Tag Archives: integrity

The Rough Side of the Mountain

There is an old gospel song with the title of this blog post, and the more I think about my experience of the last few years and some of my experiences hiking with my wife, the rough side of the mountain feels like a pretty apt metaphor. There are times in our lives when it feels like every possible “other shoe” that could drop has dropped, when all the balls that were being juggled are bouncing around us and one precious ball is being cradled in our arms. The rough side of the mountain looks different depending on the burdens we carry as we climb, but in my case the helplessness of sick kids combined with community loss helped me make a huge realization about who I am and what I am called to be as a pastor and father.

In many ways I have dropped almost every other ball to focus on supporting my three-year-old daughter and to keep our home a place of warmth, welcome, joy and solace. I get to be that Daddy right now, but after so many blows it feels like I am climbing up the rough side of the rock slide. Every time it seems like we got to the bottom of all the health issues with our daughters, a deeper issue surfaced. Still happening, but the other stresses have cleared. I made it through the depression and the anxiety following the loss of a community, and now stand at this strange place of waiting. Not yet hopeful, but not despairing. Knocked to the bottom of the mountain I looked up and realized: “I have been climbing the wrong ____ing, God______, stupid mountain.” I had tried to live up to expectations that God had not created me to meet. (I will pause for the experienced pastors to twitch/grimace.)

I am called to nurture others, to live out Jesus’ care for the marginalized, the hungry, the hurting, to mentor others as they grow in faith. These come with a different set of roughness, but roughness I am designed for. Right now I have the joy of practicing my gifts of nurture by holding my hurting girls tight, giving them snuggles and kisses, singing silly songs that make them giggle, and remembering and living out who I am and what I am called to be. I am climbing the rough mountain of realizing how far I strayed from my true self, and now am finally happy to be where I am: At the bottom of a new, still rough sided, mountain. But it is my rough mountain now and not the deadly peak of others’ expectations.

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

Guarding Ourselves From Things that Make “Sense”


Some of you are looking at my sermon title and wondering what I could possibly be talking about. In some ways this is a response to some Christians who have unfortunately been saying that the earthquake in Nepal is God’s judgment. A refrain I hear all too often around times of natural disaster. Why should we guard ourselves against what makes sense? One Sunday I was in a church and heard a sermon based on the following text in the Old Testament.

5 “Surely God is mighty and does not despise any; he is mighty in strength of understanding.6 He does not keep the wicked alive, but gives the afflicted their right.7 He does not withdraw his eyes from the righteous, but with kings on the throne he sets them forever, and they are exalted.8 And if they are bound in fetters and caught in the cords of affliction,9 then he declares to them their work and their transgressions, that they are behaving arrogantly.10 He opens their ears to instruction, and commands that they return from iniquity.11 If they listen, and serve him, they complete their days in prosperity, and their years in pleasantness.12 But if they do not listen, they shall perish by the sword, and die without knowledge. Job36:5-12

The preacher went on to say how God is just and that obedience to God will result in prosperity and pleasant days, but wickedness will be repaid with poverty and illness. From the world’s perspective, and even from someone in the Bible, this seems to make a lot of sense. God rewards the good and punishes the wicked right? Isn’t that one of God’s jobs? This kind of reasoning leads to the kind of statements I saw this week. Unfortunately the one who spoke the words in that scripture passage was reproving a man named Job, and God himself rebukes those words. What makes sense and works in the world doesn’t necessarily reflect God’s priorities and desires. Sometimes when we think we know what God’s doing we are looking at the wrong thing, some tangible thing rather than the spiritual truth.

