2017-5-28 Focusing Out Lives – Part 4 of 6: When It Is Time to Talk

Focusing Out Lives – Part 4 of 6: When It Is Time to Talk

Pastor Jonathan Arnpriester, Chandler United Methodist Church

May 28th, 2017

Matthew 16:13-25

What a day.  We recognize graduates and we honor those who have given their life to something larger than themselves.  I want to say one word to our graduates and that is that you will go to college and you will do what we’ve asked you to do all along.  You will think; you will ponder; you will seek insight; you will doubt everything you’ve been told.  It’s appropriate and you will doubt the existence of God.  It’s appropriate.  You’ll wonder, is there really a God?  What evidence is there of a God?  We will tell you — although we won’t tell you often – we have all been there.  It’s easy to believe there is no God when your happiness is being watched out for.  It’s easy to believe there is no God if you rely entirely upon scientific evidence: when life is going well for you, when your wisdom seems sufficient, when the luck of the draw has come to you.

I will say to all of you: you live in Chandler, Arizona; you came up in the Chandler Unified School District.  The luck of the draw has come to you.  You had been born on third base.  We are counting on you to make it home.  The number of things that you have not had to overcome just to survive is astronomical.  The number of gifts that are given to you is high.  So from this position it is simple to say: well, there is no God.  Be careful with that.  Be careful that pride does not overwhelm you and take you where you don’t really want to get to and that is to total self-reliance.  You will redefine your relationship to God in the same way that you redefine your relationship to your parents.  It’s appropriate. Know that when you wake up one morning and say: I’m just not sure I want to go to church today.  OK, don’t go to church that day.  But please don’t fall into absolutes.  Please don’t run to an absolute conviction.  Try to remain open to a mystery that none of us have been able to get our arms around – even words around — a mystery that finds us when we are in the foxhole as it were.

It is honorable and it is quite appropriate for us to revere those who have given their life to something larger than themselves.  And I like to talk about that a little bit today, both as an invitation to our graduates to ponder their life but also to all of us as we think about honor flags and Memorial Day.  I was asked this week: will you be inviting the veterans to stand and worship?  I said no; that’s not what Memorial Day is about.  Memorial Day is honoring those who have died.  We cannot, we must not, ask them to stand.  Honoring those who have died has been a practice that goes back as long as battle; because in any culture to asking young people to exchange the sacredness of their future for the finite goals of the battlefield causes pause; appropriately so.  It causes people to seek a deeper understanding and meaning of the deaths on the battlefield.  Unfortunately even our nation and other nations at different times, this is become a point of diversion between people who are a little too excited on both ends of the spectrum.

Some folks are so horrified at the effects of war that they have lost their tolerance for soldiers and all things military.  They become so disgusted with the political forces that might send young people into battle that it is no longer possible for these people to engage in conversation on the topic.  They find and quote sacred Scripture, which lifts up their cause they presume naïvely that diplomacy will always be adequate, and they become one note activists.  They are people who have seen what can happen when fire gets out of hand.  And so they refuse to use fire in any situation.

Some folks are so frightened of not being secure that they elevate soldiers and all things military to the level of hallowed hero.  It becomes a plank in their politics; they link a feeling of power and goal of security to divine purpose and troops become angels.  They find and they quote sacred Scripture which lifts up their cause.  They presume naïvely that diplomacy will never be adequate and they become one note activists.  They are people who have seen what can happen when fire gets out of control and so they rush to use fire in every situation.  In every culture, in every time, these are the people who cry the loudest, which makes it hard for the rest of us who reside somewhere in the middle to have a reasonable healthy conversation.

If I were to choose a text to help us as a church learn about service to our nation and service to God’s kingdom, it would be in this passage from today that Nolan read for us.  Especially if you’re willing to hear and ponder what Jesus is saying to us.  I’ll get to that in a minute but about this passage, I’m not sure how to say this but I noticed a whole lot of similarities between what Jesus is telling and showing his disciples and the methods he’s using to teach them and what is taught to soldiers in boot camp and what is communicated to soldiers in training.  I’m thinking about the disciples; they’d been following Jesus for a while now.  They have been marching along with him.  Jesus has twelve disciples, which by my count is the perfect size for a squad.  You can know everyone in your squad intimately.  They are out with Jesus on FTX field training exercise and he seems to be about developing a cohesive mission-ready team.

Now we pick up with them in the evening.  I need to tell you earlier in the day — the part we didn’t ask Nolan to read — Jesus warned his disciples: beware the yeast of the Pharisees; don’t follow those guys.  Now in the evening they are hunkered down and they are relaxing and it’s a good time for conversation.  It’s an opportunity to present his command philosophy; to put out some training objectives; identify for them what lies ahead.  And so he asked them in this conversation: who do people say that I am?  Then he asked the disciples: who do you say that I am?  These are important questions; these are get-to-know-one-another questions.  There is something powerful and unspoken that is happening in these moments.  You get to know one another in a squad.  You get to know who talks big and complains a lot and doesn’t follow thru very often.  Who seems reluctant, who doesn’t talk very much but who is always at your elbow with a good word.  Who do you say that I am he says.  Do you believe in me enough to offer your life for mine?  How is this group going to interact in such a way that it can accomplish much more than all of us could alone?  If you ask any disciple who was come back from a mission trip, they will talk about the people who were on that mission trip with them, their squad.  If you ask any soldier who has come back from the war about their heroes, they are going to talk about the guys in their squad.

I wonder if this is why anytime Jesus encounters a Roman soldier; he doesn’t seem to have any difficulties with them being soldiers.  He never once confronts a soldier; it makes me wonder if there is a kinship of sort between the discipline and sacrifice of soldiers and the discipline he was calling disciples to and the sacrifice he is asking disciples to make.  Peter interrupts this moment of knowing one another when Jesus asked this question: who do you say that I am?  Peter becomes the hero in the moment; Peter blurts out: you are the Messiah, the son of the most high God.  Right here in the text Peter becomes the hero.  You are the Messiah; we will follow you, don’t follow the Pharisees, follow Jesus, the one with God’s agenda.  We heard that: don’t follow the Pharisees and now we hear, do follow Jesus; which gives us a little bit of a something-to-think-about as we think about soldiers. as we think about disciples; you are only as effective as your leaders.

It calls to my mind the NCO code — Non-Commissioned Officer code — that Marines say.  I am dedicated to training new and influencing the old.  I’m forever conscious of each soldier under my charge and by example I will inspire to the highest standards possible.  I will strive to be patient, understanding, just, and firm.  I will commend the deserving and I will encourage the wayward.  I will never forget that I am responsible to my commanding officer for the morale, the discipline and the efficiency of my men.  Their performance reflects an image of me.

What I’m seeing in Jesus is this same challenge needed in disciples working in the church, that same kind of commitment.  It’s important for us who would be disciples to hear this because the story keeps moving on. To ponder Jesus using some of the same methods with his disciples is important for us.  Maybe the comparison to soldiers is important to us too because what happens next in the text – well — at some point you have to get up and set your face and move toward what scares you.  Sometimes you got to move toward the people who are actively trying to kill you.  Peter again is the voice for the moment.  He blurts out: Never Lord, we shall never let that happen to you.  Peter is no longer the hero; Peter has become the coward in the moment.  Everyone is facing fear; everyone has to face their self-importance and their anxiety; everyone must come to terms with the fact that no one is special; no one is exempt from death.  And the biggest enemy is self talk, voices in our heads that make excuses.  That means that brave is simply getting out of our head and focusing on the task at hand.

It’s interesting, six versus ago Peter was the hero of the story.  You are the Messiah, the son of the most high God, and now: No, save yourself; save your skin; that should never happen to you.  The hero becomes the coward.  Maybe we need to stay away from hero talk because quickly things change.  We discovered a few weeks ago that faith is simply being open to the divine spark that comes from God, the willingness to let God’s preferred way come through us; which is GREAT when it’s just talk.  But now as it’s our safety, our security, our life on the line when you start talking about dying and you’re talking about me maybe dying – well — that’s a different conversation and for some of us it takes a while.

