Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Thinking Towards Sunday; Sunday, September 22, 2019

Scriptures this Sunday: Luke 16:1-13

You can read these Scriptures here:
{NIV and ESV}

Outline and Notes for Sunday’s Message; Sunday, September 15, 2019

NIV2010
1 Timothy 1: 12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

NIV2010
John 3: 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

May God Add God’s Blessing
to the Reading, Hearing, Understanding and Living of God’s Word

 

Last week we looked at the reading from Luke 14:25-33 and we talked about the language of bearing the cross. We saw that the sermon that Jesus preached, the original sermon that became last week’s reading, was addressed to the “Large crowds [who] were traveling with Jesus,…” (Luke 14:25).

That sermon about bearing one’s cross was originally preached to the curious, to those who came to hear Jesus the way we would go to a concert or an appearance by a celebrity.

Jesus was warning the curious to make sure that they understood the consequences of following him before they made a commitment. Being Jesus’ follower is about being adaptable, flexible and patient with the changing times, and Jesus knew that times were about to drastically change with his crucifixion. The language of cross-bearing is about building a personal relationship with Jesus. It is about learning to think differently with every new stage of life, in response to the way that God interacts with us differently at each of those stages.

Today I want to talk about how we go about building and strengthening our personal relationship with God. Another word for personal relationship with God is theology. Theology is a combination of two words: Theo – God, and Logia – words. So, theology is about how we understand God. Since every person has an idea of what is holy, everyone has a theology, and everyone is a theologian.

There is an ancient fable of six blind men who encountered an elephant for the first time.  As each touched the animal with his hands, they announced their discoveries. 

The first blind man put out his hand and touched the side of the elephant.  “How smooth!  An elephant is like a wall.”  The second blind man put out his hand and touched the trunk of the elephant.  “How round!  An elephant is like a python.”  The third blind man put out his hand and touched the tusk of the elephant.  “How sharp!  An elephant is like a spear.”  The fourth blind man put out his hand and touched the leg of the elephant.  “How tall!  An elephant is like a tree.”  The fifth blind man reached out his hand and touched the ear of the elephant.  “How wide!  An elephant is like a fan.”  The sixth blind man put out his hand and touched the tail of the elephant.  “How thin!  An elephant is like a rope.”

The point of the story is that all six men were correct and wrong at the same time. Each of them only experienced a small part of the elephant, and then drew conclusions about the animal as a whole.

Ideally we grow in our understanding as we mature. I have a different relationship with God today than I had just one year ago; there are things that I learned about God during that time. That is the journey that John Wesley called the Journey to Perfection; we grow in our understanding of and in our relationship with God.

We are called to relationship with God. The reason God calls us to that relationship is so we are equipped to engage in the messiness of the world around us; the messiness of what our church is, and who we are as a denomination. We are called to meet people where they are and understand them and learn from them, as they also learn from us.

In John 3:17 Jesus is quoted as saying, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Jesus did not come to condemn anybody, but to bring all closer to God.

The first step to collaboration is understanding, and we cannot build understanding without a dialogue. One way to strengthen our relationship with God is prayer; prayer is a dialogue with God.

Ronald Reagan said, “All great change in America begins at the dinner table.” To build our understanding with each other we engage in dialogue, we break bread together, we spend time together.

If we want to work with our neighbors, we need to find a way to be in a dialogue with them, to break bread with them, to spend time with them.

That brings me to my final point. Paul’s conversion was not from Judaism to Christianity. After encountering Jesus on the road to Damascus, he remained a devout Jew. What changed was his understanding of God; his relationship with God acquired a different aspect and that new understanding changed the course of his life.

On my journey from atheist to a believer, I was a theological Jew, a Baptist, a non-denominational Christian, a Presbyterian, and for some reason God sent me into a Methodist church one day in 1997.

My first encounter with God happened after I left Judaism but before I discovered Christianity. Since then I have attended a variety of churches, but I was and still am a Christian. Each of those communities nurtured me on my journey and taught me something different about who God is. Like the illustration with the Elephant, I was given another piece of the puzzle about who God is. God sent me to these communities to learn something, and when it was time to go, I was sent somewhere else.

Many of you can relate to this. Many of you were nurtured in different environments, many of you were exposed to various aspects of different churches.

