Thursday, August 30, 2012

OH My! I'm quoting Fox News!

I can't believe I'm agreeing with Fox news following Paul Ryan's speech. I do believe this quote applies to both, ALL parties.

Elections should be about competing based on your record in the past and your vision for the future, not competing to see who can get away with the most lies and distortions without voters noticing or bother to care
"Elections should be about competing based on your record in the past and your vision for the future, not competing to see who can get away with the most lies and distortions without voters noticing or bother to care. Both parties should hold themselves to that standard. Republicans should be ashamed that there was even one misrepresentation in Ryan’s speech but sadly, there were many."

Thank you Sally Kohn.

Read more:
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Sunday, August 26, 2012

You Can Get Pregnant

Thank you Christy for these timely words in Dr. Seuss tradition.

Argument or Agreement

Have you ever walked into a church and said, “How lovely!” Perhaps it was in a cathedral where you were awestruck looking up at the vaulted ceilings and stained glass.

I know I thought I had seen some amazing artwork and architecture in the churches and cathedrals in Italy, but when I walked into St. Peter’s I was overwhelmed by the size and incredible beauty of that awe-inspiring cathedral PLUS all the artwork in the many chapels.
There are few places where you simply cannot take it all in. St. Peter’s is certainly one where there is ‘more than the eye can see’.....What a fitting place to worship God!

When I planned my ordination service, I chose Psalm 84 as the first reading for its wonderful description of the House of God. I love this Psalm. On that day, I felt like one of the birds mentioned, (sparrows) who had found a home in the Temple of God.
    “Those who live in your house are truly happy;
        they praise you constantly.
    Those who put their strength in you are truly happy;
        Pilgrimage is in their hearts.”
On the day, when I was ordained, I felt what the psalmist voiced,   
 “Better is one day in your courts than a 1,000 elsewhere!”
And I still feel that way.

This psalm about a pilgrim’s journey to worship God in Solomon’s re-built Temple, gives us a peek into his/her spiritual journey.

    The pilgrim described in Ps. 84 yearns for closeness or communion with God and looks forward to that experience in the one place known to hold God’s presence. He or She writes specifically of the joy experienced when celebrating God’s presence in the life of worship carried on at the Temple.
    Our understanding of God’s presence has changed since Solomon’s time.     What remains true, is that strong spiritual feelings, especially the yearning for God, are feelings not easy to communicate. Like my experience at St. Peter’s and my feelings at my ordination, my words can’t begin to convey what I experienced.

    As Barbara Brown Taylor wrote,
“There are things no one can talk about. [and yet] if we insist on trying, as we are inclined to do, something unforgettable may happen in the air around our words, but it will not be because we understand (them) in any rational way. The experience will be one of worship--or awe--which involves a different kind of understanding.”1 

    The Pilgrim of Ps. 84, wrote poetry to express an understanding of God’s presence. A pilgrim’s joy is a very ‘different’ kind of understanding.

    While we don’t limit God’s presence to a single place, we can still appreciate the beauty of cathedrals and churches that proclaim God’s glory by their physical features. We even experience  a certain joy when we arrive our small ‘temple’ and find it bright with the feeling of God.

    Yet you may already be uncomfortable with all the talk about buildings.
    Is it right to put so much money into a PLACE? Even a place of worship? How much gold, silver, valuable artwork, fine cloth hangings and weavings, and expensive architecture is the ‘right’ amount to express our worship of God?

    We who have been raised in America, home of the Puritan tradition have been greatly effected by the desire to simplify worship. Our Brethren ancestors were lovers of simplicity. They met in homes for worship and when they needed a larger place, they built simple meeting houses, with HARD, straight-backed pews, and no raised chancels, no ornaments, not even crosses.

    If you were raised brethren, or baptist, or another tradition descended from these simple-loving settlers of America, It is not easy to accept the value of putting large sums of money into a building.

   Even in this century, we struggle with the choice between the ‘do-it-ourself’ approach and hiring experts in order to experience the beauty of professional results. Especially when our talents do not extend into the area of renovation...
Idol? the problem with bricks and mortar.
    We recognize the problem with putting our focus into bricks and mortar. . .

    You know the questions: “What is appropriate ornamentation?”
“How much should we spend on an exalted building to express our love of God?”
“Can we quantify the Glory of God by showcasing beauty with art-work?”
 “Do we celebrate God’s gifts with such displays or are we being ‘proud & puffed-up’?”

    The problem extends beyond the facility to the very institution of ‘church’. How much money, time and effort goes into an organization in order to glorify God? .  .  .
    “Just how much is ‘too’ much?”

I think it is a very hard question for us.

    Someone may ask if we are creating an IDOL that captivates the center of our worship or is there another way to think about how we focus our attention on God?

    Rather than an idol, we might view our ‘cathedral’ as an ICON.
    “That which points beyond itself to the reality of God.”

    Ancient worshippers, in an age of illiteracy, discovered the gift of using images as ‘windows’ into contemplating God.

