Monthly Archives: October 2014

A Little Child Shall Lead Them….

 

My wife and seven year old granddaughter, Mathilde,   were returning  home from a rehearsal at Century II in downtown Wichita where our  granddaughter is a member of the cast for the  Children’s Music Theater’s production of Miracle on 34th Street.   They were driving north on Broadway and passed by The Lord’s Diner.    My wife pointed out the Lord’s Diner to Mathilde, and said “that place feeds over 1000 homeless and hungry people every night and another 1000 throughout Wichita on food trucks! Your grandpa and I volunteer to help out some Saturday nights there.”     Mathilde exclaimed:   “Every day?   “That makes me so sad there are so many hungry people!!”   “Are they all homeless?”   My wife replied, “No, some of them are homeless, but some of them just can’t make enough money to buy groceries to feed themselves and their families  and so they come here for a good meal because they are hungry.”

As they went North on Broadway, they came to a stop light where there was also a bus stop bench on the corner.   There were a number of people sitting on the bench and standing around it.    Our granddaughter asked:   “Gramma!   Are those people homeless?     My wife replied,  “Probably some of them are, Mathilde.”  Mathilde said:   “Could we stop and let me give them my peanut butter and crackers, in case some of them are hungry?”

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together,  and a little child shall lead them.”   (Isaiah 11:6)

“People were bringing little children to Jesus in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them.  But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them:   “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them.   For it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs.”   (Mark 10:13-14)

Your Values….Really???

I believe most of us would agree, after giving it some thought, that our values are reflected in our actions.   That is, our behavior demonstrates what we value and what are our priorities much better than what we say.

If this is true, then why do we so often fail to see the contradictions between what people say and what they do and  also fail to see the contradictions in our own lives?  Several examples….There are a large number of voters in Kansas who say that they will base their vote this election on the fact that the candidate is “Pro-Life”.    This group says their chief value is “life”, in this case “the life of the unborn child.”     That’s their choice and I might state that, except in special cases such as incest and rape I agree .    However, if they are “Pro-Life” I see a huge contradiction between that value and their actions,  because once the baby is born these same people are the same ones who lead in the  defunding of early childhood education,  withholding medical care from thousands of children in Kansas by not extending the federal Medicaid program,   cutting funds for classrooms,  paying below poverty wages to working parents—–all of this leads me to think they are not “Pro-Life” but they are “Pro-myself  making money”.   Their true value is “money” not “lives of children”.    Their actions demonstrate their real value.   Once the child is born they lose all interest in children’s welfare as they grow into adulthood.    That costs money!

Another example:    Most of us would agree that one of our values is honesty.   We appreciate it in others.   We practice it ourselves.   We see it as the basis of a society that works.    Now,  answer truthfully—-if you are in a checkout line and you give the clerk a twenty dollar bill and get change for a fifty dollar bill, what do you do?    Do you pocket the money and smile about the windfall?   Or do you tell the clerk about the mistake and get the correct change?    What you do determines whether you value honesty or money the most!    Same is true on Income Taxes—-do we ever “forget” to report some things, or “inflate” an expense that would be difficult to verify?     The difference in value here  again is honesty or money?    Which is it for you?  Which for me?

This same principle holds true for us in the practice of our Christian faith.    Do we agree that a Christian’s values should be attached to the Great Commandment of Jesus that says “You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength;  and your neighbor as yourself?”    Love God—–love your neighbor as you love yourself.    But do our actions show  our love for God and our neighbor?     Do our actions  from day to day demonstrate that?    In what way?  Name a few of those actions?   If we’re having trouble doing that, then we need to  ask ourselves this question   How many of our actions show that our love for ourselves trumps our love of neighbor?    How many of our actions show our love of ourselves trumps our love for God?   

If people are to be attracted to become followers of “the Way” of Jesus the Christ they will be attracted by the actions of Christians “walking that Way” in their daily lives  and not by the words of those calling themselves Christians who tell   them of their beliefs.

Someone has said:   “What you do is what you believe.   Everything else is just religious talk”.     

Hope for the “Walking Wounded”

Text:   Matthew 9:18-26

            Remember the TV commercial that showed sick kids and a sick husband lined up outside a closed door—apparently waiting their turn with the doctor?   Finally the door opened and standing there in a white lab coat with spoon in hand to administer the cough medicine the ad was selling, saying…”Next!!….was “Dr. Mom”.

