Are we entitled? Thoughts on doing God’s work.

Matthew 20: 1-16

20‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; 4and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. 5When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” 7They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.” 8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” 9When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” 13But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” 16So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’

This summer, one of the big sports stories in Pittsburgh was the Le’Veon Bell hold out.

Bell was a restricted free agent and wanted a new contract that would make him the highest paid running back in the NFL.

The Steelers were not ready to go there, so they did what the NFL player contract allowed.

They labeled him their “Franchise Player” and thus committed to give Bell a one-year contract for an amount no less than the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position.

Read more…



What Do These Stones Mean? Thoughts on passing on our stories.

Joshua 4: 1-8

4When the entire nation had finished crossing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua: 2‘Select twelve men from the people, one from each tribe, 3and command them, “Take twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet stood, carry them over with you, and lay them down in the place where you camp tonight.” ’ 4Then Joshua summoned the twelve men from the Israelites, whom he had appointed, one from each tribe. 5Joshua said to them, ‘Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, one for each of the tribes of the Israelites, 6so that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, “What do those stones mean to you?”7then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial for ever.’

8 The Israelites did as Joshua commanded. They took up twelve stones out of the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the Lord told Joshua, carried them over with them to the place where they camped, and laid them down there.

Have you ever walked into a room to do something and when you got there forgot why you went?

You look around and say to yourself, “Why am I here?’

You ask yourself, “What did I come in here for?”

It happens to me all the time.

What is interesting is that it happens to everyone, even your kids.

Why does that happen?

Because we didn’t pay enough attention?

Because too much time passed?

Because it just wasn’t important enough?

Maybe.

 

But there is something else.

Read more…



Barcelona: Thoughts on responding to hate.

Matthew 5: 21-22; 38-48
21 ‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister,* you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult* a brother or sister,* you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell* of fire.
38 ‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
43 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,* what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
It was Sunday morning, August 13.
My family and I were vacationing in Barcelona, staying in a part of the city called the Barri Gotic, a part of town built in the middle ages that attracts many, many tourists.
I decided to check my phone for a message from my son, who was on a medical mission trip in Nigeria.
Then I checked the news.
It was all about Charlottesville.
My Sunday morning was ruined.
Here it was 2017, and in the United States there were people marching like paramilitaries, carrying torches, automatic weapons, Nazi flags while screaming racist, fascist, Nazi and anti-Semitic slogans.
And then one of them drove a car into a group of opponents, injuring many and killing a young woman – Heather Heyer.
A bit later, in a local coffee shop, I confessed to my wife and daughter that I was distraught over the events of Charlottesville.
Actually, I was more than distraught.
I was outraged.
How could someone do such a thing? Read more…



Peace and Unity

Click here to listen to the sermon

Colossians 3:12-17

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

 

The story is told of two men riding a tandem bicycle up a steep hill. After much effort, they finally made it to the top of the hill. The front rider said, “That was a tough ride.” To which the second rider replied, “Sure was, and if I hadn’t kept the brake on we might have slipped backwards.”

 

Peace and unity.  Peace and unity.  Peace and unity.  These are the words that resonate in my heart today.  These are the things that God calls us to strive for in our lives.

I had written a sermon on Psalm 51 that I planned on preaching this morning.  I was all set to go and was feeling pretty good that I had finished it well ahead of Sunday.  However, as I sat on my couch yesterday watching the news I felt my heart sink into my chest.  It was hard to watch and as it continued to unfold I couldn’t help but think “How did we get here”?

Certainly, this is a very difficult and long answer.  Of course, the answer will differ depending on who you talk to and what they have experienced.  How did we get here as human beings?  How did we get here as American citizens?  How did we get here as Christians?  Where is our peace and unity?

As of 1:30 last night there was at least 1-person dead and a little over 30 people injured.  The injuries are a result of skirmishes between a white supremacy march around a statue and counter protesters.  There were fights, people pepper spraying, rocks and bottles thrown, and you can only imagine what was said.  I watched as I watched people chanting terrible things and giving Nazi salutes.  In an instant 1 person drove a car into a crowd of counter protesters sending people flying into the air.  How did we get here?  Where is our peace and unity?

As I searched for answers I came upon this passage.  I was immediately struck by verse 12, in fact I was struck by the first word “therefore”.  This word sets up the entire rest of this section of scripture.  We are told to clothe ourselves in kindness and compassion.  Colossians tells us to put on love and seek out peace.  The “therefore” tells us why we should do it.

We must go back to the beginning of the chapter to understand the “therefore”.  “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God”.

We are called to peace and unity, love and compassion.  We are to do these things not because we think it’s the right thing to do or because others want us to do it.  We are called to peace and unity because Jesus died for us and we now have God’s grace.  We should strive for peace and unity because we belong to Christ.  The therefore means do these things because you are God’s children.  It isn’t saying do these things because you are a democrat or republican, rich or poor, northerner or southerner.  Yesterday had nothing to do with political affiliation and everything to do with hate and brokenness.  You see while our opinions can be subjective, God’s word is not.

Don’t get me wrong there are people who will twist scripture to make it fit their narrative.  There is a long history of the kkk and nazi party trying to use scripture to justify their wicked crusade.  However, nothing I saw yesterday could be confused with peace, love, or unity.  What I saw yesterday was based in fear, pain, and hate.  Where is our peace and unity?

As I continued to watch the news yesterday I felt largely disgusted and helpless.  In my mind, I continued to run thru appropriate Christian response is to the racism I saw on the news yesterday and the racism I see in our world today.  Will we look back at this time decades from now and wonder why we didn’t do more.  I often wondered how I would have responded to things like the civil rights movement or Japanese internment camps.

It made me think of an ethics seminar I recently attended.  The speaker (a Professor from Columbia Seminary) gave us the example of the good Samaritan.  He explained the ethical morality of the story being helping a stranger.  As Christians, we are called to go out of our way to help those we don’t know, not just help but go to the extreme to love them.  The Samaritan man takes the beaten man and puts him on his donkey.  He then bandages him and takes him to an inn where he tells the inn keeper to continue the care and he will pay for incurred costs.  We all nodded our heads agreeing that this is the appropriate moral and ethical response from a Christian.  He then asked us what our moral and ethical response should be if we arrive while the man is being accosted.  Should we intervene to our own possible injury or even death?

Certainly, this pushes us further as human beings.  We now go from giving up comfort to giving up safety.  While the morality may stay intact we have much more to lose.  It got me thinking about the step prior to the mugging though.  What can we do before these tragedies happen.  I am not saying terrible things will not happen, but can our love and unity change lead to future peace?  Can we change the culture that leads people to love further?  Can we unify in a way that leads young men and woman to understand that racism and things like the Nazi party are about nothing but hate?  Maybe a simple act or voice could change a young man’s mind.  Certainly, we as a culture are doing something wrong if a 20-year-old man drives from Ohio to Virginia to a white supremacy rally and decides to ram his car into a group of counter protestors.  Where is the peace and unity?

