Sunday, June 26, 2016

Community For God's Sake

6th Sunday after Pentecost
On Matthew 27:1-26, Judas returns the money and hangs himself. Jesus is sentenced to death.   @FirstUMCBville   @kerrfunk

• There’s an old story of a farmer whose horse ran away (isn’t that horrible?) and came back with several wild horses (isn’t that great?)… It’s not necessarily easy or right to declare instances “good” or “bad”. Big picture is more accurate. And we don’t get the whole big picture.
I speak today on the mystery of the atonement.
On the one hand, today’s reading contains lots of bad news.
On other hand, that “bad news” is somehow part of God’s chosen means of salvation.
But what does that say about nature of God?
Therefore I say “mystery.” Somehow even in spite of humankind, salvation happens in event that we’re building up to.
• Issue of atonement aside, we have five pictures of people in this episode, four of them doing wrong when they know the right thing to do. I want to lift up one thing that would both help prevent such things and bring some healing and accountability. For God’s sake, it’s community. A group of like-minded people, both righteous and humble, and dispassionate. I’ll explain.
• Start with Judas. Yes, he had community, but he was lacking something (honesty, integrity? something.) (recall John 12:6 he would steal). Ya gotta be honest with community.
• The priests, they had community. But not humble. Blinded, off-track. Self-serving, they convinced themselves their deceitful actions were for the good of the whole.
• Pilate. Isolated by power, position. Alone and oddly powerless. He seeks to avoid responsibility, to appease the crowd.
• The people. Passionate – that is, mob mentality, not thinking reasonably.
• Claudia. One unnamed appearance in gospel, she does the right thing, but lacks power.
• Community, vital Christian community, like-minded, righteous, humble, dispassionate community. It was beginning of Methodism, it can strengthen, revitalize, grow churches now. People are isolated, seeking connection w/o judgment, needing accountability, place to share deeply. Get to know one another.
• And again, the mystery and grace of atonement.
Not entirely satisfactory to have Father premeditated violent substitutionary death,
also not entirely satisfactory to remove all aspects of substitutionary atonement.
Suffering servant from Isaiah 53 willing, plus the divine dialogue (
Human response: wonder. Worship. And for God’s sake, be in community.
What wondrous love is this that caused the soul of bliss to bear the dreadful curse? And when from death I’m free I’ll sing on…

• Hymn 292 What Wondrous Love is This

Matthew 27:1-26        (CEB)
27 Early in the morning all the chief priests and the elders of the people reached the decision to have Jesus put to death. 2 They bound him, led him away, and turned him over to Pilate the governor.
3 When Judas, who betrayed Jesus, saw that Jesus was condemned to die, he felt deep regret.
He returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, and 4 said,
“I did wrong because I betrayed an innocent man.”
But they said, “What is that to us? That’s your problem.”
5 Judas threw the silver pieces into the temple and left. Then he went and hanged himself.
6 The chief priests picked up the silver pieces and said, “According to the Law it’s not right to put this money in the treasury. Since it was used to pay for someone’s life, it’s unclean.” 7 So they decided to use it to buy the potter’s field where strangers could be buried. 8 That’s why that field is called “Field of Blood” to this very day. 9 This fulfilled the words of Jeremiah the prophet: And I took the thirty pieces of silver, the price for the one whose price had been set by some of the Israelites, 10 and I gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.
11 Jesus was brought before the governor. The governor said, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
Jesus replied, “That’s what you say.” 12 But he didn’t answer when the chief priests and elders accused him.
13 Then Pilate said, “Don’t you hear the testimony they bring against you?”
14 But he didn’t answer, not even a single word. So the governor was greatly amazed.
15 It was customary during the festival for the governor to release to the crowd one prisoner, whomever they might choose. 16 At that time there was a well-known prisoner named Jesus Barabbas. 17 When the crowd had come together, Pilate asked them, “Whom would you like me to release to you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 He knew that the leaders of the people had handed him over because of jealousy.
19 While he was serving as judge, his wife sent this message to him,
“Leave that righteous man alone. I’ve suffered much today in a dream because of him.”
20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and kill Jesus.
21 The governor said, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?”
“Barabbas,” they replied.
22 Pilate said, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called Christ?”
They all said, “Crucify him!”
23 But he said, “Why? What wrong has he done?”
They shouted even louder, “Crucify him!”
24 Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere and that a riot was starting. So he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I’m innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It’s your problem.”
25 All the people replied, “Let his blood be on us and on our children.”
26 Then he released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus whipped, then handed him over to be crucified.  X

