Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Luke 21:5-19, Isaiah 65:17-25                                                                        November 13, 2016

Some people were talking about the temple, how it was decorated with beautiful stones and ornaments dedicated to God. Jesus said, “As for the things you are admiring, the time is coming when not even one stone will be left upon another, all will be demolished.”

The Temple was the center of Jewish faith. Even as Jesus predicted it's destruction, it was 46 years into it's second restoration The grand symbol of security to the Jews at the time, it was where God and humans interacted. Four football fields wide, and five long, it was made of marble so pure that, from a distance, it looked like a snow capped mountain. There was a wall of gold that shone blindingly brilliant in the sun, and it was filled with treasures from around the known world. For Jesus to prophesy the destruction of this magnificent edifice was baffling, and almost blasphemous.

On Wednesday morning many Americans awoke despondent; the unexpected, and to them, inexplicable victory of Donald Trump left them pondering the words of Henry Kissinger: “More than at any time in history, mankind faces a crossroads--one path leading to despair and utter hopelessness, the other leading to total destruction.” The election result brought chaos to international financial markets ,(but that seems to be calming down) and has both our allies and our opponents questioning the solidarity of their relations with the United States. Some ask, “Are we returning to the 1950's America of racism ,prejudice, oppression and, even McCarthyist red-baiting and witch hunting?” .There was an explosion in search traffic on Google for terms such as "emigrate" and "how to emigrate to Canada,” while huge numbers of internet surfers worldwide also began googling the phrase "end of the world" when the news broke. Others, I am sure, are stocking up on food, gold, guns generators, guns and ammo in preparation for the cataclysm they see coming. Others have taken to the streets.

Teacher, they asked, “when will these things happen? What sign will show that these things are about to happen?” Many of us wonder the same thing. Jesus doesn't give a direct answer, he doesn't tell us that it will be two weeks from the second Wednesday of March, 2019. He simply tells us to be faithful. And yet there are still those who claim to know when the end will come. The latest prediction, August 21, 2017 when a total eclipse is expected to spread across America. with western Europe experiencing a partial eclipse. It will be the first total eclipse to travel from one coast of America to the other, for almost a century .Conspiracy theorists have pointed to passages from The Book of Revelation to support their predictions. Watch out that you aren’t deceived. Cautions Jesus, Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m the one!’ and ‘It’s time!’ Don’t follow them.” The politicians are not our salvation. The President can neither prevent nor halt what God has planned. 9 When you hear of wars and rebellions,” Jesus continues, “don’t be alarmed. These things must happen first, but the end won’t happen immediately.” Then Jesus said to them, “Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other. 11 There will be great earthquakes and wide-scale food shortages and epidemics. There will also be terrifying sights and great signs in the sky.”

The things Jesus prophesied were then, like they are now, current events of the day. Rome was always fighting rebellions and other lands. Disease and hunger were almost a universal norm. But, says the Lord, as bad as things are, this is not the end. .

The editors of The Wesleyan Study Bible believe that the “Wars and rebellions” of v. 9 refers to the Jewish uprising of 77AD when the temple was destroyed, while others say we cannot tie the prophesies to any particular event in the first or subsequent centuries. Whatever century Jesus is talking about, the important thing for us is to be faithful, especially when we face uncertain times; especially when we feel disenfranchised, that no one knows or cares about us; that what we think and feel doesn't matter.

