Tag Archives: quaker minister

The Mark Of Perfection

Today we look at what I consider to be extremely high difficulty level Christianity. In our pursuit of perfection the hardest part of ourselves to overcome is that piece within that desires to lash out when we are hurt. I think every one of us in this room can tell stories of the times in which we lashed out, and the long term negative consequences that had, but today I want us to think about what happens when we keep our eye on the end game and don’t get distracted by the pains of the moment. Jesus does something amazing in this passage and defines Godly perfection in a way that went completely beyond the Jewish understanding of perfection to God’s heart for all of humanity.

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[h] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:38-48

All of our common sense and societal training screams at us that this can’t possibly work. Let’s be honest here, every criminal justice system in human history is based on retributive justice, the idea that the punishment must fit the crime and that justice is fully served when offenders are punished. Punishment is the focus in that sphere of life and those ideas seep their way into our understanding of what God’s justice is all about. However, Jesus is sharing that the purpose of God’s justice is not punishment but restoration and redemption. Retributive justice leads to full prisons and the continuation of suffering, while redemptive justice leads to restoration of the person and a society that better reflects God’s heart. This is one of the reasons that I so deeply appreciate the ministry that Chuck Colson founded and its work in bringing victims and offenders together which has an amazing record in terms of preventing repeat offenses. I highly recommend checking out their site at https://www.prisonfellowship.org/ and their Restorative Justice project at http://restorativejustice.org.

Each of Jesus’ examples in today’s text has at its core a concern for the ways we look at ourselves and other people, for the ways we judge those with more or less power than we ourselves have. Jesus is saying here that the categories we make to define people, and which we use to justify our passing of judgment on the motives of others, are unjust. We must make our starting point for determining the value of any human being, including that jerk in the mirror, the image of God that each person is stamped with. Do we through our actions and attitudes distract ourselves and others from that image we bear? Of course, but nothing we can do will ever take that image away. Jesus’ teaching in the first part of our text is an important reminder that we have a responsibility to not only affirm the dignity of others, but also to behave in ways that affirm our own dignity and value.

When Jesus told his disciples to turn the other cheek, he wasn’t telling them to passively take abuse. It was a mark of contempt to backhand someone on the right cheek, by turning the other cheek you were forcing the person striking you to do so as an equal. By turning the left cheek towards them you prevented them from backhanding you again and instead of rising to the provocation of the violent you take the moral high ground and force your assailant to acknowledge your humanity. In this situation Jesus takes the idea of lashing out in response to hurt and instead confronts an aggressor with the humanity of the person being attacked. We are being called not to take revenge or retribution, but instead are being called to extend the truth that every person has value in God’s sight and must be seen as our equal, and that we will not accept anything less than an affirmation of the dignity and value of every human being. When we are focusing on God, it becomes much easier to see the value of the image of God stamped on every person. Turning the other cheek then is an affirmation of human dignity and a challenge to attitudes that treat others as “less than.”

This next example involves another act of protest which is designed to graphically remind someone taking advantage of the legal system of Jesus’ day that the person they are taking advantage of is a human being. It was a common practice to sue people for their clothing to cover minor debts that were outstanding, and the moneylenders in Jesus’ day who were using Jewish law to collect were also violating Jewish law through the rates of interest that they charged. This put the people who borrowed from them in a situation that ultimately led to losing everything so that the moneylender would profit. Jesus again is reminding those around him that they could get creative in their reminders to others of their humanity. When people begin to take advantage of others, and treat them as means to ends, for the sake of their own souls they need to be confronted with the humanity of those they are taking advantage of. It is the same with the carrying of burdens. The Roman legions would force people to carry their packs and were legally limited to one mile. The Romans used people as beasts of burden, and by carrying that pack beyond the mile you lovingly forced that soldier to confront the fact that you were a person with dignity. Even in oppressive circumstances there are ways we can remind each other of the value and inherent dignity of every human life. The first step towards perfection is recognizing God’s love for every created person.

That first step is the easier one, and now Jesus raises the bar to the highest possible mark. Godliness. Perfection. God’s love is not exclusive. He loves every human being exactly as they are, right now. There is nothing required of us to be loved by God, every human being is loved. This gets tricky, because we don’t necessarily see ourselves or each other as loveable and there are plenty of messages out there which point out our flaws. There are plenty of statements that say you can be loved if you just change this one thing and we will provide it for the low, low price of $49.95. There are messages that tell us that because we do this one thing it makes us unlovable, and not worth anybody’s time or effort. Jesus tells us that the mark of God’s perfection is the love that he extends not just to those who deserve it, but to those who have chosen to be his enemies. Perfection is a tough mark to aim for, and keeping our eyes on God and allowing him to set our course means that we are going to have to love people who are not our friends. It means that we are going to have to love incredibly broken people.

God’s love doesn’t require anything of us, but somehow when we receive it we can’t remain the same. It is being loved by God that gives us the power to step away from the ways we miss the mark, and Jesus is teaching his disciples that being Godly means loving those you completely, utterly and totally see as your or God’s enemy. God welcomes us as we are and pours his love into lives as we are and we must do the same for others. Now we could come up with a whole list of others, but the reality is that Jesus is confronting the Jews with a major failure on their part to live up to the mission God gave them. The purpose of Israel and the reason they were chosen was not so that they could sit back and say “We are chosen so that makes us better than you.” No God called Israel for the purpose of leading the world into the paths of righteousness. God called Israel to be the means through which the world could be reconciled to God. All Jesus could see around him was a people that instead separated themselves from the world as a way to keep themselves pure and unstained. They had lost sight of their purpose.

