Saturday, February 27, 2016
Sermon Summary, Feb 21, 2016, “The Sweet Spot”
(Feb 14 was a snow day) This was to have been a Valentine’s Day sermon, “Sweet Spot”; but it’s more closely related to baseball (pitchers and catchers reported to spring training this week). Anybody who’s played knows the great feeling of hitting the ball on the sweet spot. That’s the spot where all the energy is transmitted to the ball. We’re also in the political season, “Where Faith and Politics Meet.” Wouldn’t it be great if instead of political vibration we cold be transferring the maximum amount of energy to the governing process? Wouldn’t it be great?
We need to strive for balance. We used to have moderates. Now even Republicans and Democrats are calling themselves Conservatives and Liberals. CK Chesterson said, “Liberals exist to make mistakes, and conservatives to make sure mistakes are never corrected.” Tony Campollo better said, “Liberals and conservatives need each other: Conservatives maintain lines that should never be crossed, while liberals destroy many lines that should never have existed.”
Faith has had liberals and conservatives from the beginning. Israel just passed a law allowing woman to pray at the West Wall with men (a line that should have never existed); Muslims have conservatives interpreting the Quran as it was written in the seventh century while moderates claim the violence only applied to Mohammed’s wars. There may never be a resolution. Paul struck a sweet spot, a middle ground, “the whole law is summed up in a singly commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal 5:14) Then nailed it with the fruit of the Spirit. (Gal 5:22) Wouldn’t you like your politicians to exercise a little kindness or self-control?
We defined our political process as “Who gets what, when and how.” Who and what we learn from the stories and teachings of Jesus. Where and how is part of how we use our vote.
In this political season I challenge you to search out five of the top issues, research the who and the what from Scripture. Then using Tradition, Experience (prayer and nudgings of the Spirit) and reason to conclude the how. Examine to positions of two or three candidates, including a polar opposite before you decide to cast your vote. And remember, we are selecting the leader of the free world for reasons we cannot foresee. When it happens, we are electing him or her to hit the ball on the sweet spot.
Martin Luther King in using the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-27) said the Priest and the Levite responded from fear asking “What will happen to me?” while the Samaritan asked “What will happen to him?” Maybe we find the sweet spot balancing security and compassion on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.
Saturday, February 13, 2016
Sermon Summary, Feb 7, 2016, “Where Faith and Politics Meet”
The conflict between Faith and Politics is not new. In 1702, hen Samuel Wesley could not get an Amen from his wife Susanna when he prayed for King William he said, “Suzy, we must part. If we are to have two kings in this house, we shall have two beds.” And he left! When he returned some months later, John Wesley the founder of Methodism was born within a year!
We are people of faith. Faith informs our values. Whatever faith we have informs our values. Adam Hamilton says, “Our democracy rises and falls on the willingness of people of good conscience to get involved in the political process.”
Gore Vidal defined politics thus: “Poli from the Greek means many, and “tic” is a blood sucking insect.” A more noble definition may be “Politics is process of deciding who gets what, when, and how.” If so, it involves moral decisions by moral people. Amos, 700 years before Christ lambasted the immoral political leadership of his day and concluded, “Let justice roll down like waters nd righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Moral administration of resources and opportunity.
Jesus was a politician. In fact you could say Jesus was killed for running for President. Do you remember the people saying, “We have no king but Caesar”? That was a vote. Jesus was a politician who gathered disciples from all parties: Simon the Zealot (Zealots advocated the violent overthrow of Rome), Matthew the tax collector and agent of Rome, the fishermen were businessmen, Saul was a Pharisee, John the Baptist and Essene, etc. Why can’t our extremes work as well together?
Jesus was a politician who from the outset (Luke 4:18) proclaimed his ministry to the poor (those deprived of humanity or health), the captive (e.g. mentally ill), the blind (those who receive inadequate educational opportunities), the oppressed (those deprived of opportunity or liberty). The ministry, teachings, and stories of Jesus tell us the who and the what, but leave the “how” wide open. Out task is to inform our “How.” How do we inform our “How”?
John Wesley talked of a framework of Scripture (the guide to all others), Tradition (teaching and actions of the early church), Experience (prayer and listening to the nudgings of the Spirit), and Reason (our God-given intellect) that can inform our “How.”
A book Jesus, Outside the Lines says we are not called to be right or left, we are called to the values of the Kingdom. Jesus was both a Liberal AND a Conservative. Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason allow us to see a rainbow of colors in what would otherwise be a sea of red and blue. Amen.
Saturday, February 6, 2016
Sermon Summary, Jan 31, 2016, “Who Do You Say That I Am?”
