Live.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20 (TNIV)

Live (verb) [ζῶ (Gal 2:20 BGT)]

  1. of natural life, of the conduct of life, be well, recover, as surely as I live, life—
  2. of the life of the child of God.

What does it mean to “live”?  It seems to me that our lives so often get filled with busyness, getting things done, achieving, performance, and so much more that we often do not have time to simply live, or we forget what it means to live.  We may be breathing and blood may be pumping through our bodies, but when we pause for a moment, we ask ourselves, are we truly living?

It seems to me that we have become enslaved to the notions that have been presented to us through media, many relationships, and even institutions.  We can resonate with the words of Jesus found in the first part of John 10:10:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”

What is the thief stealing, killing, and destroying?  Our lives.  

Yet, Jesus goes on to say this in the second part of that verse:

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

How do we have this life to the full?  By simply recognizing that our identities are wrapped up into a new Reality.  The writer of the verse in Galatians, Paul, sums it up best when he states that we have been crucified with Christ.  Jesus represents all of us in our shared humanity and was crucified for humanity out of the world’s thirst for power and violence.  On that cross and throughout the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, our old, enslaved, dead-end lives have been crucified and absorbed by Jesus.  In its place, Jesus has given us himself and our identities are wrapped up in Christ and given the chance to live life to the full, to become, as Thomas Merton and others have said through the years, our “true selves”.

As the church, we are called to be the “body of Christ”, which is universal to the whole of humanity.  We are called to live out this new Reality.  We are called to have freedom from the things that enslave us and to boldly occupy our identity as Christ followers.  A few years ago, I used a poker analogy with a group of students at Northminster Presbyterian where I was the Associate Pastor for students and families at the time, asking them if they’d be willing to go “all in” in pursuing this God who pursues us and binds us together.  They did and the student ministry at Northminster took off.  

Students, and adults, all of us, need to see this new Reality, especially in a world becoming increasingly isolated and yearning for authentic friendships.  It is my hope during this upcoming season of Lent that we can empty ourselves and let God’s divine flow fill us.  May we be “all in” as a church in building up Christ’s body to effectively be a part of the transformation the world around us and around the world!  Together, all of us, with Christ living in and through us, let’s reach out to our neighbors and their families sharing with them abundant or full living!

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Bless.

Luke 6:17-26 (NRSV) Jesus Teaches and Heals

17 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disci- ples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.


20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor for yours is the kingdom of God.

21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you[a] on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 24

“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.

25
“Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

Question: What does it mean to be “blessed”? In terms of God’s blessing, or the deeper things, is blessing about material things? More money? More status?

Seems like in this lesson that Jesus is making a dramatic proclamation, consistent with many of his other statements, as well as the trajectory of the words and actions of the Jewish prophets. Jesus is calling for a paradigm shift in the predominant world view at the time, and I would say is still prevalent today.

A paradigm is simply a pattern or an example of something, usually meaning that some- thing is going a certain away. The prevalent paradigm in antiquity, and today, is to secure or attain, or sustain, a certain way of living that allows you to consume, maybe even more than you produce.

That is, that the goal of life is to be rich, to have things, to be comfortable, and to main- tain your social status in society. Now, I’m not saying that it’s wrong to be rich, have things, sometimes be comfortable, or maintain a sense of status, nor do I think Jesus is saying something that is an absolute here. I think what Jesus is saying to us that the pursuit of those things, that being our life’s aim, can lead to a slow death, a status that doesn’t lend itself to growth.


Jesus is saying that when one is hungry, one is poor, when one has fallen from status in society, that they are blessed, they will be filled, lifted up, given a place in community.

Jesus is calling for a paradigm shift towards honoring those on the margins. And, Jesus is calling us, as Jesus followers, to practice this deep sense of inclusion.


In our passage, the writer says that Jesus came down from a retreat, a time of reflection, ready to call into action a group of folks willing to be committed to a practice of inclusion and building community, willing to have a shift in their worldview, willing to be grow into becoming all that God intends for them.

A great crowd had assembled, some were followers, others were curious or had needs. It is interesting that Jesus cures all of them. No one was left out.

Which, I think is the point of this text, no one is left out. We are all made in God’s image, all of us. The believers, the non-believers, the rich, the poor, the hungry, the ones that are eating well. All of us, white, black, Hispanic, gay, straight, refugees, immigrants.

And, because of that sense of inclusion, we must practice how well we care, listen, and interact with one another.

When I was in India, this was driven home for me. I’ve seen the affects of poverty here in the States, and in other places like Mexico and Nicaragua. But, in India, one of the wealthiest countries in the world with an expanding economy, I saw more poverty, as well as pockets of extreme wealth. I never will forget riding the sleeper trains with folks from all walks of life, walking the streets and having kids beg from me outside of a store selling high end luxury cars.