The commercial was trying to cash in on the known fact that in spite of all our advanced scientific knowledge and medical expertise—We all still long to be cuddled, coddled, and cured by the loving care of a parent or other loved one—-no matter what our age!!

            Obviously, Dr. Mom can give us what no one else can give—-Love.   And that is a very powerful medicine for the healing process.

Last night on CBS News  “On the Road” I saw another example of the power of love to heal.   It told the story of a man and woman, both in their 70’s,  who both needed heart transplants and were deteriorating rapidly health-wise and were barely able to take care of themselves.   They found each other, fell in love and now the doctors are astounded—what medicine could not do to heal their hearts has been done by their love for each other.   They are healthy and thriving and enjoying life!   The power of love is astonishing!!

Jesus message that he brought about God and showed by his ministry is that our God is a God of love!    The power of that love to heal a broken humanity is still present in the world.    Our wounds can be healed and so can the wounds of others through our loving them as God loves them.

The theme of this sermon, based on the text read, is that not only does love heal us, but it helps us to heal others.   We not only may be healed by our faith in the love of God for us—-but we as a church can participate in the healing of others through that faith and love for God.   Faith and Love heals!   Without love that comes through faith in God’s love for us; without specific caring, ‘making a healing connection’ is often impossible.   Faith and Love open up that connection between a healer and the one who desires to be healed!!!

That is what we see in the story of the woman hemorrhaging that is our text for today.   Jesus’ love and compassion for the woman and the faith that the woman had that he could heal her is what led to her healing.    It was a dangerous thing for this woman to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment—-especially with her condition, because she was ritually unclean and would spread that uncleanness to this Rabbi that she touched.   Yet she did it!   She did it out of faith that she could be healed by this loving Rabbi.    And Jesus turned and addressed her directly—-but with profound gentleness and love, and offered her encouragement to “take heart” and opened his own heart to this woman by addressing her as “daughter.”   While Love is not the cause of the healing that takes place, it is the only environment in which healing can occur.   And the woman’s faith in the healing power of Jesus’ love for her led to her healing.   Jesus told her:   “Your faith has made you well!”

            The faith of the woman was demonstrated by her actions—-just to touch the fringe of his garment would be enough.

 Faith and love are what link together the healing power of God with the wounded parts of our lives today, also. Through faith we can also receive God’s healing touch on our own woundedness and then pass it on to others around us.

And we are wounded in many ways and in need of God’s healing power today.          

            There’s a story told about a company of soldiers during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, who were surrounded and were facing fighting there way out..   The company commander ordered one of the men to get in a jeep and drive it.   The man objected:   “Sir, I’m wounded”.   And the commander answered:  “Son, we’re all wounded—-get in an drive!!”

            And so it is with our world today.   All of us, in a sense, are among the “walking wounded”

Some of the wounds are self-inflicted:

We betray a marriage partner that we love and suffer the loss of trust by that person and perhaps the breakup of a marriage and family.

In our relationship with those we love, we take actions that strain those relationships and result in our loneliness, fear, remorse, and misery.

We act to take revenge for a supposed wrong and invite the revenge by the person toward which we aimed our actions—-and both are harmed and wounded.

We abuse our bodies with substances that are harmful to us and reap the result of poor health, sickness, death.

We work long hours and neglect our families to the point they turn away from us and leave us lonely and feeling unloved.

But some of the wounds are ones over which we have no control:

An accident, heart attack or cancer strikes us or one we love quickly and our lives are changed in an instant.

An accident leaves us crippled for the rest of our lives.

A stroke takes away our ability to do what we love to do and changes our lives forever.

We lose a loved one in a tragic accident or illness and are left alone and hurting.

We lose our jobs through lay-offs when a new employer takes over a business and are left bitter, disappointed, and anxious as to how we will care for ourselves and our families.

In my work as a hospice chaplain I was taught to assess patients for four types of what we called  “spiritual pain.”   They are:

Meaning painwhat significance do our lives have?   What meaning does our life have to us and to others/    Whatever has significance for our lives defines our reason for existence.   If we can find no meaning, then there is no reason to continue to exist, and we are in “meaning pain”.

