June 28th Weekly E-news

Hip, hip, hooray!  The weekly E-news is here!
Find out what is going on at Chandler United Methodist Church this week and coming up in July!  Also in this week’s edition, our Music Director Adam Winters has shared his thoughts on the why’s and how’s he selects hymns for Sunday worship.
And, this week’s edition also includes a few more pictures of Hero Central Vacation Bible School too.
Click here to read: 062817

2017-06-18 Compassion…Mercy…Grace

Compassion…Mercy…Grace

Mr.  Steve Gregory, Chandler United Methodist Church, June 18th, 2017

Luke 15:1-2:11-32

Let us pray.  Dear God may the words I speak and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you Lord our rock and Redeemer Amen.

As we gather here this morning on Father’s Day, God is placing on my heart to bring a message about our heavenly Father’s mercy, compassion and grace.  Mercy is always surrounded by compassion and grace; they go together in a beautiful way.  The message today comes from the parable of the lost son or the prodigal son.  We often struggle with this parable because we see it as unfair; but mercy is not fair.  We also struggle because sometimes we are the older son and sometimes we are the younger son in this parable.

Before we look at the parable, let’s take a look at what parables are and what mercy is.  Parables are simple stories that Jesus used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson.  Parables use everyday situations to help the hearer better understand.  Jesus used parables to teach his followers who God is; what God is like; and what God’s will is for us.  These simple stories with everyday elements help the followers of Jesus understand his message.  What is mercy?  The online definition says: mercy is compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish.  Mercy is compassion shown toward somebody that you could punish.  Basically, mercy is: you don’t get what you do deserve and you get what you don’t deserve.

I like to share a story about mercy I received back in Junior High School.  I lived in Three Points which is about 30 miles west of Tucson.  It was summer break just like it is today.  One of my Junior High friends and I had a really good idea.  Or what seemed like a good idea at the time; but you know how those good ideas go with Junior High boys.  That summer we had a lot of bees; there were bees everywhere.  Sometimes those bees would move into our barn or other structures on the ten acres that my family owned.  The week before we had the beekeeper out to remove the hive from the side of the house.  Well, we discovered a new hive of bees under the camper.  So what do Junior High boys do in this situation when their Dad is at work in their Mom is sleeping from working the overnight shift at the hospital?  That’s right, we smoked out the bees.  We smoked out the bees.  That was our plan and with all bad plans it went from bad to worse in a hurry.

It went bad when I dropped that match into the four-inch tall dead grass on the property.  The more we stomped on the flames the more it spread.  My friend ran and grabbed the hose but the hose would not reach to where the fire was at.  So we ran and we got shovels and we tried to stop the fire with shovels.  The wind helped fuel the fire and it spread quickly throughout that four-inch grass on the property.  Within minutes we had about two acres on fire.  The fire was moving away from our house and our barns but it was headed right towards the neighbor’s house.  My friend ran into my house as I continued that losing battle with my shovel.  You see the problem is the nearest fire department was thirty miles away, so we were in trouble.  My mother woke up to these words of my friend on the phone.  My friend said: Dad come quick, the Gregory place is on fire.  Not a good way to wake up your Mom who has just worked the overnight shift.  To make a long bad story short, we burnt about ten acres of land that day before the neighbors were able to stop it at the roads.  My neighbor’s five acres was completely blackened except for a ten-foot circle around their house.  My neighbors were not home that day; they came home late that night.  They said they could smell the smoke but they could not tell that their property was completely blackened.  Not until the next morning when the neighbor was standing out on his front porch looking at his property, wondering what had happened.  That’s when my dad sent me over there — alone — to explain to him what I had done.

It was a long walk of shame as I looked forward.  I could see the neighbor watching me from his perch.  I would look back and see my Dad watching me walk over there.  The neighbor soon realized who was responsible for blackening his property.  As I took that walk of shame to his front porch I was expecting the worse; I really was.  He offered me mercy.  I had burned down all of his property and he offered me mercy.  He said accident happened and it will grow back.  Now I was his favorite helper for about three years on his property as I helped him. [laughter] He was never mad at me.  It was mercy from the start.  I also expected my parents to come down hard on me but they didn’t. It was mercy from them too.  It was a lesson on mercy that I will never forget and it has always stayed with me.  Mercy, we don’t get what we do deserve.  That day I didn’t get what I deserved.

Now let us take a look at the Parable of the Lost Son and see what it teaches us about mercy.  First, who is Jesus telling the parable?  Verse one and two says that the tax collectors and sinners were gathered around to hear Jesus, but the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered: this man welcomes sinners and eats with them.  Jesus is there teaching to the group.  He tells the parable to two groups; he tells it to the tax collectors and sinners.   He tells it to the Pharisees out on the edge of the group watching, one parable with a message for both groups.  The first part of the parable is for the tax collectors and sinners, the bottom people at the time, the lowest of the low.  And the second part was for the Pharisees, the teachers of the law.  How did the Pharisees operate?  The Pharisees wanted to separate themselves from sinners.  Their plan was to shame the sinners into correcting their ways and maybe maybe they would welcome them.  But they had to clean up their act first and then they had to prove that they had cleaned up their act.  Jesus, he didn’t separate himself from sinners, Jesus connected with them.