Jesus completely redefines for the Jews and us what it means to be pure and holy. This more than anything else puts him at odds with the systems of this world, that the mark of purity is not conformity, but is instead hospitality. God extends his love to every human being regardless of whether they are trying to live up to God’s love or not. God loves us so much that he even gives us the power to accept or reject the relationship that comes from accepting God’s love. When Jesus calls us to perfection after the manner of God we have some soul searching to do, because I know for sure that when I read this and I prayed over this I was squirming in my seat a bit. I had to ask myself if I was setting conditions on people being welcomed into the kingdom, if I was placing conformity to my ideals or my community’s ideals ahead of God’s love. This teaching of Jesus is not an easy one and challenges us to love people who not only don’t look like us, but also people who don’t think like us. In Jesus’ disciples we see a slice of Jewish societal conflicts and how God’s love can bring people with completely opposite agendas and philosophies of life together to follow him. Jesus could bring Matthew the tax collector profiting from the oppression of his people and Simon the violent revolutionary anti-Roman Zealot under the same banner of God’s love. God keeps challenging me and his church to consider who I might be neglecting or cutting myself off from because I see them as my or God’s enemies.

We are facing into some difficult questions as a society and we Christians are being called to perfection in the ways we address those questions, and it is so easy to miss that mark. The perfection of God’s love for humanity embodied in the cross and resurrection is the mark we aim at and it will require us to seek out those stray arrows that we might pick them up, aim and try again to match God’s love. Jesus loved us when we were his enemies, and laid down his life in demonstration of the depth of God’s love for us. The mark we aim at is not an easy one to face into. Quite often we take our eyes off that mark and I know that I have some repenting to do on this one and some growing, so as we enter into our time of open worship, let us all seek the throne of grace together. Let us all turn our eyes upon Jesus so that we might better love those who bear his image. After five minutes of silence someone will stand with the microphone. If you are led to speak in the silence I ask that you stand and wait for the microphone to be brought to you. We will try to give some space to others’ words, so the microphone may not come right away.

Let us seek God together.

 

Reconciliation is Our Victory

(You will most likely want to listen to the sermon as I deviated from my manuscript in quite a few places.)

I sometimes jokingly say that the person who most needs to hear my sermons is me. As I prepared for today’s sermon I also was dealing with a colossal error in which I hurt someone. In short my mouth engaged well before my brain did and I said things that were hurtful. I was confronted with just how far I missed the mark by on that one and we could say that if I was aiming inside of the barn I still would have missed the broad side. The good news is that the person who confronted me provided an example of today’s teaching by Jesus and came to me with the help of some elders to make things right. You know what? I did completely fail on that incident, and knew that the only recourse was to confess that they were right and that I had indeed sinned through my careless words. I knew that I had to ask for forgiveness, and forgiveness was granted. This is the truest sign of Jesus at work among us, not that we don’t mess up, but that when we do we own up to the way we miss the mark, humble ourselves and ask our brother or sister to forgive us we give and receive that gift of forgiveness and display the truth of God’s reconciling power for the world to see. This is why Jesus felt it so important at the beginning of the disciples’ ministry to instruct them in the best ways to interact around conflict situations.

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister[b][c] will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’[a term of contempt] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. 23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. 25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny. Matthew 5:21-26

Jesus had just finished talking about the importance of the Torah and now begins to address specific areas of interpretation in which the scribes and Pharisees were missing the point. There is a formula here that we will see in the next few weeks of Jesus’ teaching in which he corrects a superficial interpretation of the Torah by giving an interpretation that addresses motivation as well as action. You shall not murder is one of the big 10 and saying that it leads to being judged is a serious no-brainer. When a person is murdered there are two sins that occur: the first is the idolatrous act of claiming God’s power over life and death and the second is in acting on our judgment of the value of another human to be zero or less than zero. The focus in Jesus’ time was on the action of committing murder and the punishment for the action, but Jesus took his teaching to the motivator, the underlying moral issue, that drives the action: harboring anger against another. Every one of us gets angry, it is a normal part of being human, what Jesus is talking about is not that anger which is beyond our control, but when we allow that anger to stay and to guide our thoughts, words, and actions towards another human being. The Greek word underneath what we translate as anger implies provocation and duration, that this is not a short term thing. In many places in the bible we hear about harboring anger or holding grudges and this type of anger that Jesus is addressing is the anger that leads us to pass judgment on another person’s value as a human being.

Murdering someone is the end of a mental process and Jesus is saying “Hey, let’s address the moral issue that leads to the bloodshed before we get there.” You see, if we address issues before they have had a chance to reach an internal boiling point we avoid taking our eyes off the mark that God has set for us to aim at. Jesus gives us some warning signs to pay attention to that can tell us when we are beginning to lose sight of our end goal. First is when we start making dismissive or contemptuous comments about someone. How many times have we said “Oh, that’s just them being them. Nothing to bother ourselves with.” or “They’re always that way. I stopped paying attention to them a long time ago?” Those are the beginnings of contempt and we usually go there with people who get on our nerves. The problem is that when we dismiss others we are judging their value as a human being and it is a short step to mentally saying “You know, we would be better off without them.” or “They are just a drain on everything, they are worthless.”  When I find myself heading down those well-worn mental paths I am walking a path of sin and need to repent and begin the process of reconciliation.

This is an incredibly bold statement on Jesus’ part because he is telling the disciples that God’s heart and deepest desire is for reconciliation and not punishment. This is easy for us to see when we look back and see the sacrifice Jesus made to demonstrate God’s way of redemption, but I want you to take a moment and think about just how this had to sound to the disciples at the beginning of Jesus’ teaching. Nothing is more important to God than reconciliation and that if we really pay attention to the mark the Torah aims us at we will have that same priority. Even when that person who seemingly drives us crazy by their mere existence is bringing us closer to the boiling point, God wants us to think and act in ways that lead to reconciliation rather than devaluing, dismissal, and rejection. This is so important to God that he would rather us fix the broken relationships with each other before coming to him with our gifts. “Leave your gift at the altar and deal with the broken relationship first.” The ways we think about and act towards our brothers and sisters is a crucial part of the way we are called to worship God and are a sign of the truth of God’s forgiveness offered in Jesus. Our sharing of the gospel of God’s reconciliation becomes a lot more convincing when our lives display reconciliation.

