Tuesday, March 14, 2017


Genesis 14:1-4

As I mentioned last week, Fay and I have purchased our tickets for our circumnavigation of the lower 48 by train. Fay is already planning to pack; not just clothes, but things to keep her comfortable and make the trip more pleasant. We will be gone for over a month, and it should be quite an adventure.

Of course not everyone likes adventure. Some are like Winnie the Pooh.
When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” asked Piglet, “what's the first thing you say to yourself?”
What's for breakfast?” said Pooh. “”What do you say, Piglet?”
I say, 'I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?'” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It's the same thing.” he said.

Like Pooh, Bilbo in Tolkien's The Hobbit, clearly wasn't the adventurous type. L“Adventures are nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable things. Make you late for dinner! I can't see what anybody sees in them.”

There are some, on the other hand, who are adventurous. Some of you may remember Larry Walters, who achieved dubious fame in 1982 when he piloted a lawn chair attached to helium balloons 16,000 feet above Federal Aviation Administration.
Shivering in the high altitude, he used a pellet gun to pop balloons to come back to earth.
On the way down, his balloons draped over power lines, blacking out a Long Beach neighborhood for 20 minutes.
The stunt earned Walters a $1,500 fine from the FAA and the top prize from the Bonehead Club of Dallas.

How about you? A life of adventure, or a life of safety. Many of us don't like change; we like a nice, stable, predictable life. Change is hard, and we avoid it. In fact, 7 out of 10 heart patients, when told by their cardiologist that if they don't change their lifestyle, if they don't start eating right and exercising more, they will die, don't make the recommended changes. Is that you?

I would suggest to you that, perhaps the greatest sin of modern Christians, and the modern church, is that we are simply too comfortable. While we may sing: “Give me that old time religion,” we don't really want any part of it. Early Christians were slain in the gladiatorial rings. In our grandparents time the church sent missionaries all over the world. Others set about curing the wrongs in society, standing up to immoral or corrupt governments, establishing schools, hospitals, and rest homes for those in need. They advocated for worker's and civil rights, stood against wars, fought to abolish slavery, established Sunday Schools to teach children factory workers, and fought for child labor laws and fair wages.

As Christians, we stand in a long line of heroes. But what drives us? What is our passion today? What incites us to action in the name of the Holy One? I fear it is nothing. Too many of us are not driven, we just float along with the current, hoping God won't notice we are here and as us to actually do something. (That may be what makes listening for the voice of God so uncomfortable.) Our anemic Christian lives miss our on the excitement and growth that come from radical discipleship and promise nothing to our unchurched neighbors. I don't usually say things like this, but maybe it's time to GET OUTA THE CHURCH!

There would be no church today if earlier generations had sought first of all to be comfortable. There will be no church in the future if comfort is our first priority.
God did not call Abram to a life of comfort. God did not promise Moses a life of luxury. Jesus does not promise us earthly prosperity.
(Luk 9:57) Along the way someone said to Jesus, "I'll go anywhere with you!" (Luk 9:58) Jesus said, "Foxes have dens, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man doesn't have a place to call his own."
Jesus looked straight at the rich young man with love and said, "You need only one thing. Go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then come and follow me."

The architectural term for the place we are right now is the sanctuary. The raised area behind us, while a part of the sanctuary, is the chancel, and the part of the sanctuary where you are sitting is the nave. Nave comes from the same root as navy, and reminds us that the church can be described as a ship carrying people through the rough waters of this world to the kingdom of God. Shh. Can you hear the wind blowing through the sails? Can you feel it against your face? Blowing your hair around? Like Abraham, we're off on an adventure...taking the light of God's love into the darkness of a hurting world.

What's that, you say? “I can't do that. It's impossible!” Remember the movie Miracle?
It's the story of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team. No one had beaten the Soviet team in the last for Olympic games. Even the NHL's best teams fell victim to the Soviet power house. And now a group of American college players was about to take on the unbeatable behemoth. In one scene the American coach, Coach Brooks, is going over the Soviet game strategy and explaining to his young team what they must do to win.
You don't defend: You attack. You shove their game right back in their faces” he tells his players. “The team that is finally willing to do this is the team that has a chance to put them down. The NHL won't change their game; we will. The rest of the world is afraid of them; boys, we won't be. No one has ever worked hard enough to skate with the Soviet team for an entire game. Gentlemen, we are gonna work hard enough.” And they did. And they succeeded. And they brought home the Olympic Gold..

