Goodbye September… Weekly E-news for Sept. 28

Goodbye September!  The weekly e-news is full of “save the dates” for special events coming up in October, November, and December — Adult & Family Outing to the Fall Festival at Vertuccio Farms; the W.O.W. Annual Dessert Potluck and Luncheon; the Adult & Family Annual Dinner Theatre; and the Methodist Women’s Fellowship Christmas Tea.
Find out more about these and other happenings at Chandler United Methodist Church by following the link: Goodbye September e-news


Weekly E-news for Sept. 20th

The weekly e-news is here!  092017

This week’s edition includes “Save the Date” information for upcoming events such as the 9th Annual Women of the Word Dessert Auction and Potluck and the Adult & Family Dinner activities for October and November (it’s time for the Dinner Theatre)!
Check out the information regarding ongoing Bible studies as well as the Missions outreach.

2017-09-03 Seeing Old Stories with New Eyes 7/8

Seeing Old Stories with New Eyes 7/8

Rev.  Jonathan Arnpriester, Chandler United Methodist Church, September 3rd, 2017

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

I want to tell you that I have it all together but then I would also have to tell you that I’m lying to you.  I had a sermon for this morning.  It was done on Thursday as is my usual practice is in the drawer; it’s soaking; it’s ready to go; but right now it’s in that blue folder over on the chair by where I was sitting because I woke this morning at 3:30 AM and the word of the Lord came to me.  That ever happened to you?  I’m hesitant to tell you that because often times when people say the word of the Lord came to them they want you to elevate them.  I actually want to dig a pit and let you stand around the edge and looked down.  If you don’t like it you can just kick the dirt in but please don’t.  In fact I feel a little awkward standing.  Can we have this removed?

The sermon for today is on this text and it’s a nice long sermon not for a communion Sunday.  It’s a sermon for when we want to look at the whole picture.  It is a sermon for Sunday when we want to really engage deeply in the fullness of this awesome text, this gospel within the gospel.

So what was on my mind at 3:30 this morning was a particular point of the text and I thought we might talk about that today; reflect on that; think about that.  Before we get to that though — I want to tell you — it is getting harder to be a Christian these days.  When I was a kid, it seemed like everybody pretty much got along and the church was the church and we all went to church and we all got along together and everybody knew their role and people did nice things for nice people and it seemed to make a difference, at least that was the word that came back.  The problems keep getting bigger.  Maybe it’s that I’m getting older and I can see farther than I could when I was a kid.  We have Hurricane Harvey and what are we going to do to help with rebuilding Houston?  One of the things that I wanted to share with you — you probably saw this, it was on Facebook — but just in case you have got good sense and don’t look at Facebook:

Watching hurricane Harvey destruction and rescues, I’m struck by one thought: Cajuns have flooded in with boats to help Texans.  White men are loading black men and women into their boats.  Black men are jumping out of their boats to help Hispanic families gather coolers of personal belongings that are floating away.  Asian women and white women are working together in help stations.  This is the real America.  These are everyday people who have gotten up off their butts and moved to do something.  Hate groups and media running from town to town creating a false sense of oppression and hate don’t represent this country.  They’re not trying to better our country.  People loading their boats and spending their own money to travel hundreds of miles to risk their own lives, pulling people they’ve never met and would never meet from homes they will never be able to afford are the true picture of who we are.  Why is it that we witness this kind of support among strangers over and over in disaster situations and still allow such a small group with a loud voice to keep the divide alive that actually does not exist among the majority?

That was well said.

What are we going to do about Hurricane Harvey?  Perhaps the first thing were going to do is let it speak to us about what kind of people we are.  It is going to draw out of us things that we had forgotten were in us like sacrificial compassion.

What I’m going to talk about in our text this morning is that moment in the younger son’s life.  He is in the far country; he told his father what he wanted and to his surprise, his Dad said fine: half the property, half of the resources; they are yours.  Steve’s right, you better be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.  I don’t know if you understand what an offense it is when you’re younger son asks for half the property that includes half of the family land.  He sells it and goes.