I was reading an article this week that described the growing wealth disparity between the top 1% of the world and the rest of the 99% and how that’s fueling a growing threat to any sense of democracy that we have had.

Yet, I was also reminded by a gentleman from Nebraska who I was able to be on a conference call with that said that he’s excited for what’s happening in Nebraska as we move away from partisanship, and even bi-partisanship in how we deal with issues in our communities to a post-partisanship.

In other words, we are realizing that our worldview cannot stay static and based on anxiety, division, competition, or fear, but that we have to begin seeing one another in our shared humanity and that God’s flow, God’s spirit is calling us towards relationship with one another.

This is not only what Jesus is calling us towards, but it also is key for our growth. If you want to grow in your life with God and with others, then allowing yourself to be open to others, to invite conversations and new friends into our homes, our church, and our lives….as well as going out and seeking those on the margins and looking at them through a different lens leads to growth. We are never too old or set in our ways to not be invited into new ways of thinking, which actually causes a re-wiring in our brains that can lead to better health…maybe even has something to do with Jesus’ teachings on having a life of abundance, a full life.


A friend of mine, Peter Block, once said this, don’t ever call someone poor (or rich for that matter), because once you do, then you have labeled them and have a different relationship with them than possibly being a friend. Peter prefers the word “economically isolated” as opposed to poor. Many of you met Peter Block at my Installation service and have asked for him to come back, he is! March 17th. He’ll be sharing with us and leading a discussion after church at that day.


Another friend, Andy Matheson, reminds me often that God’s economy is based on relationships, not material wealth. May we live into the reality that we are wealthy in God’s economy. That we can grow these relationships with one another and with those that we meet…and, in so doing, we can be the body of Christ that does bring healing to all, just as Jesus did, the deep healing that involves the practice of friendship.

Now.

1 Corinthians 15:1-5

15 Now I should remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2 through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.

3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

Alex Dingle is a good friend of mine. He was also in my student ministry when I was at Northminster Presbyterian Church many years ago.  He was in middle school when I first met him.  We clicked from the beginning.  He loved adventure and was always doing crazy stunts like skateboard jumping off of extremely steep ramps that he’d build…or doing tricks on his bike.  He also loved the outdoors.  

Alex Dingle

In high school, we would take students on wilderness experiences.  Our favorite was Pioneer Plunge.  It’s a wilderness camp on the property of Young Life’s Windy Gap.  It seems like many lifetimes ago that we were involved with Young Life, but we had some great memories with Young Life. Their Windy Gap is not a typical camp, it’s more like a Disney world in the mountains with all some extreme obstacle courses, slides, swings, go-carts, horseback riding, modern cabins that look more like large hotel rooms, Jacuzzi, things called blobs on the lake, zip lines, etc.  

However, Pioneer Plunge was built in the middle of the woods with no running water, no electricity, and the bare minimum of luxuries or entertainment.  

Pioneer Plunge

It was build for students to get away, to learn to be dependent on each other, and to have distractions at a minimum in order to foster relationships with each other and with God.

Alex went on several of these trips.  Our last trip there when he was in high school was the best though.  We had a great weekend filled with laughing, deep conversation, and really good community.  On the way out of camp, in our van, we were listening to music in the van, singing at the top of our lungs, and I can remember thinking and then voicing this out loud to Alex, “there is no place else in the entire world that I’d rather be right now than here, in this van, after this weekend, with you”.  I really meant it.  It was a “now” moment filled with life, new life.  A time when things slowed down, relationships were deepened by simply being fully present with each other.

I’ve had other moments in my life like that.  I believe they happen most often when we come to a relational place of deep contentment within ourselves and with those around us…and with a sense of the holy or “other” being present around and in us holding it all together.  

In 1989, I spent a summer working with a group called EAPE in Philadelphia before my senior year at the University of Kentucky.  

The founder of this group was a man by the name of Dr. Tony Campolo.  I heard him give a lot of speeches over the years, but one on Quantum Physics and Einstein’s theory of relativity captured my imagination.  I wasn’t much of a physics student in high school, at all…we had a great teacher, and many of my friends were members of the All-Vector team as they deemed themselves.  However, I was not.  But, now I’m finding myself drawn to it.  Dr. Campolo is a brilliant sociologist and who studied very briefly under Albert Einstein.  In this talk, he gave a great picture of how time is suspended according to Einstein.  Time isn’t always linear either.  

Here are some words that Tony has shared over the years:

According to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, time is relative to motion.  

