Sunday, February 23, 2014

Being a Good Lover

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany 
on Matthew 5:38-48; Jesus expands on responding to others and loving enemies

What makes a good lover?  Among other things, Presence (mental presence if not physical presence... two people can be in the same room and one of them is not there...), two-way communication (talking and listening, actively engaging), and the common goal of being in relationship with each other.
Regarding today's scriptures (Matthew 5:38-48 and Leviticus 18:1-2, 9-18), I'll be speaking on two phrases and an MO. There's a blank page in your bulletin for taking notes.
The MO, the method of operation, how do you go about things. Often used in criminal investigations, MO signature. I'd like to use it as a Jesus signature, a disciple signature, a son or daughter of God signature. That MO, that signature has to do with “yielding”. In traffic, yield means slow down (that's how it's used) but more it means to pay attention to surroundings and to give right of way to the other.
I want to use “yield” as an imitation-of-Christ discipline of displacing self from the center... laying aside pride, laying aside pettiness, laying aside thoughts or rights of revenge. If pride (or pettiness, or revenge) is your MO, you're not "holy (set apart) like God is holy" (Leviticus 19:2)
Jesus says this in 38-42, don't oppose those who want to hurt you, turn the other cheek, give your coat as well as your shirt, go two miles, give without expectation of repayment... all have to do with some kind of unequal relationship and not exploiting it, not making a big deal of it. Don't act as though you're better than others, don't let your MO be proving your status, and if others are going to puff themselves up around you, okay. That's their deal. Be holy as God is holy... set apart (again, Lev 19:2).
Two phrases and an MO. The MO: Yield.
Phrase 1: Verse 45 that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven.
Translators have to make choices in language. The CEB says "children" where the Greek says "sons." They do that to include women, but the tradeoff is in maturity. I prefer to say "sons and daughters," though I know the word 'daughters' is not present in the Greek.
So that you will be children (NRSV)... be acting as children (CEB)... the Greek word is more a process word, and the phrase is better translated “so that you may become sons and daughters of your Father in heaven.”
Loving enemies and praying for those that harass or persecute you, that is the action that molds you into a son or daughter of God... when you do these things you are becoming son or daughter, you are claiming God as Father and God is claiming you. It's a process of maturation in the Spirit of God.
MO yield, phrase so that you may become sons and daughters, and phrase two from verse 48, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete. You've heard it translated be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect. “Perfect” and “complete” set off my Greek radar... the word comes from teleos, which has to do with perfection, completion, wholeness... finished, accomplished, mature, the way it's supposed to be... be that. God is as God is supposed to be; I am on my way. How do I get there? By displacing myself from center, laying aside pride, and loving enemies.
We may prefer to think in terms not of enemies, but opponents. (aside: example of worthy opponent in Olympics last week, after winning gold in the 15K cross country ski, Swiss Olympic skiier Dario Cologna waited at finish line for half an hour to greet the last place Roberto Carrelen, from Peru. That's a classy sportsman.)

On dealing with opponents:
I borrow from Bishop Mike Coyner of Indiana, five points (write 'em down)
1 - “I could be wrong” – humbles, allows opponent to have difference.
2 – practice stating opposing opinions without labeling or cynicism, better understanding of other's POV, others more willing to listen
3 – agree to disagree without being disagreeable. Be civil and polite.
4 – keep things in perspective. Don't make mountains out of molehills.
5 – Allow God to speak for himself, and don't presume God agrees with you on all of your opinions.

Being a good lover. Get yourself, your pride out of the middle. See your opponent as human, as a daughter or son of God, as God's beloved... See your opponent as God sees them, as God sees you. Mature, as God made you to be.

Hymn 395 Take Time to be Holy

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Whaddya Say?

