Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Post-Easter Appearance

Here are my notes and questions from Sunday. It was very interactive so may be hard to follow the text. I'll insert what I can in the way of pictures.

SLIDE- 1 Jerusalem
SLIDE -2 & 3 Text on screen. 
Ask: how do you feel after hearing this scripture?
Ask: them to list negatives. 
SLIDE 4 - Write on 2nd page. 
SLIDE 5 - Then list positives.
We can see why we feel scolded.

So what do we do with passages that seem to scold us? Our options:
Redact - black marker, or TV scissors..
Look deeper
Guess which we will do?

James takes time in this book to delve into all the ways we humans can fall short. First he outlines his points in the first chapter, then he goes into detail in the chapters that follow.
For instance, READ ch1:17-18 
SLIDE 6 verses on which this passage in chapter is developed.
17 Every good gift, every perfect gift, comes from above. These gifts come down from the Father, the creator of the heavenly lights, in whose character there is no change at all. 18 He chose to give us birth by his true word, and here is the result: we are like the first crop from the harvest of everything he created.

Discuss in pew groups: (turn to neighbor, lean over pew and share)
Let’s crowd source this point before we go back to our text to make sense of James’ list. 
SLIDE 7 - ASK: The good and perfect gift. What is it? What is the good and perfect gift or (if easily identified) how do you know if/when someone has received this gift?
2 minutes
Last Sunday you heard 4 preachers deal with doubt. James is different than the gospels. For James, doubt isn’t intellectual questioning, it’s mixed up loyalty to the world. (1)

James calls it double mindedness.
He says humans are prone to ‘double-talk, double-face, double-vision’.(2) What’s is double-ness? 
  • It’s a place where cultural values are seen and taught as religion. 
  • Where the true values of God are confused, mis-understood, and co-opted to benefit a few.
(Sound like a world we’ve seen?)

James’ position  Should be clear (thanks to our list). 
There are two ways of living:(3) “See the difference, Know the truth, Make a decision!”

But it isn’t easy for everyone to decide. WHY? 
ASK: Why is it hard for some people to decide for Christ or to make a decision about Christianity?

JAMES we tell you with b&w clarity what the problem is (coming up next in ch. 4) 
What is the source of your disputes? Don’t they come from your cravings that are at war in your own lives? 2 You long for something you don’t have, so you commit murder. 
You are jealous for something you can’t get, so you struggle and fight. 
You don’t have because you don’t ask. 
3 You ask and don’t have because you ask with evil intentions, to waste it on your own cravings.
and …  we feel scolded again.
We can realize that James writes in a time and way that includes paranesis and diatribe. (4)
Paranesis - text that strings together admonitions of general ethical content.
Diatribe - carefully designed argument against an implied opponent
In James we have both - strings of warnings about our conduct and pretty strong arguments against invisible but constant EVIL.

I want to make a case today for hearing this book in a new light - I want us to find it’s wisdom even when it’s deeply imbedded in harsh lists and warnings - 

Let’s take a Step back: Look deeper at this whole book. Scholars have disagreed about who actually wrote it and whether or not it was James, the brother of Jesus. 
SLIDE - 8 (not an actual picture of James)
I read many theories this week. The one that seems to make the most sense has these pieces.
  • James, Jesus’ brother, not 1 of 12, but later becomes a leader in Christian church -which is centered in Jerusalem. (and is mostly jewish)
  • By the end of the 1st century Before CE, (AD) and again After destruction of temple late 60’s, Jewish population scatters. (see map this slide-(5) (MIGRATIONS CALLED diaspora)

  • Likely the traditions from the church in Jerusalem; including those that James knew, went out into other countries and became more familiar with Greek language.
  • Those early GROUPS had PRE-gospel material. We know about Q (a likely compilation of sayings) and scholars posit a M source which would be the oral collection of stories, parables, teachings found in Matthew.
  • ESPECIALLY one particular sermon of Jesus. ASK?
    • Sermon on the Mount
  • If these scholars are correct, those closest to Jesus; who had listened to James, who had told and retold the stories of Jesus that would later be written into Matthew’s gospel, took these traditions (---JAMES traditions) from Jerusalem - SLIDE 9 - with them. 
  • At some point these key points, teachings, are written in the style of the day, as the book of James. (6)
  • IN James, We likely have the words of the people who first collected all the sayings and stories that would later make up the gospels.