In my adult quest of Faith, I said to my new pastor, “I believe in God, but I’m no sure what to think about this Jesus.” As I reflect about it, I’m amazed he didn’t challenge me, but I guess he knew that I would wrestle with it. Does it matter what we believe about the resurrection? Is Jesus really divine? Does it matter? Jesus asks of every person in every generation, “Who do you say that I am?”
A few weeks later, I was listening to Christian radio on a California business trip, and was directed to CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity. Amazingly, the airport bookstore had a single copy. “One thing you must not say is ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim as God.’ He does not leave you that choice. You can shut him up as a fool, spit at him, kill him; or fall at his feet and call Him lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He does not leave that open to us.” (page 41, paraphrased.) I accepted Jesus as the divine Son of God and never looked back.
Do you have doubts? You are not the first. Jesus’ disciples, the Mary’s, Thomas, Peter, Paul, all had doubts. Yet they came to believe and to proclaim the resurrection; then to die for their beliefs. The changed lives leave no doubt. Paul turned from persecutor to proclaimer. Peter overnight became the greatest preacher in the Bible (Acts 2). Paul tells us (1 Corinthians 15) that hundreds of eye-witnesses to the risen Christ were still alive to refute or substantiate the witness of the disciples whose lives were changed as none before or after. They either saw the risen Christ or not, were witnesses or not, but almost all died for their testimony. And folks, nobody dies for what they know to be a lie! Nobody.
Jesus divinity. Many assert that Jesus never claimed to be divine, that it was made up hundreds of years later by the church. Yet in Mark 2 (early in Jesus’ ministry), the Pharisee’s accuse Jesus of taking the role of God by forgiving sins. Jesus does not refute them but says, “So that you may know that the Son of Man has the authority to forgive sins, (he says to the paralytic) take up your matt and walk.” No one can forgive sins but God alone. Indeed! In John, Jesus says, “I and the Father are one”; and “If you have seen me, you have seen the father.” (CS Lewis says he is either a lunatic or the Son of God. He leaves us no other choice.)
Who do you say that I am? Peter called him Messiah (the anointed)—King. Jesus laid down his life for us—Savior. Thomas proclaimed, “My Lord and my God”—Jesus is Lord. The latter is the earliest Christian creed. We have allegiance to him as King, gratitude to him as Savior, and as Lord he is master and sovereign of our lives. Jesus is Lord. Amen.
Monday, February 1, 2016
Sermon Summary, Jan 24, 2016, “Did Jesus Really Say That?”
I was recently following a discussion on the internet about religions (and Jesus) as forces for peace. One responder, an atheist said, “You think Jesus is a force for peace? Read Luke 19:27.” Whoa! Is says, “As for those enemies of mine who did not want me to be King over them, bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.” Whoa! Did he really say that?
I’m more bothered by other passages “Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.” Who are my enemies, those who persecute me? What does he mean by love? What about you? “Blessed are the rich.” “Woe to those who are rich, for they have received their consolation.” We all are in the top 10 percent if not one percenters in the world. What does he mean.
And if we are to look at the world through the filter of Jesus as we’ve talked the past weeks, how is it that we are to use these passages?
Jesus used hyperbole, exaggeration to make a point. We are to take sin very, very seriously; our wealth very, very seriously, our relationships very, very seriously; and from our opening passage, the King’s return very, very seriously.
The Bible gives us two main themes, filters to use: The great moral imperatives of the Kingdom of God (Love your neighbors, the Golden rule, the great compassion of Jesus); and Eternal Life in Christ through a personal relationship in him. United Methodists embrace both filters, we hold them at the same time, we look through both filters at the same time. It is our personal relationship, our love of Christ that calls us to act with the compassion of Christ, to love our neighbors, to treat others as we wish to be treated.
The Kingdom of God. Jesus in his opening words, “The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God has come near. Repent, and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:15) Jesus calls us to repent, turn around, not just to stop our behavior but to change our thoughts, change our hearts such that our behavior changes.
The biblical narrative has been as much about rebellion as the Kingdom. From the very first kingdom setting, the garden, we have rebelled. We continue in rebellion with murders, wars, slavery, refugees, unchecked preventable disease, and more simply lying, cheating, stealing, addiction, adultery, gossip, back-biting,
We need to repent. When we do so, we squash the rebellion in our part of the kingdom. We become yeast to leaven those around us, seeds that grow into trees that welcome others to the kingdom. We need to look at the world through the filters of Christ’s moral imperatives and our love for him. Take the rebellion we see very, very seriously and repent. The KOG is at hand.