Forgiveness Painmore often than not the most challenging person to forgive is not someone else, but ourselves.   However, all of us have been let down, dishonored, abused, lied to, cheated on, and somehow diminished in life and spirit.   Forgiveness is not condoning that, denying it, or forgetting these wounds.   Forgiveness is the willingness to let go of the other person’s “jugular”  as someone has said.   We need to surrender the right to get even with another.   And don’t forget that we need to forgive ourselves–sometimes the hardest thing to do.   If we don’t, we are in “forgiveness pain”.

Relatedness PainThis is pain caused by a strong sense of separation and alienation from loved ones or from a job or a role or an identity. It often happens when roles change from caregiver to the one taken care of.   Or when we no longer can perform our occupation that has defined our existence.

Hopelessness Pain Referred to as the “terminal illness of the human spirit.”   It is to believe what the Italian poet, Dante, wrote over the gates of Hell in his poem, The Inferno.   “Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here!!!”    Sometimes the loss of hope is not connected so much to one particular event but to a cumulative set of losses.    “Hopelessness”  pain is the worst pain of the four types.

In Hospice I also saw another kind of pain that I would add to the above list—-Religious Pain.   That is pain that has been experienced at the hands of the church or at the hands of fellow-Christians, or even a pastor.   It leads to the spiritual pain of feeling that God has abandoned us—that God no longer loves us!     That is Hopelessness pain to the nth degree.

When dying persons are experiencing one or more of these types of pain we found in hospice that it is not possible to give enough morphine to ease the pain of the patient.    Not until these 5 types of pain are eased could we ease the physical pain of the patient.

Yes—-truly all of us are “walking wounded” in a sense—-either through self-inflicted wounds or by those over which we have no control—-or both   All of us!!

 Just as the woman with a hemorrhage reached out to Jesus in faith and was the recipient of his love and healing—-so must we reach out to claim his love and healing power for ourselves and for others.  

Remember that our faith links the healing power of God with the wounded parts of our lives and the lives of others.  

We need to reach out to God’s  love for us  for the healing of ourselves.

We need to reach out to God’s love in prayer for the healing of others.

We need as a church to be a “healing place” where the love of God may be felt and seen in our actions towards each other and toward others.We need to be a “nurturing” place for the wounded people of our world. Remember that the mission of the church is  ” to live the Great Commandment in our community and beyond.”

 

Let me close with this story—-and a challenge…….

            A holy man was having a conversation with God one day and said,  “Lord, I would like to know what heaven and hell are like.”

The Lord led the holy man to two doors.   He opened one of the doors and the holy man looked in.   In the middle of the room was a large round table.  In the middle of the table was a large pot of stew, which smelled delicious and made the holy man’s mouth water.

The people sitting around the table were thin and sickly.   They appeared to be famished.   They were holding spoons with very long handles that were strapped to their arms, and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful.   But because the handles were longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths.

The holy man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering.

            The Lord said, “You have seen hell.”   

They went to the next room and opened the door.   It was exactly the same as the first one.   There was a large round table with the large pot of stew which made the holy man’s mouth water.   The people were equipped with the same long-handled spoons, but here the people were well-nourished and plump, laughing and talking.

            The holy man said, “I don’t understand.”

It’s simple” said the Lord. “It requires but one skill.   You see that they have learned to feed each other.   That is why it is heaven.

There’s a world out there beyond our doors and even within our doors that’s dying because they haven’t heard and experienced God’s love for them through Jesus Christ and directly through us.   They are “walking wounded.”  

 Will you feed them?  Will you nurture them with your love and God’s love for them?   Will you aid in their healing through your love and God’s love for them?   Will you be healed yourself by God’s love for you?

 

Be the Change!!

 

There is something scary about “change” for most people!     We are creatures of habit more than we like to admit, and if change comes about in our lives we tend to resist it, and we often fear it.    Even though the current situation, (the status quo) may be painful to us—-at least we know where we are, what to expect, and how to cope with the pain the situation causes,  because we’ve been living with it—-and therefore we are very suspicious of any “change for the better” that might be suggested.   We say, what if it only makes things worse?

We see this fear of change in the lives of women who are abused by their husbands or significant others.  For example, in the  NFL Ray Rice case, where the woman who was knocked out cold by Rice in an elevator and dragged out by her feet, went ahead and married him.   Eventually, I predict,  she will either die at his hands  or have to find some way get away from her now husband—-because he is not going to change and she will be unable to change him.   And yet she remains with Rice.    I suspect either fear of Rice or fear of change is the reason, although there is no way for me to know for sure.

