Tag Archives: doubt

Towards The Light

As I prepare for the coming of Christmas I have been reflecting on John 1: 9-14:

9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

The true light was coming and the Light’s own people did not recognize him. This is a serious check for us who consider ourselves followers of Jesus. Are there ways we ourselves are not recognizing the light which even now breaks into the world. This is the conviction that rests heavily on me now as I witness the sad state of the world around me. I wonder that I, like the people of Israel, am focusing so much on the hurts around me that I am missing the presence of Jesus. As I write this my daughter is working on her schoolwork, sent home for her to work on while she fights an e-coli infection. As I write this the news plays the latest tragedies in the world, and I am overwhelmed with my own senses of loss in terms of my relationship to the Church. I am missing Jesus because I am not looking for him, I am just looking for a way through. How often do I not take the time to look around me for the presence of the light, or only as a solution to the problems of the day?

But the Word became flesh and dwells among us, and longs for some time to be with us. As this season progresses and we move through times of hope and hopelessness, faith and doubt, joy and despair, peace and strife, let us resolve to stop and lean into the arms of the Light so that we might find the small hopes hiding in hopeless situations, the faith that only comes through expressed doubt, the joy that comes with light in the middle of dark despair, and the peace which surpasses understanding in times of strife. These come paradoxically, not because we work for them, but as gifts that flow from the presence of Jesus.

Lord, I come to you seeking the gift of your presence. Open my eyes to see where you are already at work around me and in me. Help me lean into and recognize your in-breaking light. Amen

The Paradox of Humility

See the notes that inspired this sermon below the You Tube video. This is my final sermon at Clackamas Park Friends Church. See previous post for text of resignation.

Today we look at two difficult concepts that are necessary for holding to the Christian faith: humility, which is difficult because we are trained in pride from the cradle, and paradox which is difficult because it is an expression of an unresolvable tension. One of the great disservices modernity has inflicted on our faith is the pressure to resolve all mysteries or dynamic tensions within our understandings of God. This attempt to define God has led to conflicts and controversies over ultimately non-provable speculations that can lead to false senses of certainty about faith. While we must be leery of the “pat” answers that seek to do away with questioning we must also be equally wary of the fatalism that comes from saying that there are no answers. The 20th century theologian Roger Hazelton defines paradox as “A statement which asserts the truth of two contradictory but necessary propositions having equal rational force.”[i]. Some of the most commonly argued paradoxes in our faith are the divinity and humanity of Jesus, the sovereignty of God and human free-will, and of course the paradox of being saved and yet still a sinner. In order to be faithful, we must allow these paradoxes to stand and live in the tension, knowing that we will not see their resolution this side of heaven. Today’s scripture is filled with paradoxes, and the key ingredient to accepting paradox, humility.

43 After the two days he left for Galilee. 44 (Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.) 45 When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, for they also had been there. 46 Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death. 48 “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” 49 The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 “Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.” The man took Jesus at his word and departed. 51 While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52 When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.” 53 Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and his whole household believed. 54 This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee. John 4:43-54

  • Paradox 1 – Prophet has no honor among their own. The Galileans welcomed him.
  • They saw the honor given elsewhere then believed. When we are seen outside the familiar context.
  • Background on Capernaum and the change from subsistence fishing to export overfishing.
  • Paradox 2 – The begging official.
  • Paradox 3 – Justice and mercy
  • The power and necessity of dynamic tensions in faith.
  • Paradoxes can only be held in humility. They are an acknowledgement of our finite nature.

Mystery as it relates to the things of God in the Christian realms is our contemplation of the infinite using our finite minds and languages. Mystery can only be expressed in ambiguous terms because of our lack of knowledge about the extent of our lack of knowledge. In an attempt to express these mysteries we turn to the devices of metaphor and paradox so that we can communicate with each other about the God we love.

Paradox then becomes the tool we use to express the mysteries of God as we experience their presence in our lives. As a tool it is important for us not only to see paradox’s usefulness, but also its limitations. Hazelton cautions us that “A paradox is a statement, not a situation. Situations may indeed be paradoxical, but we can know this only when some attempt at considered statement has been made.”[ii] We must be careful then to not confuse our statements about apparent paradoxes in our perception and understanding of God with the reality of God. The gap between the limits of our perception and expression and the reality of God then leads us to attempt to resolve the paradox instead of fully exploring all aspects of the paradox. With humility we must instead admit to the need and place for faith. At some level we have to trust the God we serve or else give up on the religious journey entirely.