However we voted, and I'm pretty sure that we did not all vote the same, we are still in Christ, and we are called to reflect that in how we treat and respond to others. Whether you think the election is the best or worst thing to happen to the United States, we are all in this together. This is a time for reconciliation and prayer.
The times they are a changing. The future may look bleak. Great or ungreat, this nation will never be the same; but there is no cause for alarm. We do not and cannot know what the future will bring; but we need not live in fear, for we can and do know the one who brings us the future: a future of promise, a future of hope, a future of joy. A future described by Isaiah, who promises in God's name a new creation, a new Jerusalem, even more fantastic than the first.
The times they are a changing. The future may look bleak. Great or ungreat, this nation will never be the same. We do not and cannot know what the future will bring; but we need not and should not live in fear, for we can and do know the one who brings us the future: a future of promise, a future of hope, a future of joy. A future described by Isaiah, who promises in God's name a new creation, a new Jerusalem, even more fantastic than the first.
My chosen people will use your name as a curse. I, the Sovereign LORD, will put you to death. But I will give a new name to those who obey me. Anyone in the land who asks for a blessing will ask to be blessed by the faithful God. Whoever takes an oath will swear by the name of the faithful God. The troubles of the past will be gone and forgotten." The LORD says, "I am making a new earth and new heavens. The events of the past will be completely forgotten. Be glad and rejoice forever in what I create. The new Jerusalem I make will be full of joy, and her people will be happy. I myself will be filled with joy because of Jerusalem and her people. There will be no weeping there, no calling for help. Babies will no longer die in infancy, and all people will live out their life span. Those who live to be a hundred will be considered young. To die before that would be a sign that I had punished them. People will build houses and get to live in them---they will not be used by someone else. They will plant vineyards and enjoy the wine---it will not be drunk by others. Like trees, my people will live long lives. They will fully enjoy the things that they have worked for. (SEE 65:21) The work they do will be successful, and their children will not meet with disaster. I will bless them and their descendants for all time to come. Even before they finish praying to me, I will answer their prayers. Wolves and lambs will eat together; lions will eat straw, as cattle do, and snakes will no longer be dangerous. On Zion, my sacred hill, there will be nothing harmful or evil."
(Isa 65:15-25)

Stand firm in the faith,” says Jesus. “Remain obedient to God. Listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, and be saved.  

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

In Good Company

Luke 19:1-10                                                                                                           October 30, 2016

You have no idea how much I detested this story when I was a kid. Every time it came up in Sunday School it was accompanied by That song:
Zacchaeus was a wee little man
a wee little man was he;
he climbed way up in a sycamore tree
Lord Jesus for to see.
And,  of course,  everyone in the class looked at me, many with a smirk on their face. I never wanted to hear this story again!

Then, when I was in Seminary, I learned that the Greek in the oldest Manuscripts of Luke is unclear, but it may well be that it was Jesus, not Zacchaeus, who was the wee little man! I like that! Like Zacchaeus, that puts me in really good company!

Jesus met Zacchaeus where he met a lot of people whose lives he touched: at home on the road. While the "Foxes have dens, and birds have nests, the Son of Man didn't have a place to call his own." Mary and Joseph were on the road when He was born, and again shortly after when they fled to Egypt. He was on the Road when He called Simon and his partners, James and John; and again when he called Matthew. He was on the road when his hungry disciples picked grain on a Sabbath and aroused the ire of the Pharisees. It was on the road that he healed the Centurion's daughter and raised the widow's son at Nain. He was on the road in the region of the Gerasenes when he was confronted by, and healed, a demon-possessed man who lived in the tombs. It was in a crowded street that a desperate woman reached out, touched the hem of his garment, as was healed.

Later, Jesus sent his disciples on the road to heal the sick, teach the masses, and proclaim the Kingdom of God. On the road to Jerusalem, he met a Samaritan woman at the well; and he often taught his followers as they walked along the road. Indeed, the Gospel of Jesus may be the original Road Trip story.

On the road again, Jesus entered Jericho where a man named Zacchaeus lived. He was in charge of collecting taxes and was very rich. Jesus was heading his way, and Zacchaeus wanted to see what he was like. But Zacchaeus was a short man and could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree. (SEE 19:3) When Jesus got there, he looked up and said, "Zacchaeus, hurry down! I want to stay with you today." I don't know about you, but when I was young I learned the hard way that it is considered rude to invite yourself to lunch. But Jesus isn't about rules and etiquette, Jesus is about repentance, forgiveness, and fresh starts.

