Monday, March 27, 2017

Not What Is Expected

Not What Is Expected  

John 9:1-41

What are you afraid of? Does your known fear cause you to do or avoid doing things or saying things, just to protect yourself? 

We have all tiptoed around hot political topics, especially around the loudest and most aggressive our friends and relatives in these recent days. Some people are wound so tight that it does no good, even if you just stick to the facts and avoid inserting your opinion. Given an opening, they just flame out. 

While this is awkward in personal situations, there are times when these same kinds of issues have direct implications on your freedom of speech and movement. 

The nation of Israel is highly insulted by the movement, based on the international pressure that was brought to bear on the apartheid regime in South Africa, to use Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions against businesses in either Israel or the Settlements in the West Bank. The BDS movement is now illegal, and Israeli citizens are under direct threat of prosecution if they encourage the movement against either Israel or the Settlements. The local people take this threat very seriously. 

A new law permits the state to refuse international visitors entry, if they are part of a group that promotes the BDS movement. Today the Israeli ministry is building a database of organizations that are no longer permitted to enter the country. Recent reports show that this ban has not been strictly enforced to date. 

The past two weeks, a new law has been hotly debated in the Knesset, that would permit the ministry to build a data base of Israeli citizens who are associated with the BDS movement. The very conservative faction within the Israeli government is taking an aggressive stance against their critics. This challenges the definition of democracy. 

In the gospel this morning, the parents of the man born blind are very careful when talking with the “Jews.” They are aware of threats made against those who speak in favor of this Jesus of Nazareth. When questioned, they carefully avoid speaking up for Jesus, or speaking against their son. They do not want to get in the middle of this debate and risk being shunned in their community. 

While the parents have fear, clearly the Temple authorities are very anxious about Jesus. We might want to understand their position better. 

The Holy Land in the time of Jesus was an occupied country, under the direct control of the Roman Empire. The people were heavily taxed. It costs a lot of money to maintain and deploy a huge army to police the world. Rome justified their taxation because the great local benefit was the “Pax Romana,” the Peace of Rome. 

Since Rome controlled the greater swath of civilization surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, all the typical squabbles between neighbors over control and access to ports, and shipping lanes, and trade routes were settled (or simply squashed) by the powerful and ever present Roman army and their conscripted soldiers. 

The Temple in Jerusalem continued to exist and have its own level of control, through a negotiated arrangement with the puppet King Herod, and then his descendants. The Temple and the priests, received a share of the taxes, and in turn, they were expected/required to help root out and eliminate violent revolutionaries. Over the years, there were many violent revolutionary responses to the heavy-handed occupation. Jesus of Nazareth fit the model of a political revolutionary. He also, took great delight in mocking the authority of the Temple. The Temple authorities were motivated to quiet him. 

In the gospel of John, it was the raising of Lazarus from the dead that prompted the Temple authorities to action. Chapter 11:47 - 50 reads, “So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, "What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation." But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed." 

These patterns of fear and repressive laws and aggressive enforcement, continue to exist with the world today. I have highlighted the response of Israel to the BDS movement, and you have heard news stories about the United Nations Reports, that are critical of the inhumane treatment of the people of Gaza and the West Bank. But these temptations exist wherever nations try to make a systemic response to threats, real or perceived. 

Jesus cured the blind man, on a Sabbath morning. The Jews could not accept that a holy man would do work on the Sabbath, in direct violation of the 10 commandments. You and I, do not live in a culture that supports the Sabbath with such a clear set of expectations. Although there was a time, when Sundays were treated very differently than they are today. As faithful people, we still have the option to honor the Sabbath if we choose. 

Jesus has set himself apart from the Temple authorities, by making compassion for the poor and sick more important than abiding by strict rules. Rules are a substitute for relationships protected by respect. Jesus has set himself apart from the Roman authority, by living a nomad’s life, with no taxable income. That can tick off the government. 

Jesus sets himself, and his movement - apart from the expectations of the culture. You and I know that he was not raising an army. You and I know that he was not building a cache of weapons in remote rural hiding places to arm the revolutionary forces when the time was ripe for attack. 

We even know that Jesus was not insulting the God of the Temple. He did enjoy mocking the pretentious who acted holy, but lacked humility and compassion. What are we to learn from Jesus, that can empower our living in this day and place? 