Divine mystery is then a tool that God uses to exercise our faith. In Hebrews faith is defined as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1b NRSV) The exercise of this faith then consists of being certain of our uncertainty. I am not saying that “everything is up for grabs” just that we must be very cautious in our theological expressions to start from a place of understanding our limitations. In Romans, Paul also reminds us of the uncertain character of hope and the need for faith “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:24-25 NRSV) It is along this unseen path then that an orthodox faith lies. Kenneth Arnold explains that “a primary characteristic of orthodoxy is a capacity for paradox. Heresies tend to round off the edges and eliminate what does not fit. Faith that demands certainty is probably no longer faith but some form of science.”[iii] This statement brings us to the core of our discomfort with paradox: we as a race don’t like the loss of control implied by a lack of knowledge.

One of the ways God is growing me is in my ability to accept that I do not have the capacity for full knowledge. When I was younger, I thought I knew a lot more than I did. As I gained experience in the real world I made the common mistakes that lead us to a greater understanding of our limitations. If I am to be honest in my self-examination, my discomfort with paradox stemmed from my fear of not controlling my life. That fear led to a distrust of paradoxical statements because they highlighted how outside of my control God is. My reflections on paradox and the mysteries of God over the years has humbled me and led me to a place in which my faith relies less and less on my understanding of God and more and more on my relationship with God. Every answer that I found about the things of God only served to raise more questions. I have finally come to the place at which I realize that the easy answers that I am looking for don’t exist, and that for me to grow in my faith I don’t need better answers, I need the humility to seek out better questions.

As we enter into Open worship let us take this first five minutes to bask in the presence of the God who is beyond us, allow yourself to experience the reverential awe that comes from being in relationship with the infinite God. After 5 minutes someone will stand with the mike and if your communion with God and the rest of us here demands it, rise and speak and the microphone will be brought to you.

 

[i] Roger Hazelton, :The Nature of Christian Paradox,” Theology Today 6, no. 3 (October 1949): 325.

[ii] Roger Hazelton, “The Nature of Christian Paradox,” Theology Today 6, no. 3 (October 1949): 325.

[iii] Kenneth Arnold, “Living With Paradox,” Cross Currents 50, no. 1-2 (March 2000): 3

Reflection of Holiness

Click here to listen to the sermon inspired by the following notes. (You will notice that I was led completely away from notes. The Spirit had better things to say than I did.)

Last week, Price talked about the importance of stepping out of the safe and comfortable boat and taking on the scary task of walking on the water. One of the boats we use to protect us from the scary waters is the craft of traditions. Traditions can insulate us from having to think about the state of our relationship with God, and give us a false sense of security. The problem comes when we allow our traditions and interpretations to insulate us from God.

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat.” 3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ 5 But you say that whoever tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is given to God,’ then that person need not honor the father. 6 So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said: 8 ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; 9 in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’” 10 Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Matthew 15:1-11

 

  • Why do your disciples…?
  • Jesus doesn’t take the bait. When asked why, look behind the question.
  • Jesus points to a higher authority than the interpretational tradition.
  • When we are faced with questions about actions, it helps to consider God’s revealed priorities.
  • The requested wall of tradition.

18 When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid[d] and trembled and stood at a distance, 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.” 21 Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was. Exodus 20: 18-21

  • Reverential awe vs. being afraid.
  • On tradition vs. on task
  • The Jesus turnaround.
  • When we use words to belittle others and rules to pass judgment on who is in and out we are usurping God’s place.
  • The Hebrew people had more than the Torah, there was a whole body of interpretation that existed to translate the rules down to the absolute minutiae of life from what it was ok to eat to the maximum number of steps it was permissible to take on the Sabbath. They got so caught up in the letter of the law that they lost track of the spirit. Jesus came and reinterpreted the law away from a set of rules to restore the original purpose of creating the context for healthy relationship to flourish.
  • Rather than asking does this action fit the established rules we have much harder questions to ask like “Does this draw me or others closer to God?” “Is the way I am speaking about others reflective of God’s loving kindness?” “Do the traditions I enforce create barriers or pathways to God?”
  • Jesus gives us a warning here that our words about others show the truth of our hearts. When you speak of someone that frustrates you or has made you angry what truth is reflected? I know that I have had to repent many times in my life of the words that escaped my mouth the tore down rather than built up.
  • In our open worship let us listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit together, asking him to restore our hearts, forgive us the words that cause harm, and show us the paths of reconciliation and purity.

