Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A puzzling parable--Sinnathamby Thevanesen

A Puzzling Parable!
Amos7:7-17 Luke10:25-37.
Grace and peace are already yours because you belong to the family of Jesus the Christ. My name is Sinnathamby Thevanesan and I know that for a western tongue, it is a mouthful. I am not going to ask you to repeat my name today may be next week. I am often referred to by the first half of my last name. My last name in Greek is THEOPHILUS, which means lover of God. I was born and bred in the island nation of Sri Lanka. This island is 10 degree north of equator and situated at the southern tip of India on the Indian Ocean. My mother tongue is called Tamil which is spoken by a hundred million people across the world mostly in southern India. Now a little story. A preacher said he always struggled and stumbled whenever he stood in front of his congregation. He had difficulty in keeping his people alert during his preaching. And one day he came across this story from the autobiography of George Burns. It is about a letter from a minister. Dear George, I am a preacher and a longtime fan of yours. Could use some advice as to how to keep my congregation awake during my sermons? You are so great with an audience. I wonder if you could give me some pointers. Gratefully, Man of Cloth!
 And now George replies: Dear man of cloth! The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending and having them as close together as possible. And this is precisely what I am going to do for you today. I want to begin with two fearless prophets. The first one is Amos from the town of Tekoa which is twelve miles south of Jerusalem. Amos was a shepherd and a weaver of sycamore leaves by profession. He never went to a prophetic school or a seminary. However when he sensed the call to prophesy he went to the northern kingdom of Israel and spoke forcefully against her habit of acquiring wealth by illegal means. He spoke against King Jeroboam who as king of Israel brought the nation to the zenith of her power by crushing the poor and ignoring the needy. In other words here was a nation perhaps on her way to become a super power at the expense of living without any ethical principles and spiritual values. No wonder the prophet roared like a lion saying” you trampled the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and the needy for a pair of shoe”.” Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness as an ever flowing stream” said the prophet.
         Just imagine this was 800 years before the birth of the other prophet who was Jesus of Galilee. He was a Jew by birth, cradled in the beliefs and values and rituals of Judaism. He died his agonizing death on a cross as a Jew. He spent thirty three years of his life in a segregated society in which people were divided into pure versus impure, rich versus poor, clean versus unclean, male versus female and Jews versus gentile. This prophet also was concerned about the change of heart in persons than their blindly observing the external ceremonies of religion. Our gospel begins with a discussion between a lawyer and this prophet of Galilee. Just like all lawyers do, this man wanted to probe a little more into the mind of Jesus? Just like all lawyers do this man asked questions. Can you tell me Jesus as to what I should do to inherit eternal life? Well Jesus answered him with a counter question: What does the law say about how to inherit eternal life? Then the lawyer answers well it says “you shall love your Lord with all your heart, soul strength and mind. And you love your neighbor as yourself”. Fantastic response! Says Jesus; you have given the most appropriate answer. So if you can practice this well in your life, you experience eternal life. Can you tell me Jesus asked the lawyer again who my neighbor is? Jesus answered him this time with a parable. Most parables Jesus uttered were produced at the spur of the moment. As Jesus looked at the sky and the birds that flew over, the fields and the green grass, the lilies that bloomed in the field without any gardener’s care, he simply referred to them as God’s wonder.
       Today’s story is of a Samaritan who rescued and helped a Jew who was robbed and assaulted on that dangerous Jerusalem Jericho road. A Priest and a Levite passed by on that instant and they didn’t do anything for the wounded man. Perhaps if I were in their shoe I would have done the same. Perhaps the Priest and the Levite asked the question, if we touched this person will we be contaminated with any infection? The religious laws prevented them from doing this in order to do their cultic function. This is why I gave the title a puzzling parable for today’s sermon. The Samaritan who came that way stopped took care of this person so meticulously is the gist of this parable. Then Jesus asked the lawyer the final question: Which of the three can be considered as a neighbor to the one robbed and assaulted? Who is my neighbor? The lawyer asked a question. Jesus replied him with a question: Which of the three?
       I want to introduce to you a new word which is not in the dictionary as yet and hopefully it will get in today. Neighborlogy.  What is it? Even if you forget everything else about the message this morning please don’t forget the word Neighborology. We know what Psychology is: it is the study of human consciousness, human behavior and human mind. We know what Theology is: It is an exercise to explore the mind of God. We know what anthropology is: It is a study of the understanding of humankind from pre-historic age, through heredity, race, culture, religion and family life. What then is Neighborology?It is about people, who they are and what they do. It is about defining our neighbors. It is about examining how best I could be a neighbor to someone. People! Whoever they are: rich and poor educated or uneducated, strong and the weak. Jesus the Christ was a neighbor friendly man because the name given to him at birth was Immanuel. God among us. God among the rich and the poor, the male and the female the gays and the straight ones the democrats and the republicans. Friends, Are you aware of the many changes that have taken place in our neighborhoods in recent years.
       A few years ago Robert Putnam a political science professor from the Harvard University wrote these words. We’ve got pagers answering machines-mail, iPhones and fax-modems. We are more connected than ever before and we are lonelier than ever before. Our gadgets have not freed us for relationships. They have enslaved us until we can complete the circuit. There is a rampaging plague of loneliness that is hitting this country today in many directions. The dating service industry has doubled in size over the past decade. There are now 5000 agencies nationwide helping people connect. Then he continues to write that there are more Americans bowling today than ever before. But bowling in organized leagues has been on a decline. In the last two decades or so the total number of bowlers in the United States have increased by 10 per cent. However the league bowling has decreased  by 40 per cent. Where once we played together, ate pizza together, kept score together, drank coke together, we do it individually today. We bowl alone today. What has happened to the civic involvements of the Americans?
       Let me conclude my message with one more thought. With all our astuteness and strategies we can never, ever make a particular community neighbor friendly. This is possible only through God’s guidance and grace. Perhaps one of our hymns in our Methodist hymnal illustrates this point far better than I do.

