God’s Math

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S (Scripture): Romans 8:5 People whose lives are based on selfishness think about selfish things, but people whose lives are based on the Spirit think about things that are related to the Spirit. 6 The attitude that comes from selfishness leads to death, but the attitude that comes from the Spirit leads to life and peace.

O (Observation): Paul relates how the Spirit brings new life to folks, and how selfishness leads to death. The Law alone didn’t satisfy the desire God has for new life in people, because we are selfish! When we think mostly for our own good, we fail.

Yet in Christ, the Spirit is now our guide. The Spirit is in us, yet beyond the reach of sin. How? Christ’s death and resurrection, in bodily form, has overcome the power of sin.

A (Application): God is good. God wishes only life and peace for us, but we find ways to mess that up. Our selfishness pokes its ugly head up and snatches away life-giving actions and words for others.

We like to think that the world is made up of only so much good, and that if we give enough away, we won’t have any for ourselves.

I think new life in the Spirit actually creates more goodness! How do I know? Well, when I give my time to a service project, I feel “full.” I may be exhausted physically or mentally, but spiritual, I’m overjoyed.

God’s math just works differently.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us generous hearts! Amen.

Abundance – Giving & Receiving

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S (Scripture): Psalm 144: 9 I will sing a new song to you, God.
I will sing praises to you on a ten-stringed harp,
10 to you—the one who gives saving help to rulers,
and who rescues his servant David from the evil sword.
11 Rescue me and deliver me from the power of strangers,
whose mouths speak lies,
and whose strong hand is a strong hand of deception,
12 so that our sons can grow up fully, in their youth, like plants;
so that our daughters can be like pillars carved to decorate a palace;
13 so that our barns can be full, providing all kinds of food;
so that our flocks can be in the thousands—
even tens of thousands—in our fields;
14 so that our cattle can be loaded with calves;
so that there won’t be any breach in the walls,
no exile, no outcries in our streets!

O (Observation): The abundance found in God is described here by the psalmist – an abundance beyond joy, beyond measure. Hope springs eternal for the follower of God.

A (Application): The hope and abundance found in God comes in many forms. We hope our sons and daughters bear fruit in their own special ways. We pray that our storehouses are filled and that our jobs bring abundance.

This is our hope. Reality sometimes does not match this hope, however. But this still remains our hope. That all will be fed and that all who have need will be satisfied.

In the meantime, we will feed the hungry, we will gather together and do our best to make sure all are fed and that none have need.

In my church setting, we work with the Murfreesboro Cold Patrol, Roots for Refugees & Murfreesboro Muslim Youth, The Journey Home, Coldest Nights Women’s Shelter. These are some ways in which this psalm is coming to fruition for many people who have need in Murfreesboro. And this is also helping us to see our need to be humble, broken, and filled with the Spirit.

May we be God’s hands and feet this day.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to be another person’s abundance. And help them to be our abundance. Amen.

A Sermon in Response to Charlottesville Chaos – 8/13/2017

10th Sunday After Pentecost – Lectionary 19

Sunday, August 13, 2017

1 Kings 19:9-18; Psalm 85:8-13; Romans 10:5-15; MATTHEW 14:22-33

 

I’m angry…I don’t think it’s good to write a sermon when you’re angry…

I’m angry about what’s going on in Charlottesville…

If you don’t know, up in Charlottesville, a group of folks rallied together

Their purpose:  oppose the pending removal of a General Robert E. Lee statue

This demonstration resulted in protestors organizing

And like a fuse being lit…

it was just a matter of time until things got out of hand

Tensions rise…

People start acting irrational.  Mob mentality sets in.  US vs. THEM – VIOLENCE!

And then some fool races down a street full of people, likely a mix of demonstrators and protestors, rams into a stopped car, causing a chain reaction of accidents, and literally sends people flying into the crowd, injuring dozens, and killing one

Fights break out along racial lines

This is happening in 2017 people!!!

This isn’t Detroit, 1967…This is Charlottesville, VA, 2017!!!

WAKE UP, PEOPLE!

This is hatred…this is a demonstration of evil…

In OUR TIME, people! In OUR TIME!

I want to point fingers and I want to BLAME PEOPLE!!!…but I’m not going to today…

I’m not gonna blame the President.  I’m not gonna blame the demonstrators.  I’m not gonna blame those protesting the demonstrators.

You know who I’m gonna start with?  I’m gonna take a selfie and I’m gonna take a long, hard look at the person in that selfie and I’m gonna work on that person, first…and I invite you to do the same.  Take a selfie!  Put it on social media…  #SpiritLeadMe

Every time we ignore the invitation to get to know someone of a different race, we are part of the problem.