In our churches we see fear of change as one of the  major reasons that attendance  is dropping and churches are closing.    Many churches have actually closed rather than change the way they go about doing church  that speaks to the needs for involvement in the community and electronic social media practices of a new generation of Millenials.   In essence,  the closing churches choose to  die rather than change!

It’s strange that churches bearing the name of Jesus should fear change, as one of the greatest advocates for change was Jesus of Nazareth whom they claim to follow.  Richard Rohr, in his Good News According to the Gospel of Luke:  Spiritual Reflections. sees Jesus as a revolutionary and an advocate for radical change.  He says the blatant contradiction between the message and actions of the church and Jesus’ message and actions  are what is holding the church back here and around the world:

We preach a self-absorbed gospel of piety and religiosity, not a lifestyle gospel.   Luke (in his gospel)  is preaching a lifestyle gospel, not a Sunday-church thing at all.   Luke is talking about living the gospel seven days a week.   His gospel is so radical that if you truly believed its message (of Jesus) it would call into question all the assumptions you currently hold about the way you live, how you  use time, whom you relate to, how you marry, how much money you have.   Everything you think and do would be called into question and viewed in a new way, because Jesus is Lord and Jesus is Love.”

Marcus Borg, in his book Jesus, Uncovering the life, teachings, and relevance of a religious revolutionary  also portrays Jesus of Nazareth as a revolutionary who was non-violently seeking to overthrow the  economic, social, political and religious domination system of the Roman world during his time.  Jesus did this on behalf of the poor, the sick, the people at the bottom of the social scale.  He challenged the religious domination of the priestly-temple system of Judaism to change.   Jesus’ teaching that God is a God of love and forgiveness were direct challenges to the need for a temple and sacrifices and priests as there was no longer a need for priests and sacrifices and the temple to relate to God and receive God’s love and forgiveness.   Human beings can relate directly to the God of Love that Jesus proclaimed, so they don’t need a priest and sacrifices to be forgiven.   Revolutionary!!   Jesus  turned the “pecking order” of his society on its head with his teaching that “the greatest among you will be the servant of all”. These are the major   reasons he was killed by the Romans at the insistence of the Jewish religious establishment.       Change is dangerous, as well as being scary if you are living the change—i.e. “Being the Change” as Jesus was doing.  Those in power do not yield easily if the change means the loss of their power.   Jesus didn’t just advocate systemic change—-his life and his teachings mirrored that systemic change. He described and lived his  life as it would be lived in the Kingdom of God that he proclaimed was here in the world.  It  was a revolutionary change from the status quo.   Jesus was “Being the Change“!!

One of favorite quotations is from the wisdom of  Ghandi, the Indian leader for the independence of India from Great Britain.  Ghandi says:  BE THE CHANGE.!!

Ghandi, in his wisdom,  is saying that it’s not enough for us to speak for change—-No!   Our message and our actions must be the same.    In order to bring about change you and I must change.    Change is not something that happens because people talk about it, debate it, fear it, advocate it or demand it—-change comes about when people live the change!  

What do you think needs to change in our society today?  What do you think needs to change in our churches?   Are you just “talking” about it or are you willing to “be the change”?    The change won’t happen unless we are willing to “Be the Change”!!

Seven Ways to Break the Great Commandment

 

Jesus summed up all we need to do in what is called The Great Commandment.    It is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.”    While this seems simple, it is not, but  if we were to follow this advice personally it would transform our lives, and if our society followed  it,  the results would be revolutionary.   We aren’t  doing very well in keeping this great commandment, either personally or as a society, and I would like to list Seven Ways that we continue to not live according to the Great Commandment, both personally and as a society.  Let’s do it David Letterman style, starting with #7 and working up to #1  way we do so.

#7 –  GLUTTONY.    Gluttony means more than sneaking off too often to visit those 11 secret herbs and spices at KFC, or sitting down to an all-you-can eat buffet.   Gluttony is doing anything to excess!   It is an approach to life that knows no boundaries and honors no limits.   Gluttony turns our appetites into our rulers—no matter what our appetite might be.   It may be food—it may be power—it may be sex—-it may be money—it can even be golf.    Most of us go there from time to time, but our society as a whole is increasingly there all the time.   We want more and more and more—-more clothes, more  adult “toys”, more cars, bigger houses, etc. etc.     And we want more because of #6.