Imagine, if you will, what this little church could do for Christ with that kind of determination. Imagine this community changed for the better. Imagine lonely people surrounded by friends. Imagine former addicts loved, healed, and supported in Christian fellowship. Imagine children no longer hungry. It's not that the problems are too big. It's not that we are too old, too tired, or too weak. It's not that we are too small. It's that our faith is too small, too tired, and too feeble to make an outstanding effort. Christianity is an adventurous faith, and Christians are called to be an adventurous people.

No, you don't have to pack up your belongings and head out to Malaysia or Madagascar, but you may need to get outside your comfort zone. A VIM, Volunteers In Mission, short term mission trip may be for you...and no, you don't have to go outside the U.S. Yes, they can use folks our age, and you can use the gifts and graces you already have. For anything from hammering nails, to cooking, to teaching or tutoring, you are needed.

You don't even need to leave Shady Cove, or this building. You can teach a Bible Study or Sunday School Class. And no, you don't need to be an expert. There are plenty of curriculums available to guide and help you. Volunteer at a hospital or a hospice. Help out at a Senior Center. Help transport folks to medical appointments; teach your skills, or help tutor the young women at Redemption Ridge; Read to kids in the local schools;
work with one of the several groups assisting the homeless; advocate for the environment. The list of opportunities is endless:s. If you don't know where to look, see me, I'll help you find it.

(Gen 12:1) The LORD said to Abram: Leave your country, your family, and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you.
Abram went.
Jesus said: "Come with me." Levi left everything and went with Jesus.

Will You?

Beers and Boats

A gentleman moved into a small town. On his first night he went to the local tavern, sat! down, and ordered three beers; drank them quietly, and went home. He repeated this every night, arousing the curiosity of the regular customers. Finally, the bartender asked him about his strange behavior.

I have two brothers. One lives in Tampa, and the other in San Francisco. We don't get together very often, so we all agreed that when we are drinking apart from each other we will each drink a beer for the others. It's our way of being together even when we are apart.”

Everyone in the bar was touched by this sign of fraternal bonding, and word of it soon spread across the local countryside. People would come from miles around just to watch the stranger drink his toast to his brothers.

Then, one late winter evening, the gentleman came into the bar as usual, took his regular seat and ordered TWO beers. Setting the beers before him, the bartender said: on behalf of the whole community, I want to offer our condolences.”

What do you mean?” came the response.

Well, when you only ordered two beers I assumed one of your brothers has died.”

No, no, my brothers are both alive and well. It's just that unlike my brothers, I've given up drinking for Lent.”

Some people are all about sacrifice!

Welcome to Lent. In my childhood, it was the custom to give up something for Lent; a sacrifice designed to help us remember Christ's sacrifice for us. I don't think too many folks still follow this practice; but if you do, I wish you well. Of course, Lent and even Easter, wouldn't have been necessary if Adam and Eve had not listened to the temptations of the serpent.

The serpent was clever, more clever than any wild animal God had made. He spoke to the Woman: “Do I understand that God told you not to eat from any tree in the garden?”
2-3 The Woman said to the serpent, “Not at all. We can eat from the trees in the garden. It’s only about the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘Don’t eat from it; don’t even touch it or you’ll die.’”
4-5 The serpent told the Woman, “You won’t die. God knows that the moment you eat from that tree, you’ll see what’s really going on. You’ll be just like God, knowing everything, ranging all the way from good to evil.”

The one thing about the serpent's temptation that leaps off the pages of scripture is this: the serpent lied. “You won't die.” he told the woman, “Because God knows you'll be just like God.” We know that's a lie, because Eve and Adam both died, as has every generation since. Temptation is a lie. It promises us that which it can never deliver: in fact, the only thing falling for temptation does deliver is guilt and trouble. Secondly, the serpent played on the human d:desire to be more than human.
God created humanity in God’s own image,
         in the divine image God created them,[b]
           male and female God created them.
But for Adam and Eve, being simply an image wasn't enough. Like all people, they aspired to something more, something higher. And that's what the serpent offered them. “Why be God's image when you can be God's equal?” he offered. “All you have to do is eat this delicious fruit, and godhood can be yours.

John Piper says that sin "gets its power by persuading me to believe that I will be more happy if I follow it. The power of all temptation is the prospect that it will make me happier." 

So Eve ate, and so did Adam. It really makes no difference who ate first, the result was the same. Guilt and shame. Yes, their eyes were opened, but what did they see? They both saw clearly and knew that they were naked. And while the Bible doesn't use the terms, sewing clot hes of fig leaves makes it clear they felt guilt and shame: the same things we feel when we have sinned.