 No.432.”Jesu Jesu, fill us with your love show us how to serve our neighbors we have from you. Our neighbors are rich and poor, black and white, and our neighbors are near and far away”. Amen!

teach us how to pray

Luke 11:1-13
I invite you to keep your FWS open to Lord, Listen to your children prayingif you don’t know it well……we’re going to do something a little more participatory this morning
Some of you know I’ve been on vacation….we spent a week in Istanbul, Turkey, and our hotel was right next to the Blue Mosque, so prayer has been very much a part of my recent experience as we’d hear the call to prayer 5 times a day, starting about 4am!
Muslims are expected to pray individually 5x day, and once a week communally…….Benedictines and other religious also pray 5 times a day, and at least three of those are in community.  The Rule of Benedict is very specific about it, not just the timing and content, but the attitude of prayer.  
Some of us who are trying to be more intentional about our spiritual lives manage about twice a day and a couple of times a week with others…..some of us, well, maybe the Lord’s Prayer on a Sunday is about it, except for the occasional desperate plea for help….and many of us are somewhere  in between.
This week, as I sat for my own prayer time with the call to prayer resounding outside, I was challenged by reading this from Joan Chittister, in her commentary of the Rule:
She quotes the Jewish teacher, Maimon ben Joseph, Those who pray without knowing what they pray, do not pray…  Then she goes on How is it that we too pray without thinking, carelessly, poorly, or without thought?
So, today’s gospel is most timely!
It begins with a simple fact.  Jesus prayed.  And his disciples knew it was a real deep source for him, and they wanted to know more about it. So he gave them a simple formula that we’ve come to recite and call the Lord’s Prayer.  He used the image of a door for prayer, an entry into awareness of God’s presence, and today we’re going to experience being on that same threshold, standing at the open door to God’s heart, using the Jesus prayer to reflect silently – using the prayer the way the SH youth did this past spring: it will be on the screen for you to consider/pray, and after each time of silent reflection, we’ll quietly sing Lord,Listen to your children praying
Quiet your mind, settle your body, deepen your breathing…..
Each slide for reflection in silence – song
Till the last slide and song.