{{ Application/Time of Dialogue}}

Thinking Towards Sunday; September 15, 2019

Scripture for this Sunday: 1 Timothy 1:12-17; John 3:14-17

You can read these Scriptures here:
{NIV and ESV}

Principles are great, but sometimes they conflict with the particulars. A thought provoking post from Jack Shitama.

Following post was published on Jack Shitama’s blog. It is thought provoking and forward looking. I want to repost it. May God bless our journey to perfection…

The original is posted here: {Jack Shitama’s Blog}

Principles are great, but sometimes they conflict with the particulars.

I got thinking about this when I listed to a three-part series about casuistry on Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast, Revisionist History. Casuistry, literally means “cases of conscience.” It is a form of moral reasoning that contrasts the relationship between moral paradigms and difficult situations, especially those that have not been addressed before. It was made popular by Jesuit priests in the 16th century.

A typical example of casuistry would be to examine the principle, “lying is wrong.” Most everyone agrees with this principle. Don’t lie to your mother, to the police or to anyone else. But what if lying would save the life of someone? This becomes trickier. Casuistry would ask, “What are the particulars? How do they compare to other cases? Is there a similar case that might inform what to do in the current situation?

I found this fascinating because my denomination, The United Methodist Church (UMC), is in the midst of what feels like a civil war over LGBTQ inclusion.

It’s been going on for decades but has come to a head this year. The battle is over whether or not to keep the traditional stance forbidding ordination of LGBTQ persons and same-sex marriages.

I wasn’t thinking about applying casuistry to this conflict. But there is a lot of talk about a denominational split, and I am wondering if casuistry would help me think to think the issue through. I’m still pondering this.

What this really got me thinking about were the particulars. Principles are great. We should have them. They should guide us. But when it comes down to it, the particulars aren’t so black and white.

I know of a gay pastor who went from his home region to another because he felt safer, professionally, there.

I know a pastor who supports the traditional stance but went to the same-sex wedding of one of her congregants to be supportive.

I recently met a pastor who serves in a very conservative area. He is gay but is not “a practicing homosexual (our denomination’s language for what is forbidden as clergy),” therefore he is in compliance with church law. But he is not out. He doesn’t feel it’s safe.

I know of a colleague who supports change, but if the denomination splits, she may not be able to move to a church that matches her principles.

Particulars matter.

If The UMC splits, every congregation and every pastor will have to decide which way they’re going to go. There will be a lot of talk about principles. I’m beginning to think it will be more helpful to focus on the particulars.

There are many cases of congregations that are overwhelmingly conservative or progressive, respectively. They likely won’t have a lot of trouble deciding what to do in a split. But even these congregations are likely to have a handful of people who will not agree. Will they leave or stay? It depends on the particulars.

There are likely many more congregations that have a mix of perspectives. Deciding what to do is potentially devastating. Will people be able to have honest, civil, conversations about what they believe? Will they be able to move away from their principles and discuss the particulars of their context? If they can, they have a chance. If they can’t, I worry about the fallout.

And what about if the denomination doesn’t split? Whether the current church law remains, or it gets reversed, the division among us will remain. How will those who are unhappy respond? Principles are great, but they aren’t really helpful in navigating challenging situations. Particulars matter.

We need leaders who are willing to engage in the messiness that is who we are as a denomination. Leaders who are willing to meet people where they are, not try to get them to agree with their own principles. Leaders who are willing to examine the particulars of their own context and find a way through. It’s hard work. But that’s what leaders do.

Notes for Sunday’s message; September 8, 2019; Luke 14:25-33

Scripture for this Sunday is Luke 14:25-33

You can read this Scripture here: {NIV and ESV}

 


Today’s Gospel reading is harsh and threatening to hear. This passage will scare anyone who comes to church hoping to find God. {Also see a sermon on Luke 12:49-59 from August 18, 2019}

To us, people who have a personal relationship with Jesus and who know at least some of his broad teachings, hating our parents or siblings sounds out of character for Jesus; we know better than to think that Jesus would ask us to do anything like that.

To make things more complicated, in today’s reading Jesus is talking about bringing division and strife. We call Jesus the Prince of Peace, yet we just heard Jesus say that it is not what he came to bring. The future that Jesus paints is non-inviting.

