What Is the Business of our Church

Isaiah 43: 16-21   Ps. 67     Luke 10:38-42    

 

        In my years here as pastor, I have been blessed with committed leadership in our church. In preparing for this, my 15th Annual Meeting with you I came across a dialogue on ministry which Cindy Bartholomew and I did way back in 2004.    It was a dialogue, based upon our Fall Planning Huddle of that year which asked the question:

“What Kind of Business Are We In, as a Congregation?” 

Now 10 years later, Cindy is once again our moderator and I’ve asked her to join me in a bit of an update on that theme:

 

Keith: So Cindy, What Kind of Business Are We In?

 

Cindy:  I think that we, in some way, like all religious communities, are in the GETTING CLOSE TO GOD Business.

 

Keith: One of my favorite texts on this theme is from the book of Isaiah: “As I went to the temple to pray, I saw the Lord high and lifted up on his throne.

Around him were flaming creatures with great wings and they were calling out to each other: 

Holy, Holy, Holy!  Lord God Almighty, All thy works do praise thy name in earth and sky and sea.”    Isaiah 6

The prophet received not only the comfort of God but a vision for a new or different future.

He not only felt close to God he received a Word of Inspiration for the new day which lay ahead.

In fact, God gave him some new traveling directions and Isaiah responded by saying: “Here am I Lord, send me!” 

The task of our church in the future is to be ready and open to new directions. We need to listen closely for a new word from God which is already among us: “like a bud about to open” as the text read earlier from Isaiah proclaimed.

 

Cindy: I hope that we will always be a congregation which takes seriously the need for worship and spiritual growth. Worship is at the center of what we do. You have told us that: “It is in worship that the church becomes what she was intended to be.” It is one way in which we offer opportunities for people of all ages to experience the love of God in their life.

When we think about the future we may want to explore new ways of worship and sing new songs of faith for a new generation!

 

Keith: Isaiah learned to sing a new song and so can we! He went to church and it changed his life! He listened to God and became a new person.

While he took his worship responsibilities seriously, he did not leave his experience at the altar.

I think that, in many ways, this is a mark of our congregation, we come to this place not just to receive of God’s blessings. We come to this place that we might leave refreshed to serve others. We seek to blend “worship with deed, praises with service to need” Winifred Garrison “God of our Fathers”  

Thus, the second answer to the question we asked at our huddle so long ago: What Kind of Business Are We In?

 

Cindy: It is clear to most of us in this place that this congregation is in the SERVICE Business:

We are active in our community. Our members volunteer in a wide variety of helping organizations: from Peace luncheons, blood pressure and the Peddlar to caring for the environment around us.

In fact, to maintain our life of Worship, Witness and Service we need many people to assist in our work. Not just the board members who serve so faithfully - we invite each of you to join in our work. 

So we thank you in advance for your willingness to help out!

 

Keith:  Our Gospel reading for this morning was a passage which I feel offers a good description of our congregation.

Mary and Martha were faithful followers of Jesus and they were two people who expressed their discipleship in two distinctive ways.   Luke 10:38f.

 

When Jesus came to visit at their home Mary did a most unusual thing. She decided that she wanted to take her seat in the company of the disciples as Jesus taught them. 

This was unusual because generally speaking, women were not welcome at the table of teaching. They were to stay in their place and prepare a table for a meal - which is exactly what sister Martha set about doing.

Mary however took on the man’s role as scholar and learner.  She felt that it was important to learn from Jesus and to worship God.  Martha kept to her role of Service in God’s name. 

 

May we continue to grow as a Mary and Martha kind of place, celebrating a great diversity of gifts in this fellowship.

In many ways Mary reminds me of the disciple Nathaniel in the Gospel. He was recruited to service while sitting under a fig tree studying the scripture.

Like the Buddha under his Bo tree he soon found enlightenment through study and learning.   John 2:48

 

The stories of Mary, Martha and Nathaniel remind us of yet a third “business” that the church can be involved in…

 

Cindy: I think you must mean the LEARNING Business:

The membership of our congregation also desires to grow in our understanding of the faith. We want our children to learn and to be nurtured in the vital message of God’s love. 

We like to discuss the Bible, dimensions of faith and issues of the world around us, in an open and affirming atmosphere.

 

Keith: In the Book of Acts we read that the early church was a fellowship of people who cared for each other and reached out to the world around them with the message of God’s Love in Jesus. There we read that as they gathered for worship:

“They kept a close knit fellowship - sharing their belongings with one another, selling their possessions and distributing them according to each ones need.

Day after day they met as a group, sharing meals together, eating with glad and humble hearts, praising God and enjoying the good will of all.”                     Acts 2: 44f

We seek to live up to that wisdom of the apostle Paul who reminded his congregations that: “You are the people of God, who loved you and chose you for his own.

Therefore you should live up to the standard God set when he called you… You should clothe yourselves with Compassion and Kindness, Humility, Gentleness and Patience. 