But we are not talking about that; we are talking about that moment in the far country where the structures we have put in place for our own benefit.  He told his Dad what he wanted to have happen.  We don’t know if he bid farewell to his brother.  We don’t even know if he has a mother.  All of those are shut out of his view and he’s now on the far country.  He had everything he wanted; he got it.  We catch up to him and he’s feeding pigs; working for a foreigner in a nation and a country and that’s far from home.  It is at that moment when he is sitting there and we have chosen to define it as a moment of repentance when he comes to himself, repentance.  The Greek word is metanoeó.  But that was not the word in the text, so that’s not what happens; that’s not the story.  He was not repentance in that moment in the far country because the word is nous.  Nous is a great Greek word if you’re with Aristotle and you’re looking for your eyes to be opened and a new way to become visible to you.  Aristotle taught about the unseen third way.  You got your position; I’ve got my position; the unseen third way is what we are seeking.  That’s what Congress looks like when it actually works.

That’s not what happens in this text; it is not that high.  The boy’s eyes don’t go BING.  The boy’s eyes open just a little bit and in this situation the word nous in Greek has to do with seeking to make your own situation better.  There is no higher thinking there.  It is simply looking around going, how do I get out of this?  The text reads: he came to himself.  We know what happens because we paid attention in Scripture to other time when the main character of the story has only one conversation partner and that is himself.  In Luke chapter 12 God calls just such a person a fool.  When your only conversation partner is yourself; be careful about thinking your eyes are open.  The ability of the mind to reflect on one’s own situation; the capacity to want to improve one’s own situation; to come into a new awareness — that is what nous means.  But in this case it is not seeking a better way for anyone but himself.  He definitely did not consult with his father or his brother.  His eyes are open just enough for him to see that he is in the wrong place.

We know both of these things because as he begins to walk home he begins fabricating a lie.  It is the same lie — word for word — that Pharaoh speaks to Moses back in the 10th chapter of Exodus when he wants the plagues off his back.  It’s the same lie that Jimmy Swaggart told on national TV from his preaching center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1988 when he wanted the auditors out of his books and he thought if he confessed to sex crimes that would make that happen.  I have sinned before the Lord and before you.  But it’s a lie and we probably don’t want to follow this boy or you don’t really want to follow anyone whose response to misery is lying; though it’s tempting.

There is a lot of lying going on in the folks most offended by the ways of Jesus.  The scribes and Pharisees and their little profit scheme.  It is not little; it was quite profitable to keep single women dependent on them for functioning in that culture.  Jesus says; beware of the scribes; beware of the Pharisees.  They deplete the resources of widows; they devour the houses, beware.  Jesus said: beware of the lies.  The cultural religion in that day had spent a whole lot of time cherry-picking Scripture and stringing it together to raise up home folk on the backs of immigrant workers.  When Jesus challenged those lies in Luke 4 they tried to run him off a cliff.  The high priests, the Sanhedrin, and the lies they had concocted to defend their understanding of their profit margin, wrapping it in patriotism and nationalism.  That’s why we call it a kangaroo court when they arrested Jesus and brought him before Pilate.  It was lies.  Be careful about following people who lie.  The structures that they have put in place for their own benefit are challenged by the simple decency of Jesus.  So we don’t want to follow this younger son in our text today but we certainly do want to learn from him.  We want to watch him because his eyes are beginning to open just a little, just enough to know I’m going to head for home.  I think it would be better near my father.

That’s the text for today.  I think the question that is before us is: in what way do your eyes need to be opened?  Where are you being misled?  Where do you believe a structure that you’ve built that is going to come down?  What structures have you put in place for your own benefit; didn’t bother to consult with others; to sort out or strategize or work with people who have skin in the game with you; that has brought unexpected outcomes?  In what way do we need our eyes to be open?  There is one other character in the story and you know who it is; we read about it; it is the older brother.  We need to guard against what he did too.  Well I’m right so how dare you, I’m right.  I stayed; I’m loyal; I’m faithful to the ways with which we are familiar.  I don’t need to work with anyone either because I’m right.  What’s most surprising as we get to the end of the story is that the invitation for both brothers is to come into the house and be together.