Every time we ignore the invitation to get to know someone of a different religion, we are part of the problem.

Every time we fail to speak out against ANY injustice: Homelessness, access to healthcare, racism, bigotry, prejudice, we are part of the problem.

#SpiritLeadMe

And do you know the saddest part of this terrifying moment?

Fear robs us of the abundant life God intends for us

Peter and the disciples are full of hope and passion, and yet full of fear

They’ve seen the abundance of God in the feeding of the 5,000…but now…out in the boat…living through a storm of their own…a literal storm…Jesus comes out walking on the water.

They are scared! Tired!  Worn!  In the midst of their fears, they recognize Jesus, and Peter wants to come and walk on water, too!

May we all be foolish enough like Peter…silly, blind faith to step out…and he did it…for a few steps…And then he starts to sink.  As Peter is sinking…he shouts, “Lord, save me!”

Matthew 14:31   31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

And I pray that white churches all across America, today, are crying out, “Lord save us!”

And Jesus reaches his hand out…

You see, Peter needed saving…he walked on a water a bit…but he still needed saving

And I can say the same for us…We will take a few steps, but we need prayer…we need Jesus now more than ever.

Folks, we all have fears…but God helps us to TRANSCEND our fears.

And you know what my fear is, right now?  That I’ve been wrong…My fear is that I have not done enough to stand up for justice for the poor, the outcast, and that I haven’t really stood with my African-American brothers and sisters

#SpiritLeadMe

But I recall…that Jesus didn’t let Peter drown…

Jesus didn’t let those disciples drown…

And Jesus ain’t gonna let us drown! No, sir!

And we are gonna seek God’s holy wisdom, right now…

We are gonna walk out on the waters…and face our fears…

 

“A litany for predominantly white spaces, against white supremacy”
Written by Revs. Elizabeth Rawlings and Jennifer Chrien

Gracious and loving God,
In the beginning, you created humanity and declared us very good
We were made in Africa, came out of Egypt.
Our beginnings, all of our beginnings, are rooted in dark skin.
We are all siblings. We are all related.
We are all your children.

We are all siblings, we are all related, we are all your children.

Violence entered creation through Cain and Abel.
Born of jealousy, rooted in fear of scarcity,
Brother turned against brother
The soil soaked with blood, Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?

We are all siblings, we are all related, we are our brothers keeper.

When your people cried out in slavery,
You heard them. You did not ignore their suffering.
You raised up leaders who would speak truth to power
And lead your people into freedom.
Let us hear your voice; grant us the courage to answer your call.
Guide us towards justice and freedom for all people.

We are all siblings, we are all related, we all deserve to be free.

Through the prophets you told us the worship you want is for us
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke;
Yet we continue to serve our own interest,
To oppress our workers, to crush our siblings by the neck because we are afraid.
Because they don’t look like us, act like us, talk like us.
Yet, they are us. And we are them.

We are all siblings, we are all related, we are not free unless ALL are free

In great love you sent to us Jesus, your Son,
Born in poverty, living under the rule of a foreign empire,
Brown-skinned, dark-haired, middle-Eastern.
They called him Yeshua, your Son,
Who welcomed the unwelcome, accepted the unacceptable—
The foreigners, the radicals, the illiterate, the poor,
The agents of empire and the ones who sought to overthrow it,
The men and women who were deemed unclean because of their maladies.

We are all siblings, we are all related, we are all disciples.

The faith of Christ spread from region to region, culture to culture.
You delight in the many voices, many languages, raised to you.
You teach us that in Christ, “There is no Jew or Greek, there is no slave or free, there is no male and female.”
In Christ, we are all one.
Not in spite of our differences, but in them.
Black, brown, and white; female, non-binary, and male; citizen and immigrant,
In Christ we are all one.

We are all siblings, we are all related, we are all one in Christ.
(One in Christ, who calmed the seas, who walked on water, who saved Peter from drowning.)

Each week, we confess our sin to you and to one another.
We know that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.
We are captive to the sin of white supremacy,
Which values some lives more than others,
Which believes some skin tones are more perfect than others,
Which commits violence against those who are different.
We confess our complicity in this sin.
We humbly repent.
We ask for the strength to face our sin, to dismantle it, and to be made anew
We trust in your compassion and rely on your mercy
Praying that you will give us your wisdom and guide us in your way of peace,
That you will renew us as you renew all of creation
In accordance with your will.

