Monday, August 26, 2013

what's sabbath for?

open conversation: what’s the Sabbath for?
Are there things you do 6 days you don’t do on Sunday?  Or 7th days if your Sabbath isn’t Sunday?

For Jews in Jesus’ day, there were  two views of Sabbath, and in some ways we can look at this text as a bit of a clash between them:
 in Exodus 20’s version of the 10 commandments Sabbath is about rest, refraining from work, based on God’s example in the creation stories. We might see the synagogue leader as enforcing this understanding of torah, seriously and pretty literally, the sort of conservative view:   God said it, God did it, that’s good enough for me.
The second is based on Deuteronomy’s version: where the reason for Sabbath is to remember God’s rescue of the people from slavery, so that Sabbath rest brought parity to all who were still enslaved, their wives, their servants, their animals.   We might see this second view in Jesus’ argument, that the deeper intent of the law was human well-being.  If keeping the law stops you from caring for someone in need, you break the law and you’ll really have fulfilled it.
The reason I think this was the Sabbath understanding of Jesus is that he uses so many words about bondage and freedom: set free, untie, bound, set free from this bondage
And he takes it further: by speaking to the woman,                                                      and healing her,                                                                                                              and touching her,                                                                                                           and calling her ‘daughter of Abraham’,                                                                           he indicates that Sabbath is not just about rescue, but about restoration—bringing her back into full community.

And all this leads not just this unnamed woman, but the whole company, the watching world around them, to praise God for what they could see happening right in front of them, not just way back in history.
Down the centuries, Christians began to celebrate the concept of Sabbath on Sunday, instead of the Jewish Saturday, emphasizing the rescue and restoration that Jesus’ Sunday resurrection brings, the freedom from the fear of death that we now have so that we can share that Christian courage with others.   And so that we can remember what God has done for us in the past, and reflect on what God is doing right now in front of us.   What can we rejoice about that God is doing?
Spending time with this story led me this week to contemplate how I too am bent over.
How the leader of the synagogue is bent over
How even our religious system is bent over and bound by rules and regulations about what’s right and what’s wrong, who’s in and who’s out…so narrowly focused that it’s crippled in terms of basic care for neighbor…. Crippled religious and political systems that cover up mistakes, bury abuse under bureaucracy, keeps people from the freedom of being who they truly are for fear of exposure.
Hmmm….enough there for you to reflect on for a month of Sundays!
 Over the centuries we have tried to retain the celebration of Sabbath as a core part of our Christian identity as it is for Jews. 
But right now we are very close to having lost that identifier.  And that loss can be closely linked with our increased stress.  A book I’m reading on stress and spirituality says:
Sunday, once esteemed as a day of rest to honor the godliness of creation, is now merely a day to get caught up with shopping, errands and work, before the deluge starts all over again on Monday. (Stand like Mountain, Flow like Water)
I hope you’ve heard my emphasis on the R words,
Rest, rescue, restoration, remember, reflect
but also on the SO THAT of Sabbath—we are people who are freed FOR something.   Luke has more emphasis on these conflicts of Sabbath rules than the other gospels.  Only Luke has Jesus coming as a proclaimer of Jubilee, a Sabbath of Sabbaths: the year set for good news to the poor                                                                          release to the captives,                                                                                                recovering of sight for the blind                                                                                          freedom for the oppressed
That’s the answer to “What’s the sabbath for?”  which brings me to the question
How do we practice Sabbath? 
How do you rest, rescue, remember, reflect, rejoice, restore?
     write down those R words
Rest      rescue    remember    reflect    rejoice    restore
Now challenge yourself this week to practice Sabbath in SOME way this week                                                             SO THAT you can practice giving good news to the poor                                                                                                                   SO THAT you can practice releasing those who are bound by something                                                                             SO THAT you can receive or offer new sight or insight to someone                                                                                        SO THAT you work to free the oppressed, not work at oppressing others.
Here’s some ideas, pick one and try it this week:
Fast one day from computer, tv, texting, video game
Start a rejoicing journal, naming daily some things you recognize God is doing
Sit still enough, in quiet enough, to reflect for 10 minutes each day
Stop.  Just stop, several times a day and ask, how is what I’m doing now freeing or oppressing my soul or that of another?
May the watching world rejoice at all the wonderful things we and God are doing.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Theva's sermon "Difficult Decisions"