The faster we travel, the more time is compressed.  You know that, don’t you-from StarTrek?-from the movie Contact, right?  You know that time is relative to motion.  The faster you travel, according to Einstein, the more time is compressed.  So, if we put you in a rocket, sent you into outer space traveling at 170,000 miles a second (relative to us); if you came back in ten years, you would be ten years older.  All the rest of us would be twenty years older.  Our twenty years would be compressed into ten years of your time.  If we got you traveling at 180,000 miles a second, our twenty years would be compressed into one day of your time.  If we got you traveling at the speed of light-(we can’t do that, because, as you approach the speed of light your physical mass increases outward in a geometric progression; your size and weight increases dramatically, as you approach the speed of light.)  I tell you that-don’t let anybody ever say you’re fat.  Just say, ‘I’m traveling too fast’.  You know, just say that.  But if I could get you traveling at the speed of light-186,000 miles a second-there would be no passage of time at all.  Everything would occur simultaneously.  You say, ‘Well, why did you do us that-why did you take us through Einstein?’

Tony goes on to say:  For a very important reason: I believe that Jesus is not only very human of very human, I believe that Jesus is God.  I believe he has this humanity and this divinity, simultaneously.…Let me say this: When Jesus hung on the cross, 2000 years ago-because Jesus is simultaneously God, he was, and he is contemporary with this very moment!  You say, ‘But there’s 2000 years separating me from Jesus on the cross, back there.  There’s 2000 years separating these two events.’  At the speed of light, these two events are occurring now.  

Jesus is God, and experiences time in a different dimension.  All things happen now with Jesus.

That’s why the very name of God is “I am that I am”.  That’s why, when they asked Jesus, “Who are you?” he said, “Before Abraham was…I am”…Which means that, right now, Jesus is looking at you.  Right now, Jesus, on the cross, has you in his consciousness.  He sees you sitting here.  

The lecture that Dr. Campolo gave talked about the events of Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection as happening now…not something in the distant past.  Since God is in a different dimension, not constrained to linear time, which science gives testimony to as well, that the drama of creation and redemption with God through Christ are happening all of the time with God, all of it, right now.  He even went on to say that we are brought up into God’s newness when we die.  When we die, we enter God’s now…therefore, we all arrive into the Presence of God at the same moment…into eternity, or God’s now.  Crazy.  

In the fullness of time, Christ gathered all things, all people to him.  We have been drawn, are drawn, and are being drawn into Christ…right now.  We are bound together by God’s Spirit, God’s Otherness to each other and to God.  Because of that, God’s actions on our behalf are happening right now…and always.

Now, one thing we should ask, did Jesus die on the cross to appease God for our sins?  Well, it’s interesting, there are multiple orthodox theories of atonement, or why Christ went to the cross.  Penal Substitutionary atonement, or Jesus going to the cross to appease God the Fathers desire for sacrifice to pay for our sins, is one of many….personally, I don’t think it matches up with the trajectory of scripture and a loving God.  

The scandal of the cross is that Jesus disrupted the system, some folks felt threatened.  They made up charges, put him to death in a humiliating and violent way.  BUT, the beauty of the cross is that God’s love for us overcame the humiliation and violence and that love resurrected Jesus.

The atonement is an “at-one-moment” when we see the sense of God’s now in a dynamic and dramatic union of the divine and human. We see Jesus and Jesus sees us. What’s more, that moment is happening right now, all of the time.

Corinthians was written to a group of Jewish believers with the intent of giving them a hope in a salvation that has already here.  It was good news for them, and good news for us now.

This resurrection life, this overcoming the humiliation and violence of our lives, this conquering of death, is happening now, right now!  We are being healed, now.  Our job is to work on cultivating the reality that is God’s newness.  To be still at times, to work towards a goal of loving our neighbors well, to seek a Kingdom that God has already established for us.  It can be hard work, yes, discovery the beauty within and without takes time and effort…yet, it’s already there, waiting to be discovered and experienced.  Someday, when linear time is complete, or full, we will have the opportunity to see things more clearly.  But, now, we catch inklings of those transcendent moments of being in the now.  

Fleming Road UCC, the church in my neighborhood that I pastor is growing in the confidence that all that we need is here, now.  Yes, we will do lots of new things as well as some old things.  We will continue to grow and learn to “be” ourselves in community with others and with God.  We will experience the confidence of knowing that the entire drama or narrative of God’s work on our behalf, of God’s pursuit of us throughout history and in the future is happening NOW. 

I believe, like that moment with Alex, that God is saying to us, right now, there’s no place I’d rather be than here, with you, now, in all of our struggles and triumphs, shedding awareness into the depths of who we are.