Jesus isn’t just addressing externals he is dealing with the thoughts that are in our minds, and let’s be honest here; I don’t think any of us would be very comfortable with everyone around us knowing exactly what is going through our heads at any given moment. God wants to reconcile all of creation in him and that is the condition of victory we have been given. Consider what could happen if we carried our grudges out to their retributive ends. Our prisons would be overflowing with people, making one mistake of a certain kind could get you fired, everyday conversations would consist of walking around on egg shells because we would never get around to the hard work of looking inside and asking the question: How have I hurt my brothers and sisters? Or slipping down the road of hatred because we can’t see how anyone could behave that way and have malicious or sinful intent. Internalizing and avoiding conflict and not asking ourselves the hard questions is the way of defeat! I don’t think that anyone here wants to live under the defeat that comes from focusing on judgment. We see just how devastating it is just by looking at the news headlines in our browsers and papers. Do you want to experience the victory of God in your life? Then work towards reconciliation. Become a person who catches the dark thoughts and examines them to find their source and goes to their brother or sister in love to reconcile. You will experience the truth of Jesus sacrifice when you do that, and you will make that truth known to the world through your example.

I am not saying this will be easy, but Jesus makes an important point that we must keep in mind. Do we really want to drag each other before God with our full feelings and motivations exposed before him and the one who accuses? Do we really want to see someone destroyed? Or do we want to see relationships restored and made whole? Do we want to see that person who is acting in hurtful ways brought into a transforming relationship with God? Because when we come to God demanding justice he gives it to us in full, not just the other guy, but us as well. Jesus does give us a more excellent way: as we get dragged towards a place of judgment we can pause and take on the humility that comes from taking responsibility for the ways we contribute to the situation and seek to invest in restoring the relationship. In the world we live in victory comes from beating our opponents and dividing the world into the categories of winner and loser. In God’s eyes victory comes from reconciliation.

As we prepare for open worship take five minutes to allow your thoughts to wind down and seek the Holy Spirit’s leading in ways you can work towards reconciliation. Maybe there is someone who you find yourself beginning to dismiss or devalue. Maybe there is a conflict that has been brewing for a while. Maybe there is someone you know deep down that you are harboring anger towards. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you towards the steps you can make to bring reconciliation. It can be a scary thing to face into conflict and work towards reconciliation, but you are not alone. God is with you and we have elders who can help pray with you and go with you to begin the reconciliation process. Let us who so desperately need God’s reconciliation come together in His presence to seek his victory.

Receiving My Daughters’ Gifts

There are few aspects of life that have changed my life and relationship with God as deeply as my daughters have. Now that my oldest is 6 I have learned to not only be a minister to them, but to give them the space to minister to me. I am at a point in my life in which I am learning that the relationship of parenting has a lot more to do with developing the gifts my girls have than anything else. My oldest is the quiet, bookish one who can pull out deep meanings and has conversations with me that challenge my understanding of God and challenge me. My youngest is the sassy outgoing type who likes to sing and call me out on being a “Silly Daddy.”

I have to work hard to not squash the questioning spirit of my 6 year old and to help her discover God for herself and not give her a solely inherited faith, by to allow her to develop her own relationship with God. I also have to work equally hard to not be triggered by my almost 2 year old who is so like me in personality that it is a little frightening. Both of my girls have great gifts to offer me if I humble myself and allow them to minister to me, but if I try to force parental authority rather than lead them it gets ugly fast and instead of building each other up tears and grumpiness reign. Friends theology teaches that each human being possesses the ability to hear the voice of God speaking within and that our role is to seek out in the people we meet the way God is speaking through them. As a parent it becomes a bit difficult to seek that voice out in our children since often the truth they have to share and reflect at us is the truth of our personal errors.

I don’t want my daughters to be obsessed with negative body image and food intake, and I sure don’t want to hear “Daddy, is it ok for you to eat that?” It is hard to hear those little voices when they question my brokenness and my hypocrisy, but I need to. I need to give their voice the weight it deserves, especially when they are sharing their ministry of concern, or their questioning of whether what I do and what I say are matching up. I firmly believe that God has placed these two small ministers of his grace in my life to teach me to listen better, to use my authority to promote others’ gifts, and to challenge me to live as I say I believe.

When I was considering what to write this week, my youngest toddled by singing the chorus “Hallelujah, Grace like rain falls down on me.” and the truth of the grace I have received through my girls ministered to me in that moment. As I considered the grace I have received through the ministry of my daughters I started asking myself some queries to examine how I was present to my girls:

How do I encourage my kids’ ministry? What ways am I helping them develop their gifts? How do I help them see their gifts and talents? What ways do I allow them to minister to me? What areas do I need to let them minister to me? What ways am I interfering with their ministry? Is there any issue of pride or fear that is preventing me from accepting their ministry?

For you other parents out there, are there queries you ask yourself that I might add to this list?

With love and trepidation,

Gil George, Silly Daddy

To Follow Jesus

(Click here to listen.)

Before I get started, I want to make an important disclaimer. There is no way the fullness of Jesus work that we celebrate today can be contained in one sermon or one book. The writer of today’s text ended his gospel with the words “25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” John 21:25 So my words today are about one small yet significant piece of what we celebrate.