This is in fact why we say what we say in church.  This is what worship is about.  This is what baptism means.  This is what happens after the Lord’s Supper.  What we do in church is practice dying.  That’s what all of this is about.  We are practicing dying.  We are getting contented with not surviving what lies ahead.  We are coming to terms with the fact that no one is special; no one is exempt from this fact.  And so we enmesh ourselves in our squad.  We get comfortable with other disciples around us carrying on the battle after we are dead.  God’s preferred way will come; God’s kingdom does come.  We’re probably not going to be the one that brings it.  But our life and death can lead to it.  Let’s be clear, that’s in the text too.  We get this one directly from Jesus.  Peter is kind of quiet now.  What we learn from Jesus is: not everyone is going to survive.  And the way to get OK with not surviving is letting meaning come from your death into the lives of those around you.  Your death can inspire your squad.

I think this is what Jesus meant when he said: a greater love has no one than this, to lay down your life for your friends.  A life offered to others can give new focus.  We can give them clarity of purpose; it can drive them to do what is right; it can affect generations to follow.  And in fact this is what happened to Peter and all of the other disciples except for one.  They saw their friend die and it change them; it deepened them; it caused them to contemplate their life and what their life was for; it judged them.  It’s quite compelling and it brings to mind our honor where we see our lives as a reflection of the high esteem we have for Jesus.  It calls us to duty and implants us with an obligation; it judges us; it judges what we do with our time; it judges what we value; it judges what we want.  We live our lives differently — to the highest ideals — by our submission to God.

That’s why it’s appropriate to have the flag of the nation in worship.  It is the disciples in that community, submitting our nation to God.  It is the commitment of this disciple in community lifting the highest ideals of our nation as a reflection and honoring an obligation to the high esteem that we hold for God’s way, made known to us in Jesus.  I believe this is the best display of the nation’s flag in worship; marking sacrifice, lives given.

I have to then talk about the one disciple who didn’t go deep; whose life was not really changed; it was Judas, the treasurer of the group.  He was with one who protested the loudest any time any money was spent.  John 12 directly tells us that Judas was a thief and as the keeper of the moneybag he would help himself to whatever was in it.  Matthew 26 tells us that Judas approached the chief priests and offered to hand over Jesus for money.  How much will you pay me if I deliver him to you?  They said 30 silver pieces.  He said, sold.  Greed, call it what it is: greed.  Judas allied himself with the chief priests as they were trying to figure out a way to dispose of Jesus because Jesus threatened their power.  Chief Priest Caiaphas managed to wrap their solution in patriotism.  He said: Oh it’s better for us that one man should die for the people than that the nation fall.  The nation was not at stake.  That was an overblown political move to sell fear.

What was at stake was the Sanhedrins — the religious authorities — grasp of power in the nation, and this was their solution power preserved by aligning with greed and wrapped in patriotism.  This has been in all times and all nations, this has been the problem for the soldier who is committed to duty and honor and service toward the highest ideals of the nation.  Some leaders of every nation seem never to have to wrestle with responsibility or duty.  They seem never to be limited by honor or oath or what is right or what is best for the nation.  They seem to display no obligation beyond the funding of their next reelection or their next vacation or their retirement.  Power preserved by aligning with greed and wrapped in patriotism.

Just before our passage today, Jesus told his disciples, beware of the yeast of the Pharisees.  Beware of the effect of self-serving, selfish, egocentric, greedy people in our midst.  Do not follow them.  Back in Matthew 10 Jesus spent some time commanding his disciples to be as wise as serpents.  Be aware, be quick to sense, be cautious, and slither away from the ways of the world.  The sly underhanded calculating profitable ways of the world, sense what forces are leading.  He says do not mistake honor with dishonor and do not use dishonor as a method for achieving your goals; even when you are fighting against dishonorable people, dishonor is never powerful.  Do not face evil with evil.  Darkness does not cast out darkness.  He said your disciplined honorable life offered to service and camaraderie will be the greatest and most powerful force.  Honor honors beyoud our years.

Herein is our opportunity to honor those who have given their lives in honorable service.  We must be aware of the forces around us.  We must be as wise as serpents to messages which appeal to power.  We must be cautious about distractions of greed, the misleading of loyalties, the temptation of a lie.  We honor those who gave their lives by living honorably.  I invite you to commit to be an advocate for the highest ideals our nation can muster as a reflection an honoring submission an obligation to the highest esteem we hold for God’s ways, made known to us in Jesus.

After the service I want to invite those families who have bought flags today to join me here at the altar.  I would very much like it if you would tell me about your loved one.  I would invite anyone who would like to listen to come too.

 

May 24 E-news

Read all about it!  The end is near…  
Well, at least the end of the school year!  

This week’s e-news contains information about the Blessing of the Graduates on Sunday, May 28th; Vacation Bible School updates with the work schedule for building and setting up Hero Central; upcoming meetings & gatherings, and so much more.
Click on the link to find out more.
052417

2017-05-21 Focusing Out Lives – Part 3 of 6: Family in a Christian Home

Focusing Out Lives – Part 3 of 6: Family in a Christian Home

Pastor Jonathan Arnpriester, Chandler United Methodist Church

May 21st, 2017

Matthew 10:34-42

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to turn

“‘a man against his father,

a daughter against her mother,

a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—

a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

“Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.  Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward.  And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

Please be seated.  Although that might be hard because this little burr of a text is with us now and it’s hard to sit with this text.  It’s that text out of Matthew’s gospel that I kinda wish he’d forgotten to write down instead text that I just as soon avoid, to be frank with you.  I wish that on the day he got out his note cards and was paging through them as he was preparing to write for that day.  A gust of wind would’ve taken that particular card with this passage on it and blown it to the winds.  Most folks do not like this passage because it seems so contrary to what we worship in America.  Family right now seems so fragile, so fractured, so difficult.  So the last thing it seems that we need is the Lord striding into our living rooms, sword in hand, ready to cut us apart.  Most of us are so chopped apart anyway that he would be hard-pressed to put any more distance between us than is already there.  Family is such a source of belonging and we remember the joy of family and so we have elevated it really beyond reason.  This text provides us an opportunity to ponder what we expect from family.

As our expectations of family ideals have elevated, so have the pressures that we are doing something wrong if we don’t have it perfect like everyone else has it perfect.  We have idealized marriage and we’ve made an easy target of divorce.  If I were to choose a text to talk about divorce — as a church, a healthy understanding of divorce — it would be this one.  Especially if we are willing to hear what Jesus is saying; we’ll get to that in a minute.  But about divorce: in twenty-six years of being a professional minister, I have officiated 119 weddings and let me be really clear there is no way to predict which ones are going to work and which ones are not going to work.  Some of the ones that I was absolutely sure had everything they needed to last were the first to divorce.  And some of the couples that I’ve thought long and hard about saying to them: Ahh, I don’t think marriage is really the best thing for you right now.  They got busy, they got deep, and they are doing fine.  Again, there is no way to predict and there is no way that I found to divorce proof your marriage.

Choosing every day to love the other person in word and deed is a good step.  But the other person makes decisions too and perceives things differently than we do.  You add onto that emotional baggage from childhood.  You add onto that bad examples from family.  You add on professional development for you but not your spouse or your spouse is getting their own professional development and you go like this.  You add into that meddling family members, extended family, and just the general pull and stress of family and emotional and world and life.  True, sometimes the marriage is a mistake: different expectations, different needs and there are two great incompatible people and their kids.  Sometimes the true person you married is not seen until well after the honeymoon and you spend a long time trying to change them.  Sometimes we evolve; sometimes the other person does not, or vice versa.  Sometimes people simply grow apart and over long lives the distance between two lives in the same house can be staggering.  Sometimes we know there’s a problem and we start to extend ourselves and we seek counsel and we try hard work and sometimes it works and we become better people and we have a better marriage.  Sometimes we find we are the only ones in the marriage extending ourselves and pretty soon we’re so far off balance, it’s no longer us.  We stopped being who we are trying to make a marriage work and it’s all about the other person; almost a refusal to be happy.  Sometimes divorce is just the best thing for everyone involved.  Fortunately, we are people of grace.

Unfortunately, divorce is not the only thing that divides families.  There are people who struggle with identifying their sexual preference.  Just about the time they’re ready to step out of the closet they find they are kicked out of the family because of intolerance.  There are parents who abuse younger children, who neglect younger children.  There are grown children who abuse their parents as they age.  There are parents and adult children who have reached an impasse over money, over religion and they no longer speak to each other.  She said to me, my Dad and I no longer speak and I said: what came between you and she said: Fox news, all day, every day.  We have family members who we can no longer speak with; who to be honest there is no relationship anymore.  Some of us have even needed to unfollow family members on Facebook.  Some of us have even had to unfriend family members on Facebook and we look at their address in our address book and wonder should we just erase now?  When the separation is mutual that’s bad enough, but it’s even worse when you have been cut off and you don’t know why or you have to cut someone else off and they just don’t get it.  This is very painful stuff.  It’s about as painful as it gets.

