Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Fun, Justice, a Good Story, irreverence, good guys and bad guys. We all love a good story. The book of Esther joins the canon of scripture because everyone loves it. Nothing about God, unless you read it in, or prayer or religiousness. But, the self-evidence that a sacrificial act that moves toward justice is as faithful as it gets. But it is also muddy: when the "good" guys win and slaughter the "bad" guys how much do we really progress? So we yell and make a lot of noise and hope that in 2500 years we've learned a few things. But newspapers this morning still have Bagdad front and center, good guys and bad guys and justice issues muddy enough for all of time. Which side are we on now?
Vacation Bible School week, culminating in Vacation Bible School Sunday. I am sure glad that the kidney stone is gone because a lot of jumping was involved. So much fun. We had great kids, no serious problems, tons of help, food pictures, aforementioned jumping and dancing, and best of all time to talk with these wonderful children.
We built the worship service in traditional United Methodist form, but music all came from Galaxy Blast, and the experiences of the different parts of worship were all the way we did things in Galaxy Blast. The real winner of the day was when the kids took their two paper cups with about 18 inches of string between them and a spoon tied to the middle, and got the adults to hold the cups over their ears and bang the spoon on something. At first most everyone was thinking it was a joke, but when the first adult sprang up from their seat saying, “church bells”, then more and more tried this exciting little trick
Saturday, August 7, 2010
I just preached on the story of Elijah a couple of weeks ago to the church in McKinleyville to talk about transitions. It is fun to preach on the same text so close together in very different contexts. Today I tell the story to talk about how we hear God and about some changes in how we see God at work.
The old prophets are given as a gift to the people of Israel to counteract the power of the king (or queen). This is the dynamic story of the powerful clash between the people of faith and the people fallen into idolatry, personified as a clash between the wicked rulers Jezebel and Ahab and the faithful Prophet Elijah. They square off in a shoot out on top of Mount Carmel. But oddly enough, even though we have the story of a great miracle. Nothing changes.
In church Jim Stanfield commented that it doesn’t make any difference what great work or sign we get, we tend not to change until we want to change. So, the emphasis goes from miracle and power to finding the truth. So, Elijah’s next connection with God shows God not in the powerful signs of earthquake and storm and fire, but in the silence which is where most of us have to sort through God’s voice in our lives. Elijah’s word is that God isn’t in the miracle signs but in the voice as still as silence that is within us already. It will be this voice that will lead us to the Messiah, the child of promise.
This week I am off on vacation, a time of rest and walking to build my strength up. I am grateful to Chris Wennerholm and Lois Hunt for helping the congregation this week. Chris used Spanish to help members of the congregation see that is it uncomfortable sometimes when we try to build a life when we can’t even understand the language.
Ruth is a Moabite. This becomes very important when we get past the story and realize that this story is here because Ruth is King David’s grandmother. A young foreigner joins with an abandoned Jewish mother in law and the two outcasts return to the Holy Land and by their faith and some shrewd planning find a new home, new family, and become spiritual grandmothers of the faith.
The sermon, read by Lois Hunt, was an epistle from Pastor Ted to the Church in Fortuna and explores something of the issues around the increase in other races and cultures that is growing in Fortuna Ca and in the rest of the world. You can read the text of this epistle here.
Concerning our Grandmother Ruth
Grace and Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be upon each of you this day.
As you read this letter I am hopefully resting near the ocean in Mendocino County, a testament to my love of the coast as I go on vacation in a place nearly identical to our home.
I remember you this day with the peace and joy in my heart that comes only from the grace of God that is present with each of us in this very moment binding us together even when we are separated. That connection so fills me with joy that I know that God works in you at all times and that Jesus makes a home for each one of us in this grand day. Of course each day is another grand day and so strung together we are given the gift of a life lived in the presence of God. And this moment by moment presence is our true home.
But not so for all of us. I remember too well the last weeks where each day did not necessarily seem a blessing, but filled with pain. For me this is a temporary situation, and for this I thank God. For me, I was surrounded by your prayers, and for that I thank God. But for others, they live in suffering all the time. Many suffer without someone to hold them even in prayer. This is not because they deserve this suffering or because they did something wrong, but because the world of Grace that God has given us is also filled with sufferings that many of you know well. But some live among us as if God were not there at all. The are not able to comprehend the value of breath and beauty that surrounds us living in this most blessed of places. And it is these suffering souls that we should hold constantly pray.
For some, the grace filled world that God gives to us has never been a home. Certainly there are many who driven from place to place never get familiarity or safety or community. Some are traveling to seek a new home of promise like our pilgrim ancestor or like our grandmothers and grandfathers of the faith Abraham and Sarah, or Moses. Many of your own grandmothers and grandfathers found this little Eden on the northern California Coast running from some misadventure somewhere else.
