Putting Yourself Forward – Proverbs: 25:6-7

Psalm 112

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

Luke 14:1, 7-14

 

Two startling revelations made it into the news this week: Kim Kardashian-West revealed that when she was younger she became addicted to fame and money and Miley Cyrus concluded that after seven years of marriage, she needed some “me time.”

While the cult of celebrity seems amplified by social media and internet click-bait, it is nothing new. Alexander the Great named over 70 cities after himself. Roman Emperor Octavian re-named himself Augustus and sculptors drew his favor by placing his image on statues of gods. His celebrity happened by design: Augustus demanded that he be worshiped as a god born of a virgin mother and destined to live forever.

Proverbs warns against seeking that kind of status, not only as a way of avoiding the inevitable embarrassment that happens when the mighty fall, but also as a way of building community through egalitarian relationships. So while it seems like a simple bit of conventional wisdom, our first lesson this week, placed in it’s fuller context is anything but conventional.  The conventional wisdom of the time was to align oneself closely with those with power, wealth, position or prestige.

I am particularly drawn to the study of the 16th century. Yes there was the upheaval created by Martin Luther and the reformers, but I am really fascinated by the Tudor dynasty, especially the reign of Henry VIII. Employing the same conventional wisdom Proverbs warns against, Hampton Court was filled with those attempting to gain entry into the king’s inner circle. Those that got his royal approval thought themselves on top of the world – at least until Henry changed his mind. Many of them found their way to the Tower, some found their heads on public display on the bridge.

Our passage from Proverbs, echoed in the instruction of Jesus in the gospel this week, is not about being exalted and getting the seat next to the celebrity. It is the unconventional wisdom of taking the lower seat, assuming the humble role, not playing the competitive game of climbing over others to get to the top. And just to put some icing on Jesus’ unconventional cake, he tells all those people competing to look important that when they host a banquet, they should invite the poor instead of – to use today’s language – the influencers.

Here is a bit of unconventional wisdom from 12th century Sephardic Jewish philosopher Maimonides:

“When a person eats and drinks in celebration of a holiday, he is obligated to feed converts, orphans, widows, and others who are destitute and poor. In contrast, a person who locks the gates of his courtyard and eats and drinks with his children and his wife, without feeding the poor and the embittered, is [not indulging in] rejoicing associated with God’s command, but rather the rejoicing of his own belly.”

September 8: Back to Class! Sunday School Begins

Sunday School starts on September 8, 2019. Registration forms are in the Narthex. Children begin worship with their families, then are dismissed to class after the Children’s Message.

We prefer to call it Funday School, because we incorporate crafts and fun into the lessons. Children also work on service projects, learning to live the faith. For more information, contact the church office at 480-759-1515.

Standing Up Straight – Luke 13:10-17

  • Isaiah 58:9b-14
  • Psalm 103:1-8
  • Hebrews 12:18-29 

Last week I departed from my usual preaching style to clarify some misrepresentations of a resolution from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee August 5-10. The resolution approved by the 900 member assembly and declared that the ELCA was a “Sanctuary Denomination.”

I particularly wanted to correct comments from Robert Jeffress, the pastor of a large Baptist church in Dallas and a Fox News contributor. He appeared incredulous that a denomination would encourage its members to break the law.

First of all, Pastor Jeffress is wrong. There is nothing in the resolution that encourages anyone to break the law. If you would like to know more about it, go to: https://www.elca.org/News-and-Events/8004. There is also a link on that page to some talking points to help clarify what the resolution is and is not.

Having said that however, the church has a long history of civil disobedience when governments enact and enforce laws that are unjust. My first awareness of faith-based civil disobedience was the civil rights movement in the early 1960’s. People of faith very intentionally violated legal segregation, often facing violence, arrest and incarceration. If you wonder where they got such an idea, just take a look at this week’s gospel.

Jesus was teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath and a woman appears who has been bent over and unable to stand up straight for 18 years. She does not approach Jesus asking for anything, it is possible that in her condition she did not eve see him. No, Jesus saw her, went to her and put his hands on her.

If you’re keeping score at home, there are two big violations of the law. In Jesus time, a man was not allowed to touch a non-relative woman. Given that the woman is not named it is safe to assume that she is not a relative. But the greater violation has to do with Sabbath observance. The faithful are not to do any work on the Sabbath. The laws regarding Sabbath are pretty complicated and elaborate, but an official from the synagogue is quick to observe that healing a woman on the Sabbath counts as work.

Jesus points out the hypocrisy of being allowed to untie a beast of burden to get water on the Sabbath (depending upon the type of knot in the rope) but not being able to relieve a woman from a physical burden.

What I like the most about the story is that it defines the mission of the church: helping people to stand up straight. I was drawn to the church by the efforts of the faithful to see that everyone, regardless of race or gender was allowed to stand up straight and live as sons and daughters of Abraham.