Isaiah 53        (The Message)  
53 Who believes what we’ve heard and seen?
    Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?
2-6 The Servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling,
    a scrubby plant in a parched field.
There was nothing attractive about him,
    nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over,
    a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away.
    We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
    our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
    that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
    that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
    Through his bruises we get healed.
We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.
    We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.
And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong,
    on him, on him.
7-9 He was beaten, he was tortured,
    but he didn’t say a word.
Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered
    and like a sheep being sheared,
    he took it all in silence.
Justice miscarried, and he was led off—
    and did anyone really know what was happening?
He died without a thought for his own welfare,
    beaten bloody for the sins of my people.
They buried him with the wicked,
    threw him in a grave with a rich man,
Even though he’d never hurt a soul
    or said one word that wasn’t true.
10 Still, it’s what God had in mind all along,
    to crush him with pain.
The plan was that he give himself as an offering for sin
    so that he’d see life come from it—life, life, and more life.
    And God’s plan will deeply prosper through him.
11-12 Out of that terrible travail of soul,
    he’ll see that it’s worth it and be glad he did it.
Through what he experienced, my righteous one, my servant,
    will make many “righteous ones,”
    as he himself carries the burden of their sins.
Therefore I’ll reward him extravagantly—
    the best of everything, the highest honors—
Because he looked death in the face and didn’t flinch,
    because he embraced the company of the lowest.
He took on his own shoulders the sin of the many,
    he took up the cause of all the black sheep. 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Not My Will But Thine

• 4th Sunday after Pentecost
On Matthew 26:31-46, Jesus prays Not my will but thine   @FirstUMCBville   @kerrfunk

• Jesus knows.
Knows what’s going to happen, knows what’s going on.
Chooses to go on in spite of personal pain.
• I had a wedding yesterday, Laura and Gary.
Marriage is a chosen re-ordering of life and priority.
One time a young teen asked if I liked being married
– obviously she did not have a good model to learn from.
We need good models to learn from.
Marriage is a chosen re-ordering of life and priority.
There is more at stake here than “me, myself, and I”.
What is good/enjoyable/desirable for ME
may not be so for US. (activity, purchase, etc.)
AND I gladly surrender because my love for US is greater.
I want to make my partner smile.
• In Christian marriage the covenant between Christ and church is shown.
In the garden, what Jesus wants is no suffering.
But he sets his will aside for relationship.
He could opt out, could satisfy himself.
He’s even currently abandoned by friends!
But he sets his will aside for relationship.
Early hearers would’ve recalled Abraham and Isaac.
Wait here while we go worship.
• Five powerful words for any disciple: Not my will but thine.
The episode in the garden is not written to shame the weak but to model Jesus and to demonstrate that God’s love and grace and presence is without fail.
Not my will but thine.
Could prevent a host of troubles, could strengthen relationship.
Basically, nothing bad happen, only good. Not my will but thine.
• Jesus is in deep sorrow: prays.
Jesus is abandoned by friends: prays. Keeps them in mind.
And result of prayer, of surrender: cool mind. Strength for task.
• Amazing Love (And Can It Be), by Charles Wesley. Read lyrics.

• Hymn 363 And Can it Be that I Should Gain by Charles Wesley
1. And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior's blood!
Died he for me? who caused his pain! For me? who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

2. 'Tis mystery all: the Immortal dies!
Who can explore his strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries to sound the depths of love divine.
'Tis mercy all! Let earth adore; let angel minds inquire no more.

3. He left his Father's throne above (so free, so infinite his grace!),
emptied himself of all but love, and bled for Adam's helpless race.
'Tis mercy all, immense and free, for O my God, it found out me!

4. Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature's night;
thine eye diffused a quickening ray; I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
my chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

5. No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in him, is mine;
alive in him, my living Head, and clothed in righteousness divine,
bold I approach the eternal throne, and claim the crown, through Christ my own. 