  • Behind this book we have the tradition of Jesus’ brother and leadership of the early church, 
    • the very first re-telling of key Sermons, and the 
    • sayings that will be the gospels - 
    • I think we have a VERY special writing in James that comes as close to Jesus’ own words and teaching as one could get.
ASK: If we hear James the way we hear the Sermon on Mount, do we listen differently?

I am saying, that When we read James, WE are experiencing a post easter appearance of Jesus himself!
Even more so - when we are blessed with an encounter with those who have received this gift from above.  

When we ourselves leave double-mindedness behind and walk the Jesus way, each person we encounter, experiences the Risen Lord in us!
If that seems too optimistic for you , consider this story from Brethren history. 
The wise farmer…
-Wanted to buy a parcel of land.
-Told that neighbor of this parcel had contested the property line so bitterly that the former owner moved.
-Farmer buys land and meets neighbor who immediately comes to tell him that the fence between their properties must to be moved.
Farmer asked, “Where should the line be?” and then insists that the new fence line be set to the neighbor’s advantage.
“The value of the little strip of land was minor compared to good relations with his neighbor.” 
Seeing how fair the farmer was, the disgruntled neighbor said, ‘we’ll leave the fence where it is.”
But that wasn’t the end.

Another day the farmer’s cattle broke into the neighbor’s cornfield and damaged the crop. The neighbor flew into a rage and declared he would sue.
Calmly the farmer explained that this would not be necessary. He was ready to pay in full. To avoid extra court costs, he suggested they engage a 3rd party to settle on a suitable amount.
Seeing the peaceful nature and honesty of the farmer the neighbor asked, “Why choose others to arbitrate? We can settle. There are no damages. “The matter is settled.”
“I never before met a man like you. No on can quarrel with you.” (7)

What wisdom, from above, awaits us - each time we embody the Risen One in the manner of OUR living?
Or what peace from above is visited on the earth when the Risen Christ appears in us?


 1)David Young James - Covenant Bible Study (Elgin:Brethren Press, 1992)46
2) Frances Taylor Gench Hebrews & James (Louis:WJK,1996)113
3) ibid
4) John Painter Interpretation Journal - Catholic Epistles Vol 60 Number 3, July 2006, 254
6)  John Painter Interpretation Journal - Catholic Epistles Vol 60 Number 3, July 2006, 251
7) David Young James - Covenant Bible Study (Elgin:Brethren Press, 1992)47

Friday, April 10, 2015

Sitting is good.

Sitting with coffee is good. This is a week of "Light Duty". I need to call it that rather than vacation because I didn't go away, I'm still visiting in the hospital, I'm still doing errands regarding church folks, I'm still answering emails, texts, and phone calls. But I'm not going into the office. So I sit with coffee in the morning, for as long as the rest of the day's appointments will allow. Today it's a bit longer as this is the last day of "Light Duty".

I love to walk, and will walk Bowser in a little bit.
I like to visit friends, and have done so several times this week! (Bonus of "light duty"!)
But what I have needed most this week is to do
There's not been quite enough of that.

It's not easy to explain, but this time alone; just me, coffee and NOTHING, seems to be the best remedy for exhaustion. Not sleep, not anything, just NOTHING. Total veg.

ahhhh, feel it, that lack of priority? ignoring the reminders that keep popping up on my screen and buzzing in my pocket from my phone...the pile of things I really need to catch up on.. the plans for Sunday's community worship, the prayers for worship, the aids for classes at Arl. Forest UMC.. the weddings coming up.. the SCN vote at the end of the month.. finding music for that Sunday when Charlie is coming to visit and our organist is away... yep. . all those things don't go away. Even now my pocket is buzzing about collecting mail for our person in the hospital and finding important papers in her apartment.

but I"m ignoring it all, for 5 more minutes of NOTHING.
This is  post-Easter week.
(Maybe I need another. . .)