Although guilt, and shame are often used together, they are not the same thing. Guilt says: “ I know what I did, and I know it was wrong.” Shame, on the other hand, says: “I am wrong. I am no good.” And that's exactly how the evil one wants us to feel. Not so with God. Even though Adam and Eve gave in, and even though that deformity in our spiritual DNA has been passed down to each of us. God still loves us. God still wants us. Jesus came to get the kingdom of God into us; to restore us to the image of God in which we were made. That's the reason for Lent; the reason for the Cross; and most of all, the reason for the Resurrection.

Tom carried his new boat to the edge of the river. He carefully placed it in the water and slowly let out the string. How smoothly the boat sailed! Tom sat in the warm sunshine, admiring the little boat that he had built. Suddenly a strong current caught the boat. Tom tried to pull it back to shore, but the string broke. The little boat raced downstream.
Tom ran along the sandy shore as fast as he could. But his little boat soon slipped out of sight. All afternoon he searched for the boat. Finally, when it was too dark to look any longer, Tom sadly went home.
A few days later, on the way home from school, Tom spotted a boat just like his in a store window. When he got closer, he could see -- sure enough -- it was his!
Tom hurried to the store manager: "Sir, that's my boat in your window! I made it!"
"Sorry, son, but someone else brought it in this morning. If you want it, you'll have to buy it for one dollar."
Tom ran home and counted all his money. Exactly one dollar! When he reached the store, he rushed to the counter. "Here's the money for my boat." As he left the store, Tom hugged his boat and said, "Now you're twice mine. First, I made you and now I bought you." 
If you ever think that you aren't worth much and if you think you're cheap, just remember what God thinks of you. He thinks you're His. Twice His. First, you're His because He made you. And second, you're His because He bought you on the cross. He paid a price to redeem you. That price is reflected in this simple meal of bread and juice, this simple meal from the ultimate sacrifice. Come, eat, drink, give your guilt and shame to God's care, and let go of your sins to God's cross. The table is set. Forgiveness is yours for the claiming. Freedom from shame is yours for the claiming. Come and be free. Come and feast. AMEN.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Psalm of Choice

Psalm 119:1-8; Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Matthew 5:21-37
February 12, 2017 Upper Rogue United Methodist Church

Today we read the first 8 verses of Psalm 119, the longest Psalm in scripture. Psalms are the hymnal of the Old Testament, and in Jesus' time were used much as we use hymns today. While in translation, they may not appear to be poetry, they are. Like much Hebrew poetry, they are not written in rhyme, but in parallelism. That is, two or more lines repeat the same idea in different words, such as:
 Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
     who walk according to the law of the Lord.
This particular Psalm is divided into 22 parts, each one beginning with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, thus forming an alphabetical acrostic containing praise, confession, laments,meditations, petitions, and assurances that God is always with us. Since each letter of the Hebrew alphabet has a name, the poetic structure includes the meanings of those names.

Today's section is named Aleph, the first letter of the alphabet. Aleph means first, or master, reminding us that God is the master of creation and first in our hearts and minds. It is appropriate, then, that the Psalm opens with a reminder of the blessings of obedience and the curses of not obeying the law: a reminder that we need to constantly choose to walk in God's ways.
(Psa 119:1)Happy are they who are without sin in their ways, walking in the law of the Lord.
(Psa 119:5) If only my ways were ordered so that I might keep your rules!
(Psa 119:6) Then I would not be put to shame, as long as I have respect for all your teaching.

These reminders of the blessings of obedience and the consequences of disobedience are repeated over and over in the Old Testament. It is the same message Moses put to the Hebrew people in his last speech, just before his death and their crossing into the promised land.
(Deu 30:15) See, I have put before you today, life and good, and death and evil;

(Deu 30:16) In giving you orders today to have love for the Lord your God, to go in his ways and keep his laws and his orders and his decisions, so
that you may have life and be increased, and that the blessing of the Lord your God may be with you in the land where you are going, the land of your heritage.

(Deu 30:17) But if your heart is turned away and your ear is shut, and you go after those who would make you servants and worshipers of other gods:

(Deu 30:18) I give witness against you this day that destruction will certainly be your fate, and your days will be cut short in the land where you are going, the land of your heritage on the other side of Jordan.

