Category Archives: Focus on Divine

A little reflection on Moses and Exodus 3:1-15

(This little bit is from an evening service with new and returning college students – it is just my notes, but I loved the last paragraph!)

Opportunities of Campus Ministry

–         Friends and food – My first Sunday

–         Older students would drive around – knew cheap resturants

–         Professorial references

–         Live changing events like retreat

 

Unknow possibilities of College and campus ministry – where will these experiences take you?

 

Moses – Theophany – God made known to humans

          Moses didn’t get to choose the time or the place.

 

Name of God – Moses was the first person who knew the name of God according to Fredrick Buechner.  There was a choice that Moses could have made, to tell the name of God or not.  But Moses chose to share that name of God since we know that name – a story that lives on because of our retelling the story over and over.

 

There is also this dialogue between God, the I am who I am – I will be who I will be. God clearly calls Moses – but Moses comes up with a litany of excuses. He says to God, “But I don’t know your name.” Suppose they don’t believe me – staff into serpent, hand inside of his cloak develops leprosy (reasons those who care about you want you to wash your clothes). Later he even responds, “I don’t speak well.” Excuses, excuses.

 

But even with these excuses, Moses despite his best made excuses agrees to serve God, chose to work to free and lead God’s people who were in oppression in Egypt. It was a forty year assignment, that would last the rest of his life, but God had called him and God would be with him. Moses’ life with all of its challenges and setbacks models for us the fact that God will always be with us even on the days when the whole of the world seems so far away.

 

Your time here at school can be just four, or five or so

of normal making it though the day kinda thing.

Or it could be the theophany designed just for you

by God who has created you,

by God who loves you more than any other person, place or thing

and by the God who can’t wait to see how you chose.

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A Word on Giving and Faithful living

The Rev. Dr. Mary John Dye articulates some powerful toughts on faithful life and addresses a common “Christanity my way” practices. Her blog can be found: www.maryjohndye.blogspot.com Thanks Mary John.

    “If you have been a United Methodist for 6 days or 6 years or 60 years, you should have had the opportunity to know that, from the days of our founder John Wesley, Methodists are passionate believers in an accountable, disciplined and full discipleship for Jesus Christ; that we believe in living out the teaching of Jesus and that we have a constant, consistent passion for those in need.   These characteristics are deeply ingrained in our practice of faith. This defines the United Methodist way of life.  

     “So I was completely off guard when someone stopped me after church one Sunday to tell me he was going to retrieve his check from the offering plate and never come back to the church again. He was angry because the sermon–an eloquent, engaging presentation of basic United Methodist faith— urged people to live and apply the teachings of Jesus as well as talking about the life of Jesus.

   “Now friends, first of all, let us be clear. People in United Methodism have always been encouraged in lively theological discussion. We encourage people to raise questions and think through theological issues in Christian conferencing. Questions, concerns, the search for truth – all of those things are deeply valued in our denominational life.

     “Threats? Not so much.   Nobody has to threaten to leave to get attention. In fact, threats only discourage a productive discussion. First of all, the threats start the conversation with a very shallow spirituality. I can’t even conceive of getting mad and demanding my offering money back.

     “I don’t care how much your check to the church is, don’t put money in the offering plate to get your way. The offering is a sacred opportunity to thank God for God’s love and faithfulness.   What you give in the offering of your money and heart is a reflection of your appreciation of God’s many gifts to you. Period. No amount of money entitles you to be happy with what the pastor says. No amount of giving entitles you to have your way in decisions in the life of the church. Buying influence is a common practice in the world and you have many opportunities in civic life in this country to give for influence.   The church, in contrast, is a call to Christian discipleship. Jesus’ teaching on money reminds us that wealth tends to have a spiritually devastating effect on people. In church, people are invited to give to put God first and to participate in God’s giving heart. Our unique gift to people of putting money in godly perspective must not be corrupted by the ways of the world. Giving is a spiritual experience that reflects the humility, gratitude, the open heart that becomes the Christian disciple. Giving is not a bargaining chip at church to be extended – or withdrawn-based on the agreement of the giver.

     “So many times I hear people who are mad about something say that they will just stop coming to church. Maybe they don’t even hear what that says about their Christian faith. Friends, we have the opportunity, the freedom and the privilege of worshipping God every Sunday. Worship is our opportunity to grow in faith, to be connected to the Christian community, to get perspective in prayer and song and to hear God’s word. Worship not about liking or not liking the preacher. Attendance in worship is not for people to get their way. Worship is about God’s way. We’ve had it backwards way too long. Boycotting worship only shows the spiritual immaturity of the person who stays away. Even more sadly, by their actions, they keep themselves from the rich resources of the gospel in shared community.