You might be lost; that might be you and you got to have your eyes opened.  You might never have left but you to have to have your eyes opened to see that there are others in the house and they might be right too.  Jesus is redefining what it means to repent.  It used to mean — until he redefined it in this text – it used to mean, I’m so sorry, I feel so bad.  Do I feel bad enough to get your sorrow on me?  OK, I’ll cry more, have I convince you yet?  Jesus is redefining it as that personal realization that we are lost and we need to be found.  We like sheep have gone astray.  We like sheep go astray.  Well that’s it.  Where is it that you need your eyes open?  How is it that you are lost and need to be found?  I’m going to leave it there and we are going to have communion and we all get to come to the table of the Lord and see what Jesus will do in us.

2017-08-27 Seeing Old Stories with New Eyes 6/8

Seeing Old Stories with New Eyes 6/8

Rev. Jonathan Arnpriester, Chandler United Methodist Church, August 27th, 2017

Luke 19:1-10

I want to say if you were not here last week you might want to go find last week’s sermon on the website.  I think it makes sense and it will help today makes sense.  Last week we discovered that Zacchaeus is really a study in the power of what fear can do in a life.  Zacchaeus saw himself as small and rationalize cheating and lying and grabbing material wealth.  He has been ostracized and tolerated in his own community.  We noticed last week that Zacchaeus was so alone and how the loneliness and lack of conversation partners had led him to a place of rebellion.  I just don’t care what people think about me.  I’m going to risk public humiliation and go up that tree.  Fear drives destructive behavior, and in this case it is a grown man behaving like a small boy.

Jesus intervenes; comes to find Zacchaeus in the tree; goes with Zacchaeus to his home and he says something to Zacchaeus.  We don’t know what it is but it is what Zacchaeus needed and it changed his life.  That is a moment for us to ponder and it can only be a moment because we can’t know what Jesus said to Zacchaeus, but what we can wonder is what would it take for our lives to be changed profoundly?  What would Jesus have to say to us for us to go OH and walk a new way?  It had to be very profound.  But suddenly in that moment for Zacchaeus things make sense in a way they never have before and he is moved to say: I will give half of my wealth to the poor and Lord, if I have overcharged anyone on their taxes I will pay them back four times over.  Something for us to respond again to think about ourselves as we ponder the gospel; how do we resolve the fear in our lives?

Well in this case for Zacchaeus it’s worked out the economic inequality in your life.  It’s kind of funny because the definition of unrighteousness has to do with hoarding the gifts of the king; thinking that we deserve them while our neighbors have nothing.  So something about doing away with the vast disparity and isolation brought about by deception that separates those who have from those who do not.  Do away with that.  Something about that comes when Jesus says to us what we need to hear.  And in that moment for Zacchaeus his soul is whole and his first thought is giving.  I think that’s a sign that our soul has become whole; the thought of being generous comes easy to us.

Life stops being me versus you or us versus them and their becomes some urgency about just being us.  I would go as far as to say the surest sign of the whole soul is a need to reconcile disparity and the need to give generously.  That’s what we learned last week and so far it sounds good but here’s the problem with this story; we don’t know how it ends.  Give away half and pay back four times over any money gotten by cheating.  That’s a lot of cash.  What is Zacchaeus going to do?

There’s been no mention here yet of the family of Zacchaeus, perhaps a wife and some kids who have become accustomed to living high-on-the-hog because Dad is wealthy.  A little bit later in the day when Zacchaeus gets back into his corner cubicle at the tax collector’s office and he tries to sit back and that’s not comfortable and he gets over his desk and oh God, how am I going to do this?  The bookkeeper in him takes over.  How am I going to pull this off?  I said half to the poor, do I count all of my land and my business holdings or is this just what’s in the savings account or just my liquid assets.  Paying back four times, you know, that’s a lot of people to track down.  That’s a lot of scratch and it’s going to  be humiliating.  What will Zacchaeus do — and more importantly — what must we do?