 There are icon painters today that speak of the spiritual experience of painting such a work; how their hands are guided and they feel real communion with the presence of God.
    Spiritual connection is conveyed from the work to the worshipper who uses the ‘window’ to center on God. It is a way of ‘understanding’ that reaches beyond words. (As BBT said.)

 Perhaps our sanctuary, like many other places of beauty, POINT beyond the physical to point us to God.

If so, then we can rest in the greater purpose and pay attention to God.
We do not keep this lovely building in top shape so that WE can be proud of it. We do it for God’s glory.
We invite other congregations to use this space, why? so this lovely building can point others to God. Our ministry partner congregations may worship in different ways, but they all seek communion with God.

The greater purpose of seeking God also explains why we are trying to find ways to make this sanctuary more accessible for people with disabilities. We don’t do it just to accommodate pastors who have had foot surgery, members with walkers, or visitors in wheelchairs.
We make this place of worship accessible in order to point to reality of God's welcome which is for EVERYONE.

    Seeking God in worship fuels our desire for excellence in music because it honors God and points us beyond sound, to the reality of God's bountiful gifts.

    Sometimes we  need reminding to think theologically about what we do; to look beyond the b&w practical understanding in order to seek what will GLORIFY God!

This psalm affirms our focus on WORSHIP and effort we put into places that facilitate the spiritual journey.

    The psalm is a prayer that doesn't ask for anything but expresses yearning desire for the ‘Source of All Being’. It is not merely appreciation for a PLACE but affirmation that all of life is a pilgrimage, the journey to be ‘one’ with  the reality of God.
    Such a devout priority is easy to forget in Budget and Board meetings.

    Truthfully, we never need to ARGUE between priorities; - THE BUILDING or the MINISTRY, for when we AGREE that God is
‘the focus and the culmination of all life’ our attention points beyond ‘here’ to an ultimate ‘there’.

God is the ‘END Goal’ for a pilgrim, not the MEANS to some end.
    God isn’t a way to a better life.
    Church membership isn’t a solution for life’s problems.
We don’t just offer people comfort and community with a promise of heaven some day.
The Journey of Divine Communion IS our purpose. It’s the understanding of God which no words can convey, like experiencing the awe of a ‘holy place’.  .  .
& Those who experience the yearning, make the journey their entire life....

    You’ve heard of people who make the pilgrimage in Spain known for a thousand years as El Camino de Santiago, in English “The Way of Saint James.”?         It is the pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela where legend has it that the remains of Jesus’ apostle Saint James the Elder lie. (I was reminded of this famous pilgrimage as I read the book the Young Adults are reading together.)

    This long pilgrimage by foot is as popular today as ever and not only among the ‘religious.’ Yet almost everyone experiences a spiritual journey along with the grueling walk. Pilgrims on the El Camino soon discover the End is not the Cathedral in Santiago, but the journey itself.

    One Spanish factory-worker walked the El Camino for a month then gave up his job. He bought and rebuilt an old building in which to offer hospitality to others on the pilgrimage.
    A German woman became a pilgrim during a transitional time in her life. One morning along the way, she followed the sound of a flute playing and discovered a nearby hostel. She ended her pilgrimage there and now tends to passing pilgrims, feeding, bandaging feet and offering massages.2

    I know a woman whose life changes began when she returned from her pilgrimage to El Camino. Her changes were hard to put into words but her journey by foot began the pilgrimage of her life.

    Everyone who walks has a story, some..not easily conveyed by words. All, continue to seek routes to fulfillment, which IS the journey of the pilgrim; Life defined as the journey to God.

    This seems to be an upside-down message for today, when the word fulfillment is always preceded by “Self”. What is fulfillment if not ‘self-fulfillment’? . . .  It hardly makes sense to us.

Where else do we hear a message that doesn't seem to make sense?

    It was just a moment ago, in the scripture; our gospel reading from John 6. Jesus’ words that are so difficult to understand and that don’t seem to make sense.

    We’ve heard parts of John chapter 6 all month long and I won’t linger on them today. We know that Jesus’ often turned common understandings upside-down. (consider Jesus himself as the ‘temple’ of God, torn down and raised in 3 days.)
    And although we are accustomed to words about eating flesh and drinking Jesus’ blood from years of participating in communion services, those around him were shocked and offended.

    Yet, the problem Jesus’ presents is greater than language. The problem is Jesus’ demand that we participate in his death as a way to ultimate life.3

    The Jesus’ Way is the Pilgrim’s Way, and like a building program for a cathedral, the cost is extremely high.  . . It costs our entire life. . .

    The problem for Jesus and any preacher is that no words can convey this life adventure of ‘ultimate fulfillment’. (BBT was right.)

    What every pilgrim discovers along with sore & bandaged feet (the wounds of ‘flesh’) is the joy of meaningful living, the ultimate purpose of life.
    Not merely hope for the ‘next’ life, but real fulfillment for this one. 
    And I, like so many others, run out of words,
For until you undertake the pilgrimage, you can’t experience the joy that exclaims,
    “One day in YOUR courts, O God, is like a thousand elsewhere.”

    May you discover the joy of the journey of Pilgrimage; communion with God.