All of this brings me back to the “therefore”.  We belong to God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Our freedom was not bought with a small coin but with the precious blood of Christ.  Freedom always comes at a great cost and evil is rarely defeated with little effort.  Therefore, because we are bought with the blood of Christ we must strive for unity and peace.  We must stand up to evil and racist stances.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “In the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”.  At different times in history the Presbyterian Church has sought unity, but has also stayed deafeningly silent.  There are times in our history when we were sending Japanese Americans to internment camps.  Some Christian denominations like the Quakers responded by trying to feed and care for those imprisoned.  Other churches agreed it was wrong but stayed quiet in the distance.  Other times the Presbyterian Church has stood in direct observation of evil.  In our book of Confessions, we have the Barmen declaration.  A statement declaring opposition to the Nazi party and the churches subordinate to the state.  Though here we are a little over 80 years later watching young men on tv doing a nazi salute.

So how do we as the Church respond to what we saw yesterday.  While I unfortunately don’t have any definitive solutions, I do have some thoughts on how we can start working toward peace and unity.

First, we need to seek out conversations from people that don’t look like us.  We need to hear how they experience things and see the community.  How do government policies affect them differently than yourself?  We may be pressing the brakes on the bike so we don’t slide down the hill and not realize that we are creating a lot more work for others.

Second, we need to speak out against evil in this world.  It can be easy to get caught up in political rhetoric where we feel the need to be on one side or the other.  God calls us to stand for peace and unity.  God calls us from the “therefore”, responding from the cross.  We cannot sit silent in the face of injustice.

I will say lastly for this sermon, but of course there is so much more to peace and unity.  Peace and unity can only be achieved through love.  This can be hard as Christians because we are not only called to love the victims on these terrible events, but also the perpetrators.  We will be fighting for unity when we stand up for injustice.  However, unity can only come from loving everyone.  When Jesus calls us to love our enemies he understood how radical of a commandment it really was to his followers.  Peace and unity come from us praying for the victim’s family and speaking out against racism.  Peace and unity also come from praying for these confused racist men and sending prayer cards to the young man in jail who ran his car into the crowd.  The “therefore” lets us know the sacrifice that was given for our lives.  As a church how will we respond to the sacrifice?  Will people watch us and feel loved, or will they say where is their peace and unity?  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Inside and Outside: Thoughts on the ever-present God who loves us and esteems us no matter what, because we belong to God.

Psalm 139

To the leader. Of David. A Psalm.
1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.


7 Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night’,
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.


13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
15   My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end
*—I am still with you.

In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow described his “Hierarchy of Needs”.

These needs are those that must be met for each of us to reach our highest wellbeing.

Right in the middle of this hierarchy is the need for belonging, love, and esteem.

Without belonging, love, and esteem, Maslow says, we are simply not complete.

Another way of putting it is that we need to belong in some way to a relationship where we can share our lives, love and be loved, and feel valued, no matter what.

These are deep, trusting and lasting relationships that give our lives meaning and value.

But such relationships are hard to come by, particularly in this age of superficiality and business.

Listen to how Pastor Deborah Ann Meister describes our current search for meaning and value:

[O]ur pictures and bios posted on the Web sites of work places or social networking Web sites; our preferences and online purchases duly captured and analyzed by the engines of marketing; our political role assigned to an advertising category, be it “soccer mom” or “brie-eating progressive.” And yet we remain perhaps less known than at any point in history: distanced from friends by an economic system that requires its workers to be mobile, our lives fragmented between work and sport. Our civic identity reduced to a Social Security number, until many find their most intimate forms of communication on line with “friends” they have never met in person.

Here is another comment by Danah Boyd, principal researcher at Microsoft Research.

 

One of the anxieties I heard whenever I was out in the field was, … “Oh my gosh, kids these days. What’s wrong with them? Why don’t they just go outside like we did when we were kids?” … When I would talk to teenagers, they would look at me and be like, “I would love to have the freedom to just go out and play with all my friends, but I can’t.” And then they’d start listing off all of these different reasons. … And all they want to do is just hang out with their friends. … And along comes this technology. And this technology all of a sudden is like, “I know I can get to my friends and my broader peer group, even when I’m stuck at home, even when our timing is slightly off because of our structured schedules being slightly different. And I know that they’re there.”

Boyd is saying that kids look to social media for community and relationships.

But most of the time, those relationships are superficial and shallow.

There is no true “belonging, love and esteem”.

Only “likes” and “friending”.

That lifestyle does not really fill the need described by Maslow.

We need someone in our lives that we can call when we have a problem.

Someone who supports and encourages us.

Someone who accepts us, no matter what.

Someone who helps you to cope when the stuff hits the fan.

Someone you trust … completely.

Such relationships are pretty powerful.

And they are hard to find.

We need to search and explore.

We need to test and learn.

They are certainly not found on Facebook.

But sometimes such a relationship is overwhelming.

Sometimes we need to just get away.

How many here like, or even crave, periods of solitude?

There are times when I just like to be alone.

Some time back I watched a video that described the male brain.

In a man’s brain, there are many boxes of subjects and secrets.

If you want to get to know him, you must get him to open the boxes.

There is a particular box in his head that is his absolute favorite.

It’s his nothing box.

In that box, there is nothing at all.

When a man needs solitude, that is where he goes.

So, when he is asked what he is doing, and he says “nothing”, he is telling the truth.

It is often a good thing, in small doses.

Because if a man stays there too long, he will soon feel the emptiness of his unfulfilled need to belonging, love and esteem.

But there is a different type of solitude.

One that is not so good.

It happens when we withdraw because we feel somehow unworthy, guilty, ashamed, defective, or different.

We fear judgment for what we have done, or who we are.

And so we flee.

What we need though, rather than distance, is someone who will stand with us, encourage us and love us.

Someone who will be trustworthy, no condoning our poor choices, but not abandoning us either.

Someone who will be present in the darkness.

Someone who knows us, inside and outside.

And this brings us to Psalm 139.

A Psalm about how God fills our need for a relationship where we can share our lives, love and be loved, and feel valued.

So what is the background of this Psalm?

It appears it was written by the Psalmist who is in a time of distress.

The Psalmist seems to have been accused of conduct that deserves judgment.

An accusation that the Psalmist is somehow unworthy, guilty, shameful, defective, different.

But rather than fleeing, the Psalmist turns to the one person who he knows he can trust to stand by him

God.

And he sings this beautiful song.

A song about a deep, trusting, personal, intimate relationship with God.

How does it go?

God has examined him.

Searched his soul and knows him intimately.

God knows what the Psalmist does and says.