Matthew 26:31-46        (Common English Bible)
31 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Tonight you will all fall away because of me. This is because it is written, I will hit the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will go off in all directions
.[Zechariah 13:7]
32 But after I’m raised up, I’ll go before you to Galilee.”
33 Peter replied, “If everyone else stumbles because of you,
I’ll never stumble.”
34 Jesus said to him, “I assure you that, before the rooster crows tonight, you will deny me three times.”
35 Peter said, “Even if I must die alongside you, I won’t deny you.”
And all the disciples said the same thing.
36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane.
He said to the disciples, “Stay here while I go and pray over there.” 37 When he took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, he began to feel sad and anxious. 38 Then he said to them, “I’m overwhelmed with sorrow. It’s as if I’m dying. Stay here and keep alert with me.” 39 Then he went a short distance farther and fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it’s possible, take this cup of suffering away from me. However—not what I want but what you want.”
40 He came back to the disciples and found them sleeping.
He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you stay alert one hour with me?
41 Stay alert and pray so that you won’t give in to temptation.
The spirit is eager, but the flesh is weak.” 42 A second time he went away and prayed, “My Father, if it’s not possible that this cup be taken away unless I drink it, then let it be what you want.”
43 Again he came and found them sleeping. Their eyes were heavy with sleep. 44 But he left them and again went and prayed the same words for the third time. 45 Then he came to his disciples and said to them, “Will you sleep and rest all night? Look, the time has come for the Son of Man to be betrayed into the hands of sinners.
46 Get up. Let’s go. Look, here comes my betrayer.”  

Philippians 2:5-11        (Common English Bible)    
5 Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:

6 Though he was in the form of God,
        he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
7 But he emptied himself
        by taking the form of a slave
        and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
8         he humbled himself by becoming obedient
          to the point of death, even death on a cross.
9 Therefore, God highly honored him
        and gave him a name above all names,
10     so that at the name of Jesus everyone in heaven,
        on earth, and under the earth might bow
11         and every tongue confess
            that Jesus Christ is Lord,
            to the glory of God the Father.    

Thursday, June 9, 2016

On Unity - by Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball

Originally posted by Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball (@BishopSandraSteinerBall) on her Facebook page, 6/8/16, 9am. Paragraph numbers added by Kerry Bart.