Today we declare with joy the resurrection from the dead of our savior. Jesus is risen! Those three words are packed with the hope of our lives, the promise of transformation, and freedom from the power of sin and death. I want to share with you an understanding of what we have been saved from and what we have been saved for. We often tend to focus our energies on one or the other, but I would like us to consider that we serve a God who operates by a different priority structure than the systems of control and domination that characterize human interaction. We are saved from sin in two ways: we are saved from the personal darkness within that drives us away from God and neighbor and we are saved from the systemic sins based on personal sin that govern the priorities of the world around us. What we celebrate today is our freedom from the power of death, freedom from the systems of death, and the resurrection which brings that freedom to us. When preparing his disciples for this freedom, and how things were to work under the authority structure of God, Jesus did something absolutely shocking.

3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” 9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” 10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. John 13:3-17

Jesus is amazing at showing us ways to be extraordinary in the mundane. Foot washing was a normal part of life in a dusty land with little to no sanitation where everyone wore sandals. When you went to someone’s house the first thing that would normally happen on entry is washing feet. In a poorer household, the host would have water available and you would wash your own feet. In a household with slaves the owner would ask a slave to wash the feet of his guests. And yes, “ask” is the right word. This task was so lowly that it was very bad etiquette to order a slave to wash your guests’ feet. John’s introduction of this act juxtaposes Jesus’ power and authority with his actions in a way that calls into question everything we think we know about the way God’s authority works. Before Jesus gave us his example it would be easy to interpret God as the stern, dictatorial, judge handing down laws based on his own whims and impossible to entirely please or appease. In Jesus we find a different perspective on what it means to be God and how God chooses to exercise authority, justice and mercy.

John tells us that Jesus’ actions on the night before he was killed were undertaken with the full understanding of having received power over everything. What would I do if I knew God had given me power over everything? Set myself up as absolute ruler of the world, gather the riches of the world to myself, appropriately “deal with” those people that tick me off, and change everything I don’t like about the way the world works. This is just off the top of my head, I am sure you could add to the list as well. Jesus, however, was operating from a different understanding of how Godly power functions. Godly power finds its expression in humble service, not grandiose self-promotion. Knowing this, Jesus, the Christ, the prophesied Messiah, the Son of God and Son of Man, the King of Kings, Emanuel, the Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God noticed that no one had washed their feet or volunteered to wash the feet of others. Seeing this sad state of affairs he stripped off his outer garments, got a basin of water, wrapped a drying cloth around his waist, got down on his knees and began to wash the increasingly horrified disciples’ feet.

When Jesus finally got to Peter and began to wipe his feet Peter went into a full freak out. I am sure that he wasn’t the only one, but Peter wasn’t known for keeping things bottled up and in some ways I am sure Jesus knew what was coming, and was probably counting on it in order to drive the lesson home. Peter had struggled with this teaching of Jesus on the use of authority in the past, and I think that in this interchange we are witnessing just how hard this teaching is to accept. We have been trained that power exists to be served from a very young age. It is the way the world works, and we are told that of course powerful people should be served. It is what power is for. Anything else is crazy and would fall apart almost immediately, at least for the powerful. Peter still thought that he was on the Messiah gravy train and soon enough he would get to be served as one of the disciples of the Messiah. He was going to be rich and powerful and “what the…ahem…on earth are you doing? You can’t wash my feet! Are you crazy?!”

Jesus reply was basically, “No, Peter. I am not crazy, and if you want to have a part of the only sanity left in this world you will submit to my service.” Of course we know that Jesus was the one sent to restore sanity, to overturn the crazy rules of domination that held people bound to their sin. Of course Peter swung the pendulum too far in the other direction in his reply to Jesus, saying well wash all of me then that I might be even more a part of your work. In Jesus’ reply to Peter’s overcorrection we learn that Jesus serves in the way we need, not necessarily in the way we desire. The disciples were already on the right path, they just needed the dirt of what they had walked through to get to the path removed. Sometimes when we see the spots of dirt on us we overreact and try to get God to give us the full cleansing again since we must be horrible people if we got a bit of dirt on us again, after we have travelled all this way. That’s the way I have tended to react and it crippled me from allowing God to clean up my little messes. Let me tell you that no one judged me as hard as I judged myself over my weight. All I saw was an addiction to food and patterns of eating that were destroying me, and like some kind of idiot I couldn’t even stop myself. I knew in my heart of hearts that I was an unrepentant glutton and wondered how I could ever believe that I could be any kind of pastor with that kind of sin in my life. The world taught me that I had to be self-sufficient and deal with my messes without help, that I should be the one to wash my own feet. Jesus replies “If I don’t wash your feet you have no part of me, besides the rest of you is clean let me take care of your feet.” Jesus not only knows that in coming to him we were made clean, but he also knows that some of the voices we have been listening to are betrayals of the hope we have in him. We have walked through the muck and need our feet washed.

This passage foreshadows the cleansing service of the cross, in which Jesus took on the deadly, sin based, systems of domination and showed the victory that comes from humble service in the resurrection we celebrate today. On this day we can declare that the work of making us clean has been accomplished and, yes we need to wash our feet regularly because the roads we walk down take us through the muck and mire as we journey towards our Lord.  Do you know, really know, what Jesus has done for us? Can you accept the lowerarchy of Jesus way? The way of the suffering servant prophesied in Isaiah? Jesus reminds us that if he is our teacher and we name him as our Lord we must be prepared to serve, to lay aside our agendas and desires, instead serving others and accepting the helps we need to grow more Christlike. We must know that Jesus freely chose to die for us rather than operate according to the world’s priority systems; that his blood was shed according to his will so that we could be freed from the need to be self-serving and from that self-centered state set up systems of domination and judgment over others and ourselves. When Jesus stepped out of that tomb the lie of self-serving power was defeated. Now that he has done this work of ultimate self-sacrifice of pride and position it is on us to follow his example.