It is deeply sad that some never find a place to rest from suffering. So we must remember that we are all called by Jesus who said of himself that foxes have dens, birds have nests but the Son of Humanity has no place to rest his head. We are bound by his example, that those of us who know the promise of God in this place hold dear those who are trying to find their place.
For in God, there are no boundaries and divisions of place and territory. There are no boundaries of family or religion. God cares for each one alike, each place alike, each nation and state alike. Each culture alike, far beyond our comprehension of it. God loves our diversity, even of faith. And it is our job to make the human population around us our own human family not as we become alike, but in all our variations. Our grandfather the apostle Paul said that in our different and varying gifts we discover the body of Christ among us.
The first laws given by our grandmothers and grandfathers of the faith -- even before the ten commandments and the covenantal promises of God -- were the laws of hospitality. Our great ancestors came from a desert land, they were wanderers themselves coming to a place unknown. They learned early the necessity of entry into a land from a generous hand. Throughout the ages, those invitations to community have been part of our faith.
So too, when God called the people out of Egypt. Once again, wanderers, they needed God’s grace to find a home and so our stories begin as wanderers in the desert of our own lives.
And this brings me to the purpose of this letter. For today, in our gracious town, we are going through a change that will forever alter the world that some have come to know. In California, in our whole country and slowly in Humboldt County, God is bringing the marvelous promise of a rainbow of nations and languages into our midst. Some come in the hope of a new promise in a new home. Some come fleeing their past circumstance. Some are brought here slaves of an evil business that drives too much of the hidden economy of our county. But, no matter how they come, there is the possibility of a new beginning, a gift of the promise of our baptism together, but only if we have eyes to see the rainbow and are not blinded by the distracting lights of our differences and of all the changes going on around us.
We are people God has given creation as a gift from the time of Noah. The many colors of the rainbow mark a blessing, but many still pay attention only to the rainclouds. But we have faith that the God who brings us home at last is inviting us to treat the strangers in our midst as guests and friends, and to do that we must begin to get to know them.
We are a people of the fire of Pentecost. The many languages of the world offer tremendous possibilities to praise God. And yet most of us have never spoken another language like those first disciples, and learning a new culture is met most often with fear than hope.
So across California, instead of hospitality, this change often brings about tension and trials in the passage. Fear of change drives people inward and often violence erupts. We will see gangs forming and supremacist groups reacting. As for our great ancestors the Israelites, often when people move into a new land there can be great violence, but we are called to a different way. A way of creating home and honoring differences because we know that God has created us with all those differences. We each have different gifts which are all a blessing because the same Spirit feeds us all.
And so to set out this journey before us, we turn to our history, especially today the grandmother of the Great King David. Ruth was a Moabite woman, a member of a nation that only a few short years before was an enemy of Israel. But she bound herself to Naomi when in grief Naomi found herself exiled in a foreign land among strangers and alone. Ruth’s love made her reach out and join with Naomi when they returned home to Naomi’s homeland but that that would neither accept the stranger nor the one who had married a foreigner. They returned to the land of promise as strangers, homeless, feared and with nothing. With nowhere else to go, the two came back in faith as outcasts into the land God had given our ancestors.
Our ancestors treated them badly having no connection and no compulsion to treat them with love. At home for Naomi, and in a foreign place for Ruth, they began to starve to death. We remember Jesus who calls us to make anyone who is in need our neighbor, but it was not so for them. Ruth learned a new language and new customs trying to provide for herself and her mother in law. They both found themselves working in fields for whatever they could scrape by.
I am sure that there were those passing by who scoffed at them saying they were good for nothing, having no home, no family, no work and picking what they could from life, ridiculing them for such menial work. But in truth many who ridicule their livelihoods are just afraid of strangers who don’t speak and act like what is familiar.
We must fear this reaction because it breeds something that is a danger to our whole country. Fearfulness builds walls. These walls create deeper divisions and misunderstanding. As people from another place increase, the tensions increase. They develop systems of work and home and protection that are not our systems. And as the boundaries widen, violence always follows. We see in so many neighborhoods across the country the gang, the violence, the drugs, each a product of this fearful wall building.
So today we remember one who shows us another way. Our grandfather Boaz was able to see a possibility in the presence of a stranger. He did not act from fear, but from love.
Remember, before Boaz even knows what is going on, Ruth is already faithfully working, already in faithful relationships, already changing her life, what she lacks is opportunity and community.
- A First Step: Boaz notices Ruth working hard in his own field, in his own territory. The first step of welcoming is seeing someone.
- A Second Step: Boaz find out about Ruth what she is doing and how she is doing it. He asks first about her work, and then begins to find about about who she is. The second step is curiousity.
- A Third Step: Boaz changes the system of injustice a little to make room and talks to her. Boaz is able to see that what he probably thought were good rules were actually oppressive and he changes them. In a place where many held onto these rules for protection, he must have unsettled many. But this third step creates the bridge of humanity that is the very first nature of God’s grace and the one that God shows us in forgiving the sinners to create a path to righteousness.
