Tag Archives: The Way of Jesus

Walking in another’s Mocassins

There is an old Indian proverb that says, in effect:   ” Never judge another person until you have spent a day walking in his moccasins.”     A recent update of that appeared in Facebook  as a sign saying:   “ Be kind to everyone, you don’t know their story.   And Ellen signs off The Ellen show each day saying:   “Be Kind to each other”!!However, it seems a lot of us have more of a built-in  tendency to judge than we do to be kind to each other.

For example:   We see someone in dirty clothes, carrying all he owns on his back in a plastic sack, unshaven—-and we judge in many ways:    We judge that he is dangerous; we judge that he’s probably an alcoholic or on drugs;   we judge that he is ill educated and uncouth; we judge that as a human being he is a drag on society.    Who hasn’t exhibited one or another of these judgments?

Another example:   There are few teachers who haven’t had to endure the insult of this little rhyme:   “If you can’t do, teach.   And if you can’t teach, teach others to teach.”    As one who both taught and taught future teachers I find this highly derogatory and insulting.   Society has seemed to always look down on teachers as failures who can’t do anything else—as evidence that they usually make very little money, which is the way we judge success.    They are people who must be closely watched by administrators and the state to make sure that they are “held accountable.”   We chide them because they have the summers off.  (they are usually working another job to make ends meet during the summer).   They are at the mercy of school boards and administrators because they no longer have tenure protection.

Now let’s spend a day walking in a teacher’s moccasins—–This person gets up at 5 a.m. so he can make it to work by 7 p.m. with a 30 minute commute.    He arrives at work, makes some coffee for his colleagues and then walks back to his cubicle where he begins to get books and supplies and graded papers  together and carefully goes over the class plans he has for the day.   He has a class to teach in American History, one in European History, and three freshmen English classes (English is outside his major)  Five classes in all with each class having an average of 30 students.   He teaches each class in a different classroom—one of the Freshmen English classes is taught with computers and the other two are not.   His classrooms are located in different spots scattered over a large high school campus.   He must prepare carefully because after each class he must run by his office during a 10 minute passing period to collect materials and books for the next class.   At the end of the day he is exhausted, but today there is more.    He rushes home and changes into a Park Ranger uniform, straps on his 38 revolver, and drives to the San Diego Wild Animal Park where he will work from 4 p.m. until midnight.   He arrives home after midnight and goes to bed and gets up at five the next morning and begins it all over again.   The next day  will be a good day—-he doesn’t have to work the second job—-but he does have a huge pile of papers to grade and prep to do at the end of that day.

This was a day in my life as a teacher at a high school in California. At the end of the school year I had to look forward to working my second job full time during the summmer.     It was during the economic period where inflation was surging and wages were not, and I had a family to support—-two children, one in high school and one in college.  So I had no choice but to work two jobs.

Things have not changed that much today!.    Prices still are going  up.    Teacher’s salaries are not.   Schools don’t receive the money they need so teachers do more with less and teach multiple subjects, some outside their area of expertise.   They teach them to students who have been told that teachers don’t know what they are doing.   That  if they “had it” they would be in “real jobs” amaking “real money” and therefore be successful.  .    The governor doesn’t trust teachers nor do the state legislators in Kansas.   Teachers  have no security from administrators who do things to them to get rid of them like my administrator did to me that year that I just described above.   The Kansas legislators and governor got rid of the tenure law last year.

WALK IN THESE SHOES FOR A DAY OR A YEAR  AND SEE IF YOUR CRITICISM OF TEACHERS IS STILL THE SAME.

I am retired now and sitting at the check-in-table at the Lord’s Diner here in my home city of Wichita.   The Diner is open 7 days a week to feed the hungry in Wichita and usually there are over  500 people eating each evening, including many children.    Many of them are carrying all their belongings on their back.   Look in many of their eyes, even their children, and there is a deadness, a loss of hope in many.

My wife sits alongside me and since I am diabetic, before we are finish I need to go get something to eat.   I reluctantly leave her and sit inside on the other side of a glass wall as I eat so I am able to keep watch on her.   (There’s my bias—-I think she is in danger because she’s dealing with homeless people.)   As I watch, a very tall, black-headed “motorcycle dude” with a scraggly beard and a handkerchief on his head came in.    I took one look at him and thought “that is a mean-looking dude”.    He came in and got his food and sat at the end of the table where I was eating.    I was surprised to see that the first thing he did after being seated was to fold his hands, bow his head, and I saw his lips moving in prayer.

We got to talking and he shared some of the story of his life with me.   He told me how blessed he was because he had just found a place to stay in a warm garage (it was winter) and he was better able to do what he liked to do.   As we talked his story unfolded that what he liked to do was to rescue homeless people who were on the verge of committing suicide..    He recounted the number of times and some of the ways he had reached out to homeless persons who were ready to end their lives.    He took them in, made sure they got something to eat, let them stay with him and tried to talk them out of suicide.  He said he was usually successful, but lost some.   He said he felt that was his ministry and I assured him that it was indeed a ministry—-a God given one.   He had found a way to put his faith in God into life-saving action.