As we go into 2019, may we live in the Now of God and, as we go through the birthing, living, dying, and resurrection of things in our lives, know that the good news of life in Christ has been happening, is happening, and will continue to happen forever.

Steadfast.

I can’t believe this weather! It’s crazy, and a second Sunday in a row where we’ve had to cancel worship services at Fleming Road UCC. This after it being in the 40’s just yesterday.

I hope all are safe and able to have some “sabbath” rest today. Here’s my sermon that I was going to share with our church today. I love this story, you may hear it in another sermon down the road…

Old Testament Readings

Psalm 36:5-10

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,

    your faithfulness to the clouds.

Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,

    your judgments are like the great deep;

    you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!

    All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

They feast on the abundance of your house,

    and you give them drink from the river of your delights.

For with you is the fountain of life;

    in your light we see light.

O continue your steadfast love to those who know you,

    and your salvation to the upright of heart!

New Testament Reading

John 2:1-11

The Wedding at Cana

2 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

When I think of great parties, I think of my wedding.  We spent months planning.  Debbie, and I had this vision of getting our friends and family from all sorts of different places where we lived and making it one big celebration.  It was a GREAT night filled with meaning and lots of good conversations, dancing, and laughing.  It was so great that one of my groomsmen, Jay Borck, decided that he didn’t want it to end. 

Our wedding. Both of my maternal and paternal grandparents were in attendance. They have all passed away, as well as my dad. But, what a great “cloud of witnesses”!

At the end of our wedding reception, after a long night of dancing and simply having a great time, we did the traditional thing of getting into our car that had been decorated by the groomsmen and others…they did a phenomenal job with all sorts of sayings on the car, the tin cans hanging from the back, streamers, etc.  They had also filled the car up with balloons…so many in fact that we couldn’t get in until we had cleared some of them out of the front seats.  Debbie and I got in, started to drive down the long road leading up the clubhouse where we had our reception.  As we were driving along we were talking about what a great night it was when from the back of the car we heard this loud unintelligible yell.  I looked in the rear view mirror and there was Jay popping out of the balloons…he kissed us both on the cheeks and then, suddenly before I could react, he opened the door, jumped out of the car and rolled onto the bank…then I saw him jump up and run back towards the clubhouse while being cheered on by others in our wedding party!  It was a crazy night!

I love the gospel story of the Wedding at Cana because it is about family, community, and something new.  Jesus is at a wedding, enjoying himself with his friends and family, the disciples and his mom approach him with a problem.  The wedding has run out of wine…which is a huge “faux pas” in those days and an immense embarrassment.  Jesus’ mom wants Jesus to do something about it.  Jesus responds by saying “woman”, which may sound odd to us today, but the actual word translated is more of a term with a tone of respect and intimacy.  Jesus, who by this time is 30 years old, then says something like “oh Mom are you serious?” (in a very loving way I’m sure!).  Mary, Jesus’ mother sees something in her son that is special, she knows he is able to do something about this.  Jesus, then does something amazing.  Jesus takes ordinary water, water used to clean dirty feet (you see, in that part of the world it was pretty dusty and when you went into someone’s house, you cleaned your feet and hands pretty good), and turned into wine…what’s more, he turned it into the best wine that anyone at that party had ever tasted!  

At that point, people had been drinking a lot, for days even.  Usually, the best wine came out first, then after folks had a lot to drink, they’d bring out the cheap stuff.  But, the master of ceremonies just tasted, what was to him, the best wine and remarked about the generosity of the bridegroom.  

Why did Jesus change the water to wine?  To show that there is something new going on in the world.  In a world that is crazy and where we often feel like ordinary water, or maybe even dirty toe jam water, as we walk through life and get dirty and grimey, there is hope.  When we meet Jesus, he  can take the ordinary or dirty water of our lives and turn it into the best wine ever tasted!  Jesus is saying in this story that he is something special, and, as we’ve talked about the past couple of weeks, Jesus is God in the flesh, he is the “visible image of the invisible God” at it says in Colossians.  Jesus is also saying that everyone is special in this story.  You see, I think that the family in this wedding party might have out of wine because they didn’t have a whole lot of money or did not plan for such a large party, who knows?!

When Jesus turned the water into wine, he turned SIX whole jars, HUGE jars into wine…more wine than they could have drunk.  Jesus not only transformed the water into wine and wants to transform our lives, Jesus blessed the whole wedding party beyond measure and wants to show you some amazing blessings and adventures in life.  One thing about Jesus, he is extravagant in his pursuit and love for us and for the community.  These were friends, family, members of Jesus’ family and neighbors.  The author of John is making a statement by having Jesus’ first public miracle happen at a wedding, a gathering of relationships.  God is interested in overwhelming us with God’s love in practical and unforeseen ways…and this God is interested in blessing all of us together.  God’s good news, God’s presence isn’t for just a few, it’s for everyone.