First, let us recall and embrace the story of Jesus. These narratives are rich with models for living in a charged atmosphere, but staying grounded in the truth. The truth is continually pulling on our own self-deceptions, helping us to be real with our selves, our friends, our neighbors, and in the political world. (This Lent we have taken to calling this “A Posture of Confession.”) 

Grounded as we are in the truth about our own limitations, we can see with fresh eyes, what are the legitimate needs of our neighbors, near and far, and what might be considered fair game for challenging and confronting. We are able to challenge the pretentious. We are able to “see” where unjust laws are used to prevent detection of greater systemic injustice, and overt lack of compassion. We can recognize the manipulation of information to foster prejudice and bias, build fear, and justify huge armies and the taxation required to support them. 

Like the Pharisees in the story, let us ask Jesus, “are we blind, too?” If we are blind to our own pride - and worse yet, blind to the kind of prejudice and fear that make us willing partners to injustice, may Jesus open our eyes. Let us trust Jesus enough, that with his love we can handle the truth about ourselves, and change our ways. Let us wash our faces in the pool, and with open eyes, be ready to worship the God of Jesus. Truth will set us free, free to love and share, without inordinate and inappropriate fear. Amen.  

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Flow of Living Water

The Flow of the Living Water

John 4:5-42  

Today we have a relatively long passage from the gospel of John. Many of John’s stories are relatively long. John is all about the power and authority of Jesus, even the authority to provide entirely new ways of understanding God. Just last week John encouraged us to have a new take on the perception of God as love, and talked about it in a way that we could imitate. Today, the passage encourages us to again try to check our egos at the door. 

I showed pictures of Jacob’s Well, located in the modern city of Nablus in Samaria. We assume that this is also the location of today’s gospel story. Jesus sits by the well, as the disciples run into town to McDonalds to get some cheeseburgers. A woman approaches the well  by herself to draw some water, and Jesus asks for a drink. 

Samaritans are regarded by the Jews as half-breeds. The Samaritans have intermingled with the locals in mixed marriages. Rejected by the Temple Jews, the Samaritans have their own version of the Jewish religion, and regard the Temple worshippers as arrogant and self-serving.

One thing these people share, are pretty strict cultural rules about women’s work, and communication between the genders. It was pretty bold of Jewish Jesus to speak with this woman, let alone think that he would drink water from a Samaritan’s bucket. This violates a whole host of purity laws, and this was not lost on the woman at all. 

Women were uneducated, even among people who were not known for great learning. She was a product of the culture, so  conversation between Jesus and the woman was rather unexpected. It turns out she knew a lot about the rules of the Jews. 

Jesus asks her to get her husband. This might be seen as resolving the issue about speaking to a woman who was alone. In the Christian church we always see this as Jesus creating the opportunity to demonstrate that he knew her personal situation. How odd is that, the this traveling Jewish prophet would not only speak with a Samaritan woman, but recognize her individuality? 

We might notice that going to the well for water is a social event for poor women all over the world. They go to the well in groups to chat, and share stories. This woman is alone. We have to believe that the other women do not hang out with this woman - who has a reputation with men. She has a particular status in town. 

Jesus tells her that he knows who she is. That knowledge not only does not stop Jesus from talking with her, it seems to empower his invitation to her - to recognize him as God’s anointed. 

This woman - who knows who she is, runs into town to proclaim she met a man who might be the Messiah. The people, who know her reputation, also seem to find her a reliable witness. Interesting, don’t you think? She might be a sinner, but what she says can be taken for the truth. Whatever else she might be, she is no liar. 

Meanwhile, Jesus decides the bag of sliders the disciples returned with do not interest him. He is anticipating a crowd of curious Samaritans who will want to know about him - and hear him talk about who God is. The disciples are puzzled by Jesus. He leads them through this territory that “good Jews” always avoid. He is chatting up a strange, lone woman, who leaves her water bucket to run to town.  Jesus is doing things that the disciples were taught was wrong. They are uncomfortable. 

What makes you uncomfortable identifying yourself with Jesus? Many of us have had over-enthusiastic born-again Christians - anxious to share what they have discovered, and share their judgments about those who do not have their own sense of enthusiasm. Many of us were trained to treat our faith as a private matter. Avoid talk of politics, sex, and religion in polite company.  

