Monthly Archives: June 2015

What’s in our Tear Bottle?

Text:   Mark 9:38-50

Those of us who are parents have always wanted to meet some characters called:   They, Them, and their cousin Everybody!    You know how it goes—“They” said it was o.k., Dad—-or it’s o.k. with “them”——or “But Mom, Everybody is wearing this or doing that!”

They” are everywhere, and we even find “Them” in the church.   “They” and “Them” make all the decisions.  And usually cousin “Everybody” doesn’t much care for the decisions “They” made!  They, Them, and Cousin Everybody!!   We have a fundamental tendency, it seems, as human beings to divide the world into “Them” and “Us” .

That’s what the disciples are doing in the text above.   We can almost hear the panic (and the pride also) in the disciples voices when they say:   “Jesus!  Jesus!  We saw Them.   They’re out there.  And They are doing miracles and curing people of demons, and maybe even preaching in Your Name!    And Jesus, we’re sure—we’re absolutely sure—they’re Them.   We know they’re Them, because they are not Us.   And so we stopped them!!!”

If the disciples were expecting a pat on the back from Jesus for this they were very disappointed.   Jesus was not happy about what they had done.   On the contrary, he probably was driven to tears of anger at their shortsightedness and pride, because he gave them one of the sharpest rebukes ever given to his disciples.   “Don’t stop them! He says.  “There is not Them.  There’s only Us!   And no one who does any good work in the power of my name should be thwarted from doing so.   Whoever is not against us is for us!”

Jesus continued by stating that those who willfully erect “stumbling blocks”,   whose actions hinder the progress of the “little ones” (read believers),  are better off at the bottom of the sea with a millstone around their necks!

There is a verse in the Psalms—Psalm 56:8—-that says:  God, you have kept count of my tossings;  put my tears in your bottle.   Are they not in your record?   (NRSV)

This Psalm is referring to the ancient practice, according to scholar James Fleming, of collecting one’s tears and preserving them in a “tear bottle” made of glass, many of which had a bulbous bottom and a long neck flared at the top to facilitate collecting the tears.

Some say that the woman of the streets (read prostitute) who bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears at the house of Simon the Pharisee may have actually been pouring out her own bottle of tears on his feet.

I see Jesus as a man who felt deeply!!   As we just celebrated Father’s Day,  I would suggest that he is a model for  fathers today showing what a  man should be and do as a father. .  Jesus is a man who cried tears of compassionof grief, of love, of anger.   Jesus loved deeply, just as God loves deeply.    And those who love deeply express deep emotions.      

Jesus wept over many things

After his Triumphal Entry, he wept tears of compassion over Jerusalem, as they rejected him and the way of peace that he brought and chose instead a way of a military messiah that would result in the utter destruction of Israel by the Romans.   “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to it.   How often I have desired to gather you as a hen gathers her brood under her wings—and you were not willing…”

Jesus wept tears of grief as he saw the grief of the family of his friend Lazarus at his death.

He wept tears of anger, I’m sure, at the sight of those who took advantage of the “little ones”—-the poor, the weak, the young, the elderly, the sick, the lepers, the outcasts of society. As always, Jesus’ anger is for any one who took advantage of or failed to help the “others”, the “little ones”—-the poor, the weak, the young, the old, the sick, the outcast.

He wept tears of frustration, I’m sure, at the failure of his disciples to grasp what His mission was about as the “suffering servant” Messiah. and their failure to grasp the significance of the Kingdom of God that he proclaimed.

He wept tears of anguish in the Garden of Gethesemane, as he prayed that “this cup might pass”, but nevertheless promised to do God’s will.

We have pointed at some of the tears that may have been in Jesus’ tear bottle.    But today the question is:   What is in my tear bottle?  what is in yours?

When I was a child it was widely taught to young boys that “Men do not cry!”   I was lucky to have a father who didn’t teach me that.   He didn’t cry often, but one of the times I do remember seeing him cry was over the way the church was treating the present minister.   He was an Elder in the Christian Church in Abilene, and came home from a board meeting and cried as he told my mother about it.    So, I learned a different lesson as a boy—that there is nothing wrong about crying in compassion with other human beings.