It is in coming together to serve each other that we can step away from the self-serving patterns of domination and be transformed into the blessed community of resurrection. It is here that we rebuild our connection to God and neighbor through humble service. In order for me to have gotten to this point in my faith I have needed my brothers and sisters to serve me, and be served by me. I must say that after 36 years of trying, failing, getting my feet washed and trying again I couldn’t be more blessed, and it is all because the community of faith has been around me to give and receive the grace Jesus has given us. In our time of open worship I invite you to listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit, to welcome the Spirit in and allow God to speak to and direct you on his path of humble service, into his way of being and doing what is right. After I share a song there will be a time of silence for five minutes then one of our youth will stand with the microphone. If God speaks to you with a message for the rest of the gathering weigh those words and then stand and wait for the microphone to be brought to you.

Will you let me be your servant
Let me be as Christ to you
Pray that I might have the grace to
Let you be my servant too

We are pilgrims on a journey
We are travelers on the road
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load

I will hold the Christ-light for you
In the night time of your fear
I will hold my hand out to you
Speak the peace you long to hear

I will weep when you are weeping
When you laugh I’ll laugh with you
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we’ve seen this journey through

When we sing to God in heaven
We shall find such harmony
Born of all we’ve known together
Of Christ’s love and agony

Brother sister let me serve you
Let me be as Christ to you
Pray that I may have the grace to
Let you be my servant too[i]

<Open Worship>

As we prepare to leave this place of celebration to rejoice with our families let us sing in joyful reminder of Jesus’ self-sacrifice in service to us.

[i] CCLI Song # 72673
The Servant Song
Richard Gillard
© Words: 1977 Scripture In Song (Admin. by Maranatha! Music (Capitol CMG))
Music: 1977 Scripture In Song (Admin. by Maranatha! Music (Capitol CMG))
For use solely with the SongSelect Terms of Use. All rights reserved. http://www.ccli.com
CCLI License # 378755

Dear Stan

Dear Stan,

I hope that on some level you know how much of an impact you have had on the people you have faithfully served in ministry. When I first started attending Olympic View Friends Church you took me under under your wing and mentored me. I was a brash, abrasive, East-coast transplant in the midst of culture shock, questioning my worth because of being unemployed. You invested your time in me and I grew as a man and as a follower of Christ because of it. One of the things I appreciate most about that time was that you didn’t give me advice, just asked questions and pointed me towards Jesus. Then, as I shared difficult things you showed compassion with my struggles and gently guided me towards grace and mercy with a humorous and compassionate spirit. Through your influence, my immature faith was deepened and I began to confront myself and stop hiding from my brokenness behind pious language and a judgmental spirit. Through your patience I learned to value silence and carving out time to listen for the still small voice and allow the Spirit to minister to me even when I didn’t hear anything. You encouraged me in a discipline I still struggle to live up to: listening for the voice of the Spirit in every conversation I have.

Through your example I learned what the spiritual parenthood of being a Friends pastor looks like, and I felt the way open for me pursue God’s call to minister as a pastor after the manner of Friends. I was afraid and distrusting of authority, and you were the right person God brought into my life to restore my faith that the church really could be the priesthood of ALL believers. You got me started on the recording process, and I am a recorded Friends Pastor because of you.

When I heard that you died, my heart fell. Your voice has been a strong one that spoke words that point to the character of Jesus and the loss of that voice is a blow to the Northwest Yearly Meeting. I hope that I can honor the time, effort, and love you have invested in me in my ministry.

I think I will go eat some toast now.

Your Sorrowful F/friend,

Gil George

 

Friendly Persuasion

(Click here to listen.)

As we look over this week’s and the next few weeks’ texts, I want us to keep in mind that Peter is writing to some people that are experiencing some very scary things. Fear was the main tool that the Roman Empire used to keep its subject peoples in line, and they were brutally effective at instilling fear in conquered territories. Fear was a part of daily life in the Roman Empire, and fear is still used by entities in our time to control others for power and profit. The sad thing is that fear mongering is effective. We see people from all walks of life driven by fear of others who are different from them, or who live by different principles, or who they think might want what they have. This fear creeps its way into my life, and I am sure yours as well, until suddenly God opens my eyes to the fact that I have been operating from fear. When I began the recording process for Friends ministers there was a fear that I hadn’t recognized until someone said that they thought I should go to seminary before I was recorded. I kind of lashed out a bit because I was afraid of those snobby educated types. I was afraid that my lack of education would make me look foolish and that I would be looked down on. These were fears based on the experience of watching others with access to education look down on the folks from my neighborhood. These fears of our neighbors are used to manipulate us and to generate conflict that draws our attention away from what is important. It almost drew me away from God’s call on my life to be a pastor. Into our fearful society Peter’s words speak with surprising relevance:

13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats[or what they fear]; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (1 Peter 2:13-17 NIV)

Peter starts out with what might first be considered a rhetorical question, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?” Well, the Wednesday night bible study came up with a fairly depressing list of all sorts of people that could fit into that category. Needless to say what all of the categories had in common was that there are some people who stand to gain in one way or another from others who are not eager to do what is good. Kathy pointed out last week that some of those who benefit from our accepting a broken role in our families will lash out at us when we reject a bad relationship and enforce boundaries that are healthy and good. Peter doesn’t gloss over the brokenness of the world or of the various institutional and personal relationships we have to navigate.  I would say that every culture, nation or relationship has some form of brokenness built into it, so when we go about our daily lives maybe we can keep our eyes open for the opportunities to repair things. The good work of repairing what is broken exposes us to the jagged edges of raw emotion and occasionally we will get hurt by those edges, occasionally we will suffer for our repair efforts. Peter reminds us to not let our fear of pain, rejection, and loss stop us from doing the good work we have been given. The work of healing broken relationships is worth a little pain and suffering, isn’t it? Especially when we get the blessing of seeing a broken relationship with God healed.