HOW MANY OF US HAVE A LIFE STORY TO MATCH  THIS?

Do you still think that this man is a “drag” on society?  That he is dangerous and uncouth after hearing his story?   How many of us can say that we work at saving lives every day?   KNOWING HIS STORY MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE.

 

What We MIss in the Magnificat….

As we near the Christmas Season,   we read he words of Mary, the mother of Jesus,  as she reflected on the blessing that had been given her to be the mother of the Messiah.    We seem to always  concentrate on the opening words:   “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.   Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed.”   But we somehow have missed what she then said about the coming Savior:   “He has show strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.   He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty…

In case we missed what Mary said,  Luke also reports Jesus reading from the book of Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth at the beginning of his ministry:   “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”;  and he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down.   The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.   Then he began to say to them,  “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”   (Luke 4:18-21)

Jesus life and ministry was a mission dedicated to carrying out the above.    How have we as Christians through the centuries failed to see what Jesus was about?   How have we missed the major thrust of his ministry?     Why have we utterly failed to continue this mission?    

As I approach the celebration of the birth of Jesus, I look out on my own state (Kansas) which is supposed to governed by professed Christians.    I see poverty that is growing worse each year.   I see adults working two and three jobs to provide for their children and not being able to do so because of low wages and part time employment with no benefits.  I see a state legislature and governor who have refused to extend Medicaid to thousands who have no health insurance who are suffering needlessly because of that. I see a governor and legislator who have refused to raise the minimum wage so that working people can live on what they earn.    I see children and adults who are homeless.   I see thousands of children going to bed hungry each night, if they have a bed.   AND I ASK—-WHERE ARE THE FOLLOWERS OF JESUS?   Why have they not stood up to the powers that cause all of this suffering?   Where is the voice of “the crucified one” demanding that those who have the power to change this picture do so?    Where are we?

We are sitting in comfortable churches.   We have joined the “powers that be” rather than bringing them down to deal with the desperate condition of many in our state.    Not a single voice has been heard from the church and Christians demanding that Medicaid be extended.   Not a single church has demanded that the minimum wage be raised.   The church and Christians have remained silent in the face of the poverty and suffering all around them.

The Magnificat speaks of the change that the society will experience because of the birth of the Messiah.   Centuries later, we who claim to be the “body of Christ” have not brought that change about.    Rather we have joined the forces of the powerful that are causing those conditions of poverty and helplessness to continue and to grow.

WE’VE MISSED JESUS’ ENTIRE POINT, FELLOW CHRISTIANS!!!

 

Blind Faith

 

Text: Mark 10:46-52          

        I’m sure you’ve seen the ad on TV where the elderly lady has fallen and is yelling “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”   It is an advertisement for a Life Line button and support system.   Many people laugh at the ad—-and it is a little over-acted—-but if you have been in that position you would not find it laughable.  

            The word “help” is one of the hardest words for Americans to voice. Most people would rather crawl out into the street than call for help.   There are many reasons for this.  

We were never taught how to ask for help and have few role models to follow.

We love our independence and the “American Way” is to be a “rugged individualist”, taking care of our own problems.

We are afraid to ask as we’d rather die than have people think we can’t take care of ourselves.

We are afraid that we will “bother” people with our requests.   I have been told many times by parishioners that “I didn’t want to bother you with my problem, as I know you are very busy.”   To which I always respond by saying—-if I’m ever too busy to stop and share people’s problems, then I should get out of the ministry!

Blind Bartimeaus had no such qualms about asking for help, and his story teaches us a lesson about asking for help and the meaning of faith and trust.   The greatest lesson he teaches us is that God’s healing should lead to discipleship.  

 

Have you ever been completely unable to see?   Although I haven’t experienced it, it must be terrifying. To not be able to see is to be completely vulnerable.   To not be able to see means you have to trust others to help you and to look out for you.   In one of my courses in Counseling Psychology, one of the exercises we did to experience the need for trust was a trust exercise where a person stood behind us and we closed our eyes and fell backward.   It required trust of the one who would catch you for otherwise you would end up with a very large bump on the back of your head.   Another exercise asked us to blindfold ourselves and let someone lead us through an unknown territory.   We were completely dependent on the person leading us to keep us from stumbling and falling over various obstacles in our path.   It gave me a glimpse of what blindness would be like.

            Blind people have much to teach us about trust and faith—-and the blind beggar Bartimeaeus teaches us about faith and trust through his story that we read in the Gospel of Mark today.

            Bartimaeus was a blind beggar.   He had no choice of what to do, as begging was the only way to provide for himself.   He was sitting by the roadside as the crowd of Jesus and his discipes approached as they made their way out of Jericho going up to Jerusalem.   When he heard that Jesus was about to pass by, without hesitation and without any sense of embarassment, Bartimaeus began to shout:   “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”   The crowd around him may have thought that he was making a scene and tried to silence him,, but he continued to shout until Jesus asked that he be brought to him.   Bartimaeus was blind and the only way he could hope for a productive life was to regain his sight.   He knew his need, but notice that he didn’t lead with his need for sight, but rather his need to be seen by Jesus.  