Moses tells the people that it is their choice, and their consequences. They can follow God, or follow the ways of the world. A choice that continues today. Like the Hebrews in the desert, like the singers of the Psalms, we are given the choice. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[b] Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23 NIV)

If you've ever hiked one of the many points jutting out into the Pacific along the Oregon coast, you have probably seen signs warning; Stay on the Path; do not cross fence.” One cold and windy spring day, when we were serving at the beach, I was tapped out as and emergency chaplain. It seems someone disobeyed the sign, stepped over the fence, leaned out to get a picture and fell 125 onto the surf-crashed rocks. One person dead and a multitude of rescuers endangered because of disobedience.

Centuries before Paul, the Psalmist recognizes that all have sinned and fall short of the law; and so this first segment of the Psalm ends with a prayer for help in keeping the law.
5 Oh, that my ways were steadfast
    in obeying your decrees!
6 Then I would not be put to shame
    when I consider all your commands.
7 I will praise you with an upright heart
    as I learn your righteous laws.
8 I will obey your decrees;
    do not utterly forsake me.

And that's where grace comes in. The law recognizes that humans cannot, on our own, conform to the law. Atonement could be made by a sacrifice.
(Lev 9:3) Tell the people of Israel that they must offer sacrifices as well. They must offer a goat as a sacrifice for sin, and a bull and a ram as a sacrifice to please the LORD. The bull and the ram must be a year old and have nothing wrong with them.

In the crucifixion and death of Jesus, we have ultimate and final atonement; and in his resurrection the promise of life, life eternal is assured.

It is our choice. To choose life is to choose to live in new relationships; a new relationship with God; a new relationship with others; and a new relationship with creation.

A story is told about Fiorello LaGuardia, who, when he was mayor of New York City during the worst days of the Great Depression and all of WWII, was called by adoring New Yorkers 'the Little Flower' because he was only five foot four and always wore a carnation in his lapel. He was a colorful character who used to ride the New York City fire trucks, raid speakeasies with the police department, take entire orphanages to baseball games, and whenever the New York newspapers were on strike, he would go on the radio and read the Sunday funnies to the kids. 
One bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself. Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter's husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges. "It's a real bad neighborhood, your Honor." the man told the mayor. "She's got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson." LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said "I've got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions--ten dollars or ten days in jail." 
But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his famous sombrero saying: "Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant." So the following day the New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered old lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren, fifty cents of that amount being contributed by the red-faced grocery store owner, while some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.

Like the children of Israel in the desert, like the Jews of the Psalmist's time; like the Romans of Paul's day, we face the choice. Life in God or life in the world? Which will it be? It's up to you.

Love Who?

LOVW WHO Upper Rogue; UMC Feb. 19, 2017

Remember a few weeks ago when I said that Jesus didn't come to get us into heaven, but to get heaven into us? Well that's what makes Christianity such an effort to practice. As Christians, we are in the world, but not of the world. This sets us at odds with the rest of our culture. Jesus tells his disciples, and that's us,
(Mat 5:38) You know that you have been taught, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." 39 But I tell you, don’t stand up against an evil person. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other cheek also. 40 If someone wants to sue you in court and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41 If someone forces you to go with him one mile, go with him two miles. 42 If a person asks you for something, give it to him. Don’t refuse to give to someone who wants to borrow from you.
Under the law of Moses, God commanded: 19 And whoever causes an injury to a neighbor must receive the same kind of injury in return: 20 Broken bone for broken bone, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.
This law, known as Lex Talionis, is, perhaps, the oldest in the world. It is found the Code of Hammurabi, the most complete and perfect extant collection of Babylonian laws, developed during the reign of Hammurabi (1792–1750 bce) of the 1st dynasty of Babylon. It is the oldest known code of law in the world.

Before legal codes, the practice was unrestrained retaliation. You steal my “, I steal your whole herd. You respond by kidnapping my family, I kill your whole family. And so on until both sides are weak, worn, and unable to continue. The earliest legal codes, like the law of Moses, limited the retaliation. A practice continued in our legal systems today. If you commit a crime against me, you are punished according to the law. If you accidentally run into my car and cause damage and injury; the courts will limit what damages you are required to pay.

But now Jesus creates a whole new law code. Not only does he say that If you hit me, I am to let you hit me again. If you steal my cow, I am to give you her calf, too. If you compel me to take your luggage from the carousel, I am to carry it to your car. If you ask for a loan I am to give it; and if you don't repay, so be it. What kind of way is that to do business?