But the question is:  “ What makes us cry??”  What turns on our eye faucets and tear pumps?   What makes our eyes tear up and our cheeks get damp?    Is it crying tears over injustice to others?   Crying tears of compassion for others?  Crying genuine heart-and –soul tears over the plight of the world and our fellow human beings?   Is that it?    In other words is our crying based on the kinds of attitudes and activities that brought tears to Jesus’ eyes?

What makes you sad?   What makes me sad?  What makes me glad?   What makes you glad?    What makes you angry?   What makes me angry?   Those are the questions we should be asking ourselves.

What tears are in your tear bottle, Christian?   What tears are in my tear bottle, pastor?

As I thought about these questions I decided that I would “go first” in answering them.   But I invite you to think about what is in your tear bottles as I share what might be in mine as I look at my life and ministry…..

I have often cried tears of grief, as I conducted funerals and saw the deep grief of those who have lost a loved one.  I share that grief and their tears.

I have cried tears of frustration when I left the room of an elderly person in a nursing home whose family seldom visits and whose life is being “warehoused” by the system.

I have cried tears of anger  when I read about how the elderly and the poor are forced to choose between paying for medicine and a doctor or pay for food.   Or when I read that those who have worked hard all their lives and saved are rendered bankrupt by their inability to pay medical bills because they can’t get health insurance.   A life-threatening and very expensive illness strikes and they must choose between life and bankruptcy!   Something is terribly wrong with a faith community that keeps quiet about that!!   Those who decry health care availability for all makes me  cry for the church  and those who call themselves Christians who do not seem to feel their pain and strive to alleviate it.

I cried tears of grief, I remember, when I first saw the Vietnam Wall—grief for the loss of all those young men and women whose names are recorded there and for what their lives might have meant to their families and to our society.   And I cry tears of grief today as I read about those who die in Iraq and Afghanistan and Palestine.  So much human life squandered and human potential not allowed to develop!

I cry tears of compassion with the one who is facing end of life and being placed in hospice and who feels frightened about what is happening to him or her.

I cry tears of compassion, but also of anger,   when I see pictures of children in Africa who have bloated bellies and sticks for limbs due to hunger while the adults of their country spend the money meant for food to buy arms to kill each other!  And the same for children in America who have no health care, not enough to eat, and when they come into the Lord’s Diner for a meal cannot respond normally but look at me with dull eyes and no expression.

I cry tears of frustration as I watch a mind being wasted by Alzheimers Disease, or a body wasted by cancer and then read of cuts in funding for research for cures for those problems while millions go the oil companies.   I cry tears of anger  when I hear of the terrible prices exacted for cancer drugs by the drug companies that force those suffering with cancer to choose between life and bankruptcy.

I cry tears of —what—Frustration?  Compassion?   Grief?   When I look out on this sanctuary on Sunday morning and see all the empty pews that could be full of people praising God and going forth to serve him this week—if we would but get on fire for Jesus Christ and invite and bring them here.   Most people come to church the first time, research shows, when someone in the congregation invites them.   When have you done that?   Why not?

I cry tears of compassion  when I see children growing up outside the church, without its teachings and without a knowledge of Jesus Christ, because their parents just don’t care!

I cry tears of joy  as I dedicate a baby and its parents to bring it up in the church and teachings of Jesus.

I cry tears of joy when I baptize someone.

I cry tears of joy as I pronounce a couple husband and wife at their wedding.

Those are some of the tears in my tear bottle?   So what do you cry for Christian?   Now it is your turn!!

What makes us cry, church?   Is our crying based on the kinds of things that brought tears to the eyes of Jesus?   What makes us cry, Church?   Fellow Christians, what makes you cry!

I have come to believe that there is a linkage between suffering and love.   They inhabit the same deep place in our souls.  If we did not love there would be no suffering and grief, there would be no crying.

We suffer and hurt and weep for our children late into the night because we love them.

Our children get homesick when they go away to school or camp, because they love their homes and their parents.