We ask this, we pray this, as your children, all siblings, all related, all beloved children of God.

Amen

I feel like I’m starting…just barely, to understand why folks would need to sing a song that goes like this:  “Precious Lord, take my hand, Lead me on, let me stand, I am tired, I am weak, I am worn. Through the storm, through the night, Lead me on to the light Take my hand precious Lord, Lead me home.”

Jesus won’t let US drown…Jesus is the abundant life!

Here at the table…at the font…we see abundance…we see hope…

God is with us in our sin…in our fears…

When the winds of life are overwhelming us, when a city like Charlottesville is under siege, when called upon, I urge you to step out in faith…to confront hatred, with love; to stand up when others are dismissed

And when you step out…and you start to sink…

Remember: Jesus will be there…and he ain’t gonna check out your skin color before he reaches his hand out to save you…

#SpiritLeadMe

Spirit Lead Me.

Spirit Lead Us!

Amen

It’s Mine! All Mine!


S (Scripture): Acts 13:44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city assembled together to hear the word of the Lord. 45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy, and they began to contradict what Paul was saying by reviling him. 46 Both Paul and Barnabas replied courageously, “It was necessary to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have appointed you to be a light for the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

O (Observation):  Jealousy takes over for the Jews gathered at the local synagogue in which Paul is preaching (in Antioch).  They don’t like all of the Gentiles hanging around “messing up their things.”  These Gentiles are being welcomed in because they are starting to believe this message of hope provided by Paul and Barnabas.

Paul’s words cut deep here. Not only is he claiming that these Jews are rejecting the word of God, he takes another step in claiming that the Jews simply don’t see themselves as worthy of eternal life. Because of this, Paul says he turns to the Gentiles. As he does this, he shares some words from Isaiah. Paul is acting on the prophetic words from that prophet years ago.

According to Isaiah, the Jews were responsible for being a light to the Gentiles…indeed to the whole world.  Doing so would bring salvation to the whole earth.  Yet God’s people got off track.  Even with the Law and Prophets, they couldn’t do it for themselves.  Instead, Jesus had come to fulfill the purpose of the Law and Prophets.  To remind the world that salvation was always meant for ALL people, lived out first in the Jews, then to the whole world.  

Paul and Barnabas were doing their part to live out this hoped-for future.  

A (Application):  Mine, Mine, Mine!  That’s the cry of a child who is jealous.    That’s the cry of an immature person who likes what he/she sees and craves it…to the exclusion of others.  This goes against the purpose God has for us.  

We think that the world is a zero-sum game.   The more I give away, the less I have.   But I have  found that when I actually accomplish living out the Gospel and give away my time, talent, treasures, I somehow feel enriched.  Like somehow, 2 + 2 = 5.   Like I receive, even though I’m giving.  That is NOT a zero-sum game.  

The Gospel message works this way, too – as we give, we receive.  When we share the message of Jesus, especially with those who don’t look or act like “us,” we receive blessing.  It’s hard to describe, but you know it when you do it.   

That’s my challenge for you today.  Share God’s love with someone, even if you don’t think they deserve it.  You just might be amazed…or disappointed.   I can’t guarantee your success rate.  Remember, Paul also received hateful responses from those with whom he shared the Gospel.  But many more received the message and took the hope he was sharing to heart.  

What shall you do today with what you have?   With your finances?  With your time?  With the Gospel message?

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to know you are a God of abundance.  Amen.  

Before Jesus…Elisha


S (Scripture): 2 Kings 4:42 Now a man from Baal Shalisha brought some food for the prophet (Elisha) – twenty loaves of bread made from the firstfruits of the barley harvest, as well as fresh ears of grain. Elisha said, “Set it before the people so they may eat.” 43 But his attendant said, “How can I feed a hundred men with this?” He replied, “Set it before the people so they may eat, for this is what the Lord says, ‘They will eat and have some left over.’” 44 So he set it before them; they ate and had some left over, just as the Lord predicted.

O (Observation): Wait!?!? Jesus wasn’t the only one to feed a multitude!?!?

As Jesus fed the 5,000, he had lifted the bread and blessed it. That action is the key in the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. God blessed the bread and created an abundance.  

And today’s text reminds me that God is the originator of all blessing. Jesus was the full manifestation of God on earth, because God was working through Jesus. And yet, God also worked through the prophets, like Elisha.   

A (Application):  If Elisha can be a conduit for God’s grace, why can’t I?  Well, God can and does work through the likes of you and me.  We simply need to be reminded that the blessing are not ours to give…they are God’s blessings to give.  