This passage has also been said to give witness to the passing of the old law based on rules, regulations, and works to the new demonstration of God’s presence with humanity.  One of grace, personal love, and on God’s works on our behalf not our own.  

Just like Jesus wants us to experience the blessing of friendship with God and others in order to live lives into something better…new wine. God wants us to have a change of heart of on our religion, how we live our faith, our very lives.

In our faith, in our way of not just showing up at church, but being church, we so often settle for the way things have always been.  We want to know what to expect and to control things.  We want a predictable faith, a predictable religion, a predictable God.   In so doing, we often make decisions and act upon those decisions that do not honor others, God, or even ourselves…leaving us feeling like grimey, dirty, used up foot washing toe jam water.   It’s a religion that does us no good.  And that’s a religion that we simply don’t need….and many people have come to the same conclusion and walk away from their faith.

Yet, we then come to something unpredictable, like a wedding, or a funeral, or an action that someone does for us, and we see God’s goodness breaking in.  

In that goodness, God takes our religion, our very selves, and turns it into something beautiful.  We are overwhelmed with God’s presence and extravagant love.  

The last thing about this turning of water into wine.  Jesus fills 6 barrels.  That’s a lot of wine.  Jesus didn’t want folks to feel like they didn’t have enough.  He also didn’t want them to simply seal up those barrels and not share…he poured them out for the entire wedding party!  In those days, weddings were for the whole community and they lasted for days!

“Hesed”

Steadfast, ever loving, ever faithful, intense loyalty to community.

Word most often used to describe God’s character in the Old Testament or Torah.

Friends, Jesus wants to remind us that we are loved and are called to love ourselves, others, and God with extravagance…our psalmist today uses the word “steadfast love”, in Hebrew it is “hesed”, everloving, fatihful and loyal…God wants to pour out the good wine of God’s faithful to us, in us, God’s love for us, God’s religion or binding to us, to all in our neighborhoods and lives…and, in so doing, we’ll find ourselves experiencing the life of the greatest party we could ever imagine!


Release!

The worship service and all other events were cancelled today at Fleming Road UCC.  Here’s the sermon that I would have shared this morning!  

New Testament Reading

Luke 4:14-21 

“Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. 16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” 

I have a question:  what makes “news” “good”?  

I remember receiving some good news.  I used to work at a store called REI that sold things like hiking and climbing gear.  I started to work there while I worked as a youth director at a Presbyterian Church in Atlanta to make extra money for my honeymoon with Debbie.  It was a great place to work and I ended up working there for a couple of years, very part time (GREAT discounts on gear) after Debbie and I were married.  One day, about 6 months after our wedding, Debbie came in to tell me some news.  She was about a month or so pregnant with our daughter Debbie.  

At first I was stunned, then happy, then I had to sit down and let it sink in…I couldn’t go back to work, I couldn’t focus, it was overwhelming…it had to sink in that I was going to be a father!  I wasn’t ready at all, even though Debbie and I got married when I was 30, I wanted to wait at least a couple of years or so.  It wasn’t what I expected.  Yet, when the reality of this news sank in, it was truly good news…and I still am amazed about how that good news unfolds every day as I watch my daughter grow and my son, Brennan, as well.

Our gospel lesson this morning is another story about unexpected Good News and release in the Bible.  

Jesus had just returned from being tempted by the devil for several days in the desert.  He resisted the temptation to become powerful or relevant by the world’s measure and stayed true to who he was.  Which, says a lot to us today as we strive for worldly wealth and relevance, God says that he has something better for us if we remember our identity lies in Jesus and live in self, others, and God awareness.  

As was Jesus’ custom, he preached in the synagogue.  Yet, this was different, Jesus was teaching in his hometown.  The folks gathered that day had heard great things about Jesus.  They had heard about the miracles he had performed and the words he had spoken, as well as the large crowds that were following him.  

Jesus was handed a scroll with the words of Isaiah.  Jesus knew what he wanted to read and began to read the prophecy about the Messiah.  There is an emphasis in this passage of “me”, three times in verses 18 and 19 alone.  In other words, Jesus is quoting this passage, saying that this prophecy is emphatically about him.  

Jesus even makes this dramatic, yet subtle and very powerful statement at the end of this particular passage that we are looking at today.  He rolls up the scroll, hands it back to the attendant, and sits down.  At first glance, that may seem odd, but in Jewish custom during that time, you would stand to read Scripture, then sit down to teach.  Jesus was doing just that.  But, when he starts to teach, he changes a statement.  

