Sunday, June 28, 2015

Imagine Christian Unity

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
On Matthew 18:25-33, with Colossians 3:12-14

Last week: discipleship is important. Take care of the young/weak.
Relationship with community is important, and so is individual (99 sheep)
• This week: relationship among all believers is important.
Pretty long set of instructions: if your brother* sins against you
(*brother = fellow believer. Insider.)
- go to your brother one on one; 
to convince, convict, demonstrate wrong.
If you convince brother, you have regained brother.
If not,
- confront brother with other believers (3:1);
(recall: this is among believers!)
(and if he refuses to hear)
(by the way, how often do people refuse to listen?)
(we should practice hearing… listen intentionally)
- confront brother within church community…
And then treat as outsider. Gentile. Tax collector.
• This week much division among brothers: 3 or 4 major social / political events…
- Charleston SC church shooting… 
led to week of controversy over Confederate flag…
- Thursday Affordable Care Act upheld by SCOTUS
- Friday Marriage Equality upheld by SCOTUS
There have been celebrations and lamentations, 
inside/outside church.
• Christians don’t know how to disagree within church…
(demonstration with Marshall fans v. WVU fans)
What is the quintessential story of Jew and Gentile? 
Who is my neighbor? Good Samaritan.
Go out of your way to assist!
Can you imagine? Going out of your way to assist your opponent? Esp w/in church?

• Christians don’t know how to disagree within church…
Christians don’t know how to represent within society.
• Imagine that whatever the event,
Society saw the church unified, hand in hand.
• John Wesley: Though we cannot think alike, 
may we not love alike?
May we not be of one heart, 
though we are not of one opinion?
In essentials, unity. 
In non-essentials, liberty. 
In all things, charity.

• Hymn 389 Freely, Freely

 Colossians 3:12-14
12 Therefore, as God’s choice, holy and loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Be tolerant with each other and, if someone has a complaint against anyone, forgive each other. As the Lord forgave you, so also forgive each other. 14 And over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

Matthew 18:15-22       (CEB)
15 “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and correct them when you are alone together. If they listen to you, then you’ve won over your brother or sister. 16 But if they won’t listen, take with you one or two others so that every word may be established by the mouth of two or three witnesses. [Deut. 19:15] 
17 But if they still won’t pay attention, report it to the church.
If they won’t pay attention even to the church, treat them as you would a Gentile and tax collector.
 18 I assure you that whatever you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven.
And whatever you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven.
 19 Again I assure you that if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, then my Father who is in heaven will do it for you. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.”
21 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive as many as seven times?”

22 Jesus said, “Not just seven times, but rather as many as seventy-seven times.”

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Forget Being "Nice"

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
On Matthew 18:6-14

Dictionary definition of nice: “Pleasant. Agreeable. Kind”
Non offensive. Not bothersome.
Nice = Not Interesting Colloquial Expression.
• Jesus wasn’t about being nice.
If “nice” is how his followers are described, we’re failing.
• “it would be better… to be drowned in the bottom of the lake”
Jesus was serious about our responsibility towards the little ones.
“If your hand or foot causes you to fall into sin, 
chop it off and throw it away”
Jesus was serious about accountability.
• Jesus is looking for disciples who will risk not being nice,
who will follow whatever the cost, serious about discipleship.
Our nation is in a mess of self-righteousness.
Paul says in Philippians 2: Don’t do anything for selfish purposes,
but with humility think of others as better than yourselves.
• Wednesday evening 6/17/15 a young man entered Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, ostensibly to participate in Bible study. In the midst he shot and killed nine people, all African American, precisely because they were African American. We need to learn & teach ways of disagreement.
We can’t exactly repent Dylann Roof’s actions because they’re his, not ours,
but we have to acknowledge that racism is alive and active in America
and we have to do something about it
including REPENT our own racism. Our own “isms”.
Stop & examine life & attitudes. Are you helping anyone? Who?
Are you ignoring anyone? Neglecting? Harming?     Honoring? Defending?
What will you risk to defend someone? What will you risk to bring someone back?
Is there someone in your life who needs brought back?
Jesus talked about leaving the many unguarded
FOR THE PURPOSE OF bringing one back. Risky. Irresponsible?
• How terrible for people who cause others to trip and fall into sin.
And how irresponsible for disciples to do nothing when another wanders away.
Prayer of confession (Ruth Duck)
Gracious God, we humbly confess our sins and our shortcomings.
For anger, impatience, and quickness to misunderstand – forgive us.
For thoughtlessness, indifferences, and self-centering – forgive us.
For unkindness and the lack of kindness – forgive us.
For not speaking out against injustice and suffering – forgive us.
For all the times we have not followed Jesus in the way of love –
forgive, heal, and transform us anew into your servant people.
In the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer, we pray. Amen.