1 Barbara Brown Taylor The Luminous Web (Cambridge:Cowley Pub, 2000) 79
2 Arthur Boers Living Into Focus (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2012) 233
3 Charles Cousar Texts for Preaching Year B (Louisville: WJK, 1993) 482

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Prevailing Wisdom

Each era has its own prevailing wisdom:
    My childhood- Dr. Spock

    My children's birth years, more likely to seek wisdom from la Leche League
    Farmers’ Almanac - still used some but once was key source of wisdom for the ordering of planting and harvesting.   
 Street wisdom - Orin’s fear of police, not because he had done wrong, but he knew that police stop men who appear to be loitering. Orin, as a homeless man, was always in fear of having to explain why he was in a particular area in case he had to answer to someone. It is not something most of us ever worry about.

    Biblical wisdom is a concept we hear about even today. People talk about living aka to the Bible. I often wonder what they mean because I find some pretty horrible living conditions during some of the Biblical eras.
    It is easy to forget that the Bible doesn’t represent a set time but includes many generations therefore biblical wisdom includes types of wisdom from many eras.
    Here’s 3 types of biblical wisdom: from Thomas Steagald Feasting On The Word (Louisville:WJK, 2008) 340

1. The early days of the Bible record are called “Early Covenant” - obviously b/c they were the days when God first made a covenant promise with God’s people. This was the time of the 10 Commandments and other laws given by God. The ‘Prevailing Wisdom’ was “Deuteronomic” (like the book)
God’s was seen as present and active in the world. (God spoke to Moses directly after all...and in the years that followed, people still remembered those days.)
God was omniscient to enforce a basic and binding moral code.
God rewarded the faithful and punished the wicked - IMMEDIATELY
The world was predicatable and orderly so

2.  The next major period is the EXILE, when Israel is conquered by Persian and most of the people are exiled to Babylon.
The world was still seen as predictable but upside down!  The EXILE caused a major re-working of theology and the times were “Apocalyptic”.
The righteous usually suffered at the hand of the wicked
Evil prospered
Most believed there would come a day...when all would be put right. But meanwhile the righteous had 3 choices to make;
1 Oppose the wicked, which might result in your death
2 Collaborate with the wicked, which would get you in the end, day of judgement
3 (A middle road, not entirely safe...MAINTAIN your IDENTITY, “keep Kosher”, worship underground, avoid detection. (Much like Orin’s street wisdom.)
WISDOM = BEING ENCOURAGED BY HEROS, and their stories. Trusting that the faithful will eventually prosper. (Stories like Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Hadrack, Meshack, Abendigo in the fiery furnace.

3. 3rd Major Wisdom Era for today brings us to the time of PROVERBS. It was after the Hebrew people returned to Israel and eventually rebuilt the temple, mostly Solomon’s accomplishment. (at great cost of an increase in the taxes for the middle and lower classes.. BTW - :0)))

People saw an unpredictability in their universe;
sometimes the righteous won
Sometimes the evil win
God is not obvious, or immediately evident to bless or to punish.
WISDOM IS AN ALMANAC for negotiating these times of tension and a way to INTERPRET the ambiguity of the times.

Hence, Proverbs, poetry written to describe the current state of affairs, to give encouragement at times, to provide guidance for the righteous to find a way to live in such uncertain times.

In Proverbs we usually hear a plea to look further down the road than one’s immediate vision. It’s as if we hear someone say, “in the end, you will see that...”
I think it’s the kind of thing we ‘senior adults’ say to our younger peers.

    The older we get the more we realize that Short-sightedness can lead to lack of wisdom. Perhaps because we learned from our own mistakes.

    In a community such as ours, we have ‘Shared Wisdom’.  I met with Pastor’s Kristen and Stan this week from Bethel and St. Hildegard’s. We are planning a fall retreat for senior adults on October 4. After each session we want to include a time of ‘shared wisdom’ to allow us to learn from each other. Whether it is possible to learn from someone else’s mistakes may be a matter of personality, yet surely we can try..
Dirk Wilhelm a famous Anabaptist Martyr

    There is a “Shared Wisdom” that is particularly Anabaptist. When I served on staff at the Manassas church, a discussion began in the congregation about how we could ‘display’ our peace values in a constructive way. No one wanted to dishonor people who choose to serve in the military yet we wanted to strongly state our belief in peace.
    How could it be done? The discussion centered around displaying a banner on the front lawn. At the time, the Friends, also known as Quakers, had a yard-sized sign that said, ‘War is NOT the Answer’.

    We talked about displaying their banner, but felt that we wanted something of our own. As is often the case in such discussions, there were a few voices that were louder than the others. My colleague discerned the ‘wisdom’ of having everyone share. This was unique in that no one could stay in the background, everyone had to express not just how they felt about a banner, but more so, what they believed about the Brethren peace witness and how we might appropriately ‘stand for peace’.
    It was a powerful moment! The spectrum was wide and yet everyone spoke to their convictions as christians. Voices normally silent spoke softly but with passion, people referred to scripture, & sought a sense of unity for the body of brethren in that place and time. And we sought to be true to our heritage.
    The end result was the decision to display a message from scripture (rather than our words). After examining a few choices, the verse you heard read earlier in the service was chosen. “Seek Peace and Pursue It”. The banner later resulted in a series of yard signs, some of which we have here.
Signs still available from Manassas Church of the Brethren 703-368-4783

    Using the shared wisdom of the entire community we not only solved an ‘issue’ but found a new way to witness to our faith.