To understand any biblical text, we must bridge the contexts of the biblical narrative and what is happening in our lives at the time. The chasm between the biblical texts and what is happening in our lives makes the Grand Canyon look like the trickle of a shallow creek.

So let’s unpack all that.


Who among us has not crammed at one time or another: cleaning the house before company arrives, studying for exams the night before, packing for vacation 20 minutes before it’s time to leave for the airport, working on a report that was due yesterday…


Dentalcram – vigorous brushing of one’s teeth prior to a visit to their dentist.


In today’s Gospel reading we heard Jesus say, “…whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

A picture is worth a thousand words and to illustrate that sentence, “…whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple,” I would like to show you some images.



In today’s Gospel reading we learned that Jesus preached a sermon and the gist, the essence of that sermon was “Be prepared! Think things through! If you do something, think of the consequences…” The sermon that Jesus preached that day was about overextending ourselves

There are some words and phrases that we use in our daily conversations that sound so familiar and so {“} right. More often than not, that familiarity robs otherwise meaningful statements of their initial intent, and makes them into platitudes. The language of cross-bearing is one of those phrases.


The sermon that Jesus preached that day, the sermon that became today’s Gospel reading, was preached not to his disciples or those that had already made a commitment to follow Jesus. In verse 25 we hear, “Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said…”

The sermon that introduces the concept of bearing one’s cross was originally preached to those who were curious, those who came to hear Jesus the way we would go to a concert or an appearance by a celebrity.

Jesus was warning the curious to make sure that they understood the consequences of following him before they made a commitment. Being Jesus’ follower is about being adaptable, flexible and patient with the changing times, and Jesus knew that times were about to drastically change with his crucifixion. The language of cross-bearing is about building a personal relationship with Jesus. It is about learning to think differently with every new stage of life, in response to the way that God interacts with us differently at each of those stages.

The language of cross-bearing and the illustrations that Jesus used have NOTHING to do with chronic illnesses, painful chronic conditions, trying family relationships or stoic perseverance facing unsurmountable odds. It does have a lot to do with how we live our lives day by day.

That is why the illustrations that Jesus used seem to be so strange to us. We think of this verse as a verse about stoic perseverance in the face of obstacles. Making sure that we have enough resources to finish construction or to fight a war have nothing to do with perseverance.

I wish I could say that our lives will be a bed of roses and everything will go exactly the way we want it to. But that would be a lie. We can count on frustrations being a part of our lives because we live in a fallen world.

Frustrations do not have to be of epic proportions: every morning someone burns their toast, somebody else loses a sock, and someone spills a huge mug of coffee on their brand new carpet. Our cross-bearing is in the way we deal with those frustrations, because in learning to deal with little things, we learn to rely on God in all things – big or small.

And when we invest ourselves, our time, our efforts and our energy in building a relationship with Jesus, when we are truly following Jesus, all things are possible.

And that is what the sermon that Jesus preached that day long ago was about.


Ann Landers paraphrased this quote from Jesus the best when she said, “It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.”

Just like our parents help us to become great human beings with unlimited potential, God is working in us, teaching us to be the best version of what we were created to be. Cross-bearing has a lot to do with that.


Here are some questions to ponder:

  • What did you learn from Jesus last week?

  • What is God teaching you in this period of your life?

What kinds of questions are you asking God? What are you hoping to learn?

One of the ways to bear the cross of Jesus is to be excited for what God is doing in the world around us and to be a tool in God’s hands. Who did you help to build up? Who did you encourage? When people spend time with you, how does it leave them feeling? Are you on fire for Jesus?

I want to leave you with this short poem:

If my heart is not on fire,
And your heart is not on fire,
If we are not filled with the Spirit,
Who will then disperse the dark?

Thinking Towards Sunday; Sunday, September 8, 2019

Scripture for this Sunday is Luke 14:25-33

You can read this Scripture here: {NIV and ESV}

Notes for Sunday’s Message; Luke 14:1, 7-11

NIV2010
Like 14: 1One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.

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Like 14: When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable:
“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.
If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.
10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests.
11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

May God add God’s Blessing
to the Reading, Hearing,
Understanding and Living of God’s Word

Human beings are competitive. We like winning.

