Busy Times! July 26 E-news

Busy times ahead!
Read about it in today’s e-blast.
Highlights include:
Blessing of the Backpacks
Music Ministry start-up
Scouting registration
Methodist Women’s Fellowship August gathering
United Methodist Women ongoing bible study
Weekly bible study groups
And More!
Click the link to read it all!  072617

E-news for July 19

Greetings!
The weekly e-news is here.  This week’s edition has information about the change of plans for the Youth group tomorrow, July 20th along with information regarding the start-up of the Music Ministry programs in August.  There is also a great article by Rev. Susan Brims, District Superintendent.
Check it out by clicking the link: 071917

2017-07-16 Billy Joel’s Bad Song 2/2

Billy Joel’s Bad Song 2/2

Jonathan Massey, Chandler United Methodist Church, July 16th, 2017

Micah 6:1-8

We all grow up with a set of expectations and rules.

Sometimes they are just presented as family rules. You know, Go to bed on time, read one chapter from your book, and then turn out the light; Eat your vegetables; Do your homework before you turn on the TV or play videogames; Be back in the house by 11:00.

Sometimes, they are presented as societal rules: Don’t smoke (at least within a public building, within 25 feet of a restaurant, or whatever); Don’t drink alcohol before you’re 21, always hang onto your drink at parties, and don’t drink and drive; Always recycle; Obey the speed limit; Use a condom; Pay your bills on time; Don’t rip the tag off of a mattress; Don’t eat GMO food; Don’t vote for Republicans; Don’t vote for Democrats.

Sometimes, they’re presented as school rules: Don’t sag your pants; Don’t wear low-cut spaghetti-strap tops; Don’t play with your cell phone in class; Study for your tests; Do your homework on time; Don’t smoke weed in the bathroom. (If I could be allowed an aside here, let me just say, as a high school teacher, that these are all perfectly reasonable, AWESOME rules, and they should be chiseled in stone for all time!)

Sometimes, they are presented as the rules of God: Don’t murder; Don’t steal; Don’t commit adultery or be promiscuous with sex; Read your Bible; Go to church; Pay your tithe.

Often, for children, “the rules” of family, society, school, and God become conflated, because, for a kid, they all seem to come from ULTIMATE AUTHORITY. Complying with the rules and meeting the expectations demonstrates honor and respect, and brings rewards; disobeying the rules brings punishment.

In the past, at least some parents, including my own, got a little bit carried away with this. My paternal family line had been Methodist about as long as there was such a thing in the United States, but when my dad married my mom, he got sucked into her small denomination, which was an offshoot of the Methodism—part of what was called the Holiness Movement. Both of my parents were already wounded from their families-of-origin, and this religious affiliation exacerbated their worst tendencies. Although this sounds strange to most people now, I was raised in an environment where the worst sins were smoking, drinking, dancing, playing cards, and going to movies—things which aren’t even listed as sins in the Bible, but which had become mortal sins in this church, due to the cultural environment in which it had developed. I was taught that God was kind of like Santa Claus—always watching to see if I was naughty or nice, and always prepared to “strike you down” (a phrase actually used by my dad)and send you to Hell, where you would burn in a literal lake of fire forever. I grew up terrified of God—always trying to please him, but never sure I’d done enough; never sure if I’d met the requirements to go to Heaven. Finally, when I was just 13 years old, I found a good reason to chuck Christianity and God in order to escape from this terror. Six years before Billy Joel’s song became a hit, I declared to my parents:

            I don’t need you to worry for me ‘cause I’m alright

I don’t want you to tell me it’s time to come home

I don’t care what you say anymore this is my life

Go ahead with your own life leave me alone.

Now, I don’t believe that rules and expectations are a bad thing. Time may prove that some are ridiculous, but I think time also proves that some just make sense. Families, society, schools, and—of course!—God provide many rules and expectations that, if followed, will tend to provide us with longer, more prosperous, happier lives.

I don’t think I need to dwell on prohibitions against murdering, stealing, and raping. While ISIS might embrace these activities, I don’t think any of us are going to insist on our right to do such.

Let me instead mention a couple things which, in my experience as a high school teacher over the past 13 years in our cultural context, just make sense. First, an expectation that is not biblical and is decidedly not a LAW OF GOD: Don’t play with your cell phone in class. Although texting was a bit of a problem in the early 2000s, the advent of smartphones has turned a bit of a nuisance into an epidemic of screen addiction which inhibits learning in school and contributes to leading many students straight to failure. Second, an expectation and a general rule of thumb which involves a bit of the Law of God, used to involve societal expectations (but not so much anymore), and involves the expectation of many families (but, is tragically not taught by many families). It’s what’s called “The Success Sequence.” Here it is: (1) Graduate from high school; (2) Get a job; (3) Get married; (4) Have children. Some people insert “Graduate from college or trade school” right after the first step, but it’s still the same basic sequence. If you omit any of these steps (like graduating from school), or do them in a different order (such as having children before you get married or get a job), your chances of ending up in poverty skyrocket. And that problem tends to repeat itself generationally.

This is one area where Billy Joel’s song becomes very bad. I don’t need you to worry for me ‘cause I’m alright. No, you’re not! I don’t want you to tell me it’s time to come home. I don’t care what you say anymore this is my life/ Go ahead with your own life leave me alone. Okay, this is your life, but is it not okay for your parents, or your teachers, or your country, or GOD to care about you? Do you honestly believe that life doesn’t bring its rewards and punishments? When you have wrecked your life, will you be happy that everyone just let you go your own way with no instruction, no rules, no consequences—before you repeated the mistakes that people have been making FOREVER.

Okay, enough of dealing with people in general. Let’s move to Christian people specifically (and, to some degree, I guess, to Jewish people, because our reading today is from Micah, which is part of the Jewish Scriptures).

First, I think it’s wise for parents to distinguish between the Law of God and family rules. Of course, family rules should include the Law of God, but a lot of them just have to do with our current cultural context, which includes neighborhood, preferences, etc. Make sure kids know the difference. Don’t confuse practical things with ultimate things, and don’t turn God into Santa or an overzealous cop.

