Tag Archives: Quakerism

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…

 

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.

No Place to Lay His Head

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

When we think about Jesus, we tend to think in terms of images we have seen in movies or classical artwork, not the image on the front of today’s bulletin. What is so difficult to consider is that Jesus stepped out of the mainstream of Jewish society and spoke from the margins. In a very real way he was able to say and do many things he couldn’t otherwise because of his marginal location in that society.

18 When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. 19 Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”20 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”21 Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”22 But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” Matthew 8:18-22

1) Jesus trying to ditch the crowds…again!
2) Teacher of the law was a respected position in society. Served as local judges in outlying regions.
3) Jesus did not have a home, and this was a strategic decision on his part. (Play Rich Mullins’ You did not have a home.)
4) Simplicity means not being owned by the things/obligations of this world.
5) We repeat the phrase that we have been bought by a price, and then return to the old masters.
6) We fear the margins, but Jesus shows us that a church that is operating on the margins of society is being faithful.
7) The obligations towards family can come to distract us as well.
8) Following Jesus means making decisions that could marginalize us within our society, family and circles of friends, and Jesus is challenging us.
9) Take stock regularly and do an audit of time, money, and obligations. Think hard about what those say our priorities are.
10) Simplicity is not about stuff, it is about focus. Are the things/people/obligations in my life helping me focus on God’s call or are they distractions?

Facing Craziness

The Friends talk about the power and peace that comes when we operate out of a “quiet center.” This concept is a bit involved, but an oversimplified summary is that we can operate in a much healthier manner if we cultivate an attitude of quiet listening for the voice of the Spirit/Light Within/Jesus and carve out time to quiet our minds. This gets important when anxious times arise.

My two year old has been stable on her heart medicine for two months now and as that has quieted we are dealing with walking our six year old through navigating bullying. On top of that I am getting surgery dome on my hands for carpal tunnel a week from this coming Friday. All of these things are sources of struggle and anxiety that threaten my ability to operate from a quiet center. I would love to say that I have maintained a quiet center throughout these times, but that statement would cause every farm in the area to be overwhelmed with fertilizer. What I am finding is that as I am more intentional about cultivating listening space in my life, the anxieties are less overwhelming, the struggles feel more manageable. I become less harsh and more kind, and my ability to deal with adverse circumstances is enhanced.

I am deeply nervous about having both hands operated on, and I really am not excited to have a month of not lifting more than 5 pounds, but as I step back and sit in the presence of Jesus, I can breathe again and take the next step. I can pick my daughter up and explain how what she is doing is a bad idea rather than yelling. I can live as a better human being because I am operating from the same Spirit and power that Jesus operated from. When we close our mouths, set our agendas to the side, and wait…our strength is renewed and the anxious edge is blunted.

My postings will be a bit erratic for the rest of the year, so as we enter a holiday season that for many of us is a source of anxiety or pain let’s take the time to turn off the anxiety inducing messages and wait expectantly for the still, small voice.

Being Held in the Quiet Center

This past weekend I was tested in my ability to live from the quiet center. The quiet center for me as a Christ centered Friend is living out the peace that flows from living in the presence of the Prince of Peace. On Friday my daughter went into the ER with a high fever, and when we got there her pulse was over 250. That is two hundred and fifty plus beats per minute that the triage nurse said was too fast for them to count on their stethoscope. Welcome to parental crisis. I immediately sent a note out on facebook asking for prayer and focused my whole self on being present to my daughter. The doctors kept praising me on how calm I was.

For the record, while I was outwardly calm I was in no way calm in my mind. It was all I could do to hold my stuff together so my daughter wouldn’t have the additionally frightening thing of having her daddy freaking out. I began closing myself off to everything but the moment and went to the center, handed Jesus everything and said I need you to hold this for me while I deal with all this. At that point I felt something holding me in the center. That something was not of me, since I was melting down inside. The external was focused on my daughter and being a comfort to her and in a real way I deferred everything until the crisis was weathered, locking the emotional storm away until later. No, I have to say that at that point I felt what it is like to be held in the light by others.

This is something that we Friends need to remember in our individualized faith culture: Sometimes we cannot live from the center and need others to carry us there. We need other Friends to carry us into the center because we are an emotional puddle on the floor in a dark corner. This truth is why we need to come together in our meetings for worship, to remind us that we are not on this journey alone, that we are not meant to “make it on our own”. We are absolutely unable to maintain the center without the prayers of others, without the support of others, and without a recognition of our need for others to journey with us. Because of others prayers and love I was able to be present in a calm non-anxious way, and the doctors told me how much of a difference that made for my daughter, and I had to say that as a Friends pastor it was only because others were holding me in the light.

I end this with two queries that I think it is vitally important for each of us to answer:

Who do I ask to hold me in the quiet center when I can’t find it for myself?

Who can I hold in the quiet center now that may not be able to find it by themselves?

The Mark Of Perfection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us seek God together.