     “I share this because I know that, in the heat of our shared life, many of you hear others say that they are going to quit giving or quit coming to church. I know this because you call me worried that certain people (and you usually tell me that they are “good givers” to your budget) will stop coming. When people make or live out a boycotting threat, you have a teachable moment.   In the spirit of Christian love, I hope you give people the best gift of all: a faithful witness to the things that are eternal.

     “I believe that God works in all things for good. And, although these threatening encounters are very discouraging, I pray that speaking the threats will be opportunities to re-think and re-focus on true faithfulness.”

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Peter Gomes’ Dec. 12, 2008

Beyond Anxiety 2

A great sermon. Probably my favorite sermon from Professor Gomes from Harvard Memorial Chapel. It was really timely and insightful – especially in Dec. 2008! A sermon with some great lines.

Hope you enjoy, especially if you need a bit of encouragement.

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Advent I: “Surpised by Hope”

Click for audio:09 Advent_ Surpised by Hope Sermon_ 1

Advent I – “Surprised by Hope”

Matthew 1:18-25

Nov 28 2010

During Advent a Sunday school teacher read her class part of the Christmas preparation story from the perspective of the animals involved. She then asked which animal was missing from the story. One said a cow. Another timidly said a horse. Then in desperation the teacher asked, “Who are the animals waiting for?” After a few seconds of pausing, one brave student declared, “The Great Pumpkin!”#

This time of the year, from the time before Halloween and All Saint’s Day, it seems that we just have one big string of holidays. Turkeys wearing Santa suits. Pumpkins sporting feathers and felted Pilgrim hats. Confetti being dropped from the sky and noise makers at full blast as we begin the liturgical New Year with the first Sunday of Advent. We’re in all these… “right now” … “this second” …and “because we have to” mode of life.

I have to acknowledge that this fall has been busier than usual around the church. We’ve worked doubly hard to make sure you are aware of our congregation’s financial needs to support our ministry budget. We’ve attempted to let you know of those 5 goals that have been discerned over the past five years and accepted by our church’s official leadership: our congregation’s desire to have updated youth and children’s areas, a place for us to come together as friends and a place were strangers can become our new friends, strengthening our music ministry and their work, areas within our walls that support current technological means – like projection for a study group or watching a movie together in fellowship.

For those of you who have heard that call and have responded as generously as you are able, I add my voice to the thank yous that have been said for your support of our congregation and its ministries. I also want you to be aware of the potential for you to be apart of something wonderful and meaningful through giving. Giving in my own life has been something of a slow development. But I am getting there. Every year I have gone up…how much I don’t know …but this year I can tell you this year my pledge went up 7.5% – it’s not huge, but its what I can do. Then I went forward and pledged to the capital campaign. Do you want to know who the first person was to turn in their pledge and their commitment to the capital campaign? Me. That’s how excited I am that I can be a part of this.

I was thinking as I made my decision regarding my support of the Ministry Budget and Capital Campaign, “what do I spend my money on that actually make a lasting difference in my life and other’s lives?” A cup of coffee how long does that last? – say an hour, a haircut two/three weeks, a shirt a couple, three years. A car, what 4-5 years, a tank of gas about 350/400 miles, all fleeting moments of things I find important at that moment. But a Bible purchased for a kid, food given around the world, our general church’s work on behalf of the most marginalized people. Those a places where there is good done. Moments of God’s Kingdom being revealed on earth and by my gifts, people’s lives can be touched.

Part of my thought in giving what I could to the Capital Campaign was me wondering where else, I’d be able to point to in 25 or 50 – 60 – possibly 70 – that’d only make me 104 years old – and say I was fortunate enough to be able to contribute to that project on behalf of our children and youth and every member – now and those to come in the future. There are all kinds of ways to support the church – not only monetary gifts – we focus on Christian living much of the year, and we’ve gotten scared to speak of money as not to offend someone. But what I have come to understand through reading, study, what Ernie has preached, is that if I don’t give, I’ve got someone else to answer to – and it isn’t me. We focus on Christian living much of the year, just lately on Christian giving. In our vows of membership, we are asked, “Will you be loyal to the United Methodist Church and do all in your power to strengthen its ministries?” and your response was ____(yes)_____?

Strengthening United Methodist ministries takes much work and much money, as financial responses tend to grease the wheels of ministry. From the campus ministry at UNCC, the closest university to us with a United Methodist campus ministry, to 5th Street Ministries, to project Agape in Armenia, where we sent those 55 gift boxes and heard from their director on that Wednesday night, to supporting Lake Junaluska, teaching our children and youth, to supporting missionaries and health care programs all across the world. I say that to say, you’ve a big task before you. A worthy task mind you – but a large task.