Second, be careful about confusing church rules with the Law of God. Church rules vary from culture to culture, and we shouldn’t try to turn time bound rules into eternal rules. Most people have no idea that John Wesley’s General Rules are still—technically, crazily—obligatory for Methodists, but almost no church member has even heard of them. Some, such as attending upon . . . The public worship of God still make sense, and most people come to church. Others, such as avoiding evil of every kind . . . such as . . . buying or selling slaves don’t have too much to do with American Methodists today (though breaking that rule led Methodists to disaster in the 1840s and helped lead the entire country to catastrophe in the 1860s—and it might actually be a helpful rule in some places in the world today). Another, doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all men seems, at least to me, like something which we should still be doing every day.

Third, I think we should be very careful about “biblical rules,” or declaring that “THE BIBLE SAYS!” without considering where the rule is located in the Bible. The early church had a humongous controversy over whether non-Jewish people (you know, people like Greeks and Romans in that time, and most of us now) should be required to observe ALL of the laws listed in the Old Testament; laws which had been expanded even farther by the rabbis, much as case law grew out of The Constitution in the United States. Some church leaders thought that they should have to. Others, such as the Apostle Paul, seemed to think that they expressed God’s will for the Jewish people (and he himself was observant), but that they should not be incumbent on gentile Christians. Eventually, at the Jerusalem Conference, which you can read about in Acts 15, church leaders sided with Paul. In Acts 15:19-21, James says, “Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood.” And, that was that. Now, that decision itself is 2,000 years old, and I can tell by the look on some of your faces that it could use a little bit of explanation, but that’s beyond our scope this morning. The bottom line is this: Not every rule or law in the Bible applies to Christians today.

So, where does that leave us?

It doesn’t leave us in a lawless situation; it doesn’t leave us without expectations from God. What we DO in our lives matters! According to Matthew 7:21, Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” And, in 2 Corinthians 5:10, the Apostle Paul says, “For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.” Belief is not the only thing which matters. At the end of the day, what we have actually DONE is what matters. You may have heard that actions speak louder than words. Jesus and Paul understood that principle. And, at the end of the day, I don’t care what you say anymore this is my life/ Go ahead with your own live and leave me alone is a hell of a way to lead your life, and any church which allows its members to boldly walk down that path isn’t doing its job.

I’ve always liked what Lieutenant Dan said to Forrest Gump and Bubba when they were choppered in to his base camp: Look, it’s pretty basic here. You stick with me, you learn from the guys who’ve been in country awhile, you’ll be right. There is one item of G.I. gear that can be the difference between a live grunt and a dead grunt. Socks, cushion, sole, O.D. green. Try and keep your feet dry when we’re out humpin’. I want you boys to remember to change your socks wherever we stop.”

It seems to me that Micah 6:8 gives us a good basic rule of life—a rule which can make the difference between a live Christian and a dead Christian—which lots of other things flow out of, depending on the times, our cultural situation, and the rest of the stuff I’ve been talking about this morning. I’m going to quote it from Eugene Peterson’s The Message translation:

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,

what God is looking for in men and women.

It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,

be compassionate and loyal in your love,

And don’t take yourself too seriously—

            take God seriously.

2017-07-09 1 of 2 on Billy Joel’s Bad Song

 

1 of 2 on Billy Joel’s Bad Song

Pastor  Jonathan Arnpriester, Chandler United Methodist Church. July 9th, 2017

Romans 11:1-2a; 29-32

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, Sunday in the middle of July.  Humidity has come and is seeping into our being and it will bring rain.  Today is a humidity of a sermon.  I want this to be a sermon that doesn’t shock you.  We had a few of those.  It is not really a difficult text to understand.  These is a sermon that I wanted you to hear and take home and ponder and let it seep down in between the cracks and the crevices of your thought system because we are going to talk about anti-Semitism today.  That is what this text is about; we need to talk about our anti-Semitism; we have to talk as Christians,

I’m not going to be talking about much Jewish history, although that’s an interesting subject in and of itself.  We can talk about the settlement of the Gaza Strip and the mistreatment of Palestinians by the Jewish community.  I’m not going to be talking about modern day Jewish Arab Christian relations.  That’s a conversation in and of itself.  It has ties to the Seven Day War which was fought in response to the Holocaust; which has ties to the Lutheran anti-Semitism of the late 1800s; which has ties to Catholic anti-Semitism in the Middle Ages which includes the Inquisition and witch trials in which Jews were pretty much wiped out in Europe; which has ties to the Crusades where the Pope sanctioned killings and attempts to recapture the Holy Land from the Arab occupants and took it in battles starting in the 600s.  In the eyes of Christians and Arabs the Jews were free game for killing.  We cannot sort this out.  From the beginning the Jews and the Christians have a hard time

You look at the Middle East and you start studying the history and you find – I don’t even know how to get a handle on this.  What is interesting for me though is if I listen to someone who’s informed on it who happens to be Jewish, they talk from the perspective: they did this to us, they did this to us, they did this to us, so therefore we are justified in doing what we are doing back to them.  Then you listen to someone from the Palestinian conversation and their conversations: they did this to us, they did this to us, and their grandfather did this to my grandfather, and so we are justified.  I’m not sure how to sort that out and I’m not sure Christians should.  That’s not really what I want to talk about today.  Christians and Arabs and Jews have had a hard time and the difficulty seems to be around land except when it’s not around land it’s around power and who has it and our desire to demonize our enemy.  They are wrong in their interpretation of Scripture and we are right and we are absolututely right.  It gets deep and it goes long back.  And when it not land its power, when its not power its superiority, …

In many cultures, many different times, many different places have had a hard time with Judaism.  The question at the core of that is: how is it that these simple people prosper almost any place almost any time?  Within the Torah their community takes care of one another.  They have rather strict laws of how they act toward and with one another; rather high expectations of behavior; rather unique ways of raising children as a community; rather unique devotion to their deity as opposed to the many cultures who are committed to freedom and liberty and money or royalty as the backbone of their existence.  Judaism seems to hold onto their relationship with God as their defining factor; unlike a lot of Christians in our cultural religion who makes really good Americans with a little bit of Christianity sprinkled on top.  A lot of cultures have asked: why do these Jews prosper and our people — whoever our people are — do not?  Therefore the Jews must be liars and cheats and unpatriotic.  There is actual scriptural foundation for this misunderstanding and every year around Easter we engage in it.  We don’t even know we are engaging in it but if somebody calls it out we might see it.  This is how we are complicit in a long terrible history of persecuting Jews.  Even now to many pastors, to many church leaders without hesitation and without much thought pronounce that Jews are hell bound.  A lot more who may not say that Jews are hell bound but they still when asked about the Jews hesitate and hem and haw or are silent.