We shed tears over someone’s death, because we loved them and loved being with them.

To not cry is to never deeply and fully love  !!

 

Jesus wept because Jesus loved..   Does the church of Jesus Christ weep because they love?    What makes you cry, Church?

Frederick Beuchner, in “Whistling in the Dark” says:   “Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention to them.   They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not, God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where you should go next.”

Some of you will remember the trio of Peter, Paul and Mary that was popular during the 1960’s.   Paul wrote a song entitled “For the Love of it All”.   I’d like to quote some of his lyrics in closing:

Long ago on a hilltop where now the curious crawl

A man on a cross paid the ultimate cost

For the Love of it all.

For the Love of it all, we are gathered by grace.

It is still not too late to come and celebrate.

The Love of it all.

Eli, eli, lamina sabakthani!   The Love of it all!!

WHAT’S IN YOUR TEAR BOTTLE, CHURCH?????!!!

Mercy or Retribution?

It’s true!   People do some terrible things to each other.   Many of us have been harmed by words and actions of others.  Words can assault us and injure us as much as physical blows and others actions may cause harm or death to our loved ones.  Those who harm us are often the victims of our  hatred, our wrath and our retribution. .  We ourselves often strike out  with words that hurt towards those we love, even if they are short of actual body blows!   We want to get even. We want Retribution!

If we are hurt we want to hurt back as much or more as we are hurt.   When we or a loved one are hurt, the adrenalin hits our bodies and prepares us for “fight or flight”.  Our blood pressure goes up.  Our breathing increases.  Our heart rate increases.  and the desire for retribution is very strong!   And yet as Christians we are faced with a problem.   Jesus taught his disciples that we should  forgive and not get even. That we should “love God and our neighbor as ourselves, and makes he makes it very clear by telling the Parable of the Good Samaritan immediately after that teaching that our neighbor may be someone we hate and has treated us badly and hates us also.   Loving God  and hating our neighbor is therefore not an option according to Jesus.  If we follow what is often called the Great Commandment  to love God and neighbor (because it sums up all “the law and the prophets” including the Ten Commandments) then  love and forgiveness is the only option for a follower of Christ.   It is a simple but difficult command.

And how do we go about loving God anyway?    Love is relational.   We can say  “I love you God”—but how do we show our love to God in action?   Love is an action word!   Again we go to the great commandment and find out we show our love for God by loving our neighbor no matter how much he or she has hurt us!   That’s tough!   But we are commanded to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves!   Even tougher!  If we are to show our love for God in a concrete way the choice between retribution or forgiveness, mercy or getting even, is obvious.  The choice is love and mercy and forgiveness.

In my Sunday School Class we have been studying the Beatitudes. We have been aided in our  learning by a book written about Mother Teresa and the Beatitudes.   You guessed it!   I have to teach the class about the beatitude “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” this coming Sunday.

As you know, Mother Teresa and her sisters worked in the worst part of Calcutta in India.   They opened a House for the Dying among other things they did there.     People were dying in filth and squalor covered with their own feces on the streets of Calcutta every day. At first she borrowed a wheelbarrow to get them to the house where they could be cared for and loved and cleaned up and as she put it “at least die a human death”.   She viewed what she did as following this Beatitude “Blessed are the merciful” and as showing her love for God by showing love and care to those who were dying alone, in their own feces, on the streets of Calcutta.  According to Mother Teresa you show love to God by loving God’s children—and that includes what Mother Teresa called “the least of these.”

She took to heart the Parable of the Last Judgment in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, verses 35-40,  where Jesus is assuming the personhood of those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, suffering, in prison, etc.   To those who reached out to him in God’s love he says “You did it to me”.

Listen to Mother Teresa’s own words:   “Whatever you do to the least of these my brethren, you do it to me.”  (Matt. 25:40)   “If in my name , you give a glass of water, you give it to me.  If in my name, you receive a child, you receive me.  (Mark 9:37)   He has made that a condition also, that at the hour of death we are going to be judged on what we have been and what we have done.   He (Jesus) makes Himself the hungry one, the naked one, the homeless one, the sick one, the lonely one, the unwanted one, the rejected one.