Upon hearing Jesus invite himself to Zacchaeus' house, the self-righteous in the crowd immediately began muttering: “He's going there for lunch?” “He's going to share a meal with a tax collector?” “Isn't he afraid some of Bacchus' sin will rub off on him?” It did, of course, but that's another sermon.

So Jesus is at the house of this despicable character, a Jew who sold out to the Romans to make money from his neighbors. Suddenly Zacchaeus blurts out: "I will give half of my property to the poor. And I will now pay back four times as much to everyone I have,” ever cheated." Yeah, right! You and I are pretty certain that isn't going to happen, and I would guess Jesus had his doubts,too. But if so, he didn't show it. The rash promise reminds me of Fr. Mulcahy in M*A*S*H. A young soldier who has been snatched from the jaws of death by Hawkeye and the medical staff says: “FR. When the attack came, and there was all the noise, and all the shooting, and all those enemy soldiers coming at me, I promised God that if I got out of there alive, I'd become a priest. Father, I don't want to be a priest!” With the understanding and compassion he so often exhibits, Fr. Mulcahy let's the young man off the hook. “If God demanded every fox hole promise to be kept,” he explains, “We'd have more priests than people who need them.”

Jesus may, or may not, expect Zacchaeus' promises to be kept, but he welcomes and rewards the spirit of repentance in which they are made. "Salvation has come to this house today,” the Lord proclaims, “for this man, also, is a descendant of Abraham.” It is not the promises, but the change that has come over Zacchaeus, that matters. When we encounter Jesus we come away changed. When we truly come to know Jesus, nothing is ever the same again. After the resurrection, Simon tried to return to fishing: he couldn't do it-he had changed. Certainly Bartimaeus and the ten lepers were never the same again. The centurion's daughter and the widow of Nain were forever changed; and so are we.

You simply cannot be touched by Christ and remain the same. It simply isn't possible. That's why we call it “Born Again,” because we are a new person. John Wesley taught that this new birth brings about great inward changes that affect our entire existence. Before encountering Christ, he writes, we lived under a thick fog that thwarts us from hearing or following the voice of God. After encountering Christ, after our new birth, the fog is lifted “The eyes of our understanding are now opened and [we] seeth Him that is invisible. We become able to receive the divine Spirit that God continually breathes into us and to respond to God through faith in love and prayer.” (The Wesley Study Bible, Abington Press, Nashville, 2009. Page 1522) Such change in the reborn is as continuous as the seasons as we move from glory to glory until we are transformed into Christ's likeness. If your life with Christ is not chainging you, invite Him to lunch.

You know, cell phones really are a wonderful invention—even if they do cost a $5 donation to UMCOR when they go off during church. Before cell phones, Fay and I would wander aimlessly through the mall looking for each other. Then, when our paths finally crossed, I would be on the receiving end of a stern lecture on the sin of not staying in one place. Now, when we get separated, I just hit her number on speed dial, and, assuming she has her phone with her, we can quickly make arrangements to meet.

Like Fay and I wandering through the mall, like Abram in search of a new land, too many Christians and would be Christians wander from placer to place never really knowing where they are going or what they are looking for. They visit church after church, ministry after ministry, seeking the right sermon, the right song, the right prayer, the right scripture that will let them find Christ. They are pilgrims without a pilgrimage. The truth is, there is no right church, there is no right sermon, no right prayer, no right scripture. While they are wandering around seeking who knows what, Christ is right there in the middle of the road; right there in the pew; right there in the office or store; right there, wherever they are: “Hello, I'm right here? Won't you invite me to lunch?”

