God has place this wonderful creation in our hands. As U2 sings, "It's a beautiful day, don't let it slip away." We have this one life to live on this beautiful planet so enjoy these reflections on God, faith, life, and music. "After the flood all of the colors came out. It's a beautiful day."

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sermon on the Mount, Part 6 Matthew 5:43-48

43 "You're familiar with the old written law, 'Love your friend,' and its unwritten companion, 'Hate your enemy.' 44 I'm challenging that. I'm telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, 45 for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best - the sun to warm and the rain to nourish - to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. 46 If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. 47 If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. 48 "In a word, what I'm saying is, Grow up. You're kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.  Matthew 5:43-48, The Message
Living in Wisconsin and spending this last month with the Sermon on the Mount really makes you think as you watch people rally in the capital for workers rights.  I will place this disclaimer right up front.  I have always been politically progressive.  For me this flows from my faith that Jesus asks us to stand up for the poor and the lost.  I tend to watch MSNBC.  As I was watching last night as 1000s of people rallied in the capital of Wisconsin, I was also watching the local coverage.  As a political science geek I thought wow a new way to filibuster or as the local news and republicans called it:  missing in action, not showing up for work, skipping town, on the lamb.  On the one channel they would talk about the union busting and plots to destroy unions, on the other channel the implication was greed by not wanting to pay their fair share of benefits.   

So how do we as Christians respond to this information?  While the Sermon on the Mount does not tell us how to respond to every situation I think one of the implications from this section of the text is to consider how you are treating the person on the opposite side from you.  If you only get your information from one perspective or side can you truly hear what the other side says?  If you only watch a channel where the point is to create drama and stir emotions can you judge what is being said?  "I'm challenging that. I'm telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst (Matthew 5: 44)."  So if we are to let our enemies bring out our best what would that look like in political disagreements.  Part of me says it looks like the PBS News Hour.  When you get your information from there you see reasonable people who disagree talking about all sides of the issue.  They talk calmly and don't use inflamatory rhetoric, but instead share as much honest information as possible to draw your own conclusions. 

When it comes to what we see happening in Wisconsin how do we make that kind of choice?  When we hear on the lamb, do we think is that what's really happening?  Then we hear I showed up to work, they should to.  Do we ask is their more? 
"In a word, what I'm saying is, Grow up. You're kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you (Matthew 5:48)." 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sermon on the Mount, Part 5 Matthew 5:38-42

When my son started the third grade, I was shocked when the first week of school his teacher called to say there was an incident at school.  So my son came home and started telling me about a bully and how he shoved him back.  We discussed how the second kids always gets in trouble.  That even though it was wrong of the kid to pick on other kids the one who responds back is the one who will get in trouble.  We talked about the consequences of your actions. 

So I thought we had a good discussion and he understood the lesson.  Well that week I get another call from school saying my son had got into trouble on the play ground and was going to miss recess for the next couple of days.  When he came home he told me about the kid who was picking on others.  We then discussed consequences.  Picking on others isn't right but that does not justify hitting.  If he is in detention at school then at home he will lose his privileges to electronics (no gameboy, gamecube, or tv). 

So I thought again we had solved the problem and he knew the consequences.  Then I get another call from the principal's office saying that my son and the kid he is fighting with will be spending their lunch hour in the principal's office for the next week.  I didn't understand what was going on.  Yes I had taught my son to stand up for the underdog, but I didn't teach him that violence was ok.  So we again had a discussion about consequences for actions and that it isn't ok to hit people.

That night as I am reading to my son before he goes to bed.  He says to me.  Dad told me I was to fight back.  If people pick on me I should hit them back and stand up for myself.  I listened as he shared everything his dad had told him over the summer.  "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."  We talked about what he thought the best response was.  When was it appropriate to call a teacher, when should we fight back and what the consequences of our actions would be.

I was furious at his dad.  Here was my calm, cautious child starting fights at school.  "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."    I was torn.  I was proud of my son for standing up to power, of fighting against oppression, but I didn't want him hitting  people.  I didn't want him to think that it was alright to engage in violence.  I wanted him to be safe at school.  I wanted to know where the teachers and principal were when someone was being bullied.  We eventually solved the responding to violence with violence because he was tired of losing electronics.