Every holy week we read scriptures that say the Jews did this the Jews did that to Jesus.  We might quench our faith and hate the Jews; when really we might want to let a chill run down our spine because we are a lot like them in ways that we don’t even understand.  When the Holocaust came this was the number one by far argument the Germans used for the destruction of the Jews: they killed Jesus.  That is a Jewish problem, let’s just kill them.  Despite the fact that Jesus and all his followers and apostles that came later; every one of them was Jewish.  Holy week has become an occasion for the persecution of Jews.  The question of our relationship to Judaism is really not all that difficult unless you have an agenda: like land or theology of politics or money.  These things tend to confuse the issue; these things tend to toss things up in the air.  Having an agenda makes you ask questions that are irrelevant; which you have an agenda is what you want.

In today’s Scripture lesson Paul expresses great sorrow and grief and despair at the growing separation between his people, the Jews, and the developing congregations of the church: Jews and Gentiles.  Evidently someone in the church at Rome with an agenda asked the question: who is right?  Has God rejected his people?  As God now in Jesus rejected the Jews?  And Paul says, by no means; we are all Jewish.  Paul says when God makes a promise God keeps that promise: to Abraham and Moses and all of the prophets of the Old Testament, God promised again and again to preserve the Jews; to preserve Israel as a light to nations, as a sign of the faithfulness of God.  If God does not keep God’s promises to the Jews then God’s promises to us, the Gentiles, would be nullified.

The first thing I would tell you as your pastor; we need the Jews because the promises of God to the Jews are the basis upon which we base our trust in the promises of Jesus.  We are related to Judaism in a way that differs from our relationship to any other faith.  The Old Testament is not a meaningless collection of irrelevant ancient writings.  There is no way to understand Jesus without contemplating the Old Testament.  I’ll tell you, there’s nothing new in the New Testament, there is nothing new in the New Testament.  If you find a story in the New Testament and it enthralls you and engages you, just go look in the Old Testament and I’ll bet you will find it told before.  The story of the father and the two sons, the younger son says to Dad: give me the money, I’m going to the far country.  The older son is not happy.  There is a question of reconciliation.  Dad I’m coming home now; Dad runs to meet the boy; Dad says kill the fatted calf put a ring on his finger, put shoes on his feet, put a robe on him and let’s have a party.  The older son says: all you’ve ever given me and my friends is goat meat.  Now where in the Old Testament is there a story about a gracious father trying to be reconciliatory with his two sons?  It involves rings and shoes and robes and goat meat.  Anybody?  It is the story of Jacob and Esau.  It’s the story of Jacob and Esau retold in the New Testament.  There is nothing new in the New Testament,

There is no way to understand Jesus without understanding the Old Testament.  Our New Testament is so firmly grounded in the Old Testament; we cannot even interpret or understand what the New Testament is saying without referencing the Old Testament.  The Old Testament is also our good news, the good news fulfilled in Jesus is the good news we hear preached in the New Testament.  Every year the choir sings about the messages of the Old Testament coming to bear on us in the New Testament in the presence of Jesus.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor in Germany and he was arrested and he was imprisoned.  In 1943 he wrote these words: “my thoughts and feelings seem to be getting more and more like the Hebrew Scriptures and no wonder.  I have been reading it much more than the New Testament for these last few months.  It is only now that I know how far beyond description is the name of God that I can utter the name of Jesus Christ.  It is only when one loves life and earth so much that without them everything would be gone, that one can believe in the resurrection and a new world.  It is only when we submit to the law that we can speak of God’s grace.  I don’t believe it is Christian to want to get into the New Testament to soon and to directly.”

It may be true that we need the Jews.  But it’s also true that the Jews may not want us.  It is painful to realize how many Jews view the Christian church with great pain, a lot of bitterness and very little trust.  Our cross has become to them a symbol of horribly twisted and transformed sin of anti-Semitism.  It is a sign of torture against God’s very own people.  When Jews look at the cross some of them look at us with a great deal of bitterness.  Their bitterness is a testimony — if we will listen — to the tragic infidelity of our Christian church.  Specifically, a twisting of Scripture that separates, that disengages Christianity from its Jewish history.  It writes Judaism out of the equation.  Rabbi — I got to pronounce this right — Eliezer Berkovitz a few years ago was asked what Jews would like from Christians.  His response was: keep your hands off of us and our children; that’s all.  These are painful words to hear but they are words that we must hear for our own good.

The Jews remind us of a sad terrible history of wrongs against Jews and we don’t really like to be reminded of our sins.  It is painful to be reminded that some of the same hateful feelings from the actions that led the Gentile Romans to crucify Jesus have led fellow Christians to persecute Jews.  I think that rather than deny that history, we have to ponder our thoughts and our interpretations of Scripture, we have to repent.  Repent here is that humble listening and putting out of our mind the idea that we are right to the exclusion of everyone else.  This is where the church has an opportunity to soar; when the church is not all the same kind of people and there are many languages, there are many colors, when there are many different ways of seeing things.  I told you before, that’s one of my points of pride about this church — pride is dangerous — but I love the fact that we have people of all different stripes here.  We have people of all different colors; we have people of all different languages.  We talk; we are the church; we are the church at its best.