Monday, July 08, 2013

packing for the trip

How many of us are list makers?  I’ve been known to add something to a list after I’ve done it, just for the pleasure of scratching it off!
we have to-do lists for work, to do lists for home, honeydew lists, don’t-forget lists, and shopping lists—have I forgotten any?  Each has its own purpose, and you can tell just by looking at a list what its purpose is.
 I haven’t yet started my packing for vacation list, though I should have by now.
This week our youth are going on a mission trip—to work-camp, and they’ve been given a list of things to take.  Some know what to expect but all of them can infer some things from that list:

In our Bible story today we come across another group of Jesus followers going on a mission trip.  Actually on several, 35 probably, mission trips, all with the same purpose: announce that, contrary to all the signs of the day, God’s reign is coming, is already at work.
It’s a brilliant strategy, and probably why the Jesus Way movement succeeded and became world wide….Jesus assigned people to do this work apart from him long before he died, essentially setting up a franchise system….some scholars suggest  by the time he died there were already hundreds of commissioned ministers scattered all over, in places of their own discernment (Crossan)  Remember the one man last week who wasn’t excused from ministry just because he wouldn’t physically go with Jesus?  He was commissioned to do exactly the same as these 70…
announce that contrary to all the signs of the day, God’s reign is coming, is already at work.
But those 70, and these followers who’re going out this week from here, aren’t the only ones—we are also commissioned to announce that contrary to all the signs of the day, God’s reign is coming, is already at work, in our own settings.
So what can we infer from Jesus packing list, or lack thereof?
The work is urgent—harvest ready.  There are people in this building now as well as out beyond these walls who need to hear the message YOU are to give them-- that contrary to all the signs of the day, God’s reign is coming, is already at work.  With a word of comfort, or presence, or hope, or an act of love, you can be part of that,
You’ll work hard, cos there aren’t enough people signed up…as we heard last week, we can always find excuses not to participate in the Jesus Way
You’ll likely be rejected as often as you’re received, not everyone wants to hear what you have to say
You’re going to be with strangers whose life isn’t like yours.  Work campers, shelter visitors, Learning links tutors, all know that.  But many of us won’t ever go out of our comfort zone.
You will have to rely on God and other people more than yourself--  you’re to drastically underpack.  What’s that all about?  Well, most of us suffer from TMS too much stuff.  And much of it ties us down and prevents us from moving freely with the Spirit  And while we’re at it, we need to leave our ego behind…this isn’t all about us.
You’ll need to be open to receiving as well as giving.—no shopping around for something more to your personal liking
And you’re not in charge of the outcome, just the message—one core buddhist premise is clearly one of Jesus’ too: do not be attached to the outcome.  Dust yourself off and move on, like last week’s story too.
But we can also infer that
We’re not alone; we do this together-pairs.  One of the joys of this faith community  is that we have one another to support us to share ideas with, to run things by, as we try to be faithful ministers who
announce that contrary to all the signs of the day, God’s reign is coming, is already at work.
What are the signs of it? We are.
·         Our sense of sent-ness is clear to others; people know when you’ve been with Jesus, as it were—people know an authentic spirit that’s in touch with God when they see one
·         our reliance on God and one another, traveling light instead of accumulating stuff
·         our willingness to speak truth in spite of opposition
·         our basic demeanor—declare peace everywhere you go

so somewhere in here there is a challenge for each of us….one small thing we can attend to, change, work on so that we can indeed announce that contrary to all the signs of the day, God’s reign is coming, is already at work.
Workcampers might, for instance, say good morning, peace be with you, each time they arrive at their site
All of us might try peace be with you instead of ‘have a nice day’
Or you might try to share something of your faith journey with another person instead of struggling alone
Or you might decide to travel lightly one day a week with a Sabbath from Facebook or email.
Or you might risk telling that one person who’s hurting that you’ve found healing in the community of Jesus, and invite them in
Choose something, anything, that will move you forward on the journey and deeper into the reign of God . Amen.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

But first...