We are hopeful that you’ll be able to complete your Letter of Intent as soon as possible – we’ll have opportunity for you to bring them up to the front, pray if you wish, receive a brick if you wish (even if you have already turned in for letter or mailed it, we’d like you to have a brick as you are assisting and enabling our congregation to do kingdom work throughout the world). Dr. Porter last week put it wonderfully: “Some of you have already made your commitment, come down to the altar and say a prayer and thank God for what you have done, some of you gona bring yours and leave it on the chancel rail, some of you haven’t decided yet what you’re gona do, come pray about that, some of you have made up your mind you’re not going to give anything, and you’re part of the family, you need to come pray about that too.” -Endquote.

We’ve a large task before us, but we can do it for the sake of fulfilling God’s calling on our church family. Our work and outreach, supporting our ministries are critical for us to answer the call of being kingdom people. But that’s what we do…as Christians there’s a forever presence of overwhelming situations, but there is something about us that should refuse to ever give up hope. Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa responded once in a 1992 interview – two years before Nelson Mandela is elected president and four years before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission began. if he was hopeful about the future of his country. His response, “I am always hopeful.” “A Christian is a prisoner of hope. What could have looked more hopeless than Good Friday?…There is not situation which God cannot extract good. Evil, death, oppression, injustice – these can never again have the last word, despite all appearances to the contrary.”#

Well, you know, I figured if we are living in the pumpkin, Pilgrim, liturgical New Year, you surely wouldn’t mind a reference to our Easter story too. But in honesty, isn’t that the real way of life. Every moment is lived in the complex situation of everything at once – Thanksgiving, New Year, Easter, and even Christmas. But at the same time we have to try and center ourselves in the present moment.

We’ve entered into the season of Advent beginning today. It is when we get ready, anticipate the coming of Jesus. We calmly go about our lives, readying our hearts and minds, preparing our homes and events to celebrate the season of Christmas, the birth of the Christ child long ago. Did you notice a problem in the last sentence? I said, “We calmly go about…”. Yeah, right, we’ve thrown the house, we’ve thrown the car, we’ve thrown our selves into high gear.

A friend sent me a text on Friday. He said, “I just saw on the news a clergy person in the middle of the state was fighting for limited quantities.” ( I wondered why Don would be in the middle of the state shopping.) I sorta laughed; sorta thought it’d be fitting as what the season has come to – I hope he just made it up. It was funny this morning in the early service – we had a great illistration – one of the candles fell out of the Advent wreath – we’re down to three Sundays over there.

But Advent is as counter cultural as the church could be in our human lives. Advent is the reminder, just as Lent is to Easter, that there is something more to Christmas than the parties of the season. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t spend time with those special to us all season long, all year long. I’ll be at all the parties I can attend. I am saying that we have to be reminded during the season of Advent that we have to wait just a bit more – things in our world aren’t as they should be. The world in which we struggle through life is not what it should be – and sometimes we, both you and I, have caused and support systems that prevents God’s kingdom from being fully revealed.

The Good News is that Advent reminds us that not only did Jesus come long ago as a child born of Mary, cared for by Joseph – a child destined for the cross, tomb and resurrection. But Advent is here also to remind us that our hope is never history. Yes, we must continue working for God’s kingdom day and night in our world, but, ultimately, Christ will return to make all things right. The end of struggle is not only in heaven, but will be revealed here upon the earth.

James Moore concludes in the book we are studying across our congregation, Christmas Gifts That Won’t Break, the section many of you have read today concludes with the story of the solider in Paris. With a phrase of “Happy Christmas” as he overpays for the flowers he purchases just to give away he transforms the whole restaurant where he’d been dining. Songs burst out, people start singing, laughter abounds. People who couldn’t speak the same language began speaking the same spirit – that spirit of Christmas. It wasn’t about the flowers given, it wasn’t about the money overpaid – it was the Spirit which transformed the moment. That is the Hope of the season. That’s what we are waiting on – a world transformed by the Christ whom we worship.

All glory, honor and power be to the one that was, is and is to come.

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Stand Up and Be Set Free

“To Be Set Free”

Luke 13: 10-17; II Corinthians 8 (several verses)

Yesterday was hopefully one for the history books – hopefully called sessions of Annual Conference will be no more than a page in the annuals of my life. Frances and Virginia, our lay delegates from our congregation, Jane and Rob as District Delegates, and Don and I left early on Saturday morning toward Lake Junaluska to adopt the 2011 budget for our annual conference.  I understand Marty was at the conference office waiting to update the website with the information decided. Thanks for her good work at the Annual Conference assisting to keep us all updated on the happenings around the conference.

It’s not hard to imagine plans more fitting on a Saturday morning, but the work must go on.  Bishop Goodpaster followed the singing of three hymns – a wonderful sound in a room with some passionate singing. He first apologized for having to assemble our conference once more this year. But he quickly reminded us that we have a process we have all agreed to follow as United Methodist and this was part of it. We need to be able to fund the work of the church and that not only takes prayer and worship but also financing.

