Thursday, March 27, 2014

Blind Justice

  We know that Jesus saves, and makes the blind to see. Does this come with a price? What price would you pay to see justice done in OUR world?
  Again, I struggle from week to week to make the Sunday morning messages at the congregation I serve mean something. Sure, I can, (and do) tell funny stories that make people laugh and feel good. This is easy for me. Is this doing God's work? Really, I know that what I am really called to do in these talks is let the Spirit move in the congregation.
  This weeks lectionary reading is John 9:1-41. This is the story of Jesus healing the blind man. What this really deals with is what happens when we do God's work with God's people, those in His own image.
  Jesus heals a man blind from birth, but he does it on the Sabbath. He knows the laws, (He is the Son of God) and this breaks one of the traditional Jewish laws of working on the Sabbath, (Exodus 31:12-17). Why would He do this? I think the short answer is to show that all people are important, and God wants to heal all of us whenever possible. It also allowed him to confront the Pharisees and show them how ridiculous they can be.
  Here is the troubling part. Aren't we sometimes junior Pharisees? Don't we take rules and laws and put them before people? I am a lay pastor for the United Methodist Church. The United Methodist Church has rules and laws, and they are gathered in a document called The Book of Discipline. (The current Book of Discipline is almost 800 pages long-that is some document!) I like my church, I love my congregation and like having a discipline, a book of rules to guide me.  
  If you hear or read the news, you know that several preachers ordained in the United Methodist Church have performed same sex marriages, a practice outside the Book of Discipline. These pastors have been brought before courts of review and some have been de-frocked. They have been fired and told that their life's work is not valid. That makes me nervous!
  I see Jesus doing things that are outside His Jewish laws to do what God wants done. To heal God's people. I see ministers doing things outside their churches laws to reach people made in God's own image, and then are punished. As a lay minister, I am not ordained, so I can not perform sacraments anyway, ( another rule in The Book of Discipline.) So this does not directly affect me, not as a pastor.
  But it does affect me as a sinner trying to understand what God desires. It does shape the way un-churched see how the church behaves. I don't understand why these pastors choose to do what they did, and I can't say that even if I had the authority to marry that I would marry a same sex couple.  I tend to respect laws.
  Jesus does not want followers who seek to do the law, He expects us to do justice. Sometimes these are not the same.
Go-Fight-Win. Amen

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Ther's Just No Pleasing Some people

  This week's lectionary passage comes once again from the Book of John.  John 9:1-41 is the story of Jesus and the blind man. This story reminds me so much of the part of Monty Python's Life of Brian where Brian is approached by the beggar who is saying "alms for an ex-leper." The beggar was cured by Jesus so now he can no longer beg. It may be a farce, but Jesus healing the blind creates all kinds of problems.
  Jesus heals a man who has been blind since birth, in essence-he opens his eyes literally. This is all well and good, but this act of kindness really upsets the religious leaders. First, they grill the man and his parents, (really, you bring a grown man's Mom and Dad to the inquisition?)  They want to make sure this is not a ruse used by Jesus to get street cred.
  Funny thing is the more they question the blind man, and his parents, the more strong in his faith of Jesus he becomes. If they would have let it go it could have died down as just another little miracle. The more they allowed the blind man to speak- the more the crowds heard about the greatness of Jesus. Eventually, the man explains he believes Jesus is messiah.
  Then they grill Jesus because he healed, (therefore he worked,) on the Sabbath. I know what you're thinking- so what?  I always wondered why they would question Jesus at this time. I mean didn't they learn anything from their experience with the blind guy? Couldn't they see this wouldn't end well for them? Apparently not. There is just no pleasing some people.
  Do we do the same thing? When we see other people blessed, can we complain? When we belittle miracles Jesus has done in other peoples lives, what message are we sending to those who haven't accepted Christ? Can't we be happy that Christ is alive and working in our world? These are some of the questions I am wrestling with as I look for truth.
Go-Fight-Win. Amen.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Give You Living Water

                    "What is this 'living water' you speak of?" 

  The Samaritan woman at the well is one of the most theologically discussed characters in the new testament. Unfortunately, we tend to add to her story.
  What do we really know? She has been married five times and is now living in sin. Sounds pretty trashy so far. We assume that she was divorced 5 times, but in that world she could have easily been widowed 5 times, possibly to a bunch of brothers. Either way- she was not in a good financial spot.
  Because of the financial strains, she would come get water whenever she was not working, that may have been why she was filling up during noon. We have always figured it was because she was an outcast. We just do not know.
  We do know that she was very well taught in religious matters. She knew religious laws and what the Jews considered sacred. She also was not afraid to test Jesus. Here is the big difference between this woman and Nicodemus, (from the proceeding story.) When Jesus answers her, she believes. Not only does she believe, she realizes he is the messiah.
  What does she do then? She runs and tells her friends. She becomes an evangelical missionary. Even though Jesus' own disciples are confused, the woman's witness caused many of her people to come to Jesus.
  What does this have to do with God's Own Image? Are we a man, well schooled and educated. Someone who is respected and a leader? Or, are we an unnamed woman, of lowly financial position, from a despised and depressed people. The answer may be scandalous.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