Nobel and Pulitzer Prize laureate Toni Morrison died earlier this month at the age of 88. She taught English at Howard and Princeton universities and authored 11 novels and five children’s books. Here is a quote from a woman who always stood up straight:

“I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.”

Not Peace, But Division – Luke 12: 49-56

My father was an only child, but his father had four brothers and a sister so there was a crowd at family reunions. The one I remember most took place in the summer of 1964. I remember the date because that Sunday evening there was a rerun of the “Ed Sullivan Show” which featured the Beatles first U.S. television appearance.

I also remember it because family reunions were not a regular thing. This one was on my great aunt’s farm and inasmuch as I was just going on ten years old, I was blissfully unaware of some of the family dynamics. For reasons that remain a mystery to me to this day, my grandfather and his sister did not get along. As far as I know, there may have been other family reunions that we did not attend but for whatever reason this one was supposed to extend an olive branch.

It all started out well, cars and pick-up trucks loaded with people and coolers and casserole dishes rolled up to the home quarter and parked on the grass. People sat in various clusters of chairs and tables and umbrellas and a game of croquet ran continuously near the barn.

By the time the youngsters had gathered in the living room to watch Ed Sullivan introduce the Fab Four, the combination of heat, humidity, alcohol and too much food had taken a toll on the cordial détente of earlier in the day. Conversations ranged from politics to religion to whether rock and roll was the beginning of the end of decent society. Old conflicts rose from the depths. Everybody went home sweaty and sun burned and I cannot remember another family reunion.

So just what is up with Jesus’ comment, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” His only family reunion in the bible is in Mark’s gospel and it doesn’t go well. At first his brothers try to keep him from the crowd because they think he’s lost his mind and then later he denies being related to them.

One term I never used as a therapist was “dysfunctional family.” For one thing, its kind of a pejorative term. For another, we all come from families with dysfunction; it’s just a matter of degrees. I don’t think Jesus was really on a mission to divide families. On the other hand, he did call us to honesty. Like I said, I don’t know why my grandfather didn’t get along with his sister, maybe they didn’t even remember. Burying the truth however, never resolves conflict.

Here is some wisdom on families from Anne Lamott:

“I wish I’d known what I wrote to my grandson, Jax, in “Some Assembly Required,” that everyone goes through life thinking that he or she missed school on that one day in second grade when the wise Elder came and taught the kids the secret of life, of living to find your self and your own purpose and voice, instead of needing to become addicted to people-pleasing or domination. But that no one was there that day. Everyone is flailing through this life without an owner’s manual, with whatever modicum of grace and good humor we can manage.”

October 18: Taste of Africa

Join us in supporting relief efforts for 200 women and youth rescued from slavery, human and organ trafficking in Nigeria and Arizona. Taste of Africa, a market of African food, art and jewelry, opens at Noah’s Event Place, 2100 E. Yeager Drive in Chandler, on October 18 from 5-8 p.m. All proceeds benefit Operation Heart to Heart ,

African food, fashion, art, and jewelry will be available proceeds benefit 200 women and youth rescued from slavery, human and organ trafficking in Nigeria and Arizona. Operation Heart to Heart is a faith-based, nonprofit organization providing quality and quantitative healthcare through medical missions and vocational training centers in 34 countries. It serves people who have been rescued from slavery and from sex, human and organ trafficking.

Fred and Jerry – Luke 12:32-40

  • Genesis 15: 1-6
  • Psalm 33: 12-22
  • Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16
  • Luke 12: 32-40

43 years ago, one of the first classes I took in seminary was on the varieties of ways houses of faith communicated their message. I chose to focus on the use of television by comparing and mostly contrasting two rising stars of religious television.

The first was Jerry Falwell, pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg Virginia and host of The Old Time Gospel Hour. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, Falwell had campaigned against desegregation of schools and started his own all-white private schools as a ministry of the church. When I studied him, he has recently co-founded Liberty University and was increasing his visibility in politics through the Moral Majority.

The other person I studied was a skinny Presbyterian minister whose low-budget local children’s puppet show had been picked up by National Educational Television. His name, of course, was Fred Rogers.

The focus of my paper was had nothing to do with politics. Instead it was contrasting the way each of them connected with their audience. The Old Time Gospel Hour seemed like the kind of tent revival meetings I remembered happening in the summers in the rural town where we lived. Falwell’s church was portrayed as a “pro-life, pro-traditional family values, pro-American” bastion, and his preaching regularly railed against “secular-humanists” and what he called fake Christians, including then President Jimmy Carter.

The consistent theme of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was acceptance and inclusion. While it was not outwardly a religious program, unconditional love was at the forefront of every broadcast, with Rogers reminding his viewers at the end of each show, “I like you just the way you are.”