He says “I was hungry and you gave me to eat.”  Not only for bread, I was hungry for love.  “I was naked” not only for a piece of cloth, but I was naked for that human dignity of a child of God .  “I  was homeless”  not only for a home made of brick, but I was homeless, rejected, unwanted, unloved, a throw-away of society, and you did it to me”.  (end of quote)

Mercy is what you show when you don’t have to!   Mercy is unearned.  Mercy is forgiveness and love and care when you don’t deserve it.   Richard Rohr says “you don’t know what mercy really is until YOU need it.   God shows you mercy every day as God forgives for the many actions we take that drag the name of Jesus in the mud.   God loves us even as unloving and unlovely as we can be.   God shows us mercy and God’s love  in that forgiveness.  God does not demand retribution.  And as we follow Jesus and  forgive others who hurt us and do not practice retribution against our neighbors we become capable of receiving God’s mercy.   It is as simple and as difficult as that.   “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”    Amen.

“Go to the world” not just “Go to Church”

 

Why should we go to church?   Do we go to seek healing from our “brokenness”?  Do we go to seek God’s will for our lives together with others who are searching for the same thing?    Do we go there to worship God?   Do we go for the beautiful music and the good feelings we have as we listen to it?   Do we go because it is a requirement for salvation?  Do we go to learn together with fellow Christians how to be disciples of Jesus?   Bingo!   You’ve got it!!

What is it that the church does that we should support it?   Are we discipling people so that they can go into the world and fulfill Jesus’ commission?   If we are not doing that, then perhaps we should support it as a nice social club, but not because it is the Church of Jesus Christ—because it isn’t.

In my opinion,most churches have things all turned around.   In our selfishness and our conceit we think that the church is a building or group of people that exists somehow for our benefit.    Isn’t that what all of the above, except the last statement,  is saying?

Instead of “going to churchhave we considered thechurch going to the world?”

Jesus, the itinerant preacher, early in his career visited his home synagogue of Nazareth. It was the equivalent of “going to church” today.   As he was already gaining fame, he was asked to read from the scrolls..  He read a passage taken from Isaiah 61,  and he so infuriated them with his remarks after the reading that the synagogue as a body rose up in rage and took him and tried to throw him off a cliff outside the town.   (Read Luke: 4:14-30 for the details!)   Clearly the synagogue wasn’t in agreement when Jesus read his job description:   The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.   He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.   They especially weren’t impressed when he told them he (Jesus) was the one that Isaiah was talking about.  I can almost hear them say:   “What is all this claptrap about the poor and the oppressed and the blind?  Who does this simple carpenter’s son think he is anyway?   What does all this stuff have to do with our church (synagogue)”?

If you read the gospels that tell of Jesus, it had everything to do with what churches should be doing.    Jesus never founded a church.   He never taught that people should go to church.   Jesus committed the “good news of the gospel”to those who were his disciples.  The church should be the gathering of those disciples today.    You can read his commission to his disciples  several places in the New Testament:   In Matthew 28: 19-20 he commissioned them to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.   And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

A similar commission to his disciples is found in Acts 1:7-8 :   It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.   But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The purpose of the church is to make disciples If you are one of those disciples then your commission is to “GO INTO THE WORLD” , not just to  “go to church.”   

There is a world that is hurting outside the doors of our churches.   There are children that are hungry.   There is massive poverty.   There is lack of medical care.   There are people who are mentally ill not getting help.   There are oppressed people.   There are people in prison.   There are people trying to turn their lives around.   There are hopeless people that need a word of hope.   There are people in despair.   There are people in mourning over the death of a loved one.   There are people who are warehoused in nursing homes with no family.  There are people who are victims of human trafficking.   There are people dying alone.   There are people with no housing, living on the streets.

All of these are people to whom Jesus send us as his disciples, his church, when we “go into the world.”

All of these are people who need to hear and see in the lives of Jesus’ disciples the “good news” that God loves them and will care for them through Jesus’ disciples—that’s us!   We need to go to church to prepare to be disciples, but we need to then go to the world and fulfill the commission given to Jesus’ disciples—-the church.