 

We are to be forgiving of one another and allow the Peace of God to guide us and bring us to a perfect Unity in Love…

Let Christ’s message live in our hearts, teaching and instructing one another in all wisdom… singing our Psalms and

hymns to the glory of God with Thanksgiving in our hearts.”  

Eph. 4:2 Col 3:12f.

These Scripture texts remind us that the proper “business” of the church has to do not only with Worship, Service and Learning but also…             

 

Cindy: FELLOWSHIP.  

 

Because we rightly think of ourselves as a congenial church family we can say that we do pretty well in the Fellowship Business. 

But we can always learn a bit more about how to be more welcoming to those who visit us. We should not keep this fellowship to ourselves but find ways to offer our caring community to others. 

We need to find new ways to invite a new generation to our fellowship of Prayer and Praise, Service and Learning, Fellowship and Outreach. And to do so, we need to be open and ready to learn from that generation!

 

Keith: We certainly do, because the final category we talked about that day centered on our need to explore new ways to grow our worshipping congregation.

 Once upon a time in our society it was enough for a church to offer times of worship and praise.

Once upon a time we could offer classes in Prayer and Bible Study and there would be enough people around to take advantage of what we had to offer. 

 

Once upon a time going to church on a Sunday morning was as natural as getting up and going to school or getting to work. 

Those days are past and the church no longer holds such a central position in our world or in our minds.

The people who come to this church do so, for the most part, out of choice and not simply habit.

And that is a good thing - to develop good discipleship habits of worship and prayer, service and learning.

However in this new day and age, when the church is an ever decreasing priority for many, we need to learn how to attract new disciples.

 

Cindy:  And that is why our final point of looking at the business of the church was: DISCIPLE MAKING:

We need to ask ourselves again and again: “Are we a church committed to the growth of our membership?

Do we seek to be a growing community of faith and witness?

Are we intentional about reaching out and inviting others to come join us in our journey of discipleship?

 

 

Keith:  In reading the scriptures, we find that the early church practiced a very a simple method of evangelism - of sharing the Good News they had found.

Young Andrew first went to the members of his family - he invited Simon to come and meet Jesus. They spread the word to a young man by the name of Phillip. Phillip then went to find Nathaniel and so it grew. 

 

Cindy: Perhaps you too have friends or family members with whom to share the faith - perhaps a new neighbor or resident in our community? 

 

Keith: Once upon a time you could pretty much count on the fact that your neighbors went to church somewhere. This is no longer true.

 

Cindy: They may just be waiting for a simple invitation - an invitation from Y-O-U. So the question each of us in this place must ask is:

 

Keith:  Have you found a home within this community of faith?

 

Cindy: If so then why not invite others to come worship with you? 

 

Keith: Do you find the welcome of God’s Grace and Affirmation when you come to worship in this place?

 

Cindy: Then why not invite others to experience that grace and affirming fellowship?

 

          Keith: Has your heart and soul found a whisper of new life, purpose and meaning in the context of worship and prayer?

 

          Cindy:  Then why not invite others to join you on your Journey and Quest for a new found faith and dimension to living.

 

          Keith:  You might ask yourself - in a world of so much Bad News - have you found in this place a word of Good News, hope and comfort?

 

          Cindy: Then you need to consider sharing something of that Good News with someone you know and love.

 

Keith:  We live in a world in which many are seeking to fill the emptiness and brokenness of their lives.

Many are in search these days for a congregation of faith in which they can find Acceptance and Affirmation rather than Judgment and Condemnation. 

They are looking for answers that are practical yet sensible, life affirming not life denying, holistic and accessible to us in our superficial sound bite culture.

 

Cindy: We need to find ways to let people know that we are here and when they come they should find a welcoming place with uplifting worship, accessible music and a challenge to new life.

 

Keith: Several years ago we adopted a new mission statement which proclaimed that:

 

Cindy: “The mission of the Tully United Community Church is to be an inclusive community proclaiming the message of God’s love in the teachings of Jesus Christ through worship, teaching and service.”

 

Keith: In many ways our congregation is fulfilling its mission as a Community Church.

It is Open and Inclusive - welcoming many pathways to God. It proclaims the message of God’s Love in worship, teaching and service. 

 

Cindy: Yet there are always new visions and new hopes as we seek to stretch ourselves to reach out in new ways to welcome more people to inspiring worship, warm fellowship and service to the community. 

Now in your bulletin is an affirmation we often use in our planning huddles together. Let us affirm our faith together:

 

In response to God’s love and care for us we live our lives.

We celebrate God’s spirit among us encouraging, empowering and enabling us to be God’s people in this community.

In this ever changing world, we seek to be open to God, move forward in faith and confidence.

Listening to God in the world around us in our worship, prayer and service to others.

 

          Keith:  Now let us sing a hymn of faith and affirmation, printed in your bulletin: 

“God of Grace and God of Glory”  #577

              Winfred Garrison “God of Our Fathers, the Strength of our People…”  BHB #178

Posted on July 14, 2014 .