I didn’t realize it at the time, but what I did in that paper was describe the theological chasm that has been widening ever since. I have examined and attempted to describe exactly what the chasm is but it has so many dimensions that a concise description has thus far eluded me.

Have you ever had the experience of trying to recall something and then it comes to you when you quit thinking about it?  That was what happened to me, and it was seeing a trailer for the new Tom Hanks film about Fred Rogers that reminded me that the answer has always been there: it is it scripture itself. “Where you treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Are we a community that sets boundaries for entrance and then points out the differences between us and them, or are we a community that removes boundaries and “Likes you just the way you are,” no matter how broken?

Just what is our treasure? More on this Sunday.

Here is a quote from “The World According to Mister Rogers.”

“As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one really is, that each of us has something no one else has – or ever will have – something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.”

Storing Up Treasure – Luke 12:13-21

I have been making preparations to retire this fall and one of the required steps was filling out a lot of paperwork regarding the pension plan that I have been a part of for over 37 years. So it was just a little ironic earlier this week when after finishing up the paperwork I took a look at the gospel – specifically Jesus’ warning to those who “store up treasures for themselves.” Gulp.

The setting of the story is a man in the crowd who asks Jesus to arbitrate a dispute he has, presumably with his older brother. Luke does not give us specifics but in general when a man died, his estate was divided among male heirs but the eldest son was given two shares. It is worth noting that in the first century, nine out of ten people had a subsistence living. Even without knowing the details, it is safe to assume that the man was complaining about not getting his fair share.

Luke also does not tell us anything about what the man’s single share of the estate is, and maybe it doesn’t matter, but the fact that there even was an estate to divide put the man ahead of most. Thus, Jesus declares, “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions,” and then tells a story about a rich landowner.

The first and tenth commandments form a set of bookends for the other eight. “You shall have not other gods,” and, “You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Isn’t all the other stuff just a question of breaking one or the other of those two? And if you can accomplish either the first or the tenth, have you not also accomplished the other? I ask those questions in full awareness of my own inability to consistently keep either one.

When I was young, my grandparents had a small cottage across the lake from industrialist Eli Lily. He began working in his grandfather’s pharmaceutical company while still a schoolboy and eventually became one of the richest men in the world. He was also a lifelong Episcopalian, and with his father and brother created the Lily Endowment, the largest philanthropic foundation in the world. In addition to the gifts given through the endowment, after his death it was discovered that Lily had given millions of dollars anonymously.

So what about my pension? Am I storing up treasures for myself? Honestly, the answer is “yes.” But look at the full sentence: “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” Those three words make all the difference.

Here are the “Seven Social Sins” from a sermon by Anglican priest Frederick Lewis Donaldson at Westminster Abbey in 1925:

“Wealth without work.
Pleasure without conscience.
Knowledge without character.
Commerce without morality.
Science without humanity.
Worship without sacrifice.
Politics without principle.”

 

Knowing and Not Knowing – Acts 3:12-19

You probably have heard the old saying, “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.” Consider one of my nieces in Canada. She has had some health concerns and was finally diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. No one ever welcomes a cancer diagnosis, but she is in stage 2, and the prognosis is pretty good. She is facing some difficult days ahead because of the treatment, but her spirits are good now that she knows what she’s up against.

For the seven-week Easter season, our first lesson will come from the Book of Acts instead of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). The lesson this week is the second of five sermons from Peter. The general theme of the sermons is that humanity kills but God defeats death. As an example, he reminds the crowd of their complicity in the death of Jesus, “I know that you acted in ignorance.”

I tried to picture Peter in one of my preaching classes in seminary. I’m guessing the professor might have suggested that calling one’s congregation ignorant is not a particularly good strategy. It turns out that Peter didn’t really call them ignorant, at least not in the insulting sense of the word. The Greek word for knowledge is “gnosis.” The prefix “a” means the absence of, so “agnosis” means “without knowledge” and is where we get the word agnostic. Ignorance does mean “without knowledge” but in our culture at least, it has a pejorative feel to it.

What Peter is actually saying to the crowd in regard to Jesus’ death is, “I know that you acted without knowledge.” Jump back in time to the crucifixion when Jesus pleads, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Acting without knowledge often has serious consequences. You may have read that the alleged shooter in the Parkland, Florida school shooting wants to donate his inheritance to his victims. Did he act “without knowledge?”

And that leads me to another word used in this lesson: repent. It does not really mean remorse. Metanoia means to change your mind. In fact the element of change is so important in the word, that it navigation, the word came to mean a change of course. It makes me think that Peter’s call to repentance might simply mean, change your mind from not knowing to knowing; be mindful because what you do really can make a difference.

Here’s a quote from Abraham Lincoln about changing his mind:

“I may be wrong in regard to any or all of them; but holding it a sound maxim, that it is better to be only sometimes right, than at all times wrong, so soon as I discover my opinions to be erroneous, I shall be ready to renounce them.”