We also have to go — and perhaps this is the reason I’m preaching this sermon — we have to regard as suspect those voices that would divide us from one another.  That would say to us: well, you are real Christians and they are Jews.  That proclaims the Jews as deserving of persecution and suffering, that identified them as enemies of God.  We have to hold those voices suspect.  My personal position is: stop listening to them.  That is dangerous conversation that divides, separates; it removes what is not ours to remove.  I think we have to admit, if we are to be Christians following Christ, that we have tragically by our sin against Judaism forfeited our responsibility, our right to convert the Jews.  Christ did call us to go into the world and make disciples, absolutely.  But if Jews are going to come to the understanding that Jesus is their Redeemer, then it will have to be from people other than us because our traditions have so betrayed our Redeemer for just over 2000 years; the persecution, the in-difference and the complicity and violence against Jews.  If we want to do anything for our brothers and sisters in Christ, the Jews, then we might urge them to be faithful to the religion of their tradition.  We might urge them by respecting them.  We might let them get to know us; that our Christianity rests firmly on their traditions of Judaism.

We might open doors and invite to Easter celebrations and be very intentional about words we choose.  We might be open to Seder invitations from our Jewish friends and go into their homes with open hearts, ready to listen and to learn what they might teach us about our God.  The image that I have in my mind of our problem with Judaism is of the swimming pool in Lime Springs Iowa where I learned to swim.  On this end of the swimming pool, it starts here and you can wade in, you just walking in the water and it’s around your ankles.  And then on that end it gets down all the way to 15 feet deep.  That’s where the diving tank is.  About 3 feet deep there is a rope and you can’t go past that rope unless you passed the intermediate swimming class.  And then at seven foot deep, you can’t get past that rope unless you passed the next swimming class.  I remember being in the shallow end of the pool, so wanting to go there.  We are Christians and we pretend that this is the pool and we pretend that we can swim; when we get where it is deep; we are going down.  The depth of Judaism enriches and enlivens our relationship to Judaism and to God.

That is the great miracle that’s so astounded Paul.  It is best I think to think of ourselves as honorary Jews.  We have been adopted into a family that we didn’t know was ours.  That’s the miracle that astounded Paul when it came time for bringing Gentiles into the church.  That God’s grace and salvation have been extended to the Gentiles too.  We are the Gentiles.  I know, that is something we need to think about because Jesus saw himself as coming for the Jews.  We have to celebrate our adoption.  And as we celebrate our adoption into the family of Christ, our attempt to respond faithfully to the salvation that is come to us in Jesus, we need to be careful that we don’t act in any way that denigrates God’s people, the Jews.  The good news is that despite our sin God has not rejected us.  Despite centuries of horrible unparalleled injustice toward Jews, they continue.  The good news of that is that the promises of God continue; the promises of God are trustworthy; and there’s nothing better that we can say in the church than thanks be to God.  Amen.

 

2017-07-02 Absolutes and Absolute Value

Absolutes and Absolute Value

Robert McCartney, Chandler United Methodist Church, July 2nd, 2017

Joshua 24:1-15 John 14:15-21

I was a young boy growing up I would constantly find myself in the midst of adults they were carrying on conversations.  Because I was just a young boy I was not required to join in with them.  I remember when I was seven years old that I was in one of those situations.  I was with my father; he was talking with two other men.  I don’t know what prompted this or anything but all of a sudden one man said, well, there are only two absolutes in life.  The absolutes in life are that if you live in this country you’re going to pay taxes and that eventually you will die.  Now imagine some of you have already heard that.  But being a impressionable young man — you know — it seemed really logical to me that that made sense and so I decided that I would adopt those two absolutes to my repertoire as I went through my life.  And for the next few years I did that.  Whenever there was an opportunity for frivolous conversation or dialogue I would bring up that there were only two absolutes in life that is: you’re going to pay taxes and you are going to die.

I went on that way for quite a while until I reached the age of thirty and when I reached the age of thirty I added a third absolute to my absolutes: you will pay taxes if you live in this country, that eventually you will die, and the third absolute that I added was that every spring Bill Whiskers Jacobson would pitch for St.  Joe’s One.  But now you might ask why did I add that one?  When I was thirty I belong to a church and we going to United Methodist Church for about four years and in that area there was a fast pitch churches soft ball league.  And we had participated in that league prior but since I joined the church they had not been actively participating in that but they had made the decision that they were going to rejoin the league.  And some men of the church — even though they knew nothing about my athletic ability — decided that they would invite me to join the team and play with them.  And since I played organized baseball since I was eight years old I jumped at the opportunity to do that; I accepted their invitation.

Now I have to tell you something.  What I want to tell you is: I am not boasting, I’m a very humble individual, but I do need to tell you one thing or else the story will not mean nearly as much.  And what I want to tell you is: I was a very good hitter.  So I joined the team and after they got to know my abilities, I found myself batting third or fourth.  That is usually where the best hitters on the team bat.  I was off to a really good start.  My first year in the league, the fifth game of the year, we are going to play a team by the name of team St.  Joe’s One.  St. Joe’s is an extremely large Catholic Church in the area.  They were so large in fact that they did not only have one team, they had two teams in the league.  We were set to play them.

And as were getting ready to play them, I’m watching to see who the pitcher for them is going to be and in the first inning I see this man walking out toward the mound and he was very small in stature about five foot six, 140 pounds and he walked with a slight limp.  And he had this grizzled look like he hadn’t shaved for three or four days and he looked like he was about sixty years old.  He stepped onto the mound and I realize that he is their pitcher and I am thinking I’m going to get to bat today four times; I’m going to have four hits, a really good game and our team is going to win.  I had already decided that just based upon his appearance.  So the first two batters stepped up but I forget what they did.  I stepped up, it was my turn and I looked out there and I’m saying: I am going to hit the ball so hard that the covers are going to fly off the ball.