            He shouted “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner” and not “have mercy on me a blind man.” Bartimaeus seemed to understand that his vision was not only clouded but that he needed spiritual healing as well.   He opened himself to the possibility that his healing might be physical or spiritual, with an outside chance that it might be both.  

            One of the first things I learned in counseling psychology was that people have a “presenting problem” and an underlying “real problem.”   Bartimaeus seemed to realize that while his “presenting problem” was blindness; his “real problem” might be more than physical blindness.   He cried “have mercy on me, a sinner!” He realized that Jesus could do something about the things that bind him, as well as blind him.

            And Jesus responded by asking him:   “What do you want me to do for you.”?   And Bartimaeus responded by saying: “My teacher, let me see again.”   (not “heal my blindness”) and Jesus responded: “Go, your faith has made you well.”   (The Greek word for “healing” can also be translated “saving”).   God’s healing saves us. And immediately his sight was restored and he followed Jesus as a disciple on the Way to Jerusalem in grateful response.   He had more than his eyesight restored—-he was saved by the contact with Jesus.   God healed him through Jesus both physically and spiritually.  

And this is where we have a problem today.   I fear that too many Christians are “healed” and then just go on the way and not on The Way of Jesus in discipleship. Once we have been healed we go the way that so many people in Jesus day went—on their own way, not on the way of discipleship. Think of all the people Jesus healed—-the leper in Galilee, the roof-destroying friends of the paralytic; the man with a withered hand, the Gerasene demoniac, the 7 lepers ( only one of whom returned to thank Jesus); and so on and on.   They were healed and went their way and never are heard of again in scripture.   Blind Bartimaeus was different—-he followed Jesus as a disciple on the way to Jerusalem and death and resurrection.

       And this is the problem that we have in our modern times.     The church as the body of Christ on earth has been turned into an “itch-scratcher”.    There is a church I read about with a large sign in front of it that illustrates my point.

     One week the advertisement was “Lonely?” then come to our church. The next week the sign said:   “Depressed?”   Come to our church.   “Anxious?”   Come to our church.   Every week a different malady.   Every week the promise that Jesus could fix it.

     This is what I call a “Where-does-it-itch” style of Christian ministry.  You tell us, the church, where you itch, what needs you have, the church exists to scratch where you itch.   An example of this is given by preacher William Willimon, recalling a conference he was at where the speaker, a well known television evangelist said:   “God wants to meet every one of your needs in life.   Whatever your heart desires, bring it to the Lord in prayer”.   He then illustrated this conviction of divine beneficence by telling of a woman of his acquaintance who, when she had been unable to find a part of her favorite red shoes, prayed to God and….there were her shoes, right under her bed!

     Our church here wants to grow—-and it is tempting to do as one church grown consultant wrote:   “Go out into your neighborhood and find out what people need.   Child care?   Elder care?   After school programs?   Then begin those programs.   Churches who meet needs grow.”    

     And many of our churches do this and wonder why the people whose needs they provided for don’t become a part of their church.   Jesus could have asked the same question—-all of the people who Jesus helped—-where were they?   They went on their way—many times without saying thank you to Jesus.  

What churches need to do is not just “scratch the itch” but to make disciples of those whose needs they are trying to meet.   What people in the world today need is not “fixing” but transformation as they relate to God and follow the way that Jesus walked.

                                                                                   

Persons who have been touched by Jesus healing and have a personal relationship with God through Jesus, cannot just be “takers” but also need to be “givers”.   If you have truly been touched by the salvation and healing of God and have a personal relationship with God through Jesus, you will do the same thing that Bartimaeus did—–you will follow on the Way.   Bartimaeus alone among the other hurting, oppressed, victimized, suffering, hungry ones, became a disciple.   He had the ability to see, even when he couldn’t see, what Jesus was really about.

 

The story of the healing and the response of Bartimaeus invites us to ask:   What do I want from Jesus?  We look at Jesus, and too many of us see him as a solution to all our problem, freedom from our aches and cares, a magic want waved over our lives to fix everything. Too many of our churches begin with the selfish invitation to let Jesus fix our needs and never follow through with the selfless invitation to love and serve God and our neighbor as ourselves.   Jesus makes a claim on our lives.   This is the same Jesus that said:   “He who would be first must be the servant of all.”   This is the Jesus who said:   “He who would save his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.”   This is the Jesus who said:   “If anyone would be my disciple, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.”   The way of Jesus is the way of the Cross.   It is the way of discipleship.

 

     The real questions here are: Is Jesus our Lord, or our errand boy?   Are we his faithful followers or only his pestering clients?     A better question to ask is:   What does Jesus want from us.   And the answer Bartimaeus gives us—-follow Jesus on The Way.  