Adam and his Bride Eve: A Story of Life

 

          July 13, 2014

Genesis 1:1-5, 26-31 {2: 4b-7} and 3: 20-23  Psalm 24 Mark 6: 6-11  

 

I think you may have noticed over the years that I love to tell the story - the ancient stories from the bible we know and love. It seems that many of these stories began as oral traditions, recited around the campfire, stories told by men and women like ourselves searching for hope and meaning in a world gone mad.

There are those of course who like to imagine that the scriptures, compiled over a period of thousands of years, should be subject to scientific scrutiny, but that is simply wrong.

In many ways, scripture is meant to stretch our imagination not conform to our modern day understandings of things. So it is that this morning I would like us to use our imagination with these stories, to make some sense out of our lives - just as those wrote them down sought to make sense of their own lives.

They too sought a living presence beyond themselves, a Creator, greater than which cannot be imagined.

Our story and text for the day is the story of creation, it is two stories really - one is full of majesty, power and poetry. Its emphasis is on God the Creator.

The second story of creation wants us to imagine the lives of the first humans who may have walked the earth. And in good story telling fashion they are given names: Adam and Eve.

This is an imaginative story of the original couple, you know those who first met on the African plain and whose genetic archetypes matched our own structural DNA. So let us use our imaginations this morning as we meet that conversational couple: Adam and God’s improvement upon the product, known to us as Eve!

 

A: “Wow, what a wonder is this place, this garden of beauty and innocence. Here I have water to drink and the fruits of this rich earth to supply all of my needs.

 

Why, would you look at that?

Eve appears: “Here in Eden” {“The Apple Tree”Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick}

I even have a few furry four legged creatures to keep me occupied and feeling happy. Of course, after a while they do get a little boring. Sheep don’t seem to go in much for conversation.

 

E: “Hello there!”

 

A: “Huh? Hello! Who are you?”

 

E: “Oh, I don’t know. Who are any of us really, when it comes down to it - just a mass of DNA protoplasm, some sort of carbon based life form as near as I can tell!”

 

A: “Huh?”

 

E: “Oh never mind, I think too much, sometimes.”

A: “Yeah, well, whatcha been thinkin’ about lately?”

 

E: “Well, mostly I’ve just been looking around at things.

Take this place for example, pretty nice set up. I mean everything is so perfect and I sometimes I think, well, there must be someone or something behind all of this.”

 

A: “Like somebody made all of this and we’re supposed to take care of it?”

 

E: “Yeah, you know like a master gardener, a creator or something like that.”

 

A: “I have often sensed that, a higher power - something or someone beyond us and our own limited abilities.”

 

E: Yeah, I think you’re right. At least that is one way to put it.

By the way, have you noticed these plants around here?

They produce their own seeds and so I guess they will re-produce enough for us to gather food to keep us going for a while, maybe even raise a family!

 

A: “Huh?”

 

E: “Well, I haven’t quite worked it all out yet but I figure everything else around here is reproducing so I began to wonder… and then I came across you!”

 

A: “I’m so glad you did, it’s about time you spoke up - nice voice by the way!”

 

E: “We’re much alike you see. Of course there are some observational differences.”

 

A: “So I’ve noticed. And I’m beginning to notice them even more. I kinda like those differences.”

 

E: “Yeah, me too.”

 

And so it was that the first man and woman got acquainted.

They liked each other. They found things out about each other that were extra special nice and they said: “It’s all good!” They began to build a world together. But then came that little incident about the forbidden fruit in their little garden of Edenic paradise.

Theologians have made a big deal of this, constructing elaborate theories about “mankind gone wrong!” There is talk of an apple and a sneaky, swiggly reptile. Of course, the apple isn’t really mentioned in the story but no doubt there was some tempting garden herb involved!

The two humans are tempted to break the rules of living in their garden of paradise and guess what - they do! They are expelled from “all things bright and beautiful” and have to start all over again making their own way in the world.

Theologians call it “original sinning” or going against the ways of God. Some call down eternal and everlasting curses upon the entire human race and redemption or renewal seems an impossible dream!

“In Adam’s fall we sinned all.” is how one book puts it.

Interestingly enough however such theological speculation is in fact missing from the original story.  It seems to me that the first couple were far too busy giving birth to young’uns and working the soils of sustenance to bother with theology.

Whatever happened, the magic seemed to have gone out of their relationship, or at least out of the garden of paradise. It was just the two of them now, against the world. Something had changed and we might just imagine the two of them standing outside of a closed iron gate, not being able to enter their paradise again.

I wonder what their conversation might have been, you know after the untouchable fruit and the so called “great fall”:

 

E: “Whew, what was that about?”

 

A: “I don’t know but I wish you hadn’t done that?”

 

E: “Oh yeah, blame me why don’tcha!

Listen, what did we really do? I think we were both a bit curious as to what exactly was going on back there.”

 

A: “True enough, maybe we better not point fingers.”