1| The Gospel of John records Jesus's farewell prayer for the disciples on the night before he was crucified. He said: “I do not pray for these only (meaning the twelve who were gathered in the room with him, the first disciples), but for those who believe in me through their word (meaning all of us who are heirs of the faith through the ripples of evangelism and witness cast forth from the first disciples), that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
2| There is a saying long attributed to John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, that has appeared frequently in Methodist writings through the years, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and, in all things, charity.” Some claim this saying originally came from a man named Meldenius, who wrote it during the religious wars in Europe in the 17th century.
3| Whoever originally penned it, the saying is a basic guide for those who believe we can do more for the kingdom of God together than we can do individually. 
4| This saying was used in England, in John Wesley’s time, as an antidote to the religious wars that had ravaged the country. In the 18th century, religious people fighting and killing one another was still a painful and living memory. The people were sick of religious wars. That is why this aphorism became so popular. But Wesley used this phrase not only to refer to the religious wars, but also to express his concern about division in the early Methodist movement. Our present day is not the first time that Methodists have had different, competing thoughts and ideas. In early Methodism factions emerged among the leadership within the societies. People identified as Calvinist, Moravian, or Arminian Methodists and there were significant serious differences among these perspectives. These theological differences have never really gotten resolved and have led to differing perspectives in our present Methodist ecclesiastical house. I believe that Wesley realized that for the sake of unity, meaning the unity of which Jesus speaks and which is given as a gift of God, it is necessary to decide whether doctrines or relationships should become essentials. 
5| “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and, in all things charity.” 
6| Out of the same revulsion to religious division, and in the same century, the founders of this country insured the separation of church and state in the Constitution, so that the state would never use its arms on any side of a religious struggle. This country’s European ancestors/founders remembered religious wars where people were killed over differing religious beliefs. They recognized what terror could result from strongly held competing religious beliefs. In our time both at home and around the world terror continues to occur because of competing religious ideologies. 
7| Our Wesleyan belief in grace, specifically perfecting grace, tells us that God’s dynamic love works through change and becoming. Instead of God looking at the world and condemning all of us who are sinners, saying, “No, you are not part of me because you have sinned/are sinning,” God sent Jesus, Love in perfect form, to show us sinners that God is not done with us yet! Additionally, Jesus tells us to go and share the Good News that God is not done with anyone yet. We are called to tell people – even in the midst of difference – that God has given, and that God’s gift and God’s desire for all creation is to be in unity through grace and love. The unity that Jesus speaks of is not an act of human will or tolerance; it is the idea that God’s dynamic love works through transformation and is given by and is a gift of God.
8| Religion, or at least the practice of Christian religion, is not meant to divide or to harm or to tear people down or to kill people. The purpose of religious practice is to build people up, to lift people high, and to give people hope and life.
9| Lately, there has been much conversation in The United Methodist Church about what divides us, especially when it comes to the topic of human sexuality. There has been talk among some of schism, of dividing the Church over the particular issues that divide this country – many of those issues being the “isms” of this world. There is disagreement, and in the midst of the fear and defensiveness that often comes from disagreement some people actually push for the church to divide into groups of like-minded people and form various homogeneous communities, where everyone thinks alike and acts alike. But to take that action would be unfaithful in light of Jesus’ prayer. Jesus prayed that we might all be one. The unity of God’s people with God and with one another was the top thing on Jesus’ mind, the top priority of his life, even in his very last hours of life as he made his journey to the cross. Jesus did not make this journey to stand against something or to protect something, but to be the bridge for God’s perfecting power of love and grace.
10| For United Methodists, as followers of Christ, we need to recognize: what really are the essentials? One essential we believe in as United Methodists is that each of us is a holy, beloved, and valuable child of God. We all are created in God’s image. We are all pursued, accepted, and covered by the unbounded love of God’s grace. No one of us is better than another. This is the unity we are given by God. It is part of the divine purpose and is present as God is present. It is more powerful than our thoughts, our theologies, or our actions which divide. It cannot be overcome or denied. We have all received grace upon grace. When we divide ourselves we are only turning our backs to the unity that is all around us, the unity in which we live in spite of our limited awareness.
11| A second essential to understand is that none of us is perfect. That contributes to our limited awareness. We are all sinners saved by grace. None of us has all the truth. None of us sees or understands perfectly. Sometimes we want to cast out evil, when that is God’s job and not ours. If we would seek all for Christ, we can trust that in midst of changing and becoming, ours and theirs, God’s transforming power and love will cast out the evil in all of us in whatever form that evil may take. All of us now see ourselves through a clouded mirror, through a lens that has been damaged by fear, hurt, or hopelessness. The distortion of our sight is exacerbated by our biases and prejudices. We must confess that and seek God’s more excellent way.
12| As we seek God’s more excellent way, a third essential is that we follow Jesus to the best of our conscience, wisdom, knowledge, and with as much passion and energy as we have. And, knowing that each person is created as we are, in the image of God, we must seek to see, hear, and know the divine image in the other person while hoping to be a conduit, a revelation, of God’s Spirit contained in the divine image within us. An essential is to be intentional in our work of “having the mind of Christ.”
13| These are the things I believe Wesley put forth as the essentials. Wesley thought if we could be united in these efforts and beliefs, then in other things we could trust God and allow liberty, so that in all things we could be charitable and gracious with one another.
14| I believe that the Church must operate in this way, with these essentials in mind, not only for its own sake but also for the sake of the advancement of God’s mission, ministry, and saving efforts for the world. The prayer of Jesus is that the world would be one, so the world may believe. It is for the world that we must be united. If the religious communities fight within and among themselves, then how can the world be saved? Our mission is to show a better way. Our mission is to show that in this God-given world of wonderful diversity, there is a better way of handling differences, disagreements, and differing opinions among human beings. God sent God’s son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that the world would have life through him. God’s rescue plan and life-saving mission in and through Jesus Christ gave us a prayer, a prayer that I believe expresses God’s deepest yearning and deepest hope. “I pray that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe.” X

Bishop Steiner Ball's essay ends here.

A quick review by Kerry:

"In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and, in all things charity." (paragraph 5)
What is "essential"? (paragraph 10)
One, all are created in God's image (paragraph 10)
Two, no one is perfect, and no one has perfect understanding (paragraph 11)
Three, we must follow Jesus to the best of our ability (paragraph 12)
"The prayer of Jesus is that the world would be one, so the world may believe. It is for the world that we must be united." (paragraph 14)