God surrounds him and lays a hand on him maybe the way a friend puts a hand on your shoulder to comfort you.

It is all beyond the Psalmist’s ability to comprehend.

And God is always there!

There is no place the Psalmist can go where God is not with him.

In his nothing box, God is there.

In death, God is there.

In the farthest reaches of the universe, God is there.

In the darkness, God is there.

There is nowhere the Psalmist can go where God is not.

Even if we try to flee.

It makes me think of one of my favorite children’s books.

Margaret Wise Brown’s, The Runaway Bunny.

A little bunny tells his mother that he is going to run away, becoming variously a fish, a rock on the mountain, a crocus in a hidden garden, a bird, a sailboat, a circus acrobat, and finally a little boy.

Each time, his mother says that she will go and get him, whatever it takes.

Finally, the little bunny resigns himself to stay where he is and remain her little bunny.

That is what the Psalmist is saying.

Wherever I go, and for whatever reason, God will be there beside me.

Why does God do that?

Because God made us.

And we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Part of God’s wonderful works.

Just as God planned.

In good times and bad.

All the time.

God is with us from the time we were formed until our breath returns to God.

And even then, God is still with us.

I don’t know about you, but I get a great deal of comfort from Psalm 139.

It’s about belonging, loving, esteem.

How we need it and God gives it.

It is the kind of comfort I want to pass along!

Today we baptized two children.

This year we have baptized seven children.

We have six more coming over the next couple of months.

When we baptize these children, this is the lesson we need to teach them.

God is not in some far off unreachable place.

God is nearby, beside them, below them, above them, behind them and in front of them.

God will keep his hand on them and give them peace.

But these words are not just for children.

They are for us as well.

God will stay with us, no matter what.

Martin Buber was an early twentieth-century Jewish philosopher.

He wrote a book called Tales of the Hasadim.

In it he offered these words concerning the relationship between God and us that reminds me of Psalm 139:

Where I wander – You!
Where I ponder – You!
Only You, You again, always You!
You! You! You!
When I am gladdened – You!
When I am saddened – You!
Only You, You again, always You!
You! You! You!
Sky is You, Earth is You!
You above! You below!
In every trend, at every end,
Only You, You again, always You!
You! You! You!

Psalm 139.

A Psalm of belonging.

A Psalm of love.

A Psalm of esteem.

A Psalm about the miracle of our relationship with God.



The Gospel According to Wonder Woman, Part 2: Thoughts on faith and works.

James 2: 14-26

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith. 19You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. 20Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith without works is barren? 21Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. 23Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’, and he was called the friend of God. 24You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? 26For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

The term “gospel” is misinterpreted a lot.

The word comes from old middle English and literally means “good news”.

It is has become associated with the life and teachings of Jesus in the four books of the New Testament we call the Gospels.

The Good News of Jesus Christ.

But the word Gospel has also come to mean an almost divine kind of truth, regardless of the source.

Here are some examples:

The Gospel according to Peanuts.

The Gospel according to Harry Potter.

The Gospel according to the Simpsons.

The Gospel according to Star Wars.

You get the picture.

Typically, these are an attempt to interpret the subject matter as having some of that divine truth, and perhaps use it as an illustration of the teachings of Jesus.

Often it is a stretch.

But not always.

And that is the nature of my sermon title, too.

As I said last week, I heard at least two things in the movie Wonder Woman that made me think of teachings of Jesus.

But they also made me think of Jesus teachings as interpreted by his brother James who wrote this morning’s scripture reading.

For those who were not here last week, and who have not seen the movie, a bit of Wonder Woman background.

Diana, ‘Wonder Woman’, comes from an isolated island, inhabited only by women, that has had no contact with the rest of the world, the world of men as they call it, for millennia.

Diana has super powers.

Which is a good thing.

Because she leaves her island to come to the “world of men” to intervene in WWI.

The person she follows to the war is Steve Trevor, an American who works for British intelligence.

He tries to explain why he joined the Brits in fighting the war.

Trevor refers to is his initial observation of the war from the safety of the initially neutral United States.

He describes it this way.

My father told me once, he said, “If you see something wrong happening in the world, you can either do nothing, or you can do something”. And I already tried nothing.

There it is.

A teaching of Jesus.

A lesson from James.

If you see something wrong in the world, you have a choice.

Do nothing.

Do something.

Jesus … and James … encourage us to choose something.

James puts it this way:

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

If we see something wrong in the world, we have a choice.

Do nothing.

Do something.

So what does that look like?

This past week in Panama City, Florida, two boys, 8 and 11, were swimming at a local beach when they were swept away from shore by a rip tide.

Seven friends and family members went in after them and got swept away as well.

Someone on the beach saw what was happening and called the police.

The police could do nothing but wait for a boat to arrive.

But that was not going to be soon enough it appeared.

Then a young woman gathered the crowd watching on the beach and started a human chain that ended up 80 people long, each holding the hand of the one behind and the one in front.

Out into the current they went and in the end brought all nine people back to shore safely.

Not many knew each other before the rescue and none knew the trapped family.

After it was all over, they cheered, then all went back to their beach blankets as if nothing had happened.

The people that formed the chain initially just watched.

They started out by doing nothing but wait for the boat.

But then they chose to do something.

Waiting for the boat was the easy thing.

They believed someone should help.

Like James’ person who tells the naked and hungry person to ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’.

And hope someone else takes care of it.

But what these folks did was the hard thing.

They, too, believed that someone should help.

And decided that someone was them.

They did something.

And they saved 9 lives.

James says that if you see someone in need and do nothing, even if you have faith that someone will do something, your faith is dead.

Like a body without a soul.

Faith without works is dead.

If you do something to help, you bring your faith to life.

James teaches that when it comes to faith, it is a two part thing.

There is belief.

Belief in the teachings of Jesus.

And there is discipleship.

Doing the teachings of Jesus.

Like body and soul.

Both are required for faith that is alive!

But wait!

Didn’t Paul say that we are saved by faith alone?

How can Paul’s “faith alone” be reconciled with James’ call to action?

Listen to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:

…if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3

Paul says that faith must be expressed through love.

We are to do this and we are to do it actively.

And why wouldn’t Paul and James agree on this?

It comes from Jesus.

Jesus says:

Feed the hungry.

Give water to the thirsty.

Clothe the naked.

Shelter the homeless.

Care for the sick.

Welcome the strangers.

Jesus wants more than affirmation.

He wants more that words.

He wants action.

This is what James is talking about.

And that is what Paul is talking about, too.

Faith is a verb.

It is something we do.

So what does it mean to us that we “do something”?

One time I heard it put this way:

If it were a crime to be a Christian, and you were arrested and charged with that crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

I think that is what James is talking about.

Does our relationship with God, our faith, cause us to do the things Jesus calls us to do?

When we see a need, do we seek to do something about it?

We have a choice.