Difficult Decisions!
Psalm 44, Luke 12:49-56.
Prayer: Grant us O God a word for the living of this hour and give us a sense of unwavering awareness, that we are sons and daughters of a living God. Amen!
Dear Friends,
           Grace and peace are already yours for you belong to the family of Jesus the Christ.  Some of you may think that I am a little crazy to speak on this text today.  I know that Pastor Margret Scott has worked hard for almost three decades here to build up this congregation to its present stature. And how foolish it is on my part to invite you today saying: If you want to hate your mother come to Fairport UMC. If you want to bid good bye to your Dad come and be part of this church. Only If you  get rid of your possessions and give it to the poor, then you can join this church. Friends you may say, following Jesus and being part of a church are two different things. But as for me the main reason why I invite people to come to the fellowship of a church is to help them follow passionately the person Jesus the Christ. We have some tough words from Jesus for today. I CAME TO CAST FIRE UPON THIS EARTH.  Jesus asks: Do you think I have come to bring peace on earth? And then he says “No” I have come to bring division.  I have come not to bring peace but a sword. The New Testament scholars now tell us that this kind of expressions Jesus used was so common in those days among people of north Asian culture.  I want us to reflect today on the images of “fire, sword, divisions and decision”.
        The power point picture about unity in diversity is a reminder that 50 years ago on this month Dr. Martin Luther King made that famous I HAVA A DREAM was an invitation for all people of this country to live in unity and harmony and preserve the right of every community. However even after 50 years the race relation in America is still an unfinished business. When Jesus says I have come to bring a sword and not peace he invites us to continue the civil right struggle initiated by persons like Dr. King, Gandhi, Bonheoffer and Mandala and excel in the work areas of non-violence, dismantling bigotry and establishing just peace. People like Dr. King Gandhi and Bonheoffer were assassinated and killed and Nelson Mandala was imprisoned for 27 years because in the spirit of justice they brought a great division among people. In their thirst for justice they set fire on earth. Whenever you upset a complacent society which thrives in falsehood and enjoys pretense you are in for trouble. In the name of justice and in the name of truth when you challenge a system of deceit and foul play you bring divisions in community. You set fire on earth. You carry a sword in your hand and that is part of today’s message. Sword and fire can also be used for constructive purposes of peace keeping, security, cooking, heating and purifying. The emblem of the United Methodist church is a cross and a flame, the same flame of the burning bush in which Moses heard the call to deliver God’s people from the tyranny of the Egyptians. How about that flame that fell from somewhere on that day of Pentecost as tongs of fire? Aren’t we still empowered and rejuvenated by that flame today. We have a hymn in our hymnal {2237} “As a fire is meant for burning with a bright and warming flame so the church is meant for mission, giving glory to God’s name. Not to preach our creeds or customs, but to build a bridge of care. We join hands across the nations finding neighbors everywhere”.
      The second picture of the power point is a statue across the UN building given as a gift by Soviet Union in 1947 when the building was first built. It is a man hammering a sword into the shape of the ploughshare. It is an image from Isaiah 2.When the world was tired over the two major wars World War 1 and World War 11, this statue reminded all people that we shall not wage war any more. There shall be war no more.       
      Now back to the text again. Jesus in today’s gospel appears to be a trouble maker and a rubble rouser. Brien Wren, a great hymn writer in recent times describes my point more radically and poignantly with his creed. We believe in God, maker of rainbows, spinner of chaos, and weaver of stories and dare devil gambler. We believe in Jesus Christ Rabbi of the poor, carpenter of new creation. We believe in the Holy Spirit, nudging discomforter, midwife of changes. We believe in the church as that group of people who have chosen to believe these outrageous, offensive and wonderful truths. How do you see Jesus after all these years of learning about his life? Do you really think it is glamorous to follow this Jesus today?
       Friends having worked tirelessly for many years on the building up of the institutionalized church, I now realize that it is more important to get a clear handle on the person of Jesus the Christ. A story told of a Sunday school class decided to play church one morning. They assigned roles to different children. Some were ushers and some were greeters and some in the choir and one was an organist and one was a reader and one was a liturgist and one was a preacher. And after a while when they got tired of the game one child suggested let’s play another game. And the teacher asked what do you want to play next? Someone said Let us play Jesus .And that was new game for the group and the children asked to explain the game and the boy said “We will ask someone in the class to play Jesus and we will try and be mean to him. Call, names strike him, spit at him, tie him to a tree and pretend to crucify him. That took a bit of the glow off the honor of playing Jesus. However the children went on with the game. After several minutes of absorbing the cruelty of other children the boy playing the part of Jesus called a halt to the game and uttered a profound statement: LET US NOT PLAY JESUS ANY MORE.LET US GO BACK TO PLAYING CHURCH. Friends! Sometimes playing church is easy but playing Jesus is tough. I am asking you to go beyond emulating Jesus. Can we live even a little bit like him?
          Do you remember that on one occasion a prospective follower of Jesus said Master let me first go and bury my father and then come and follow you? According to the Jewish custom it was the son’s duty to do this however the revolutionary Jesus said leave the dead to bury the dead and you come and follow me. The new teaching of Jesus does bring divisions in family? One had to put his or her life on the line, if they followed Jesus. Why? Because the Romans had their surveillance cameras focused on the followers of Jesus. Those who followed Jesus were marked as traitors of the Roman emperor. Following Jesus was a life and death choice. Thank God today we don’t have to literally die if you follow Jesus. Remember it does happen even today in some countries.
        Are we ready to follow Jesus? This final story is about a character called Narsudin and I have taken this from the ancient Persian stories of the of the 10th century C.E. One day Narsudin decided to play violin and so he went in search of a violin teacher. On finding the teacher Narsudin and the teacher agreed on the lesson plan and when Narsudin asked for the cost for the lessons, the teacher said, it will be ten gold pieces for the first month and thereafter one gold piece for each month. Excellent said Narsudin. I will begin with the second month. Another version says I will be back in a month’s time. Are we waiting to make decisions when the cost is less and the burden is light? Amen!