And then Whiskers – that’s his nickname — delivers the first pitch and it’s a fast ball straight down the middle of the plate and I watch it and I hear the umpire say strike one.  That’s not real unusual; I usually don’t swing at the first pitch a lot because I didn’t care if I had one or two strikes on me, it helps me get my timing down.  He throws the second pitch and it’s a fastball and its outside and the umpire says ball.  And then it happened; something that would drastically alter the rest of my ball playing career.  The third pitch comes in and I see that the pitch is spinning.  So I know that the ball is going to change directions.  And the ball is coming towards me, which means its inside, so I stepped out of the batter’s box at the last second; I see the pitch come in and it breaks away from me across the plate and the umpire yelled strike two.  Now I have to tell you something – I don’t want to be real technical – but I bat left-handed, Whiskers threw right-handed so when a right-handed pitcher throws a baseball that is going to change directions to a left-handed batter that means the pitch should break towards me.  This one did not; it broke away from me.  Of all the thousands of pitchers that I’d seen in my lifetime, at that point, there had never been a right-handed pitcher that threw a pitch that broke away from me.

I was shocked and amazed and I was out of the batter’s box and I’m thinking: what in the world is he going to throw me next?  I’m trying to collect myself but it didn’t work because I stepped back into the batter’s box and Whiskers throws the next pitch.  It is a fastball right down the middle of the plate; I should have crushed it but all I could do was put a weak swing on it and I hit a lazy pop up to the second baseman and he caught it and I was out.  I batted three more times that game and at the end of that game I had zero hits.  I was oh for four and it was on.  I said: well maybe that was just a fluke; I have a bad game.  We played Whiskers two more times that year.  I batted eight more times against him, and at the end of the year I had zero hits against him.

So preparing for my second season, I said: well Whiskers had me last year but he’s not going to get me this year and with eight teams in the league we played the other seven teams three times.  So I faced him three more games the following year.  And I batted against him thirteen times and at the end of that season I had zero hits.

The third season rolls around and to make matters worse, we decided they no longer wanted to participate in the league but I had made some friends in the league and they invited me to play on their team and the name of the team that I want to play for was St. Joe’s Two, the other team from the St. Joe’s church, a team that even though they belong to the same church; there was a really intense rivalry and they always wanted to beat St. Joe’s One.

The third season we got to play against St. Joe’s One and Whiskers four times because we were in the playoffs.  I batted against Whiskers fifteen times and I had zero hits.  The fourth season rolls along, we play them three more times, Whiskers pitched all three games.  At the end of those three games against Whiskers Jacobson I had zero hits.  Did I tell you that I was a really good hitter?  The fifth season rolls around and it’s the night before we play St. Joe’s One and I wake up at 2 o’clock in the morning – okay — I am drenched in sweat and I realized that I had been dreaming about having to face Bill Whiskers Jacobson the next night.  I am really messed up!  The sixth season rolls along and I decide that I’ve had about enough of this.  And so the day we played St. Joe’s One I go to my manager and tell him: drop me down in the lineup, I’m hurting the team.  He looks at me and he says: I’m not going to drop you down the lineup; just get a hit.  In that year we played St. Joe’s One three more times and at the end of the season I had zero hits against Whiskers Jacobson,

The seventh season rolls around and things are so bad now that on the day of the game against St. Joe’s One I go to the manager and I say: take me out of the lineup, I’m not hitting  Whiskers and he starts laughing his head off.  It was kind of stupid; I had to tell him I wasn’t hitting Whiskers?  He knew I wasn’t hitting Whiskers.  Everybody on my team knew I wasn’t hitting Whiskers.  Whiskers knew I wasn’t hitting Whiskers.  His team knew I wasn’t hitting him.  In fact, I think that probably the entire English-speaking world knew that I could not get a hit against Bill Whiskers Jacobson.  And that year we played St. Joe’s two more times after that, 15 more at-bats, zero hits.  I have now faced with Bill Whiskers Jacobson eighty times and had never been successful; had never gotten a hit off of him.  That number was too much for me to handle.  I could not handle over eighty so whatever the conversation came up — and it came up a lot — I would just tell people that against Whiskers, I was oh for seven years.

During that winter I was watching a baseball movie.  The name of the movie was called Bull Durham; many of you probably seen it; it was a pretty popular movie.  In the movie Kevin Costner plays this character named “Crash” Davis who had been in the minor leagues forever and he hit a lot of home runs, a really good hitter and he had made it to the major leagues.  It was the best twenty-one days of his life.  He had trouble hitting breaking balls and because of that he was sent back down the minors and never got a chance to go back up to the major leagues again.  There is a sequence of the movie where he is going to face a pitcher that throws a lot of breaking balls and curveballs and he is there talking to himself and he says: throw me that garbage; you are not going to get anything past me.  I said: you know something I’m going to try that against Whiskers next year.  I had to clean it up a lot because Kevin Costner uses a lot more colorful metaphors than I’m willing to – okay —  so I had to change the words a little bit.  So the eighth season rolls around and we are set played St. Joe’s One.  Of course, Whiskers Jacobson is pitching and it is my turn to bat and I am standing there telling myself: throw me whatever you got; I am going to hit you.  I had already decided that I was not going to take a pitch.  If this pitch was anywhere near the plate — his first pitch was anywhere near the plate — I was going to jump on it.

So I stand in the batter’s box and I looked and there is this little gleam in Whiskers’ face.  He knows he owns me so why wouldn’t he have a gleam on his face.  He gets ready and he delivers the first pitch and I see that the ball is rotating and spinning, it is coming inside, and I know it is the screwball.  It is going to break away from me and I wait and I wait I wait for the break and I keep my hip down and I swing as hard as I can and the ball rockets off the bat straight back toward the mound about six feet off the ground and Whiskers has to fall to the ground in the clump of dust and dirt to keep from getting his head knocked off.  As I run down to first base I see the ball landing in centerfield.   I round first base, the center fielder picks it up and throws it back into the infield and I retreat to first base.

My teammates on the sidelines are going crazy just like we had won the World Series.  I am exploding on the inside.  And if I jumped I knew I could go ten feet high in the air, but it decided that I probably needed to act professionally so I just calmly stood on base.  I couldn’t help but take a look over to Whiskers.  As he was dusting himself off our eyes locked and a smile came across his face and he tipped his cap to me and I nodded my acceptance.  The curse of Whiskers was over.  Now the fairy-book ending would be is that the rest of my career I hit Whiskers really hard and that would be true.  I hit Whiskers just as hard as I hit everybody else in the league.  The nice thing about it was it only took me seven years to do it.