That is why corporations have salary structures and corner offices. That is why there is an annual Superbowl game played between the winning teams of NFL and AFL to determine the best prepared football team and to declare them to be winners.

With winning comes respect. With winning comes privilege. And who among us does not like to be respected or privileged?

When you go out to an event (dinner, movies, baseball game) do you want the best seat in the house? At sporting events we want the best seats with the best view; those seats usually carry the highest price. They also carry the greatest bragging potential – it impresses people when we tell them that WE HAVE THOSE SEATS.

We also like the best parking spots. Just watch people at the store. The best parking spots are the ones closest to the front door. Nobody wants the parking spaces out in the far end of the lot.

In Mark 10 we read that James and John (two of Jesus’ disciples) tried to get the “best seat” as well… “Grant that we may sit in Your glory, one on Your right and one on Your left … You see Jesus, WE WANT THE BEST SEATS in the kingdom, places of prestige and power…”

Many of us have had a quiet chuckle as we observed people at banquets or office parties, weddings and even funerals trying to sit next to people they consider their social equals. We chuckle under our breath when we hear someone complaining that he or she was assigned a seat that we consider “bad” at some social function.

We laugh because we recognize that people can be so insecure that they measure their self-worth and self-esteem by where they sit for an hour or two. We laugh until we realize that at times every one of us is just as insecure; and then we thank God that we have enough common sense to try to hide our insecurity or at least smooth it over.

{Illustration}

That is why today’s scripture is counterintuitive. Today’s Scripture seems like an invitation to a polite yawn. Why is Jesus acting like Miss Manners, dishing out etiquette advice that goes against our competitiveness and desire to feel important, against our human nature and condition?

Today’s parable was given to Pharisees (Luke 14:1). Pharisees were what we would call today “church-going people.” Pharisees were NOT what we would call the “upper class.” Just like most of us here they were the “lower to middle class.” They did not inherit their wealth, they earned it through hard work and they were proud of that fact. They were also proud of their moral status in society at the time; they knew the scriptures inside and out, their children were well educated, and they were mission oriented. They knew there were people who did not know who God is, and they went after those gentiles with gusto and perseverance. They also took care of those in need. All-in-all, the Pharisees were not the villains that many Christians imagine them to be. But on that day 2000 years ago, as Jesus was observing some of the Pharisees maneuvering to get as close to the head of the table as they could, Jesus plainly saw the poison of pride in their lives.

Because of their education, Pharisees would recognize today’s parable as a reflection on the text from Proverbs 25:6-7: “6
Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence, and do not claim a place among great men; 7 it is better for him to say to you, “Come up here,” than for him to humiliate you before a nobleman…

By giving us today’s parable, Jesus reminds us that honor and respect is not gained by seizing prominence; honor and respect must be earned by each of us and given by others.

Today’s parable is about the tension between hubris and humility. Hubris is easy to spot and all of us can spot it from a mile away. Humility, on the other hand, is a tough quality to describe. The moment we think that we have humility, it is gone.

Humility is about an honest evaluation of who we are as individuals; who we are as the Bible describes us, as God sees us and as the Holy Spirit guides us. On one hand each one of us is a sinner who deserves eternal separation from God; on the other hand God valued each one of us so much that He shed God’s own essence to pay for our sins so that we would have a chance and a place to spend eternity with Him.

Humility is found in the tension and the balance between these two realities. C.S. Lewes said that humility is not about thinking less of ourselves, it is about thinking of ourselves less.

Today’s Gospel reading challenges us to look beyond ourselves and to be open to the holiness of others. The story that Jesus taught calls us to humility, especially in those areas where we have the greatest expertise and commitment.

{Transition to the Celebration of the Sacrament of the Holy Communion}


Thinking Towards Sunday; September 1, 2019

Scriptures for this Sunday: Luke 14:1, 7-14

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV & ESV}

Notes for Sunday’s Message; Sunday, August 25, 2019; Luke 13:10-17

NIV2010
Luke 13: 10 On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

17 When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

May God add God’s Blessing
to the Reading, Hearing,
Understanding and Living of God’s Word

God has a dream and an awe-inspiring vision for all of God’s Creation… God has a dream for every man, woman, and child that ever walked upon the face of this earth.