Thursday, August 15, 2013


Last Sunday, God spoke a word through the prophet Isaiah, 2500 years ago....remember a prophet is one who...what?  proclaims God's word to reclaim God's people.  That word was to reclaim us back into being the God-people who learn to do good, pursue justice, watch out for the needy.   Then God spoke a word through the prophet Jesus....sell your stuff and give alms.   This week the word came to me from the prophet Joan Chittister, to reclaim me back, especially as I deal with people seeking financial help, putting myself in their shoes and looking at my own shoes:
things do not destroy us.  It is the way we approach things that entraps us.  The Rule of Benedict provides for human needs without frugality, without abstemious control, without small-mindedness, and without indulgence. False asceticism is not a Benedictine value.  Deprivation is not a goal.  On the contrary, the point of Benedictine life is to live simply, joyfully, and have enough, to avoid hoarding, accumulating, consuming and conniving..  The Rule recognizes that people who lack the necessities of life often spend their time either consumed with thoughts of subsistence or struggling against bitterness and clawing for survival. On the other hand, people smothered by things run the risk of slipping into indolence or becoming blinded to the important things of life.  In striking a balance between the two, Benedictine spirituality seeks to free the body so that the soul can soar.  It is a gift long lost in a consumer society.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

God's metaphors: judge and shepherd

God’s metaphors: judge and shepherd 081113
Isaiah 1:10-20  Luke 12:32-34

Last week the prophet Hosea helped us imagine God as a disappointed parent….I’m mad at how you’ve turned out and I should punish you AND YET….I love you, I can’t abandon you…….not just the ‘you’ of us individually but as a people, maybe even a nation that says it’s “under God”
Today Isaiah and the psalm both invite us to imagine God as judge
As last week with Hosea, here in Isaiah God is talking out loud again to the people:
What does all your fancy ritual and proper worship do for me?  All your holiday celebrations you SAY are focused on me are nonsense!
When you reach out your hands to me in prayer I can’t listen, for your hands are covered in the blood of those you trample and oppress in your self centered power searches. You’re guilty of failing to be my people.
AND YET I can let you off with a warning: mend your ways. Learn how to do good instead of harm,   seek, pursue justice, don’t just cloak your failure with your piety rescue the oppressed instead of doing the oppressing…
Or you’ll get  what’s coming to you from your own arrogance.

Ouch.   Remember what a prophet is: one who proclaims God’s word to reclaim God’s people.  Is God talking to us?  Do we praise God with our lips on Sunday and get blood on our hands by our weekday lifestyle, where we fail to do good, ignore injustice, and get ahead on the backs of the poor?
And then Jesus brings it even more uncomfortably close to home. He tells us a hard truth here:  where we spend our money, our time, our energy  is where our heart really lies, no matter what our pious lips think or our self deluding thoughts utter.
I haven’t found the article but someone at Spiritual Lunch Break this week said there was a WSJ article stating that the US was the #1 nation for military spending, China the #1 in economic spending and s. Korea #1 in education spending
Where your treasure is, there is your heart.
What do our life budgets say?  How do we spend our time, our energy, our money?
A city church has a huge billboard off the expressway that says Be an organ donor: give your heart to Jesus.  I chuckle at the synchronicity of its appearance this week, then reflect.  Some of us indeed have given our hearts to Jesus, seeking to beat as one with God’s heart, and we know that not because of a warm fuzzy feeling but because that’s what our life budgets say…..we do good, we give generously, we seek justice.    But not all of us.
it isn’t easy in this day and age, in this culture; I doubt if it’s ever been easy to go against the prevailing culture.
AND YET we can do it because of the other image Jesus gives us:  shepherd….little flock, oh the tenderness there, little flock do not be afraid.  It’s God’s pleasure, God’s hearts desire, to give you the kingdom…..lets just get back into our right relationship, he pleads, where we ARE God’s people….who do good      give generously &      seek justice.
Little flock in Fairport, do not be afraid to trust God with all of your life’s budgets
May our hearts, and our treasures, belong to Jesus.