The quote in Isaiah actually says at the end, a proclamation about the day of the Lord’s vengeance, but Jesus changes it to say “the day of the Lord’s favor”, flipping it to a different meaning for the hearers on that day…and then ends with the statement:  “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  Jesus is saying, I am the fulfillment of God’s promise that he would be our God and we would be his people.  Jesus is God present with us…and that we don’t have a God of vengeance, but a God who’s giving us favor, a God who is on the side of humanity.  

The Greek word in this passage for proclaiming good news is one word.  It is also where we get the world “evangelize”. 

εὐαγγέλιον

Evangelize or “Good News”

Originally used for the Roman Emperor, 

reclaimed by Jesus followers…

In today’s culture, that word can often be associated with some not so good things, we can reclaim it for its original intentJesus was saying that had come to proclaim good news to the poor and release to all of those held captive.  It means to bring something, and in this context, it means that the ones that will hear and receive this message are the poor. 

So, who are the poor?  Well, it certainly means those who are economically poor, but poor has a deeper meaning in this context as it does throughout Scripture.  The “Poor” are those who are oppressed, lonely…those who are marginalized.  The “poor” are those who had been ostracized by society in that day, persons such as tax collectors (who were quite wealthy actually), prostitutes, lepers, widows, immigrants, foreigners…you name it, those who weren’t “in”, but felt left out.  To be poor means more than simply not having material wealth, or economically isolated, it means not being in community with others.  Poor has much more to do with status in society, it means much more than what your income is.  

Jesus was saying, if you feel marginalized because of others, then I have come to restore you in relationship with others and with God.  If you are poor or have ever felt marginalized or left out, if you have ever felt like you were on the outside looking in, then you know what it’s like to be in a desperate place, a place that is miserable…a place where you are hungering for good news of being included.

Jesus goes on to say in this morning’s text that he has come to proclaim freedom to the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, and to set the prisoners, the captives free, released!  He was proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor, again, not vengeance, the opposite really…he was saying in effect, God is on your side!  

When you look at the life of Jesus, he backed this up.  What does he do with the prostitute, but forgives her and restores her to community.  What about the tax collector, the leper, the blind?  He forgives them and heals them, and always restores them to community with others and with God.  Not only does Jesus do that for them, but he does it for us. 

The church is called to be the body of Christ and to participate in Christ’s mission.  We are called to live out and do what Jesus is proclaiming in this passage. We are also asking as a church, how we can build up the communities around us that are fragmented, and how we can share Jesus through relationships, bringing good news to those who feel left out?  We are praying for how we can listen and even minister to those who live within our neighborhoods by simply being friends with them, while modeling the alternative community that we are called to be as a church.  

Identifying with Christ can be messy and uncomfortable.  When you look at the rest of this chapter in Luke 4, you see that the meaning of Jesus’ words didn’t bring a whole lot of good feelings in the crowd that was gathered.  The crowd wanted Jesus to tell them that they were favored, they wanted him to affirm their “way of life”, they wanted to see some of the miracles that he had performed in other places.  They were looking for a performance and not the alternative community that Jesus was envisioning or that the trajectory of Scripture was, and is, pointing us towards.  They wanted their version of “good news” to be good for them only.  They got frustrated and wanted to scapegoat Jesus and looked for ways to cause him harm.  Yet, Jesus’ message and life still went out and continues to this day working in and on us.  Jesus says that in order for news to be good, it has to be good for everyone.  

Friends, may we be the body of Christ, bearing news that is truly good to a lost and lonely world.  We have been given the power to proclaim release to all of those held captive to a narrative of separation and absence as we model the presence and love of Christ.   In so doing, not only will the world see hope and experience release and know that they have God’s favor, but we will as well.  

May it be so.  

Age.

In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
Where you invest your love, you invest your life
In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
And where you invest your love, you invest your life
Awake my soul, awake my soul
Awake my soul
For you were made to meet your maker
– “Awake My Soul”, by Mumford and Sons

(On the playlist for my life as I drive around this week…)

Getting older is interesting.

I recently heard the statement “it’s not easy to grow old”.

That’s a true statement.  Aging can be difficult.  Change is not always easy.  Nor is it supposed to be.

When I turned 50 last year, I thought it was great.  I was in India for “In the Long Run”, a project of Oasis India and Oasis Belgium to raise awareness and funds around the issue of human trafficking and women’s rights.  We celebrated together as a team and I came home to a fun celebration in Cincinnati.