Fear Can Kill Us

 

 

 

Present day Americans are full of fear.   We fear other people who are not “like us”.  We fear other religions.   We fear poverty and we fear street people (homeless).   We fear people of other races and nationalities.  We fear unemployment.  We fear retirement and running out of money before we die.   If we are black, we fear policemen.  If we are policemen, we fear blacks.  We fear flying due to terrorist attacks.  We fear mass shootings in shopping malls and we fear for our children with mass shootings at schools.   So what do we do?—we buy guns to protect ourselves from other people who are not like us.   We install expensive security systems in our homes, our schools, our airports and municipal buildings.  So—now we are in fear of the guns being carried by everyone because we know that few really know how or when to use them!!  And so the circle of fear goes on and on, around and around, in an unending cycle of violence and fear and violence and fear and people continue to die because of our fears.   OUR FEARS ARE KILLING US!!

Isn’t there another way to live our lives?  A better way?  Yes!   Jesus pointed to it a couple of thousand years ago,   The Apostle Paul explained it in I Corinthians 13:1-13.   But it seems that we Christians have missed the point that both were making for most of the time the last two thousand years.

The point they were making is:  The way of love is the way to end fear, not more weapons.   Jesus said it when he explained that the greatest commandment is to love God and love your neighbor as yourself.  Paul explained it in his “love chapter” of First Corinthians as a “better way” he would show them, concluding with the words:  “Faith, Hope, and Love remain—but the greatest of these is Love.”

After years of fear, and of killing other individuals out of fear in our own country and killing others around the world because of our fear of them, isn’t it time to try another way?—-a better way?—the way of love? instead of the way of hatred and fear and the resulting violence?

Take the Iraq War, for example:  We have spent, as a nation, according to a study by Brown University in 2013, about 2 trillion dollars on this war.   Add the benefits to veterans over a lifetime and the amount goes up more trillions of dollars.   This was a war started out of fear—a fear that turned out to be unfounded, that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction and preparing to use them on the United States and the world.   The weapons were never found after extensive searching, but the U.S. made a preemptive first strike and then it was too late.   So, fear ran its course and thousands upon thousands of human lives were extinguished on both sides because of that fear.   And 2+ trillions of dollars were spent because of that fear.   We chose to act out of fear and have reaped what benefits?   We have reaped more fear and more hatred from those whose families we have killed and destroyed.   We have reaped more suffering and death of our soldiers who were killed or maimed and whose lives and the lives of their families were changed forever by their time in Iraq.   And now we see the rise of ISIS that operates by generating fear and hatred of all but their own brand of Islamic extremists—-and the fear of ISIS is threatening to start the cycle all over again.  And the cycle of fear goes on and on, and on, and on, and on….

Love is the only way to break the cycle of violence we are caught in.  Consider this thought   If we had taken the 2 trillion dollars spent on the Iraq war and spent it for humanitarians purposes in the Middle East in poverty stricken nations, in our own nation in helping the poor and homeless and providing jobs that paid well—-if we had used the money to lift up people rather than killing them, to help them find ways to produce food for their families, to provide hospitals and adequate medical care for themselves and their children, to help them improve technologically,  what would the difference be?    If we had spent the money for humanitarian things like decent water wells, the Heifer Project, the Peace Corps and had used it to buy houses for our homeless and provide jobs for the unemployed in this country and other countries—-what difference would it have made?   In other words—-if we had uused that 2 trillion dollars to show love and care for human beings created in God’s image—instead of shooting them down in fear and hatred or ignoring the poor in our own country–have we any idea what difference that might have made in the present state of the world?   Will we ever know?   Not until we have tried it.

The gun creates fear and hatred.  Love creates trust and compassion.  That is true on the individual level and it is true on the national and international level.  Perhaps it is time to end the politics of fear and try the politics of love at all levels—but the best place to begin is in our own lives, in our own cities and towns in our own country.   Who knows?  It might spread to our states, our country and the world from those simple beginnings?!!   The change begins with you and me!