Are you spending your time and effort up a tree looking for Jesus? fumbling your way through the fog? or on the road, walking with him? Maybe you walked with him for a while, but now you've wandered off and are lost again. There is no better place, and no better time than here and now to start, or renew your walk. Look, He's here on the road beside you, calling for you to come down from that tree; to get off the sidelines and into the game; to walk with him in the peace, presence, and power of the Holy Spirit. Come, as we rise and sing #2151 FWS I'm So Glad Jesus Lifted Me. AMEN


Luke 12:13-21 October 23, 2016,                                                       Harvest Thanksgiving

So, Pastor,” you may ask, “What did this farmer do that was so terrible. Didn't you tell us last week that if we pray for a good crop we should get out and hoe the fields? And isn't that just what the farmer did?”
Well, I guess it is. But the farmer forgot the second rule of Discipleship: “Avoid the tyranny of things.” That is: “Don't let the things you own, own you.” The farmer in the parable had too much. "What can I do?” he said, “I don't have a place large enough to store everything." Later, he said, "Now I know what I'll do. I'll tear down my barns and build bigger ones, where I can store all my grain and other goods.”

So far So good. Makes sense to store the grain for another season. Makes sense to keep your goods dry and safe from thieves and vermin.

You may remember the TV ad some years ago for those big plastic bins we store stuff in. This family is looking at all the stuff
jammed into their house and garage and wondering what to do. They purchase a bunch of the advertised tubs and put all their stuff in them. Looking at the neatness around her, the mother says:”Look at all this space! We need to buy more stuff!”

The tyranny of things. When our possessions take over our lives, and we are so busy keeping, caring for, and protecting them, we have no time to enjoy life. We become so fearful of loosing them, we are even afraid to use them.

I saw an article several weeks ago about the pros and cons of investing in precious metals: gold and silver bullion. The article pointed out that many folks invest in coins and bullion fearing the disintegration of the economic system. (Remember the millennial bug?) Although the writer felt such a scenario was extremely unlikely, If they are right, their investments may be the only viable currency. The article then went on to discuss the cons of such investments. First, are you actually getting what you pay for? How can you know? The metals must be assayed for purity and coins must be validated. The investments must be stored in a secure, yet available place; are you ready to pay for storage? Or purchase and install a safe in your home?

It reminded me of the story of a demon who kept watch over a large treasure buried under and old house. One day he was called to another part of the world from where he would not be able to return for 20 years. The demon considered what he should do with the,” treasure as it was too large and too heavy to take with him. He considered hiring a watchman, but that would cost a lot of money. If he left it under the house, someone could dig it up and steal it. What was he to do? Then he hit on an idea. He took his treasure to the home of a miser. “Good sir” the demon began, “I wish to give you this gift before I depart for a far away land. I have always admired you and trust you will accept this gift. You may do with it as you wish, spend it for whatever you want or need. I only ask that when you die, I be named the sole heir of your estate.” Of course the miser jumped at the thought of all that gold, and the demon departed, his deal made.
Twenty years later, having completed his assignment, the demon returned to find the miser had died of starvation. The demon found the treasure, still intact in its strong box, and not a penny missing. He carried his treasure home laughing, knowing that he had found a guardian who didn't cost him a thing!

The farmer determined would build a safe place for his things, but listen to what he says next: Then I'll say to myself, 'You have stored up enough good things to last for years to come. Live it up! Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.' " There are two faults with his reasoning. First, like far too many folks, the farmer believes that his good fortune is all his own doing. He fails to see the hand of God, or the work of his employers having contributed to his wealth. He's like the businessman who brags “I did it all by myself, with no help from anyone. “ Unless you count hi the grants, scholarships, and student loans that got him through college; The Small Business Administration Loan that got him started in business; the tax breaks he gets from various governmental bodies, and so on. Like the businessman who fails to recognize the help he has received, the farmer in our story has left God out of the equation. Nowhere, not once, does he mention God, let alone thank God for what he has.

Let's get this straight: the farmer is not faulted for amassing his wealth. John Wesley's first rule of money was: “earn all you can.” Jesus is not anti-wealthy. Remember when A woman came in with a bottle of expensive perfume and poured it on Jesus' head? When his disciples saw this, they became angry and complained, "Why such a waste? We could have sold this perfume for a lot of money and given it to the poor." Jesus knew what they were thinking, and he said: Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing for me. (Mat 26:7-10) John tell us that: After the soldiers had nailed Jesus to the cross, they divided up his clothes into four parts, one for each of them. But his outer garment was made from a single piece of cloth, and it did not have any seams. The soldiers said to each other, "Let's not rip it apart. We will gamble to see who gets it." His cloak was a fine piece of clothing, it was the Brooks Brothers suit of the day. What Jesus objected to was not that we have property, but that we fail to realize we have it only in trust.