He started with a selection of scripture form II Corinthians 8:
We want you to know, brothers and sisters,* about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; 2for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, 4begging us earnestly for the privilege* of sharing in this ministry to the saints— 5and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, 6so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking* among you. 7Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you*—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.*
8 I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 9For you know the generous act* of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. 10And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something—11now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. 12For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. 13I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between14your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. 15As it is written,
‘The one who had much did not have too much,
and the one who had little did not have too little.’

The Bishop said the darn-est thing, “You know this passage could have been written yesterday!” He was addressing the concerns of the economy – the concerns of the world around us. The Bishop proclaimed the tension the news from the economist and the good news of Jesus Chirst. He said, “Our stewardship crisis is because of listening to the wrong tapes in our minds.” He said, “If we care only for OUR interest, we will become a spiritually empty shell of nothing!”

From II Corinthians again…for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, 4begging us earnestly for the privilege* of sharing in this ministry to the saints— 5and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, 6so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking* among you.

He said, “He said if we give out of our scarcity or our supposed “fixed” resources, then we limit what we can accomplish for God!” If we continue to live in a scarcity we will wither and die!” Are we in a maintenance mode or willing to share. It was real interesting, he said he received an email recently that listed the average incomes of each county in North Carolina. If he considered the number of working United Methodist times those average earnings across our counties (if we followed God’s suggested giving plan of 10%, the old-fashioned tithe you may recall, then our purpose there would not be to assemble a budget to fund ministries; rather we’d be assembled to try to figure out how in the world we could get rid of massive amounts of money. “God has blessed us,” he said, “with more than enough – for everyone.” He suggested that his reading of the scripture reminds us that our generosity is nothing short of a manifestation of our love.  But he left us with a question, and I pass it on to you, “What can we offer Christ for the world?” And are we willing to share, “according to our means.”

That’s what he said, or at least what I heard him say. He said words we need to hear once again. Over and over again.

There are ways that we buy into a downtrodden systems. Old ways of thinking; old ways of doing. We get used to the normal old maintenance modes of life. We are used to the world we live in – whatever, however that might be. We are conditioned to just deal with whatever is.  It’s good enough. It was good enough for 15 years ago. It, whatever you know needs to be there, it was nice, so it still must be nice – although we really know it isn’t what it needs to be.

I remember a while back – when the televisions weren’t flat – that somewhere I frequented had a tv that the color control had started not controlling the color – sometimes it was more green, sometimes more red, sometimes more blueish. But never what it was supposed to be! Never. Well, it was ok though. It was just tv., so it was ok. But it wasn’t really like we all knew it should be. It was a far cry from the normal tvs we saw around us. But when we just sat and looked at it, we’d get used to it – it was good enough.

I recall going to the pet store growing up – it was on my route through the mall. The puppies and the cats, and all those crazy little animals. One of my favorite sections was were the fish were. It was so neat – they had all colors of fish and all shapes throughout the section of the store. I wish I didn’t, but I did – I’d disregard the signs and tap the glass, just to watch the fish swim hurriedly across the tank. I knew that’d get them moving fast.
Only later when I read once that fish will actually become conditioned to the tapping on the glass. If the glass was tapped often enough as a person walked up to the glass, then even when the person didn’t tap on the glass the fish would swim the other way as they noticed movement. Over and over again they were trying to get away from the constant tapping on the glass – even when it wasn’t there. They’d been so conditioned to run the other way even if the person walking toward the tank was there to feed and care for the small fish. They’d begin to expect the worse, even if the truth was counter their fears – they’d stopped looking for the good!
I remember Bishop Jones sharing a story from the mission field. I don’t remember the lead in, but if I recall correctly, there was a group that had gone over the Atlantic for an international mission event. They were helping out – caring for people  or repairing something. The first few days, they were fine, but near the end, there was a noticeable difference in the mood of the group.
The local person who was helping them adapt to the location, asked about what was wrong. Some of the group stated that they’d worked all week and little had actually changed around them.  The local leader replied, this is the part I remember from Bishop Jones’ story, the leader replied, “That’s the trouble with you Americans, you only know how to hope if you are winning.”  Personally, I doubt this trait is limited to just Americans, but much of the advantaged people of the world. Just this edition of the Christian Century announced on the front cover that 93% of the starving in the world live in three areas:  Asia, The Pacific, and Africa. We are the advantaged, even in these times – a short season compared to the life lived by so many other of God’s created people around the world.  The leader said, “you only know when to hope if you are winning.”
There’s something about life experiences that seem to condition us to deal with just the basics of life. To come to expect nothing more than the norm.  To deal with real life!  To live in the real world! as they say.