Jesus does not require us to clean up our act first.  He welcomes us where we are at.  He welcomes us to come to him and then the transformation begins.  What is a better way to draw people to God?  Is it to shame them or to welcome them where they are at?  Jesus chooses to meet people where they’re at; connect with them; then he is able to teach and transform their lives.  Let’s look at the first part of the parable, the message for the sinners and the tax collectors.  In the parable the younger son asks for his inheritance.  He says in verse 12: Father gave me my share of the inheritance.  The father gave it to him.  This was a very disrespectful thing to do at the time it was unheard-of.  Just think, if your youngest son came to you and said Father, Mother give me my inheritance now; pull out my part of your 401(K), pull out my part of your retirement accounts, pull out half of the value of the house.  I need my inheritance right now.

The Father in the parable gave his son his inheritance and then the youngest son set off to a foreign country – a distant country — where he wasted the money.  He wasted the money on wild living.  The youngest son lost it all.  He wasted all that the father had earned and saved for his son’s future; it was just wasted and now he was in need.  The youngest son was then forced to work at the lowest of jobs; he had to feed the pigs.  Not only feed the pigs, verse 16 says he longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating but no one gave him anything.  He had hit rock bottom.  Then he decided to try to go back to his father.  Maybe he could be one of his father’s servants, not a son, but a servant.  He thought he could never be a son again.  But maybe, just maybe, he could be a servant.  So he got up and he headed home to see if his father would take him back as a servant.  The youngest son had hit rock bottom before returning.  May we all turn back before hitting that low point in our lives.

The Bible says: while he was still a long ways off, the father saw him and was filled with compassion for him.  He ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.  The Father had been watching and hoping someday his son would return.  How many times did the father, look out on the horizon to see if his son was returning?  How many times had he hoped that his son would return?  The Bible tells us that he was filled with compassion, filled with compassion.  The Father teaches us that God never turns his back on us; he never turned his back on you or me.  God is always watching for us to return; patiently waiting for us to return home; waiting for us to return to his open arms.  Notice the father didn’t go looking for the son; he didn’t go to that faraway land to get him.  He didn’t go after him, but he waited for him to come back.  He waited for him with open arms, open compassionate arms.  God does the same for us.  He waits for us to return and he welcomes us and rejoices just like the Father did.

God is the God of second chances.  For many of us, God is the God of third, fourth and fifth chances; God welcomes you back.  Will you accept his mercy, his compassion and his grace?  We have all been the younger son; we have.  Different situations, different stories, but we have all been in need of God’s mercy and compassion.  We have all been lost but God has been and will always be there, ready to welcome us home.  And we have also been the older son; we have.  In the parable the older son returns from the fields.  He sees a celebration going on and he’s mad.  He is mad, this is unfair.  He doesn’t think the younger brother should be welcomed back like that.  The older brother has been doing his part.  He’s been honoring his father with his faithfulness, with his hard work.  The situation is unfair in the brothers eyes.  The Bible says that the father pleaded with the older son and tried to explain but the older son sees it as unfair.  Remember, mercy is not fair.

The parable ends with these words, my son — the father said — you are always with me; everything I have is yours.  We had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again.  He was lost and is found.  Can you think of a time when you were the older son?  I can.  Do you ever judge others?  Do you look down on other people or groups of people?  I can say, I sometimes do.  Do we ever question if people really repent and deserve forgiveness?   In Matthew chapter 7 verses three through five, it says why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own?  How can you say to your brother: take that speck out of your eye — when all the time — there is a plank in your own eye.  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.  Are there times when we need to remove the plank or the log from our own eye before we take the speck out of somebody else’s?  Do we judge people at a higher standard than we judge ourselves?  I can say I am guilty of that.

I think God wants every person that calls himself a Christian, every person that calls himself a follower of Jesus, to carefully consider these words from Matthew seven: when we take a long deep hard look at ourselves instead of looking at other’s first.  I know and I hear many Christians that use words of hate towards other people.  Many times those people are the most vocal and the loudest.  The problem is the world is listening; the world is listening.  Followers of God should be known for: loving, welcoming, accepting, forgiving, being compassionate and being merciful.  Do those words describe every Christian you know?  My answer is: sadly not always.  Sometimes it’s me falling short of being a good follower of God.  Those words describe Jesus and those words should describe his followers: loving, welcoming, accepting, forgiving, compassionate and merciful. I can see times when I was the older son in the parable and I can also remember times when I’ve been the younger son in the parable.  May we all spent time this week rereading this parable of the lost son.  May we allow God’s words to transform us.  May we extend mercy like God extends mercy; may we extend compassion like God does; may we extend grace like God does.