Do nothing.

Or do something.

Let’s take a look at JMPC.

What do we do here?

We look out at the world around us and see things that are wrong in the world.

We see people in need.

And we choose to do something.

We are part of a human chain that takes what we have to offer and passes it down the chain until it reaches the ones who need help.

Maybe it’s with physical work.

Or maybe it’s with financial support.

But we do something!

We help clothe the naked at World Vision.

We help feed the hungry through the food pantry at SHIM and produce to people.

We help provide shelter to the homeless through Family Promise and through mission trips to places where people have lost their homes in natural disasters.

We go to Chiapas Mexico to assist churches with construction projects.

We go to the NWMC to learn about mission.

We buy farm animals for communities through the Heifer Project.

We support Roldy, a Haitian child through Friends of Haiti.

We minster to the youth at Duquesne church with Kids Club and The Open Table and Bod of Love.

We comfort the grieving and counsel the troubled with food and fellowship and human presence.

We help fund over a dozen ministries and charities over the course of the year with the Christmas Affair.

There are many opportunities that each one of us can identify as an act of discipleship that demonstrates a living faith.

That is why we are encouraging the people of JMPC to do just one thing!

Do one thing that enlivens your faith.

Will what we do change the whole world?

No.

But it will help.

Like the person in the middle of the human chain who saw something wrong and decided that something needed to be done, we can make a difference.

It is what Jesus asks of us.

Jesus tells us to do these things so that God’s works might be revealed in those we help.

That we must work the works of him who sends us.

Time to get to work.



The Gospel According to Wonder Woman, Part 1: Thoughts on what we believe, not what we deserve..

James 2: 1-13

2My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

8You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

When I was a boy, I was not much of a reader.

My parents were, of course, unhappy with this.

Particularly my Dad who went to college to be an English teacher.

So when I started to bring home comics books from the dime store, they grudgingly accepted my new interest.

At least I was reading something.

The only comics books I bought were about superheroes.

You might not be surprised to hear that my favorite is Captain America.

Mainly because his weapon of choice is a shield, which is cool.

What I did not understand then, but do now, is that these stories had much more philosophical depth that a simple good v. evil action adventure.

Regardless of their fantastical nature, the stories were about people who were flawed and lived in a flawed world often without a satisfying conclusion.

There were often profound commentaries on the state of humanity, human conduct and ethics, if not morality, weaved into the story.

And if you paid attention, you might see comments that would be spot on consistent with the Gospel itself.

OK, maybe I am just projecting … or overstating.

Nevertheless, I found that to be the case last week when I saw “Wonder Woman”.

This super hero fantasy was both enjoyable and thought provoking.

Basically, Diana, ‘Wonder Woman’, comes from an isolated and morally sheltered existence on an island that has had no contact with the rest of the world for millennia.

She has been taught that love is more powerful than evil.

And she believes it.

She comes to intervene in WWI to stop the evil Aries, who she believes is the cause of the war.

If she destroys him, the war ends.

But when she lives among the “rest of us” for a time, Diana realizes that Aries is not the only cause of all this war and death.

Humanity itself seems to be the primary cause.

Humanity is flawed.

There is darkness in everyone.

Diana recalls the final words from her mother as she departs to save the world:

They do not deserve you.

And she now wonders whether humanity deserves her help.

Then she hears the words of her friend Steve Trevor.

He says that it is not what the world deserves, but what she believes.

His point is that humanity might not deserve her help, but if she believes love is stronger than evil, she must do what she can to … well … do as much as she can, to help what she can.

And so she does … until next time.

When I watched this movie, I thought of James.

What does this story have to do with James?

What we call the Epistle of James is a letter setting out a kind of ethical, moral and faithful guide to living the Jesus way.

And it is forceful and unapologetic.

James is writing to the converted Jewish community in and around Jerusalem in the middle or late part of the first century.

He writes because it seems that the initial fervor of the newly converted was falling off for a variety of reasons.

One of the specific concerns James addressed in today’s scripture was the problem of favoritism.

In the old ways, social and religious significance was given to people based on their circumstances of life.

The rich and powerful were favored.

The poor and unfortunate were cast aside.

In other words, people got what they deserved.

James puts this into a particular context when he talks about folks coming to the various assemblies of Jesus followers.

The rich get best seats and the poor stand in the back or sit on the floor.

The thinking is that each is getting what they deserve.

James describes this conduct as making distinctions among people.

Becoming judges with evil thoughts.

What are those evil thoughts?

Thoughts on getting ahead by flattering the rich and powerful despite the fact the rich and powerful oppress others and drag them into court and blaspheme.

The poor are brushed aside because they cannot provide any benefit to the assembly.

This is so despite the fact God has made them rich in faith and made them heirs to the kingdom because they love God.

What James is not saying is that the poor deserve the better seats.

He is saying that the distinctions we make between people is based on a flawed calculation.

He says there is a better way.

The way God calls us to live.

This is the way James describes it.

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? …

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9

James says that if we believe in what Jesus stands for, we must love our neighbor as ourselves.

That we must be merciful, not judgmental.

We must show no favoritism based on what we deem as deservedness.

That is what we believe.

Why?

Because this is how God treats us.

God is merciful, not judgmental.

That is what Jesus came to tell us.

That is what James is telling us.

James says that if we believe in Jesus, we are not to discriminate between people based on what they do or don’t deserve.

James says that we demonstrate unbelief when we do.

If we only treat well those who we deem are deserving, well … listen to James:

But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. …

For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy …

He equates an attitude of favoritism with a rejection of the Gospel!

If we don’t live in a way that shows no favoritism, it means we do not believe in Jesus!

But that is really hard.

We are a biased species.

We are always comparing and contrasting and rating.

How do we act differently?

How do we love all our neighbors?

It is an act of the will, not emotion.

It is love as an action.

It is what we do, not what we think.

It does not mean that we must like every person.

It does not mean that we must like a person’s conduct or condone a person’s habits and lifestyle.

It does not mean that we must want that person to be a friend.

But it does mean that we will treat that person the way God has treated us.

With mercy.

With love.

It has nothing to do with what we deserve, thankfully.

God gave us something we did not deserve.

God gave us a place in the kingdom.

Not because of who we are but despite it.

We are a rebellious and hardheaded people who frequently have little time for God.

Yet God sent Jesus to show us that mercy triumphs over judgment.

We must do the same.

Not because anyone deserves our mercy, but because we believe we are called by God to give it.

It is not what is deserved, it is what we believe.

That’s the Jesus way.

We do not get to decide who deserves our mercy, who deserves our acts of love.

We are simply do it, because we believe it.

We believe it because Jesus told us that we are called to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give water to the thirsty, provide shelter to the homeless, care for the sick, welcome the strangers and visit the prisoners.

To provide such people mercy, not judgment.

