Tag Archives: leadership

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

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The Impact of Small Gestures

Sermon notes are below the video.

While preparing for this sermon I sent a question out to my facebook

friends list asking them to share a small gesture that meant a lot to them.

I will read a few of them, and will share the rest at the beginning of open

worship. We often underestimate our impact on other people, and forget

that small acts of recognition can have a much bigger impact than we

expect. In quantum physics and social science this is called the observer

effect and pretty simply put the mere act of observation impacts and

alters the state of what is observed. I will go further and say if

observation has an impact, recognition has an even deeper impact. So,

let us hear from my friends list a couple of small things with a big

impact.

hey…gestures of kindness just flow from my friend Carole

Spencer…It’s like she has a hidden reservoir of kindness…when she

was preparing to move to IN – days before she left she took out

time from her over packed schedule to have lunch with me…a nice

unrushed time together you would never have known what kind of

a time crunch she was under…that’s only one story…she continues,

through small gestures of love and caring to let me know that I am

special and loved…now I am choked up…God bless her

In reference to your small gesture. I was about 19 or 20. We were

not a huggy touchy feely kind of family. I was going through it and

Josh gave me a hug. It was a gesture of brotherly love one I have

not forgotten. Boys are always being told to toughen up. It’s a

shame. We are not allowed to feel the emotion of where we are at.

A friend here who has a small income brought me a candy bar on

my birthday. It made my day.

43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip,

he said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter,

was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and

told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law,

and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the

son of Joseph.” 46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from

there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. 47 When

Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is

an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” 48 “How do you know

me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you

were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Then

Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the

king of Israel.” 50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I

saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.”

51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you,[i] you[j] will see ‘heaven

open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’[k] the

Son of Man.” John 1:43-51

1) Finding Philip – what a huge story behind two words.

2) Like last week with Andrew, Philip’s priority was bringing those

he cared about into relationship with the Messiah.

3) Can anything good come from Nazareth? The reputation of the

“wrong side of the tracks.”

4) Where are our Nazareth’s? God intentionally chooses to work in

the places we think can’t possibly be places God could be at work.

5) The fix is: come and see. Not come and do or come and fix, but

come and witness the activity of God.

6) Recognition of what Jesus sees. The power of the words “I see

you.”

7) This small gesture of recognition was not miraculous to Jesus, but

if you are part of a marginalized people under oppressive rule,

maybe recognition feels more miraculous than we might think.

8) In our open worship I would like you to think on small gestures

from others that had a big impact on you and if you feel led, to

share them with us. I will begin by reading off what was shared

with me.

I’ve got a story about a military chaplain who offered me the use of his office – to study or nap – when I needed to get somewhere quiet. I’m trying to figure out how to tell the nutshell version. I’m sure you understand why that’s difficult for me.

I was at my daddy’s funeral, and a man about my age came up to me, cowboy hat in hand and asked me to forgive him for his bullying me in school. How much courage this man had. He knew that he might never see me again and because he had become a Christian, he wanted to make things right. What could I do but hug him? God’s grace is a wonderful thing. Many other people bullied me in school, he is the only one who asked forgiveness.

My husband died and I was walking my dog a couple of days later (more his dog). This guy came up to me who I never met and said that God wanted him to pray for me. He asked my name and told me he would be praying for me. He told me God loves you very much. I thought it was very strange but I needed it really bad!! I never saw him before or after in my neighborhood. Do you think he was an angel? I was very suicidal at the time.

Twelve people from my small group at church showed up at my dad’s home and worked for 2 1/2 hours in 88 degree plus temperatures to help with yard work and such. His neighbors and another really good friend of mine helped out as well. The yard had gotten to the point that was beyond anything I could do by myself. Everyone did it with joy, laughter, dedication and hard work. The result was amazing! They all did it just because – no ulterior motives- they just wanted to help out and do something nice

I was thinking (again) of a small gesture from a stranger that was incredibly meaningful to me. One morning I was taking the kids to school and the youngest was shrieking non-stop (be was on a medication that caused crazy behavioral side-effects). It was so bad that I pulled over and took him out of the car to try and help him calm down. A minute later (he was still screaming), the front door of the house we were parked next to opened, and a woman came out onto the porch and, with absolutely no judgement, asked: “is there anything I can do to help?” I thanked her, and told her no, he just needed some time to collect himself. She nodded, and said “I guess we all have days like that. If you think of anything, just come on up.” Her compassion and kindness for both my 3 year old and for me in that moment were an incredible gift, and helped me to help him. Such a small thing, only words…. Yet three years later I still remember her.