Monday, August 12, 2013

anybody out there?

No hits, no comments--why do I bother?  Let me know if I should continue to spend this time.

Monday, August 05, 2013

God's metaphors: parent

Psalm 107; Hosea 11:1-11
Before the Hosea reading….today we hear from the prophet Hosea, who lived a long time ago, about 730 years before Jesus.  He lived just before the downfall of the nation, God’s people, at a time when they had turned away from living in God’s ways, and were more interested in running things their own way….a time of decline and decay played out against a background of threat from other larger empires.
Hosea’s message used two metaphors for the situation.  For starters, his own troubled marriage helped him see the sacred relationship between God and God’s people in a new way—God as faithful spouse, hurt and betrayed by a faithless beloved.  And much of his book reflects that metaphor.
Then, in THIS reading, Hosea sees another side of God, as disappointed parent, frustrated and angry and hurt because the child has wandered away.
Listen as Sid reads, and imagine yourself as the child of God, hearing God the father, the mother, the parent, talking to you……
Hosea reading

When I was a new parent, I loved this text…as I bent over to feed Jess, or clean up her messiness….I remembered this image of God.  As I taught Ben to walk, and put one of those harnesses on so he could feel independent yet safe…I remembered this image of God.  And when all of those parenting jobs drove me nuts, I tried hard to remember this image of God!  And then more recently, as my mothering heart breaks over some of our kids’ stuff, I try hard to remember this metaphor.
Do you ever talk to yourself? I do.  Someone once said it’s ok as long as you don’t answer yourself.  But I do….oops.  Maybe most people do…I bet lots of parents do.  And I believe God does.
I think that’s what God was doing in this Hosea text.  Imagine the incredible struggle in God’s parenting heart….hurt and betrayal and the desire to punish…against compassion and steadfast love…..tune in as we listen to God......
Where did I go wrong?   I loved them, I created them for goodness’ sake!   I gave them freedom of choice….but they turned away.
I  cared for them, brought them out of slavery, led them through wilderness times, promised them the earth…but they complained against me,  then chose to ignore me.
I gave them boundaries and rules to live by….but they broke them, rejected me.
I’m forever lifting them up, offering them care and advice and discipline, teaching them how to live, nurturing, guiding.  But still they turn away.
It makes me so mad.  I’m going to let them have it….I’ll rant and rave and punish them and see how they like that!  They’ll lose their identity, forget who they are, and it’ll serve them right.
But wait a minute.  I love them.  They are my children; I cannot let them go.  I’m not human, I’m God.  I am Love, through and through. Human parents might let their anger win, but I cannot.  I weep for their suffering.  The fire of my anger is dampened by my tears of compassion.
Even in whatever catastrophe of their own making is coming, I will not fail or abandon them.  I will not stop loving them.
What does this image of God’s tender nurturing have to say to us?  Only you can answer.
What does it say about your attitudes and relationships with your loved ones?
If God is like a steadfast, faithful loving and guiding parent, how do we experience God?  What kind of Godchild am I are you are we?  Wayward and recalcitrant?  Or attentive to God’s ways?
And if God is like a steadfast, faithful, loving and guiding parent, what does it say about me..or you….who are made in God’s image?
What does it say about us as a church, who’re supposed to be the Body of Christ, this God with skin on?
What does it say about us as a nation—one nation UNDER GOD?  What about the freedom and justice and compassion for ALL?
Are there ways to be more attentive to that loving relationship, to invest in listening to God instead of the culture?  To nurture intentionally our love relationships, and to re-imagine who it is whom God loves?
I believe God still desires, with a broken heart, to guide us, individually and as a church, as a nation, from being recalcitrant and overly independent children, into the maturity and mutuality of a covenantal life….life where we live out our inheritance as children of a God who bends over to feed children, leads people with kindness instead of force, who guides policies with love instead of competition, who lifts up the weary and the weak.
May God Grant our minds the insight to see     ourselves in this text,
the courage to recognize what needs to change,
 and the commitment to return to God with all of our lives.