    If only God’s People always chose the way of wisdom. . .

We think of Solomon as one who chose the way of wisdom. In today’s scripture story God offer’s Solomon anything and he asks for wisdom, wisdom to govern well. (In this election season we might pray that all our rulers choose so wisely...)

    If we read on, we will find the well-known story of Solomon hearing the claims of two moms. They lived in the same house, they both gave birth, but tragically one baby did not live. The mom of the dead child apparently switched babies and they both end up before the King claiming that the living infant is their own.
    Solomon’s decision to split the baby in half with a sword and give half to each mom is quickly halted by the ‘real’ mom’s cries. She says let the other woman have the child, just let him live. Solomon recognizes her loving concern as the authentic mom, and gives the child to her.

Such wisdom.. But unfortunately in Solomon’s later activities, the Way of Wisdom seems to be lacking.

In today's world, wisdom often seems lacking. Our preference for sound bites and 140 character tweets can seem more like fortune cookie advise than real bits of wisdom.
    One of the professors of Bible at Duke Divinity school (Ellen F. Davis) was asked to do a retreat for a church in California on ‘Wisdom’. The scripture was chosen for her and she was surprised to learn it was the book of ‘Proverbs’. 
    She imagined that the turnout would be small, just the faithful few, but instead the room was packed. People engaged her with questions until she finally had to ASK for a break.
    She queried them on their excitement about these ancient writings.
“Immediately someone answered, ‘Oh, most of us work in Hollywood. We write commercials and advertising copy. When we were in training they told us to read Proverbs!’...then she continued, ‘But now I see that most of what we write is aimed at the people Proverbs calls ‘fools’.’”1

You have already heard a few sayings from the biblical wisdom tradition of Proverbs. These sayings usually come in couplets. They are lines of poetry that are almost like Haiku. Dr. Davis explains that they are very accessible sayings that don’t require a lot of seminary work in order to get started learning. “All one has to have,” she said, “is some life experience..and to slow down and savor the words as with any good poem.”2

    You sure don’t want to read too many all at once, or you lose the effect.

You may notice that sometimes the 2nd line reinforces the 1st by intensifying the statement. Sometimes the 2nd line compares an opposite. Other times it just repeats by saying the same thing in a different way.

If Proverbs sounds stereotypical, you are right because it does use general types and categories that are broad in order to make statements about people. The Wisdom sayer describes everyone as ‘either’ WISE or FOOLISH.

Some sections refer to general living, some to family life, others to characteristics of personality, the ways of the world.
And a Key emphasis is that wisdom is not something humans attain on their own. It is a gift, ..from Sophia, the wisdom of God.

Since we are a gathered community AND
    Since brethren, and anabaptists have always stressed discernment by the ‘body’, believing strong that God speaks thru the community when we gather for that purpose, I thought we engage just a few tidbits of wisdom today and see how the Spirit of God’s Wisdom; ‘Sophia’, will speak to us today.

Invite congregation comment - draw from the basket and read into the mic. You don’t need to be the one to comment. EVERYONE is invited to consider the saying and give voice to what comes to you.
    Can you affirm the statement? Why?
    Have you experienced something similar in your life?
    What do you think it means?

Proverbs 9:1-6 (Let's listen again)
Wisdom built her house;
she has carved out her seven pillars.
2 She slaughtered her animals,
mixed her wine, and set her table.
3 She sends out her female servants; she issues an invitation
from the top of the city heights:
4 “ Whoever is naive turn aside here, ” she says to those who lack sense.
5 “ Come, eat my food, and drink the wine I have mixed.
6 Abandon your simplistic ways and live; walk in the way of understanding. ”

I don’t recommend we start spouting proverbs at each other after today. I do think these words give us opportunity to pay greater attention to the ways we attempt to share wisdom in this community. And we might notice the ways we teach wisdom to our children.

As Paul Tillich, the famous theologian said, “Without the experience of awe in the face of the mystery of life, there is no wisdom.”3
     Perhaps that is a proverb of its own.

 I will remember this experience of shared wisdom and I hope you will too, because today we practiced listening to the voice of Sophia, the wisdom of God.

I trust that with our listening we brought a little bit of timeless wisdom into the here and now of our particular time. May we all ‘walk’ in the way of wisdom and understanding.

 1. Ellen F. Davis, “Surprised by Wisdom; preching proverbs” Interpretation Vol. 64, No. 3, July 2009, 269 2
2. ibid 265
3. Paul Tillich The Eternal Now (Scribner’s Sons, 1963, 168) in Interpretation Vol. 64. No 3 July 20009, 291

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Worse Opening Line -ever

Do you know about this competition?