Now I’d like to close with the story of something that happened at the church this week.  As you know for two years Chandler United Methodist Church has been partnering with IHELP, that’s the Interfaith Homeless Emergency Lodging Program.  We open the doors of our church to help people in our community break the cycle of homelessness.  On Monday the IHOPE Director sent me an email; see one of the women in the program was moving into an apartment.  She had no household items.  She didn’t have any: sheets, towels, plates, cups, silverware; she did not have anything.  So yeah, maybe some of the people from the partner churches could maybe donate some items.  I sent that email to Penny and Lisa on the Mission Team here at the church.  This is what happened next.

Penny then sent that request out to our regular IHOPE volunteers.  Within 24 hours (was really probably less than 24 hours) people signed up for everything that she needed.  Every item on the list was signed up for by someone here at the church.  You see on SignUpGenius when people sign up for donations it sends me an email.  Throughout the day, I kept getting these emails all day Monday: another person signed up, another person signed up.  At the end of the day it was almost full.  When I checked it the next morning everything was signed up.  It was truly amazing.  It was truly a blessing on how the people of this church responded.

I’d like to add that no one ever asked who it was for; no one asked what the story was; or how this person became homeless.  It was compassion, it was love, it was mercy.  It was the followers of Christ in action.  It was the church in action.  It was the people of this church sharing God’s mercy and compassion for the person in need right here in our community.  Well done church, well done.

So on this Father’s Day and on every day, remember God is waiting for you and for me.  His arms are wide open.  My we accept his mercy and compassion, may we accept his grace and love.  And may we extend that same mercy and compassion to the people around us.  Sometimes we need to extend that mercy and compassion to ourselves.  Our heavenly Father is welcoming you home with open arms.  Go to him and let the celebration begin. Amen.

2017-06-11 Focusing Our Lives – Part 6 of 6: The Claim Department

Focusing Our Lives – Part 6 of 6: The Claim Department

Pastor Jonathan Arnpriester, Chandler United Methodist Church,  June 11th, 2017

Matthew 1:18-25

I’m not one to publicly embarrass people but I want to start today.  I don’t know if you know and don’t tell them if you see them because they’ll get the big head.   I don’t know if you know how awesome our staff is here.  Did you hear the theological reflection in the hymn that Adam picked for today?  How can I keep from singing?  No storm can shake my inmost calm.  That Pastor’s prayer was off the cuff: inspired by that hymn, inspired by the theological reflection of Adam.  He grew up Lutheran; he’s recovering well.  Yes, yes, keep up the good work.  Theological reflection, he is very capable of it.  Steve, that time with the children.  You would almost think that’s the sermon and it kind of is; it is kind of where we are going.  But where I want to start though before we get into the sermon is Steve and his ability to theologically reflect, he has this ability to think about how he thinks.

You didn’t come to church today for me to tell you what to believe.  You didn’t come to church for me to tell you what to think.  You came to church because you want to theologically reflect.  I’m inviting you to ponder with me how you think about things.  When I think about things, what pleases me is consistency and what drives me batty is inconsistency.  And so I want to talk about consistency and inconsistency, kind of in a roundabout way.  Steve hit it on the head today.  Will you do what God has asked you to do?  That’s a hard question.  Where my brain started thinking about that this week though was I I’m been doing some cleaning — it’s summer time — trying to get stuff cleaned out of the office and now I don’t have to keep paper copies.  I can scan everything and throw the paper copies away and then I can wait for it to digitally disappear; which happens too.

I ran across an article from 2004, it was re-copy, it was in the Arizona Daily Star.  We lived in Tucson then; it was an op-ed piece out of the Washington Post.  If you don’t recall April 30th give or take of 2004 — you might not have any memory of this — but I think if I tell you about it you’ll remember it.  The editorial started with this phrase: the contest in which a human being is the prize is reprehensible.  The editorial was heaping scorn on ABC’s 20-20 news program.  It was the show that was titled: Be My Baby.  It documented Jessica, a pregnant 16-year-old from Cleveland Ohio as she interviewed five couples desperately wanted to adopt her unborn child.  While Jessica agreed to the adoption, she also said she wanted to maintain contact with both the child and the couple who adopted the baby in an increasingly popular arrangement called open adoption.  The contempt poured on the show came from adoption professionals and many media sources.  Many thought that before the program aired that the promotion by ABC turned this into a game show.

“20-20 cameras were there when the competition for Jessica’s baby began.  As the finalists arrived at the agency, one by one, each couple would have less than one half hour to convince Jessica that they should be the parents to raise her unborn son.”

That does sound a whole lot like an obscene reality show where couples come to compete for a baby.  One objector wrote: masquerading as a news program, 20-20 has taken a critical moment, laden with hope and heartbreak and a child’s future on the line and turned it into profit and a reality game show,

Mike Cassidy wrote for the Mercury News.  He summed up the reaction saying there should be a call-in line.  Remember that in 2004 we did not have cell phones.  You young-ens might have forgotten that.  They had a call-in show, and he suggested this number: 1-800 HOW-SICK.  So loud was the outcry against this broadcast that before it even hit the air, Barbara Walters posted a letter on the ABC website blaming the furor on overly zealous promotion and marketing, admitting that the initial on-air promo promos were a little over the top; a little?  According to Walters, then the problem was the use of the words compete and finalist used by the marketing people in promoting and describing the five couples who wanted to adopt this child.  Walters went on to defend the program and of course ABC aired it; controversy makes for great ratings right?  Walters, I think did a good job of describing the symptom.  I don’t think anybody addressed the real problem.