 

E: “Good idea! Let’s stop all this:

“Somebody else made me do it!” kind of talk. Besides, I think we’re going to have to get to work.”

 

A: “Yeah, well maybe it’s like you said a few months back, somebody made all of this for us and maybe we’re supposed to take care of it?”

 

E: “Yeah, and now maybe we’re supposed to test out our limited abilities and make a garden for ourselves.

 

A: “Good thought! It’s almost as if we were created kind of young and immature and now we’re supposed to grow up and find our own way through this world around us on our own!”

 

E: “Very good, glad to see you thinking. That even made sense!

 

A:      Yes indeed, we broke some rules and there must be consequences but do you think God still loves us?

 

E: Well, she still cares about us! It’s still a lovely garden even though we have to work to take care of it.

Speaking of which, I think we better get to it, but first of all I think I need to give birth to this little Adama or Evita that been punching my bladder these last few months!”

 

So it seems, that the first humans are quickly instructed by experience that life is not always a bowl of cherries. There are good times and bad, glad times and sad. They learn this very quickly, especially when the children come!

Don’t we all?

 

These first stories, passed on to us by our ancestors in the faith, may sound a bit unusual.  I mean we don’t often run across talking snakes and threatening gates in the Edens of our existence. But we do know something of what they felt and went through.

Deep within us we know that we do not quite belong in a paradise of perfection. We know that we often slip up, say the wrong thing, break the trust of those whom we love and care for in life.  We are not perfect.                                                                     

This is also the understanding of the early theologians who commented on the text. A second century teacher Irenaeus, wrote that while God did not intend for Adam to fall from the grace of paradise - God may have fully expected it. He believed that humanity was created with a bit of adolescent immaturity - they had to grow up into grace. Indeed they had to fight and crawl their way to the top.

 

Is it not true that it is the very experiences of our lives which bring us to God and not the denial of life’s richness?  Is it not a part of our own spiritual growth to slip and fall and find our own way in life and to then take responsibility for what we’ve done? We can’t keep passing the buck and say along with Adam and his bride: “Someone else made me do it!”

It is true that theologians have created this nifty little doctrine of original sin to convince us that we are in need of self improvement. But do we really need convinced that we are less than perfect human beings?

The philosopher Bertrand Russell once offered an excellent theory on the condition of our species. He said: “History has proven that mankind has never been able to resist performing the evil of which he was capable.”              +

 

E: “Yo Adam have you seen the boy?”

 

A: “Which one?”

 

E: “Well either one now that you mention it. I heard them shouting and screaming at each other again.”

 

A: “Have you noticed that since those two were born we have hardly had a non-anxious moment?”

 

E: “Uh, yeah!

But listen, I don’t know where they are but I have a sinking feeling in my stomach that things are not going well!

Of course, the story of Cain and Abel is about fratricide, brother killing brother - and you thought you were having trouble with your children!”

 

While the story meant one thing to the original hearers - it can nevertheless speak to us of the sad cycle of violence in our own city streets - as brother kills brother often in the service of the narcotic habits of the wealthy. Must such violence be a way of life for us?

 

While to some, the Biblical story may seem distant or irrelevant to our times, we see that our ancestors wept as do we at the senseless deaths of the young.

 

Yet, in the midst of death - is also life.

In every circumstance of life - our ancient ancestors also experienced grace in their lives:

 

A: “Quick Eve, over here!”

 

E: “Why?”

 

A: “Well, I think we need to hide from the Gardener, the Higher Power. I’m sure he is out to get us!”

 

E: “Oh, OK. Here’s good spot.”

 

A: “Good grief he’s coming!”

 

E: “What makes you so sure he is a he?”

 

A: “Well, I don’t know I just guessed.

Listen I hear footsteps, right here in the cool of the evening.”

 

          “Adam, Adam, where art thou?”

 

E: “Well, imagine that - the gardener, the creator of this lovely world is looking for us!

 

A: “Yeah, we’re probably going to get beat silly!”

 

E: “I don’t think so, I seem to hear a voice of Grace and Welcome not judgment and condemnation!”

 

A: “Hmmm, I think you are right Eve, maybe it is true that God, the Gardener, the Creator, pursues us - with nothing so much as love!”

 

E: We may have fallen but we are not knocked down.

 

A: “God’s Grace and Affirmation surround us even when we do wrong! God’s love is a searching, welcoming love.”

 

E:  “Well, I think that if we can get through this we can get through anything!”

 

So you see, if we look closely, we may find in this story some profound thoughts about the nature of the God we worship.

I do believe that those ancient story tellers were trying to tell us something. Maybe they were trying to remind us, that the entire creation is wrapped in love, that we are accompanied in life by Grace and not just condemnation! We were created to tend to the garden and yes, in so many ways we have blown our task. Yet God continues to invite us, to welcome us and affirm us. As weak and powerless as we sometimes feel - God invites us to life and to take part in its redemption. Though we sometimes fail to measure up to all that God created us to be - we do belong to God.