Allowing God to shape us and mold us in the waters of baptism and at the Table with bread and wine, we can see that God does abundant work through us.  

In Murfreesboro, we are hoping to engage in some long-term care for the homeless.  Why can’t God work through us?  Well…in fact, God can work through us.  And that’s my hope.  

What is the hope to which you cling?

P (Prayer): Lord, make us a channel of your peace.  Amen.  

The Door to Goodness is Open


S (Scripture): John 10:9 [Jesus said:] “I am the door. If anyone enters through me, he will be saved, and will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.”

O (Observation):  Jesus lifts up the motivation behind his own actions. He wants to give abundant life to all who come to him.    This abundance is in sharp contrast to thieves who promise life, but are here only to steal and kill and destroy.  

Jesus teaches that a life in Christ is about acknowledging the abundance of grace and life that he can provide.  I think the “thieves” worry that only so much goodness exists.   Jesus teaches that goodness begets goodness. 

A (Application):  We like to look at life as a zero-sum game.   Happiness on one side a mathematical equation must mean less happiness on the other side of the equation.  Otherwise, things won’t balance out.   Those who wish to steal goodness away from others are motivated by this zero-sum game.   

Yet Jesus shows us that God’s economy doesn’t work on this kind of balance.  Instead, think of a candle and a flame.   To light one candle from another candle’s flame doesn’t diminish the flame of the first candle, does it? No, indeed!   Now, instead of one flame…we have two!  And both are vividly burning bright.  And neither flame is diminished.  

Strange, isn’t it, then, that some don’t see love and mercy this way?   Instead, we are motivated to lessen someone else’s joy…that we don’t want their joy to diminish our own.  

Jesus is the door for me.  He leads me to see life as an abundant treasure.   And I invite you to see life in Christ in this way, too!

P (Prayer):  Lord, your grace and goodness flow freely.   Help us all to see this truth. Amen. 

Giving out of Abundance


S (Scripture): Luke 20:45 As all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the experts in the law. They like walking around in long robes, and they love elaborate greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 47 They devour widows’ property, and as a show make long prayers. They will receive a more severe punishment.”

21:1 Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3 He said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. 4 For they all offered their gifts out of their wealth. But she, out of her poverty, put in everything she had to live on.”

O (Observation):  Once again, Jesus takes the most simple, ordinary, hidden action, and turns it into a lesson of eternal significance. 

This widow has no major source of income, since men were employed and women supported the family through acts of service.  Without a husband, she would need to be supported by the community around her.  So, as a widow, her sources of income would be severely restricted.  

And if not for Jesus, her actions would go unnoticed.  Jesus brings to light the impact that this widow’s actions have on faith and culture.  Her faith is brought to light in the fact that her gift, though small in the eyes of her culture, was likely a large proportion of her finances.  And being so, she would have to trust in the Lord that what she has is enough.  

Indeed, Jesus is telling the disciples that:

“How we behave in the treasury is a direct reflection of the internal reality of our heart.” 

(Laura Turner, Guest post on Rachel Held Evans’ blog: http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/laura-turner-widows-mite, July 7 2012)

This point that Jesus makes lifts up the splendid show of faith on the part of the widow, but also cuts deep into the culture of the rich and the experts in the law. The widows’ actions and the actions of the experts in the law seem to be diametrically opposed to one another. The experts in the law seem to be doing what they’re doing for the show of it, whereas the window seems to be giving in the quiet of her heart – a place where no one is looking. But Jesus notices.

A (Application):  What is our motivation to give:  To have our name on a plaque?  To give glory to God?  To trust in God’s abundance?  

We all have varied reasons for giving, and today, Jesus shows us a good way and a way to avoid.  Why?  To show us that the quiet way is just as valid a way as any, to give.  

The abundance mindset is rare in our society.  Average giving per churchgoer in the US has hovered somewhere around 2-3% of annual income.  This is a far cry from the 10% lifted up in the Old Testament as a guideline for giving.  Of course, the amount is not the focus, the focus is in giving as one is called and trusting that God will provide for our daily bread.  

Our challenges are many in this country: the allure of a brand new car, hi tech gadgets, restaurants, movies, sports, and so much more vie for our attention and our finances.  We tend to give to these things first, and give the leftovers to charity and church.  

What Jesus lifts up today is the heart of the widow: she gives from what little she has.  Is that how we operate?  Do we give of our first  fruits?  

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to trust in you as we step forward in faith.   Amen.