Yeah, and sometimes you might be right. But there is something about the fact that we, you and I, and others come here and to other churches, or synagogues, and even mosques, to hear the word of God say so plainly once again that the way things are out there in the big bad world aren’t the same way – or at least shouldn’t be the same way – here as they are out there.  Yeah, we have to consider sound principles,
but that can’t be the only force we let lead our community or our lives.

You see, we’ve more leading our lives than merely sound earthly principles and personal opinions.  The presence of Christ can make such a difference.

I wonder how it would have been to have been there when Jesus healed the woman on the Sabbath day in the synagogues. Her arrival, she’d gone like the week before.  She’d struggled to get there before, her back all hunched over. Painful – probably. Perhaps even more painful because of the way others looked at her. They’d size her up even before she spoke a word or even before she’d lifted her face.

Frances Taylor Gench, one of my professors at Seminary, in her book, Back to the Well, considers this “Bent Woman.” She suggests that the 18 years this woman was “bent over” was over half her life that was probably only about 36 years. ( ) She poses a question, “Given the woman’s restricted field of vision, one wonders if she would have been aware of [Jesus’} presence. Jesus is represented as taking note of her presence, interrupting his teaching, and calling her foward from the margins to the center of the worshiping community” (87). And he says to her, “you have been set free.” And Dr. Gench, who we all called Frances, as we did most of the professors at Union-PSCE, to remind us of our connectedness because of our baptism and life lived in Christ, she suggests that the woman “assumes an eschatological (or of the end of earthly time) posture appropriate to the coming of the Son of Man and God’s new age.” A reminder of Luke’s Jesus foretelling the final days, as in Luke 21:28, “Now when these things take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption in drawing near” (87).  She goes on to remind her reader, “that not everyone recognizes the significance of the events taking place around them – specifically those in leadership. So the deep joy offered by Jesus living in and around them, was only received with deep suspension and  questioning. They were failing to recognize the goodness unfolding before their very eyes.

How often we do the same thing in life. The goodness happening around us is overshadowed by our conditioning. It seems that we are quiet content just to go with the normal ol’ stuff of life and forget about the possibilities of God in our very presence.

Where are the places where the possibilities of Jesus await your life?

Perhaps it is within family relationships. wounds long scared over or raw from this morning’s fresh fight. Perhaps there was THAT teacher or administrator or another student at your school. Or that co-worker that drives you mad. Perhaps you may even feel God has in some way let you down.  Perhaps the presence of Christ waits to be revealed in the way you care for employees in your charge – standing with them verses the bottom line figures for the corporation. Perhaps it’s time you really wrote or called your congressional representatives about an issue that effects more than your wallet.

It goes with out saying that our vote next week is a vote of possibility. We aren’t agreeing to take on debt, we aren’t saying yes to new construction. We are wondering if the congregation supports our leadership beginning to work securing funds to make our building able to support our church’s work for us (especially mindful of our children and youth spaces for the future, your ease of access to get to this sacred space), and for our greater community.

You see, the same old bent over ways of life aren’t required in the presence of Jesus. Because God in our midst is able to do more than our human minds can even imagine. Even if we don’t know enough to ask what we should be doing for Christ Jesus. Sometimes we just have to stand up and be set free to live into a new life. Place old fears and pains behind us and see and start looking for possibilities all around us.

I wonder if you might want to pray. I mean just come to the altar rail and pray – or right where you are. Pray for Christ’s church and its work throughout the world.  Perhaps you have some fears or concerns or you’re ready to pray for Christ to guide your thoughts or even pray for strength to vote how you feel God has guided you to vote for our church’s decision next week. Pray for some point of trouble that has your life bent over.To pray about your past, your presence, your future.  To pray for a child you’ve just taken off to school, or for the students and teachers heading back this week. Pray about something that has your vision or your life cloudy or even totally blocked.  Perhaps there is even the possibility that you’re ready to enter the presence of Christ’s love and let your life be lived with him.  There is so much where shall we begin?

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“A Change in Perspective” Aug 1, 2010 Sermon

“A Change in Perspective”
BSUMC: Statesville: Jason Harvey
1 August 2010
Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

It has been far too long for me to be away: Annual Conference, Youth Mission Trip, continuing education event, caring about friends and family. I’ve missed our worship together; Our sharing praise and worship of God.

My time away has been both tiring and renewing. I am especially grateful that the events came in the order they did, I finished up thinking theologically in a worshiping community of musicians, preachers and artists outside of Minneapolis at St. Olaf College. The conference title was “The News and the Good News.” Talking about a timely event. How wonderful! What do we do with the “mess” of the world around us? Oh, I loved it. Some of the presenters spoke or preached about the on going conflicts with in our country. When did it become cool to hate or attach a person for his or her opinions? Civil discourse has long been the means by-which we are able to consider and learn. Our beliefs may be transformed – not by the easy absorption of another’s thoughts, but by development of our own thoughts based upon reason, examination, and developed understanding or experience.  If you are so inclined as a practicing United Methodist, one could follow Wesley’s Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience of is thought process named by Albert Outler, Wesley’s Quadrilateral.