Our Cycle of Fear is Killing Us

 

Present day Americans are full of fear.  We fear other people who are not “like” us.  We fear other religions.   We fear poverty and street people (homeless).  We fear terrorists attacks.   We fear our government.   We fear Republicans or Democrats (whichever we’re not).  We fear unemployment.  We who are older fear retirement and running out of money before we die.  If we are black, we fear policemen  .   If we are  policemen, we fear blacks.   We fear flying due to terrorist attacks.  We fear mass shootings in shopping malls and we fear for our children with mass shootings at schools.  So what do we do?—-we buy guns to protect ourselves from other people who are not like us.  We install expensive security systems in our homes our schools and our municipal building and our airports.   In my home state of Kansas, you can openly carry guns on the streets and in most public buildings, and you can conceal carry also without a permit.   With all these guns, has the homicide rate gone down, have mass shootings subsided any?    Are we safer with all our guns and security systems? Or do we now need to fear guns even more because everyone has one and few know how and when to safely use them?   So the circle of fear goes on and on, around and around, in an unending cycle of violence and fear and violence and fear and people continue to die because of our fears.  OUR FEARS ARE KILLING US!!

Isn’t there another way to live our lives?   A better way?   Jesus pointed to it a couple thousand years ago?   Paul explained it in I Corinthians 13:1-13.   But it seems that we Christians have missed the point  that  both were making—-The way of love is the key to end fear, not more weapons.     Jesus said it when he explained that the greatest commandment is to love God and love your neighbor as yourself.    Paul summed it up in his “love chapter” in I Corinthians 13: 1-13 as “the better way he will show them:  “Faith, hope and love remain, but the greatest of these is love.”   

After years of fear,  and of killing other individuals out of fear in our own country and   killing others around the world because of our fear of them, isn’t it time to try another way—a better way—-the way of love instead of instead of the way of hatred and fear and the resulting violence?

Take the Iraq War, for example:   We have spent, as a nation, according to a study by Brown University in 2013,  $1.7 trillion.   Add to this the benefits paid to veterans over their lifetime and the cost goes to over $6 trillion dollars.  This war started out of fear—a fear that turned out to be unfounded—-that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was preparing to use them on the U.S.   The weapons were never found, but the U.S. made a preemptive first strike and then it was too late.    So, fear ran its course and thousands upon thousands of human lives were extinguished on both sides because of that fear. And 2 + trillion dollars were spent because of that fear.  We chose to act out of fear and have reaped what benefits?    More fear and more hatred from those whose families we have killed.  More suffering and fear by our soldiers who were maimed and whose lives were ended or changed forever by their time in Iraq.  And now we see the rise of ISIS that operating by generating fear and hatred of all but their own brand of  Islamic extremists—- and the fear of ISIS is  threatening to start the cycle all over again.  And the circle of fear goes on and on, and on, and on, and on…..

Love is the only way to break  the circle of violence we are caught in..   Consider this thought:   if we had taken the 2 trillion dollars spent on the Iraq war and spent it for humanitarian purposes in the Middle East and in poverty stricken nations, including our own nation’s poor and homeless.   If we had used the money  to lift people up, helping them to find ways for them to produce food to feed themselves, providing hospitals and adequate medical care,  helping them improve technologically so that they might be able to earn a decent living. If  we had spent money for humanitarian things like decent water wells, the Heifer Project, the Peace Corps, If we had used the money to house our homeless, to provide jobs for the unemployed in our country-— In other words if we had used that 2 trillion dollars to show  love and care for human beings created in God’s image—-  instead of shooting them down in fear and hatred in other countries,  and  hiding the poor behind barriers in our own  country,   have we any idea what difference that might  have made?   Will we ever know?   Not until we have tried it.  

The gun creates fear and hatred.   Love creates trust and compassion.   That is true on the individual level and it is true on the national and international level.    Perhaps it is time to end the politics of fear and try the politics of love at all levels—but the best place to begin is in our own lives, in our own cities and towns in our country.   Who knows, it might spread to our states, our country and the world from those simple beginnings?!   The change begins with you!!