A good part of the message today includes asking us to be more aware of how quick we are to judge others by their labels. - She is just a woman, what could she know? - She is only a Samaritan, and they do not believe the right stuff. - She is out by herself during the day, that can’t be good. - Why waste our time with these inconsequential people? 

But Jesus found her to be articulate. She knows about her faith, the practices of the Jews, and some of the things that they share. She quickly sees that Jesus is a holy man, a prophet, and he may well be the Messiah. She reveals herself to be a pretty sharp woman. 

Jesus reveals God has a sincere and specific interest in all of creation. The love of God is not reserved for those with an engraved invitation, or a birthright, or the best reputations in town. What is being revealed is a model of interactive caring. 

In the sermon last week, we considered the image of the Holy Spirit, flying between and amongst the faithful, nurturing courage and wisdom. We considered how that might be a more useful way for us to consider the person of God, and even be a model for how we can imitate God’s love for the world. 

Here Jesus has gone down to Jacob’s Well, and set aside a host of traditions. He has dealt with a woman who is a classic outsider. Not welcomed by the Jews, not even respected by her own people. Jesus treats this woman with interactive caring. He talks with her, and listens to her. He talks about things that are true and important. He avoids passing judgment, setting aside even the most ordinary of ego needs. 

It is basic for us to have respect for ourselves, and treat our needs for nourishment, rest, and respect, as important. When we know ourselves, we are able to keep our ego needs in check. This allows us  to extend to every other person the understanding - that they also have legitimate needs. The love of God is alive in the world, whenever we demonstrate interactive caring for another, while setting our own ego needs aside while we honor theirs. 

A Posture of Confession - is simply a willingness to accept that we may need correction. A Christian during Lent assumes that posture, accepting the probability that God may pull back the curtain, and reveal sins we had hidden from our eyes. Only then can we choose to repent, - to change our ways and our habits. 

When I visited Israel I was struck by the pattern of the Israelis, when asked about the Occupation of the West Bank, how they used a standard practice of changing the subject. They avoided the issue of the Occupation, by never saying the word, and shifting to a standard rant about “All Arabs,” and security concerns, and a need for Israel to feel safe from attack. The pattern is so ingrained, they do not realize they are changing the subject. They ignore any specific question, and go into the litany of diversions. This is a model of how we all deceive ourselves from recognizing our own sins. 

Even though change is hard, a Christian has to be willing to let their sins be revealed, and then change the sinful behavior and make way for sharing the love of God.  

This turns out to be a useful definition of being faithful. We do not have to leave home and homeland like Abram to be faithful. We may simply need to recognize our own bad habits, that make it hard for us to be like the Christ, sharing interactive caring each and every day. 

The woman at the well is a woman; with a past, and a reputation, and a pretty healthy sense of herself. She did not have a whole load of ego baggage to keep her at a distance from the love of God in Jesus. 

Today I pray that we can learn to make peace with our real selves, and honor our legitimate needs. Then we might quiet our appetites, because it is not all about us, and respect the legitimate needs of others. It is only in the lives of the faithful, that the love of God can be shared, and doing so - we can hear the flow of the Living Water in the world today Amen. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

God In Every thought. Word and Deed

God in Every Thought, Word and Deed  

Genesis 12:1-4a 
John 3:1-17   

Change is hard. Change is so hard, that we ordinarily think of young people as an example of those who willingly choose to make changes in the their lives. We think of the excited young people choosing to go away to college, or join the military, and we see that as healthy and ordinary. 

Those of us who are more mature, often identify the major changes in our lives with losses, and most often with losses we cannot control. The big ones are; loss of a spouse, loss of our jobs, and the continual degradation of our health and vigor. These are changes that are accompanied in no small part with grief work. 

There are other changes that adults make that are distinctive in the exercise of choice and intention. Changing careers in response to a long held dream has seen an increase in this day and age. As the loyalty and benefits of living with the corporate world are so often less reliable than in the past, more people are choosing to follow their passions. Or sometimes we grow emotionally and intellectually and need to spread our wings. Martha and I belong to that category.

I told my pastor friends this week that the Hoy Spirit had given me a sermon to preach this Sunday, that would offer a persuasive new image of God. And more than simply understanding God in a new way, I would share how to be like Christ and nearer to God. As soon as this was preached, and posted on the blog on Tuesday, we may never need another sermon, and all of the pastors would be done. 