Whether this rejection by your family or you needing to reject your family, this tension can absolutely consume a person.  You begin to define yourself by the tension that you feel with your family and spending so much time it defines you.  You’re either trying to hold yourself apart from the vacuum of your dysfunctional family and you kick yourself when you fall into their emotional traps.  Or you’re trying to have a healthful relationship with your family and you kick yourself when you fall into their emotional traps.  There is not a lot of time for doing anything else.  Let me tell you nobody knows how to hurt one another like family does; our knowledge of one another.  It’s such a great thing to have a shared family history until you’re having conflict and what they know about you is so powerful, the memories are so deep, all of them become weapons and arsenals against one another.  There is no mystery why such a large percentage of homicides in this country take place in homes among family members.

One way that we deepen the hurt of a broken family is by tormenting ourselves with images of perfect families.  Will you look at my pictures with me, the stack of pictures I have?  Here’s a picture of a home in which Mom and Dad love each other very much and stay together forever.  Flip, a home in which brothers and sisters are best friends forever and always get along and always understand.  Flip, a home in which grandparents are jolly and always happy to see you and always have insightful instruction relevant to your life to offer.  Flip, a home in which everyone is gathered at the dinner table together, telling amusing stories and admiring one another’s accomplishments.  With pictures like those floating around in our heads it’s hard to not feel like a failure whatever our circumstances.

Although I was reading in the Bible; the Bible can be helpful sometimes.  I ran across this Old Testament story, it starts in Genesis 25. It is between two brothers Cain and Abel and Cain is screwed over by his brother Abel.  Thus begins the tension between these two siblings and it goes on for chapter after chapter.  There is parental involvement and there is pressure upon the brothers to get along and they don’t get along and they kill each other.  Then there’s another story later on about two brothers: Esau and Jacob and Esau screws over his brother Jacob or is it Jacob who screws over Esau.  I can never quite remember because the point of the story is you got two brothers that are at it, you got parental involvement and they are trying to pressure the brothers to get along and they don’t get along and they don’t get along.  The big event at the end of the story is that they don’t kill each other.  That’s the end of the story; Jacob and Esau to live on one side of the river, each from another and they don’t crossover and they don’t kill each other.

Jesus retells that story in Luke 15, the story of the prodigal father and the two sons.  Two sons could be the best of friends; they are not.  They do not get along together and I think part of the message there — for those who are listening — is that the big accomplishment is they don’t kill each other.  Family has that power and we all feel guilty that our relationships are not perfect.  We don’t help it because we were raised on Lisa May Alcott stories and some of us grew up reading the Bobbsey Twins and we all have those Norman Rockwell pictures that we idealize.  The truth of the matter is, sometimes families are close and sometimes they are not.

Another thing I’ll tell you is that sometimes when a family appears close, you might want to pull back the curtain because while some families break up and some family stay together; not everything is as it seems.  I know, I know, the model we have is that Mom and Dad ruled the roost kindly but firmly and children grow up feeling safe and secure and accept their parents expectations of them and they try to live up to those expectations.  The children compete with one another for the affection of the parents and the parents use this competition to shape the behavior of their children.  Such a model for how family works and it’s all done in the name of love.  But right underneath it is this pool of control and sometimes trying to control people backfires.  Sometimes it works and what works on the oldest and the second child does not work on the third child and you have to learn how to parent all over again.  What used to be helpful now offends the child.

Children leave home.  Sometimes it works, sometimes they have to come back and live with Mom and Dad as adults for a while.  They find that they are not quite equipped to deal with all the demands of adulating.  They return home and there is a struggle with what rules where they will be and who’s paying for what and how do we help without interfering?  How do we support without meddling?  One year New York Times columnist, Anna Quinlan wrote a love letter to her father.  In the column she talked about the simultaneous blessing and curse of being her father’s first child.  She wrote: I was raised as my father’s oldest son.  She details his high expectations of her and how she learned to value herself the way her father valued her: for her mind, for her achievements, for her reflection of him.  Then one day she had an eye-opening opportunity and she stopped because it was an opportunity to realize that she and he were two different people, separate, not mirror images of one another.  Much to her surprise, she found that she loved him a whole lot more after she realized she was a separate person from him.  She said his expectations were hard but they took me places I never would’ve gone by myself.  They were a curse and a blessing all in one.

I think Jesus knew how powerful families are in our lives; whether they’re working quite well or not at all; where we’re snuggled deep in the bosom of our family utterly estranged from our family.  I think he knew how easy it is for us to be consumed, obsessed with our family so that we forget who we are apart from our family.  I also think that he knew it’s only when we discover who we are apart from our family that we can be part of a family in a healthy way.  I am a husband, son, brother, grandson, cousin, a nephew, and each of those identities have shaped my life, but none of them contains me.  I am Jonathan.  I am a child of God; I am God’s property; that is my true identity.  Everything else grows out of that and then I remember that my life seems healthy and when I forget that I get sucked in to my families stuff.

Each of us has our own list of roles that we fill.  Most of you are children and parents.  But like me you are God’s child first.  That is not a role; that is who you are.  That’s the nature of your identity That is where your true peace and your security lie.  When you know that, when you’ve learned the truth of it in your heart as well as in your head, then chances are you’re going to survive whatever brokenness happens in your family.  You are going to move on and form healthy relationships with people whom God sends your way.  When you know that you are a child of God, chances are that you’re not going to be swallowed up by your family whose love has a little bit too much control in it.  In both cases, knowing your true identity can make all the difference.  It can save your life.

I don’t think that we have to hate our families in order to remember who we are apart from them.  But depending on what kind of family they are and how much control they tried to exercise over us, it sure might feel like we hate them for a while, while we are trying to get away from them and get healthy.  The truth of the map of Matthew’s community — the truth of our text today — is that a whole lot of people in that community were already estranged from their families.  In the first century it was the custom, it was the tradition, it was the way it was, for whole households to adopt the faith of the head of the household, in other words, the oldest male in the house.  Children, spouse, slaves, servants, everyone, you adopted the religious belief; you adopted the standards of whoever ran the house.  So dinner every night was a bit of checking in with Dad to see where the loyalties are today.  Everyone in the house was compelled to believe what that person believed.  So if anyone in the household elected to become a Christian, it was nothing short of mutiny, especially since becoming a Christian had all kinds of consequences.  Becoming a follower of Jesus might mean selling everything you have and giving the proceeds to the poor.  It might mean that you begin associating with whole classes of people labeled as outlaw and slave.  And it would certainly mean if you are a Christian in the first century you brought the whole household under suspicion of the Roman Empire.

So there were plenty of people sitting in Matthew’s congregation who had already been kicked out of their families for believing in Jesus.  They were living in the grief of estrangement and so when Matthew told them what Jesus said about hating their families it didn’t frighten them; it comforted them.  It was as though Jesus had known what would happen to them and he was reassuring them ahead of time.  Now we live in a different time and there are different consequences for believing in God.  One thing has not changed since our desire for kinship.  Some of us find that in our families.  Some of us don’t.  Some of us find that in our church family.  Some of us don’t.  Whether we do or whether we don’t, Jesus demand on us remains the same.  He tells us to love him above all other loves and if that means losing those we love, we shouldn’t be afraid because buried in his demand is a promise that what we lose for his sake we will find again; returned to us more alive than ever before.  It’s a pretty good promise and as for your family, I wish you the best.  Amen.

2017-05-07 Focusing Out Lives – Part 1 of 6: Don’t Wait for the Brick

Focusing Out Lives – Part 1 of 6: Don’t Wait for the Brick

Pastor Jonathan Arnpriester, Chandler United Methodist Church

May 7th, 2017

Mark 2:1-12

A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home.  They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them.  Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them.  Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on.  When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things?  Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?  But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”  He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all.  This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

So we finished a series of sermons last week.  We talked about faith in the beginning of Mark.  There is a little bit of overlap from last week to this week and will get there in a minute.  I know the sermon title today is “Don’t Wait for the Brick” because I found about a year ago a great story about a little kid who needed the attention of an adult and no one would stop and help him so he threw a brick and hit the guy’s car in the side door and of course the guy stopped and the kid had the guy’s attention.  The point was: don’t pass by the opportunity to be graceful.  That was going to be the sermon title and that was going to be the focal point of the sermon till Tuesday when I sat down to really write the sermon and no it didn’t fit.

