to our use of our belongings.

In our story , the man comes to Jesus with a question. Though it looks like a personal question, it really isn’t. When he asks “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” he is simply trying to find out where Jesus stands on questions of Jewish faith and practice. He has heard of Jesus, has seen the crowds and wants to find out what Jesus’ basic teaching is.

When I was a kid, all the people of my Grandparents generation divided time between before the depression and after the War. My generation divides time between before the Sixties and after the Sixties. I’m sure many will begin to divide time between before 9/11 and after 9/11.

The Jewish Community of 2000 years ago divided time between the Present Time and the Time to Come; or the Current Age versus the Kingdom of God. They believed the Present Time to be corrupt and evil and were anticipating a time when God would come and make everything right, a time of justice and peace, right here on earth, not pie in the sky, by and by.

So, the Rich Man was a seeker, trying to find out Jesus’ take on what it took to be included in God’s future. And two things are clear: he was a genuinely good man and Jesus genuinely liked him. Jesus also recognized that the man was holding something back in his commitment to God, he “lacked one thing,” so Jesus hit him with it, “Go, sell what you own and give the money to the poor.”

Then Jesus says to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples are shocked, for despite the teachings of the prophets, like our First Lesson from Amos, most of the people of Jesus' time believed wealth to be a sign of God’s blessing.

That’s why they said, “Who then can be saved?” “If the rich can’t make it, there’s no chance for a poor man like me.”

Here’s the real important question: Why is wealth,(riches, filthy lucre, mammon), such a spiritual problem? What is it about possessions that makes it difficult for ”those who have wealth” to enter the Kingdom?

It is not wrong or evil for a Christian to be wealthy. It is not an automatic injustice for there to be an imbalance of the world’s resources. Poverty is not a particularly virtuous condition. So why did Jesus say this? And, did it apply only to this one man, or do his words apply to all of us?

The problem with wealth is that it leads people to be dependent upon, to rely upon, to put their trust in something other than God. The trouble with money can be summed up as the idolatry factor. Martin Luther, in his Large Catechism, said,

"A “god” is the term for that to which we are to look for all good and in which we are to find refuge in all need. . .Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say, that is really your God."

Jesus looked at the rich young ruler and loved him. Loved him because he was a good man seeking to follow after God’s will and way in his life. Jesus also looked at him and realized that the man’s stuff was getting in the way of his relationship with God. Jesus’ command, GO, SELL, GIVE! Cut to the quick of the man’s spiritual problem; his heart relied upon and trusted his stuff more than it trusted and relied upon God.

Now, here’s an important point: people always assume that the man didn’t do what Jesus said, but the Bible doesn’t say that. It says he went away grieving. It’s entirely possible he was grieving the loss of his stuff, not the loss of his soul.

Not everybody who gives in to God is happy about it. CS Lewis, who gave us the wonderful Children’s books The Chronicles of Narnia and many other books on Christianity for adults, called himself the most reluctant convert in history, claiming he came kicking and screaming into the Kingdom of God.

We, like the rich young ruler, are confronted with a question today. We know we’re rich, and Jesus wants to know if our riches are getting in the way of our relationship with God?

Do we trust our bank accounts and our retirement plans and our stock holdings and our land values and job potential, etc. etc. more than we trust God?

What are we to do? Sell all and give it to the poor? But I have obligations, responsibilities. Should I and my family and my mother and my mother-in-law and my dog become impoverished for the sake of my soul? Does my becoming poor really help the poor?

Our calling today is two-fold. Step one is to examine our hearts and minds and souls and discover there where our true allegiance lies. Is there anything that comes before God in our lives? Anything at all.

In the movie Chariots of Fire, devout Christian runner Eric Liddel refuses to run on the Sabbath in the Paris Olympics.The powers that be just don’t understand. He is called in for a chat with the British Olympic Committee. He says that his loyalty to God comes first. And the old, aristocratic head of the committee snarls, “In my day, it was country first, then God.” Finding out if there’s anything more important in our life than God. That’s step one.