Abram had a close relationship with God. Please note, this is before any of the traditional kinds of religious structures were even imagined. God found a soul willing to be in relationship. Abram did not have to try to define his relationship with God to fit any preconceived notions or theories. God was just his partner in conversation, where Abram grew in wisdom and peace. And then God compelled Abram to set out and do something totally different, leave home without a clear destination or assurance. 

In John’s gospel we meet Nicodemus, who was a thoughtful and respected member of the inner circle in the Temple. He heard of Jesus, his preaching and acts of healing, and sought him out in the cover of the night. There is no point in advertising a new direction, when you are simply reaching out to see and understand. 

Jesus recognizes and respects Nicodemus. But he offers Nicodemus a teaching that sounds more like a logic riddle than it sounds like moral exhortation. Born from above, kingdom of heaven, kingdom of earth, language that does not fit into the constructs of faith as Nicodemus and the Temple knew them. This is an invitation to “see” a relationship with God in a whole new way. 

I frequently use the image of the Holy Spirit as the active and caring presence of God that passes between and among people of faith gathered together. I believe that this Spirit is most evident when we gather for worship, or simply gather at a church meeting, intent on honoring the gifts each person brings, and honoring the wisdom the Holy Spirit breathes into our conversation. We become more than ourselves, and wiser than our individual selves. 

In recent personal devotions, it has been suggested that I try to think of that interactive and caring Spirit as the very nature of God. If God is love, which is such a nice and tidy handle to use, God may indeed be characterized by interactive caring. When we honor the Spirit in our midst, our egos are reduced, and we become accessible to the person of God. 

This is a new way to think about who God is, and how then we can put ourselves in the presence of God. This allows us to reduce our reliance on the attributes of God the Father the Creator. The attributes of God the Almighty, eternal, all-powerful can be recognized as a projection of our own ego needs, and less a description of God. 

If we allow the model of the Christ in the gospel to physically express this interactive caring, and be less a projection of our desire to be /or be served by a super human savior, again projected from our own experience of needs, the presence of God seems so much more immediate, and available, less reliant on the boundaries of our own projections on a screen of heroic proportions.  

And you may be thinking, “Uh-oh, if Nicodemus was confused, this kind of talk is not helping make it clearer, Pastor Chuck.” Sorry about that. But you see, Lent is a time when we are intentionally allowing God to invite us to grow spiritually. And spiritual growth often comes meeting new ideas, and turning them over in our hearts, often in the cover of the night. 

It is in the setting of inviting the respected Nicodemus to know God in a new way, that Jesus intones those favorite verses, 3:16 and 3:17. 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” 

In 3:16 John says God so loved the world that he “gave his son.” In all of the other places in the New Testament, the language is more like “he sent his son.” Here the emphasis is on the incredible and boundless generosity of God. Even as human beings, we know the power of love to inspire us to acts of sacrifice for people we love. With God, this inspiration is magnified. It is expanded to the eternal dimension.  

3:17 "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” At the heart of 3:17 is a conflict with the presumption that we are unworthy sinners and beyond saving. But we are assured, God LOVES the world and PROVIDES eternal salvation. 

We confront the natural human condition to consider the limitations of our existence. We believe that we cannot afford to be generous, because there is not enough to go around. “If I give to others, I will not have more, and I want more - power, prestige, and possessions.” These are the attributes of our egos. 

God explodes the myth of scarcity by denouncing condemnation - in favor of love, sacrifice and eternal salvation. I listened to the test of the emergency siren that calls the volunteer first responders to face danger in service to the community. Let this gospel message act as an emergency siren in this house, calling the faithful to adopt a willingness to let an interactive caring be our typical response, acting in the image of the Christ, who demonstrates the model of God. 

Change is hard. But we do not have to abandon house and home like Abram in order to be faithful. We might need to learn to permit our sense of self to align closer to the divine model of interactive caring, and less bounded by the appetites of the ego. 

Nicodemus was encouraged to encounter a non-traditional image of God. This new image of God, provides new ways of being like the Christ, new ways of being in the world, and honoring the presence of God in ways that are much more readily available than we ever knew. 