I lifted this from the following in Huffington Post:
Bulwer-Lytton 2012: Cathy Bryant Wins Worst Opening Sentence Competition
Andrew Losowsky | 15 hours ago

The competition's creator, Professor Scott Rice (aka the Grand Panjandrum) gave this zinger his own special commendation:

"As an ornithologist, George was fascinated by the fact that urine and feces mix in birds’ rectums to form a unified, homogeneous slurry that is expelled through defecation, although eying Greta's face, and sensing the reaction of the congregation, he immediately realized he should have used a different analogy to describe their relationship in his wedding vows." — David Pepper, Hermosa Beach, CA

The competition's website states that "The contest accepts submissions every day of the livelong year." If you can do better - or worse - why not give it a try?

Well! Who knew that I was 'competing' every Sunday? I'm sure I will have some openers to add! I did LOL imagining the above wedding ceremony. It ranks right up there with the groomsmen who faint.


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Bread and Tears

Scripture reference 1 Kings 19:1-15
Clearly, when we hear this story from 1 Kings, we recognize our need for, “the previous episode.”  Just like most weekly TV shows we begin with, "Previously, on Elijah’s journey..." we need to be filled in and reminded where we are in Israel’s story.

    The title of the book tells us we are in the time when Israel was ruled by Kings. The current king is not a ‘good guy’. King Ahab  is known as the king who "Did evil in the sight of the Lord” He married a foreign princess and encouraged the worship of foreign idols." (
    In a previous ‘episode’, Elijah and the priests of these foreign gods had a “prophet-contest”. You may remember the story.
    Elijah vs. the Prophets of Baal 450 and Asherah 400
Each side builds an altar, and lays out a bull to sacrifice. They each set up wood for a fire under the altar but don’t start the fires.
    Elijah says each group will pray to their god(s), and the God who answers with fire, wins and is declared the REAL God. 
Nothing happens after vigorous petitioning by Baal’s prophets. They even danced around the altar. After hours of this, Elijah starts mocking them and they cry out more vigorously to their gods, but there was still no answer.
    When its Elijah’s turn he completes the preparations, THEN has jar after jar of water poured on the altar until the wood is so soaked that there’s a trench full of standing water around the altar.
    Elijah prays to the Almighty ‘Elohim’ and (18:38) “The LORD’s fire falls; it consumes the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licks up the water in the trench!”

Elijah is the winner and the winner gets life, the losers get death. All 750 prophets are killed. (That’s the way winners and losers acted back then...not sure it is that different now.)
Shortly afterward, Elijah prays for rain to end a drought and it rains like crazy.

All these successes means Life is good for Elijah the prophet,... At least until King Ahab’s wife hears what happened to ‘her’ beloved prophets. She, Jezebel, sends a message to Elijah saying, “May God strike ME dead if I haven’t made you as dead as the prophets you killed by this time tomorrow.” (19:2)

What does the great successful prophet do? He runs for his life.
Elijah flees to the wilderness, leaving his assistant behind so he would be completely alone. He literally goes from the mountain top to the deepest, loneliest valley.
    His fall into depression is complete. His prayer now is, “Lord, Take my life!”
It is a quick transition if you read straight thru, but often depression strikes abruptly.

Contemporary songs and stories give depression many names;
a bitter pill, or the great darkness. Even well-known mystics like John of the Cross, fell into what he called, “The dark night of the soul”. We might even call it the Food of the Devil because some have described depression as if another person inhabits your very being.
    It may seem strange that Elijah slips so quickly from such a victorious place of triumph to the depth of seeking his own death. Historic experience tells us that a great Low often follows a glorious high.1     Dr. Bill Long says, "Sometimes the seeds of our depression and loss and confusion are sown in tremendous victory." (
    "Invulnerability on one day has given way to the greatest sense of vulnerability in the next.,” he says. "In a situation like this, Elijah (& those suffering extreme mental distress) need the voice of another person.
    By hearing only your own voice, your mind swirls endlessly and unhelpfully around certain predictable and unhelpful thoughts. You need some help from outside, some words of instruction or comfort or challenge."
But Elijah is alone and he seeks only the solace of sleep. Whether the angel comes in his dream or in reality, an angel comes and touches him, provides him with physical nourishment and companionship and the encouragement he needs. IT takes at least 2 tries before he is strong enough to go on but eventually he does.

 Following this event, Elijah (v. 11) who is still struggling mentally, even after his body has been nourished, shares his complaints with God. Then he listens to God’s direction, continues his journey and experiences the wonder of the Almighty One in stillness. Great stillness that followed violent wind, earthquake, & fire. (another one of the famous Elijah stories) Today’s story of depression under the broom tree is less known.
Ultimately, even after this episode of misery, God sends Elijah back to work.

Dr. Long reminds us that “what Elijah didn’t realize is that his journey was not simply away from his trouble, but his entire journey was a movement toward God...what was happening to him (and can to us) is that we are slowly, drawn by the gracious arms of God into closer communion with the Divine."2

Like many who seek and pursue God have discovered, "We find God not only on the mountaintop of our victories but in the troughs of our despondency."'
. . .
“I alone am left., says Elijah to God, and that sums up how any of us can feel.