But this is our dilemma.  How do we change the assumptions that violence is ok, that you can respond to violence with violence?  How do we find a better way? 

The answer Jesus gives to this question seems like you will just be a doormat to whatever power comes along. 

38 "Here's another old saying that deserves a second look: 'Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.' 39 Is that going to get us anywhere? Here's what I propose: 'Don't hit back at all.' If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. 40 If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. 41 And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. 42 No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.  Matthew 5:38-42, The Message
I don't think Jesus intended us to be doormats.  I like Walter Wink's interpretation of this passage.  He argues that Jesus is training us in nonviolence.  Jesus is showing us how to turn an oppressive situation on its head and make a way, a new way, and opening for God's vision of the world to come through.  When faced with violence turn that violence around.  This is not easy to teach or live.  In the moment we want to respond in kind.  Yet to live in God's kingdom means to live in a way that ushers in God's dream for the world.  To respond to violence with nonviolence, to shame the rich when stealing from the poor, to hold people accountable for bad behavior.  To live generously and nonviolently. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sermon on the Mount, Part 4, Matthew 5:33-37

Words Matter.  For those of you who were not popular in school, you know words matter.  You have you hidden story of trauma where someone said or did something to leave you an outsider, frowned upon, laughed at.  Words matter.  They can wound and leaves scars for a lifetime.  Words matter.  If you tell a lie long enough people believe it's the truth.  Take as a current example belief that President Obama is a Muslim. Not that anyone should care what faith he practices or believe that we in the United States could have a Muslim President, but parts of the media world have said or implied it so often that Barak Obama is Muslim that people believe contrary to what President Obama has said publicly in books, speeches, and when asked questions. Here is a excerpt of his words of his own conversion from the speech he gave to The United Church of Christ General Synod:

        So one Sunday, I put on one of the few clean jackets I had, and went over to Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street on the South Side of Chicago. And I heard Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright deliver a sermon called “The Audacity of Hope.” And during the course of that sermon, he introduced me to someone named Jesus Christ. I learned that my sins could be redeemed. I learned that those things I was too weak to accomplish myself, He would accomplish with me if I placed my trust in Him. And in time, I came to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world and in my own life
       It was because of these new found understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany. I didn’t fall out in church, as folks sometimes do. The questions I had didn’t magically disappear. The skeptical bent of my mind didn’t suddenly vanish. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt I heard God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth and carrying out His works.
Words matter, as Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount:
"And don't say anything you don't mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, 'I'll pray for you,' and never doing it, or saying, 'God be with you,' and not meaning it. You don't make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say 'yes' and 'no.' When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong. Matthew 5:33-37. The Message
Words matter.  Let you yes be yes and your no be no.  Be people of integrity.  Speak words that you know to be true.  Imagine the world the Sermon on the Mount envisions for a us.  A world where peoples words are true and enough, because they are speaking from the heart and speaking into the coming Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Sermon on the Mount, Part 3, Matthew 5:31-32

31 "It was also said, "Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' 32 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.  Matthew 5:31-32
Divorce.  How do you speak about divorce in today’s world while honoring Jesus and honoring ourselves.  So here I am a divorced female pastor working on Matthew 5:31-32.  Moses, the law, allowed for divorce if you followed the correct procedures.  Very similar to the laws found today in the US.  If you want a divorce there is nothing legally stopping you as long as you follow the correct steps and fill out the correct paperwork.   We see Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather, begin this process.
18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." Matthew 1:18-21.
He was ready to quietly set Mary aside following the correct procedures of the law. But then and Angel intervened and stopped Joseph. So when Jesus begins speaking about divorce in Matthew he is reminded that his own stepfather almost divorced his mother. Joseph had thought Mary committed adultery. Granted adultery with God, but adultery nonetheless. Jesus has looked around at the law and says I am going to push you farther. Divorce is only granted on the grounds of adultery. Jesus is saying as my followers, as people of the way, I expect more from you. If you partner has not cheated on you, there is no cause for divorce. So unfaithfulness, unchastity according to Matthew is the only reason a divorce would be acceptable. So Joseph’s actions according to Jesus’ revision of the law would have been acceptable.