5 When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. 6 Jesus said to them, “Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 7 They said to one another, “It is because we have brought no bread.” 8 And becoming aware of it, Jesus said, “You of little faith, why are you talking about having no bread? 9 Do you still not perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread? Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!” 12 Then they understood that he had not told them to beware of the yeast of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Matthew 16:5-12

1) Loss of focus when neglecting taking care of ourselves.
2) Watch out! Pay attention!
3) When in need we are so focused on need that we interpret everything through the need.
4) Forgetting God’s provision in the past leads to fear now.
5) Jesus was speaking to the teachings of Pharisees and Sadducees.
6) Pharisees: Lots of rules, obedience leads to God’s favor, obedience leads to prosperity, obedience to rules leads to coming of messiah, we can earn God’s love, nationalism is holiness, God is the judge, there will be a reckoning in which God will judge all who break the law as they interpreted it.
7) Sadducees: accommodate the Empire, don’t make waves, give us money/sacrifices and God will bless you, wealth gives greater access to God, obeying rules leads to blessing, no resurrection, no existence of soul after death, described by some scholars as “Pharisees for the rich”
8) With the exception of belief in resurrection, the main disagreements between these groups were over minor issues relating to purity and civil law. From the outside the two groups looked pretty similar in their understanding.
9) The teachings of these groups seem to make sense in an occupied territory, but Jesus rebukes their worldview.
10) Jesus contrasts a God of generosity, creation, grace, and mercy.
11) It may make sense to go with the flow of the nation/culture we are in, but we must examine our assumptions to see if they get in the way of understanding the truth of who Jesus is and what he accomplished.
12) The Pharisees, Sadducees, and disciples all thought they knew what God was up to, but Jesus said “the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost” in Luke 19:10 in John 12:46-48a says:

46 I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. 47 I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge.
There is a difference Jesus makes between keeping commands and rejecting God, a difference it would serve us well to remember.

13) A lot of what Jesus commands doesn’t make sense or seem to work in the world. Love your enemies, take up your cross, those who try to save their lives will lose them, the kingdom of heaven is better than all earthly things, don’t store up or seek out the fallible treasures of this world, blessed are the meek, those who mourn and those who are hungry, the greatest leader must be the greatest servant.
14) These things fly in the face of the priorities of just about every culture to ever have existed on the face of the planet, but we know that obedience to the foolishness of God is a wiser course than any human’s most powerful wisdom.
15) That is all great in theory, but as I was riding my bike and praying yesterday God brought me to the word “deserve.” The world wants us to think in terms of getting what we deserve and other people getting what they deserve, or at least what we think they deserve. Our faith is based on us not getting what we or others think we deserve. Larger conversations about who deserve what need to be submitted to the facts of Jesus’ sacrifice.
16) As we enter into our time of open worship, let us pray that the Holy Spirit continues to turn our hearts ever closer towards the sacrificial love Jesus has given us.

The Daily Cross

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

Easter is coming, and we are again reminded of the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are reminded that God’s mercy is so great that He accepted death in order for the just fate of humanity to be overcome. The comedian Emo Philips told a joke that underscores how we as Christians often get this wrong in our dealings with each other.

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”

He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.” I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me, too! What franchise?” He said, “Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” He said, “Northern Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too!”

Northern Conservative†Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

We excel at getting Jesus wrong, but we are in good company, since every generation of Christianity has its own struggles, even the disciples who walked with Jesus got it wrong and misunderstood what the Messiah was all about.

Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?” 19 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.” 20 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.” 21 Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. 22 And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” 23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? 26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:18-27

  • Taking time away to pray away from the crowds.
  • Leading questions. And a wrongly right answer.
  • What does he mean don’t tell the greatest news to come in hundreds of years?
  • The truth of the suffering Messiah.
  • Understanding the daily cross, salvation, and our true selves through the lens of Matthew 18.

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. 23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. 29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ 30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. 32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” Matthew 18:21-35

  • Our cross of self-denial is forgiveness and letting go of what we think we are owed.
  • God desires us to display his mercy in our dealings with others and we often mentally utter “Die heretic!” rather than forgive.
  • Not forgiving our fellow servants is being ashamed of Jesus.
  • However, forgiving is the ultimate sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ.
  • If you want to be a powerful witness of the gospel of Jesus then forgive, it is really that simple. Early Christians forgave those killing them and that convicted hearts and caused the church to grow exponentially.
  • The cross of forgiveness is hard to bear, but Jesus bore it for us and through that death showed us the way to resurrection and eternal life.

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.

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).