     What is “The Way”?  

It is the way of discipleship.   It is calling us to a life of service.   It is the way that Jesus walked when he was on earth.  

     There is a great gap between meeting people’s needs and calling them to discipleship.   The churches that truly grow are the ones that invite people to discipleship—-to a transforming relationship with God through Christ.   Amen

                                                                             

 

 

           

 

Who Do YOU Say I Am?

 Scripture: Mark 8:11-28

The final command that Jesus gave to his disciples before his ascension was 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….” We call it the Great Commission.   Luke reports it a little differently in Acts 1:8 and has Jesus final words to his disciples being this:   “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  

Different words—same essential message.   Disciples of Jesus are to tell the world about Jesus the Risen Messiah and the Kingdom of God he proclaimed.

The basic question is:   How do we go a about doing that in a world that seems uninterested?

We’ve tried inviting them to church.   No longer works well in the present day of millennials and younger folks.

We’ve tried advertising.   Doesn’t seem to work well any more.

We’ve tried scaring people with messages of eHell and damnation and God’s wrath. They were just turned off– -We have found that and faith and fear doesn’t seem to fit together.   In fact, faith is what cancels out fearo.   And the scare tactics do not attract but drive peopleaway. They don’t have much to do with telling people about Jesus.   So scare tactics are counterproductive.

We’ve tried TV and the social media, including web-pages and blogs.   Not working.

We’ve tried changing our music and worship services to “contemporary” rather than “traditional”.   We’ve tried praise bands and loud music while throwing our pipe organs out the back door.   Turns out it didn’t make much of a difference.

 

WHAT WE HAVE NOT TRIED IS PROCLAIMING THE KINGDOM OF GOD THE WAY JESUS DID IT.   What way is that?   Let’s look again at our text for today to answer that question:

            When Jesus asked his disciples the questions in the text today:   Who do people say I am?   And who do you say I am?—-it was near the close of his earthly ministry.   These disciples had followed him, lived with him on a daily basis,   ate with him, shared ministry with him, listened to his teachings.   In the gospel of Mark, Jesus does not ever refer to himself as the Messiah.

            Jesus had kept a low profile on being the Messiah up to this point.   He wasn’t interested in self-promotion and big advertisements in the local papers & Tv..   He published no bumper stickers to place cars advertising who he was.   He hadn’t handed out t-shirts or hats with his face on them.   Jesus, according to Mark’s account, had kept a strict “don’t tell a soul” policy. Jesus referred to himself in Mark as “the son of man”.  

So Peter’s response was based on one thing only—-his experience of JesusWhat Jesus did.   How he acted.  What he taught by his daily life.     From his daily experience of being Jesus follower, Peter discovered who Jesus was—-from his actions more than his words.   When Peter said:   “You are the Messiah!”   it was based on Jesus actions—not just his words. It was based on what Peter had seen as he followed Jesus.

            When Jesus heard Peter’s words, he then began to explain to Peter and the disciples what it meant to be the Messiah   Peter still didn’t fully understand.   He saw Jesus as the messiah—but according to Peter’s definition of “messiah.”   What does “messiah” mean? It harkens back to the Jewish understanding of an “anointed one”.   Anointed by God for a special purpose.   Peter got the word right but substituted his own definition of messiah for the one that Jesus was. It is the Hebrew word for “Christ” (christos) in Greek.

            In the O.T. “messiah” was used to refer to Kings as God’s anointed ones.   As such, in many people’s minds that meant one who God anointed as a conquering hero like David, flushed with success.   But Isaiah gives the word a “different meaning” as he describes the Messiah as being a “suffering servant”.   For Jesus, the “suffering servant” is the vision that is given in Isaiah was the one he sought to fulfill by his life and work.  

           I think in far too many of our churches today we see Jesus in a third way that we have concocted.   Jesus has become a religious market product in today’s world.   There are “Jesus Loves you” smiley beanbag babies; little plastic cross-shaped containers filled with bubbles;   religious pencils; “Jesus is the Light” key chains; “Jesus Lives” rolls of stickers; Lamb of God resin lambs; God erases sin erasers; religious tattoos; pens, posters, etc.   There are bumper stickers saying:

Warning¨ In case of Rapture this car will be driverless; or

“Got God?”

Eternity: smoking or non-smoking?

Jesus is coming, everyone look busy.

There are billboard signs beside our roads advertising Jesus.

 We think we are spreading the word about Jesus with these, but really the only result is they serve to make money for those who sell them. That is because they –do not define the Messiah, God’s suffering servant, God’s anointed   Is it any wonder that people are turned off by all of this?   His “marketing approach” is not a good one for telling the world about Jesus and Gode.  

 We don’t seem to be doing a very good job of telling people about Jesus and God with all the media and paraphanalia we are distributing.