Step two is deceptively simple. If there is anything that is more important to you than God, get rid of it. Like I said, deceptively simple. Simple to say. Hard to do. Eliminating those things in our life which draw us away from God will take us, quite literally, the rest of our lives. That’s why they call it “practicing a religion.” We never get it exactly right.

Which is why the most important words in this text are these

With mortals it is impossible, but not for God.
For God, all things are possible.

You are invited today to turn loose of those things you cling to which are not God so that you will be free to grab onto God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.



Saturday, October 07, 2006

Pentecost 18, October 8, 2006

Pentecost 18 October 8, 2006
Texts: Genesis 2:18-24, Psalm 8, Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-112, Mark 10:2-16
Title: This Here Battle . . .

If you’ve ever been through Chattanooga, TN, you know that Lookout Mountain looms over the city. On Nov. 24, 1863 one of the most interesting battles of the Civil War took place on that mountain. Many mornings, as the sun comes up, a ring of fog hangs about halfway up the cliffs above the Tennessee River, with the sun shining brightly on the mountaintop above and the city below.

On the fated day, the Confederates had artillery on top of the mountain, preventing the Union from using the river for supply shipments and troop movements. The Federals were determined to silence those cannon. The fighting centered in the foggy area. Between the fog and the peculiar terrain and the general confusion of war,
things were a mess.

The story is told that a Confederate General happened upon a severely wounded private and ordered him to “get to the rear,” out of harm’s way. The Private saluted and replied “Yes Sir.”
A bit later, the general happened upon the private again,
“Son, I thought I told you to get to the rear!” The Private drew himself up, saluted and said, “Begging the General’s pardon Sir, I been trying, but this here battle ain’t got no rear!”

We all know how he feels. Since 9/11, 5 years ago, it seems like there has been a continuous worsening of the state of the world and the human condition.

War, Terrorism, the Economy, nasty politics, disease, basic human values ignored, a coarsening of our culture, families falling apart, we could go on and on with how its not like it used to be. And things that used to be urban, city problems have invaded the country. Is there nowhere safe?

This week, we learned more about a Congressman preying on vulnerable teenagers and on Tuesday a seriously disturbed man walked into an Amish schoolhouse in PA and did the unimaginable and we learned for certain that NO, there is no safe place; THIS HERE BATTLE AIN’T GOT NO REAR! All week long the image of Jesus protecting/blessing little children competed in my mind with the terrifying thoughts of those little girls in their long dresses and bonnets, lined up in a row. And you have to ask yourself: How did things get this way?

Surely this is not what God intended for the world and for the children of God, the people of the world.. What went wrong? And what can we do about it? What must we, the followers and disciples of Jesus, do in response to a world that is dangerous and out of control?

How did we get in this mess?
For our First Lesson, we read one of the Creation stories
in Genesis. It is a charming little vignette about God trying to find a fit companion for Adam. It’s kind of funny as God acts like a shoe salesman trying to fit a finicky customer. God brings out animals big and small, sleek and furry, ferocious and tame, clean and nasty, everything in the store.

And Adam looks at them and says, “Well, it’s nice, it’s interesting, it’s a . . .a raccoon. But it’s just not what I’m looking for.” And God brings out another and Adam says, “Well, its , its, its BIG, very BIG, and shiny, very SHINY. It’s an, uh, an uh, Hippopotamus. But its just not for me.”

And so it goes through all the animals, and still nothing seems to work. So God decides to do a custom job, just for Adam, to his particular specifications.
It’s a good story. And it’s an important story, for it reminds us of a couple of things. It reminds us that we, all of us, are God’s special and beloved creations. It also reminds us that we are all, male and female, equal partners in life, that the point of marriage is companionship and shared life journeys. That is God’s intention.

Now, fast forward several thousand years to the time of Jesus and the story told in our Gospel lesson. The Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus into saying something that would get him into trouble with the King. King Herod had married his brother’s ex-wife. Worse than that, he had forced his brother into divorcing her so he could marry her. Worse than that, he had killed John the Baptist for preaching about it.