Yet God Provides.
 In the midst of his depression, God provided
    An angel
    Bread, water,...Physical nourishment was enough to get Elijah to continue his journey...and his journey took him even closer to God.

Such Divine provision can be hard to accept. Even Elijah had trouble trusting in God’s providence. Even Elijah, ‘the Great’ who had won such a victory, who had seen God send fire, who had seen God send rain, even Elijah  - . . got depressed....
    This week, I wondered How each of us hear this story?
I wondered, if this story is true...not only for Elijah but for us...
If God’s promise is to provide us bread..
    If God provides the nourishment WE need for the journey of life,
...then what does it mean for us when we feel like Elijah?

    Do we look at biblical stories as the history of our OWN faith journey? They are stories when God provided for someone, sometimes a whole nation of wandering people. Certainly these ARE the stories we can lean on. .
    Or does depression leave us feeling, WE are all alone, “the only one,” so much so that we forget the great stories of God’s faithfulness and assume this is only a story about some old prophet.

There must be a way for us to hold these stories close enough [X] to be our own family history so that even ancient Elijah encourages us and gives us strength when we need it.

Many years ago, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale wrote “The Power of Positive Thinking”. The book changed many lives and sparked Dr. Peale’s rise to fame, until his own religious bias and bigotry got him into trouble.

    Still the world was impacted by his work. You may remember best that he and his wife created “Guideposts” magazine.
    While his work has been criticized it also sparked research into the ways the human mind effects bodily recovery.
    Some call it, “dispositional optimism, defined as the general expectation that good, versus bad, things will happen across important life domains.”3 These scientists have gone on to explore how optimists cope with life’s struggles vs. The ways pessimists deal with tragedy. Is life a matter of attitude, controlled by the way we think and problem solve? or is there something more here?
When we are in the depths (depression or pain) do we need prayer, positive thinking, brain-power?

Dr. Peale combined jungian psychological practice with his strong faith in the God who provides.
    I remember when his words were just what I needed to hear.
But many have criticized what they saw as unfounded optimism. Some say, and rightly so, that merely ‘thinking’ positively denies the reality of pain that needs to be felt. Stages of grief and loss are real experiences, not to be denied. . .
    There are many layers to what we call depression. It can be an appropriate response to circumstance, or it can come out of the ‘blue’. It effects almost everyone at some time in life and for some it IS their life.

I think Elijah’s story speaks to us from centuries past. His story, like Moses’ and many other men and women of the Bible record, are are stories of real lives - yes, often with embellishments, certainly with note-worthy experiences, but none of them were excepted from the tragic experiences of real life.
    We need them in OUR family album. We need their stories to strengthen us for OUR journeys.

There are some encouraging steps in Elijah’s journey to give us direction today. These are not substitutes for professional help. They do assist us with integrating our faith journey with the struggles of everyday life.

*** 1st. We might see from Elijah what NOT to do.
When our desire is to run, to hide and be totally alone, we may need to seek healing. Elijah didn’t do this, but when he was sent an angel, he did respond by eating. It appears he went straight back to bed. (no an uncommon action) His renewal didn’t happen all at once, but he did try again.
Often it takes, trying again and again. Even thinking positively doesn’t happen all at once. :-)  Elijah accepted help.

***    So perhaps our next encouragement is to recognize angels when they come.

    Angels don’t always float down on white wings. I’ve experienced them in many other forms, haven’t you?
    (Once as a girl from NJ, fluent in Italian, who happened to be at the Florence Train station very late one night when 5 clergy-women got stranded by a bus that never arrived.) It was easy to recognize “Gabriella” (seriously that was her name!) as an angel.

But sometimes an angel comes simply as someone holding out a bit of bread to eat or water to drink.
Yes, that person who persistently called you when you felt so very low and thought you’d rather stay in the solitary depths of your depression, perhaps THEY were your angel, provided by God and offering you the nourishment you needed for the journey ahead.

*** Most of all, we can learn from Elijah to live in trust. I don’t think we can remind each other of that enough, because we are ever-forgetful.
    We need to hear this even when we have fallen to the depths, God is still there.
    When the ‘dark night of the soul’ comes, and all we feel is the absence of God, we must trust that our story fits right into the family of God. We learn this from the Bible characters we’ve studied. We learn that God will provide even when the provisions are not the flavor we asked for, it will be what we need.

    This was Jesus’ message when all he could talk about was bread.

    “Jesus offers bread that does not feed for a day or even a season but satisfies unto eternal life. More than that, Jesus doesn't just give heavenly bread; he IS the heavenly bread -- that is, his very flesh and blood mediates the living presence of God.”4

Like Elijah we -     Keep On Keeping On.
* It’s how we live in Trust.*
Sometimes it sounds like naive positive thinking. 
Sometimes we’ll be called a ‘Pollyanna”
Sometimes it will take years and many loaves of bread before we are nourished enough for the journey
And sometimes it will take an angel’s visit to turn things around

Living in trust IS the life’s work of Christians.
    If even the great prophet Elijah experienced depression on his journey to closeness with God, than perhaps we should be honored to be part of his family.
So keep coming to church, even when you don’t feel like it or don’t FEEL anything.
Keep praying even when you are not sure it works or what you are praying for.
Keep reading the stories about the saints of the Bible, our faith family, even when you don’t understand or think they can’t possibly be related to your life.