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
on Matthew 5:21-37, Jesus expands on some familiar laws

Warning: I'm going to say the F-bomb. 
In my first church there was a feisty teen I'll call "the Queen." The Queen was upset one day because her mom punished her for using the word "frick" instead of saying the F-word. Her objection: saying “frick” is not the same as saying the F-bomb! So she did a market test, asking random strangers their opinion. The results? A mixture of no and yes. "Frick" is less offensive and more socially acceptable, but it's an obvious replacement. As the nation found out a few years ago, even if you put lipstick on a pig, it's still a pig. Bottom line: don't make a habit of using it.
How do you learn things, by hearing, or by doing? Both. James 1:22 be not just hearers but doers. The Queen heard rule but had to test it. Why are the rules there? Per our morning reading of Deuteronomy 30:16, so that it may go well with you, so that you may live. God gives free will; we have to learn its use. And we will fall.  But by the grace of God, "we are going on to perfection."
At the end of last week's scripture Jesus said disciples had to be more righteous than the Pharisees. Today we transition to Jesus giving some examples about that. Format: "you've heard it said, but I say to you..." but Jesus doesn't refute/contradict, but instead builds on, stacks, goes deeper. What you've heard is righteous, the righteousness of the Pharisees. A disciple must needs be more righteous.
You've heard it said... whaddya say? Let's go deeper.
Regarding murder (6th commandment). Hate (and acting out on it, speaking from it) is in heart and spirit the same. A disciple is not mindlessly controlled by anger but disciplined, self-controlled (hello, fruit of the spirit!) and humble. A disciple recognizes that their enemy (the object of their hate) is beloved of God, and to hate that one is to hate one that God loves... A disciple values human relationship and masters their passion.
Regarding adultery (7th commandment). Lust (and acting out on it...) is in heart and spirit the same. A disciple is not mindlessly controlled by lust but disciplined and self-controlled... (sounding familiar?). BTW porn is bad, it is like cancer, I can help you be free.
Regarding divorce – not the same as today when women can own property – Divorce legally allowed... the passage Jesus quotes says that a man can divorce a woman (not vice-versa) “because he finds something objectionable about her, or she does not please him.” (Deut 24:1). Pretty vague. It's allowed, it's abused by small fickle men. Wives are not property to be traded or sold. They're women. They're people. They're beloved of God. Be righteous. Whaddya say.
Regarding speaking the truth... Speak the truth. To steal a phrase from Nike, just do it. Those who swear make a big deal out of it. Yes-yes, no-no.
Point out our hymns today:
400 Come thou fount of every blessing...
468 Dear Jesus in whose life I see...
410 I want a principle within...
These hymns are about internalizing the heart of Jesus, which perfectly embodies the heart of God...
...which is how you learn to discern... (recall Romans 12:2, Philippians 2:12)...
...which is intimacy with God... 
...which is what God wants... 
Why? So that it may go well with you.

directly into affirmation of faith 883

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Leaving a Hole

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
on Matthew 5:13-16, salt and light