I am not implying that we do not have a say in what happens in our lives (that is what free will is all about). It is up to us to hear God’s call. When we hear God’s call, and make a conscious decision to follow God, our relationship with God infuses our lives with meaning and purpose.

Jesus came to show us the way to live God’s dream instead of wallowing in our human insecurities. He came to show us the way to be fully, authentically, and genuinely human as God created us in God’s own image. Jesus came to show us how to become the extended human family of God.

He came to show us how to become more than simply a random collection of individual self-interests.

Today we heard the story of a woman who suffered for eighteen long years. To put it in perspective, eighteen years ago Tuesday, 9/11/2001 had not yet happened.

This woman had been crippled, barely able to walk for eighteen long years. The Bible does not tell us why Jesus singled her out that morning. All we know is that he offered her healing. The Holy Scriptures say, “… he called her forward and said to her, ‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.’ Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.”

Jesus called her to come forward and we must assume from the context of the reading that she did just that. When she came to him, he healed her.

Jesus can set you free, but when he calls you, you must be willing to come. Jesus came to reimagine and to show what it meant to be a believer in the first century. Jesus came to bring healing and freedom,

  • from the things that hinder you,
  • from emotional baggage that is clipping your wings and prevents you from soaring like an eagle,
  • from anything that is preventing you from being all that God dreams and intends for you to be.

Jesus still does this in our lives. Today there are things and persons that hinder us. Today there are ideas and voices in our heads that clip our wings and whisper, “you cannot do that, don’t even try.” Today there are people who joyfully remind us, “who do you think you are? You will never accomplish this.”

Jesus came to show, among other things, that God is in the business of renewal and regeneration. God called the woman to come forward. When she demonstrated her willingness to follow God, she was given a new lease on life.

Art is a lie that tells us something about the truth. There is an ancient movie, You’ve Got Mail. It was released over 20 years ago and it is a poignant illustration that can be used for today’s Gospel reading. The protagonist of the movie, Kathleen Kelly (played by Meg Ryan), is at odds with another character, Joe Fox (played by Tom Hanks). If you recall their argument is about large bookstores taking over mom-and-pop outlets selling books.

Throughout the movie we see Kathleen Kelly coming to grips with the changing times, and in the process developing a romantic relationship with Joe Fox. Just like the woman in today’s parable, in the beginning of the movie Kathleen Kelly could not see beyond her identity as a small book shop owner/operator, she could not even imagine what her life could be in a world of big box stores like Borders and Barnes & Noble.

But in the end, she was willing to step out in faith, to embrace change, to reinvent herself and to receive a new life.

Post Scriptum for 2019: God has a sense of humor… Now all of us must reinvent ourselves and find a way to navigate life in a world of Amazon and mail-order shopping.


There is another movie that illustrates today’s reading, and it is Danny Collins. By the way of shameless self-promotion, our Tuesday Bible Study will be exploring this movie starting on September 10, 2019.

What is your “You’ve Got Mail” story?

Is there something that is holding you back?

Jesus is calling. When you are willing to step out on faith, unexpected blessings will follow. Are you willing to step out in faith and see what God has in store for us as a church?

Thinking Towards Sunday; August 25, 2019

Scripture for this Sunday: Luke 13:10-17

You can read this scripture here: {NIV and ESV}

Notes for Sunday’s Message; Sunday, August 18, 2019; Luke 12:49-59

Scripture for this Sunday: Luke 12: 49-59

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

In Luke 12:49 we hear, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” And what follows are promises of strife, division, emotional and physical pain… At first glance today’s reading does not paint a pretty picture. My first impulse after reading it was to select another scripture to preach on.

But that reading “haunted” me (for the lack of a better word); it grabbed me, and I could not get it out of my mind. It dredged up questions:

  • Who exactly is Jesus? Am I misunderstanding WHO he really is?

  • What was his message?

  • Why did God really choose to live among us?

  • How worried should we be? Am I misunderstanding Jesus’ presence in my life?

  • What is God’s vision for my life?

  • What is the GOOD NEWS here?

Today’s reading challenges all of us to see beyond the obvious, to see beyond the easy answers because God promises abundant life, not an easy life.

Elsewhere in the Bible we hear about fire as a method of purification and refinement.

