Tag Archives: healing community

My Dad’s Last Sermon

I was recently gifted with the audio of my father’s last sermon. I got to hear my Dad’s voice for the first time in many years and his words are just as relevant now as they were then. In this sermon he shares the lessons he learned as a white urban minister. My father was a prophet, and his words, Knowing God, Facing Death, Phil Ochs, and a Kitten  shared with the urgency that comes from walking in the valley of the shadow of death, may be hard for us to hear. These are important words and in a very real way are some of the foundations of my upbringing. My father lived these words out and I try in my own way to live in the knowledge of God proclaimed in the person of Jesus.

If there is anyone out there who can help me clean up the hiss from the tape, I would love some help.

 

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

Truth in the Wilderness

(Sorry about the lateness, I have spent most of the last 3 weeks with a nasty head cold and chest infection.)

Sermon notes are below the video.

Finding the truth can be a very difficult thing sometimes. Often we are blinded by the images around us, are tainted by the various forms of groupthink that try to set our identity. When we start living out the truth, the guardians of the groupthink will come after us with questions, especially when we step away from the power centers. John the Baptist preached from the outskirts and when the political leaders of his people came to see if he could be used, they found instead the truth.

19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.”[g] 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said. 24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah,[h] nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing. John 1:19-28

  • Who are the “Jews” in John?
  • Questioning identity from power. Underlying questions.
  • The kingmakers had come to see if John could be manipulated.
  • I am not the one that can save. Important truth for us to remember. People want someone else to take responsibility.
  • I am not someone from the past. John was fully engaged in the present and wasn’t going to let those in power pigeonhole him into the mold of someone who came before.
  • I am not the prophet. Nuance: “a” vs. “the” Flattery and manipulation are a tool of those in the center of societal power.
  • The voice in the wilderness “Make straight the way of the Lord.”
  • John’s locating himself in the wilderness kept him from the temptation to go along with the status quo.
  • If you don’t have the qualifications that come from our understanding, by what authority do you do x?
  • Truth is found in a humble place, away from the centers of human power and greatness.
  • In the centers of human power and greatness authority, power, truth, etc is used to promote self over others.
  • John points to the one true God and doesn’t exalt himself but shares the truth with humility.
  • We, like John the Baptist, are called to point to Jesus, to clear the path so that others can approach the Lord. As we enter into open worship…

 

The Rejected Cornerstone

Watch the sermon that arose from the below notes here:

When we first moved to the West Coast we were participating in the life of the L’Arche community in Tacoma, and I got to learn a lot more about the everyday rejection and fear that people with developmental disabilities and mental illness face. There was an opening in my heart as I got to know some of these people, and I learned about the ways I had mistakenly judged others’ value. Our society puts a lot of emphasis on ability and is very quick to push people who it thinks can’t, or won’t, contribute away from others. This rejection leads to all kinds of things, but God has a message for us to hear.

33 “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. 35“The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. 38 “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.” 42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;

the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’[h]?

43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. 46 They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.

  • The builder and owner of the vineyard
  • Renting the land has conditions
  • The fruit: “22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” Galatians 5:22-23
  • The servants = the prophets who were killed when they convicted God’s people
  • The tenants were self-centered and focusing on what benefitted them. This is of course completely unfamiliar to American culture right?
  • The kingdom of God is for those who produce its fruit. Not the fruit of temporal wealth, position, privilege, or power, but the fruit of the Spirit which turns us to the benefit of others.
  • The rejects of a society, the incarcerated, the mocked, the weak, the ill, the poor, the sinner, those unable to produce are the very people God has called to the center of his kingdom.
  • Jesus was rejected and killed because of his understanding that God’s law existed to generate love of God and neighbor, the joy that comes from loving God and seeing his image in every face we encounter, the peace of right relationships that are based on love and not what is in it for us, the patience to seek out that image no matter what, the kindness to cultivate that image and forgive the inevitable mistakes when we don’t live into the image we bear, the generosity to share what we have so that others can have the resources they need to produce spiritual fruit, the faithfulness to keep pressing on to know the Lord and seek his face, the gentleness with ourselves and others that builds us up carefully, and the self-control to place the good of others above our own desires.
  • God is looking for us to produce fruit for him. The cornerstone of self-sacrifice has been laid down and we are built upon it. All our desires and hopes have fallen to pieces and now we live in the glory of a life that is God-centered.
  • As we enter into open worship let us ask God for the strength and grace to live into his values. Let us ask him to prune us so that the fruit we bear can be bountiful and that his glory will be revealed through our love for the bearers of God’s image who surround us. Let us fall on the cornerstone together that all within us will be broken apart that it can be rebuilt to the glory of God.

The Wheat and the Weeds

Click here to listen to the sermon inspired by the following notes:

People are so difficult to figure out sometimes. Just when you think you have someone figured out they do or say something that completely shatters any conception of them we had up to that point in our lives. We realize at that moment that there was something there we had missed and now we can see how that thread is woven through their whole life. I have a friend who when I first met them always got on my nerves. He seemed so angry about everything and I got into lots of arguments with him about food and faith and just about everything. I thought that this guy just had a short fuse and started to back off, until one day we were out with a bunch of friends and he opened up about his traumatic upbringing. It was amazing to me how my perception of this person shifted when I heard the why’s behind his actions. Jesus addresses this phenomenon in one of his parables:

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. 27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ 28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ 29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’” Matthew 13:24-30

  • Kingdom of heaven is like.
  • Good seed, bad seed.
  • The difficulty of recognizing darnel.
  • Wheat dies in its time, darnel stays green.
  • Pulling up the weeds now leads to uprooting good seed.
  • It is only at harvest time that it is safe to uproot.
  • The Lord of the harvest will clear the weeds out in his time. We must be patient and wait on him.
  • Servants=leaders and leaders must be careful to cultivate the field for harvest, recognizing that there are weeds, but also that the Lord of the Harvest has asked us to cultivate the weeds as well as the wheat.

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.