So what do we do with this. What about women or men who are being abused. Granted Jesus was in his day protecting those who would be vulnerable. When a woman was divorced she would have lost everything: house, children, property, money… And still today the standard of living of women and children goes down and the standard of living of the man goes up.

In my own personal story I fulfill the letter of the new law. My son’s father came home from being at grad school for the summer and said (Just after President Clinton told us about Monica Lewinsky, seriously, right after the speech from the oval office) I met someone…I love her…I don’t love you…I never loved you…(all the words I hear when others tell me, the pastor about their divorce). So did I meet the letter of the new law? Sure my son’s father broke his promises to me. But in my story I don’t know where God was in the process. I prayed but I don’t know that I knew what to ask for. I don’t know that I knew what I wanted. But personally I was growing closer in my personal walk with God. The night that I experienced God’s presence in the process was the night before we were to go to court and meet with the court appointed mediators. I was worried and scared. I had joined a women’s bible study that had been providing me with support. One of the women had talked about turning to the scriptures and allowing God to speak to you through them. So that night while tossing and turning, I prayed to God, with sighs to deep for words. And when I open my bible (the new study version I had gotten for seminary), there was the weirdest section I hadn’t expected. Part of me was hoping for a passage about smiting my enemies. Part of me was dreading hear Jesus say don’t get divorced. But my bible fell open to a section of the Old Testament where Solomon was building the temple. This section is full of measurements. You learn the dimensions of everything from curtains, to walls, and floors. In the NRSV Bible the unit of measure is cubits. What I read for page after page was reed. Build the wall so many reeds long, so many reeds tall. Measurement after measurement was reed. Reed is the name of my son. So in my asking for what I should do, the answer back was Reed.

But God knows, I worry. The next morning we have to get up early and drop my son off at preschool early. I get him settled and hop on the highway to get to the other side of the state. I am in Ashford, CT and court is in Greenwich, CT. So I have a major drive to make it by 10. I set out before rush hour into Hartford would begin. I get on the highway and there is a traffic jam. The speed has slowed to a crawl going up over this hill. I am saying not nice things about the driver that caused an accident. As I pulled up over the hill, there is the most beautiful rainbow I have ever seen. “After the storm, all the colors come out.” The colors were so pure. I was heading east at that point and after passing the rainbow, I turned south. As I turned south, there was another rainbow. I turned east again and there was a third rainbow. Rainbow after rainbow, color after color, beauty after beauty, peace after the storm, calm in the midst of turmoil, hope in the midst of pain. The divorce still happened, but the colors had begun to come out.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Sermon on the Mount Part 3 Matthew 5:20, 27-30

20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
27 "You have heard that it was said, "You shall not commit adultery.' 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.  Matthew 5:20, 27-30
This week I am spending time praying and researching Matthew 5:21-37. As I have been sitting and praying over these words I sometimes wonder at the wisdom of this decision. How do we honor the truth and difficulty of what these words asks of us, require of us. How do we live as people of the way without seeming self-righteous? How do we live in culture and yet apart from culture?

Today’s section deals with adultery. Moses told you not commit adultery, but Jesus wants you to go one step further if you are looking on another with lust you are committing adultery so gauge your eye out. How do we deal with this text in a culture that is saturated with images of sex and sexuality? You cannot watch the news without seeing at least one Erectile Dysfunction Commercial or get rid of your wrinkles. Everywhere we look the cultural is screaming look at me as a sexual being. How do we live in this world and yet honor this very hard teaching from Jesus? I don’t have an easy answer. I do know that I tried to protect my son for as long as I could but there was a point at which he said to me as we were driving in the car: enough Mom I don’t want to listen to Christian music anymore, so the radio is on and it isn’t are eyes that are lusting it is our ears and minds who ply the pictures in our heads of the songs, that are graphically about sex.