That is not where the Scriptures is; here is what the Scripture is about: what do you believe?  I know, it’s an interesting question because in the first century belief did not mean intellectual acceptance of a list of dubious claims.  In the first century belief was not an intellectual event.  That was a little gift that was given to us in the 1600s with the Enlightenment.  Belief moved from what you do with your hands to what you are doing in your head.  As of the 1600s — thank you very much — it’s all now a head game.  What do you believe?  I believe in the virgin birth.  I believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Well I believe in Moses and I believe Jesus walked on water, yes I do.  You have to believe all of that stuff.  It becomes a litmus test.  Really, do you believe that?  It’s all in your head.  It all an invention that came to us through the Enlightenment.

In the first century to believe meant what was important to someone became important to you.  For someone in the first century to say I believe in the ways of my father meant what was important to my father became important to me.  It shaped how I lived my life and what I did with my time.  And so you demonstrated what you believed by what you did.  In the small community of the first century Middle East – which has not changed much — everybody saw what you did.  So it was not a big mystery what you believed.  Get out of your head with the whole notion of belief.  It’s not an intellectual assent.  It is what you do with your hands.  What was important to Jesus was bringing the kingdom of God.  And so for Jesus to say: believe in me, Jesus to saying what is important to me, let it become important to you.

Last week we learned what faith was; faith is being open to an impulse, a divine spark, an intuition, a knowing whereby we are able to lay hold of God’s preferred way.  In our text today four friends hear a whisper, a nudge, a spark, an alternative future for a paralyzed man.  They picked him up and they carried him to Jesus.  And I just want to stop right here and say this is faith in action.  This is a divine spark.  It is exactly what faith means.  You have a spark; you have an impulse; you act on it.  That’s faith.  I think that all of us need four good friends.  I know you have a lot of other people in your circle of friends that you call friend but most of us have about four good friends.  People when were really low, when we are stuck, when we are paralyzed for whatever reason, come to us and help us move; four friends that may not know how to fix the problem but are willing to help you get where you need to go.

One of the things we learned is that churches are not suited to individually solve the problems of most people.  We simply don’t have the resources to get the job done.  We had good intentions; we had a little bit of time; we don’t have the capital resources here to make it happen.  And so that’s why we partner and that’s why we support social service agencies that are built and designed to get the whole job done.  That is one of the reasons we partner with UMOM.  They had the resources in place to tackle every problem that walks through their door.  Every problem with someone who’s ended up homeless has to face: life management skills, parenting skill training, support for victims of domestic violence, literacy support, job-training, financial education, dental care, medical care, vision care, legal assistance, housing, tutoring and afterschool programs for the kids.  They get to get the job done in a way we could not.

When the friends carrying this paralytic arrived at Jesus house — this is Jesus house.  They found the house was packed; the crowd is spilling out into the street.  There is simply no way that they can elbow their way through the crowd, especially carrying human cargo.  So they climbed on the roof and you read the text; they punch a hole in the roof of Jesus’ house and they lowered down the man and his mat.  This man ends up right in front of Jesus, right in front of the Pharisees and the Scribes who have come to watch.  I see a smirk slowly growing on their faces because Jesus has now been moved from talking to making a choice.  He has to do something.  What will he do?  We must pay careful attention to the wording of the text.  It says when Jesus saw the faith of these four, he proclaimed to the paralytic: son, your sins are forgiven.  There are two factors that are happening right here.  The first is: their faith and the second is: the forgiveness of sins.  Jesus is telling this man the source of his healing: their faith, their faith made you well.  Stand up, take your mat and go to your house

God whispered into the souls of these four friends, spoke to their hearts, said get up and do this; inspired them to act out their compassion, using whatever means were necessary to bring healing to the paralyzed man.  Your friends, there faith has made you well.  They caught a glimpse of an alternative future they acted on it, and brought you to a place where the future of your life will be changed.  That’s faith.

Friends, has your faith, your willingness to sense an impulse, a divine spark in you, to see God’s preferred way; has your faith ever altered the course of someone else’s life?  Has your faith ever healed anybody?  That’s one of the questions that is in this text.  It’s one that I think we should all give about a month of thought to: has my faith ever made a difference to anyone else but me?  See, when it is all in my head and it’s all intellectual assent then my faith is all about me and what I believe and what I think.  It doesn’t make a darn difference to anybody else.  This text is telling us quite clearly that belief becomes important when it’s turned to faith.  Has your faith ever saved anyone else?

What about that other statement?  Jesus says your sins are forgiven and I think for most of us immediately our mind goes: what are the sins of this man?  I’ve heard whole sermons supposing the sins of this man and how getting them forgiven, allowed him to walk.  But that’s not what the text tells us; Jesus said their faith has made you well.  So something else is going on here.  Something else is happening in this text.  There is some other force that Jesus is dealing with here.  Well let me tell you what is going on.  The first century understanding was that physical imperfections were the result of sin.  Sin was huge.  Sin was seen as the dividing golf between humanity and God.  The power that a person had was through extreme self-discipline, keeping the law to purge oneself of sin and hopefully, hopefully you can be good enough that God might give you some blessings in your life.  And if things went well for you, it was presumed that God love you because you were sinless.  Because of course physical infirmity was a sign that God was punishing you.  And if things didn’t go well for you, well, sin was obviously a problem.

What it led to was the justification of suffering as something you deserved; it was God’s judgment on you.  You were not keeping your life as you should.  Well that’s too bad, but we can’t fix that for you.  We still do that, you know.  When someone gets lung cancer what is the first question we ask: did they smoke?  Yeah.  How many funerals have we been to where it was caused by men and women working in the dust of the field and it settled in.  But we go right to judgment.  When a teen dies in a car accident what is the first question that comes into our mind: how fast were they driving?  Yeah.  Because we know, we are absolutely sure that there’s a golf between us and God and it is sin and God never help sinners or liars.  We know that, right?  This text is telling us something else.

Why is it when as a nation we think of helping the poor, the conversation always seems to begin in the assumption that if it weren’t for their stupidity, their irresponsibility, their bad decisions, that they wouldn’t be in this hurt jam.  They should’ve known better.  It is us passing judgment.  Things haven’t changed a whole lot.  Even the disciples will wonder aloud to Jesus if a man that is blind is blind because of his own sin or because of the sin of his father.  Jesus will respond saying he’s not blind from sin.  Your thinking is askew.  Jesus is making it clear that sin is not the big problem that the Pharisees made it out to be.  Sin does not separate us from God.  Sin does not exempt us from God’s blessing, but this is not what the Scribes and the Pharisees want to hear.

Are you feeling the tension that is in the room as the man on the mat comes in front of Jesus and he said: son, your sins are forgiven?  There is something bigger going on here.  Are you sensing the tension?  Well rest assured it’s about to get worse.  The Pharisees were a non-priestly, untrained, undisciplined, lay separatist movement.  Their goal was to be something of a religious club and their goal was to keep the nation faithful to God.  They learned that the best way to do that was to scare the snot out of people and keep people deferential to them, scared of them.  The teachers of the law, the scribes, were the studied legal consultants and they studied legal questions and offered legal opinion.  They wrote and rewrote sayings to undergird the traditions that the Pharisees wanted to keep and to undercut the traditions they did not.  So let’s be clear who’s in the room when the guy comes through the roof.  The folks watching Jesus were the Pharisees with an agenda and their lawyers.  That’s always a lovely moment isn’t it, when the people who come to watch you are people with an agenda and they brought the lawyers.

This is what happens when people with very good intentions set out on their own to make a difference.  The tradition evolves and things change.  The Pharisaic movement originated about 300 years before Jesus when Greeks occupied Israel and there was a strong tendency among the Jews to marry and accept and interbreed with Greeks and their culture and their pagan religious customs.  Out of this came stories like Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  The Pharisees formed into religious clubs in every village.  They called themselves the Habudeem.  It was an effective way of protesting this tendency to interbreed and intermix and lose our unique relationship as Jews with God.  The Pharisees goal was to call people back to a unique relationship with God; preserving the integrity of the nation by promoting strict conformity to the Law of Moses.  After the Romans drove out the Greeks, the Pharisees had something of an identity crisis.  So they identify new enemies and they double down on strict conformity to the Law of Moses and they develop into a self-righteous, hypocritical, formalist organization.