 

After all we are gifted human beings, blessed with a richness and diversity of talents which we can use to make the world a better place in which to live. We can use our knowledge and compassion to seek out those things which make for peace - in our lives, in our families and in the world in which we live.   

So it may be that these ancient stories of a loving, caring, embracing God also call us to care for each other and to respect each other as a gift of God.                                                                             In a world where the earth is treated like a rubbish bin and human beings are denied the gifts needed to make them whole and healthy - we are called to a Compassionate Reverence. In a world in which uncivil disrespect and meanness too often rule, we are called to live differently.

So it is that we may have been kicked out of the garden for a reason. We are called to grow up in this world and tend to it and perhaps make it once again the paradise of God’s intention.          May God help us to be the people we are called to be. May each day we spend in the garden of God’s creation - be lived in openness to Spirit and to Peace.   Amen 

Posted on July 14, 2014 .

“The First Friends of Civil Liberty”

 

                                                           

Deut. 10: 12-22  Ps. 33:1-12 p.767   Mark 12: 13-17

 

On this Independence Weekend, we gather as a congregation of Christians to pray for our nation: that it might stand for the ideals of liberty, freedom and justice for all.

Of course, on this Sunday as on every Sunday, our first and primary responsibility is to worship God and to gather around the Word which gives us life. This is why I like to read the charge to us from the book of Deuteronomy. The writer is giving us and the people for whom the text was written, a reminder of that which was of vital importance to the faith:

“Listen to what the Lord your God demands of you:

#1 > Worship God.

#2 > Do that which God commands of you.

#3 > Love God and serve God with all of your heart.

 

Quoting our Psalm for the day, the writer reminds us of our place in the universe:  “Remember the earth belongs to God and all that is in it.” The writer then tells us that these words are written to a very special people, a chosen nation - a people who seek to follow and give honor to the One True God who is supreme over all the gods of the earth.

This God is a just God. This God is not a thief. This God cannot be manipulated into giving people what they want just because their thirst for things is unquenchable. This is a God who demands justice of those who claim his name. Not only widows and orphans but strangers and aliens and foreigners in the land are to be cared for by God’s people.

So perhaps, the writer implies, the nation of Israel is mistaken in claiming that the Blessings of God belonged only to themselves alone and were not to be shared with others. This seems to be a perennial difficulty among believers: having reverence for God should not lead us to assume that God in on our side and our side alone.

 

Yet on this holiday it is surely right that we give thanks to God for our nation’s heroic past and pledge ourselves to continue to defend the quest for liberty and freedom. We are citizens of a land which gave birth to the concept of religious liberty, so we ought to give thanks to God for those ancestors in the faith who helped bring that about!

Religious liberty is no minor matter. While some nations experimented with it in Eastern Europe in the 14th century it is our nation who put forth its guarantees into our constitution. While it may sound modern to our ears, the title of my message today: “The First Friends of Civil Liberty” comes from a letter written by George Washington to a group of Christians in colonial Virginia.

 

He was writing to a man by the name of John Leland and the Virginia Baptists who had written to the President reminding him that their support depended upon his commitment to securing “liberty of conscience” for all people. They expressed their concern that full “religious liberty” was not adequately addressed in the constitution and thus argued for what we now know as the First Amendment.  

 

The President wrote back:

 

“I recollect that the religious society of which you are members has been throughout America, uniformly and almost unanimously the first friends of civil liberty and the persevering promoters of our glorious revolution...”              +

I’d like to think that Baptists and Methodists and Presbyterians still promote such freedoms although I sometimes wonder if we have lost our way. There are those in our nation who remember, not the Baptists or the Quakers who gave us freedom of religion, but rather the puritans of Massachusetts Bay who sought that liberty for themselves alone. Our pilgrim forefathers persecuted anyone who did not walk in their own religious tradition.

So it is that I rejoice in the witness of my own Baptist ancestors, like Roger Williams who fled for his life from Salem Massachusetts and established the Rhode Island Colony whose constitution states:

“It is the will and command of God that - in the Rhode Island Colony - a permission of the most paganish, Turkish, Jewish or anti- Christian consciences be granted to all.”

Note that this sentence includes Islam among those who were given freedom of religious thought. Williams, when serving the Church of England, wrote a tract entitled Against the Bloody Tenant of Persecution which read in part:

“Contrary to popular opinion...  the blood of so many hundreds of souls of Protestants or Papists is not required nor accepted by the Prince of Peace!”

 

Roger Williams believed in the absolute liberty of the religious conscience. And his dream was carried forth by people of faith in Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

 

Pastor John Leland was a friend of both James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. In fact at Jefferson’s inauguration he and his congregation in Western Massachusetts sent the President a 300 pound Mammouth Cheese which was transported by sled, boat and horse cart to the newly built white house in the year 1802.

With the cheese came a note:

“This cheese was produced by the personal labor of freeborn farmers with the voluntary and cheerful aid of their wives and daughters, without the assistance of a single slave.”