But first…063013
Luke 9:51-62

Luke tells us 2 different stories in today’s text..one about being not welcome and the other a sort of smorgasbord of short pithy even snippy words from Jesus.
But both have a word for us 2000 years later…a word about what it means to be a disciple.
What I’d like you to imagine today, as I walk through these stories, is what that 21st century word might be for you, for us from the 1st century….what it might mean for OUR being disciples.  We’re going to do this a little more reflectively than usual, so be prepared for that.
lets take a moment of silence, to settle our bodies into the pews, to slow down the noise in our heads, and open our minds and hearts to hear a word from God……
Disciples are on a journey with Jesus…they’re on the way to Jerusalem, to who knows what.  The early Christian movement was called “the Way” for this reason; they knew they were a force for change, and had not yet become an institution…..are we?  Take a moment to reflect on that……
and on this journey Jesus is one focused guy. He set his face………  He has a determination to be and do what he believes God wants—no matter the consequences. He seeks the divine way at all times. (Song:  Seek God…)  Back in the 1960s we saw this same determination in the civil rights movement, and MLK Jr’s encouragement and determination “We ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around!”      You see, disciples stay so close on this journey that Jesus rubs off, and they want the same thing…..do we? Take a moment to reflect on that……
Disciples listen – they have specific tasks—eg some have the job of preparing the way for others to make a place for Jesus in their lives…what is it God asks you to do to help others meet Jesus? Take a moment to reflect on that……
Disciples often face opposition—the animosity between Jews and Samaritans was legendary, and though Luke often portrays Jesus’ as very sympathetic to Samaritans, here the story goes that they’re miffed at his being Jerusalem bound—it wasn’t their holy city.  Each group thought they had the monopoly on truth….and this story shows how hot tempers can get.    If we’re disciples, we won’t always be welcome in certain company….even among ourselves in this faith called Christianity. And this is tied to the next thing about disciples….
Disciples do not retaliate—Jesus takes the nonviolent option, always.  He does not seek revenge, will not engage in name-calling, nor even distracting argument with those who reject or hurt him….do we?  Take a moment to reflect on that……
Disciples keep moving, together on the journey….then they went on. Another reminder that discipleship is a movement, a way of living, not a settled stay.   One of my daily readings this week from RB said: to live in church is not necessarily a sign of holiness—to live always in the breath of the Spirit is.    and it’s communal, not individual. And as they went on  This is a huge challenge to our culture where individualism, independence and personal space have become values of dangerous magnitude.  Discipleship means community… Take a moment to reflect on that……
Someone said I will follow you wherever you go.   Disciples genuinely want to follow Jesus’ way.    Really?  Anywhere?   The Francis center? That’s where Jesus goes…..  Circles Plus mentoring those who want to get out of poverty? Cos that’s where Jesus goes…. Small groups for study and deepening the spiritual practices by shared experience?   Cos that’s where Jesus goes…. Disciples genuinely want to follow Jesus’ way….take a moment to think about that…..
Disciples are under no illusions—Jesus makes it clear that this isn’t easy.  In the first century it literally meant homelessness and turning your back on your social responsibilities.  In the 21st century we’ve become so tied by our stuff: homes, gardens, pets, all manner of responsibilities that burden us, and we have made discipleship so bland we’ve lost the understanding that living counter culturally isn’t easy…take a moment….
Disciples are called in different ways—the last person was a volunteer who’d obviously heard about Jesus and signed up…. This one hears a personal invitation from Jesus, a direct, no-nonsense command.   God tries very hard in very many creative ways to get through to us….but
Disciples want it their way….yes, but….but first let me….Jesus deals with this resistance to God’s way in different ways.  With this one who was first invited to come/follow but who wants it on his own terms, Jesus  now instructs him to go/proclaim.  Unwilling to follow didn’t excuse him from his responsibility of discipleship—just because I won’t or can’t do such and such a thing doesn’t mean I am to do nothing.  Disciples aren’t all called to the same thing
With the next one, he says basically Disciples need to be single minded and focused…it becomes who you are and what you do in all areas of life.  Disciples live out the kin-dom of God, hour by hour, day by day (song:  “in everyone and everything every day of our lives)…… Take a moment to think about……
In the first century, with Jesus, there was indeed a radical break for disciples from their current lifestyle.  It was in fact a 24/7 choice to be homeless and moving into the unknown.  Today it’s still a lifestyle, still a Way, still impacts everything, still is countercultural.  And for many of us, our culture is too precious to inject Jesus into it.
This text has usually been read to suggest that family relationships or social responsibilities  are opposite to the Jesus way—it’s family OR following Jesus; it’s social responsibilities OR discipleship.
But not, if it’s a way of life then it’s a way of living IN family relationships and society.  Our spiritual life must infuse and inform all of life-home, work, play, study, all are lived as disciples.
So last moment for reflection:  what kind of disciple are you in your home?  In your service to others?  In your social circle?  Do we “seek God in everyone and everything every day of our lives?”
What’s REALLY first?