Monday, April 6, 2015

Going To The Tomb Mark 16:1-8

Ask: Why do we go to the tomb? Why do we visit grave markers of our beloved?
Sen. Robert Byrd and his wife are buried right up the street at  Columbia Gardens cemetery. Before he died, he came out to visit his wife’s grave every morning. He brought flowers and stayed awhile before heading back to the hill. Every day. A story of great faithfulness, at a place of death.
What do WE expect when we go to the places of burial?

You heard Mark’s Easter story, 
What did the women expect? What did they say? 
They had plans to anoint the body.
They knew the stone was too large for them. 
Honor the body, keep their rituals, do their duty, say goodbye, see the place..

They weren’t expecting resurrection, were they? (how do we know? conversation/purpose) THEY WENT TO THE PLACE OF DEATH. . and once there, found LIFE.

Only the women who followed their passion to act, to honor, & be faithful to Jesus received the surprising message of Good News from the man in the white robe.
What might that tell us?
and what can we learn from what they did next?

How often we do what we know. 
Many of us have built in defaults, when confused and uncertain, we do what we know, what we ‘always do’. One of the things I like about the story we heard from Acts is Peter’s default when confronted is to tell the story he knows, the story of Jesus. 
The women who went to the tomb hold key places in jesus’ story.I and we wonder what happened next. Mark wrote his ending for a reason, one that you might guess, but later generations were unsatisfied with its open end - so others supplied additional endings which most Bible's  now label clearly.

Jesus let death swallow him, he let the world’s system do it’s worse. 
HE died on that cross, and what did he find? New life.
After 3 days of death, new life came. 3 days that we like to forget, skip past. 3 days was a lifetime to his followers and those who loved him most.

Today we celebrate what happened next. Resurrection - not re-animation, not a zombie walk, not the living dead, but NEW life. — 
Different life, It wasn’t quite the same Jesus who met the disciples in Galilee or the locked room, or on the road to Emmaus. (each gospel has a different description; telling whether Jesus could be touched, or couldn’t be touched, or appeared thru walls) —- NONE of this is as important as seeing what REALLY happened here —— NEW LIFE comes from the place of death.

Jesus didn’t go from the Mt. of Olives to new life.  Not from the upper room to resurrection either.
He first had to die. 
We’ve stressed this as we’ve approached this day of celebration.
Truly, it is not easy to comprehend!

The women were dumbfounded. Comprehension was evidently a long time coming. When confronted with the scarily impossible our first tendency is to RUN! and they did.

The women, went in spite of uncertainty and they ended up running away!
Fear and trembling, uncertainty -  sounds like the kinds of feelings we have when asked to talk about our faith…
Or asked to try something that really stretches our limits.
In their case, it involved risk, but still they went. And in spite of what they were told, they held onto there fear, at least for awhile.

Maybe their all too believable reaction is also there for a reason. So we can explore our own experiences.
What CAN happen when we go to the places of death? 

Some of you may remember a book from the 60’s called The Cross and The Switchblade. David Wilkerson went to NY in 1958. While that may have been an ideal time here in Arlington as people from the City church began to talk of a new church in Arlington on a hillside farm. - in NYC, there was a place of death.

Gangs, drugs, overdose, sickness, violence surrounded him.  It wasn’t a fairy tale, but there were miracles. At least that’s how the people who found transformation described it. 

New Life - but Wilkerson had to go to the place of death to be part of it, to plant seeds, to cultivate, to mentor.

Here are some of the place you’ve seen resurrection. (Show painting and clippings from morning activity) 

New life can come to people:

Did you read the story about Trotwood COB in the March Messenger, our denominational magazine?
Traditional standards and measurements would classify them as a ‘dying church’ —- sitting in a city with a declining population and severe loss of jobs. The city has experience urban blight and white flight. 
Gangs and violence entered in when jobs and income base moved out. Youth and youth adults live in a dangerous world in Trotwood.
But into that place of death, a few people continued to go on Sunday mornings. And they also went to COBrethren workshops by On Earth Peace. From this was birthed “The Peace Place, a community nonprofit in Trotwood that uses the Agape - Satyagraha curriculum to teach peace and conflict resolution.
You will read about people who find safety and hope there, at least once a week, and some even come back on Sundays. In the quotes people say, “This is my family.” “This is the place that takes care of me.”
(it's a modern Cross &  Switchblade story.)