Not because they deserve it, but because Jesus commands it, and we believe it.

And we need to teach and preach that.

One of the things we did this year at VBS was to take the oldest class on several mission projects.

Monday, we went to SHIM where we sorted food and prepared a kitchen so that a class on cooking could be offered to those who did not know how to cook the food we sorted.

We taught the kids to feed the hungry.

On Tuesday, we went to the Salvation Army where we sorted clothing that had been donated.

We clothed the naked.

Wednesday, we went to First Presbyterian Church of Duquesne where we helped organize the mission furniture store so that formerly homeless people could furnish their homes.

We provided shelter to the homeless.

Thursday, we went to Simmons Park and picked garbage out of the creek.

We cared for God’s creation.

Friday, we went to Sojourner House where and took kitchen ware and baby supplies to women suffering from and trapped by addiction who were able to go through rehab while living with their children.

We cared for the sick and visited the prisoners.

What we tried to do was teach these kids how to love these neighbors, whether they deserved it or not, and despite their flaws and failures.

That is how God treats us, and it is how we are all called to live.

It’s not what is deserved, it’s what we believe.

Which is what Jesus did.

He went to the cross, not because we deserved it, but because he believed God loved us.

So, the question we need to ask ourselves is this:

Do we only provide for the needs of those who we believe deserve it?

And if not, well … so be it?

If Jesus and the fictional Diana thought that way, we would all be doomed.

What do we believe?

Do we believe Jesus?

Are we living the way he wants us to live?

Do we live as we believe, like Jesus and the fictional Diana, and do what we can to do what we can for as many as we can, regardless of what anyone deserves?

That would be the way of the kingdom.

That would be the Jesus way.



Fearless: Thoughts on the challenge of discipleship.

Matthew 10: 24-39

24 ‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

26 ‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

32 ‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

34 ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
35 For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

In March of this year, a statue was placed on Wall Street of a young girl facing the Wall Street Bull statue.

The statue is called “Fearless Girl”.

Maybe you have seen it.

A young girl with a ponytail and windswept dress stands with hands on hip, chest puffed and chin out.

It is a proud and brave pose.

Just in front of her is the statue of the Wall Street Bull.

All fierce and angry.

But there she stands.

Seeming to stare it down.

Challenging it.

Taking it on.

She will not be defeated.

She will not back down.

She is not afraid.

It was described as a message of empowerment for women in a male dominated investment profession.

The statue and its placement became a sensation.

And yet many do not approve of it and want it removed.

The first time I saw it, I thought of my daughter.

I gave her pictures of it.

I hope they will inspire her as she embarks into the legal profession which is male dominated as well.

The message?

The world you enter is a hostile one.

I am sure you are anxious.

But this is what you look like to me.

And I am proud of you and love you.

But do not be afraid.

Go change the world, even if it is just a little bit.

Be fearless.

I thought of other times when children were asked to be fearless.

In 1954, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down its decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

That decision held that state laws requiring separate schools for blacks and whites were unconstitutional.

In 1957 nine black children went to enroll in Central High School in Little Rock Arkansas.

What awaited them was pretty much what they expected.

Screaming opposition and signs that described them as less than human.

Gangs of white students blocking the doors.

Police ignoring it all.

And the 101ST Airborne lined up in uniform with guns loaded creating a passage for the students to get in the building and enroll.

Through the gauntlet the children walked.

And went to school.

So when I look at the pictures of that day, I always have the same thoughts.

What did the parents of those kids say to them before they sent them off to school?

When I sent my kids off on the first day of school each year, they would have their new back packs and new clothes and my wife would take a picture of them.

All smiles and excitement.

And we would say, “Have a great day!”

But these kids in Little Rock must have had a different conversation with their parents.

Maybe it was like this:

“I love you and am proud of you. What awaits you will be horrifying. I know you are anxious.  But do not be afraid. Go change the world. Be fearless.”

Can you imagine having that conversation with your kids?

Can you imagine what those kids must have felt like as they walked out the door?

Certainly they were afraid.

But in their hearts, they were fearless.

So what does all this have to do with our scripture reading?

Jesus is sending his disciples out into Galilee to spread the word of the coming Kingdom of God.

He has already given them the authority to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, bestow Jesus’ peace.

They are to go out and speak for Jesus.

But they are going into hostile territory.

So Jesus is telling them what to expect.

They will be facing some serious opposition.

And he knows that they are anxious.

They have every reason to be.

People have been calling Jesus the devil himself.

So they will be called children of the devil.

And they will be treated like they are devils.

Which is inevitable, Jesus says.

If folks hate Jesus, they will hate those who come in his name and speak for him, too.

And some of them will be friends … or family.

They might ask you to deny Jesus, to abandon him, to denounce him.

Jesus teaches that you can love them dearly, but you cannot deny Jesus.

He is a part of you.

The way you live will be testimony of that.

You cannot hide your discipleship.

But then Jesus tells them something they need to hear.

A bit of a pep talk.

Do not be afraid!

The slings and arrows that are directed at me, your teacher and master, have no effect on me and they won’t have any effect on you.

You are acknowledging me before others, so I will acknowledge you before God.

These people at worst can take you lives, but they cannot take your souls.

So there is no reason for fear.

Go and change the world.

Be fearless.

So there go the disciples, into the screaming crowds, some of whom they know and love, who despise them and call them blasphemers and who try to block their way.

And the 101st Airborn is nowhere in sight.

The truth is that following Jesus is going to cause conflict because of the claims he makes and because of the way of life he demands.

Jesus demands our loyalty to him over culture.

When we stand up for those in need, for those who are unfortunate, for those who are oppressed, for those who are rejected … well … some won’t like it.

When we speak truth to power, power won’t like it.

And so we are opposed.

So it was with Jesus.

And so it will be with his disciples.

It is still happening.

Egypt.

Sudan.

Iraq.

Indonesia.

Vietnam.

Malaysia.

Syria.

Iraq.

Bhutan.

To a lesser extent it happens here in our lives.

The world is often hostile to Jesus.

But yet we are still called to go.

We are still to speak for Jesus.

And live the way he calls us to live.

And we are not to be afraid.

We are called to change the world, even if just a little bit.

And we are to be fearless.

I saw something like that when I went to Malaysia a few years ago.

Malaysia a Muslim nation.

Islam is the constitutionally recognized national religion.

It is illegal to seek to convert someone from Islam to any other religion.

I met the president of Sabah Theological Seminary, Rev. Dr. Thu En Yu.

Dr. Thu was ordained by the BCCM church back in the 1960s.

At that time there were 30 missionary pastors and 30 nurses who traveled around the tribal lands visiting those communities and teaching them about Jesus.

Around 60 churches were being pastored and cared for by these missionaries.

The Malaysian government then expelled all the foreign missionaries.

Now the local pastors, of which there were few, had to take over.