We recognize now the presence of God does not require super human powers of superior prayer and discipline. God meets us more than halfway. God is everywhere. Let us incline our hearts to feel the presence of God, every time we demonstrate interactive caring; with every thought, word and deed. This changes our hearts and minds to be more like the Christ, in harmony with all the ways we have been singing the praises of God our whole lives long.

The whole “posture of confession” that is part of the theme this Lent - is letting the ego’s desire for “More” be replaced with interactive caring. To take our focus off of our own appetites and instead listen with care to others - does not seem like a big deal, or the stuff of Christian mystics. But in truth, it is an admission that God is THAT CLOSE to us every moment of every day. Here we see the symbolic “giving up chocolate for Lent” is an exercise in quieting our human appetites, and that would be valuable if it were coupled with intentional acts of listening with our hearts open, to the legitimate needs of others. 

Facing change does not need to be as scary as leaving home and homeland. The best change can be as easy as choosing to actively look for opportunities to “feel close” to God, as we care for others. These simple steps can provide great gains in our spiritual life, just like that! 

The “posture of confession” we seek in Lent, is allowing the image of God in our hearts to have a different, and more inviting form. The fear of change is replaced by our intentional focus on the legitimate needs and concerns of others, without first testing those needs against our own egos. We intentionally align our spirits with the Holy Spirit, that lives and breathes life into our interactions with God and neighbor. 

Thank you God for alerting us that you are so close. Thank you God for making it easy for ordinary people to draw near to you, this day, and every day, Amen. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Pride, Power and Possessions

Pride, Power and Possessions   

Psalm 32    
Matthew 4:1-11 

Jesus, after his baptism, is drawn by the Spirit into the wilderness for prayer and fasting. The presumed location of the Baptism of Christ, is the Jordan River, a few miles away from the city of Jericho. Jericho claims it is the oldest city in the world with continuous habitation. Hard to build a counter claim to that. 

At any rate, head east from Jericho, and you cross the Jordan River and are in the country of Jordan. If you go north along the Jordan River Valley, you find lush fields with all kinds of vegetables and fruits and nuts. Head south or west towards Jerusalem, and you are in a barren wasteland, where fasting would be easy, and drinking water is hard to come by. In fact, access to fresh water in that part of the world is a major tool of manipulation even today. 

The teaching of the church assures us that Jesus is without sin. So the gospel writers tell us that the temptation of Jesus comes from the devil, and not from his own nature. You and I, we do not need to much help to be tempted to sin. 

The devil wraps his temptations to Jesus in quotes from the Bible. Manipulators are like that, twisting words, taken out of context, to hide their own motivations. Even in a world of bible quotes, it is important to be true to the spirit of love and the word. 

It is the tradition of the church to see these temptations of Christ as summary issues for pride, power and possessions. You know, the stuff humans fight over all of the time. These are the things that can most easily push my buttons. 

It is easy to say “I am not arrogant,” so that pride thing isn’t a problem for me. But if I am disrespected, ignored, or mistreated, the fire can turn my face red in a hurry. It is rooted in the same place. It is also where we turn disrespect into a weapon to deploy against others. In this political climate, it is a rare person who can stay on the high moral path, focused on issues and not personalities.  

Power over others is a very seductive opportunity to sin. We can easily wrap it in Bible verses, and shame those who disagree with our positions on women’s rights, respect for the rights of the LGBT community, and especially foreigners. The group with power makes new laws, and then enforces the law in the name of justice, without testing the law against the scales of justice. Sin loves to masquerade as the champion of Law and Order. 

Possessions. I am inclined to think first of the oppressive Occupation of the West Bank by Israel. But it is just as close to us as approval of dirty crude oil pipelines - through territories, in conflict with standing treaties with indigenous people in our own land. Manipulating the law to take or use what does not belong to you does not make the act “just,” simply legal. Protesting abuse of the legal system is not an unjust act.   

Jesus steps into the wilderness, and confronts the symbols of our own sinful natures. I do not often have to evoke the devil to find a source of evil, or the temptation to do evil in this world. Fortunately, the temptations in this story have a direct reference to my own life, and I do not have to wonder about the divine power of Jesus. 