The real problem as I see it is that when you inject competition and entertainment and profit angles into a process that is of great consequence to the entire life of a human being, that it diminishes the humanity of everyone involved.  And if that show back in 2004 served any useful purpose, it is that the clamor enabled us to hear those objections and all of us could get together become offended and assertive in our commitment to honor the humanity of everyone, at least for a while, until we forgot, or until it was our money involved, or as long as it had to do with babies.  We will come back to that.

So our text today is from the birth narrative of Jesus and adoption is the conversation.  In the text there is the literal sense of adoption; Matthew’s account where the angel tells Joseph you’re going to adopt this child.  Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.  She will bear a son; you are to name him Jesus.  Dr.  Eugene Boring from Brite Divinity Schools says the meaning of this text is adoption.  You Joseph shall take this child as your own.  That’s the text, you will adopt him into the Davidic line and he will be an authentic son of David; that’s the intention.  Joseph obeyed and Jesus became as far as anyone else in Bethlehem knew, Joseph’s son.  That’s the literal sense of adoption.  There’s also the metaphorical sense of adoption. that God sent Jesus, so that we might adopt him.  Now we say it that way and it sounds strange to our ears because our cultural religion has talked about it in a different way.  It all makes it sound like it’s up to us; we have to adopt Jesus.  There is one message in the birth story is that it’s all up to God.  God is the actor.

It also helps to understand that in the first century in Aramaic and Greek, the word belief is pisti.  The subordinate word of faith is pestis.  To believe in someone means that what is important to them becomes important to you.  Jesus said, believe in me and keep my commandments; believe in me, and this is what’s important to me.  So to receive Jesus, to adopt Jesus, to believe in Jesus means what is important to Jesus becomes important to us.  So now our mind begins filing through what we remember that Jesus told us to do about how we treat neighbors and friends and enemies.  That becomes difficult because it’s not what we want to do; but it is obedience and that’s what it means to adopt Jesus.  Receiving Jesus conveys the sense of making Christ welcome in our lives; making our lives a representation of the way of Christ.

This is also important in adoptive relationships.  If you’ve ever known someone or maybe you adopted and raised a child, you have to make the home welcome.  It has to become their home, their stuff, their place.  The divine sense of adoption is also embodied in this text.  John tells us that Jesus came to arrange for our adoption as well.  Jesus said it this way: you did not choose me. I chose you.  Paul too uses the image of adoption to speak about our relationship with God.  To the folks at Ephesus he writes: God chose us in Christ, destined us for adoption as his children.  Paul says to the Romans, that adoption leads to being heirs of God and joint heirs in God with Christ.  So far in this conversation we got three things happening right now.  I guess this is about preserving our humanity; our receiving Jesus, our adopting Jesus; claiming his way as our way.  Making Jesus welcome in our lives; what is important to him becomes important us; and God’s adoption of us and our need to reflect the ways of the Father.

So I have a couple things for us to ponder as we are talking about consistency.  One of the TV networks in Tucson back in 2004 ran a corresponding story about the adoption situation in Arizona and America.  One of the points that they made was that one of the reasons that these five couples were willing to go through the humiliation of competing on national television for Jessica’s baby is because the child was newborn, healthy and white.  They made very clear and I checked it remains true to this day: children available for adoption that meet those three criteria are in short supply.  But there are a lot of children awaiting adoption that don’t meet all of those criteria.  Some of them are older, some of them are not white and some of them have special needs and there is no show competing for them; there is no competition.  Some of them will remain in the custody of Children Services until they turn 18.

I’m not suggesting that you run out this week and adopt a child because you feel guilty.  Good things do not come out of guilt — take my word for that — we don’t do good out of guilt or shame.  I say this because I want to acknowledge that I do not suspect that any of us are racist; I suspect all of us are, in ways that we don’t always understand.  Let me give you an example; I happen to be in a family where one member of the family is adopted and is not the same color as the rest of us.  Now I said that wrong, it is pretty racist, huh?  It was amazing to me and when I grew up and my brother Tim and I we would be with my parents and people would come up to us and with the best intention would thank my parents for adopting a black child and say: oh it’s so neat of you to raise him; he’s different.  My parents were just aghast at this; they would look at folks and go: these are our sons; what are you talking about?  There is that way we become racially insensitive when we open our mouth.  And I don’t want you to feel guilty about it; this is one of those things which we all have to address and become aware.  I say this because last week we discovered that the Holy Spirit did not come to the congregation in Jerusalem until they were all together in one room; people from all different tribes, all different places, all different colors, speaking all different languages and everyone who came heard a message of welcome.