There are two themes that keep poping into my mind this week form today Lesson’s: Civility and Greed – (themes that will always pack the house!)

I recall an email exchange with the “GoodNews” magizine’s editor and the now Diector of the Institute of Religion and Democracy, Mark Tooley.  I must let you know, I consider this group a fringe organization who twists and warps facts and events in a unusual light I am unable to see nor understand – I preface my statement with that understanding. Several years back, I wrote him challenging his perspective on the work of our general church.  I’d heard his doom and gloom about the church I love long enough.  I took his perspective to task. He did reply back quickly with a few questions and recants. I returned my responses and then he responded was a I lay or clergy member of the United Methodist Church. I ceased my conversation as he’d pushed the conversation past the issue-at-hand and on to me as a person.  He’d stop considering the issue at hand and moved to begin to attack me as a person – not as a holder of thoughts.

This trend seems to be even more common today – growing over the past 20 years. The climate across our land has deteriorated to a point where we have lost our civility toward one another. Our society seems to be operating by allowing the loudest voices to be only those asking us to join their side of the fence.  Our political process, beginning in the 1980s suggest some, not at the last election or the past three elections, but in the 1980s, our political process has become so polarized. Polarized to the point where the ones with the most money and the greatest amount of advertising rise to the top. A point only recently supported by the Supreme Court of the United States – considering a corporation’s campaign gifts.  Although the cream is thought of as rising to the top of the milk; the gulf over the past three months has been proof enough that slimy crude oil and life draining grease rises and floats to the the surface too.

Stephen L. Carter in his book Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy, a text from one of my classes in seminary, makes many deep arguments for the practice of civility. Civility, he defines “the set of sacrifices we make for the sake of our common journey with others, and out of love and respect for the very idea that there ARE others” (pg. 23).  He goes further in saying, “Alone of God’s creation, we humans are able to apply the test of morality to our actions, and civility calls us to do so. For democracy without civility is like dieting without discipline: we may call ourselves careful eaters, but we know in our souls that we are gluttons” (pg. 24).  His regular suggestions of faith shaped civility through out the text appears to suggest there is something different caused by the presence of God. He suggests, “only resurgence in all that is best about religious faith will rescue civility in America, for there is no truer or more profound vision of equality than equality before God” (pg. 31). Both for us and our neighbors – the ones who act like us; who speak and think like us; who look like us – and those neighbors who do not in the very least mirror our own selves – they too are God’s creation we are called offer care and to be relational.

Carter suggests a few ways for civility to grow: Our duty to be civil does not depend on whether we like them or not; civility requires we sacrifice for strangers, not just for people we happen to know; civility has two parts: generosity, even when it is costly, and trust, even when there is risk; Civility creates not merely a negative duty not to do harm, but an affirmative duty to do good; we must come into the presence of our fellow human beings with a sense of awe and gratitude; civility assumes that we will disagree; it requires us not to mask our differences but to resolve them respectfully; civility requires that we listen to others with knowledge of the possibility that they are right and we are wrong; Civility requires that we express ourselves in ways that demonstrate our respect for others; Civility requires resistance to the dominance of social life by the values of the marketplace. The basic principles of civility – generosity and trust – should apply as fully in the market and in politics as in every other human activity; allows and sometime requires criticism, but it should always be civil; civility discourages the use of legislation rather than conversation to settle disputes, except as a last, carefully considered resort; Civility values diversity, disagreement, and the possibility of resistance, and therefore the state must not use education to try to standardize our children; Religions aid civility when they preach not only love of neighbor but resistance to wrong.
(Pause)
I sometimes to find myself in less than normal conversations. Even on the sidewalk or elevator, I wind up getting to into conversations best left for prayer chapel or a medical professional, but there I often am. After sometime conversing just this very week, someone looked me square in the eye and asks, “How does Jesus Christ make a difference in a person’s life?” Point blank.

Think on that – What do you say? – tell your neighbor. “How does Jesus Christ make a difference in a person’s life?”

My answer was/is “Jesus changes our perspective.”  That’s it. The person I said that answer to appreciated it. What happens after we chose to follow after Christ, our perspective changes?  Our world begins to be seen through a whole new set of lens and there is a whole new way of life. Our old selves begin to die away and our new selves begin to grow modeling our lives after the one we now claim to follow. The process is forever on-going and not likely to be complete while we drawl breath on earth.

