Monday, July 17, 2017

Being Fed or Feeding?

Just a thought I have been working through in my head. In our consumer oriented culture I hear people complain that they are thinking of changing churches "because they are just not being fed." And I get that sometimes as we grow our local congregation may feel too restrictive. But that is not always what these folks mean. So I believe a few questions need to be prayed about.

Is useful ministry being done in your church? Are you an active part of that ministry?

Do you have some personal need that you should talk over with your pastor?

Is it possible that God is trying to give you a nudge? Perhaps it is time to take off your bib, and put on your apron.

Just a thought I have been working on.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

All in the Family

Genesis 25:19 - 34  Gospel: Matthew 13:1-9 
We think that coming to church is about each of us as an individual worshipping God. It is, but more than that, church - and all of life - is really about the relationship. When we use our God-given gifts to make relationships and keep them alive, we are living up to the image of God imprinted within us. I have long contended that the image of God in humans, is the ability to love and be loved. Usually I talk about these gifts in the context of the church, but these gifts and challenges are rooted in our families. The church is a good place to learn new things about relationships, practice them, and then take them home and into the wider community. 
During my seminary training I was introduced to Family Systems Theory developed by the psychiatrist Murray Bowen. Bowen’s Theory, identifies emotional growth and self-differentiation as being the key to peace of mind, but growth in this way best takes place within our family of origin. Differentiation is the ability to recognize and claim our own emotional lives, and not get “hooked” each time we or someone we love has their buttons pushed. We grow to own our own emotional space.  
Bowen would say that for humans to increase in emotional maturity, they need to be able to think and act logically and control our emotional reactivity, especially within our family of origin. It also says, when we get fed up with the way we are being treated, and go off in a huff, the amount of emotional growth that we are capable of, isolated from the family, is very limited. Our old patterns and limitations will re-emerge and we will find a substitute cast to play the roles of family members. But the subs are usually insufficient to help us grow out of the limiting old patterns.  
I honestly think that efforts towards differentiation lay the groundwork for contemplative prayer, which enables our spiritual growth. In contemplative prayer we see and accept ourselves as we really are, in order to grow. When we learn to accept our own limitations, we are better able to live in community. We recognize that we are all in this together, and in fact, we are not our complete selves without being in community. 
Genesis is the first Book of the Bible. It consists of stories and traditions that describe where we came from, and how God was instrumental in making us the people we are today. Because we get our personal identity, and our cultural identity from our family relationships, Genesis is full of family stories. Like all families, the families in the Bible have some people with outstanding character, and there are characters who are outstanding examples of bad and weak behavior. Many are both. Because the culture of that day gave greater emphasis to men than to women, the stories of brothers get special attention. Cain and Abel come to mind. Today we have Esau and Jacob. The story of these men is detailed because they are a basic building block to describe personal and communal growth and spiritual development.  
Esau and Jacob are twins, but as different as night and day. One, an impetuous red-head with a ruddy complexion and massive amounts of body hair from the day he was born; and the other a mama’s boy who stuck around the house and made plans for the future. Let me remind you here in this story, and in the story of your own life and family, God loves both of these boys. One is a hunter and one is a cook, and God blesses them both. 
Religion has contributed to clouding up the interpretation of these stories. Over the years layers of interpretation have been added to these stories to encourage moral behavior. In many ways those layers become a distraction for people trying to find their way back to God. Esau might think he needs to shave and give up hunting to be pleasing to God, but it just isn’t so. Jacob may believe that he needs to make amends with Esau who has suffered because of his tricks. Jacob is closer to the truth, because it is about the relationship. 
The gospel story was not picked out to go with the Genesis story. This summer the lectionary invites us to touch base with the greatest hits of Genesis. I invite you to read through Genesis this summer, to remember the flow and the characters. 
In Matthew this week we have the parable of the sower. Ancient farming, as described in the gospel, is not a project scientifically constrained to maximize yield per resources expended. Here the farmer broadcasts the seed everywhere. The seed is flung by hand over land that has no preparation noted. 
Because today we see farmers planting seeds carefully and systematically, we know how to predict where the yield will be the greatest. I presume that God could do the same with grace. God could spend the greater part of attention and grace where it is most likely to produce the best results. There are some Christians who preach that God does just that, picks favorites for blessings, and identifies the rest for damnation. 
The gospel does not say that. The gospel says that God spreads grace and blessing all over the place. Not everyone is willing or able to respond to God’s grace, but it is there for the asking. Grace is pressed into our lives every day, at every turn. Even when we feel like we are being rejected and pushed aside, God is in that moment giving us blessings and calling us into relationships that will result in great gains of peace and love, both for today and tomorrow. 
So our brother does us wrong, and goes off in a huff. It is right to give him a cooling off period. But we have to find him and tell him that he is still our brother and we are willing to keep on talking. Esau and Jacob will split apart. But Jacob will not fulfill his destiny until he comes home. Esau will never fully forgive Jacob, and that will limit Esau’s availability to filling God’s purpose. The families of Esau and Jacob (the Edomites and Israelites) will be each other’s loyal opposition for the years ahead, but they need each other. 
Living a life of relationships means that we need to deal with change. Jake had proposed to young Gina, and was being interviewed by his prospective father-in-law. "Do you think you are earning enough to support a family?" the older man asked the suitor. 
"Yes, Sir," replied Jake, “I'm, sure I am." "Think carefully now," said Gina's father. "There are twelve of us..." 
The Bible has family stories, because the God of the Bible believes in relationship. We are family, with all of creation. The better we do at staying in touch with the families who raised us, the greater potential we have to grow in emotional maturity, and be at peace with ourselves. When we find peace in our hearts, we are better able to see the hand of God alive in our lives, leading us in paths of righteousness, even when we walk through the inevitable valleys of death and darkness.   
So today I would tell you, that no matter who you are, and where you are in life’s journey, the God of creation knows and loves you and is calling you to grow in emotional maturity in your relationships. I want to tell each of you, that there is always hope for reconciliation within your families. Reconciliation does not mean that you are expected to place yourself at risk for abuse. It does mean that you continue to be in relationship; keeping the conversation going. Doing your very best to be thoughtful and intelligent, and not allowing your emotional reactivity to corrupt your behavior. 
I would tell you that God knows that families can be difficult, and the Bible stories prove that families have always been difficult. But families are also the places where the greatest potential for growth and blessing are found. We are called to live up to the image of God within us, the ability to love and be loved is the very seed of God within us. Use the gifts of the church, the Bible stories, your prayers together, the guidance of your pastor, to continue to grow in emotional and spiritual maturity. And let us praise God for the generous and liberal seeds of grace and blessing he faithfully broadcasts over his creation. 

I have a song to close the sermon here this morning. I call it, The Pastor Chuck Theme Song, as my early ministry was rooted in dynamic issues of community relationships.