I tell you this today for your theological reflection because we make decisions every day: what we talk about, the positions we defend, the posture we take, the jokes we chuckle at, the radio and TV shows we tune in, the way we treat people around us, the way we roll our eyes at the folks who serve us, all of which reveal our receiving Jesus.  Have we adopted him, claiming his way is our way?  Have we made Christ welcome in our lives?  What is important to him comes important to us; God’s adoption of us and our need to reflect the way of the Father.

I got one more.  It’s been almost 50 years, my favorite blogger Seth Godin is a business writer reminded me of this.  Milton Friedman published a little article that altered the way we think about corporate responsibility in society.  In his article fifty years ago, Friedman wrote, there is one and only one responsibility of business, to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits.  Friedman said that business has no corporate responsibility beyond; has no responsibility to an ethical society; it has no responsibility to improve the lives of customers, employees, or neighbors; unless these actions coincidentally increase profit.

In my mind I am remembering in the last month or two, the chairman of the board of one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the nation has been telling patients who need an EpiPen and the FDA: you just have to live with my profit margin.  I’m going to pay my CEO $95 million and there’s nothing you can do about that; because he can.  Like a whole lot of folks who lucked into jobs of big companies, the excuse becomes simple; my job is to make money; we do that; I’m just doing my job; even if that practice leads to the erosion of any social concern and the deaths of kids whose biggest crime was getting stung by bees.  The simplicity of that argument is stunning; no need to worry about nuance; no need to wonder about right decisions; no need to lose sleep over difficult choices; no potential consequences to ponder; just make more money; do what it takes to make more money.  It is a simple equation that absolves any responsibility for anything complicated or nuanced or unintended.

In his article, Seth Godin pointed out that the official rules of baseball now are two-hundred and fifty pages long.  Because working the system, cutting corners and winning at all costs has replaced playing in the spirit of the game.  Since the baseball league can’t count on players or coaches to act always in the interest of sportsmanship; they have had to create more rules to keep the system in check.  You take that kind of problem and you put it in a free market, and it gets a whole lot worse.  When human beings stop acting like humans and instead indicate that they have no choice but to always seek shortcuts, cut every corner, no longer possible to help our employees; trust just evaporated.  Not only that, but when part of the job of business is lobbying to have eternally fewer rules because working the refs is good business; because everyone is doing it; because I have no choice but to do it.

Profits I think are fine.  Capitalism is not the problem.  Profits enable investment that we need to introduce and produce value.  But almost nothing benefits from profit being the only thing that is sought.  The pursuit of profit at the expense of our humanity is too high a price to pay.  Jesus said something about this.  He said what is it if we profit and we gain the whole world and lose our soul?  To inject competition and entertainment and profit angles into a process that is of great consequence to human beings diminishes humanity.  Or does that only apply to babies?  I think we need to be mindful of the decisions that we make and clear about whose instructions we are following.  Are we following Jesus or do we worship Milton Friedman?  When we work for, or partner with, or buy stock in a company that signs on to Milton Friedman’s ruthless reasoning; we are rewarding people and we risk becoming people who long ago have stopped being people and long ago lost their souls.

Now, I don’t think it’s difficult to see the alternative, and a whole lot of you work for companies, you have a company, you run a company, you manage a company, you do business at a company that fits that alternative.  The alternative is something like this: a business, a corporation is an association of human beings combining capital and labor to produce something.  That business has precisely the same responsibilities as the individuals that work there; the responsibility to play fair, to seek the long-term implications of their actions and be responsible for them, to create value for everyone with whom they associate.  I tell you this because we all make decisions every day.  What we talk about, the position we take, the way we invest our resources, the way we work our job, the jokes we laugh at, the positions we defend, the radio and TV shows we tune in, the way we treat people who serve us; decisions that reveal our receiving Jesus, adopting him, claiming his way is our way, making Christ welcome in our lives.  What is important to him becoming important to us and God’s adoption of us and our need to reflect the way of the Father.  I want to invite you to do some theological reflection.  I don’t want to tell you what to believe; I want to invite you to think about what you believe.  Have you truly adopted Jesus?

 

Read All About It! Weekly E-news for June 14th is here!!!!

Read all about the happenings at Chandler United Methodist Church!
We’re gearing up for VBS week which begins on June 19th.  Page 2 shares a list of needs to make this week successful.
Also, Methodist Women’s Fellowship is partnering with VBS and is sponsoring a children’s clothing drive PLUS a collection for men’s shirts and shoes for the Clothes Cabin.  Read more about this collective effort and when you can bring donations to CUMC on page 4 of the e-news.
Check these items and more out in this week’s edition by clicking the link.  061417

2017-06-04 Focusing Our Lives – Part 5 of 6: Look Sharp!

Focusing Our Lives – Part 5 of 6: Look Sharp!