- A Fourth Step: Boaz meets Ruth. Notice that this comes in different places in the story where Boaz reaches out to her and she reaches out to him. The bridge of justice has created a path to friendship. And in this, they find that they are bound to one another in ways they could never have imagined before.
- A Fifth Step They get married. This makes for a wonderful love story, but the truth of these old stories lies in a deeper image. Marriage is the symbol for a deep spiritual unity, the joining together of differences to make family which is our call from the God of all Christians.
These two paths couldn’t be more different. From fear comes isolation comes injustice comes violence. Whether this be between two people, two cultures, two neighborhood families or two warring countries. But from seeing comes curiosity comes justice comes familiarity comes family which is our true home.
This is graceful work that takes time and love that overcomes fear. Most of the violences that plague this transition in California have not been widespread in our area, but they are coming. We must begin now to change fear to love, isolation to connection, and walls and boundaries to family. We must be intentional and even outrageous in this work of our faith. We must involve our children. We must learn new languages and customs and we must be ready to have our own customs changed as we learn.
God blesses me this day by knowing that you and I are linked even though we are separated by distance.
God blesses me this day by knowing that the people around us are given as a hidden gift to make our family rich.
God blesses me this day by giving me strength and faith to face these challenges.
God blesses me this day by knowing that our community will grow stronger as we become more diverse, more fluent, more cultured, and even more confused at times.
May God bless you this day. May God bless the one who reads this word and who hears this word. And may God bless the Spirit who will give us the understanding and power to cross the barriers as our grandfather Boaz and grandmother Ruth have shown us.
Balaam is the story about spiritual direction in a surprising and funny way. How can others help us listen to God who is trying to direct us. And is there really a talking donkey in the Bible? Oh my, shades of Shrek!
- Coming alongside through all of life
- Staying away from the dangers on the road with us – helping us see the world as it really is.
- Sometimes speaking for God when the other is ready to hear.
That is a good friendship. But any ass can do it, right?
On Friday, the last procedure that removed a stent from my kidney ended a two month long struggle with a kidney stone. Thankfully I was able to work through most of it, but always through the fog of medications. The last procedure was like turning off a switch of pain and I could stop the pain medication at once. I am grateful to the doctors who helped and all the health professionals that guided the process. I am grateful to the wise souls who have been through this themselves who offered good guidance. And I am indebted to all those who’s prayers sustained me in a very difficult time.
The spiritual work of a kidney stone, as in many other health issues, is patience. The preferable way for them to come out is on their own and so the best way is to wait, even if, as was the case for me, it doesn’t come out on its own.
Actually, today we didn’t do Zacchaeus at all. My kidney stone kept me from participating in the service and Gerhardt Drumm was able to step in suddenly and preach. I heard great things about this sermon, but it was hard not to preach. (I expected to be doing great two days after having my kidney’s lasered, which turned out to be a long way from the truth.) Anyway thanks to Gerhardt.
Little big theme again. This is a short story so easy to get the whole thing. Zacchaeus has been robbing the people of Israel for a long time, getting rich off injustice and betrayal. But it is to him that Jesus comes and in his transformation is a transformation of the whole town.
This story is about changing our lives when we don’t like what we have become and is probably a great story for anyone who is carrying around some choice they have made that we aren’t too proud of.
First of all, dump what you think you know about Rahab, images colored not only in the misogyny of the time but also because this woman represents an option that the Bible will simply not choose. Who is this spy the helps open the door to the Land of Promise to the newly and aggressively arriving Israelites? The way that is chosen so many years ago is one of tremendous violence. But the story tells of one person in a city which is growing more and more afraid, who overcomes fear, welcomes the aliens, gets to know them enough to help understand and help. It suggests a very different approach than making everyone in a town an enemy and idolater and an evil that must be completely destroyed.
We will explore the acts of faith and surprise that open the doors to a land of promise even for us. We cannot read this story without paying attention to a conflict that is still going on in the exact same landscape, and I can’t help but wonder that the choice to demote the place and power of Rahab in this story is perhaps a part of the decisions that have created so much violence for so long.
This also shows something of the complexity of our scriptures. The Bible in this case just doesn’t eliminate the story, but incorporates a very different choice in with the ones that were actually made.
Today we were treated to stories told by different members of the congregation. Faye, as David, Chuck, as Saul, and Ginny, as Goliath, told this very familiar story from three perspectives. We also had the kids in Sunday School making stones with words of hope and faith written on them that members of the congregation could take home.
One of the great themes of the Bible (not the only one) is that little can be big when God is present. The huge hero Goliath and the little tiny shepherd boy meet on the field of battle. Is David just the dumb kid with God on his side, or is there more going on in the story?