Leland always let his politics be known!

President Jefferson then invited Leland to address the United States Congress on his favorite subject: the religious liberty of the individual conscience. It was that same President who wrote a note to the Danbury Connecticut Baptist Association, lauding them for their commitment to “the wall separation between church and state”.

Yet many today seem to want that wall to disappear. Like the pilgrims of Massachusetts Bay, there are those who wish to take away these liberties from others and reserve them for themselves alone.

 

While some seem to claim this is a complicated issue today, it seems that it was in Jesus’ day as well. In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus is pressed on the question of how religious people are to relate to the state and which demands our supreme loyalty?

“Teacher, we know that you are a good man and teach God’s ways clearly, so tell us: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?”

It was dangerous question in his day.  Some argued that men and women of faith should not support a government that doesn’t always act according to just and moral standards for all people.

Jesus’ answer to his inquirers about the payment of taxes to the government was exasperating to the ones who asked it. As was often his practice, he answered one question by raising another.

“Show me a coin.” he said. “Whose face is on this coin?”

“Well Caesar!” they answered.

“And whose inscription is on it?”

“Well Caesar of course!”

“Well then, you should give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. You should give to God what belongs to God.”

 

They were amazed and confused. I’m sure they had a dozen questions more and they are perhaps similar to questions we need to face in our time. I believe what Jesus is doing here is pointing out the difficulty we might have in determining what exactly it is which belongs to Caesar and what would belong to God. Jesus seems to say that it is up to us to determine how best to advocate our own priorities in life as they relate to God and the power of the state.

 

Surely the practice of our faith belongs to God but what about our wealth, our bodies, our planet?  Do they not belong to God? How does our faith influence our politics? Do allow the State supremacy in some things and confine our faith to matters of worship and prayer?

 

I personally think that Jesus would have plenty to say about the issues of poverty and wealth. He would surely have a word to say about love and commitment, about going to war and seeking the peace. What would he say about giving over the resourses of our planet to those who abuse and misuse them?

I believe that our faith does have relevance for the living of these days. I believe that there are plenty of times when we need to give some serious thought to what it is that belongs to Caesar and what it is that belongs to God.

 

As John Leland wrote long ago, we should never: “surrender to man that which is to be kept sacred for God... and religious opinions should never be the “objects of civil government”.

I also appreciate the way the late Sen. Sam Ervin put it:

“When religion controls government, political liberty dies. When government controls religion, religious liberty perishes.”

 

On this 238th birth day of our nation we do give thanks for our nation and its promise of liberty. And as citizens of this republic we must ever be on watch to guard those liberties against the manipulations of corporate powers unregulated by the state. Let us always be in prayer for our nation: that it might live up to its ideals of liberty, freedom and justice for all.

Posted on July 14, 2014 .

What's For Dinner? Jesus and Food

 

March 23, 2014

Texts: Exodus 17:1-7 Psalm 95 John 6:1-15

What’s for Dinner? What were dinners like in the house in which you grew up?

For some of us older folk we may recall dinner as the time when Dad finally got home from work, Mom had cooked a meal and we all sat down and ate. When was the last time you did that?

Others may recall our siblings coming in from school and our parents coming in from the farm work. Mother of course quit her chores early to make supper. Now dinner or supper in those days was not an easy task. Potatoes had to be peeled, corn shucked, breads or rolls prepared. Anyone remember those times?

Thank goodness for modern conveniences, prepared foods, Clarence Birdseye and the supermarket bakery.

 

We all rejoice in more simplified fare. However, if you ask that simple question: “What’s for Dinner?” today, your expectations may be entirely different, wouldn’t they? I mean, the answer might be: Whatever is in the freezer or left over in the ‘fridge! What’s for Dinner? The question today might also be phrased: “Where for dinner?”  “Where should we eat tonight?”

Again these are nice alternatives aren’t they? But in these choices, I wonder if we may be missing something?

 

Some say that “fast food” has changed our lives and not so much for the better. It is not only a question of a proper diet and healthy alternatives but it is also a sense of connection and relationship to the food we eat. While we may rejoice in the convenience of modern meal preparation and eating habits - we hardly have time to think about what it is that is going into our stomach or our heart or our brain.

This is why many health conscious writers question the very hectic pace of our dining lives and our somewhat mindless consumption of foodstuffs. We eat on the run, grabbing, thawing, microwaving, popping cans and un-wrapping sandwiches. Convenience is nice but what is the cost? Those of us who are old enough may recognize that the convenience, speed and availability of what we eat today - bears little resemblance to their origins in basic foodstuffs.     Eric Schlosser Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the American Meal.

 

For example: in the past few years our Community Garden group has donated its some of its produce to the food pantry, yet many items remain untouched or un-used because no one knows what to do with a potato or a beautiful squash!