Eventually the unspoken agenda took over and was more important than the stated goal.  Their stated goal was to preserve the faith of the nation.  The real goal was to stay in power at all costs.  And by the time of Jesus the Pharisees were more interested in preserving the necessity of the organization and maintaining their power than they were of actually representing God.  They had come to see Jesus.  They come to Capernaum; some of them from as far away as Jerusalem and they were there to watch.  They were taking notes; they were observing him hard, not really listening to hear but listening to judge.  You know folks who do that?  They’re just waiting for you to be done talking so that they can pass judgment on you, to find inconsistency, to poke holes, to play sharpshooter so they can put Jesus in his place.  They were in his living room and they’re looking for a way to set a trap.  So when Jesus said to the paralyzed man who dropped into his living room, your sins are forgiven, the Pharisees and the Scribes make an instant theological assessment and they recognize that Jesus is making unique claims.  Claims that our blasphemy is they are not true and I can just see their faces change as the wheels of opportunity turn in their minds and their fingers just begin to drum against one another as grim smiles purse their lips.  The look on their face — if you thought about it for just a moment – you would recognize it as: we got ya.

Here is the problem.  How do you prove that sins are forgiven?  You can say it; but how do you prove it?  There is not a physical manifestation that shows that.  If Jesus says sins are forgiven, the Pharisees only have to say: not so, because that stands counter to the hundred years of their teaching.  Only God can forgive sin.  How are you going to prove that you what you say is true, that you can forgive sin.  They got him.  Plus they have all the claims that he made in front of all these other people in the living room.  They got it and they got witnesses and they got lawyers.  Wow the trap was sprung.  I see them look at one another as if to say: that was easier than we thought it would be.  Shall we arrest him now?  You thought this was a simple healing story didn’t you?  That is not what the text is telling us.  Those four friends who brought the paralyzed man and lowered him through the roof believed they were doing a favor.  I bet after they let go of the ropes they felt pretty good.  But when you’re bucking the way things have been – the people of power — there is always a price to be paid.  Well actually there is a test in this moment that could be performed and Jesus tests himself.  The paralyzed man came on a mat carried by others.  If the same God who forgives sin which we cannot prove, if that same God would heal this man because Jesus said so, which we will all see that the presumption would be that what Jesus says is true: he does speak for God on high.

The question in this tense moment is: does God have his back?  Jesus says: which is easier to say to this paralyzed man, your sins are forgiven or to say get up, take your mat and walk.  Jesus continues, I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.  And so he said to the man: I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.  If Jesus is not who he claims he is then this man will not walk away healed.  It’s a visible test, a tense moment.  The man on the mat tries and he begins to move a little and he finds he can move a little more and in fact he can stand up and he’s even able to put one foot in front of another and walk.  He picks up his mat and he walks out in full view of them all.  The text concludes saying: this amazed everyone they praised God saying we’ve never seen anything like this.  I believe they did.  Even the Pharisees and the Scribes in that moment praised God, at least for a little while until they were on their way back to Jerusalem to make their report and began to wonder how we can explain this.  There is going to be heat.  People with an agenda are not easily turned and they will be back.  They will be the ones that come back to kill Jesus and they will get the job done.  The way they get the job done is they practice selective amnesia; they remember the blasphemy: I can forgive sins and they forget the healing.

One insight of this text is: be careful of what groups you join.  Be mindful that even folks who claim their purpose is to keep the nation faithful to God.  A lot of folks claim God’s name.  Beware of that unspoken agenda of power when it takes over.  I think the second insight that this text offers is: we see in four friends the importance of acting on our faith: that spark, that impulse, that get up and go and do.  There were obstacles that had to be overcome.  The farther we go into the story, the more difficult the task of getting this man healed became.  These four friends brought the paralyzed man and they ran into and they handled the obstacles at hand.  They didn’t quit too soon and then when it was time they let go of the ropes.  I think this is important for us to hear: when they completed their portion of the task — there’s something here about giving it over to Jesus — letting go of the rope and not controlling what happens next.  But the real message of the text comes if you pay attention to Jesus.  The one we follow — remember him – the one we imitate.  Catching a glimpse of an alternative future, God’s preferred way, where there’s enough bread for everyone.  Where hoard is replaced with compassion; where the cost of healing is borne by the community.  Catching a glimpse of God’s kingdom is not the hard part.  The hard part is doing what it takes to bring the kingdom to fruition because you’re up against power and profit.

When we have a glimpse of alternative futures, obstacles for a while can give us energy.  What causes us to stop is the fear we have of those who push back, those who have power and those who profit; those benefiting from the way things are.  The question is: what’s it going to cost me?  It keeps us paralyzed, our fear.  It keeps us from acting on that impulse of faith.  The message of the text right here at the beginning of Mark’s gospel for those of us who choose to follow and imitate Jesus is that when you respond to God’s invitation, when something has been dropped right in your lap, when you have overcome the easy obstacles and now you’re facing personal risk; it is going to cost you something.  In the message of our text, God has your back.

What do you believe?  It is an interesting question.  I say to you believe in Jesus.  Let what is important to him become important to you.

2017-05-14 Focusing Our Lives Series – Part 2 of 6: What Love Looks Like

Due to technical difficulties the first 10 minutes of the service was not recorded.  We apologize for the inconvenience.

Focusing Out Lives – Part 2 of 6: What Love Looks Like

Pastor Jonathan Arnpriester, Chandler United Methodist Church

May 14th, 2017

You all know – and if you don’t know you are going to know soon — I was born in the 60s and I was raised in the 70s and I think all people should suffer accordingly.  So we are going to begin with the song from the 70s.  I’m hooked on a feeling.  I’m high on believing that you’re in love with me.  It was a nice song.  I really enjoyed it.  It really gets at this notion that we have that love is a feeling.  I’m having a hard time not throwing up because anybody that has been in a relationship for any period of time knows that love is more than a feeling,

We get a definite direction from Jesus on that today.  Jesus is moving toward the cross and he links love to action, love to obedience.  He orders us to love.  Can you imagine me standing at the altar with a couple; they want to get married.  They have come and said: we feel love for one another, we love one another.  And I stand there at the altar at the wedding and I command them to love one another.  How do you think that would go?  One of my jobs is to prepare people for marriage.  People come in and they say that they’re in love; they feel so in love.  But that’s not what we talked about in premarital work.  What we talked about is how you’re going to show that love in the long haul.  In the ceremony itself we don’t ask the question, do you love each other.  We asked the question, will you love each other.

You should know that when the church engages itself in marrying a couple, we are careful not to think about love as a feeling.  I know we have this: I’m falling into love, whoops!  And if that’s how it works for you then you can just as easily out of love.  Is that how it is?  The concern of the church is that when you are bone weary after having been up for five nights straight with a sick child and you smell of that combination of barf and poo.  And that same power fight comes into the marriage and this time it’s about who has been up the longest and is the most tired.  Will you compete to serve your partner or will you compete to sleep?  When your significant other is talking to Earl in the white bus; they are on their knees in front of the toilet and they are throwing up.  You think well I love them so I’m going to get a washcloth and wet it down and handed it to them so they can wipe their mouth after they’re done throwing up.  And so you let the washcloth and you hand it to them.  They finish throwing up.  They wipe their mouth and then they reach out to hand it back to you.  Do you take the washcloth?  Wrinkles arrive, hair comes out, you both are remarkably similar to parents that you swore you would never be like.  And the middle-aged temptation rolls by in a little red convertible in tight pants.  Will you love each other then?  You’re using your walker to defy gravity and most of the muscle tone that you once enjoyed has been sucked out of you by gravity.  Your knees ache, your back hurts, your innards rumble.  The only regularity that you know are twenty-three pills that you have to take every day and you saying: I’m just a love machine and I don’t work.  Will you love each other then?