This section of the letter is about witness, and Peter’s instruction is even more relevant to us than those to whom he wrote. Christianity has a bit of a PR problem. There are people who claim to follow Jesus as their Lord that picket funerals and attack people who are hurting rather than extending healing hands. There are people who claim the name of Jesus that do not act lovingly at all times, and to my great sadness I have to admit to being one of them. God has chosen to reveal himself through broken people like me who still have large imperfections and flaws that in their clumsy attempts to bring healing instead cause harm. When I was in my discernment process for coming here and was feeling unsure about the call, one of the elders of my church asked me what I was afraid of. I thought about it for a minute and said that I was afraid that my mouth would move ahead of my brain and I would hurt someone and not realize it until it was too late. My elder looked over at me with a chuckle and said “Don’t worry about that Gil. I guarantee you that it will happen, the only question you need to keep asking yourself is will you keep yourself ready to do what you must to make things right.” Following Jesus and revering him as Lord means paying attention to the fact that some of the brokenness I have to work on is in me, that some of the broken relationships I am called to repair were broken by me.

This is what I think Peter is referring to when he speaks about being prepared to give an answer to the hope we have with gentleness and respect: we must acknowledge our brokenness in order for others to ask us why on earth we would have any hope, and we must be sympathetic to the brokenness in others, not passing judgment, but carrying the fragile light of hope into someone’s personal darkness. We as the church and me personally have gotten this dead wrong all too often, and I can only speak to my own condition here, but I mostly get it wrong when I allow fear to set my agenda. It is a natural thing for us to be afraid of what is different from us. We have had thousands of years to set up mental structures that tell us who to be near and who to avoid, and the people who are most like us fall into the category of people to be around. Unfortunately for this tribal imperative Jesus teaches that the people who God loves tends to not fit into those neat categories. Keeping a clear conscience in God’s sight then leads us to look beyond the surface impressions and false identities and see the beloved child of God in each face we encounter no matter how unlike us that face appears to be. Jesus taught about this in a parable:

25Just then a scholar of the Hebrew Scriptures tried to trap Jesus.

Scholar: Teacher, what must I do to experience the eternal life?

Jesus (answering with a question)26What is written in the Hebrew Scriptures? How do you interpret their answer to your question?

Scholar: 27You shall love—“love the Eternal One your God with everything you have: all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind”* —and “love your neighbor as yourself.”*

Jesus: 28Perfect. Your answer is correct. Follow these commands and you will live. 29The scholar was frustrated by this response because he was hoping to make himself appear smarter than Jesus.

Scholar: Ah, but who is my neighbor?

Jesus: 30This fellow was traveling down from Jerusalem to Jericho when some robbers mugged him. They took his clothes, beat him to a pulp, and left him naked and bleeding and in critical condition. 31By chance, a priest was going down that same road, and when he saw the wounded man, he crossed over to the other side and passed by. 32Then a Levite who was on his way to assist in the temple also came and saw the victim lying there, and he too kept his distance. 33Then a despised Samaritan journeyed by. When he saw the fellow, he felt compassion for him. 34The Samaritan went over to him, stopped the bleeding, applied some first aid, and put the poor fellow on his donkey. He brought the man to an inn and cared for him through the night. 35The next day, the Samaritan took out some money—two days’ wages* to be exact—and paid the innkeeper, saying, “Please take care of this fellow, and if this isn’t enough, I’ll repay you next time I pass through.” 36Which of these three proved himself a neighbor to the man who had been mugged by the robbers?

Scholar: 37The one who showed mercy to him.

Jesus: Well then, go and behave like that Samaritan. (Luke 11:25-37 The Voice)

The Samaritan in Jesus’ parable proved himself to be a friend to the victim of the robbers, and Jesus tells this scholar, a Jew raised to despise the Samaritans as half-breeds who taught all kinds of wrong things about God, to emulate the Samaritan in this story. If we would persuade the world around us of the truth of the hope we bear, we also must behave like the Samaritan. The Samaritan didn’t check to see what faith the wounded man was, what class, race or anything else. The Samaritan simply saw someone who was wounded and dying.

Our culture is mired in a culture war that is creating scores of wounded and dying and I wonder if God may not be calling us to lay down any arms and jagged edges that we may be carrying and minister to the wounded rather than fight. As a pastor I have felt pressured to take sides in the culture wars and I will say this: my job is to minister to the wounded not to create more wounds. I will fail at this, but by the grace and mercy of God I will try my hardest to bind up every wound that God brings before me no matter what. It cannot matter to me whether someone agrees or disagrees with what I believe the only thing that can matter is that there is a beloved child of God in front of me that has been wounded and may be in danger of dying. That must be my top priority, not making sure everyone is saying the right words or doing the right things, but that the sick, wounded and dying are being healed, that by my friendship, compassion, and care I might witness to the hope that comes from knowing Jesus as my king. If we are to imitate Jesus we must remember that it was by his wounds that we could be healed and be ready to stand in the gap for others so they might be healed. There will be a price for being conscientious objectors in the culture wars but if we truly befriend the wounded and become as a body a “hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints” the good of planting those seeds of God’s kingdom is, and will be, worth the cost. As we enter into open worship let us listen for the direction of the Holy Spirit, giving him the space to speak to each of our souls. Let us ask that God open our eyes to how we can be Jesus’ hands and feet, binding up the wounds of the fallen and persuading people by our friendship that they not only have a good friend in us, but the best possible friend in Jesus.