If you listen carefully to the temptations the devil puts in front of Jesus, they do not seem to be terrible. Bread is not bad - I love bread. The secret is always to think through to what are all of the expected responses to the change. We might not be liable for all of the unintended consequences of our actions, but we ought to think about how these changes are likely to impact others. 

Jesus was able to relate each of these challenges directly to his relationship with God in heaven. The secret to living a moral and useful life is in being able to name and honor the relationships in your life. It is all about the relationship. 

Healthy relationships are what we practice at church, so that we can be more effective when we go home, or go to work. We exercise our best selves, and rely on the resources of our good and generous God, and then use those pre-rehearsed responses, so that we are able to be effective in emotional and close situations. 

On Ash Wednesday, we got very specific in here about how Lent is the time for us to reflect on our lives, and let God show us the places God would like us to improve. One of the great truths about the human spirit - that I have come to appreciate in my adult life - is how hard it is to see myself and my motivations in a self-critical way. The old saw is, “The truth will set you free.” That is especially true in knowing yourself, the problem is, your ego can take a real beating in that self-evaluation. 

I am calling it a “posture of confession,” simply meaning that we understand that we still have faults that we can and should correct. As we are able to identify and claim those faults, we become able to make the changes in our lives to draw nearer to God. This is the key to spiritual growth, which is the whole meaning of Lent for the faithful. 

So we assume a “posture of confession” claiming our intention to be humble before God. We listen to a word from God, not to correct others, but to improve our own spiritual health. 

We recognize from the gospel passage, that the changes in the world and its temptations, can lure us into a self-rationalized state of sin. Even when we feel good about it, sin is sin and diminishes our ability to bear the light of God’s truth. Sin breaks the good relationships that God intends for us.   

As we recognize the pattern of temptation in our lives, we recognize the scope and kind of change that it appears God is calling us towards. So all we can do, like Jesus, is to deny the temptation and then pray for the strength to stay the course. 

Change is inevitable. The only thing harder than change, is trying to prevent change from happening. That will wear a person out. So we enter Lent with humility, willing to learn what God might want us to change. 

We enter Lent knowing that change has to come, and that we might use the opportunity to draw nearer to God. And that, is how saints are made. And you and I are sharing the walk into the future of the saints. 

Jericho is a land remarkable for fresh water springs, when for miles and miles, it is all desert. The presence of the water makes possible the Date Palms, and banana trees, and even the Sycamore tree that Zacchaeus climbed up in. 

The love of God wells up like a fresh water spring in the Lent of the year. It is an invitation to draw nearer to the love of God. An invitation to see, our own lives, with God’s eyes. It is not intended to be a punishment, but a pathway to greater peace. Amen. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Ash Wednesday Meditation


Psalm 51:1-13
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

The season of Lent has finally arrived. It is later this year than most. But, in the sense of the Divine timing, it is just in time for us. 

It comes just in time for us to consider who we have been, who we are now, and can we face the future with hope? 

Psalm 51 recalls the period in the life of King David, the one who was so loved by God, who in the single furious Chapter 11 of Second Samuel, he does a great job of breaking all 10 commandments in heroic style. The thing with David is, in Chapter 12 he was able to see and confront his sinfulness, and beg for forgiveness. 

You and I, we are not kings and rulers. We do not have a whole company of “Yes Men and Women” indulging our whims and fascinations. The sins we commit on a regular basis are so much smaller. We may laugh at those who cannot miss a day at the video poker machines, or never pass up a trip to the gambling boats, while those temptations never even make us turn our heads. 

Lest we feel too comfortable, and too self-congratulatory, the gospel tells us to be careful about taking too much pride in the trappings of piety. On the plane to the Holy Land there were a large number of Ultra-Orthodox Jews. They made a great show of evening prayer and morning prayer. The overhead bins were opened, so that the appropriate prayer outfits could be used. They have different outfits for different prayers. 

There are a variety of Ultra sects, and they have distinctive garb. Quite a bit more elaborate than matching bowling shirts. Some wrapped leather straps up their arms and tied and attaching a small box on their head, before putting on the prayer shawls and wide brimmed hats. Some prayed as a group in the back of the plane, while other small knots moved to locations on the north, south, east, and west of the plane successively. 