Pastor Jonathan Arnpriester, Chandler United Methodist Church, June 4th, 2017

Acts 1:6-14

 

I know there are some people, I know there are some churches that tell you it’s all about what YOU believe and we come to church to get our beliefs right.  That is a bunch of nonsense.  Those folks need to read scripture because today’s Scripture is just for you; if that’s what you believe; if that’s what you think, that the church is all about right belief.  What do you believe about this?  This is the text that the people in it don’t know what to believe.  What will we do with that?  My argument would be that we come to church because we are looking for meaning in life.  There is a whole lot of life is meaningless and we have a longing for meaning in life.  It’s not all that hard to find.  This text is about finding that meaning.  If you listen to some of the peripheral words in the text and what’s going on — kind of around the edge — you notice some things.

What happening here is we have this ragtag band of followers; some of them were the people who were with Jesus right before he died.  Some of them have been added into the mix.  There are women and there are men.  They are starting to work out what their time with Jesus meant; what they are supposed to do now.  They starting to comprehend that he’s died and been risen.  They probably went through all five stages of grief simultaneously.  You know those moments where you know the person is not coming back but you hope the door open and they will walk-in and you’re just disgustedly sad about it and you’re lost and you’re depressed and all of that.  They’re going through that.  Our text tells us of a transformation that happens when we go looking for meaning in life and it begins as most transitional events do a little bit before we start reading.  Jesus had been telling his followers for a while that he would leave them.  He keeps coaching them.  He keeps guiding them.

We tune in for a little episode and it’s a little bit like a sitcom television show.  Each episode is a routine of trying to get them into shape for sending them out into the world as disciples.  Go out and make a difference.  They say how so that’s an episode.  They misunderstand something and he has to coach them a little bit and there is a little bit of the heartstrings music as they come to realize, oh we’ll need to look at this differently.  There is audience laughter and a little bit of discomfort as we recognize ourselves in the disciples and their stupidity.  Over time we see character growth and development.  We follow the characters through the storyline and we oftentimes find ourselves wondering: okay, what happened to Peter this time because Peter is the one that approaches every problem with an open mouth.  Today is the final episode of this season and I see the disciples; they are all gathered at Al’s diner.  They are sitting in booths and listening to the jukebox and are having light conversation and some of them might get up and dance a little bit.  Jesus struts in and the audience applauds; the jukebox goes quiet; he just looks.  Before he can even get a word in edge wise they plaster him with questions.  Lord is it time?  Is it time for the kingdom to come?  Lord is it now?  Is it now?  Tell us.  That’s when the Ralph-to-mouth moment hits them.

Jesus is cool and in his sometimes wonderful calming voice he says: it’s not for you to know, BUT…  It is a beautiful word – BUT — it keeps us hanging, telling us but there’s more coming.  But you will receive power, he says.  He turns on his heels and he starts heading back out the door to Al’s diner.  We are perplexed, we get up out of the booths and we follow him out the door.  Great, looking at each other, punching each other in the arm, power, POWER, this is going to be great.  Just one thing, what does that mean?  Our brains are racing; our mouths are trying to follow.  Is it power like walk on water power?  Will we get to heal people?  Will we get to make wine at parties?  Or is it the power that we dream of: where we command attention, where we can buy more stuff; probably not that kind of power.  We get out to the parking lot with him.  And Jesus continues, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes to you and you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth, even among the Samaritans.  Okay, great, receive power, got that.  Not now, OK, we have to wait, fine.  Samaritans!  What was that?  We don’t want to hear what we don’t want to hear and we don’t like the Samaritans.  Once Jesus has said this, as we are watching, he’s lifted out of their sight and they stand there and their faces just follow him up and they are thinking about forming words to shout out and they just watch him go up because they realize that talking is not for now.

Wait, there’s got to be more.  And while all this is happening, he just keeps going up and they realize they are just babbling.  Picture this for a moment; this is a great camera shot.  All those people looking up with their mouths open and what do you do?  I just love this scene; God is a great comedy writer.  And it gets better because all of a sudden, standing with them appear two men in white.  The two men are looking at the people who are looking at heaven and these two men say: excuse us, why are you standing here looking at heaven?  Have you felt really stupid?  You thought the meaning of life was up there.  And you are just looking, staring off into space and what are you doing?  That’s the same question God asked Elijah in the cave all alone, what are you doing?  The same question that your wife asked when she comes up behind you and sees what’s on the computer screen that you’d like to click out of, what are you doing?  The same feeling Jonah had on the beach after he’d been belched out of the whale covered in fish barf, what are you doing?  That feeling that Judas must’ve had when he realized greed had gotten a hold of him, what are you doing?

It is that feeling, it is that awareness that we come into that we have been distracted by the unimportant, the dumb.  What happens next in the text is the big shift.  This is where we really need to pay attention because the disciples, the followers of Jesus, the first church, get a whole new way of looking at things.  Later they will look back on this and they will recognize it and classify it.  They will talk about it at all in the same way that they talked about Jesus healing of the blind man.  When Jesus touched the man’s eyes, his sight was returned, but he couldn’t see very well.  He said people look like trees.  Jesus touched his eyes a second time and the man begin to see clearly.  The early church interpreted this experience with the Angels as we were getting our eyes open to see what is in front of us.