I learned a valuable lesson that day and the lesson that I learned from that experience was this: that sometimes we go through life and we have these very small issues or problems in our life that for some reason or other we make in the gigantic problems.  And that the only way that we can overcome them is that we sometimes have to do something ourselves and the good news is that sometimes help comes from an unexpected source when you least expect it.  I endured those seven years and the problem was not that I couldn’t hit; the problem was: why did I let Whiskers get into my head?  So it made me think that when it comes to learning or education, we are a product of a system that might be slightly flawed.

The reason I say that is this: the process for formal education goes something like this.  For the first five or six years of our life that responsibility mainly falls on our parents.  They are responsible for the care and nurturing and educational development of us.  When we are five or six the decision is made that they might need some help.  And so what we do we ship children in an awful place called school and we banish them there for the next twelve years so that they can get a formal education and everything that they need.  Now there is a lot that happens to students during the course of those twelve years but there is one overriding element that happens during that educational process.  Our children, our students, are presented material or data.  They are expected to gain an understanding of it.  And in order to see if they understand or comprehend it they are given an evaluation.  Most of you know that as a test.  Materials are presented; they are to look at it; they are supposed to comprehend it and we check and see if they comprehended it by giving them a test.  Evaluation of the test is usually always the same.  The students are given questions or prompts and the students are supposed to do is provide answers to those questions or prompts and the expectation is that there is always a correct answer.

Now I was a high school teacher for ten years and I’m not saying that that is wrong and I’m also definitely saying that it is not right.  Why would I say that?  The reason I would say that is that for thirty-six years I have also had the privilege of being able to teach Sunday school classes.  For the first nineteen years I taught senior high student classes for the last seventeen years I’ve been asked to lead adult classes.  I am slightly puzzled why so many adults displayed little interest about learning more and becoming more educated about their faith and their religion.  For Christians, the major text or the source of our beliefs comes from this, the Holy Bible.   For many people the Holy Bible is something that they want to avoid.  I’ve heard many reasons why people don’t study the Bible and here are some of them:

  • There is so much violence in the Bible; I just can’t handle that.
  • The Bible contradicts itself in so many places: it says one thing here and another thing someplace else.
  • The Bible is not historically accurate. Now I don’t know why they would say that because it is.  There is just a couple places where there might have a question.
  • The fourth reason I hear is: the Bible was written two thousand years ago; it’s not applicable today; the circumstances are much different.
  • And then I hear this one and this is my absolute favorite. The preacher knows it.  It is his job to tell us; it is what he is paid to do.  That’s why some people don’t look at the Bible.
  • But the number one reason, the one that I hear more often – it is a legitimate reason — I don’t read or study the Bible because when I read it I don’t understand it.  Or I cannot find the answer.

It could possibly be that the real issue is: understanding the Bible might not be consistent with a formal education process, a process where someone provides a question and we are to provide the answer.  It doesn’t always work that way.  There is a TV game show named Jeopardy and Jeopardy has lasted for over fifty years.  When I was young in college we used to blow off classes to play Jeopardy; so Jeopardy has been around a long time.  One of the reasons I believe it is lasted so long is because the contestants are given the answer; ll they have to do is come up with the question.  So I believe that that could be really helpful to people trying to understand the Bible is that if they would focus on the question and not finding the answers.   Focus on the question instead of solely focusing on the answer.

Let’s take a look at the Scriptures and see how that might work.  Joshua is a fascinating character in the Old Testament.  But what we read today is at the end of Joshua and has little or no value if we don’t know what happened prior to that.  Prior to that, there’s a man named.  God chose Moses to go down into Egypt and lead the Hebrew people — that were in captivity and slaves down there — out of Egypt and into the land that he called the Promise Land, the land flowing with milk and honey.  That’s what Moses was asked to do.  Moses leads the people out of Egypt and something happens along the way and Moses is not permitted to lead the people into the Promised Land.  And it’s not really important for today’s lesson what that was.  If Moses was not to lead the people to the Promise Land, a successor had to be chosen.  Hosea was chosen to do this.  Hosea was chosen to lead the people in to the Promised Land.  If that sounds unfamiliar to you, it is because God changed his name to Joshua.  He was born Hosea, God changed his name to Joshua which is the Hebrew equivalent of a word that is translated into Jesus.  That’s another sermon someday.

Joshua was chosen by God to succeed Moses.  Now that’s the answer; Joshua was chosen to lead the people to the Promised Land.  But the real importance is: why was Joshua chosen?  To find that out, we need to go back to Numbers, the book of Numbers chapters 13 and 14 where we are given a hint.  Moses was still in charge and he was thinking about the Promised Land, the land that God had said that this is where the Hebrew people will live.  Moses decides he will sent out spies to check out this land; they’re going to go in and see what it’s all about and the people and take a look at that.  Twelve men are selected to be spies, one from each of the twelve tribes of Israel and they go out and spy out the land for forty days.  They come back and they give a report to Moses.  Ten of them report like this: we spied out the land, it is in fact filled with milk and honey and fruit.  The people that live there are very strong; their cities are really well fortified and large.  We are not able to go up against these people, for they are stronger than us and they look like Giants and we seem to be grasshoppers in their eyes.

The other two, Joshua and Caleb report this way: let us go up at once and occupy it, for we will be able to overcome them if God is pleased with us.  He will give it to us, do not fear the people of this land, they are no more than bread to us.  Two very different reports, two different points of view, why?  That’s because the question for the ten was much different than the question for the two.  The question for the ten was: what did I see?  The question for Joshua and Caleb was: what does God want me to see?  After the death of Moses, Joshua becomes a leader; he is the one that is chosen to lead the Hebrews into the Promised Land.  The book of Joshua records the details of the events that transpired to bring that about successfully.  Near the end after they are in the Promised Land and everybody is been defeated, Joshua calls for an assembly of the people.

