Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Tough Words

Tough Words 092715
Children’s message:  when you’re thirsty, and someone gives you a drink of water, it’s like Jesus giving you God’s love….   When you’re tired, and someone snuggles with you it’s like Jesus giving you God’s love ….when you’re sick and you get medicine…..when you’re hurt and you need a bandaid….. when you’re sad and someone gives you a hug…etc
And it feels so good, doesn’t it?
in today’s story from the Bible Jesus wants us to do those loving things for other people—take one of these little paper cups, with a smile on it and keep it where you can see it…ask God to help us do these things for other people.
And for you older youth and grown ups….  Jesus goes on to speak some tough words, that come out of that tough love…strong language to get our attention and show us just how important this is.
2 wks ago we talked about how words matter, today it’s about how actions matter: be gentle with other people’s feelings and faith and be attentive to our own behavior and how it affects other people:  remember the children’s song,              be careful little hands what you do… my actions show the Jesus way?  Little feet where you go….do I go places that speak against the Jesus way?    Little eyes what you see….do I watch or read things that hurt the Jesus way in me?
This section from Mark’s gospel might indicate some tensions in the early days of the church, about who really was a Christian and who wasn’t (lots of judgment going on today about this too).
John’s question indicates he thinks there’s a “them and us” about the church; he’s thinking exclusive  -- we have a special relationship with Jesus so we’re right and they’re not….
Jesus indicates that’s not how it is.    
Don’t worry about judging others, we’re all in this together… we may not like how some other Christian operates, but anyone faithfully following my way in some other group isn't our enemy, says Jesus                                                                                                                           And this made me realise that Jesus is also saying, don’t be comparing yourself to someone else…..not just positively (I’m in and he’s out) but also negatively (I’m not as good as….I wish I was more like so and so)
And because this is a story of the early church experience, we don’t want to be comparing ourselves to some other congregation that does something differently (we’ve been benchmarking with similarly staffed congregations recently, which might be useful organizationally,  but not definitive spiritually at all)-in the way God speaks in The Shack, we are all particularly special
We need to understand that God works outside of us, and in spite of us, as well as with us.  Humbling, huh? 
So having got us turned back to center, away from looking out at others in the Jesus way, Jesus says
look inward, look at yourself….it’s about what YOU do that I’m concerned about…..YOU have a deep impact on one another’s faith development….from a simple kindness like a  cup of cold water (=support), to everything we do, say, where we go, what we pay attention to:  it all matters.  In fact, the earliest comment from outsiders about the Jesus people, the church, was “see how they love one another”.   Not, see how they argue with one another.. or see how they segregate one another….or see how they gossip about one another, no, see how they love one another.
How we live our ordinary lives matters.   Do I help others, or does what I do trip them up….stumbling block (share the apocryphal airport story about tipped over fruit cart…)
Jesus is asking us to take a hard look—tough love comes with tough words—at our lives:
 what within us and our behavior causes us to sin, or be distanced from the Jesus way?  Some habit…..
some  attitude.. 
some gossip topic….
Some agenda…. 
Whatever it is, cut it out!   Not just because it’s not the Jesus way, but because it also hurts someone else.   Everything we do (hand), everywhere we go (feet), everything we pay attention to (eyes), points someone else to or away from God.
Tough words.   get it?  Got it?  Good.  Now let’s practice it, and live in peace with one another…..

Monday, September 14, 2015

Words matter

Altho our readings and focus has been all about words and speaking, all our speech is learned by listening (as children learn to speak by listening to those around them)