We aren't the only ones to struggle with Jesus' way of living Sir Walter Scott had difficulty with the idea of “turning the other cheek.” But Jesus’ words took on special meaning one day when Scott threw a rock at a stray dog to chase it away. His aim was like a baseball pitchers and he hit the animal and broke its leg. .Instead of running off, the dog limped over to him and licked his hand. Sir Walter never forgot that touching response. He said, “That dog preached the Sermon on the Mount to me as few ministers have ever presented it.”

In the days following 9/11 we heard countless calls for vengeance on those who conceived of, planned, and carried out those horrific attacks. Then President George W. Bush called for a war on terror. “...the only way to defeat terrorism as a threat to our way of life.” His statement that “Justice will be done” as resulted in 16 years of unrelenting bloodshed, countless lives lost, and no end in sight. When we seek vengeance on our own, the price is high indeed.

The writer of Proverbs tells us: “The righteous hate the wicked, and the wicked hate the righteous.” (Prov. 29:27) Jesus tells us: (Mat 5:44) “But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you.” Perhaps Jesus is thinking of another Proverb; [25:21-22] in which the writer encourages us: “If your enemies are hungry, give them something to eat. And if they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
This will be the same as piling burning coals on their heads. And the LORD will reward you.” I any event the idea of praying for our enemies is as foreign, and even distasteful to us as it was to the disciples who heard Jesus teach. But maybe, just maybe, it's time to give it a try.

An Armenian nurse had been held captive along with her brother by the Turks. Her brother was slain by a Turkish soldier before her eyes. Stunned to find that the same man who had killed her brother had been captured and brought wounded to the hospital where she worked. Something within her cried out "Vengeance." But a stronger voice called for her to love. She nursed the man back to health. Finally, the recuperating soldier asked her, "Why didn’t you let me die?" Her answer was, "I am a follower of Him who said, ’Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you’" Impressed with her answer, the young soldier replied, "I never heard such words before. Tell me more. I want this kind of religion."

"You have heard that it was said, 'love your neighbor and hate your enemy."' Enemies are not just other nations or terrorist groups. Who do you hate? Who is your enemy? Who are the hardest people in your history to love? Who would you rather not forgive? Who would you rather not sit next to in church? Who would you prefer to never even see, let alone speak with?

Often our enemies are those we know best: parents; children; brothers; sisters; friends; co-workers; bosses; employees. They are those around whom swirl divorces, custody battles, broken contracts, offensive words, not speaking, getting even, animosity, anger and hurt. If I were to ask those who know you best “who is the enemy you hate,” what would they say? If I were to ask who do you fear, (for fear and hate go hand in hand) how would they answer? Is it your brother or sister? Is it your ex? Is it the Republicans? The Democrats? The Muslims? The gays? The pro-choicers? The pro-birthers? The Westborough Baptists and their kind? The person next door who never speaks to you? The driver who cuts you off in traffic?

The circumstances and choices of life are the birthplace of enemies. Circumstances may be beyond our control. Others assault, abuse, hate, dislike or cheat us. It may be because of the color of our skin or the job we hold or the prejudice against us or the war around us or simply from being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Choices, on the other hand, are within our personal control. The truth is, and listen carefully; No one absolutely NO ONE, can be our enemy without our choice, without our permission. Someone else may label us as the enemy, but no one can be our enemy unless we choose them as such.

The Love Christ calls us to have for our enemies has nothing to do with feelings, and everything to do with our actions. I don't remember much from my confirmation classes at St. John's Episcopal Church all those years ago, but I never will forget Fr. Evenson's proclamation: “You don't have to like them. You just have to love them.” That's the kind of love Christ calls us to have for our enemies: to care for and about them. To treat them with respect. To pray for them and to do them no harm.

At one of the churches we served, the stewardship drive plan we were using called on the leaders of the church to draw the names of every person or family from a hat. We were then to pray for those people by name for two weeks. One of the women on the board drew Judy's name. Judy was the thorn in the side of the congregation. Anything she didn't propose herself, she opposed; and did her best to undermine. At the end of the two weeks we met and discussed our experiences. The woman who drew Judy's name reported: “I was tempted to put it back and draw a different name, but I figured God must have wanted me to pray for Judy, so I did. You know, I cannot say that I like Judy, but I no longer dislike her.”

So here is you homework for the next two weeks (I will be gone next week). Select just one of the people or groups in your life that you have chosen as an enemy. At least once a day pray for them—by name, and see what happens. AMEN.