Amy blessed me with flowers before my flight back yo

When I moved to CA 2 good friends came to see me off at the airport which I didn’t expect, and it made it so much better. Made me feel like a real person

I planned a fishing trip a year ago knowing it would be before hay cutting time where I live We had a warmer than usual season and the hay will now be cut while I am gone. Two people volunteered to put the hay up in the barn for me while I am gone and manage the crew needed to do it. I am greatful.

I was sixteen and had reached my full height of five foot eight inches. However I only weighed about 105 pounds, was pale as only a white Oregonian can get and half awake. I was greasy that spring morning and chose to wear baggy army surplus pants with a black sweatshirt. At the time I was attending an alternate high school at the local community college which required a ride of the city bus. Now, before we begin, it needs to be said that I come from a loving, stable, middle class home. Food was in fact available and the whole family sat down every night for home cooked dinner. I just usually opted out of eating most if any of it. As a consequence I slept for 16 hours a day and didn’t get a lot of exercise. I was also into the whole “war orphan” look and carefully cultivated a sad and lost affect. That morning I was feeling very half dead and was curled up in a ball on the bus mostly asleep. A youngish man on the bus leaned over to me and asked hesitantly “Do you…need, um, breakfast?”. This man looked to my 16 year old eyes as “too old to be potential threat” (potential threats were kids my own age who may feel entitled to pester me) which probably meant he was 25-30. I, being half awake, looked up in confusion and said “No? Um, no thank you? What?” to which he looked abashed and said “oh.” The rest of the ride and day commenced without anything interesting happening. But thinking back, I realize what an amazing amount of bravery this took. This young man had to overcome many social barriers to offer me kindness. First he had to overcome the barrier of talking to an underage girl without being thought a predator, he had to talk to a stranger, which just isn’t done in Salem, Oregon, and then he had to talk to what I’m sure appeared to be a homeless teen. Homeless people in this town are regarded as crazy meth addicts who will murder you without the slightest provocation. I really wish I had had the presence of mind to thank him profusely and encourage his future offers of help. I actually did need breakfast that morning, I’m sure I hadn’t eaten a thing in the previous 20 hours, and emotionally was sorely in need of help. So, maybe with the help of the interwebs, I can communicate this message to him, and to others who hesitate about offering food to strange children. Hey guy on the bus, thanks.

I don’t know if I shared this one or not at CPFC, but an incident on a MAX train had a huge impact on me. There was a young homeless couple a couple seats ahead of where I was standing as we crossed the steel bridge into Portland. They were discussing where they would spend the night and where they might find something to eat. I was standing there trying to decide if I should pull some cash out of my wallet and give it to them when a young man, also homeless but a little better equipped, stepped up and acted. He put his duffel bag down on the floor and zipped it open to reveal a couple dozen cans and other packages of food. He said to them, “Here! Take what you need. It’s not mine. It belongs to Jesus.” He didn’t hesitate and wonder about the right thing to do. He just acted on what was in his heart. And what was obviously there was Jesus Christ’s admonition to love God and love your neighbor. I’ve since come to understand this lesson biblically. Jeremiah 31:31-34 has this to say: “31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to[d] them,[e]” declares the Lord. 33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord.” This says to me that after the coming of Christ and the establishment of the new covenant God has put His law on our hearts. He has informed our consciences as to what is right and what is not. Many people now use the letter of the Law to justify ignoring what their consciences tell them is right. They argue that the Holy Spirit cannot contradict the Law. What they are really trying to say is that they can ignore the Holy Spirit if it contradicts their comfortable, human interpretation of the law. In the incident above, I should have simply obeyed my conscience without thinking through all of the ramifications and possible requirements. When I hesitated, a homeless young man stepped up and taught me a lesson.

 

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…

 

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.

Prepare the Way

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

On Thursday we celebrated the coming of Jesus into our world, and today as we face into a new year, I would like to encourage us to prepare our hearts for God’s work. God’s intervention has begun, and we can see its effects as we look back over human history and our own lives. One part of preparation is clearing out the stuff in our way and walking a path that is straight.

This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus, the Anointed One, the Liberating King, the Son of God.

2 Isaiah the prophet told us what would happen before He came: Watch, I will send My messenger in front of You to prepare Your way and make it clear and straight.

3 You’ll hear him, a voice crying in the wilderness,   “Prepare the way of the Eternal One, a straight way in the wandering desert, a highway for our God.”

4 That messenger was John the Baptist, who appeared in the desert near the Jordan River preaching that people should be ritually cleansed through baptism with water as a sign of both their changed hearts and God’s forgiveness of their sins. 5 People from across the countryside of Judea and from the city of Jerusalem came to him and confessed that they were deeply flawed and needed help, so he cleansed them with the waters of the Jordan. 6 John dressed as some of the Hebrew prophets had, in clothes made of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist. He made his meals in the desert from locusts and wild honey. 7 He preached a message in the wilderness.