Psalm response:  hear the commandments of life, give ear and learn wisdom
Even children can do that.    Hear.  Listen.  Learn.     Anything in there we don’t understand?
The texts today are pretty self-explanatory, but I know we weren’t all listening, at least not with the ear of our hearts.  So lets see if we can learn any wisdom from a second glance….
The psalm starts out with God speaking, without words…..the sky, night and day, has something to say about God, from God…..close your eyes and imagine the sky, any image you like….what does it say to you from God?    Share…..
Hear.  Listen.  Learn.  
In the middle of the psalm there is this wisdom writing the content of what God has to say, God’s law, commandments, precepts and so on….leading the poet to self-examination and a commitment: let the words of MY mouth be acceptable in God’s sight.    Hmm.      Think a moment about when your words have not been particularly acceptable……can you seek forgiveness for that?
Hear.  Listen.  Learn.      
The reading from the James letter is incredibly, painfully clear:  our mouths can get us in trouble.  And it doesn’t take much.   Appropriately for our world today with all the wildfires out west, James points out it only takes a spark……
Hear.  Listen.  Learn.    
Then Jesus asks us the 64K $ question---who do you say that I am?  What do our tongues have to say about what we believe about Jesus.
  As we begin a new school year, with all its busyness and opportunity, let’s not lose sight of this crucial question.   Who is Jesus to you?  In one sentence or less……think about it, write it down somewhere, play with it this week till you can be clear.   Because Jesus asks us to be able to SAY who he is, what he means to us, what he can mean to the world. 
Peter doesn’t like what Jesus responds to what he says, no wonder, it’s pretty harsh:   Get behind me Satan!
Whoah.  Peter knows who Jesus is all right, but he hasn’t realized what kind of who… most of us, Peter wants a major savior, one who’ll come and fix stuff, not one who suffers to transform a death-dealing world into one of life.
And the reason for Peter’s shallowness is  found in our refrain:  Hear.  Listen.  Learn.     Peter hasn’t yet got into listening mode; so he’s still responds out of his own thoughts and mindset.
All our texts call us to let God’s mindset into our heads… Hear.  Listen.  Learn.     Let God’s words rattle around in our souls, resonate in our inner depths, so that when words come out of our mouths they’ve been echoing around with God’s words first, and don’t just spout some surface understanding.
This week in the Rule of Benedict I read:   never offer a hollow greeting of peace, or turn away when someone needs your love.  Bind yourself to no oath lest it prove false, but speak the truth with heart and tongue.  Do not grumble or speak ill of others.  Words, words, words matter.
Any part of that we don’t understand?
Sounds good.  But how?   Here’s the challenging bit.  You need to take time to Hear.  Listen.  Learn.    Those who are parents, tied up with giving your children every opportunity, do this also for yourself, or your children won’t get it either….. Take time.  Make time to Hear.  Listen.  Learn.    

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Cries of the Heart: the self righteous cry

Cries of the Heart: the self righteous cry  083015                                                                                                                  from Mark 7 and James 1 lections
Before scripture, children’s message, and benediction :  we will hear it with our ears, understand it with our brains, claim it with our hearts, do it with our hands, walk it with our feet, say it with our mouths

Today is the last of our summer series on Cries of the Heart.  I hope you have heard a word from your own heart and for your own heart.   And I hope you have heard the cries of God’s heart too.
Today’s word from Jesus draws attention to our tendency to be self righteous, to think we’re pretty good, coming to church, maybe reading our Bible, serving on church committees, mowing the lawn or whatever, saying and believing all the right things, and looking good on the outside…..appearances are very important in our culture.
   But Jesus in his inimitable way, goes right to the heart of life, and focuses on what’s inside us – the state of our souls, the attitudes of our minds, the motivations of our hearts.
St. Benedict says, listen with the ear of your heart; one of our small groups is even called Heart Listeners
So today, let’s listen to our hearts, literally first—hand on chest, or neck or wrist.   Find a pulse….now slow yourself down with some deep breathing…….
The letter of James encourages us to be ‘quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger’—like Jesus, the author is concerned about integrity:  be and do what you say you are, live what your heart believes.  As Jesus confronted people with the gap between their outward practice and their inner attitudes, the outside good looking stuff and the inside ugly stuff,  so James calls us to integrity.
This little letter had a rough time in Christian history: there was a long struggle to get it accepted as part of the Bible, first because it was concerned with practice of faith, not so much about grace, which St Paul had so strongly emphasized; and because it has little mention of Jesus…..then because there was a raging debate in the early church about ‘right beliefs’  -- dogma, doctrine—and this little epistle didn’t much care about right belief, more about right practice – out of right heart--  ….care for those in distress, and practice what keeps you focused on God.
Most of us are brain people; we THINK we need to focus on what our BRAIN believes.   This leads to self-righteousness—believing in our head all the right things can mean we think we’re always right.  But James points out where this leads: to the biggest western deception of the self-made person.  James says all good things come from God: in Christianity the selfmade person is a lie.
Jesus and James both point out that the brain isn’t the center of our life in faith; the heart/soul is.  And brain, soul and practice all need to match.
Never mind all those who say they have the right answers… those who practice the Jesus and James Way: care for the distressed and connection with God.
And be aware that as Christians, and church-goers, people will watch us, our hearts and brains and actions.   What will they see?  This is a pretty crucial question as we look to the future as a congregation….
The church is a place to help us become whole, integrated, ‘matching up’.
It’s not a place to make us feel good, though it does
It’s not a place to give an escape from life’s busyness, though it does
It’s not just to challenge and grow our spiritual lives, though it does
It’s not in fact all about us at all.
It’s to seek and show God….to be known for listening hearts, careful speech and loving attention to the distressed.
Are we?  How might we be?