 

 

Ministry In Distraction

Click here to listen to sermon that arose from the following notes.

Did you ever have one of those days when it seems like the interruptions are preventing you from accomplishing what you want to? It can be incredibly frustrating, especially when what you are trying to get done is important. That frustration can cause us to snap at the people that interrupt us, and sometimes in that frustration we miss opportunities that God sends our way. Jesus had days like that as well, and in today’s text he shows us that showing grace to the people interrupting us can have a huge impact, and even if it appears that it prevents us from accomplishing our goals, maybe God has a bigger outcome in mind than we were aiming for.

40 Now when Jesus returned, a crowd welcomed him, for they were all expecting him. 41 Then a man named Jairus, a synagogue leader, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to come to his house 42 because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying. As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. 43 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. 45 “Who touched me?” Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.” 46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.” 47 Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. 48 Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” 49 While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” he said. “Don’t bother the teacher anymore.” 50 Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.” 51 When he arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother. 52 Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her. “Stop wailing,” Jesus said. “She is not dead but asleep.” 53 They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54 But he took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!” 55 Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. 56 Her parents were astonished, but he ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened. Luke 8:40-56

  • The crowd and the urgent.
  • The named man and the unnamed woman.
  • Jesus didn’t avoid the distraction or the distractor. Love of neighbor.
  • Jesus sought God’s will in the distraction.
  • Consequences of allowing distraction.
  • Faith that God is greater than the consequences.
  • Jesus held on to that faith in the face of other’s anger and derision.
  • The ultimate consequence of following God: New Life!
  • The goal is redemption, not accomplishment. When we keep that goal in mind distractions can become opportunities for redemption rather than aggravations.

The God of Tax Collectors and Sinners

Click here to listen to the sermon that came from the following notes.

Matthew was a sellout. He took a look around him and saw that the Romans had everything going their way and that the Jews had no ability to withstand their military might. Matthew saw that the best way to survive was to help the Romans, and so he ended up in the lucrative position of collecting taxes. The Romans practiced something called tax farming in which they auctioned off the right to collect taxes in a given province, and anything the publicans collected above that was theirs to keep. Needless to say, that didn’t make tax collectors the most popular people in the area. In that time and place calling someone a tax collector was a dire insult, so imagine Matthew’s surprise when the up and coming new Rabbi approaches him.

9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’[a] For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:9-13

  • Looking beyond external circumstance. What people do to survive bad circumstances is not unpardonable.
  • Eating with the “unclean” leads to being judged by the “holiness” gatekeepers.
  • Jesus stays on point in the face of criticism.
  • Let’s take a look at the passage Jesus is referring to here. Hosea 6:6

“Come, let us return to the Lord.

He has torn us to pieces

but he will heal us;

he has injured us

but he will bind up our wounds.

2 After two days he will revive us;

on the third day he will restore us,

that we may live in his presence.

3 Let us acknowledge the Lord;

let us press on to acknowledge him.

As surely as the sun rises,

he will appear;

he will come to us like the winter rains,

like the spring rains that water the earth.”

4 “What can I do with you, Ephraim?

What can I do with you, Judah?

Your love is like the morning mist,

like the early dew that disappears.

5 Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets,

I killed you with the words of my mouth—

then my judgments go forth like the sun.[a]

6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,

and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

  • Love that evaporates.
  • Mercy is love that keeps on loving in the face of hurt.
  • God came to save and restore the hurt and wounded, those who recognize their brokenness.

Faith, Trust, Doubt, and Hope

Click here to listen to the sermon that came from the following notes.

There are times when God leads you to a passage and you just wonder why God had to lead you there. This week we are going to look at Jesus’ interactions with people bringing someone they cared about to him for healing. The first story is that of a Roman Centurion with an ill servant.

5 When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6 “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”

7 Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”

8 The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment. Luke 8:5-13

  • A loaded question. Purity rules, entering a gentiles house.
  • Centurion’s respect for culture – humility.
  • Centurion’s faith shows that the kingdom is offered to all, not just the “chosen race.”
  • Just being born into the right family doesn’t guarantee us a relationship with God. We must pursue it.