Luke 3:16-17

16John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Malachi 3:1-3

1“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the LORD you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. 2But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness,

Throughout the Bible fire is a sign of God’s presence (Exodus 14:24; 19:18; Isaiah 30:27). Fire is also a symbol of God’s power to effect change in the face of formidable resistance (Jeremiah 23:29) as well as the power to overwhelm God’s enemies (2 Kings 1:2-14).

Exodus 14:24

24During the last watch of the night the LORD looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion.

Exodus 19:18

18Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently.

Jeremiah 23:29

29“Is not my word like fire,” declares the LORD, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?

Isaiah 30:27

27See, the Name of the LORD comes from afar, with burning anger and dense clouds of smoke; his lips are full of wrath, and his tongue is a consuming fire.

2 Kings 2:1-14 – Story of Elijah taken to Heaven in a whirlwind

 

The Good News in today’s reading is that we hear Jesus’ passion and desire for the world’s well-being. The fire Jesus wants to kindle is a fire of change, the fire of God’s active presence in the world. No wonder he is so eager to strike the match.

Well-being is something that everybody wants but it is not something that everybody is overly eager to work towards. Well-being does not come just because everyone wants it. In John 8:32 Jesus said, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free”. For the healing to come, the truth must be faced and accepted. Refining fire must be welcomed. Change (a.k.a. refining fire) is not easy because all of us are imperfect human beings with a lot of flaws. What Jesus is talking about here is our resistance for God’s refining, our resistance to grow in our faith and in our relationship with God.

There is a saying, “With God all things are possible.” Truth is that God is always with us. What is also true is that WE ARE NOT ALWAYS WITH GOD. Am I the only one hoping that occasionally God watches someone else for a change?

But when we are not with God, our souls become conflicted. Our personal confliction spills into our communities and into our relationships. It is in such times as these that we are forced to face the chasm that separates us from God. Our first reaction is to run and pretend that this chasm is not happening. But it is in facing that chasm that we recognize and understand our involvement; it is in facing that chasm that we hear the voices of our wounded communities and understand our own need for God’s love and grace. It is in facing that chasm that we realize how much we need the Cross of Jesus, Holy Spirit’s guidance, and the Grace and Understanding of our God.

It is in those moments of clarity that we cling to Jesus because we have nothing and nobody else to cling to. It is in those moments we learn to thank God for his cleansing fire, and acknowledge God’s presence in our lives, exposing us for what we are, and ultimately ushering the gift of peace and grace into our divisions.

The fire that Jesus wants to kindle in today’s reading is a fire of change, the fire that helps us to recognize God’s active presence in the world. It is difficult to face the role that each of us plays in the division that is taking hold of our country and our church, but with the help of God’s healing fire we will come out stronger than ever.

 

In Memoriam: Harold G. “Bud” Carty

Harold G. “Bud” Carty
6/29/1930 – 8/14/2019

You can read Bud’s obituary here: {CLICK ME}

Relatives and friends are invited to a memorial service at Kingswood United Methodist Church, 300 Marrows Rd., Newark, DE 19713 on August 24th at 11 am. A visitation will be held from 10-11 am. Interment will be private. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Kingswood UMC (address above), or Heartland Hospice Memorial Fund, 750 Prides Crossing, Suite 110, Newark, DE 19713, Heartlandhospicefund.org.

Thinking Towards Sunday; August 18, 2019

Scripture for this Sunday: Luke 12:35-40, 49-59

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

Notes for Sunday’s Message; Sunday, August 4, 2019; Luke 12:13-21

NIV2010
Like 12: 13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”‘

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

May God add God’s Blessing
to the Reading, Hearing,
Understanding and Living of God’s Word

Last Monday I had to drive somewhere early in the morning, and as I was making a right-hand turn at the intersection of Marrows Road and Rt 4, an automated camera flashed and took a picture of me. I was the only one on the road. I immediately checked my speed; I also made sure that that the light was green.

So, I drove about a block and made a U-turn by the Catholic church and came back to the same light but from a different direction. Again, I was the only one at the light, I made sure to drive within the speed limit and I had a green light. Again, the camera flashed and took a picture of me.

So, I drove about the block, and made a Uturn by BJ’s. Again, I was the only one at the light, driving within the speed limit and the light was green, and the camera flashed again.