Dr. Thu was one of them.

And you know what Dr. Thu said?

It was a blessing that the missionaries were expelled.

Because it made the local church take responsibility for itself and the evangelization of its own people.

And it did.

Dr. Thu walked to tribal churches every Sunday.

He described it this way.

Walk, preach, eat.

Walk, preach, eat.

All day.

Hot.

Humid.

Wading across streams.

Hiking in the jungle.

Spending the night at the last church he came to and then walking home the next day.

But there were too many new churches.

They needed more pastors.

So he started a Bible School in the early 1980s.

Lay people were taught the Bible and sent back to their communities to lead the churches.

Over time, the Bible School grads wanted more training, more education, and to become ordained pastors.

So Dr. Thu proposed expanding the Bible school into a seminary.

And the local Muslim community did not like it.

The newspapers opposed it.

The local state officials tried to stop it.

Dr. Thu was harassed by the police.

He was finally summoned to meet with the Prime Minister.

He assumed it was a publicity stunt during which he was going to be arrested.

And yet he went.

He was not afraid.

He was fearless.

When he got there, he was shown 3000 signatures of “Muslims” who said they had been attending Christian churches.

The Muslim community accused the Christian community of a large-scale attempt to convert Muslims.

They wanted the school closed and Dr. Thu jailed.

Then a miracle.

The Prime Minister told Dr. Thu that he had been educated in a Christian Mission School and had been treated well by the missionaries even though he was Muslim.

He was never asked to convert, though he was taught about Christianity.

He observed how much good the Christian Church was doing by providing services to those in need.

Education, food, health care, connection between the cities and the tribes in the remote areas.

The government was respected.

The laws were obeyed.

The Prime Minister not only approved the Seminary, but proclaimed it a constitutionally protected activity and then gave the seminary 6 acres of land across the street from the Governor’s palace.

When the building was finished, the Prime Minster attended the dedication and as a dedication gift, paid off the remaining debt incurred in building the seminary.

Recently the government gave the seminary 3 more acres of land to build new classrooms and facilities so the seminary can become a Christian University – in a Muslim country!

How did this happen?

Because Dr. Thu realized that it was necessary for the church to proclaim its message to the people by living the Gospel out in the community and demonstrating how Christian living benefits the community as a whole.

They went out into the community and proclaimed the Gospel by the way they lived.

They lived among the people, working, socializing, participating, caring and worshiping.

They spoke for Jesus.

Live the Jesus way.

And so despite their national unpopularity, they were fearless.

So what does that mean for us here at JMPC?

Where are we called to go?

Maybe not to Borneo.

But certainly to those who Jesus went to.

The poor.

The sick.

The disabled.

The hungry.

The thirsty.

The naked.

The strangers.

The imprisoned.

Our neighbors, near here and far away.

And when we do these things, Jesus tells us we are not to be afraid.

When we go, we acknowledge Jesus, and he acknowledges us to God.

Despite the many folks who oppose us and reject us, our souls are secure with God.

Jesus’ disciples were just a start.

We are the continuation.

So can each one of us do just one thing that moves this mission forward.

Proclaiming God’s kingdom and calling all to live as Jesus would have us live?

To change the world just a little bit?

Can we listen to Jesus’ divine pep talk?

His inspiration.

His encouragement.

His promise.

Can we go out and speak for him despite our anxiety?

Jesus says yes we can!

That is the challenge of discipleship.

To go forth and not be afraid.

But we can because we are speaking and living for Jesus.

And he will walk beside us.

So we can be fearless.



Family Issues: Thoughts on reconciliation in two voices.

Luke 15: 11-32

The Parable of the Prodigal and His Brother

11 Then Jesus* said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with* the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ” 20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”* 22But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.

25 ‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” 31Then the father* said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” ’

Jeff: (sitting at desk talking on the phone)

You know I like going out to dinner. So let’s do that. Let’s go someplace where I can get a steak. How about that new microbrewery? Excellent. We’ll meet you there. Bye! (hangs up phone and picks up pictures of his kids).  It’s going to be a great Father’s Day.  That was my son Eric, he and his wife Ashley are going to have dinner with Sandy and I Sunday.  It’s what we do every year. We go out to dinner for Father’s Day and I pay for it. Which is fine by me. I can afford it and Eric is still starting out. Besides, I like to eat and if I pay I don’t have to worry about what I am ordering. I really look forward to seeing Eric because we have such a good time when we get together. We have a lot in common. I am truly blessed to have such a great son. I am really proud of him. Always have been. He’s always been there for me. And I have supported him from the time he struggled until he became a doctor and settled in to a really great career. Eric has always been such a great kid, since he was just a little guy.  He always listened well, always ate what we cooked without complaint, always did his homework.  He was pretty smart. He always got good grades and he excelled in music, and swimming, too. He had a bunch of good friends and would even go to church and mission trips without me pestering him.  Yes sir Eric has been pratty easy in every way.  His younger brother David on the other hand, well….

Matt: (walking in carrying a push broom)

(Screaming to his boss) Okay, I already told you I will get to it when I’m done cleaning up the rest of the garage.  Well do you want me to clean the parking lot first or the garage first?  Okay, then give me a little bit of time and I will finish it up.  Man oh man that guy needs to get off my back.  I get that he is my boss but he could try to respect me a little bit, I’m a grown man.  I mean my boss is so controlling, he’s always telling me what to do and looking right over my shoulder to make sure I do it his way.  Ha, it kind of reminds me of somebody I know.  I wonder if Mr. Thomas knows my dad, he acts just like him.  Don’t get me wrong my dad’s not a bad guy, but it is impossible to live with him.  And of course, nobody could ever live up to his precious Eric.   I’m sorry I’m not a superhero doctor.  Apparently, you need to make tons of money if you want my dad’s respect.

Jeff:

Eric and David could not have been more different. Eric was focused and took the long view. And was willing to put in the time and effort to succeed. I’m not really sure what happened with David. He was more interested in living for the day. No focus and no effort. And he did not want to hear anything I had to say. David always seemed to fight me… on everything, I meant the kid would argue with me about how to wash a window or mow the lawn. He always knew better.  He always had this fire and passion in him.  I just thought if he focused that passion in the right direction he could have succeeded in anything he wanted.  Instead he used up all that fire and passion to argue with me. I still remember the night he left. We were really going at it. Sandy was horrified. For the life of me I cannot remember what we were fighting about.  I wish I had controled myself. I said some things I wish I hadn’t. But I was just trying to get through to him. That’s what fathers do, right?   But you should’ve heard the things he said to me.  I couldn’t repeat 90% of the things he said.  Despite all I had done for him over the years. I looked at him right in his eyes and told him that at the end of the day the Bible says to honor your father and mother and that’s what he needed to do.  He told me he hated me, that he wished I was dead, and said he was leaving and never coming back.