Once we arrived in Jerusalem, our hotel was opposite the Old City. Each morning were awakened by the Muslims’ loudspeaker chanting, the Jews Horns blowing to announce the Sabbath morning prayers, and of course, the Christians on Sunday rang every bell they could find as loud as they could for a full five minutes. At breakfast I asked our tour group, “If you don’t have an outfit, or an audience, or a loudspeaker, or a big bell, are you really praying?”  It was one of the times where you have to simply acknowledge, “You are not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.” 

Times are changing, and certainly there are things that ought to change. Still, all change is not good. And while all change is uncomfortable, all change is not bad. We need to be vigilant and support that change that brings life, and resist that change which is motivated by greed and selfish interests. 

2017 promises to be a year of great change. The new White House Administration has plans to make sweeping changes in the fabric of our society. The Republican Congress has their own favorite priorities in mind. In the midst of claims and counter claims, it is hard to keep clear about what bills are proposed and what are passed. What Executive Orders are issued and which are rumored, and which have been stayed by the courts. The pace of change and proposed change, even to fundamental and important parts of our community life together, is dizzying to say the least. 

The wheels are in motion to bring a new pastor to Union Congregational UCC. A new pastor always does things differently than the one who came before. The new pastor will please see of the folks, and encourage them to be more active at the church. Some of the folks will initially be disappointed that the pastor is not enough like Chuck or Michelle or Kirk or James. 

Pleased or not, there will be a new sense of direction, and different awareness of the presence of God, and maybe new temptations. 

We might be tempted to reject any and all sense of change. We do that sometimes. We look for rules that have not been enforced in ages, in order to try to get our way. 

We look for vigorous way to protect our personal interests, and label anyone who opposes our opinion as an enemy. Once we begin applying labels, and sorting people into groups that we choose, we make them objects of our own logic rather than partners in our community. And the path to sin opens wide. 

In this day and age, it is even more likely, when confronted with change, to just shrug our shoulders and walk away. It is too much like work to be concerned, express an opinion, maybe get spoken to harshly, or spoken about in the Parking Lot. It is much easier to just stay home. 

But I believe that being here together adds value to our lives. I believe that we cannot just survive change, but thrive in the rich environment of things shaken and stirred. 

And that is where I want us to focus this Lent. We are not consumed with the sins of our past, though if you have trouble with your past I am willing to help you get through that. But for most of us, we need to increase our awareness of just how vulnerable we are to temptation. We have to be on guard against de-personalizing opposition opinions. We need to be bring our best selves to evaluate new directions and changes, and address how the changes challenges the vulnerable among us. 

Change is inevitable, but we can influence the shape and scale of the change to make it best represent the values we see in the scriptures, and we learn to appreciate within the commitments we make with our faith partners. The closer we are to the change, the greater the power of our influence and opinion might be. 

I suggest that we adopt a posture of confession. By that I mean we are willing to have a second look at our own actions and motivations, and realize we are vulnerable to sins against others. This posture of confession, means we are willing for God to reveal our weaknesses, so that we might begin to get better.

We begin to get better when we are willing to change, and participate in the change. All the passive-aggressive skills can help you self-justify staying home, and avoiding conflict, and standing pat; but it will never permit you to repent and enter the kingdom of God.  

So then change is an integral part of Lent. Don’t give up chocolate, just to gorge on Cadbury Eggs Easter morning. Give up talking about others for Lent, and then stay with that new discipline going forward. Don’t promise to avoid disagreements, but promise to avoid being disagreeable. There are times when God needs you to speak the truth so that the love of God can spread some light in the world.

Let us pray that God may reveal our weaknesses to us, before we do too much damage to our community and God’s reputation. May our posture of confession, permit us to see our own actions with humility. And may we be willing to participate in the season of change - not with anxiety and withdrawal, but - open to the possibilities to influence the world with the love of God. Amen. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Change Your Point of View

Change Your Point of View  

Exodus 24:12-18  
Matthew 17:1-9  

Mt. Tabor is revered as the place where the Transfiguration of Jesus took place. While there are great spines of connected hills and mountains throughout the central part of the State of Israel, Mt. Tabor stands alone on a broad plain west of the Sea of Galilee. It is visible for miles in every direction. 

To the northwest of Mt. Tabor is the plain of Armageddon, where the Revelation predicts a great battle at the end of time. I observed a peaceful scene at Armageddon from Mt. Tabor days after President Trump was inaugurated. I have pictures. 