I figured out that something was wrong with the camera. Imagine my surprise when I got three tickets from the DMV in the mail with my picture for driving without a seat belt.

Funny isn’t it? I was sure that I was not doing anything wrong when the long arm of the law, helped me to see things from a different perspective.

Last week we looked at the time when Jesus was asked, “Lord, teach us to pray…” In response we received what we call The Lord’s Prayer.

I am convinced that when the Disciples asked Jesus to teach them about prayer, they WERE NOT asking about techniques, OR proper balance between praise, confession or thanksgiving. I am also convinced that their intention WAS NOT to ask Jesus for a prayer that Christians could gather around and recite in unison in churches, at funerals, at weddings, at anniversaries, birthday parties and Bible studies; there is nothing wrong with how this tradition was developed and is used, but it was not the intention at the time.

What I think the Disciples wanted to learn more about was Jesus’ love for God and his intense desire to see God’s reign established here on Earth as it is in Heaven. What the Disciples were really asking was, “Jesus, what is it like to be in communion with God? Jesus, what is it like to be in an intimate relationship with God? Jesus, what does God feel like?”


And that brings us to today’s Scripture.

Today’s parable is like driving through the intersection, following all the speed limits and traffic signals and then getting a ticket for driving without a seat belt.

Am I the only one to occasionally come up with a wrong conclusion? We make sentimental moralistic conclusions about the Parables of Jesus all the time. We do that to protect ourselves from the parables and their subversive ways of convicting us for domesticating the Good News of Jesus’ Resurrection.

The Good Samaritan is often interpreted as a teaching of being nice to people in need. The story of Mary and Martha becomes a ballad to superficial spirituality. It is totally possible to hear the story of the Rich Fool – today’s Scripture – and come up with the conclusion that funeral processions do not tow U-Haul trailers behind them.


But the story of the Rich Fool is not a reminder that we might die sooner than we hoped or that we might find ourselves wishing that we had spent more time with our families and less at the office; those are important reminders from time to time, but it is not what this story is about. It is a story of how money and possessions can impoverish our very soul and rewire our values. Jesus is explicit, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). Jesus is explicit in his warning against greed and self-centered preoccupation with one’s own security. Today’s reading explains how rational, hard-working people might end up existing in their own self-absorbed universes, constructing lives in which they don’t have to give a second thought about anybody or anything else, especially someone they cannot, or do not wish to see or understand.

I struggle with today’s reading because it challenges what I believe to be right, true, and beautiful. Today’s reading pierces my heart. Today’s reading is about our greed. Today’s reading is about our idolatry.

Jesus warned about idolatry and greed often.

Luke 12:33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Luke 16:13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”


Idolatry constructs worldviews in which self-interest is the fundamental virtue. Idolatry lies, whispering that greed will not erode our capacity for community. Idolatry makes fools of us all when it convinces us to create religious justifications for our arrogance and hard-heartedness and stiff-neckedness (Exodus 32:9; 33:3; Deuteronomy 9:6; 2 Chronicles 36:13; Jeremiah 17:23).

To identify and then reject greed is to discover the possibility of being “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).

Evil does not discriminate. Greed corrupts the poor as easily as it does the rich; the only difference is that the rich can do much more damage because they have more resources and influence.

Spiritual people cling to idols, too. Did anybody ever hear or say, “God won’t give you more than you can handle?” This statement is idolatry of self-sufficiency hiding behind spiritually sounding words. There are men and women dealing with more than they can handle every day all over the world. That is why we need God; that is why God gave us each other.

I am a good example of that. There were times when I had more than I could handle; when I was on the verge of brokenness. I was there more than once. And every time God was by my side; God also sent people into my life who came alongside and helped me to bear my pain and helped me to deal with my problems when I could not do it alone.

So what’s in it for us? What should we do with all that information? How do we protect ourselves from corrosive greed and self-interest?

In his epistle to Colossians, Paul writes,
1
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your
life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Colossians 3:1-11).


That is a tall order; but let us remember that God is rich and generous toward you and toward all those to whom you have been called to bring difficult but good news.

{Transition to the Sacrament of the Holy Communion}

Thinking Towards Sunday; August 4, 2019

Scriptures for this Sunday: Luke 12:13-21; Colossians 3:1-11

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

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