Matt:

When I left that night, I walked away and told myself to not look back.  He was yelling and screaming about all kinds of different things, what wasn’t he yelling about.  My mom was crying as I walked away but he was still yelling at me, telling me I would be back.  I would rather die than prove him right, I would never hear the end of it.  Truth is he wasn’t always around when I was growing up.  He missed a lot of my stuff growing up, but hey he had to work.  Sure, a swimming pool and big house is nice, but what I really wanted was my dad around.  When he was around he was giving me a hard time.  I remember that when he was around we always had to go to church.  It wasn’t that bad, but it just wasn’t my thing.  I can still remember my dad always saying to me, honor thy father and mother.  It always made me a little mad, shouldn’t he honor his son.  Besides I thought that God’s love and his love where supposed to be unconditional.  Obviously, that’s not true because if he loved me he wouldn’t have drove me out.

Jeff:

God, I miss David. Not one day goes by that I don’t think about him and worry.  I’ve always loved David, since the day he was born.  He was such a little guy. I could hold him in my hand.  I remember looking at him that day, I knew in my heart he was special.  And he is. He’s just not much like me. He certainly was different from Eric, but he had such passion. I thought he was going to really make a difference in the world. Doing what I had no clue. But he was going to make a difference. One thing I regret is that I did not hug him and tell him I loved him. That is not the kind of person I am.  What I did was try to show him I love him.  I went to as many of his activities as I could, I took him on great vacations, and he had everything he wanted.  I mean he had the newest video consoles, expensive clothes, and even a car when he turned 16, which was something I never had.  So maybe I never told him I loved him, but how could he think I didn’t? If only he would come back and admit he was wrong. I would forget everything he said and did, I would forget it all.  After all God does tell us to forgive and certainly forgives us.  I wish he would just come back.

Matt:

I’ve been on my own for 3 years now and it has been a rough three years.  Apparently, nobody wants to hire a high school dropout.  It’s a change from the life I was living before.  I share a small 1 bedroom apartment with another guy, I sleep on the couch.  I haven’t eaten anything that wasn’t Raymen noodles in 2 months.  My dad must know that I’m struggling, then again maybe he doesn’t.  I haven’t heard from him since that one night.  He hasn’t called me, sent me a card, or even tried to come visit me.  I mean if he just came to see me and apologized for what he said I would forgive him and we would be good.    I really wish he would just come and get me.

Jeff:

On Sunday, the pastor was preaching on a parable from Luke 15.  Jesus was eating with sinners and the Pharisee’s wanted to know why.  Jesus told them a story about a woman who had 10 coins, but she lost one.  The woman rips apart her entire house.  She is relentless in trying to find the coin and she doesn’t stop until she finds it.  When she finds it, she cerebrates and calls all her friends to celebrate with her.  The coin was lost and she found it. It’s like God has been searching for something, or someone, lost. When God finds that something or someone, there is great joy. The Bible says that this celebration is what it is like in heaven when one sinner repents.  It made me think. I had lost David. For whatever reason, he was gone. And I wanted him back. Just like God wants his lost children back. God’s love is relentless. God does not stop looking, that is what Jesus said.  God was relentless in finding me.  I thought about David the entire sermon.  Should I be like the woman in the parable?  Should I be like God? God sent Jesus to tell us to live like him. Find the lost soul. Forgive. Reconcile. Love. I just want to see David. I need to find him.

Matt:

My dad made me go to church every Sunday and I got to tell you I don’t remember much, other than being bored.  I do remember my Sunday school teacher telling us this one story from the book of Luke.  He said that Jesus was eating with a whole bunch of low lives and some church people asked why he was hanging out with such scum bags.  Jesus answered them with a few stories.  I don’t remember all of them but one always stuck in my mind.  He said a shepherd had 100 sheep, but 1 of the 100 went missing.  He said the shepherd leaves all 99 sheep to find the one lost sheep.  Why would someone leave all they owned in danger to save just 1?

Jeff:

I remember having arguments with my dad when I was younger.  I never took it as far as David has, but the Lord knows it was close.  My dad made a lot of mistakes, and I definitely have too.  Maybe it’s time for me to stop thinking about me and start thinking about “us”. I need to just recognize that he is lost.  The woman in the parable didn’t sit down for a long time and try to figure out why or how the coin got lost, she just went looking for it until it was found.  And then the party started. Have you ever lost anyone?  Have you ever just let them slip away despite how much you love them and miss them? Just because you can’t forgive? I guess that is what I have been doing for the last three years. I lost my son. And have done nothing to find him. That is not the Jesus way. Time to find him and bring him home.

Matt:

I miss a soft bed, I miss good food, but what I really miss is my dad.  I have thought it through in my head a thousand times, going back home.  I’m sure I’m going to have to apologize a lot, I’m sure I will have to put my pride a side, but it just feels like time to go home.  One of the worst things about being lost is it feels like you’re never going to be found.  I have felt so hopeless over the past few years living a hard life and not having anyone to lean on.  I have made so many mistakes in my life and have felt so alone, I wonder if anyone could love me again.  Have you ever felt lost before?  Have you ever felt like second chances just don’t happen for you?  I have felt like that for three years, and it has been a long three years.  I’m going home and telling my dad that I love him.  If you have somebody in your life that you need to say I love you to, I hope that you do…today.



Interaction! Thoughts on the Trinity (and quantum physics).

Matthew 28: 16-20

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

Today is Trinity Sunday.

The day we celebrate the trinitarian nature of God.

So, happy Trinity Sunday!

Who wants to come up and testify to their understanding of the Trinity?

It’s kind of like the Zen philosophical riddle that asks this question:

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

When I read some of the answers the Zen masters give to this riddle, it gave me a headache.

Pretty strange stuff!

Then I read about someone who asked that question of children.

Their answer?

It sounds like nothing.

Clapping only makes a sound if there are two hands.

There needs to be some kind of interaction between two different hands for the sound of a clap to happen.

Which also brought to mind the old metaphysical question of whether a tree that falls in the woods makes a sound if there is no ne to hear it.

If there is nothing to hear a sound, there is no sound heard.

Sound needs a hearer.

What is interesting about these answers is that they are consistent with quantum physics.

Carlo Rovelli is a professor of physics and director of the quantum gravity group at the Center for Theoretical Physics.

He wrote a book called: Seven Brief Lessons on Physics.

In a recent interview with Krista Tippett, this exchange took place.

Ms. Tippett: A driving point that you make as you describe quantum physics, and really all of physics, is we must accept the idea that reality is interaction.