• Good news: Jesus doesn’t leave us where we are. Jesus enters our lives willingly and with grace and strength and power, to reconcile and redeem us. May we be so bold.

• Hymn 662 Stand Up and Bless the Lord


Matthew 18:6-14  (CEB)  4th Sunday after Pentecost   06/21/15
“As for whoever causes these little ones who believe in me to trip and fall into sin, it would be better for them to have a huge stone hung around their necks and be drowned in the bottom of the lake. How terrible it is for the world because of the things that cause people to trip and fall into sin! Such things have to happen, but how terrible it is for the person who causes those things to happen! If your hand or your foot causes you to fall into sin, chop it off and throw it away. It’s better to enter into life crippled or lame than to be thrown into the eternal fire with two hands or two feet.
If your eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out and throw it away. It’s better to enter into life with one eye than to be cast into a burning hell with two eyes.

10 “Be careful that you don’t look down on one of these little ones. I say to you that their angels in heaven are always looking into the face of my Father who is in heaven. 12 What do you think? If someone had one hundred sheep and one of them wandered off, wouldn’t he leave the ninety-nine on the hillsides and go in search for the one that wandered off? 13 If he finds it, I assure you that he is happier about having that one sheep than about the ninety-nine who didn’t wander off. 14 In the same way, my Father who is in heaven doesn’t want to lose one of these little ones.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

On the Wedding of Anna & Kevin

I was invited by my college friend Anna to participate in her wedding ceremony, though I was unable to actually be present in Des Moines, so I "phoned it in" (actually, we opened a Skype video chat, and Kevin did some kind of simulcast as well).
Another friend and pastor, Brigit, was on-site to provide the hands-on parts of the service, including the rings and the marriage certificate. Anna and Kevin exchanged their vows in a park in Des Moines on Saturday afternoon, June 20, 2015.

Introduction/Explanation – Anna

Invocation – Brigit

Message – Kerry

What a strange world we live in,
said Alice to the Queen of Hearts.

What a strange world, indeed.

I’ve never participated in a wedding via Skype. Hey.
I’m Kerry. I’m a Methodist pastor, and a graduate of Grinnell College (1994 chemistry, tyvm), and I’m a runner. It’s some combination of the three of those things, maybe more, that bring me to you this day, here and now. So…

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to celebrate and seal the marriage of Kevin A. and Anna R. 
As a Methodist pastor it is my duty and my desire to reflect on the institution of marriage, looking to both scripture and understanding for some guiding wisdom, and pretty much I have three images I’d like to share.

But first. Kevin and Anna have been together pretty seriously for a year and a half or so, after finding out about each other on OKCupid. They had a first date and something clicked with both of them and then “the-rest-is-history” as they say. Both of them had had long-term relationships before, and both of them had experienced some significant brokenness in relationships before, so they were both aware and cautious, but both were able to recognize and embrace something special and new and healing in the other. Both know the pains of deception (and self-deception) as well as disunity, and both find in each other the ability to be their authentic selves, and to laugh, thank goodness, to laugh. In fact, they have a red couch that serves that very purpose: they sit on their red couch, and they laugh.

So. My three images.

In the Bible, at the end of his famous “Sermon on the Mount”, Jesus says that “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like the person who built their house on rock: the rains fell and the winds blew and beat against that house, but it did not fall, because its foundation was on rock.” (that’s at the end of Matthew 7, and is one of my favorite wedding texts). 
As a follower of Jesus, these words are important to me as I make my daily decisions. And I tell you that Jesus’ words and teachings are important in marriage as well, especially when it comes to how we treat one another and how we communicate with one another. Clear communication with each other is key to the strength of your union. You have had it already, and I urge and challenge you to keep open your communication. Without it, when the rains fall and the winds blow and beat on the house of your marriage, your marriage stands a greater risk of falling. Do not neglect communication. And I will also dare to say do not neglect the One who made you.

Second image: in the Hebrew Bible, in the book of Ruth, after a series of tragic events, the young protagonist Ruth chooses, covenants to align and bind herself to her mother-in-law Naomi. She does not know the future, what joys or griefs it may bring, but she knows that she cannot, she will not do it alone, and so she aligns and binds herself to Naomi. “Where you go, I will go,” she says; “your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.”

Kevin and Anna, today you are covenanting to align and bind yourselves to each other. You know not the future nor what it holds, whether it holds joys or griefs or both (and likely both)… but this day you agree that you will enter that future with each other, always. I’ll tell you right now that there will be ups and downs, there will be excellent times and there will be hard times. Cling to each other, though, with tenacity and strength and grace greater than whatever storms may come. I want to see your tenth anniversary… and your twentieth and your fortieth and your fiftieth. Will you do that for me? Will you do that for each other? I know I think of it and I smile. I smile real big.