Our obsession with the quick and easy, has caused us to make some rather unfortunate choices in nutrition and nourishment and those choices are being seen in the public health of many among us.    Now of course people do make choices both good and bad but any intentional survey of the so called “breakfast cereal” aisle or the shelves at an Aldi market will show you that the nature of those choices is rather slim.  

Unlike our grandparent’s generation, or my own, we need to become more intentional about the choices we make. In a world where everything is geared to profit making above all else, we need to be wise as serpents about what we buy and consume.  Carlo Petrini Slow Food Nation: Why Our Food Should be Good Clean and Fair   +

This was not a problem in the time of Jesus!

Our Gospel lesson for this morning was a story about food, scarcity and sharing. In Jesus’ day food was almost always a problem, there was never enough about. You could not go traveling and depend upon your friends having enough food at your destination and there were certainly no fast food chains or even grocery stores. Food in the Bible is often about scarcity. So if you had some bread and maybe a fish and you went on a journey you’d take some with you!

 

In our story, Jesus knew that the crowds were following him so as he sat down to rest, he asked his disciples to find some food and feed the crowds!

Phillip offered the obvious answer: “It can’t be done.” Andrew and the others did the best they could but who was going to give up their share of sustenance?  Well fortunately there was this one little boy who had more than enough for himself and was willing to share what he had!

 

Jesus took what the boy offered and the crowd - by the miracle of sharing or multiplication - had more than enough to eat that day!

As I mentioned, they didn’t have fast food in those days they only had slow food but oh the taste of the food they had that day! While all four Gospels tell us this story, only John gives us the added highlight of the young boy who shares his lunch! How sweet it must have been on that grassy slope on a sunny day to sit down and rest and enjoy some nosh with friends. How each morsel must have tasted, each tiny bite of fish enjoyed to the full!

 

In many ways that is what the “Slow Food Movement” is meant to bring about in our time. Slow food, in contrast to fast food, is prepared ever so carefully by hand and while there are many jokes about minute proportions at extravagant prices, there is a reason for the small servings.

There is a genuine sense among us that we have lost the ability to taste, to savor, to enjoy food and to think of it as nourishment. The slow food movement, in spite of its obvious pretension, is meant to return our palate to a genuine appreciation of food.

 

So, what’s for Dinner? What were dinners like in the house in which you grew up? Were you offered the opportunity to taste and to savor something special, something prepared just for you. Perhaps you were there and you actually saw potatoes being peeled and cut, onions sliced, meat seasoned before it all entered a pan from which rich aromas rose as it cooked!

We’re missing a lot of that now and unlike the hungry who followed Jesus around the desert, we miss out on the richness of a meal prepared among friends.

 

Last Summer in Tully on a Tuesday afternoon the four corners were filled with the sights and sounds and smells of real food! Food you could touch and taste and at times smell cooking. I believe that there are genuine benefits to taking your children to a Farmers Market. They see food for what it is, it is not sanitized, cleanly packaged with brightly colored pictures.

They say in fact, that you can smell food and the people who grow it! There’s nothing wrong with that! At the market, you interact not with a freezer chest or advertisers but with real people! I think we also find that, at the market, we are building a sense of community among commodities - rather than the isolation and disconnection we sometimes experience in purchasing that which is supposed to nourish us body and soul.

 

I think it tragic that we have raised generations of people who feel distant and separated from that which gives them strength and nourishment for life. Some writers speculate that we have become mindless, undifferentiating, automatons, unquestioning and unaware of the effects our food choices have on ourselves or on the lives of others.  It has not always been so.

Some of us in this congregation may remember taking Lucy Winslow shopping! Lucy, you may not know, was an early graduate of the Cornell school of Nutrition. As such she was very aware of the changes and perils of our current consumptive nutrition delivery system. Taking Lucy shopping was a bit of a challenge. She would go up and down the aisles reading every label and refuse to purchase anything with ingredients she could not pronounce. This was long before food critic Michael Pollan’s similar admonitions!

 

You see, I think that there is a spiritual dimension to eating that we neglect at our peril.             

Unlike Jesus and the disciples we do not often pause to give thanks for the simple things of life that bless us. I believe Jesus not only gave thanks for a couple of loaves of bread and a few fish, I believe he thanked God for the generosity of a young boy whose example was followed by others.

When we give thanks, do we give a thought to the farmer whose labor produces the gift? In this land of abundance, do we recognize the intricacies of a distribution system which brings us untold bounty from the fields and forests and oceans of the world? Do we remember and do our part to care for and save those forests and oceans and growers from exploitation? Or, has the effortlessness with which we receive the bountiful foods marketed to us - resulted in a lack of appreciation for the life, work and sacrifice of others?           

Justin Eckstein and Donovan Conley Spatial Affects and Rhetorical Relations at the Cherry Creek Farmers Market in Denver CO. Kara Shultz On Establishing a More Authentic Relationship with Food

 

So again I ask the question: What’s for Dinner? And what is our relationship to the food we eat?