 

Increasingly we hear from the younger generations but more and more from the older generations, that they are searching for God in our churches and not finding God there. They want to deepen their relationship with God.   They say they are “spiritual” not “religious”.   Remember the statistic I gave you last week—-90 of churchgoing adults report that they have never experienced God in church!

So What Do We Do??  

            There are two ways that we can get the word out about Jesus, the Christ, the anointed one of God and the gospel or good news that Jesus brought to humankind about God and his Kingdom:

            The first is by word.   If you were asked what the gospel is, what would your answer be?   If you were asked why it is good news for all people, how would you explain it?? Would you say that Jesus was sent from God with the revelation that God loves all of his creation and that God is not like some person “out there somewhere” but is present in nature and in our daily lives—-whether we recognize God’s presence or not.   Would we say that Jesus revealed a God of love?   Would we say that God is a forgiving God and is like a Father to his children?

            We have to know what we believe about Jesus and God before we can effectively communicate about them to others?

            The second way, and best way is by how we live in God’s Kingdom on earth that Jesus came to proclaim.  

            The sermon on the mount in Matthew communicates “the way” of Jesus.   That’s how we are supposed to be living   Nothing spreads the word better about Jesus’   proclamation of the Kingdom of God on earth and his revelation of God as a God of love and forgiveness than when we as his followers live according to the rules of that Kingdom.     We do this by loving the unlovely; by going the extra mile; by turning the other cheek; by feeding the hungry; by sheltering the homeless; by tending the ill and visiting the dying.

The early church spread rapidly because its followers practiced their beliefs and didn’t just preach!!

As Francis of Assisi said to his monks:   preach constantly, using words only when necessary.

 

I want to close with this story about a lady being pulled over by a traffic cop in a busy city.   She said to him:   “Why did you pull me over?   I wasn’t breaking any laws.”   The policeman answered her this way:   I’ve been watching you for several minutes now. During that time about a lady being pulled over by a traffic cop in a busy city.   She said to him:   “Why did you pull me over?   I wasn’t breaking any laws.”   The policeman answered her this way:   I’ve been watching you for several minutes now. During that time you sped up and went by a car that had cut in on you too quickly and gave him “the universal sign of human friendship”.   Then at the next stoplight you banged your hands on the steering wheel in frustration and honked because the car in front of you didn’t leave quickly enough when the light turned green, then you sped by someone you thought was going to slow and yelled obscenities at them.    

            The lady said—“But officer, none of those are illegal.   I still don’t know why you stopped me!”

            The officer replied:   “Ma’am, I saw the bumper sticker on the back of your car that said “God loves you and so do I”   and I thought that this must be a stolen car.

 

OUR ACTIONS SPEAK SO LOUDLY AT TIMES THAT OTHERS CAN’T HEAR WHAT WE ARE SAYING!   Amen.  

 


 

 

 

 

Termites in our Churches

Do our churches have “church termites”?   Are you one of them?   Termites eat away the structure of a house from within.   Not until the structure is almost a shell does their work begin to show.   “Church termites” are very similar.   Alert!  Alert!   Their work is beginning to show!    Many of our churches are just shells of what they once were.   They have gone from being vibrant, sturdy, and involved  structures meeting the needs of their congregations, community and world, to just shells of what they once were.

What happened?  Of course to answer that question completely  would require a book, but I want to focus on a very subtle thing that has caused much of the destruction of the church—-the existence of “church termites“.  The question is:   What is a “church termite”.   You may not have to look any further than your own mirror to see one!

Just look for a “comfortable Christian” and you’ve found one!   Most churches are full of them. Here are a few ideas of what to look for to find them:

Look for a church that does not challenge its congregation to its mission of practicing the Great Commandment-–in fact that has lost memory of what it’s real mission is about. ( See Matthew 22:36-39 for the great commandment in case your memory is poor in this area).   Carrying out the Great Commandment is not a comfortable thing to do.   The challenge of “loving your neighbor as yourself”  is not a comfortable challenge.   It is a formidable challenge.

Look for a church members who don’t have time to do Bible Studies because they must do other things they consider more important—-almost anything is more important!  The church usually has lowest priority  among the demands for their time and talent and money instead of highest priority.  Termites at work!

Look for church budgets passed by termites that spend most of the money given to the church upon their congregations and very little  on community outreach, social justice for the homeless, or carrying out their mission of proclaiming the good news Jesus proclaimed.      These budgets  prefer making sure everyone of their congregation is sitting in comfortable pews in air conditioned comfort once a week to going into the community in the name of Jesus every day and showing by their life the Way of Jesus.   They prefer improvements to their buildings.   They spend thousands in maintenance and upkeep of their building   and pennies, in comparison, for Week of Compassion,  community outreach,  the poor, the homeless, the outcasts.   More termites at work!

Look for churches who have no children’s Christian  education program because everyone is too busy with other things to teach children about Jesus.   All those people who are too busy are seeking their own comfort, not following Jesus as a disciple, and  are among the termites chewing away on their church.