He reminds them — from our reading today — of everything that God is done for them and wants them to answer one question before disbursing all the people out to the lands that they have been given.  The question is: what God are you going to serve?  He does not tell them the answer.  He does not tell them to serve God.  He wants them to choose.  And verse 15 is the response of that.  Now if you are willing to serve the Lord, choose this day who you will serve, whether: the gods of your ancestors that they served in that region beyond the river or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living.  But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

The question is: why did Joshua say this?  Because Joshua — he probably had numerous absolutes in his life — but the number one absolute was clear; that Joshua was always going to serve the God whom he loved.  If we go to the New Testament reading, we have to think about what transpired before the 14th chapter of John.  Before this Jesus had informed his disciples that he would be betrayed and arrested and even informed them that Peter would deny him three times.  Jesus was going away; he would no longer be with the disciples.  But then Jesus says: I promise you this; I promise you that I will send you the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This Holy Spirit thing, it causes a ton of issues and debates for Christians.  All they want to do is talk about this Holy Spirit.  Is it inside of us; is it outside of us; is it like an angel; does it speak to us; is it our conscience; does it protect us; does it guide us; does it speak to us?  And we get caught up in trying to find out the answers — all the answers and all the details — and we miss the real importance.

The real question was: why does Jesus promise the Holy Spirit?  That’s the really important thing: why does Jesus promise to give us the gift of the Holy Spirit?  Jesus had lived on this earth for 30 plus years fully as a human being experiencing everything that you and I and every human being experiences.  Jesus knew that he was leaving and he would not be here with these people much longer or the people in the future.  He asked himself this question: what can I do to help God’s children after I’m gone?  The answer to that question was: the Holy Spirit.  It’s important.  It’s important to not knowing all the answers or all the details; just that Jesus wanted to help us in our daily walk and provide us with the counselor and we should just accept it with all of its benefits.

Just one more thing; I want to do one thing real quickly for you because there’s something else that happens.  Sometimes in our formal education we need to un-learning things before we can learn things in our faith.  Here we go; I am a number line.  I taught high school math, mostly algebra and geometry and there is a concept of a thing called absolute value which is the easiest thing in the world to understand until mathematicians do things that they should never do with it and make it really complicated for students.  Here is absolute value; I am a number line, I am right in the middle of the number line; I am zero; I’m the origin.  This is for your benefit; it would be backwards for me but is it right for you.  If I go this way: 1 2 3, positive 1, positive 2, positive 3, that is where I end up.  If I go back to the origin and if I go this way, this is -1 -2 -3, so that is all a number line is; over in this direction it’s positive members; over in this other direction it’s negative numbers.   Right in the middle is the origin where things begin.  Absolute value is this: if I move 1 2 3 4 5, I am at positive five.  All absolute value is the distance I am from the origin.  So I’m five units from the origin so my absolute value is five.

Back at the origin, if I move this way, -1 -2 -3 -4 -5, I’m at -5.  I am five units from the origin; my absolute value is also five.  So it makes no difference whether it’s positive or negative; all absolute value is distance from the origin; -5 is the same absolute value as +5.  Absolute value says that you have a greater absolute value the further away you are from the origin.  So if I’m at 2, my absolute value is 2.  If I am at 14; my absolute value was 14.  14 is greater than 2 so you have a greater absolute value.  It’s just the opposite in our faith.

We do not have greater absolute value the further away we get away from our origin or our beginning.  Our greatest absolute value is when we are extremely close to the origin or our beginning; that’s when we have the greatest absolute value.  This is totally opposite from our formal education.  I still have three absolutes in my life.  One is not paying taxes.  I choose to earn wages; I choose to buy things; and I choose to own things.  If I chose not to do that I would not have to pay taxes.  One of my absolute is not dying because I know that I will live forever.  I’m just not sure what form I’m going to be in, where it is going to be, or any of the details surrounding it.  And one of them is not Whiskers pitching.  He might be physically dead.  He’s probably in his 80s by now and I’m sure he is not still playing softball.

My first absolute is this: there is a being so powerful and complex I can’t comprehend what he is like but I know he wants to be in relationship with me.  My second absolute is: there is a human named Jesus who is fully in tuned to my God and he provides a perfect example of how I am supposed to live.  And my third absolute is that I have a helper sent from God, at the request of Jesus, that we call the Holy Spirit to help make things easier for me in my daily walk in service to my God.  I am not sure how many absolutes that each of you has.  But I hope they are good ones and they are not paying taxes and dying.  All of you are important and have value in God’s eyes.  My wish is that each of you has the greatest absolute value possible.  That you are so close to your God that you feel the warmth of his arms as he embraces you or that you are so close that you are sitting in his lap and you are feeling the warmth of his breath.  And that’s comforting to you; may it be so.

2017-06-25 So You Want to Follow Jesus? Really?

So You Want to Follow Jesus? Really?

Rev.  Jonathan Arnpriester, Chandler United Methodist Church, June 25th, 2017

John 21:1-9

To want to tell you that the air conditioner is working in every other room except this one.  And I will also tell you if this is your first time at Chandler you’re getting a good view of who we are.  If you’re looking for an uptight church you are in the wrong place.  We are who we are and we gently carefully help one another along.  That is to say that if you have children sitting next to you that feel especially wiggly, the chair next to you is a good place to be wiggly.  And the aisle is a good place to run up and down in celebration of God’s presence.  If you cannot have fun with God, I don’t know what to do.  Let me also say this: if you are uncomfortable right now, the hallway is cooler.  You can step into the hallway.  It’s actually cooler in the front than it is in the back.  So those of you who sit in the back are finally getting what you deserve. [laughter]  I was teasing.