Jesus did say salvation has come to this home today.  What must we do for salvation to come to us?  Thank you to the Fundamentalist influence in our cultural church and a poor translation decision made in 1854 and this text has come to mean – well — Zacchaeus is going to write a big enough check and now he is going to heaven.  Hurray, get out the horns, shout, sing, dance, andlet’s have a party.  The point of thousands of sermons through the years is that Jesus saved Zacchaeus from going to hell by bringing him into a conversion moment through a conversation that they had and the presumption is that Zacchaeus will follow through on his word.  That’s what gets him into heaven.  There is just one little problem.

Righteousness?  Zacchaeus would get himself saved by writing a big enough check.  If you’re trying to run a ministry of money that works for you.  And if you’re trying to buy an airplane as a pastor that really works for you.  Zacchaeus justifies himself by writing a check.  If you really want to do that I’m not going to stop you, I suppose.  But that’s not the message of this text because that’s not the message of the gospel.  We have read a lot of passages through the course of going through Luke that warn against — not subtly, directly — warn against justifying yourself.  That is a misread of this text.  It does violence to the text and it also leaves out the question that we have to ask.  What if Zacchaeus doesn’t pull it off?  What if Zacchaeus doesn’t follow through on his word?  What if he only gives 49.873% to the poor.  And what if he miscalculates the balance of his investment account and there’s been a payoff; you follow me?  What if he doesn’t quite get to half?  What if he cannot find everyone that he’s cheat?  What if he doesn’t find everyone that he’s cheated, will he be out of heaven?  To use the images of our cultural church will Saint Peter meet him at the gate and say 48.6%.  It’s really a misread of the story and I’d like to rescue this story from Fundamentalism and a poor translation choice.

The Greek word in the text that is the problem is the Greek word that we translate as salvation.  Salvation has come to this home today.  The Greek word is sótéri or sótéria.  A much better translation would be: wellness has come to this home today or healing has come to this home today or wholeness has come to this home today.  That’s what happened in Zacchaeus’ home, Zacchaeus was made whole.  In Zacchaeus we catch a glimpse of the fruit of what it looks like to be made whole in the presence of Christ.  I will give; giving is a sign of wholeness, generosity times four with a mindful thoughts about how our actions affect the good of others.  It’s amazing to me that when Zacchaeus’ soul is healed, his first thoughts are: all those people I cheated; I got to put the money back in their hands.  What happened is that Zacchaeus in that moment came to a place where he was finally willing to die to what he used to be.  Die to accumulating enough so that he could be enough because he was a man of small stature.  Because he is freed in dying to what he used to be, to think things he never would’ve thought before when he was trying to protect all that cash he grabbed; Zacchaeus becomes the resurrection.  The fact is that Zacchaeus is changed and how he thinks about his money and it will affect his family as it affects his coworkers and the folks he’s cheated and his neighbors and how they see him if he follows through.

So what happens to Zacchaeus; does he follow through?  I’ll be honest with you, I can’t quite get to a place where I believe he does.  Zacchaeus is a dishonest bookkeeper.  Zacchaeus is a wheeler dealer and when he was talking to Jesus he used the protective if: if I have deceived anyone, I will pay.  The question that we are really asking here is did Zacchaeus managed to become respectable?  The point of the story, a point that a lot of church folk would like to gloss over and gussied up is that God’s wonderful grace cannot come to us through our respectability.  Respectability only values life and success in winning and getting and grabbing and having and possessing and measuring up and being deserving of God’s love.  It’s a terrible place to be; thinking we are deserving and thinking we have to maintain being deserving and thinking others have to be deserving before they can receive God’s grace.  Terrible demands terrible demands that makes us sweat.  It makes us sweat trying to think about what we need to do next and we get the to-do list going in our head and it wakes us up in the morning and it keeps us up at night.  What we have to do next so we can be respectable people so we can get ourselves into heaven?