This change of focus, this change in the way of looking at things; they were able to see things as they had never seen them before.  They were able to find God’s presence in ways that they had not.  The book of Acts is a little weird in how it writes this.  It calls these the keys to power.  I think power is a good word here because we feel powerful when we are finding meaning in our life; we are looking for meaning in our life.  The text tells us if you want to find meaning in your life there are four things that happen.  They all happen in this text.  The first key is the shift from gazing off into the heavens to the earth around you.  I know when crisis comes sometimes we go urrrr and sometimes we just sit in the car with the radio off and the air conditioner blowing and we just look out into space.  These angels show up and point out that they simply had come to remind the disciples that they been instructed to return to Jerusalem.  They were saying: go that way.  You’re looking for the next step in life; you don’t know what to do; go that way.  That was the message they brought.  That was the purpose of these two angels.  It will not be in heaven where you see your next step.  It will be in Jerusalem where you’ve already been told to go.  They left that hillside; they traveled to Jerusalem and it was there in Jerusalem among people that spoke different languages from all different nations, the spirit came in to that moment.

The church in every age has had a hard time with these instructions.  There has been a real surge in spirituality lately.  I think people are hungry for something besides malls and money and cars and speed and competition and the rat race.  So we turn to books, we turn to websites, we listen to gurus, self appointed experts with a briefcase; something that might touch the inner yearnings of our souls.  Acts warns us that if the spirituality is not rooted in the real world around you, then it’s not the work of the spirit.  If our spiritual life is not connected somehow to other people then it is just brain fluff.  Anytime anybody says: I’m just a spiritual person, the question we should be asking them is: okay, how does that carry out into compassion for someone else.  How does that make you a different person than you would normally be.  Because most of the time it is just an opportunity for people to say: I’m lazy about my relationship to God and I don’t want to be pulled out of the shadows.

Here’s how I think about that.  Everybody likes to get away; we do.  Sometimes we have to sit in the car with the radio off and stare out the windshield.  Sometimes we have to get in front of our televisions.  I think actually television was a great gift to us because sometimes we do need to escape reality.  TV shows that captures us all and gathers us together can actually be a good thing.  TV shows like Hill Street Blue, everybody watched Hill Street Blues.  MASH, everyone watched MASH; still the number one closing episode ever, the most people that watched TV together at one time was the closing episode of MASH.  NYPD Blue, Cheers, Friends, Seinfeld, we could lose ourselves in these TV shows.  Season after season we watched.  Maybe for you it was binge watching a season of your favorite show on Netflix now.  What is it for you?  We disconnect from our reality.  That’s what professional sports are for a good number of us; it’s a way to disconnect from our reality.

In episode TV there comes a season ender or the end of the episode.  We expect to find meaning.  Then the episode is over and as it fades from TV, there we are, staring at our TV, our viewing device.  Wait, that’s it?  Theres got to be more!  I was expecting meaning and purpose and answers to all of life’s questions.  I want a miracle to change my life to come out of this television show.  You mean that’s it?  It wouldn’t surprise us one bit if two people in white appear on the couch beside us and said: why are you staring at that screen?

For reasons that we all understand, we have difficult relationships and want to get away from them.  We need something else in front of us.  We really do want to be distracted.  We really think we want a perfect life.  There is an episode about that also, The Twilight Zone.  The episode was titled: A Nice Place to Visit.  A guy had died and he went to the afterlife and he soon found out that everything was perfect: every sunrise was beautiful, every sunset was astounding, the weather was always gorgeous, every poker hand was a royal flush and when he played pool every ball that he hit went into a pocket.  After a while he said to his host: this isn’t fun at all.  I don’t like it here in heaven.  And his host said: what makes you think you’re in heaven? [laughter] Be careful what you ask for, you might get it

Leonard Cohen, the folksinger who died last November seemed to understand some of this meaning search that we have.  He said: there are cracks in life, cracks in everything; that’s how the light gets in.  The angel says that the great miracle is: you don’t need to gaze into heaven to find God.  Look closer; look where the cracks are in your life and the lives around you.  That is where the light will shine through.  You probably are not going to escape the challenges of our lives.  That’s where you look for God and that’s where you look for meaning.

The second key that our text offers is when we search for God out there into finding God in one another.  There is a wonderful stage place called Inherit the Wind and one of the characters in that play said: he got lost he was looking for God too high and too far away.  Our text tells us that we find God when we redirect our gaze to the people around us.  Anne Lamott: drug addict, street prostitute, and author in her book, Traveling Mercies, talks about why she makes her son Sam go to church.  She said early on I was trying to get sober; early on I was trying to stay upright; I was alone and I was scared.  She said one Sunday at the end of church I stood up and told my congregation that I was pregnant.  She said they almost knocked me down cheering; I didn’t expect it.  They reached out to her with arms and they adopted her and they got clothes and they brought blankets for the new baby.  They lugged in casseroles that she could put in the freezer at the homeless shelter where she was staying.  Church members kept telling her that her new baby was going to be part of the church family and they began to slip her money.  A bent-over woman on Social Security would sidle up to her and put a ten dollar bill in her pocket every week.  Ancient Mary Williams would bring baggies filled with dimes week after week and put them in her hands.  Anne brought her newborn son Sam to church with her when he was five days old.  Church folk stood in line to hold that baby and called him our baby and my baby.  They cared.  They reached out.  They prayed for her.  They loved her through some very difficult times.