The Much Abridged Faith Journey of Gil George

I decided to share the text of my testimony as well as the video. I place my story in your hands:

It has been a great privilege to sit with some of you and hear the stories about how God is at work in your lives. I believe it is a deep privilege to be given a window into other people’s lives with an eye towards the workings of God. I am so thankful to God for the privilege of sharing the joy that comes from following Jesus and experiencing his presence, grace, and mercy. The importance and power of our testimonies is taught in the book of Revelations 12:10-11

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming, “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah, for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.

 

My family came to Christ when I was 4 years old, from that point on I was raised as a follower of Christ. At this point in my life I just knew that Jesus loved me. One of the first hymns I learned expresses this simple faith of my childhood.

Jesus loves me this I know For the Bible tells me so

Little ones to Him belong. They are weak but He is strong

Yes Jesus loves me, Yes Jesus loves me

Yes Jesus loves me, The Bible tells me so

Jesus loves me he who died Heaven’s gate to open wide

He will wash away my sin Let His little child come in[i]

 

The church that we were part of was a Congregationalist church on the border of Queens and Long Island in a town called Inwood. Our church had a ministry resettling refugees, and many families took people directly into their homes. My family bought a 15 room house in Far Rockaway, and formed a Christian community dedicated to taking in the wanderer. We had people from 21 different countries live with us during the 6 years of ministry, and often I would find myself going from one culture to another as I changed rooms. This time significantly shaped my outlook on culture, and on the importance of listening for other cultures’ viewpoints.

We are one in the Spirit; We are one in the Lord

We are one in the Spirit; We are one in the Lord

And we pray that all unity, May one day be restored

 

And they’ll know we are Christians By our love by our love

Yes they’ll know we are Christians By our love

 

We will walk with each other we will walk hand in hand

We will walk with each other we will walk hand in hand

And together we’ll spread the news That God is in our land

 

We will work with each other we will work side by side

We will work with each other we will work side by side

And we’ll guard each one’s dignity and crucify our pride

 

All praise to the Father from whom all things come

And all praise to Christ Jesus His only Son

And all praise to The Spirit who makes us one[ii]

When we moved to Philly in 1988, I was deeply angry at God (who was given as the “reason” we moved). My parents enrolled me in a private school that I eventually got kicked out of, ostensibly for financial reasons, but mainly because I wasn’t afraid to disagree with the bible teacher on interpretation. Meanwhile we had been attending a Church of God in Christ church in the primarily African-American neighborhood we lived in. My father became the second white elder ordained in the denomination, and I was part of the youth choir. After being kicked out of the private school in October of my senior year, I attended my neighborhood school where I was again in the minority. I was the only white student in the school, and I loved it. I experienced renewal through participating in the drama program at school and in the all-encompassing worship of the African-American church we were attending. At this time in my life I began to own my relationship with God as something apart from my parents’ relationship with God.

I know it was the blood I know it was the blood

I know it was the blood for me

 

Chorus

One day when I was lost He died upon the cross

And I know it was the blood for me

 

They pierced Him in his side they pierced Him in his side

They pierced Him in his side for me

 

He hung his Head and died He hung his Head and died

He hung his Head and died  for me

 

They laid him in the tomb they laid him in the tomb

They laid him in the tomb for me

 

He rose up from the dead He rose up from the dead

He rose up from the dead  for me[iii]

I moved to New York, found out that you can’t really go back home and learned forgiveness in a new way. Denny was a knee capper for a prominent crime family who had been injured on a job, and was found wandering the streets. He ended up in our ministry home somehow, and when his mind returned, he left, but would come back and visit us. On one of these visits he bragged about an arms deal his buddies had going on. My father invited the police, and his associates put a contract out on us. Our house was set on fire at 11:30PM one night, but there was only cosmetic damage. We hid in a safe house and the contract was lifted a week or so later. When I moved back to NYC from Philly I was attending the church I had grown up in. Denny was attending the church. I didn’t believe he was saved and I was still scared of Denny. Denny wasn’t stupid, and invited me to go to a diner with him. We had a long talk, and I ended up forgiving Denny and asking Denny and God to forgive me for my merciless behavior. There is truly no person who is irredeemable.

After one year I returned to Philly where my father was called to assist in a church plant a couple of neighborhoods away that was a joint venture between the Mennonites and the Church of God in Christ and that is where God introduced me to Anabaptists. The Anabaptist theology made a lot of sense to me, and after being part of that church for some time, I began attending a Brethren church plant called Circle of Hope in the downtown area that was mainly attracting a younger crowd, and through its ministry learned to take the church less seriously (in a good way). It didn’t look, feel, or sound like anything I had previously encountered, and that opened my eyes to the realization that the form of worship means nothing and the act of worship means everything. Our 7PM service had a slightly different style of music.