You WILL find God’s promises revealed in the practices that nourish us for the journey.

It’s not just MY promise to you, it’s God’s.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Jesus says, "You're full of. . "

John is like a 2-story house.
John 6:25-34 “Jesus said, “You’re full of . . . “ 8/5/12 ACOB

I come to today’s scripture humbly, especially after I listened to one distinguished commentator say, “If the preacher is not careful SHE could end up saying, “It’s too bad Jesus didn’t speak more clearly. Let ME tell you what he really meant to say...”
    It is true that the Gospel of John presents us with a different kind of story. A famous writer called it “a veritable symphony of incomprehension’1 I know I agreed with him for a long time. Even still I have learned to approach scripture from THIS gospel .. Very carefully.

    There’s always a hidden message in John. It’s like a 2-story house; with an upstairs and downstairs story. There are so many possible meanings in Jesus’ words that this gospel often leaves us wondering if we understand what Jesus really means.
    And so, we approach the text expecting to be surprised by double meanings. (& that goes for sermon titles too)

    First, we need to take a Bible Study ‘pop-up moment’ so we can see where John’s story is different from Matthew, Mark, & Luke.

Pop-Up Bible Study Moment

    In John, history is controlled by the purpose of the gospel. So, Jesus goes back and forth to Jerusalem for festivals and returns to his mission in Galilee, unlike the synoptic gospels where he doesn’t go to Jerusalem until the end of his life.

    On these road trips He gives sermons, saying things like, “..the son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.” (5:19) Long sermons which few people around him understand.
    The author’s pattern in John is to 1st give us a sign and then a discourse or you could say, “works then words.” (very brethren, isn’t it?)

Back To Our Story

    Jumping forward now to today’s text in chapter 6, we find it begins with a sign; the Feeding of the 5,000. This means we can expect some words about feeding and bread next and that is what John gives us - plenty of words.

We can’t understand or learn from Jesus’ words without knowing about the  sign, the miracle. So Here’s that story, as a refresher.

    After this Jesus went across the Galilee Sea (that is, the Tiberius Sea). 2 A large crowd followed him, because they had seen the miraculous signs he had done among the sick. 3 Jesus went up a mountain and sat there with his disciples. 4 It was nearly time for Passover, the Jewish festival.
5 Jesus looked up and saw the large crowd coming toward him. He asked Philip, “ Where will we buy food to feed these people? ” 6 Jesus said this to test him, for he already knew what he was going to do.
7 Philip replied, “ More than a half year’s salaryn worth of food wouldn’t be enough for each person to have even a little bit. ”
8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, 9 “ A youth here has five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that for a crowd like this? ”
10 Jesus said, “ Have the people sit down. ” There was plenty of grass there. They sat down, about five thousand of them. 11 Then Jesus took the bread. When he had given thanks, he distributed it to those who were sitting there. He did the same with the fish, each getting as much as they wanted. 12 When they had plenty to eat, he said to his disciples, “ Gather up the leftover pieces, so that nothing will be wasted. ” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves that had been left over by those who had eaten.
14 When the people saw that he had done a miraculous sign, they said, “ This is truly the prophet who is coming into the world. ” 15 Jesus understood that they were about to come and force him to be their king, so he took refuge again, alone on a mountain. CEB
Now, In between the feeding miracle and our text, the disciples went out on the lake in a boat without Jesus, a storm arose and Jesus came to them on the water. But the crowd doesn’t know this, only that Jesus didn’t leave with his guys and so all the people are out looking for him.

Since we’ve already had bread this morning (or chocolate), let’s put ourselves in with the crowd about the time that they find Jesus on other side of the lake and he confronts them saying, “You are only here because you are full of. . BREAD!”

(setting) Seriously, it’s Hard to blame us, it was pretty cool to listen to Jesus preach and then have him take a boy’s tiny loaves of bread and a couple fish and feed the whole hillside full of people. There were thousands of us! We are impressed and wouldn’t mind experiencing that again!

Naturally, we seek Jesus out, even all the way on the other side of lake Galilee. Naturally we are looking for him to hear another sermon, right? ....well to be honest, we COULD listen to him again, especially since we are not sure what he is really talking about.
BUT if he would do that bread thing again, that would be really cool, because it is a new day and we ARE hungry.

Can you relate to the feeling? As a member of the crowd, what are YOU hungering for?” . . .

Perhaps we humans are terribly simple creatures. We seek out what fills us and it begins with BREAD!  (or chocolate...) Only when we are full, can we think of other things, like trying to figure out what Jesus is talking about and exploring what these miracles mean. We DO like to understand everything, that’s one of the benefits of coming to church regularly, isn’t it? We get a better understanding of Jesus and the whole Bible.