So One, make communication with each other foundation to your marriage, and Two, cling tightly to each other and none other, and Three: Love one another. It says in 1 Peter 4:8 “Love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.” Allow me a little license to say that love covers a multitude of brokennesses. There is brokenness in life, and it has the darndest tendency to show up even in marriages. Many brokennesses have some kind of selfishness at their core. I urge you to live lives of selfLESSness, especially in your marriage. Seek the pleasure and enjoyment and honor of your spouse, always. And thank God, brokenness can be overcome by the power of love, if you will let it. This I know, this I promise, this I hope you believe and receive.

I started out with a quip from Lewis Carroll, 
and will close with the same:

'tis love, 'tis love, that makes the world go round!"'
(Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 9)

Kevin and Anna, love one another. 
Make the world go round, 
and go round the world with each other. 
Cling to one another, 
build your life on the rock 
and communicate with one another, 
and God bless you in your life together.

Statement of intent – Kerry

Question:  Kevin and Anna, is it your intention to share with each other your joys and sorrows and all that the years will bring, and with your promises bind yourselves to each other in marriage.
            Answer:  It is.

Exchange of vows – Kerry

Question:  Kevin, do you covenant with Anna to be your partner in marriage, to accept her with all her faults and her strengths, to support her when she needs support, to turn to her when you need support, and to give fully of yourself as you are and as you will be for all of life?
Answer:  I do.

Question:  Anna, do you covenant with Kevin to be your partner in marriage, to accept him with his faults and his strengths, to support him when he needs support, to turn to him when you need support, and to give fully of yourself as you are and as you will be for all of life?
Answer:  I do.

Presentation of rings – Kerry

            Kerry:  The vows that have been exchanged by Kevin and Anna have been offered in our hearing.  But words are fleeting, and the sound of them is soon gone.  Therefore, the wedding ring becomes an enduring symbol of the covenant that has been made.
Anna & Kevin:  I give you this ring as a sign of my love and commitment.

Declaration of marriage – Brigit

Because Anna and Kevin have exchanged their promises of faithful love, [and because in our presence they have exchanged symbols that make their covenant visible], we now recognize before God and the community that Anna and Kevin are partners in marriage.

Signing of certificate

Blessing/Benediction – Brigit

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Remembering Who We Were

Second Sunday after Pentecost
On Matthew 18:1-7

• Last week I attended my 21st reunion from graduating Grinnell College (Iowa). It was like having my feet in two different worlds. Remembering and also looking at the present. It’s edifying & important to look back, yet necessary to live in present.
There’s a care-free feeling of remembering, like there was no script “back then,” it seems. Grown-up life often feels very scripted.
Do you ever wish you could just be?
• Jesus says you must become like a child.
What that means depends on view of children.
Children are priority in our day. Shamefully, we consider it somehow an offense if a person doesn’t have children. We ask when they are going to, and if they don’t, we wonder why.
And we don’t often confess that kids
are a massive drain on resources.
• In ancient days, children were regarded as inferior.
Property. No rights, no status.
Become like child: release status. About face. Be humble.
Become like child: trusting. In the care of others.
Not making the decisions.
Become like child: simple. Not complex.
Adults split hairs & go to war. Children: Jesus loves me, this I know.
Become like child: innocent. Children are taught to hate or distrust other races or homosexuals or people who are different.
Jesus says unless you 'about face' and become like child,
you can not enter the kingdom.
• I’m reading a book with my friend, Christ of the Celts, by J. Philip Newell. About theology in the medieval church in the region of Ireland & Scotland. Different theology than mainstream 21st. We have been fixated on original sin and the blood sacrifice of Christ, and “accepting Jesus Christ as personal Lord and savior,” but J. Philip Newell contends it hasn’t always been that way and that’s not necessarily the best way to consider Christ and salvation…
Medieval Celtic theology emphasizes how we’re created in the image of God and how we’ve forgotten our roots, and Christ comes to teach us to remember, to redeem us from the lies we tell ourselves.
• Let us live as Christ, not using power or status over (becoming like child) or to harm but to lift up (get under! Humble, low to the ground) and help.
• And to remember that in Christ there is belonging, and rest, and power, and reunion.
And we remember our roots and we remember how Jesus Christ redeemed us. Redeems us still, as we participate in the sacrament of Holy Communion.

• Anthem In Remembrance of Me, and then into Holy Communion (p. 12-15)

Matthew 18:1-7       (CEB)            2nd Sunday after Pentecost   06/7/15
18 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked,
“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
Then he called a little child over to sit among the disciples, and said, “I assure you that if you don’t turn your lives around and become like this little child, you will definitely not enter the kingdom of heaven. Those who humble themselves like this little child will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

“As for whoever causes these little ones who believe in me to trip and fall into sin, it would be better for them to have a huge stone hung around their necks and be drowned in the bottom of the lake. How terrible it is for the world because of the things that cause people to trip and fall into sin! Such things have to happen, but how terrible it is for the person who causes those things to happen!