So they asked Jesus, in front of the crowds, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Jesus turned it back on them, “What did Moses say?” (continue from verse 4 -9)

For us this morning, the key words are in verse 6,
“Because of your hardness of heart” , another way to put it is; because of your inability to live in accordance with God’s plans and intentions.

At the time of Jesus, many men used the divorce laws as a way to escape familial responsibility. Without a husband, women were often in quite dire straits, and many men tossed aside wives for quite trivial reasons. The law said you could divorce your wife if you found anything “unseemly” in her. Some Rabbis interpreted that in terms of sexual immorality, but many said it could be anything the husband didn’t like, such as burning his dinner.

For Jesus, tightening up the attitude toward divorce was a matter of justice for woman, and a call to taking God’s intentions for married life seriously. When Jesus says “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.” this is holding men accountable for their behavior in a very provocative way,
for adultery was not a minor accusation and it carried with it the death penalty.

Now I know that Jesus strict words here are painful to persons who have been through divorce, and are difficult for many to hear. I have two siblings who are divorced and two others who are married to divorced people, so I am not insensitive to this. It is important to note that Jesus was very forgiving of divorced persons. I think particularly of the woman at the well, who had had many husbands and was living outside of marriage with another man. Jesus was not condemnatory toward her, but rather was pastoral and kind.

It is not Jesus intent to condemn those who have suffered through a difficult marriage and decided to end it before causing more pain to themselves or others. His intent is to recall people to the purpose of committed relationships, which is the completion of our created humanity in companionship and partnership. His intent is to call us away from relationships which are hurtful and abusive and unequal.

Now just as God created human committed companionship as a good thing, but because of Human Hardness of Heart, this good thing became a bent and ruptured and incomplete thing; so it is with all of God’s creation.

Humanity has taken the good things God made and gave into our care and we have messed them up. That is the basic story. Psalm 8 says that God made us little lower than the angels, and that he gave us mastery over the world. How have we done, taking care of things?

Not very well, I’m afraid. And it is getting frighteningly worse, and we are constantly reminded, that this here battle ain’t got no rear. There’s no place to hide. We must stand forth and be a part of the solution. If not, we must count ourselves as part of the problem.

What are we to do? How can we become a part of the solution? What is our calling today? As always, it is to be imitators of Christ, followers in the footsteps of our Lord.

In Hebrews, the writer traces a scenario in which we are reminded that Jesus gave up privilege and power with God to come to earth as one of us, to suffer with us, and to show us what true humanity was intended to be. Jesus
was God in our midst, in our presence, in our bodies and circumstances, God on our level, God with the same temptations and problems and hurts and wants and needs as any of us, and he suffered loss and rejection and fear just like we do. And he managed to stay the course of love and forgiveness to the end.

And we are called to do the same. We are called to raise our heads above the fog and confusion of daily life and look to the bright Sun of God’s love burning above us.
We are called to lift our hearts above our fear and to step forward with love and forgiveness for those who frighten us. In the end, it is the only way.
Aq few years ago, Harrison Ford starred in a movie called WITNESS. It was about a little Amish boy who accidentally witnessed a murder. Policeman Ford hid with the little boy in Amish country. The title had a double meaning. It referred to the little boy who saw the violence. It also referred to the effect, the witness, the Amish life had on the Policeman character Ford played.

Movie life has become real life this week. I have been deeply moved by the Witness the Amish community has made in the wake of the killings. The way they have reached out to the family of the killer has been extraordinary. They have literally and spiritually embraced them. They have spoken sincere words of forgiveness and reconciliation. When money began pouring in, they asked the Mennonite Disaster Relief team to set aside funds for Roberts’ wife and children. They have witnessed to us what ruly Christlike behavior is.

And the question for us today is this. Will we embrace the way of the cross as the only truly safe place in this world? Amen and amen.