John the Baptist: Someone is coming who is a lot more powerful than I am—One whose sandals I’m not worthy to bend down and untie. 8 I’ve washed you here through baptism with water; but when He gets here, He will wash you in the Spirit of God. Mark 1:1-8

 

  • The Good news has begun!
  • The messenger has come to prepare the way.
  • Change of heart and forgiveness are what clears the path to God.
  • Keep your eyes on the goal. What we focus on is where we are going.
  • Confession is crucial. We have to acknowledge that there is debris in our lives in order for it to be cleared.
  • Outward signs were important and can still be, but they cannot induce or confer the inward reality. Only Jesus can do that.

A Life Built Wisely

Click here to download or listen to the sermon based on these notes.

Today we reach the grand finale of the Sermon on the Mount, so a bit of a recap is in order. With the beatitudes Jesus challenged the value measurement system of health, wealth, happiness, and prosperity by saying God blesses the humble, meek, hungry, mourning and persecuted. He then tells his disciples that living according to God’s values will light up the darkness and prevent the decay of relationships. Jesus then teaches his disciples how to live faith filled lives that point to God rather than our flawed understanding of personal holiness. Jesus continued by teaching that God’s kingdom and his way of being and doing what is right is our top priority, even eclipsing the basic needs that everyone is trying to meet. We have enough right now to live out God’s calling. Jesus teaches how to recognize those whose priorities are self-aggrandizing and that even though they sound like they are right, the way they interact brings harm rather than restoration. Jesus then concludes his sermon with a warning and parable.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

  • In the name of God.
  • Says vs. does, “sound theology” The pretext of the text is a context of obedience.
  • Saying the right words and doing big things does not equal faithfulness.
  • Windstorm Inspections and the importance of knowing the foundation is firm.
  • The test of faithfulness is obedience to the teaching of Christ both past and present. Friends of Jesus. Vine and Branches “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” John 15:12-15
  • When our teaching and actions point to deeper, more loving, relationships with God and others we speak and act with the authority that comes from following God’s, and not our own, priorities.

Jonah or Jesus?

As I was praying over next weeks gathering of the Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends I ran across my friend Leonard Dow’s facebook post with his sermon title for next Sunday “Angry Christians Serving a Compassionate God” based on Jonah 4 and I felt a stirring in myself and queries arise. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story of Jonah, Jonah was asked by God to go to the city of Ninevah, the capital of the Assyrian Empire that had slaughtered and enslaved the northern kingdom of Israel and call for their repentance. Jonah was not amused with this request and was angry enough to head in the exact opposite direction. How could he go and even give those hateful people the chance to receive God’s mercy?

As I prepared for Yearly Meeting, read the behind the scenes e-mails, heard the wailing and gnashing of teeth, the strategizing, and the anger I found myself getting caught up in it. I didn’t post or make snarky comments but I began to seethe in my soul as one side or another tried to score points. Jonah went to Ninevah because God forced him to and there are many people heading to Yearly Meeting with a sense of being compelled to be there. It feels to me like this year’s meeting of the Religious Society of the Friends of Jesus is shaping up to be more like the Religious Society of the Friends of Jonah and God is challenging me to participate differently.

There is a lot of anger under the surface and some of it is indeed righteous anger. The question for all of us is: Will we allow our anger to overcome our allegiance to Jesus? Will we allow our anger to lead us to sin against our brothers and sisters? I am hearing a lot of talk about severing ties or cutting off relationship and I have to ask myself if the ways I am interacting are just a prettied up version of me telling those who disagree that they can take themselves to good ol’ h-e-double hockey sticks where they belong. We pretty it up a bit with terms like “the dustbin of history” or “turn them over to God to deal with” but I know what is really going through my mind. Is that what I really want? Is that truly what we are called to desire for each other? For anyone? That is what Jonah honestly and openly desired for the people of Ninevah and I have to wonder if sometimes I do not desire the same thing in a less honest more hidden way. Do you wonder the same thing with me in the silence of your soul? Do you sometimes despair that God’s work in us, conforming us to the image of his son, will never be done?

We have a choice this year Friends. We can walk in the Spirit of Jesus or the spirit of Jonah and I ask you the same question God is asking me: Which choice will I make? I know which one I want to choose. Maybe you can help hold me accountable to walk in the Spirit of Jesus because the one thing I am sure of is that I sure can’t do it alone. Can you help me live out Paul’s words to the Ephesians?

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”[d]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:25-32 (NIV)

Maybe we can find that elusive way forward if we commit to helping each other live in the Spirit of Christ and set that list in verse 31 to the side. I waver between hope and despair that this is possible. It feels like I am on the world’s crummiest roller coaster! Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends, I beg that we strive our hardest to prove the voice of despair wrong.

With much love and travail, hope and despair,

Gil George