I thought 50 was a great round number.  Turning 51 this past month, especially with all of the transitions of the past year, has felt a bit different.  I’m in a process, as my spiritual director tells me, of going deeper, of descending into some of the darkness of my life.  It is in that descending that I’m asking lots of questions, some that may never have answers.

And, in that descent, I am meeting God in a different, deeper, and more intimate way.

Death is not something I’m particularly looking forward to, yet, I also have this kind of weird acceptance of it.  I’m not really afraid of it much these days.  It’s a part of the cycle of birth, life, death, resurrection (in my faith tradition).  Maybe it’s because of my dad’s death earlier this year, or, as a pastor and neighborhood person, I officiate funerals or go to a lot of funerals.

And, I know that growing older can be hard.  There can come a time when something could radically alter life.  But, I am blessed with so many friends who continue to embrace life all around me in their 80’s, 90’s, etc.  These folks inspire me.  They are friends and I can see so much in how they embrace their lives.

As I grow older, I can have a deep beauty, even as I peer into the darkness of my life and the pain of my life and the lives of others.   I can embrace this descent, especially as I realize that I am not alone.  That the Divine Flow of God’s presence and the presence of friends that really believe in me and I in them moves in and out of my life.

I’m finding a deeper sense of what it means to be unitive.  I used to say that I want to keep one foot in the church and one foot in the world.  That feels more “dualistic” these days.  Now I would say both feet are firmly planted in a non-dual way, I am planted in this life, fully aware that I have blind spots and contradictions, and OK with that.  And, I love the church and all of humanity.

It’s hard to stay focused, and that’s OK.  I spend time trying to center, trying to be a good friend, pastor, dad, husband, etc.  But, at the end of the day, I’m me and grateful to live this ridiculously hard, beautiful, gracious, and abundant life.

Which, may part of the meaning of Jesus’ words about living an abundant life in John 10:10.  Life is full of all sorts of good and bad things…growing into this life, embracing the good and the bad, and in the midst seeing beauty while one descends and grows.

So, I’m trying to live in “the Flow”, even as I intend to be faithfully present and  engaged with myself, others, and God…and the work that I’ve been gifted to do and be!

Salty.

This from a sermon I gave recently at my church, Fleming Road UCC.

Mark 9:38-50

38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone[a] casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

42 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me,[b] it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell,[c] to the unquenchable fire.[d] 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.[e][f] 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell,[g] 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

49 “For everyone will be salted with fire.[h] 50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?[i] Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

As I was thinking about this conversation around our gospel reading today, my friend Bruce Baker came to mind.  Bruce, or “Bake” as we called him, was the executive director of student ministry non-profit called YFC Campus Life in Lexington many years ago.  It was a ministry that I was involved with in high school, it had a huge impact on my life.  The relationships that I formed with other students and with the adult leaders of this group helped to shape me in many ways growing up in Louisville.  

When I got to the University of Kentucky in Lexington, I was thrilled to learn that this group was starting up in Lexington and I met Bake.   Bake and I began a great friendship and a working partnership that established this group, Campus Life, in Lexington and its still going strong 30+ years later.  

I thought of Bake because of the title of today’s sermon:  “Salty”.  Bake was very salty!  He was one of those persons that everyone simply loved to be around, he was the go-to guy in Lexington for faith leaders.  At the time, he was in his forties (which seemed ancient back then) and really was an established presence in the Lexington community.  He was everyone’s friend, yet also not afraid to mix things up a bit.  

He was the one who introduced me to the writings of Thomas Merton, the Abbey of Gethesamani, and the importance of Sabbath retreats and rest, and he was at one time a  Presbyterian Elder that greatly influenced me in my decision to become Presbyterian!  

Bake was also not afraid.  He would joke about his willingness to do anything for a dollar.  Which he backed up, repeatedly.  There were numerous occasions where some of us would dare Bake to do something incredibly outlandish, and to our astonishment, he’d do it.  For instance, the time we dared him to climb the water wheel while in line for the Beast roller coaster at the King’s Island Amusement Park.  And, in front of hundreds of folks, he did.  

But, there were also many times where Bake would go more than the extra mile to support us and to reach out to kids in the projects of Lexington, as well as the wealthy kids in the suburbs that were so lonely.  His example pushed me in so many ways.

Bake would also work with anyone willing to love our community and kids.  He modeled what it was like to bring different denominations together and faith communities for the common good.  Plus, he was committed to Lexington.  He had many of what I’d call the celebrity Christian leaders at the time, both conservative folks and progressive folks try to get him to come and work with them.  Oftentimes for higher, guaranteed pay and a higher platform.  Bake would have none of that, he may have been tempted, but he valued the relationships he had in Lexington too much.  He was committed to community, to neighborhood.