Dr. Rovelli: Yeah. This is a very general point in science. And I’m not sure I’m able to articulate entirely, but I think it comes out for many sciences, and certainly from quantum mechanics, but also from others, we do understand the world better not in terms of things, but in terms of interaction between things, and how things interact with one another, even in biology. …

And at the core of quantum physics, this comes out very, very strongly. Somehow, quantum physics does not describe how things are, but how things interact with one another. So, I think this is general — even we human beings — I’m not a thing; I’m a net of interactions with the world around me, with the people who know me, who love me. …

He says that nothing exists apart from its interaction other things.

Again:

Without interaction, nothing exists.

Only one hand?

No sound.

No one to hear a sound?

No sound heard.

In my little exercise, there must be three.

Two hands to interact in order for there to be a sound.

And someone to hear the sound.

When I put these things together I thought of the Trinity.

Which of course is another esoteric question assigned to the more esoteric regions of theology.

One of the first great theologians to try and describe the Trinity was Athanasius, in 325.

[W]e worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in unity, neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the persons … The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. … And yet there are not three incomprehensibilites, nor three uncreated, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible.

Got it?

The Trinity is a powerful mystery.

The kind of thing that can give you a headache.

Over the centuries people have tried to depict the Trinity in words of pictures in order to let us common folk understand it.

But none get it quite right.

And then there is the most recent depiction the Trinity.

The Shack.

God the Father takes the form of an African American woman who calls herself Papa.

Jesus is a Middle-Eastern carpenter.

And the Holy Spirit is as an Asian woman named Sarayu.

Athanasius is likely in high rotation in the grave.

What it comes down to is this:

Gregory of Nyssa, at around the same time as Athanasius had a different take and said this:

[I]f our feeble powers of reason prove unequal to the problem [of understanding the Trinity], we must guard the tradition we have received from the Fathers, as ever sure and immovable, and seek from the Lord a means of defending our faith. If this should be discovered by anyone endowed with grace, we shall give thanks to Him who granted the grace. If not we shall none the less hold on to our unchangeable faith in those points which have been established.

In other words, if you don’t understand it, you are in good company, and that’s OK.

No one does.

The Trinity is one of the great mysteries of our faith.

Sometimes they are just accepted.

And that’s ok.

As Augustine pointed out back in the 4th century:

If you can comprehend it, it is not God.

But we celebrate it anyway today.

This Sunday we celebrate that our God is “three in one”.

Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.

And rather than go further into a theological discussion of how that might be, I want to look at our Trinitarian God the way physicist Rovelli would want us to.

There is no God without interaction.

Interaction that produces a reality that we are part of and can perceive.

A singular god interacts with nothing.

What this would mean is that God is an isolated entity, and according to Stephen Boyd of Wake Forest University, “utterly unique, self-contained and a self-sufficient reality.”

In other words, God would need nothing else to interact with.

A tree falling with no one to hear.

A hand waving in the air with nothing to clap against.

That is why we believe there is a community in the Godhead.

And it was that community relationship that created all things.

And scripture numbers the community as three.

We see it in the Old Testament reading for Trinity Sunday.

The Genesis creation story.

This is the interaction between the three persons of the Trinity.

God desires to create.

The Spirit hovers over the chaos.

Jesus speaks it into order.

God is not a thing; God is a net of interactions with the persons who know God, who love God.

The Holy Three!

Gregory of Nyssa agreed.

He put it this way:

We do not learn that the Father does something on his own, in which the Son does not cooperate. Or, again, that the Son acts on his own without the Spirit. Rather every operation that extends from God to creation, [has] its origin in the Father, proceed[s] through the Son and reach[es] its completion in the Holy Spirit. …[T]he action of each in any matter is not separate and individualized. But whatever occurs, occurs through three persons, and is not three separate things.

God in three persons is creation.

All interacting to create … what?

Rovelli again:

A net of interactions with the world around God, with the people who know God, who love God

Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr puts it this way:

One reason so many theologians are interested in the Trinity now is that we’re finding both physics (especially quantum physics) and cosmology are at a level of development where human science, our understanding of the atom and our understanding of galaxies, is affirming and confirming our use of the old Trinitarian language—but with a whole new level of appreciation. Reality is radically relational, and the power is in the relationships themselves!

More interactions.

More to interact with.

Can I be so bold as to say that the eruptive force of the creative interaction between the three persons of the Trinity was like a big bang?

A big bang that created uncountable interactions between as Paul might say:

All things in heaven and on earth, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things that have been created.

The Bible is an encyclopedia of these interactions with us here.

The Old Testament describes interactions between Creator and creation.

The Gospels describe the interaction between Redeemer and redeemed.

Which finally brings us to our scripture reading.

We call it the Great Commission.

What happens here is more creative interaction.

Jesus, the Redeemer, gathers the remaining 11 disciples (some of whom still don’t recognize him) and sends them on a seemingly impossible mission.

Go and make disciples of everyone.

To encourage them, Jesus tells them that God has given him all authority.

So God is part of it.

Jesus then tells the disciples to interact with the nations and create more disciples by teaching these folks what Jesus gave the disciples – his word.

So Jesus is part of it.

Finally Jesus says that he will be with them, through the Holy Spirit.

So the Holy Spirit is part of it.

Father gives authority to Son who gives his teaching and the Holy Spirit who gives us the encouragement we need.

It is all about God giving us what we need and asking us to pass it on.

Interaction that creates and sustains and redeems.

We ourselves are not singular.

We are not isolated individuals, utterly unique, self-contained with a self-sufficient reality.

We are part of God’s reality.

A reality that says we are nothing without interaction.

Nothing without relationship.

God is more than one.

And so are we.

So what does all this mean for us?

It means that our reality will defined by our interactions.

By our interactions with God.

And with each other.

If our interactions and relationships define our reality, what is created through them, how do we want that reality to be?

If we want to glorify God, our interactions should seek to create what God created.

Community.

Forgiveness.

Redemption.

Reconciliation.

Salvation.

Feeding the hungry.

Giving water to the thirsty.

Welcoming the strangers.

Clothing the naked.

Caring for the sick.

Visiting the prisoners.

You get the picture.

Living the Jesus way.

Jesus says that if we do these things for each other, we do them for him.

Which includes the Father and the Holy Spirit.

It puts us in relationship with God.

It makes us interact with God.

And it creates.

It creates God’s Kingdom right here and right now.

And it is all good.

That is the good news.

Malcolm Guite is Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge.

He wrote this poem for Trinity Sunday and I want to share it.

In the Beginning, not in time or space,

But in the quick before both space and time,

In Life, in Love, in co-inherent Grace,

In three in one and one in three, in rhyme,

In music, in the whole creation story,

In His own image, His imagination,

The Triune Poet makes us for His glory,

And makes us each the other’s inspiration.

He calls us out of darkness, chaos, chance,

To improvise a music of our own,

To sing the chord that calls us to the dance,

Three notes resounding from a single tone,

To sing the End in whom we all begin;

Our God beyond, beside us and within.

Three in one.

Interacting with us, even now.

Our God beyond, beside us and within.