The interest of the church is not: do you love each other when you’re young and live and life is exciting and everything’s good.  The question of the church is: in those most tough moments when you don’t feel like it, will you love each other then?  And what tools will you use to carry out your love?  That’s what Jesus is talking about in our Scripture reading today — the 14th chapter of the Gospel of John — Jesus and his disciples are together at a table and Jesus said: this is how you make love your default response in life: if you love me, keep my commandments and if you keep my commandments you will love me.  Jesus links love with obedience.  He commands us to love.  Although this is not new to us, we already do this.  A few years ago, a young couple was rather exuberant and we met for the first time and they wanted to get married and they came back.  They did these themselves.  They came back a second time and they had sat together at a Denny’s and they had written out the commandments of their relationship based around the notion of the Ten Commandments.  Here is what they put.  You shall not engage in the ogling of any graven image or likeness on the computer screen.  You shall not attempt to reform me to your liking by criticizing me.  You shall not take my name in vain or attempt to use the kitchen sink in fights.  Remember that we spend our day of rest with one another.  Honor and do not badmouth my mother and father.  Do not kill us by disrespecting me.  Do not commit adultery, either in person or emotionally.  Do not steal from me my trust of you by lying.  Do not covet your neighbor’s house or spouse or iPhone or car; lest priorities become out of balance.  And love me in anger as you would like me to love you.

The commandments that Jesus offers are things like love the power of understanding more than you love the power of being right.  Love God in how you act more than you love putting on a religious show.  Love supporting vulnerable people with your money more than you love accumulating your money.  Love your enemy more than you love getting revenge.  In fact go as far as praying for them.  Sweet people who are a little lost in life and love them until they’re found. If you want to measure a life, look for how a person actively loves others.  And Jesus says: if you live your life this way you will be blessed.  It’s not so much a matter of proving our love for Jesus by the keeping of his commandments and if we prove our love and suddenly a switch goes BLESS.  It is rather the outcome.  The fruits of our keeping the commandments are that we figure out a new way of doing life.  We find ourselves living differently because of our love for Jesus.  It changes us.  Jesus is linking the command of love by putting some shape and substance onto this abstract vague mushy word we know as love.  Although I’m not necessarily a hundred percent grateful that he did that.  Sometimes love is a whole lot safer when we let it be mushy and vague.  When he makes it specific with his commandments, life gets a little frightening.

I am haunted by a conversation that I had with a member of a youth group at the church I served in the months following 9/11.  He told me of the conversation that he was having with his friend group.  They were talking about the progress of the war on terror.  Most everyone in the group agreed that war was a good thing.  The only disagreements were about how the war was being executed.  Some of the group thought more bombs on Afghanistan.  Others said that we should have a war with Iraq.  He tried to object to the war.  His reservations were hooted down by his friend group and they called him a number of things.  We’ll stick with peacenik and pacifist for this moment.  Why do you think you know more than the president?  Do you want America to roll over and take this with no resistance?  Nine out of ten Americans support the war.  Why don’t you support the war?  In our conversation he said: I don’t know whether I’m a pacifist or not.  All I know is I follow Jesus.  I don’t find anything in Jesus that allows me to think that the use of violence is somehow good.  It isn’t that I thought this through; it’s just that I’m trying to follow Jesus.  That’s all.

Now whether or not you agree with his reservations about war, you have to admit that in light of the gospel reading today, you really got to the heart of the matter.  How often, as we debate what we should do, as we think about what we call right and wrong, how often do we begin the conversation pondering what Jesus expects of us?  I know, those simplistic: “What would Jesus do?” bracelets; they were kind of cute; I think you can still find them online.  But there’s also the matter of, as followers of Christ, we are under obligation to imitate Jesus.  In fact, often times when we dismiss the simple: “What would Jesus do?” as naïve or simplistic or unrealistic, what we really mean is what Jesus would do is too difficult, too costly, too demanding.  Every year, every church that I know of has something of a commitment campaign to fund its ministries and its existence.  Through the years I’ve listened to a lot of people talk about giving.  I’ve heard and overheard what they said.  Some said they give out of the sense of gratitude for all the good things that God has given them.  A lot of people said they give because common sense says if you want the benefits of the church you need to support the church.  But I didn’t really understand how we were missing the conversation until I got to this church and it was a member of this congregation who said it may sound trite but I give because I think I’m supposed to.  If you’re going to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, that’s what you do; you give.  He gave to us; we give to support his ministry in the world; that’s that.  I don’t think what this person said was trite at all.  In a climate where most people believe that it is insincere to do something unless you really feel it first, it’s refreshing to meet someone does something because we are supposed to.

Sometimes the things that are best in life are things we’ve done simply out of obligation because we are supposed to.  You want to start a conversation between good parents and bad parents.  The good parents are the ones who don’t do it because they want to every moment of the day.  That’s bad parenting.  Good parenting comes out of obligation.  This is what I signed on for; this is the gig; this is what it means and feelings get put aside.  You want to know how far that will go?  You want to know the difference between historic Christianity and contemporary spirituality?  Most spirituality looks a lot like mashed potatoes, it is kind of mushy, it is kind of a whipped up idea of something vague and undefined, and some religious sentiment is involved.  You can’t really do anything with it.  Christianity, on the other hand is simply the daily specific obedience of Jesus.  That is pretty powerful stuff when you see how far it goes.  Here is how far it goes.

When I was in seminary.  We had a visiting professor.  He was a Lutheran German Lutheran professor of Christian history.  In one of the days we listen to him lecture on when the Nazis came to power in Germany.  It was the members of the more disciplined Christian groups – specifically the Quakers and the Moravian — who were specifically concerned with simple obedience in the imitation of Jesus.  The Moravians and the Quakers were able to recognize the characteristics of fascism: powerful nationalism, disdain for human rights, scapegoating of enemies, supremacy of the military, rampant sexism, control of the media, elevation of corporate power, intertwining religion and government, visible dishonesty, justified cronyism, corruption and profiteering.  They were able to recognize those things for what they are: idolatry.  Idolatry of power, idolatry of the nation, idolatry of the self and they were fairly successful as they could be at resisting the Nazi party.

Other Christians, I will not name their groups but they were Lutherans and Methodists.  They were more interested in these idealized belief systems.  They were more interested in appearing relevant to the changing culture around them and they were able to easily mesh Nazi-ism with their thin heady Christianity.  They were pretty much useless when it came to resisting the Nazi party.  In the opinion of this professor, those Christians who stressed obedience: simply doing what Jesus expected us to do, have greater resources for resistance because they had already been practicing being different than the world around them.  This is where I make the connection to good parenting.  Today is Mother’s Day, but it’s also a symbol of the Christian home.  This is where I make the connection to the good parenting in a Christian home.  People committed to being good parents do this same thing.  They see parenting as a commitment to upholding higher standards for appropriate mature behavior.  They’re able to recognize the characteristics of childishness for what they are: emotional escalation, blaming, lying, name-calling, impulsiveness, the need to be the center of attention, bullying, narcissism, defensiveness, and lack of appropriate boundaries; for what they are, the behavior of a tyrant.  They parent the child.  Lo and behold, whether they know it or not, they have committed to and are keeping the good parenting commandments.

Here are the good parenting commandments.  Kids watch, so what you do in front of them matters.  You cannot too loving with time and warmth and affection.  Time is everything, be present with your kids.  Kids develop, adapt your parenting to fit your child; establish and set clear rules; foster independence; be consistent; avoid harsh discipline; explain your rules and decisions in age-appropriate ways and number ten: the best way to get respect is to be respectful at all times.

There’s something in us, we work well with commandments.  These commandments for effective parenting are clear.  The commands for a lasting marriage are clear; the same way that Jesus is clear.  You want to show love?  The way you show love has nothing to do with what you think you believe, what’s in your head.  The way that you show love is not by being right in all things.  The way you show love is not in your ability to string together words to form a good excuse and talk your way out of trouble.  You want to know about love?  Look at how you do love.  You want a better marriage?  Look at how you do love?  You want a better divorce?  Look at how you do love.  You want to be a better parent?  Look at how you do love.  You want to feel more comfortable in your own skin?  Look at how you do love as a measure of your life.

Jesus said people who love me keep my commandments.  People who love keep commandments.  We hold ourselves as followers of Jesus to a higher standard than what is convenient or familiar, by which we measure love.  Our our measure of love is Jesus.  There is today in the text of promise, which is especially helpful to all of us who have found we are not quite as good atlove as we like to think.  We are not as good at expressing love, we are not as good at discerning love.  Work not as good at choosing from love the messages we can start again if we will dare to keep his commandments; if we will dare to love him by being obedient to him.  Walking his way, acting differently than the world would have us act; we will come to love him his way will become our way.  We will be changed and we will become better at love.  I think that’s a pretty good promise.  So happy Mother’s Day and may your home be blessed by your love.

May 17th Weekly e-news

There is a lot happening at Chandler UMC!