As the deer panteth for the water so my soul longeth after Thee

You alone are my heart’s desire And I long to worship Thee

 

You alone are my strength my shield to you alone may my spirit yield

You alone are my heart’s desire and I long to worship Thee

 

You’re my friend and you are my brother even though you are a King

I love you more than any other so much more than anything

 

I want you more than gold or silver only you can satisfy

You alone are the real joy giver and the apple of my eye[iv]

Then my girlfriend of 1 month left for a 1 year mission trip. A few months later my father was diagnosed with cancer and the prognosis was 6 months to one year and he didn’t have insurance. While my girlfriend was on her mission, her father was also diagnosed with cancer. I broke down, left my job and eventually moved back home to help out. My father was my mentor, and losing him to a long drawn out time of suffering taught me how to bear my anger to God. I found that I could take the darkest rage to God and let God have it. I screamed, yelled, swore, and called God just about every name I could think of. God just withstood it and left peace in the wake of my rages. I am still a bit angry at God that my daughters don’t have a grandpa, but God is a big God and can take my frustrations. The real lesson for me in this was finding that God really wanted me to bring the ugly, hard, nasty bits of myself to the table as well as the parts that I felt were acceptable. My father died in March of 2000, we moved to Albuquerque in early August my fiancée’s father died in late August and we were married in December. Heck of a year! My wife and I are very well matched; we complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we both have strong communication skills. I have grown much in my relationship with God through this relationship, as I see how much grace I need on a daily basis. Because of the situations we faced the year before we were married, we have a deep understanding of the necessity of grace in our relationship with each other. We have put that understanding to use now that we are parents of two young daughters, and therefore in the sleep deprivation stage of parenting. We already know how to give extra grace, so that has been less an adjustment. The period of time at the beginning of our life together was insane. We were completely drained emotionally, but were able to continue with God walking beside us.

I cry out for your hand of mercy to heal me I am weak

I need your love to free me Oh Lord my rock my strength in weakness

Come rescue me oh Lord

You are my hope your promise never fails me

And my desire is to follow You forever

For you are good for you are good for you are good to me

For you are good for you are good for you are good to me[v]

After 8 months in the Southwest, we decided to retreat, and I took a job at a Mennonite retreat center in the Poconos. I was the kitchen manager for the kids’ camp, and my wife was the Director’s Assistant. We stayed on for two summers, and felt that the retreat time was over and it was time to return to reality when we were going in to New York and Philly to recharge. We moved to Tacoma in the fall of 2002 and became part of the L’Arche community. In that community I learned that while the core members may have had physical, mental or emotional disabilities, I had spiritual disabilities that they didn’t have. It was during this time that I came under the mentorship of a Friends’ pastor, and I felt again the call to pastoral ministry. The call to ministry had always been active in my life, but for the first time I felt ready to pursue it. Finding people whose theology and practice matches what you have come to in your relationship with God feels like coming home and I found my spiritual home in the Northwest Yearly Meeting.

I began the recording process at Olympic View Friends Church in 2004, and began preaching at McKinley Hill Friends Church in 2006. I learned a huge amount in those places, but mostly I learned that I didn’t have the tools to effectively live into my call. With the help of the Friends Center scholarship I went to seminary in my final surrender to the call God has on me. I have known about the call to ministry for a good portion of my life. I ran from it, but always kept finding myself in spiritual fatherhood wherever I went; it was just a style of relationship that happened. I went through Seminary to get the tools and preparation I need to effectively pastor God’s people who I love so much. Right before seminary my daughter Amy was born, and I began to get a vague perspective on the fatherhood of God. I am awestruck by the degree of patience we are shown. I had no idea of the depth of love I was capable of for my daughters, and to consider that God’s love for us exponentially exceeds that of ours for our children boggles my mind.  Cleta Crisman served me well as a guide through the remainder of my recording and my first years of parenthood, helping me process what I was learning in school, teaching me to be a better communicator, and helping me juggle the responsibilities of being a Daddy and schoolwork.

During my seminary years I attended the RiversWay community and learned what it meant to be part of a ministry team, providing mutual support, accountability and learning to lean on other’s gifts.

Now that I am the Pastor at Clackamas Park Friends Church I am finding such joy in God’s work in the church. To see the hand of the Holy Spirit—and name that in people’s lives—is an awesome gift that I am humbled to receive. In my eventful life I have learned what the most important thing is.

All I once held dear built my life upon all this world reveres and wars to own

All I once thought gain I have counted loss Spent and worthless now compared to this

 

Knowing You Jesus knowing You There is no greater thing

You’re my all you’re the best you’re my joy my righteousness

And I love You Lord

 

Now my heart’s desire is to know you more to be found by you and known as yours

To possess by faith what I could not earn all surpassing gift of righteousness

 

Oh to know the pow’r of your risen life and to know you in your sufferings

To become like you in your death my Lord so with you to live and never die[vi]

 

Audiography
 


[i] CCLI Song # 1187 Yes, Jesus Loves Me

Anna Bartlett Warner | William Batchelder Bradbury

Public Domain

For use solely with the SongSelect Terms of Use. All rights reserved. http://www.ccli.com

 

CCLI License # 378755

[ii] CCLI Song # 26997 We are One in the Spirit

Peter Scholtes

© 1966 F.E.L. Publications. Assigned 1991 Lorenz Publishing Company (Admin. by Lorenz Corporation)

For use solely with the SongSelect Terms of Use. All rights reserved. http://www.ccli.com

CCLI License # 378755

 

[iii] CCLI Song # 28823 I Know it was the Blood

Marvin V. Frey

© 1977 Marvin V. Frey (Admin. by Helen M. Frey)

For use solely with the SongSelect Terms of Use. All rights reserved. http://www.ccli.com

CCLI License # 378755

 

[iv] CCLI Song # 1431 As The Deer

Martin Nystrom

© 1984 Maranatha Praise, Inc. (Admin. by Maranatha! Music)

For use solely with the SongSelect Terms of Use. All rights reserved. http://www.ccli.com

CCLI License # 378755

 

[v] CCLI Song # 313480 Good To Me

Craig Musseau

© 1990 Vineyard Songs Canada (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

Mercy / Vineyard Publishing (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

For use solely with the SongSelect Terms of Use. All rights reserved. http://www.ccli.com

CCLI License # 378755

 

[vi] CCLI Song # 1045238 Knowing You

Graham Kendrick

© 1993 Make Way Music (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

For use solely with the SongSelect Terms of Use. All rights reserved. http://www.ccli.com

CCLI License # 378755