Do I believe that Jesus wanted us to tear our eyes out or damage our ears? No. Every teenage Christian would be in decided trouble. So Jesus must have taken his metaphor to the extreme. He wanted to make a point that it isn’t just the act of committing adultery that is the problem. Part of the problem is where are heart is. By the time you act on you impulse to cheat, you have already cheated in your heart. So we need to set a boundary. Is it the first look that gets you in trouble? Is it the second? The Third? You need to determine the line and then do your best not to cross it so that your heart is in tune to God’s heart. And when we fail, we start over again knowing that we aren’t perfect but Jesus wants us to walk with God and be part of God’s in-breaking Kingdom.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Sermon on the Mount: Part 2 Matthew 5:20-26

20 Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won't know the first thing about entering the kingdom. 21 "You're familiar with the command to the ancients, 'Do not murder.' 22 I'm telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother 'idiot!' and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell 'stupid!' at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill. 23 "This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, 24 abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God. 25 "Or say you're out on the street and an old enemy accosts you. Don't lose a minute. Make the first move; make things right with him. After all, if you leave the first move to him, knowing his track record, you're likely to end up in court, maybe even jail. 26 If that happens, you won't get out without a stiff fine. Matthew 5:20-26 Eugene Petersen, The Message
Jesus shares some ideas of how to live rightly. His first example is: “You know Moses told you do not murder and if you do murder someone you will be judged. I tell you even if you are angry you will be judge; if you insult someone you will be judged.” Ok. I could handle the no murder thing, but don’t be angry. What about when the dishwater hasn’t been emptied, the trash is overflowing, the dog hasn’t been fed, the guitar hasn’t been practiced and your first words are: what’s for dinner. I can’t even see the sink because you didn’t do your chores. So I am supposed to be right with God. Sometimes you just want an empty sink.

Jesus knows that for most people won’t ever kill someone, but we do insult people and get angry. So how will you be right with God when you’re angry? Jesus asks us to make your relationship right with the person you are angry at before you come before God. Don’t try to bring your offering to God before you are reconciled with the person you are upset with or is upset with you. Ok. So Jesus wants us to forgive, reconcile with others before coming before God. To be in right relationship with God, to live in God’s kingdom is to learn to let go of your resentment and anger and to forgive and if you are at fault to seek forgiveness.

In my last congregation I had a person very angry at me. A person who hadn’t attended church very often and who when the anger boiled over decided now was the time to attend church. For me, a conflict avoider, this was hard. How do you speak God’s word of hope and justice with a person who is pointedly ignoring you and reading a novel in your direct line of sight? How do you speak of things of God? I would love to be able to tell you that I laid my resentment on the altar before God and sought reconciliation. But I wasn’t ready then. I did pray an awful lot during the hymns. I prayed my heart to God to make it through. I prayed to God that a word of truth would reach someone. I prayed and went home and cried. I would prepare a manuscript and be ready once again the next Sunday where I prayed. With distance I understand. With distance I am able to let go. With Jesus is forgiveness.

While he wants us to let go, to release our anger, with Jesus is forgiveness. The words sound harsh from the mouth of Jesus, but if he takes it to the extreme maybe, just maybe we will learn how to let go and let God in.  I am not usually a lectionary preacher. I move in and out of the lectionary, but this Epiphany I decided to stay close to the lectionary by doing a series of sermons on the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7. This week I am spending time praying and researching Matthew 5:21-37. As I have been sitting and praying over these words I sometimes wonder at the wisdom of this decision. How do we honor the truth and difficulty of what these words asks of us, require of us. How do we live as people of the way without seeming self-righteous? How do we live in culture and yet apart from culture? These words from the Sermon on the Mount push us into radical discipleship. A discipleship that is not easy because Jesus is asking us to go farther than what is required of us. “Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won't know the first thing about entering the kingdom.” So Jesus in speaking to us is asking us to live in right relationship with God in a way that exceeds the most religious person of his day. No exactly an easy request; be more religious than the people you think are religious. How do you do that? How do you live a life so full of God?