#6 – GREED.

Closely related to gluttony is GREED.    It is not so much the love of possessions as it is the love of possessing.     We live in a money-driven culture where the bottom line is what  is most important and profits are more important than people—-Greed is at the bottom of much that is wrong in our society.   We live in a culture that values money more than meaning.   Money is valued over people.   Money over right and wrong.   We are always wanting more and more and more because we place value in our culture on what we own and not who we are.   Money is power.   Ask any successful politician whether money and power go together—they are as the saying goes “tighter than ticks”.   We see this not only in politics but  in the  business world where cheating and lying to get ahead are often utilized.   If moraliy stands in the way of monetary gain, morality is trampled.   This is not following the great commandment:   money is our God, and who cares about our neighbor?

#5 – ENVY.

Envy  is what happens when we constantly compare ourselves to others.    It is the basis of backbiting (trying to tear down the one we envy), gossiping, bigotry and vanity.   When envy rules our lives then we always feel insecure, and our insecurity is compensated for by making those we envy seem less and less, so that we feel more superior than them.    We love our neighbor less than ourselves and are willing to destroy them to make ourselves more secure.    Building ourselves up at the expense of our neighbor is a long ways from the intent of the Great Commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.

#4 – IDLENESS.

Idleness is the sluggishness of spirit that “believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, lives for nothing and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die,” as Dorothy Sayers writes.   The idle person expects everyone else to take care of him or her, and will not move a muscle to take care of themselves or to take care of anyone else.   The idle person has no sense of responsibility for what happens to them or anyone else—-They love neither God nor themselves very much if it takes an effort, and certainly don’t care about their neighbors.

#3 – LUST.

Lust is the perversion of what is good into something evil, based on our selfishness.   At the base of Lust is selfishness and the ego.   Someone has said that an acronym for EGO is “Edging God Out”.  As we put our desires before the good of others and before God, we make what we want our God—-whether it be sex, power, money or anything else.   We think only of ourselves when we lust.   It is extreme selfishness in action and it shuts God and other people out of our lives.

#2 – ANGER

W.C. Fields once said, “I am free of all prejudice, I hate everyone equally.”   Anger is the harboring of grievances that demand revenge and develop into hatred.   It is a seething rage that circulates throughout and is prominent in our post-modern culture in ever increasing amounts.   It comes out in murder, rape, attacks on minority groups and the vulnerable, the immigrant, the poor, the homeless, the weak.   When anger rules a society the society will be violent like ours in the U.S. today.   Read the newspapers and decide just how much anger there is in our world.   Pent-up anger comes out in deadly ways all the time—every day.   As the Bible says, we cannot be angry with our neighbor and love God. (I. John 4:7)  

And the #1 problem is—-PRIDE.

Pride is defined as “people getting drugged on the fumes of their own ego”   An example is when someone you are talking to says:   “enough about me.   Let’s talk about you.  What do you think of me?   Pride is when our  ego is in control of all that we say and do.   It’s all about me!  Remember the acronym that I gave you for ego earlier:   “E=Edging; G= God;  O = Out.”   There are many ways that Pride comes out.   It may be a “need-to-control pride”.   It may be a “self-centeredness” that comes through low self-esteem that says “I’m not much, but I’m all I ever think about”  kind of pride.   Religious pride is the worst kind of pride.   In the words of a theologian “Have you ever seen a prodigal come home to a Pharisee?    Religious pride turns away the very people God is trying to reach—the vulnerable, the poor, the weak, the homeless.

You may have discovered by now that I am applying the 7 Deadly Sins to  individuals and our society today.    Although the seven deadly sins are a product of the past, I think they are very present with us today in our society—-and they are just as deadly as they were in the Middle Ages, both to us and to our society!!    What do I mean by “sin”.   Sin, biblically is anything that turns us away from God and our neighbor—it’s not just “doing bad things.”    It is when we let ourselves become rulers of our lives instead of God.

All of the above are sins because they separate us from God and from each other.   That is the deadliness of them.  All of them break what Jesus said was the Great Commandment—to love God and our neighbor as we love ourselves..   There is no love for anyone but “self” in any of these “sins”.   No love for God.  No love for neighbor.   Only self-love.  What a difference it would make in our society and in our personal lives if we could get rid our lives and our society of all seven of them!