Jesus did not call his disciples to a life of comfort sitting in a padded pew with air conditioning  and listening to beautiful music.   He called his disciples to serve, telling them that “the greatest among you will be the servant of all.”  .   He called them to follow him into the world of his day.   To heal.   To help.  To proclaim God’s love for all of his creation and his children.   Jesus did not tell them that to be his disciple they had to make sure they were comfortable.   He said that “if you  would be my disciple, you must take up your cross daily  and follow me.”   Carrying a cross is not comfortable.   Following Jesus is not comfortable as he went a lot of places we would prefer not to go.   Most of the members of our congregations would take this challenge by saying—-well, if that’s what you want—count me out!   They are “church termites”.

This attitude of seeking “my comfort” is destroying our churches.   More and more we see the effect of this attitude as our church buildings remain intact and solid but the congregations dwindle and eventually die within their comfortable buildings as the membership thinks only of their comfort and not their mission as a church.   For the church is not a building—it is a living, breathing body of people who seek to become disciples and followers of Jesus, the Christ.   If that is not their purpose then they have no purpose.

Where are your priorities?    Are you a “comfortable Christian”?     Or are you one of the termites that is destroying the church from within?

 

 

 

Sorry, Jesus, we still “just don’t get it”!!

Many people in our country, and especially in our government say that they are disciples of Jesus—but they just don’t get it!    We don’t get what Jesus was about, what and to whom his mission was,  and what his priorities were.   We don’t get it!     Our behavior reveals our ignorance of what following Jesus means, and it speaks much louder than the worshipful words we might use.

I’ve been teaching a Home Fellowship Bible Study on the Gospel of Mark, and one of the characteristics of his gospel is the multiple times that Jesus is exasperated and frustrated because his disciples just don’t get what his mission is all about.   They just don’t get that his mission was to the poor, the outcast, the blind, the leper, the rejected by society, the tax collector, the sinner.  This last session we read these words in Mark 9:  3-11  and discussed them:

“Then he began to teach them that the Son of man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and after three days rise again.  He said all of this quite openly.  Then Peter took him aside  and began to rebuke him.   But turning and looking at the disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan!  For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Peter just didn’t get it!   And neither did the rest of the disciples.   So Jesus further taught them in these words:   “He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers , let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and the sake of the gospel, will save it.   For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?  (Mark 8:34-37)

The disciples did not get that to follow Jesus meant to share his care and love for the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the bereaved, the rejected, the leper, the aged, the children.    To follow Jesus was to take care of what we would call the “dregs” of society.   WE STILL DON’T GET IT TODAY!   To follow Jesus is to serve these who are created in God’s image, not to be served by them.   To love the poor, not to shame them.   And yet by our actions today many times we do just that—we shame the poor.   This is especially true of our government at the state level.  E.g.:

A recent article in the Wichita Eagle stated that one of the surprises that states  have is the large number of people who enrolled in Medicaid, once it was extended in their states.   Politicians quoted stated concern  about the future costs of Medicaid,  rather than being concerned how many citizens were without health insurance.   They were concerned about money.   We just don’t get it.

Scott Walker, Republican Governor of Wisconsin  and a Baptist preacher’s son, insists his marching orders are from God.   He wants to make it a requirement that  anyone who applies for employment, food stamps, or other assistance programs would have to prove their sobriety.  He says:   “This is not a punitive measure.   This is about getting people ready for work.    I’m not making it harder to get government assistance.   I’m making it easier to get a job.”   Who is he kidding??   The aged and the disabled poor get a job???   He is a so-called Christian, who just doesn’t get what following Jesus is all about!

Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas, who styles himself as a born-again Christian, recently signed a bill that prevents welfare recipients from spending their assistance on “expenditures in a liquor store, casino, jewelry, tattoos, nail salons, lingerie shops, vapor cigarettes, movie theaters, swimming pools, cruise ships, theme partks, dog or horse racing, etc. etc.  The act sets a $25 limit on withdrawals from ATM machines.    The author of this bill that the governor signed is State Sen. Miachael O’Donnell, the son of a pastor who likes to mention Jesus when he explains his opposition to helping the poor.   He recently told the Topeka State Journal “We’re trying to make sure those benefits are used in the way intended.  This is about prosperity.   This is about having a good life.”   (But he’s not talking about  a good life for the poor I might add!)

The late William Sloane Coffin sums it up well:   “It is ironic  to pray for the poor on Sunday, and spend the rest of the week complaining that the government is doing something about it.”

Pope Francis sees clearly that American Christians just don’t get it!  He says “We have created new idols.  The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new  and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.”

Far too many Americans who call themselves Christians are worshipping at the idols of money, self-gratification, and political power.   We Christians keep re-electing the governors and legislators who take punitive actions against the poor, the aged, the sick, the children.   So we must also say…..

SORRY, JESUS—-MOST OF US JUST DON’T GET IT AFTER ALL THESE YEARS!

 

 

 

Get Out of the Boat

Text:  Matthew 14:22-33

Theme:   The church needs the passion of Peter to risk leaving our safe boats to walk on the water with Jesus. 