Bake modeled so much of what our gospel lesson is sharing.  The disciples were trying to get Jesus to recognize how special they were when they tried to stop others from driving out demons.  They wanted to be exclusive, in their own identity as disciples.  Yet, Jesus shatters that image by saying that whoever is not against us, is for us, that we can’t be so prideful to think we can do this on our own, that we have to recognize that if someone offers to help us, or to give us a gift to refresh us that could encourage us, we should take it.

Bake got that and didn’t position Campus Life to be a siloed ministry.  He worked with everyone.  That sometimes didn’t help our “brand identity”, but it did help bring the community together.

Bake had a way of focusing on the main thing:  Jesus and Jesus’ love for others.  I found this quote from an intentional Celtic community that highlights this way of living that fits well:

“We can do worse than remember a principle which gives us a firm rock and leaves the maximum elasticity for our minds: the principle ‘Hold to Christ and for the rest be totally uncommitted’” – Herbert Butterfield

Another example of this is in Springfield Township where I’ve lived going on 18 years.  Many of our local faith communities are starting to work together, it’s been so good to see the conversations that have been started.  They have all reached out to me since I’ve been here with offers and desires to partner with us and to encourage Fleming Road UCC.  The church that I served for 13 years, Northminster Presbyterian, has been great.  Their Connect Day invitation to Fleming Road UCC to partner with them, was a great example.  

It’s also interesting to think about Bake and his calling to teenagers in relation to this morning’s text.  Jesus tells us to welcome all, especially those on the margins of society, those who are overlooked or looked down upon.  Children in the 1st century we’re considered non-persons.  Jesus is giving them recognition and in this week’s text and he continues with hard language about welcoming children and not causing them to stumble.  

This emphasis on children is actually a cornerstone principle here at Fleming Road UCC.  As I have been reviewing what we can find of our policies and articles, looking at confirmation classes, what I’ve experienced in these past few months, and the history of the churches merging and recently…and even in your church profile, children are KEY here.  

With a background in in youth ministry, I thought of this passage often…I did not want to cause anyone to stumble!  But, this passage also says a lot about taking risks.  It’s about being vulnerable and entering into friendships with those considered on the outside.  The saying in this passage about cutting off your foot or gouging out an eye comes from a common saying in the first century, however, the original proverb said to cut out both eyes or hands!  This is an attempt to say that it’s better to lose a part of you than all of who you are, and if you are not reaching out and loving those on the margins well, then you are missing the mark, you are sinning.  And, sin is relational…it’s not only present in what you do or are, but what you do not do and who you are not. 

Who you are is a wonderful human made in God’s image called to live and love as Christ did and does…to be the body of Christ.  The opposite of that is to deny God’s presence and working in your life, which leads to a sense of loss of identity, or hell.  

Hell may be real, but it’s an alternate reality.  God never intended for there to be a hell. The true reality that God intended is heaven.  Heaven is being in God’s Presence.  That Presence is expansive, wide, and we can catch glimpses of it everywhere when are eyes are opened to that reality.  CS Lewis talks about heaven in his classic fictional book The Great Divorce as being a place of endless wonder and hell being a small crack in heaven.  Yet, we, humanity make that crack so much bigger as we settle for lives filled with dysfunction and lies about our true selves as God sees us.  So often we live in a place of darkness or hell.  God’s love is amazing, it is so amazing that it is overwhelming and to some that’s wonderful, but to others that can be really scary.  

Donald Bloesch in his book The Last Things says this: “…hell is being exposed to the light that redeems even when darkness is much preferred.  Hell is the incapacity to love even in the presence of love.”  You see, the problem is not does God forgives us or love us, but can we forgive and love ourselves and others?  We want to hide from God and his love for us behind our insecurities, our comfort, our wealth, our pride…whatever it is that we are holding on to that somehow gives us some false sense of security.   We often do not want to be exposed to the light of God’s love that exposes everything for what it truly is, so we often prefer to live in darkness.  

Jesus reminds us that we are the salt of the earth.  We, as Jesus followers, should be the folks that bring a spark or good seasoning to friendships, to others and to live in peace with each other as Jesus reminds us this morning.  If we don’t, if we settle for bitterness, status quo, divisiveness, and remain in the silos of our own lives or churches, then we lose our worth, our salt.  

Jesus says that we will be salted with fire in this morning’s passage.  It’s interesting, fire burns and it warms.  It can bring life or turn it to ashes.  Either way, it consumes us.  The fire of Jesus’ love does consume us, but it brings us life.  I want to be that person.  

My friend Bake, and many others over the years, have been that salt in my life.  We can be that way with each other, and with the world around us.  May we sprinkle that salt to all we encounter…including ourselves!