Yet there are still things we DON’T quite understand and miracles mixed in with complex sermons are right up there on the incomprehensible list.

quote “Signs [in John] point to the saving act of God in the Christ event.” said one commentator. (ok, we know that in the short form, ‘Jesus Saves’) But we don’t always know what to think about miraculous multiplying bread. Dr. Craddock says, “Believing in a particular miracle, that it ‘really happened’ means one has not really SEEN the sign, even if one’s stomach is full of miraculous bread.”2

I’m not sure if I’m reassured by that or not. Perhaps we stand accused, like the crowd around Jesus of only being full of bread.
All these years we tried to believe this miracle, or to understand some explanation as ‘the miracle of generous people.’
Or maybe we, like Thomas Jefferson, just cut out this hard-to-accept miracle from our Bible.
Or maybe we’ve accepted the miracle on ‘faith’ thinking that believing in miracles is part of what a Christian has to believe.
Thomas Jefferson Bible

If any of this is true, then we may need to look at what we mean by the word, ‘faith’.
    Will Willimon says, “Faith here means more than clarity about the facts of what happened, or belief in a set of propositions. Faith in John’s gospel, is an encounter with a PERSON, THE person, who IS the way, the truth, and the life.”3

    Do you think the crowd is hungering for an encounter, or more interested in being fed?
    We’ve placed ourselves in the crowd, what is your answer?
Jesus know us, then and now. He wants us to be fed - - - -with him.

Our understanding of the phrase, “I am the bread of life” - won’t come in this sermon. It takes a full encounter with Jesus, perhaps a whole lifetime of encountering him to “get it”.

Maybe we need a new banner out on the street. 
“Come on in for an ‘encounter’? (Sounds like a 90s meditation center.)

Instead, What we, the church, do is ask people what they like to eat. ?
    We even offer options, bread or chocolate, or if you’d like something else, maybe we can run up to Safeway and get it.

And people respond to our question. They want,
programs for all ages, (they say) classes for their children, small groups where they can make friends, they want good quality music, and good preaching.
Read any survey and you’ll find similar answers to SIMILAR QUESTIONS.

 Maybe we aren’t asking the right questions OR answering people’s hungers.
 Maybe...we need to return to the text and see how Jesus answered questions from a hungry crowd.
    Professor Ginger Barfield4 pointed out a series of Questions and Answers in Chapter 6:
First, 25-27 the Crowd wants to know “WHEN Jesus came to the other side of Lake.”
    Jesus’ answer is the accusation that they are full of BREAD and that’s  all they really care about. Not an answer, but certainly true.
Then, 28-29
“Crowd wants to know what they can DO to work God’s work?” They’ve moved onto a more spiritual topic it seems. He says, ‘the work of God is belief.’
    Ok, that’s almost an answer, but they don’t understand it any more than we do.
Then, 30-33
The “Crowd wants a sign, to help them believe.” (This seems reasonable, after all the whole history of Israel is full of special ‘signs’ where Moses does some pretty miraculous things. One of them being the production of manna in the wilderness. Manna being the ‘bread from heaven’.

Jesus answers the question about a sign with a “proclamation about “My Father” and the bread that gives life.

(Reminds me of all those essay tests in school which you get back saying the equivalent of, “Dear nancy, You are full of....knowledge, but you didn’t answer the question.”)
But you didn't answer the question.

It is most interesting, don’t you think, that Jesus rarely answers their questions. He isn’t giving them what they are asking for. . .but he DOES offer them what they need.

He wants them to drop the focus on getting filled up and realize who he is.
. . .
I think we fit into the confused crowd better than we first thought.

What kind ‘bread’ did you come for today? For what are YOU hungering?
the right kind of worship?    Or maybe you came,
because you like being challenged to lobby and work for the poor
because you want to be part of a group of like=minded people
because you want to give your life in service to others

These all sound like pretty good reasons to be here, to me.
but then I’m the one whose work involves
    creating diverse worship
    planning services that include good music
    designing programs that engage people of all ages
    supporting service projects that reach out to the world
This all sounds like VERY GOOD work to me.

Then I hear Jesus’ answer to the question I didn’t ask, saying, “stop working for food that perishes and instead perform the works of God that lead to eternal life.” . . .
and I’m left looking at bread baskets wondering what I DO next. ? ?
. . .

           Confused?                     This scripture is unsettling - and its supposed to be.

It is full of hidden meaning and levels of intent. In fact, the lectionary of the church stays in John Chapter 6 for the rest of the month to help us ‘get it’.
    I’m not the only preacher moaning about 4 weeks of bread? and looking to the epistle reading or the OT story, or even the psalm to break the pattern in the weeks ahead.

Maybe because the last thing we want to hear is Jesus’ accusation that we are full of . .  BREAD and that ALL we care about is getting filled again.

If our faith is more than the facts we BELIEVE today, about this story or any other in the Bible.
If faith is something we live, if faith is REALLY an encounter with Jesus, then What comes next?
. .
If Jesus isn’t asking us to ‘think’ about him, but to FEED on him, what do we do when we leave here today?
. . .

“I am the Bread of Life” aren’t words that we will ever ‘get’ in terms of understanding. “Intellectual assent is inadequate to the truth of Jesus the Christ.”5 . .

The only thing we can do with the bread of life    is..    ..    eat it.