The letter of Colossians and our gospel lesson from Luke 12 both suggest that new perspective. In Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible, The Message, he translates the first of Colossians 3 in this way, “So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t suffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ — that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.”

Funny how our text and my conversation happened this week – perhaps it’s a God thing – just perhaps.  The perspective with which we view the world is different when we choose to follow after Jesus Christ. The normal doom and gloom of the world around us isn’t what is the driving force in our lives. There is something beyond us and ourselves and we recognize it.

Then, in the Gospel, there’s that guy who looks at Jesus as some judge and jury. He pops the question – well, at least makes a statement to get Jesus to tell his brother to divide the family’s inheritance.  Good for him, he does recognize that Jesus is a man of great power and possibility, but he misses the point and Jesus calls him on it! Jesus recants, again from Peterson’s The Message, “Take care! Protect yourself against the least bit of greed. Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot.”  Then Jesus illustrated the point with the story of the farmer’s bigger barns and his impending death.

Cartoon from New Yorker – Little girl with toys around her, not wanting to share with the little boy with her one line excuse, “I would share, but I’m not there developmentally.” Greed appears in many places. We are confronted on nearly every news report concerning the greed and mismanagement of corporations throughout the world, chief among them in our own country. It seems the bottom line drives away an honest profit. It seems the care for and about employees is forced to take the farthest seats on the corporate coaches.  It seems that the very ones who yell about the downfall of our world are the very ones leading the charge.

But greed isn’t only in the corporate boardroom. It’s present in even the most holy of places. Non-profits. Scandals all around. But we most likely don’t even have to travel outside our own heart to get to the greed Jesus is speaking of. So often our own desires to be great and have much leaves us restless (as Augustine put it: “our hearts are restless till they find rest the thee.”)  Our greed, our wants, our desires are seem to ourselves justified in some way.

Oh, the struggles we face.  What is in us that justifies the 3-4,000 more dollars of car accessories or home upgrades, you know while we are doing it, but the challenge that arises when the offering envelope or the pledge card comes around to give a bit more.  What is it that makes us feel we deserve the four or fifth trip of the summer even to the point where we hinder the causes of Christ in the world? But if we truely follow after, or act like we are following after Jesus, these corrupted ideals won’t have lasting power over us.

John Wesley’s phrase, “Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” The first two for most of us aren’t that demanding. The last one is where the rub is.

My, my, the need for civility and a case against greed.  Yeah, not such happy topics. But examination of our lives is necessary – crucial.  The wound cannot heal without being cared for in some manner. We must consider our perspective on all things – allowing nothing to be unexamined in light of the call of Christ Jesus. The good news in all this news is that God is still working with this weary world and within our “sin sick souls” calling us from despair into the live changing love of Jesus Christ.

All glory, honor and prise be to the one who was, who is and is to come.

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The Adventure Begins! – Youth Mission 2010

Well, I wasn’t sure the trip would actually come to fruition. Honestly, we’d moved the dates a couple times and it seemed as if every date suggested came with a litany of reason why someone couldn’t go. But we moved forward.  I made contact with Calvary Baptist Church in Chinatown where my cool friend, DR. Amy Butler, is the pastor. They would host us at a price we could afford.

Then, I contacted the General Board of Church and Society concerning their Seminar Program. Susan Burton, the director of the Seminar Program was most helpful.  She made several wonderful suggestions to help focus our group toward considering Issues of Racism, Homelessness and Poverty and Theological Refection on an Individual’s Role in these Issues. I found out Laura Bensman would be our primary GBCS staff member for the sessions and she proved more than kind, helpful and knowledgeable. I know they weren’t having to “invent the wheel” with these issues, but our group was a bit smaller, pretty smart and very capable. They helped me, especially as a novice, to make this a real learning experience.

Well, we left on Saturday, July 3 headed up to D.C. For the most part we started about on time. We made pretty good time – well, after we figured that we had enough room for all the stuff – thanks to Sue and Maryette agreeing to be our cargo carrier.

In Colonial Heights we stopped off at one of those Subways located in an Exxon for lunch. Nothing but the finest for our traveling adventure. All went normal until we finished and were looking for keys. The keys had gotten locked in the cargo van.  We couldn’t find them anywhere, so we decided to call “AAA.” That’s where the title for this blog comes from. Some point while we were waiting the speedy 15 minutes for the lock guy to arrive, I said, “The adventure begins!” and so it had. We were quickly back on the road after the door was open and the key was located.

We drove on. And on. And on.

On the way up there, somewhere about 45 minutes outside of the city, I told the youth to listen up. You know the typical drill about being safe in the “Big City” stuff. I told them they’d see people from “all-walks-of-life” (see I have uncool, ancient language – these poor youth). They’d better be kind and not make mean, stupid or hurtful comments, because some of these people might come after them.  I also told them that depending on what caused the situation would determine how quickly I became involved.  That’s when the phrase, “One dead is better than two” slipped out from no-where. Well, it was and is true. But thank goodness this wasn’t an issue.