The top of Mt. Tabor is a wide and relatively flat parcel of land, several acres in size. This site has a history of its own, having served as the site of a multiple monasteries, and the scene of many battles between the Muslims and Jews and Christians, and changing hands several times throughout the centuries. Today there is a Roman Catholic Church and an Orthodox church with a few monks in residence. 

The lectionary offers us a companion scripture from Exodus, where Moses goes up the mountain to meet with God, for 40 days and nights. The Agenda was never published. Moses left that extended meeting with a stone tablet containing the 10 Commandments.

Together, these passages recall God revealing God’s glory to select people in a high and remote location. The nice thing about a mountain is that strangers do not wander through at an awkward moment on their way to somewhere else. The mountain assures a level of privacy. There is privacy even without the cloud that protects the guests from being overwhelmed by the glorious presence of God. 

There is also an element of needing to pay the price to get to the top of the mountain. When I went, we took the air-conditioned tour bus half way up the mountain, and then at a small Bedouin village, transferred to smaller, more nimble vans, to navigate the narrow road and sharp switchbacks to the summit. There are hiking trails that traverse the near 2,000 foot climb, but I was not tempted to climb. 

We talked about these scriptures in Sunday School last week. You would be welcome to join us at 8:50 to talk about the scriptures. In our session last week we addressed the question “what would you ask God - if you were together in a private meeting?” 

The best articulated answer was, “I know you are pleased with Jesus, but God, are you pleased with me? Is there more you intend for me to do, am I missing a part of the plan?”  

We know that this story was important to Matthew. Matthew is very concerned to promote and defend the description of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, and the new Moses. This story fits the Mosaic pattern to a tee. 

Every year the lectionary takes us to this story of the Transfiguration on the last Sunday before we begin Lent. Lent is a season of six weeks, 40 days and 40 nights not counting Sundays, where we do our best to consider our sinful natures. 

Shrove Tuesday (also known in some countries as Pancake Tuesday or Pancake day) is the day immediately preceding Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent), which is celebrated in some countries by consuming pancakes. In others, especially those where it is called Mardi Gras or some translation thereof, this is a carnival day, and also the last day of "fat eating" or “fat Tuesday" before the fasting period of Lent. 

Lent is observed by those who "make a special point of self-examination, of considering what wrongs they need to repent, and what amendments of life or areas of spiritual growth they especially need to ask God's help in dealing with.”[3] 

The final week of Lent is known as Holy Week. Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, when we consider Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and closes with a remembrance of the Last Supper, arrest and beating, execution and burial. All of this is resolved in the celebration of the empty tomb and resurrection on Easter Sunday. 

I believe that this recounting of the Transfiguration is intended to give you and I hope, before we trudge through the work of 40 days and nights of sober reflection on our short comings. We have hope because we know how the story ends. Jesus, our brother and our leader, is finally revealed as our savior. The God of heaven and earth is revealed to be one who honors those lives that have an intentional spiritual dimension, that motivates practical living. 

The Good News is that while the world continues to turn away from the call to love and sharing, God remains faithful to the same values. The world today, is just as likely to fail to hear and appreciate the message of Jesus as the establishment was unable to hear him in his day. Like Peter, James and John, we have seen the light of God’s truth. Even when the our closest friends get hooked by the siren call of the “feeling of safety” - at the expense of the poor and the stranger, we can move forward, and follow the path that Jesus walked, knowing that it pleases God. 

The disciples no doubt, were all hoping that at some point, the great throngs of people would hear the message of Jesus, and, like them, become followers. On the top of Mt. Tabor, that got a glimpse of how well God is pleased with Jesus, and it did not depend on the masses. It also must have changed their understanding. The message of God is true, whether of not anyone believes the truth, “likes” the truth, or even re-tweets it. 

These scriptures reveal God who is so glorious, our eyes require shielding. God is so glorious, that holy prophets throughout the ages, are still alive and reflecting God’s goodness. This God is well pleased with those who will follow the lead of Jesus; feeding the hungry, caring for the sick and lame, speaking words of peace where words of war abound. 

Friends, we are assured of God’s love, whenever we stay close to our beloved Jesus. It changes our point of view, to know the eternal truth. We know that God is well pleased with Jesus, and we are happy to say - “We have seen the light!” Amen.