She writes: everything is better now so why do I still go to church?  Why do I make Sam go to church when none of his friends go?  She writes: I make him go because somebody in church brought me dimes.  When Ann looked around her, she saw the face of God in the people of her church; they made sure of it.

The third key in what the angel says moves from THEM to US.  The Angels told the disciples to redirect their gaze, look around you, look beyond you.  You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes to you and you will be witnesses to people in Judea, Samaria, and the outermost parts of the world.  Every age seems to find ways to categorize people into US and THEM.  Currently in our nation there is too much profit to be made dividing people into groups and political parties and clans and political actions and divisive causes.  Surveys come in the mail from our particular party; surveys designed and worded to divide and disgust and enrage and raise money.  The great shift in the Book of Acts is when the Church is forced to wait for the Holy Spirit as a church of all nations, all people.  It is then when the Holy Spirit comes to them. Folks known only as THEM became US.

My favorite story about becoming US is told by Garrison Keillor, radio storyteller, about his friend named Dan.  Dan was the cowboy when Gary wanted to be the Indian.   Dan was the good guy when Gary wanted to be the bad guy.  Then they grew up a little bit and they went to school together and Dan got onto a different bus every morning and that bus was called special education.  Garrison said he would see Dan with the special education kids and every time he saw them Dan would say: Hi Gary.  Over the years Gary said I went through stages where I liked seeing Dan and then I went thru some stages where I didn’t want Dan to see me.  Gary grew up and finished high school and college and got a career and a family and he happened to be back in the city and he was waiting on a bus with a crowd of people.  Suddenly Dan was there and Dan was hugging him and shaking his hand and greeting him and introducing him to his friends: Lyle and Kyle and Brad and Mary.  Then they got on the bus and Dan invited Gary to sit with him and Gary did.  Garrison said on that bus a boy could have reached over and pulled a girl’s pigtail and the girl would have smacked him and said stop.  He said: suddenly on the bus it was just US.

One of the messages of the Ascension and Pentecost story is there’s no such word as THEM; it is only US.  And whoever says otherwise is working their own agenda.  That understanding makes it possible for all sorts of walls and divisions to crumble and fall.  Dividing people into US and THEM is not the work of the Spirit through you.  The image of the text — if we carry it out a little bit — the image of the text is if there’s a wall between you and someone else, build a bridge and get over it.

The fourth key that the text offers us is it moves from vague to specific.  The Angels remind the disciples: you have been sent by Jesus with a purpose: make disciples, form people; your first stop is Jerusalem.  Go!  That was just the start.  The Angels got them listening from where they were next being sent.  It was out on the roads and it was to the sick and to the hungry and to the jails, to their attackers, to the leaders of their nations, to their enemies, to the outcast.  There are a lot of scenes waiting to be unfolded for us.  Throughout the rest of the Book of Acts, members of the church are being sent out.  The questions every time they go out they encounter Gentiles, oh God, Gentiles!  Can these folks be baptized?  Philip encounters an Ethiopian eunuch.  How weird is that?  Can he be baptized?  Peter and Cornelius encounter a Centurion.  Can he be baptized?  Paul, the killer of Christians who scares us more than anyone else; can he be welcomed and baptized?

Every time the answer is YES.  There is nothing the Holy Spirit can’t do; get out of the way. And often times the answer that comes back is: we took you didn’t we? [laughter]  And look what God has done to you, with you, for you, through you; it changed your life.  All these keys are about opening doors and changing lives, about finding meaning in our life.  Sure, get away, escape, lose yourself in entertainment for a while; but don’t expect life meaning to come there.  Look in the broken places; don’t run from them.  Look in the places where there are cracks in your life; where God is working.  Be God’s presence to someone who has no right to expect it.  Start bringing dimes.  Get out of the business of dividing people into THEM and US.  The challenge is not to be right.  The challenge is to build a bridge.  Number four, God has sought you, God has found you and God is sending you.  The challenge is not what you believe.  The challenge is: where is God sending you next?  And will you go?  Will you trust God to go with you?  Your task is to figure out where God is sending you and then go.  You will be amazed and you don’t know what to believe.  What the Angel said in our text today is true; change your focus; it will change you.

Weekly E-news for June 7th

Summer is here and the excitement is building for a great week at
Hero Central Vacation Bible School.
Make certain to check out the request for needed items to make this week super fun for all our super hero participants on page 5 of the e-news.

 

 

Also, the Methodist Women’s Fellowship will be sponsoring a children’s clothing drive in conjunction with Vacation Bible School to benefit the Clothes Cabin.  More information is found on page 3.

Click 060717 to access the weekly e-news and find out more about the happenings at Chandler United Methodist Church.

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.

 

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.