This passage actually happens to be one of my favorites in all of Scripture for two reasons.  The first is because it spells out for us exactly what happens when we are unsure about a relationship.  Peter is the one who talked big about what he was going to do and be for Jesus.  Peter approached every problem with an open mouth.  He said: I’m there for you, Lord; I will not let you down Lord.  I’ll follow you, Lord; I’ve got your back.  And then when Jesus needed him he looked to the left and he looked to his right and Peter was neither. Peter’s feet had gotten the better of his mouth and he went off to hide.  Isn’t that how it is in a lot of relationships when people want something from us they talk big.  Maybe we do that with others but let’s talk about other people who are not here.  That’s not us; right?  We never let anybody down.  We always follow through on what we say we will do, right?

So Peter has abandoned Jesus.  Peter is in the boat with the other disciples after Jesus has disappeared, raised from the dead.  It is the women who came to say that the tomb is empty and the angels had said he was raised from the dead.  And you know in the 1st century, women – well —  you don’t believe them; we don’t treat women like that anymore.  So Peter didn’t know what to think and he said to the other disciples: I’m going fishing: who’s coming with me?  It’s nice to be with Jesus, right?  It’s really exciting to be — it’s fun to be with Jesus when he is right there; you know what’s going on.  It’s good to be with Jesus.  But then when you’re not sure what you should do with yourself you just go back to old habits, right?  You know what to do, you fish.

Well it’s hot and they are fishing and Peter has taken off all of his clothes; many of the disciples may have taken off all their clothes.  We only know about Peter; he’s fishing naked.  That’s fine; it is a fairly common practice in the Mediterranean.  He sees Jesus on the beach; they all do but they don’t recognize him.  He gives them some instruction: tells them cast your nets over here you will catch more fish — they do — and then Peter recognizes Jesus.  I like that because it has something to say about what we look for in others; tells us how we recognize them.  Are we able to see them for who they really are?  I don’t know about you but in my relationships I fall into habits there too.  I expect people to be the same always.  And by my expectation I cull creativity; I compress; I drive out creativity because that would mean they would be something I’m not accustomed to.  I know we say we want our kids to be creative but we expect them to be what we want them to be right now what they were when we thought they were good.

Well Peter and the other disciples cast the net where Jesus tells them.  They haul a whole load of fish.  The net doesn’t tear maybe that’s the miracle.  They recognize Jesus for who he is and this is my favorite part.  Peter who has been naked — he’s fishing — he puts on his clothes and jumps into the sea.  I suppose when you are unsure about the relationship it’s easy to lose clarity about whether your clothes should be on or off.  And that opens up a whole room of places for us to go thinking this afternoon about times we felt pressured in our clothes or out of our clothes and the insecurity of the relationship that that reveals.

The other reason that I really like this passage is it gives us a front row view of what belief and faith and righteousness mean.  Let me tell you what I mean.  Our cultural church, our cultural religion, dating all the way back to about 1865 has defined those words in very specific ways; righteousness for our cultural religion means being good enough for God.  And we get into this whole thing about my sins will be wiped away, we’ll all be white as snow, and therefore worthy to be present before the Lord; but I got to try too.  The message about cultural religion is: be good enough to earn your way into God’s presence, righteousness.  Belief has come to mean: what you have in your head about the crazy stuff about Jesus.  Do I intellectually ascend that Jesus actually walked on the water, belief.  That’s what belief has come to mean.  It’s what I have in my head about the person of Jesus.  Do you believe Jesus healed, do you believe that Jesus ascended, do you have right belief?  It’s about what’s in your head.  Faith has come in our cultural religion to mean very similar to how we define belief, it is what we hold on to and what we have and it’s have more faith and it’s a possession we accumulate.  We are putting beliefs in our little bag that we hold onto it and we carried it and we say it makes us good and it is part of righteousness.  All three of those kind of go together in our cultural religion.

The problem is that this is not what they mean in First Century Greek.  Righteousness is actually the Hebrew word that has been passed over.  The word is tsadik, it is a word of the Royal Court; it has to do with access to the king and who gets in to presence of the king.  The king was very protected; you don’t see the king; you don’t approach the king; you don’t ask the king; you do not request the king, nothing.  You are invited into the presence of the king.  It is by invitation only, and it is a gift.   Tsadik, it is what righteousness means; it is a gift from God to you.  You have access to the king, you are given access to the king.  In the Old Testament and in the Hebrew and in the first century Greek, the caution is always the same.  Never, ever, ever presume that you have earned access to the king.  It is always a gift.  If you strut around and you proclaimed that you earned access to the king, you will lose your head.  It’s a gift; it is not an accomplishment.  Tuck that away as you think about righteousness, access to the king, it’s been given to you.

Belief is another word that we’ve redefined in twenty-one centuries.  In the First Century Greek belief is the word pisti and it simply means that what is important to you — if I’m going to believe in you — what is important to you becomes important in me.  And so when Jesus says believe in me, he’s not saying intellectually accend to all the weird stuff that people say about me.  He saying: make what is important to me important to you.  In our text today we get the final words that he has to say to his disciples: feed my lambs, feed my lambs, feed my lambs.  That is something to chew on this afternoon, if you believe.   If you wanting to make what is important to Jesus important to you: feed my lambs.  What does that mean?  What does that mean for you today?  Chew on that.

Faith is actually the bigger part of pisti, which is belief; pistis, that is faith.  Faith is actually a question.  Faith is: will you act on what you believe?  If what is important to Jesus is important to you, will you act on it?  Well if you’re tucking it up into your head as intellectual assent and knowledge that you carry around that.  I know lots of things about Jesus.  You are not going to do anything.  Knowledge does not make us do anything.  Knowledge is stuff we carry around; it is not faith.  Will you act on what you believe?  That’s the question of faith.  You are granted presence of the king.  Today in our text, Peter and the disciples have blown it.  They know they have blown it; they are terribly guilty.  Peter is confused; Jesus comes to them.  The question is, will you continue to make what is important to me important to you.  Jesus asks this three times: do you love me Peter?  Make what is important to me important to you.  Do you love me Peter?  This is what love looks like: what is important to me becomes important to you.  That’s great for your relationships.  If you’re struggling with your primary relationships with what love means; write that one down.  What is important to you becomes important to me.  It’s a both way thing and will you act on what you believe?  It is three little words and I think they make all the difference.