            “Crazy Simon Peter is doing it again!”   I wonder if that is what the disciples in that boat thought about the events that were unfolding before their eyes.    Peter was known for being impetuous.   He was known for speaking before he thought about what he was saying and doing things on the spur of the moment, without thought.   He was known for his passionate nature.   He was the disciple, re remember that drew his sword the night the soldiers came to arrest Jesus and cut off the year of the servant of the high priest.   Jesus told him to put away his sword that time and healed the ear of the servant.   Peter was the disciple who at one moment was saying that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God (what we refer to as the Good Confession) and the next moment he is being told by Jesus to “get behind me, Satan” for what he said.           

            Peter was passionate.   He was the kind of person who took risks.   And the story we read in the text today is another chapter in the saga of this passionate and impetuous man.   Let’s take another look at it…..

 Jesus had left the disciples to go pray alone and sent them on ahead of him in the boat he had used to speak to the crowds.      The Sea of Galilee is known for its sudden, fierce storms; and the disciples had been caught in one of those storms and it was blowing them out to sea.   They had been rowing all night trying to keep the boat from capsizing by rowing into the wind towards the shore.   They were  exhausted.   They were frightened by the ferocity of the storm.    Then they saw something that frightened them even more—-they saw a man walking on the sea towards them!   Who was it?  Was it a ghost?  Were they hallucinating?   And then the man spoke to them and said:   “Take heart, it is I?”   Was it Jesus?   Was it really him?

            That’s when impetuous Peter said—-“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water!”   Good old crazy Simon Peter!!! He’s done it againf!    And Jesus said one word to him:   “Come”.   

            So Peter stepped out of the boat and began to walk on the waves that were tossing the boat to and fro.   He’s not just walking on calm water—he’s on a stormy sea!    Suddenly, he had second thoughts—what in the world is he doing here??

What made me do this crazy thing? 

            And he took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink!   He cried out:  “Lord, save me!!”  And immediately Jesus reached out to him and pulled him back up, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

 You have probably heard many sermons given on this story.   While Mark and Luke also have the story of the calming of the sea, the story of Peter trig to walk on the water to Jesus is found only in Matthew’s gospel.    Some sermons may have emphasized that we must keep our eyes on Jesus and when we fail to do so we sink.   And they are right!    Other sermons you may have heard have been on the faith that is necessary to be a disciple of Jesus   And they are right!

            I would like for us to consider this story, however in terms of an allegory about the church.    

We must remember the Gospel of Matthew was written late in the first century—probably around 90 A.D.,  and it was written to a church that was suffering persecution at the hands of the Roman Empire.   Think about the disciples on the boat as being like the church.   They are on stormy seas.  The wind is against them.  But note several things:

            First, when Jesus comes walking toward them they don’t recognize him!  The church doesn’t recognize Jesus???  Whoa!!

            Note secondly, that they do not give  up—they keep on rowing.   But with Jesus not being with them in the boat, they seem to not be getting anywhere, but are just surviving.

Sound familiar?    Do you ever feel that way?   Do you feel like you labor and strain in working for the progress of the church and nothing much happens?     Might it be because we don’t have Jesus in the boat with us?

            Note thirdly, that only Peter is willing to get out of the boat.   The rest of the disciples keep rowing and stay in the boat.   

            Next note   that it is when Peter, in faith, stepped out of the boat that he reaches out to Jesus who saves him!!              

Finally, note a that it is only when Jesus is back in the boat that the storm abates and the seas become still!!

 How very much like the church today are those disciples  in the boat!   Most churches are like a bunch of Jesus’ disciples that are battling to stay alive in an increasingly hostile environment.   Small groups of Christians are rowing like crazy into this life’s  storm that is beating on their church,  and are getting worn out; and it seems like all they are doing is holding their own against a stormy world or worse, they are losing ground.

And it is a stormy world.   It is a world that threatens to enguls us.   To swallow us up.

A world that is in direct competition with the church for the lives and time of Christians.    That schedules events on Sunday mornings to entice Christians away from worship of God.

A world that schedules sports events for children on Sunday and tells us that is more important than children being in church and Bible Study. 

A world that pushes an immoral way of life as being “fun” and the “in thing” to do in movies, TV, music and rap.

A world that is full of violence and hatred.  One in which terrorists kill innocent human beings in behalf of their political and religious agenda.   A world where rulers kill peaceably assembled protestors of their regimes.

A world that threatens large numbers of adults and children with starvation and violence at the hands of their own governments.

 A world where disease threatens and takes lives on a daily basis—-disease that is curable if the cure was available to those who are dying of the diseases.

 A world where drugs are pushed on our children; where our children are not safe from the attacks of child molesters and child pornographers.

 A world where families are split apart by governments”getting tough on immigration, by divorce,  and by poverty and whre families are dysfunctional , with children drifting and lost.