The next story is from the gospel of Mark 9:14-27 and is a much different circumstance involving a Father who has watched their child suffer for many years.

14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. 16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked. 17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

  • Failure is to be expected.
  • Disciples like us don’t always know the best way to approach a situation.
  • The only real failure for us is to not take things to Jesus, so maybe there isn’t a failure here after all.
  • “If you can?” vs. “If you will?”
  • Worn down faith needs Jesus, not judgment. Doubt is natural and can be the catalyst for deeper faith. Talk about my struggle with faith re:Analise.
  • Key element to both stories: humility.
  • Let us come before God together to seek his will in humility, but with Hope that our Father will act.

Oh Come Emmanuel

Click here to listen to the sermon that arose from the following notes.

The time period that inspired O Come, O Come Emmanuel was a turbulent one. Spain, Portugal and North Africa had fallen to the Moors, the Vikings were marauding in the North, and East, even going so far as attacking Constantinople in what is now Turkey. The Roman Empire was continuing its disintegration and it was during this century that feudalism came into existence in France. Things were looking grim from the East to the West, from the North to the South, and it is no wonder that Christians looked to the time of the coming of Jesus with longing.

Veni, Veni Emmanuel is a synthesis of the great “O Antiphons” that are used for Vespers during the octave before Christmas (Dec. 17-23). These antiphons are of ancient origin, dating back to at least the ninth century. It is interesting to note that the initial words of the actual antiphons in reverse order form an acrostic: O Emmanuel, O Rex, O Oriens, O Clavis, O Radix (“virgula” in the hymn), O Adonai, O Sapientia. ERO CRAS can be loosely translated as “I will be there tomorrow”.[i]

In this chanted response we hear the call to the Messiah to bring light into the darkness. (Sing Veni Veni, Emmanuel)

In the early first century things were grim for Israel. The Romans had brutally suppressed every uprising and it felt like no one had heard from God’s prophets for a long time. The Jews were starting to fragment, with many schisms and different voices competing for religious dominance. Most Jews tried to keep to themselves and not get caught up in the religious arguments going on around them while struggling to survive under the burdens of oppression. But God had not abandoned his people! (Story of Zacharias and Elizabeth. Z Chosen by lot to enter temple, disbelieved and was unable to speak after expressing disbelief, wife accepted blessing with joy, at birth of John he was able to speak again and said.)

Zacharias: May the Lord God of Israel be blessed indeed!

For God’s intervention has begun,

and He has moved to rescue us, the people of God.

69     And the Lord has raised up a powerful sign of liberation for us

from among the descendants of God’s servant, King David.

70     As was prophesied through the mouths of His holy prophets in ancient times:

71     God will liberate us from our enemies

and from the hand of our oppressors![e]

72-74     God will show mercy promised to our ancestors,

upholding the abiding covenant He made with them,

Remembering the original vow He swore to Abraham,

from whom we are all descended.

God will rescue us from the grasp of our enemies

so that we may serve Him without fear all our days

75     In holiness and justice, in the presence of the Lord.

76     And you, my son, will be called the prophet of the Most High.

For you will be the one to prepare the way for the Lord[f]

77     So that the Lord’s people will receive knowledge of their freedom

through the forgiveness of their sins.

78     All this will flow from the kind and compassionate mercy of our God.

A new day is dawning: the Sunrise from the

heavens will break through in our darkness,

79     And those who huddle in night,

those who sit in the shadow of death,

Will be able to rise and walk in the light,[g]

guided in the pathway of peace.

 

  • The turbulence of our time.
  • God’s intervention has begun.
  • God will rescue and redeem.
  • Rescued and redeemed for holiness and justice. Live holy lives dedicated to justice.
  • Knowledge of freedom comes from forgiveness of sin. Who are we showing God’s freedom to?
  • God’s new day is one ruled by compassion and mercy.
  • When we live out the compassion and mercy of God, we reflect his light into the valleys of the shadow of death and guide others into the pathways of peace.
  • God’s intervention has begun, are we ready to take our place in his plan of redemption?

 

[i] Martin, Michael W. Treasury of Latin Prayers. 1998-2014. http://www.preces-latinae.org/thesaurus/Hymni/VeniEmm.html (accessed 12 11, 2014).