The world has messed itself up beyond redemption and God decides to start all over again. One family and two of every living creature are called into the safety of an ark which will float above the waters of chaos. From the faith of Noah, the whole world is recreated.
This is the second of the stories that we tell from the book of Genesis this summer is about how God is in relationship to the whole world. The old way is that everything is broken into different camps all messing with each other. Noah recreates the world where everything starts off in “my” (my ancestor’s) boat. If we didn’t get it the first time, then we punch it that we are all family. But the story also says that we aren’t perfect. We don’t start as blessed mud breathed the breath of life into us but with all our faults and failings. We aren’t going to be perfect, we are who we are. What does it mean to claim everyone as family in all our faults and failings. And God in the middle of all that. That is the rainbow, the wild diversity of color and promise right in the middle of the rainstorm.
And in the midst of that is our responsibility to the earth, not because God set us in charge of it, but because it is part of the family too, everything coming out of the same boat.
The ark is the image of the covenant, not the rainbow – the rainbow reminds us of the ark. We are all in the same boat together, God, every other person, and the whole world. Somehow or another we have to figure out how to make it all work together and God is in the midst of that.
This morning we are taking on one of the great stories of all time. Adam and Eve are the first people created in this great story. Placed in an ideal situation, they find themselves with one prohibition that they cannot resist. Any idiot who has read or heard any kid’s story from the beginning of time knows what is going to happen when there is only one thing not to do. There is no suspense and no drama. The story is as old as time. But the two punishments (hard work and bearing children) are two of the very things we value most in life. What is this story really all about?
The story is about how God is in relationship to us in the midst of crucial times in our live, this time when we have our first sexual experience. No going back and life moves from childhood to adulthood in a big hurry. So, in that sense, what does the story say is God’s covenant when life gets complicated and we have to face our own decisions?
All Summer we are going to be telling some of the great stories in the Bible, but probably not the way you expect. Most of us have never graduated from the kids versions of the stories and most of the time from the kid’s versions of the use of these stories. Certainly the list will make for some great storytelling for the children, but the stories were told and compiled for adult and their meanings and uses are often very adult.
Here is the list
- · June 6, 2010 Judges 6 Gideon
- · June 13, 2010 Genesis 2 Adam and Eve
- · June 20, 2010 Genesis 6 – 7 Wiping Out the Earth Noah
- · June 27, 2010 1 Samuel 17 David and Goliath
- · July 4, 2010 Joshua 6 Battle of Jericho Joshua and Rahab
- · July 11, 2010 Luke 19 Zacchaeus
- · July 18, 2010 Number 22 Balaam and his Donkey
- · July 25, 2010 Ruth
- · August 1, 2010 1 Kings 16-2 Kings 2 Elijah
- · August 8, 2010 Vacation Bible School Presentation
- · August 15, 2010 Esther
- · August 22, 2010 Daniel 6 Daniel In the Lion’s Den
- · August 29, 2010 Matthew 14 Peter Walks on Water, sort of.
- · September 5, 2021 Acts 9 Paul’s Conversion
It makes sense to say a word about the Book of Genesis because we will follow two stories in it in the next weeks.
Genesis is not a history book nor a science lecture, but an exploration into ways and contexts that we are in covenant with God. Over and over this covenant takes the shape of a three-fold relationship: our relationship to God, to other people, and to the earth itself. Each context shapes this covenant a little differently.
My own sense of this is that the first stories are about the times in our lives where God is in covenant with us:
- · Birth, Genesis 1
- · Puberty which meant getting into the world back then, Adam And Eve
- · Our work, Cain and Abel
- · Our organizing done in the middle of life: Tower of Babel
- · And finally, our Death, in the story of the Akedah, Abraham sacrificing his son (which in my opinion is barbaric no matter how you look at it, unless it is looking at that way God asks for everything of value back at the end of our lives. This story is a transition moment where it looks like Abraham loses not only everything of value to himself, but also everything that God had promised. But, if we are lucky to live long enough, that is what happens.
The bulk of the book is looking at the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of the faith and showing the contexts of where God is in relationship to human beings.
- · Noah: the second creation story is about God in relationship to the whole world.
- · Abraham and Sarah create a new nation with God and has to deal with other nations around him.
- · Isaac and Rebecca (here Rebecca is the key character, not Isaac. She is the mover of the covenant and the one who most responds to God’s call. This one is about family and God’s covenant in family.
- · Jacob -- and the story is so much about Jacob, this isn’t a “patriarch story” – is about how God is in covenant with an individual working out their own stuff inside and out.
- · The story of Joseph moves inward further. How is God involved in our interior landscape, our dreams. And in the development of covenant inside, we see connection to individual, family, nation, and among nations in the world sphere, because this will be the story that sets up a new ark (called Egypt) where the people are kept until they are recreated once again in the next story, Moses.