It’s time for the Mystery Drive on Saturday, May 20th;

 

 


Vacation Bible School Prep & Planning on Sunday mornings at 11:35 AM;
Blessing of the Graduates on May 28th
and so much more.

 

Check it the above and more in this week’s e-news by clicking the link:
051717

2017-04-30 Bearing the Heavy Things in Life Series – Part 8 of 8: Kingdom Talk

Bearing the Heavy Things in Life Series – Part 8 of 8: Kingdom Talk

Pastor Jonathan Arnpriester, Chandler United Methodist Church

April 30th, 2017

Mark 5:21-43

And When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake.   Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet.  He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying.  Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.”  So Jesus went with him.

A large crowd followed and pressed around him.  And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years.  She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.  When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”  Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him.  He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”

But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it.  Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth.  He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you.  Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader.  “Your daughter is dead,” they said.  “Why bother the teacher anymore?”

Overhearing[c] what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James.  When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly.  He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.”  But they laughed at him.

After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was.  He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”).  Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old).  At this they were completely astonished.  He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

You know in some churches this text is old reliable; everybody knows what it means; we’ve all read it together.  The sermon pretty much preaches itself and we get to go home.  You know me and you know that I don’t buy that.

For me this text is an incredible problem text the way that we’ve read it or failed to read it.  I know it is tempting and easy to follow the lead of our cultural religion and its commitment to a surface reading of these passages as promises that if you personally possess enough faith, Jesus will come to you and grant your wish for wellness.  If we start this from the beginning of Mark’s gospel — you start reading through — it does look a little bit like Jesus is all about curing the sick — you have to ignore quite a bit of stuff — but it’s there.  There are stories about curing the sick and casting out demons and cleansing the leper and healing a paralytic, story after story about people coming to Jesus and being healed.

In our text today there is a bleeding woman and there is a daughter of an important man who are healed and Jesus to both of them says something about faith.  Wouldn’t it be nice if it work that way?  Wouldn’t it be nice if the church could interview people who had survived tough times and find out how much they prayed?  Maybe even categorize it as to when they prayed and how many times they said Jesus when they prayed and how many Christian albums that they had at home and did they go with the Gaithers or did they go with contemporary bad rock ‘n’ roll Christian music? [laughter] Maybe we could ask them did they pray on their knees of if they were seated and how long they prayed and how often did they read the Bible.  Exactly what did this person do?  We could set up a data table and we can figure out the folks who made it and survived; OK you prayed this much.  Then we can look at the folks who really didn’t make it and we could presume that they didn’t have enough faith.  So what did you do and could we take down the information, but, well, don’t do this.

Over time, we could compile a list of what you could do to be more faithful; signs that you’ve got it all together and can expect a full healing.  Wouldn’t that be great!  I could write a book about the list.  We could sell it.  I could sell it.  Maybe even offer it as a package deal to people and include some anointing oil and some holy water in a little bottle and a prayer cloth with black dots and blue diamonds on it.  You could put the cloth around your neck when you prayed; help you to be closer to God.  I could raise a whole bunch of money.  Of course I would have to go on a book tour and they would put me on TV.  And I’d probably have to buy an airplane because I was important.  Operators are standing by.

The thing is you and I know it doesn’t work that way.  That hasn’t stopped some people from making a whole lot of money by hustling gullible frightened Christian people.  And it is not just our observation that it doesn’t work that way.  It is also what our text is telling us today.  To read this text was such a personal focus brings on six — count them — six significant problems that we have to overlook to read it that way.

I’ll tell you the six problems.  This section begins in Mark chapter 1, verse 15, right after Jesus is baptized he announces the arrival of the kingdom of God.  So everything is following this has to resolve some way into creating the kingdom of God, the coming kingdom of God.  Jesus says to the men he’s calling to be his disciples: I will teach you to fish for people.  And then there are healings, there’s lots of healing.  There is also rejection.  The third chapter includes rejection by many and his family — Jesus’ family — he says my family is those who do the will of God.  Of course the first responses is who knows the will of God?  How can we know the will of God?  So you got that question waiting there for us?  The entire fourth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, his parables: the parable of the sower sowing seeds, the parable of the lamp projecting light, hiding under a bushel, no, seeds growing; weeds included, and the story of a mustard seed which starts almost insignificant and grows to a huge tree.  So we have to figure out what these mean and we certainly must not discount them or violate them.

Right before our text in chapter 5 Jesus heals a man with demons; sends the demons into a herd of pigs.  The pigs immediately stampede down an embankment, off the cliff and into the sea where they drown.  The people in town received word of what is happened to the pigs, they probably heard the pigs.  They come to Jesus and they say it’s really great that you have healed but you cost us these pigs; would you please leave our town.  We prefer our economic arrangement of us having profit over anyone getting healed and so there’s a community illness.  As Jesus climbs back into the boat, the man who formerly had demons begs to go with him.  Jesus says: no, stay here; tell everyone what he Lord has done for you of all people.  You are outcaste, you are the one driven out and it is you, through whom God has done something very merciful and great.  Maybe that would be enough to heal the community.

Not long after our text today is the miracle of the feeding of five thousand.  We know that this miracle here is that people simply open their coats and shared what they thought was theirs and theirs alone.  But there is bigger connection here.  This is a judgment of what happened when Jesus was asked to leave town because of the pigs.  People being generous create an incredible judgment of people who are selfish.  The sixth chapter ends with the notice that they were bringing people from all over the landscape and laying them in the marketplace so that they might be healed as Jesus passed by.  The sixth chapter of Mark ends with these words: all who touched his cloak were healed; that in and of itself is its own problem.  Do you suppose all of those people had adequately accumulated enough faith in their faith bank?  As you know, that’s how we think of faith.  It is like the fundraising thermometer on the wall at school for the PTA; the bigger, the more, the better.  That’s how we think of faith.  So do we believe that every one of those people laid out in the marketplace that touch Jesus had an adequate accumulation of faith — whatever that means — to have earned their own healing.

So here are all the problems.  We’ve got kingdom of God talk.  We’ve got a community illness that degrades and drives out of the community what it doesn’t like.  We have the economics of not wanting healing if it costs us something.  We got the problem created by all of those parables; what do they mean?   I’m also going to tell you the fifth and sixth problem.  This whole idea that Jesus is here to rescue the deserving who have accumulated faith is a problem in Old Testament Hebrew and it is a problem in New Testament Greek.  Six problems which tells me that our reading of the text is inappropriate.

So let’s walk back through the passage that Bill read for us and see what we find.  Jairus, the leader of the synagogue, falls at the feet of Jesus and begs: my little daughter is ill come save her from the grasp of death.  Jesus walks with him; we would expect that; he is important.  In the crowd of people pressing it around Jesus is a woman suffering, bleeding for twelve years.  She says to herself, if I but touch his clothes I will be made well.  She touches his clothes; immediately she knows she’s been healed; she can feel it.  He felt it too, the power drain, and he spins around and he said: who touched my clothe?  The disciples look at the crowd and they say: like everyone.  Jesus said no that’s not it; somebody touched me and was healed.  And then she steps up and makes a full confession of what she’s done; tells the whole truth.  Instead of reprimanding her, Jesus commends her saying: Daughter, your faith has made you well.

There’s that word: faith.  A decision was made about the 1580s into the 1600s as they were writing the King James Bible; the decision was made to translate the Old Testament and New Testament word: faith and they gave some new meaning to it.  I’ll tell you about that in just a minute.  It’s a real stumbling block.  They made an error in translating the word: faith.  We have received the definition of faith to mean strength, personal confidence, like a level of trust that we have or the belief we have in a warranty that we got with a Sear’s lawnmower.  So we say things to other people like: have faith, meaning conjure up confidence.  And faithful people are seen as those who exhibit self-assuredness and positive poise and a calm cool demeanor.  And “I have faith.” has become a statement of pride.  Now we’ve got another problem because all through the Old Testament we are warned against the trappings of pride and what it brings.  The prophet Habakuuk says it better than most, Behold the proud one, his soul is not right within him.

Old Testament Hebrew has something to say about this.  In Old Testment Hebrew there are three tenses of verbs.  The first one is Qal, like first person: I, me, my, mine.  The second of these tenses is Piel, like second person: you, your, yours.  The point of view is yours or mine, meaning the intention, the motive, the power to act is yours or mine.  It comes from within us.  This is the decision that was made in the translation of the King James Bible, faith was translated that we have control of faith.  Now you are smart and you are thinking ahead and you can smell the problem, because we’ve made faith a source of pride.  To a desperate, bleeding, excluded woman, off the bottom of the confidence ladder, Jesus tells her that her faith is the source of her healing.