Which brings us to the farmers second mis-reasoning. ll that we have comes from God. When God created human beings, making them to be like himself. He created them male and female, blessed them, and said, "Have many children, so that your descendants will live all over the earth and bring it under their control. I am putting you in charge of the fish, the birds, and all the wild animals. I have provided all kinds of grain and all kinds of fruit for you to eat; (Gen 1:27-29) As we celebrate the harvest, it is appropriate that we give thanks. And is so doing, we remember that thanksgiving includes giving. Giving thanks, and sharing the abundance/
In Deuteronomy God not only commands:
The LORD is giving you the land, and soon you will conquer it, settle down, and plant crops. And when you begin harvesting each of your crops, the very first things you pick must be put in a basket. Take them to the place where the LORD your God chooses to be worshiped, and tell the priest, "Long ago the LORD our God promised our ancestors that he would give us this land. And today, I thank him for keeping his promise and giving me a share of the land." The priest will take the basket and set it in front of the LORD's altar. Then, standing there in front of the place of worship, you must pray: My ancestor was homeless, an Aramean who went to live in Egypt. There were only a few in his family then, but they became great and powerful, a nation of many people. The Egyptians were cruel and had no pity on us. They mistreated our people and forced us into slavery. We called out for help to you, the LORD God of our ancestors. You heard our cries; you knew we were in trouble and abused. Then you terrified the Egyptians with your mighty miracles and rescued us from Egypt. You brought us here and gave us this land rich with milk and honey. Now, LORD, I bring to you the best of the crops that you have given me. After you say these things, place the basket in front of the LORD's altar and bow down to worship him. Then you and your family must celebrate by eating a meal at the place of worship to thank the LORD your God for giving you such a good harvest. And remember to invite the Levites and the foreigners who live in your town.
(Deu 26:1-11)
But also: “Every year you are to give ten percent of your harvest to the LORD. But every third year, this ten percent must be given to the poor who live in your town, including Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows. That way, they will have enough to eat.” (Deu 26:12)

The harvest for which we give thanks, the food we produce, is sacred. Hence, the World Council of Churches has proposed The Ten Commandments of Food.
I Give thanks for the food you eat.

II. Eat food grown as close as possible to where you live.

III. Strive for all people to have knowledge about and access to affordable, nutritious food.

IV. Eat mindfully and in moderation.

V. Do not waste food.

VI. Be grateful to those who grow and prepare food for your table.

VII. Support fair wages for farm workers, farmers and food workers.

VIII. Reduce the environmental damage of land, water and air from food production and the food system.

IX. Protect the biodiversity of seeds, soils, ecosystems and the cultures of food producers.

X. Rejoice and share the sacred gift of food with all.

According to FeedingAmerica.org, the food insecurity rate right here in Jackson County is between 15 and 19% of households. Food insecurity is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s measure of lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. That means that on any given day, as many as 12,000 Jackson County homes are without adequate food. This is a disgrace a state that produces huge amounts of beef, potatoes, Green peas, onions, snap beans, sweet corn, filberts are other Oregon crops berries, pears, plums and cherries and Apples, to name a few. America leads the world in food production, yet one in eight Americans, including 5 million seniors and 13 million children face hunger every day. I can't help but wonder how much of that is due to people like the farmer in today's story: How much in due to the lack of generosity? How much is due what I call the “I got mine” mentality that looks no further than the dining room table?

The farmer's failure to acknowledge, or be generous to God; his stinginess toward other people, cost him his life. Jesus concludes the story with:  “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

As we celebrate the harvest, let us celebrate with Thanks and with Giving. AMEN.