I grew up in a brown house in the suburbs of Chicago, a 2-story bungalow, built around 1925. Big picture window in the front, frontroom woodwork was stained (not painted) an olive green. Built-in china cabinet and drawers. Extra lot with trees. Residential block, ten houses on each side. Lived there until I went to college. Folks got a condo a few years later and the house stood empty for several years until the people who bought it tore it down and replaced it with something bigger. Still in character with the neighborhood but a close observer would notice it is not original, has a different flavor.
When I visit my folks and drive down that block, there's a hole.
Long-time residents of Bville could probably describe lots of holes in Bville, you don't even have to leave this block. I'd love it if I could walk a few doors down for all my hardware needs...
What kind of hole would be left if First Church was no more? (geography. Sign at bridges, steeple...) Not so much the physical hole at the corner of Water and Main, but the community hole, the social hole?
We're in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is about to teach the crowd about what it means to be disciples, and he starts off by saying you are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world. Not commands: BE salt, BE light, but descriptions: this is what you ARE, by the grace and appointment of God. God has given you to the world to season it, to illuminate it. The world is a brighter place, a more flavorful place because you're in it. Because you're in the world, colors are more vivid and bright, food is more appealing and satisfying.
Not literally, of course (although thankfully there are people who make bright colors and yummy foods), but when people encounter salt and light disciples they should notice it. As we live our life we ought to enhance the flavor, enhance the lives of those around us.  Fellowship with a Christ-follower should be a positive experience for those living in the world.  We are to be a blessing to those we come into contact with.  Even non-Christians should feel a good sense, a good flavor, when around us.  We should not be a burden to non-Christians, or come across as arrogant or prideful.  We should leave a good taste in the minds of the unbeliever.  It should be desirable to be around a disciple, and parting should leave something of a hole.
Some things salt and light disciples might do...
smile, greet, ask, listen, address needs, pray for, pray WITH, invite.
The stated mission of Bville First Church is...
to share the love of God with people in a hurting world.
If Bville First Church weren't here, it should leave a hole.
Past Tuesday 'homeless ministry' meeting 35ppl from probly 5 churches and several other organizations how might we meet the needs of community, enhance the lives of folks in need, several projects cooking: meal (2/22, 2pm); schoolkid outreach weekend backpacks; something for shutin seniors.
First Church? That's the church that ...
Faith in action. To God be the glory. Thanks be to God who makes his disciples to be salt and light, that the world might be a better place.

directly into prayer of confession

Prayer of Confession (from P.M.De Cuehlo, in Harvest Prayers, posted on the Christian Aid website)

Lord, you placed us in the world to be its salt.
We were afraid of committing ourselves,
afraid of being stained by the world.
We did not want to hear what ‘they’ might say
and our salt dissolved as if in water.
Have mercy on us, Jesus, and forgive us.

Lord, you placed us in the world to be its light.
We were afraid of the shadows,
afraid of the poverty.
We did not want to know ‘difficult’ people
and our light slowly faded away.
Have mercy on us, Jesus, and forgive us.

Lord, you placed us in the world to live in community.
Thus you taught us to love,
to share in life,
to struggle for bread and for justice,
Your truth incarnate in our lives.
So be it, Lord Jesus.
Make our hearts your home.
Season and brighten the world.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

In Scoring Position

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
on Matthew 5:1-12, "The Beatitudes"

The Super Bowl. Annual Football contest since 1966, versing this year's National Football Conference champions against this year's American Football Conference champions... highest score wins.
“Scoring position” kinda depends on last few minutes of play, whether you're ahead, or behind...
I watched the Marshall men's basketball yesterday... with 1 minute left in the game, the Herd was down 54-60... not in position to win. All the opponents had to do was hold the ball, pretty much.
Most points wins defines 21st century culture.
Problem: limited scope. Reinforces a false system that defines “the best” each year, reduces a person (team) to one thing...
How many teams made it to SB in the last five years, including today? Ten.
Today's scripture: the “Beatitudes”... blessed are... happy are... congratulated are... “makarios”... these are not rankings of “the best” as we know it...
In fact, the Beatitudes are kind of counter-cultural...
Instead of sports ranking me vs. other,
Beatitudes describes me with respect to the kingdom of God...

Sports says: Me vs. you. You vs. the world.
“religion” says: Me vs. standard. Me vs. “the Law.”
Kingdom (Beatitudes) says: Me WITH God, Me WITH others.

Beatitudes are not commands (do this and live) but descriptions (those who live are this) and words of encouragement, reframing circumstances for the low
The kingdom of God is who you ARE
and not what you do, what you can or cannot or should or should not DO,
not how you score, but who you are.
Beatitudes don't rank us. Ranking others shouldn't be our priority/worldview.
God gives grace instead.
You are a child of God... and so are they.
You are redeemed by God & there's no competition between you & others.
Jesus is not against you (as the Seahawks are against the Broncos today)
Jesus is for you, Jesus died for you, Jesus gives himself for you
and asks that you give yourselves for others...

directly into communion liturgy