We arrived and met Paul, the Church Administrator, he was wonderfully helpful, especially as we wound down four levels into the parking deck in the big ol’ van. I certainly wasn’t envious of his task of trying to make sure that HUGE facility was functioning for all the activities of a church in downtown D.C.  But the rooms were nice enough. We finished unloading the vans and went off to eat in Chinatown. To Wok-n-Roll . It was pretty good – once we finally figured out what all of us were eating.

Sunday morning came early, especially given the fact that it was warm enough to sweat through the night, until the air came on, then people got cold about the time I was getting to sleep! Then I had to get up and going before the rest did. But we were heading to worship – at Asbury UMC in D.C. One of the most historic churches in the District, Asbury was founded in 1836 by a group of African-Americans, but the leadership of the church was held by the white leaders until 1864. Since that time, Asbury Church has made profound impact on the community and its people.

This is our group with the Pastoral and Music Leadership (Musicians in the back – they were conversing about the organ with Maryette). The whole church welcomed us with open arms. It was the weirdest thing that so many people walked out of their way to welcome our group. We even made it into the morning announcements. People would literally greet every member of our group! Pastor Dr. Shockley, Bishop Stith, and the Rev. Nurse, took so much time with us asking about our trip and wanting to know what we were doing in the Nation’s Capitol. They suggested we get to The Mall early to stake our grassy spot.
The service was more than interesting. It was very interesting being in one of the most established African American congregations in the Nation’s Capitol on the Fourth of July.  The service had plenty of patriotic tones, but it was clear that the history of our country was not spotless! (Spotless is much too weak of a word for the history, but you know what I mean).  I have never seen this modeled in my life successfully.  Yeah, our country is great. My blood is just as American as any other citizen, but I do struggle with blanket patriotism. I suppose it is my Salem, North Carolina roots – Those in Old Salem who remained neutral throughout the Revolution. Being a member of a denomination with close ties to the English way of life. Being a historian with an understanding that the devisions of the colonist during the Revolutionary War was 1/3 loyal to the English crown, 1/3 American patriots, and 1/3 were just trying to survive the war. It was later in college when I learned those facts, not in elementary or high school.
The thing about this service that was different, was the remembering of struggle, especially remembering the history of slavery and continuing struggle for equality within our country. I left feeling more proud to be an American and even more  challenged to work as a Christian in the American country. God always takes precedence over country. As we walked by homeless men and women and dodged the luxury sedans in the capitol, I was mindful of the great separations present between God’s people and the American people.
We were heading back to the church. We went to Fuddruckers for burgers and then to the church to change clothes. We had 3:30 tickets to the Holocaust Museum and plenty of time to get there. I would drive them over in the van, bring the van back to the deck and then Metro back to L’Enfant Plaza stop and walk to the museum (as Smithsonian stop was closed for security on the mall). Blocked roads were everywhere! I tried and tried to cross the Mall! I couldn’t get them across the Mall to the museum. Even going as far as Georgetown and back onto the interstate proved useless. So I had to drop them off on 15th st. and they had to walk across the Mall – in the heat! But they did it! and on time.
The time in the museum was well spent. It remembers a time in history when one group of people decided they didn’t like other groups of people and had the power to do something about it! The getteo-ing, transporting, imprisonment, experimentation, torturing, and murder of Jews, Jehovah Witnesses, Gypsies, homosexuals, developmentally challenged, even Christians who refused to pledge allegiance to the actions of the Nazi leadership and stood for those who were being threatened! I didn’t actually get to go through the museum this time, as I was being tour guide, but I remember so much of it from the two times before. It is the mass of shoes, shoes of people who are most likely dead, especially now, some we may not even know of their name, but the God who created them loved them then, just as God does now.

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Picture from: www.flickr.com/photos/ curtandrew/1262204991/

Poem seen on the wall.

We are the shoes, We are the last witnesses
We are shoes from grandchildren and grandfathers.
From Prague, Paris and Amsterdam
And because we are only made of fabric and leather
And not of blood and flesh,
Each one of us avoided the Hellfire.

-Yiddish poet Moses Schulstein

How horrible that there have been times, that there are times, even now, when the lives of people are threatened in our world! Too tragic! Too horrible!

I wonder why situations like this ever occur! Where were the caring people? Yeah, there were many around hiding, helping, smuggling and in direct conflict with the Nazi ran German government!  In my understanding, one of the constant jobs of the Christian (or person of faith) is to guard the life of humanity – all of it, not just some or a few, but all of those we believe that God has created and loves! May our vigil never cease.

More later! (I think this will take a while!)

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