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Receive Jesus

• Third Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 26:17-30 and Isaiah 61   @FirstUMCBville   @kerrfunk
• Last week: discipleship is heartfelt action to benefit those with less power.
Before that: perseverance, even if the mountains should fall and the hills turn to dust. God demonstrates his love in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Not even the sinful torturous murder of his son will block God.
Somehow the Last Supper is connected,
somehow Passover is connected,
and somehow forgiveness of sins happens.
Indeed, even from before Jesus was born,
forgiveness was the goal.
Matthew 1:21: You will name him Jesus
because he will save people from their sins.
The name Jesus means “God saves”.
• Two images to focus on for Last Supper.
What happens in the eucharist,
both then and now, is not reducible to words.
• Take and eat, this is my body. This is the body of me.
In Aramaic there’s no word for “body.” … You may hear Jesus saying this is my being, my identity, my self, this is who I am. Consume the essence of me.
Like the Psalms that speak of God’s word being sweeter than honey, take the Living Word in.
Like Jesus in the gospel of John 4:34, my food is to do the will of the one who sent me. Action. Let me live in you.
• This is my blood of the covenant poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
Recalls blood covenants from the OT, Abraham and Moses.
God blessed Abraham with promise of land and people and blessing,
and sacredly swore by his own self that it would come to pass. Covenant.
Covenant of Moses, life is in the blood, blood covered the debt of sin, instituted temporarily in Exodus, until such time as God would take debt on himself, and the covenant bond between God and people would be sealed. As earlier, not even sinful torturous murder of his son will block God. Instead, God goes to all lengths to draw us back to him.
• That’s how Jesus lived. How we are to live.
To receive communion is to participate in the saving work of God,
to say Yes I receive the gift of God’s blessing
and Yes I do and will live the gift.
Thank you, God. I am yours.

• Hymn 618 Let Us Break Bread Together

Matthew 26:17-30        (Common English Bible)
17 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover meal?”
18 He replied, “Go into the city, to a certain man, and say, ‘The Teacher says, “My time is near. I’m going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.” ’” 19 The disciples did just as Jesus instructed them. They prepared the Passover.
20 That evening he took his place at the table with the twelve disciples. 21 As they were eating he said, “I assure you that one of you will betray me.” 22 Deeply saddened, each one said to him, “I’m not the one, am I, Lord?”
23 He replied, “The one who will betray me is the one who dips his hand with me into this bowl. 24 The Son of Man goes to his death just as it is written about him. But how terrible it is for that person who betrays the Son of Man! It would have been better for him if he had never been born.”
25 Now Judas, who would betray him, replied, “I’m not the one, am I, Rabbi?” Jesus answered, “You have said it.”
26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take and eat. This is my body.” 27 He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from this, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many so that their sins may be forgiven. 29 I tell you, I won’t drink the fruit of the vine again until that day when I drink it in a new way with you in my Father’s kingdom.” 30 Then, after singing songs of praise, they went to the Mount of Olives.  X

Isaiah 61        (Common English Bible)
61 The Lord God’s spirit is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me
    to bring good news to the poor,
    to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim release for captives,
        and liberation for prisoners,
2     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
        and a day of vindication for our God,
    to comfort all who mourn,
3     to provide for Zion’s mourners,
    to give them a crown in place of ashes,
    oil of joy in place of mourning,
    a mantle of praise in place of discouragement.
They will be called Oaks of Righteousness,
    planted by the Lord to glorify himself.
4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins;
    they will restore formerly deserted places;
    they will renew ruined cities,
    places deserted in generations past.
5 Foreigners will stay and shepherd your sheep,
    and strangers will be your farmers and vinedressers.
6 You will be called The Priests of the Lord;
    Ministers of Our God, they will say about you.
You will feed on the wealth of nations,
    and fatten yourself on their riches.
7 Instead of shame, their portion will be double;
    instead of disgrace, they will rejoice over their share.
They will possess a double portion in their land;
    everlasting joy will be theirs.
8 I, the Lord, love justice;
    I hate robbery and dishonesty.
I will faithfully give them their wage,
    and make with them an enduring covenant.
9 Their offspring will be known among the nations,
    and their descendants among the peoples.
All who see them will recognize
    that they are a people blessed by the Lord.

10 I surely rejoice in the Lord;
    my heart is joyful because of my God,
    because he has clothed me with clothes of victory,
    wrapped me in a robe of righteousness
    like a bridegroom in a priestly crown,
    and like a bride adorned in jewelry.
11 As the earth puts out its growth,
    and as a garden grows its seeds,
    so the Lord God will grow righteousness and praise before all the nations.