Let us go back to Hebrew, fortunately, there is a third tense of this Hebrew verb.  The third verb tense of Hebrew is hiphil which is like third person in English: he, she, they, them.  Faith in Hebrew, amanah, means those thing we think it means: firmness, steadfastness, loyalty, reliance, and insight.  But it’s form is always third person: hiphil.  The form in the Old Testament is always third person. The intention, the motive, the insight, the power to act, comes from a perspective apart from ours.  So the firmness, the steadfastness, the loyalty, the insight — all the things that faith means – belong to God, not to us.

Suddenly faith in New Testament Greek makes sense.  In New Testament Greek the word faith is pestis.  This means the persuasion from God that we receive like an impulse, a divine spark, a hearing, an intuiting, a knowing whereby we lay hold of God’s preferred will.  How do we know God’s will; it is an act of faith; God shows us.  This is how the fishermen that Jesus called to be his disciples left everything and followed Jesus.  Faith came to them in the person of Jesus, God’s preferred way spark visible to them and it became the most important thing in their lives.  This is how we should hear those parables out of Mark’s fourth chapter, little sparks of insight into God’s preferred way.  Little promises that if you notice those little sparks for what they are they will grow in us like a seed grows in the ground.  They will start out very small and will grow like a mustard tree.  The visibility of God’s preferred way shines through us like a light on the lamp stand.  Even the judgment that Jesus uses for those who reject him and his definition of faith: Whoever has will be given more, and whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.

What we have is simply an openness to this divine spark to redefine us.  That’s what all that means.  This now also helps us make sense of Jesus and the disciples at Capernaum.  Remember he is with his disciples around the fire — this will be later in the eighth chapter of Mark — one night Jesus looks at his disciples and he says: who do the people say that I am?  I don’t know.  They think you are Moses, they think you’re Elijah, they don’t know.  Jesus cuts him off and says who do you say that I am?  They go:  I don’t know.  Peter is the one that blurts out the response: you are the Messiah, the son of the most high living God.  Jesus looks at Peter and says blessed are you for this knowledge was not revealed to you by flesh and blood but by God Almighty in heaven.  Peter you listened to an impulse, a spark, an intuition, a knowing that came from outside of you.

 

So let’s go back to the text.  God’s persuasion is at work; God’s spark is active.  A woman off the bottom of the social ladder — think about the inconvenience of bleeding; you don’t want to go out.  Blood was seen as ritually impure, meaning that anyone who knew her knew of her condition would back away.  The interpretation of her condition by the religious leadership — read men — would have been that she is being punished in some way.  Meaning that for her to be caught in public would create a scene.  Yet she finds in herself on this particular day an impulse to get up and leave her house.  She has an internal conversation going on; we only get to hear the end of it.  She had to be saying things like, I don’t know why; I heard this guy was coming to town and others have tried to heal me.  I don’t know why I think he will be any different.  What is the worst that could happen?  Well the worst that could happen is that there’s a scene.  Where did she get the courage to risk a scene?

If she’s quiet, maybe she can get close enough and just … and then he is right in front of her.  Do I extend my arm and risk a scene or do I retract my hand in fear?  She felt the spark; she felt the impulse; she said to herself, all I have to do is touch and she was healed.  And of course there’s a scene.  She’s embarrassed; she wants to run; this scene ends with Jesus commending her: your faith has made you well.  You were persuaded to act on an impulse in you.  You caught a glimpse of God’s preferred way.  It made you see yourself differently as someone who had value and you walked out of your house today and you sought that kingdom.

So hold onto that because while all of this is unfolding, Jairus, the leader of the synagogue; the man with the plan; the man with the life; the man with the authority; the man who knew what was going on in the community.  He was important.  He had social connections.  He was waiting while all of this is going down.  He too had left his house that morning having an internal dialogue with himself.  He had most certainly heard that this healer fellow was coming through town today; it created in him a double-blind. Jairus would’ve lived off the top of the ladder.  He was special; he was unique; only good things happen to him.  If you want good things to happen to you, you get near Jairus.  But his daughter was dying.  Well, you know she’s just a girl.  In the first century girls were of incredibly low value.  In that day lots of children died.  The community attitude was the children — especially girls — are replaceable.  This is the double bind for Jairus.

First, bad things don’t happen to good people.  Second, you don’t utilize the power of your position and social connections to seek the healing of your daughter.  If word of either of these things got out his sterling reputation would be tarnished.  His importance would be lessened; he would be knocked down the ladder by many rungs.  This was the social construct of the town.  It is a community illness.  He too may have thought at some point that he could quietly engage Jesus; maybe invite him to come to his home.  But by the time he reached Jesus he realized that probably wasn’t going to happen; too many people.  So he made his decision; he decided his daughter was more important to him than anything else.  He may not have wanted a scene but he sure did make one.

This man of significance begs Jesus.  And while Jesus is still speaking to the formerly bleeding woman, some people come with the news that the daughter of Jairus has died; it is too late to help her.  Jairus has to be thinking in that moment: I’ve already made a scene.  How can I preserve my honor?  It is too late for her; I’ll grieve later.  Jesus overhears the news that she has died and he says to Jairus: have faith, do not fear.  Jesus is saying to Jairus: God’s persuasion is at work in you and that impulse in you that caused you to see infinite value in your daughter; that caused you to redefine how you see you; that lead you to lower yourself and beg for assistance.  You caught a glimpse of God’s kingdom where women are not expendable.  You were willing to humble yourself.  You were willing to risk losing all of your social status to save the life of your daughter.  Do not lose that spark of God’s preferred way that got you here.

They proceeded to the home of Jairus where there is commotion caused by people weeping and wailing.  It is in his neighborhood; it might be a gated community; it’s probably important people; it is his neighbors.  Jesus comes up word comes that he could do something for this child and they laugh at him.  And Jesus throws them out.  That is a little side note for you of what to do when people mock you for seeking God’s preferred way.  Jesus enters the house with only Jairus, the child’s mother and three of his disciples.  Without making a scene, without dancing around or jumping around, or furling his forehead or pretending to be close to God, he reaches out, says to the child: little girl get up.  Immediately she gets up and begins to move.

Do you notice what just happened here?  Jesus has just commended an unimportant woman for allowing God to value her and to work in her.  Jesus has just commanded an important man to deepen his humility of seeking healing for someone who was too far gone for the human community to reach.  It was going to cost him something.  Jesus has just defined community standards by valuing and rescuing a dispensable child.  This is kingdom talk and Jesus has just made it clear that the kingdom of God is equally for women and men and children.  And he has also made it clear that the humble shall be exalted and the exalted will be humbled.

This is kingdom talk and Jesus has just made it clear that what heals you and what drives you is not yours to possess.  It is a persuasion from God that we receive, like an impulse, a divine spark, some kind of a hearing, or an intuiting, a knowing whereby we lay hold of God’s preferred way.  The motive, the power to act, the spark comes from the perspective that is not ours.

You know this is the mission of the church.  The purpose of our church is making disciples.  But what do the disciples do?  Disciples bring the kingdom.  How do we do that?  Well, we follow Jesus.  We imitate Jesus; we do what he did.  We do what our Missions Committee and Congregational Care folks do.  We do with our children’s ministry and youth ministries do.  We do what Women of the Word did yesterday for a family that had a memorial service here.  We do what our United Methodist women do in their justice work.  We search out and we set free those who are imprisoned by community standards.  We lift up and we advocate for those deemed unimportant and unworthy.  We challenge hierarchy that discounts and disposes of people.  We help down those whose pedestals have gotten too high for their own good.  And we share what we have in acts of compassion that cost us something.

The mission of the church is bringing the kingdom of God.  Our purpose is making disciples.  Disciples bring the kingdom.  Our story today is from the kingdom of God, it was brought to us by the one who will lead us into that kingdom.

 

May 3rd -E-news

Welcome to the merry month of May!
Please find the weekly e-news for Chandler United Methodist Church at 050317.

This week’s issue features information about the summer Vacation Bible School and the need for volunteers, as well as the monthly meetings for Methodist Women’s Fellowship (tomorrow, May 4th) and Women of the Word (May 9th), as well as our May Missions outreach to benefit UMOM, and so much more.
Check it out!!