  Everybody loves scandal. I do not mean the TV show, (although lots do), I'm talking about deep, dark secrets. We all fall in this situation. We all have things and experiences we would like to bury and put away forever. They are embarrassing, hurtful or inconvenient and are nobody else's business.
  My sermon this week is on the Samaritan woman at the well. (A hush fell over many of the readers). Is there any other character in the New Testament that is more scandalous?  I mean really, married five times? Coming out to get water in the middle of the day, who does that except someone hiding?
  I am touched by this woman however. Instead of skulking around during the night, she comes to Jesus in the daylight. Even more incredible- Jesus actually seeks her out! A multi married Samaritan WOMAN, what Jewish leader in their right mind would strike up a conversation with her?
  Short answer, only one, and that one is Jesus.
  Funny thing is that how different is she than many of us? Don't we all have secrets? Don't we all have things that should keep us from perfection? Yet Jesus calls out to each of us, He invites all of us to experience the living water that comes through him. As I re-read John 4:5-42, (really? lectionary reading that is 37 verses long?) I am struck by what the gospel is telling me this week.
  What is the Gospel saying to someone in God's own image? Stay tuned to this blog for the next episode.
Go-Fight-Win. Amen.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Born Again, (from out of the darkness)

 I am still developing my sermon from John 3. Yesterday I talked about Nicodemus coming to Jesus in the darkness. Today I am breaking down being born again.
  For many of us, born again is Ned Flanders. Conservative, happy, modestly dressed, (but with Jesus abs) are traits of born again Christians. Heck, he is even left handed. So, this is what we see, and even more importantly what the world see's when we think of being born again. Is this what Jesus see's?
  How can rebirth happen? Nicodemus thinks like we do, like people do. Can a man crawl back into the womb and be re-born? No, thought some men try. So what is Christ talking about?
  We are to re-born in the spirit. Jesus uses a wind metaphor, and we can look at this in our lives. The spirit is the breeze that re-ignites the flame in our fire. We don't know where it comes from or where it goes, but it does marvelous things while it's here.
  I could comment on re-birth by baptism or how we are given new lives once the spirit lives within us. I could- but Ned Flanders is better at that than I. There in lies the problem- Ned Flanders is a cartoon character, and few people that don't know the cartoon will take him seriously.
  If you don't know the spirit, if you don't live through Christ, how can you understand how the church condemns if we aren't born again? If we can't explain things in a very basic but real way, (like Jesus does,) how can we reach the un-churched?
  Jesus does save the upper middle class white church goers. He also saves the migrant workers, the jailed African American dope seller, the pregnant teen with crack issues. The wind blows where the wind blows, we can't control it. The spirit can re-kindle flames in people anywhere as well.
Go-Fight-Win. Amen

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

In the Shadows

  This weeks lectionary gospel reading comes from John 3. This has the most quoted and remembered verse in the entire bible in it,(John 3:16) but it is the story of Jesus and Nicodemus. I like to use the lectionary as a base for my sermons, so I have really been giving this a lot of thought and research.
  Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and a member of the Sanhedrin. He was very well tought and was definitely on the fast track of Jewish religious leadership. He must have been moved by what Jesus had done, and he was curious. He came to visit Jesus, but he came at night. He wanted to know more, but he didn't want to do this in the light of day. Afterall, if you do things in the light of day, people might see you.
  As I read about the discussions Nicodemus and Jesus had, I stil keep coming to this. This is done in the dark. Nicodemus lived in the shadows, not wishing to be outed. Do we do the same thing?  Do we worship God in the open, during the day- the work day? Or do we only talk to Jesus while we are in the shadows.
  I understand Nicodemus had a lot to loose, and he needed to be sure that Jesus was who people said he was, and what Nicodemus suspected. Are we in the same boat? I think this is why so many young people are turning from the church . They believe in a God, ( as did Nicademus ) and may be curious about Jesus, but are afraid to come out of the safety of the shadows to really get to know Christ.  Most of Nicodemus' friends trashed Jesus, of this I am pretty sure. His church, (Jesus'- not Nicodemus') is catching a lot of bad press now, some deserved. Until we, as disciples of Jesus, can ourselves come out from the shadows, how can we expect others to do so.
Go-Fight-Win. Amen

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Rest of the Story

  This morning I led a men's prayer breakfast at church. The devotional was a brief study of the Book of Jonah. There are several reasons I chose this for this morning:
1. Jonah is a very short book
2. It is very readable
3. I have done several studies on Jonah in the past- so I didn't have to do much prep.
   I did something a little different today. Because there was less discussion than normal, ( old men don't like to discuss much,) I had time at the end. Since Jonah ends so abruptly, I asked the guys to write the ending. I said be brief, maybe a paragraph, to fit the rest of the book. The answers were interesting.
  Not one man ended the book with Jonah recanting and going back to town to make disciples. Some had him passing on the edge of town waiting, others thought he turned and went home. One man said he was stuck dead by God, ( so much for the compassion and mercy as the theme.)
  How do you end the story, ( you may want to re-read the book to help.) Just a thought. Does how we finish this story have anything to do with how we see God?  If God goes through the trouble of transporting Jonah in the belly of a fish, would he then let him do a job half-way? Do we, as humans, have the freedom of choice it would take to do nothing but bitch?  Since this an OT ( Old Testament) God, would he smite Jonah for being lippy? 
Go-Fight-Win. Amen

Thursday, March 6, 2014

God's Own Image

 Why would I name this blog "In God's Own Image"? Do I really believe that God looks like me or thinks like me, or even likes the same things I like? Short answer- yes.
  This really took root at a young adult Bible study that my wife and I teach, (and I use that word very loosely.) I gave an answer, by way of a joke. As a form of apology, (sort of) I inserted that I know God has a sense of humor because he made me. I then gave my best Animal House Bluto imitation, (as you see on my profile picture), trying to seal the laugh. One of the young adults then blurted out "So that's God's image", and this thought was born.
  We are all made in God's own image-so therefore...this is what God is like! scary, but thought provoking.  I am not God, but God is me.