All is not perfect, but resurrection is happening there. But as with all new life, it doesn’t mean they are returning to a 700-member all-white church. No, new life for them means new challenges, new identities that include; 
  • a determination to study racism and learn how it is part of us all. 
  • A challenge to adapt to people who are ‘not Brethren’ and 
  • to add in new styles of worship
But at Trotwood you will find people who have found new life where there had been only death, and others who remain committed to bringing new life into the lives of their neighbors. (See March Messenger Magazine, publication of COB, Brethren Press)

See -New life can even come to churches.

You have probably heard about urban churches that found revitalization when they stopped looking inward and turned themselves outward. These church adopted ministries to help meet the needs of their neighborhoods.

I just read an more modern version of how a dying URBAN church found new life BUT it did so by ENDING all those ministries of outreach into the neighborhood! 
are you surprised?

Rev. Mike Mather says this, “The church, and me in particular,” “have done a lot of work where we have treated the people around us as if, (at worst) they are a different species and, at best, as if they are people to be pitied and helped by us.” 
(is that how we feel about those we help?)

With that in mind, Broadway United Methodist Church has — for more than a decade now — been reorienting itself. 

Rather than a bestower of blessings, the church is aiming to be something more humble.

“The church decided its call was to be good neighbors. And that we should listen and see people as children of God,” said De’Amon Harges, a church membe
THEY see Broadway’s transformation in terms like Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.” (1)

John McKnight is one of the founders of the way Broadway is building community from the inside out. 
He WAS HERE about it 4 years ago sitting in our church Fellowship Hall. A neighbor, Sandy Horwitt invited him to speak and we hosted the lunch. 

He advocates a way of discovering the gifts people have and building program around them, rather then inviting people to plug into an old existing structure.
NOW, When people come to the Broadway food pantry, instead of giving them a form to state how poor they are, they are asked to name 3 things they are good enough at that they could teach someone else. (2) . . . . .
New questions, —-new purpose, —-NEW LIFE.

What we MIGHT discover ANYTHING, when we are willing to risk going to a place of DEATH.
It WILL BE surprised.  All these stories have surprise in common. 
It might not make sense either,
yet that fits right in with today’s GOOD NEWS, 
 certainly how a few frightened women leaving an empty tomb saying nothing, became a world-wide following of Jesus’ people that has lasted millennia — makes NO sense, does it?

Not a set agenda, God’s agenda
not someone else’s life or a refurb of the old, but NEW LIFE!

Even when we are the ones stumbling down the path, uncertain about what we are doing, God can use us to create new life.

Let me leave you with one more story of resurrection.

The school system in a large city had a program to help children keep up with their school work when they were in the hospital for an extended stay. 
One day a teacher in the program received a routine call asking her to visit a particular child. She took the child's name and hospital room number and talked with the child's regular class teacher. 
"We're studying nouns and adverbs in his class now," the regular teacher said, "and I'd be grateful if you could help him understand them so he doesn't fall too far behind." 

The hospital teacher went to see the boy that afternoon. 
No one had warned her that the boy had been badly burned and was in extreme pain. Healing was not assured, and the risk of death remained on his horizon.

 Surprised and Upset at the sight of the boy, the teacher stammered as she told him, "I've been sent by your school to help you with nouns and adverbs." So she stumbled thru the lesson with him. When she left she felt she hadn't accomplished much. 

But the next day, when she came to teach young patients again, a nurse asked her, "What did you do to that boy?" 
The teacher felt she must have done something wrong and began to apologize. "No, no," said the nurse. "You don't understand. We've been worried about that little boy, but ever since yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He's fighting back, and already responding to treatment. It's as though he’s really decided to live." 

Weeks later the boy explained that he HAD given up hope until the teacher arrived. 
Everything changed when she sat down to teach. He came to a simple realization. "They wouldn't send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?" (3)

. . . 

God is bringing new life into places of death all around us.
We too can GO, SEE and JOIN the God of RESURRECTION.
The LORD is Risen!
“he is risen, indeed!”

(1)  Robert King Ministry Matters Death and Resurrection of an Urban Church http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/5906/death-and-resurrection-of-an-urban-church?utm_source
(3)  Bits & Pieces, July 1991. http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/h/hope.htm