A world where poverty leaves children and parents hungry and without adequate medical and dental care because Kansas will not expand Medicaid

 Richard Hamm, former General Minister of DOC and now retired described the world of today in these words in his book From Mainline to Frontline.  Written 10 years ago, sadly it is still very true.   If things have changed, it is only that they are probably worse!   He writes….

 “See that mean-spiritedness is everywhere, impatient automobile drivers, who seem more bent on making a point than getting somewhere; parents in the supermarket who slap their children around; politicians who deliberately belittle and lie about those who oppose them;  radio talk show hosts who do not simply differ from the ideas and positions offered by others, but who seek to assassinate the character of those with whom they differ;  people who want to win and will crush their opponents in any and every way possible to do so.

            The world is a greedy place….The world is a place where racism is part of everyday life;  where sexual orientation becomes more important than one’s humanity in defining a person’s value.

Hamm continues

            The world is a place where certain people are expendable.   A world fueled by consumerism.  To be attractive or to have value, you must buy this product or that product.  You must have this car.  You must use this toothpaste.  You must wear this designer label.

{End of Quote}.

The world is also a place where our governments try to balance  their budgets with cuts that adversely affect children, the elderly, the poor, and the sick…while giving huge subsidies to oil companies that net billions of dollars each year in profits that they pay little tax on.  This is a frightening world.  It is a world that desperately needs the church to take a stand on the above issues and to be there to heal and help those who are being tossed about or being thrown away.

 The church in this world needs to listen carefully to the words spoken by the prophet Micah long ago:       

“With what shall I come before trhe Lord, and bow myself before God on high?  Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?   Will the lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?   Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?  He has showed you, O mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice,  and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?”

 And where is the church in this stormy world?

I fear the church is too often fearful and  cowering in the boat, being buffeted by the storms of this world, and trying to row by themselves instead of getting out of the boat and taking risks with Jesus by their side.   

I fear Jesus is not in the boat with us and we are afraid to get out of the boat and go and meet him on the stormy seas of this life.   We feel safe in the boat, rowing hard, but getting nowhere.  Nowhere is something that we are familiar with.   Better not to take a risk by getting out of the boat and going toward Jesus.

 But Jesus comes to us on life’s stormy seas and says“Come”.  Are we willing to answer that call?   Are we willing to look Jesus in the face and climb out of our safe boat and take risks in walking in the storm that surrounds us with him?

The church needs the passion of Peter to leave  to leave our safe boat and walk on the stormy seas of this world with Jesus!!

Passionthat is what we are missing.   We like to play it safe.   Jesus words “Do not be afraid” mean more than “rest easy”.   They mean something like “take heart”; “have courage”;  “be open and willing to receive what is coming”;  get ready for a new thing that God is about to do in your life.”   It is an invitation to welcome rather than retreat from walking with Jesus and the new future that goes with that for us and our world.

It is not always easy.

It is easier to complain than to try a new way of living that heals and forgives and reflects God’s mercy and love to others as Jesus did. 

It is easier to live with disappointments than to venture changes leading to unknow possibilities.

Easier to keep fighting the battles that we know than to undertake an entirely different approach to living by walking with Jesus the Christ in His Way.

 So what does the church need to do to survive the storms they are battling?   I would suggest three things:

FirstWe need to be passionate about what we are doing. We are too comfortable.   We must be willing to take risks.   We need to get our of our safe boats and walk toward Jesus, believing and trusting that he will keep our heads above the stormy waters if we do so. 

 Secondly, we need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.  We need to invite Him into our church and into our hearts in a transformative way.   We need to sit at his feet in the Gospels and learn of His Way.   

 Finally, we need to trust that God will help us if we risk much.   That God, through Jesus will be there for us if we falter  

 

There is a story about musicians at a nightclub who complained about an old piano.   The keys would often stick and the sounds was truly hideous it was so out of tune.   After months of listening to the grumbling, the nightclub owner finally decided to do something about it­—he sent the piano out to be painted.

 Painted???  Painted????  What good would that do???

 I think that is something that we Christians in our churches often settle for—-a paint job when we need a full tune up and overhaul.      It is so easy to play church without actually being one.   But what people too often see and hear from the church is like the old piano that just had a paint job—we need a tuneup and an overhaul, not just a paint job.  And so many turn away from the church like the musicians did from the old piano. We are out of tune with the world around us that has changed dynamically in the last 50 years.  We don’t need a paint job as a church—we need a full tuneup and overhaul of the way we go about being church. It is so easy to  seek comfort instead of challenge; to want rest, not responsibility.

            We too readily accept complacency and the status quo and surrender our passion for God.  If we look for a paint brush rather than a tool box to fix our churches we will find that we will not solve our problems.

 Remember one thing:  Jesus is here with us as we face the storms of life that beat upon us as Christians and upon our church.   He will walk with us and reach down and pick us up if we stumble—-if we reach out to him as Peter did and say:  “Lord save me!”  

But first we have to get out of the boat and take the risk of walking with Jesus on the stormy sea!!