Writer James Redfield says this about a prayer at mealtime:

“Taste is the doorway, you must experience taste. This is the reason for a prayer before eating. It is not just about being thankful, it is about make eating a holy experience, so that the energy from the food can enter your body as true nourishment!”                 Celestine Prophecy


 

So perhaps we need to hear the call to slow down, eat sensibly and allow food to be a source of spiritual blessing? It would not be a bad thing at mealtime to stop, calm ourselves and rest the mind - rather than grab on the run. It would be a blessing for us to eat with mindful attention and intention. To be mindful is to anticipate possibilities.

We are what we eat and to pay attention to food is to consider its costs not only to our wallet but to the environment. Should we not pay attention to things like agricultural method, costs of transportation etc.? Can we be justifiably fair to the communities which produce our food? Or, has the ease with which we receive the foods we eat - resulted in a sense of total disconnection from the life, work and sacrifice of others? Something to think about.

{Thich Nhat Hahn, Lilian Cheung Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life} Justin Eckstein and Donovan Conley in analysis of a Farmers Market in Denver

 

“What’s for Dinner? has become a complicated question. So much so that we live in a world with a great many concerns over what we eat. We are a nation of abundance yet are plagued by a host of food related illnesses such obesity, bulimia, anorexia and even malnutrition in a snack food world. We have become a nation so obsessed with dieting that eating has become a hateful experience. We are filled with self-loathing and shame - as the shape of our bodies take precedence over our souls:                 +

Who has not heard comments like these? “I hate my thighs! Does my butt look good in these? No more fat chicks.” Hateful speech. Obsessive concerns.

While there may be an epidemic of obesity so many dieting fads are little more that an advertisers trick.

One true testimony, one consumer’s complaint:

“In the past 15 years, I’ve gained and lost 1,000 pounds in a half dozen dieting splurges. I’ve been addicted to amphetamines and laxatives and spent half my paychecks on clothing to fit my various weight levels.”

With considerable financial and emotional investment, it is statistically significant that most diets fail and 92% of dieters fail to loose or to maintain their weight loss. What a pity that food has become the enemy, as dieters focus on what NOT to eat - instead of making intelligent and informed choices as to what real food may actually consist of. We need to eat more mindfully, with greater intention and with gratitude for Gods gifts to us. True, some of us may simply require greater self-discipline yet none of us should ignore the patterns of our food consumption and the labels on the things we eat.

 

I truly believe that that which may help us out of many of our food dilemmas is a focus on the Spirit, a return to gratitude for the multiple gifts God has given in our lives. We need to be more attentive and intentional about what we eat and where it comes from.

We who live in a world of abundance, are a lot like that little boy in the crowd with Jesus. Even living in a culture of scarcity he had a strong desire to share what he had with others. And when he shared what he had - the crowd miraculously had enough to eat. Think about that, in your time of thankfulness and in the ways in which you pay attention to what’s for dinner, today, tomorrow and each day.


 

Almighty God, we give you thanks for the gifts of modern agriculture and the blessings it has provided for our daily food and sustenance. Help us in the midst of our abundance, to be aware of the needs of others. Help us, amidst all the food choices we make to be wise and thoughtful about what we are eating.

Let us make eating a sacred experience of connection with the blessings of the world around us - so that the energy from the food we eat, can truly give us nourishment for both body and soul!       Amen

Posted on April 4, 2014 .

How to Spend Your Money

from the sermon February 9, 2014

There are very few over cautious consumers in an affluent society like our own; therefore without the notion of budgeting our time or our money the setting of just priorities becomes difficult. In other words it is all too easy to simply forget about the needs of our church.

We have forgotten that tithing – or being very intentional about giving a set percentage of the financial gifts God gives us- is an ancient and honored method of giving in gratitude to God. If everyone simply set aside a certain amount for his church, there would not be a congregation having financial difficulties.

Think about it. We best support the needs of our family and the needs of our church by considering our priorities in life and how they relate to the financial resources with which we have been blessed. That which God requires of us is to be grateful for the gifts we have been given and to be faithful in sharing what we have with others. One approach we might take is to ask ourselves, for example, how much we spend on the necessities of life: food, clothing shelter and entertainment. Then compare that to what we are giving to help others. It’s a way of taking a good look at where our priorities truly lie in life. Does our church giving look more like what we spend on food or what you spend on cable or our morning coffee?

While we realize that in our day,  church giving is less of a priority than an impulse, we can be grateful for the impulses of giving which support our congregation. We rejoice that people do give today, abundantly in terms of their time and money to causes which are vital and important, we are a giving people, sharing, helping, giving, makes us happy.

There is something which God may require of us: to be grateful for the gifts we have been given and to be faithful in sharing what we have with others – to build the values of God’s kingdom of justice and peace, of compassion and kindness in our home, community and world.

Yet the church is a bit old fashioned in the ways  in which it provides opportunities for giving. In a cashless, check free, budget-less society, we ask for a pledge payable in cash or check, we are out of date in terms of a cyber based society dependent upon plastic as a means of giving.

Posted on March 4, 2014 .