Let something go awry; let the market turn and our company downsize; let the management think that they need to go a different route and we get laid off.  Let there be an accident and it’s our child that’s injured on the freeway.  Let there be an illness in our parents; we can’t reach respectability.  What did I do God to bring this on myself?  That’s the conversation that comes when we are dealing with respectability.  It’s a terrible conversation.  It’s the wrong conversation.  But we follow a Jesus who refuses to be respectable.  Maybe that’s what I should be shouting today.  We follow Jesus who declines to be respectable.  Remember how the people grumbled against him for being the guest of this notorious sinner.  That is not the first time that grumbled against him.  He broke the Sabbath and they grumbled; he gave food to people on the holy day and they grumbled; he consorted with lepers and adulterers and tax collectors and people with demons and losers of all kinds.  Jesus declines to be respectable.

That is the reason that the forces of respectability got rid of Jesus.  Here in this story we can see why Jesus refuses to be respectable.  Jesus declines to be respectable so that he could catch people that respectability terrifies and condemns.  The story is not really about Zacchaeus we learn a lot; we see ourselves.  But the story is really about Jesus and how far he is willing to come to find us and not so that we can clean ourselves up and have our act together and finally stand in the temple, and pray prayers of gratitude and how good we finally become; got our act together; I’m with you, God; I’m on your side; I’m good enough now.  No we are not worthy to come to Jesus and tell him much of anything.  Jesus comes to us — profound theological point right there — we don’t bring ourselves to Jesus.  Jesus comes to us in whatever place of desperation we’ve gotten ourselves up into so that we might know the wideness of God’s mercy; so that we can live lives where we can tell the truth about who we are.  We don’t have to lie.  We know our need for grace.  Or as Jesus said to his disciples: what I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax in the presence of God.  Don’t be preoccupied with earning or getting so that you can respond to God’s gift.

People who don’t know God and God’s ways fuss over stuff like getting and earning themselves into the kingdom and they never will.  Open yourself to God’s way.  What we see in Zacchaeus is actual spiritual transformation.  I know there are a lot of people who use the word spiritual and it was the most perfect thing that they communicate so clearly is: they have no idea what they’re talking about.  Spirituality is some mystery?  No it is not.  Spirituality is difficult to understand?  No it is really not.  In Zacchaeus we get a incredibly clear picture of a spiritual transformation.  He is simply someone who woke up, not someone who accomplished anything.  The full biblical gospel message is about awakening to what is; not accomplishing something you cannot accomplish.  The spiritual journey is realizing that you are loved, not perfecting yourself to be lovable.  You cannot get yourself there into the presence of God.  You can only be where you are in the presence of God who comes to you.  Did you hear that?  You cannot get there.  You can only be here.

But for some reason the idea that we are already granted access to God as a gift and we are loved by God while we are still screwing up our lives.  We don’t have to get ourselves good enough.  It’s too hard to believe; it’s too good to be true.  Our ego takes over and our bookkeeper in our head that keeps track of good deeds and bad deeds and what we think needs to happen and how to be respectable takes over.  Our lives become our theology; our relationship with God on our terms becomes about achievement and attainment.  We can’t live up to our own expectations and we can go through half of our life despairing about the equation we put in place.  It doesn’t work.  In Zacchaeus, we see the beautiful alternative for all of us who like to make grand promises, but it is iffy whether we are going to follow through.  Only the humble and the unassuming can receive God’s love and grace because it affirms more about God than it does about us.

We just thought we were going to stop through church today on our way to somewhere else and from a distance hear a few words that Jesus spoke and make us feel better a little bit about our respectable lives.  But he found us on the ladder we have been trying to climb and he said: you come down from there, today I’m coming to where you reside.  Now we’ve had an encounter with Jesus and he has invited us to die with him.  On the other side of that death is not a respectable life where we have our act together with accolades and approval.  On the other side of that death is simple reliance on God for everything.  Will you die to what you used to be?  For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.