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Archive for June, 2011

Rebekah and Eliezer, as in Genesis 24, illustr...

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God provides in another way in Genesis 24, one of the Hebrew Bible readings for Ordinary Time 14 A, this coming Sunday, July 3, 2011.  Here is a sermon on this text:

God Goes Before Us
A Sermon on Genesis 24, with allusions to Psalm 139 and Romans 8:28

Nothing ever came quickly and easily as far as Isaac was concerned.  After God first promised Abraham and Sarah that their descendents would number as many as the stars, and that they would become a great nation in the land of Canaan, it was twenty-five years before they finally had their longed-for baby. God certainly took his time in working this plan out.

Then there were many other adventures, any of which could have totally derailed this plan, so there was more waiting: According to Genesis 24, Isaac was nearly forty years old before he was ready to get married.  It was high time he got to work on the next generation.  High time!  And if Isaac was going to be a patriarch, he needed a matriarch.  Who would make a suitable partner for him, and how would he find her?

Arranged marriages have little or no appeal to us, but it was the norm back then, and still is the norm in some parts of the world.  Given the fact that that’s how things were done then, I can see Abraham’s wisdom.  He thought that the logical place to look for a good match was back home among his kinfolk in Haran, among people who served God, the same God Abraham served.  Isaac needed a wife who shared his faith, someone willing and able to follow the dream of the Promised Land that God had first articulated nearly sixty-five years before.

But why not let Isaac make the journey to Haran to find the match himself? (more…)

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'The Lord's Table' photo (c) 2007, Scott Schram - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Here is a communion sermon that focuses on inclusivity in the body of Christ and at his table.  It is another in my series of sermons on themes related to disability.  I preached this in 2005 as our church’s new accessible fellowship hall–our dining room–was being completed.

The King’s Table
A Sermon on 2 Samuel 9 and Luke 14:1, 12-24

Mephibosheth was afraid.  He trembled when he came before King David.  The behavior of his grandfather Saul, first king of Israel, had cast shame on the whole family.  Moreover, David had done what kings predictably did: eliminate anybody who might try to claim the throne.  Mephibosheth’s fear was perfectly understandable.  But how sad that the felt he had to put himself down in so ugly a way in the king’s presence.  He referred to himself as a dead dog, an epithet meaning worse than scum.  Dead dog equals yuck!  Unclean!

Mephibosheth had had a hard time.  Now about twenty, he had been living with mobility impairment since he was five years old.  The accident had occurred when news reached the household that his father Jonathan and grandfather the king had both died in battle.  The family was in danger.  As they hurried away, Mephibosheth’s nurse dropped him.  Most likely he suffered broken bones.  Both feet were crippled.

Without any modern techniques of setting and repairing bones and treating infections, people who survived fractures often ended up with lifelong deformity and lifelong disability.  And unless their family had means, that also meant lifelong poverty.  And it meant shame.  Most folks believed that tragedies like this didn’t happen to you unless you somehow deserved it.  Religious law reinforced the shame and stigma.   For example, people with disabilities or even certain conditions we would consider minor were forbidden from serving as priests.  Only unblemished males were considered good enough to serve God in this way.  Anything less was an insult to God.

Maybe Mephibosheth was putting on an act of humility before David, hoping to protect himself.  But my hunch is that he had internalized his family’s shame, and that saw himself as others did: damaged goods, second class at best.  His very name meant “shame.” The word bosheth in Hebrew means “shame!”  That wasn’t his original name.  His original name was Meribbaal.  Baal is a word meaning “lord.”  But now his name was bosheth: shame! (more…)

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Congregation with small Easter candles

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If you ever find yourself wondering whether “uncool,” unpolished, unprofessional, plain, often small, churches truly are precious in God’s sight and whether we truly are useful in God’s plan, check out the comments to Rachel Held Evans’ post “Tell us about your church…” , which is a followup to her post “Blessed Are the Un-cool.”   So many people wrote in about what they love about their congregations, despite all the problems and sins that beset every church.  A few wrote about their longing for a church like the ones described in the comments.  This will lift your heart.

There’s no doubt about it: God is on the move.  God’s Spirit is sweeping across the face of the church, and it’s the Spirit that is the true power of the church.  The Spirit is the true power of every church, not our own reserves of money or other kinds of strength.  God is doing great things through the small and the humble and the uncool who are just trying to be faithful.

It is okay not to be able to “do church” in ways that require great amounts of money and of those other human strengths.   We can quit trying to be bigger and cooler.  We can answer God’s call to us right now in our uncoolness.  So the question is, what kind of leadership do uncool congregations need, and how do we develop it?

May the peace of Christ be with you all!

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Church

I am enjoying listening to Rachel Held Evans, a young voice in the Christian blogosphere.  Yesterday she put up a post entitled Blessed Are the Un-cool, and it’s well worth a read by small church folk and anyone else from a congregation that might be considered “uncool.”

She writes, “People sometimes assume that because I’m a progressive 30-year-old who enjoys Mumford and Sons and has no children, I must want a super-hip church—you know, the kind that’s called “Thrive” or “Be” and which boasts “an awesome worship experience,” a  fair-trade coffee bar, its own iPhone app, and a pastor who looks like a Jonas Brother.

While none of these features are inherently wrong, (and can of course be used by good people to do good things), these days I find myself longing for a church with a cool factor of about 0.

That’s right.

I want a church that includes fussy kids, old liturgy, bad sound, weird congregants,  and…brace yourself…painfully amateur “special music” now and then…

I want to be part of an un-cool church because I want to be part of a community that shares the reputation of Jesus, and like it or not, Jesus’ favorite people in the world were not cool. They were mostly sinners, misfits, outcasts, weirdos, poor people, sick people, and crazy people.”

Click on the link and read her whole post.  You’ll find plenty here to jump-start reflection on who Jesus calls us to be as “church.”  In his eyes, cool are the uncool indeed.

Thanks, Rachel.

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Paul Raud, "A Sleeping Dog"

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Animals certainly are among the least ones that God is concerned about.  That’s true in a general sense, but it’s also true in the specific sense of those we care for in our homes as members of our families.  Comforting those whose beloved pets have died is one of my callings as a pastor.

From the Hindu tradition, the story of Yuhisthira cherishing a dog at heaven’s gates provides great food for thought about reverence for God’s creatures.

The story goes like this:

“The great king Yudhisthira had ruled over the Pandava people for many years, and, among his many achievements had waged a successful war against the forces of evil. It was time for him to withdraw from the world, and to enter the Celestial City of the Immortals. King Yudhisthira set off on the long journey into the northern mountains, along with his four brothers and his beloved wife Drapaudi. They were soon joined on their journey by a small, ill-kempt stray dog.

The journey was hard. They tired. And in the course of the journey first one brother and then another, then the third and then the fourth, fell, exhausted, and died. Unable to do anything for them, Yudhisthira and Drapaudi continued on the journey, followed by the dog.  Eventually Drapaudi, too, fell by the wayside and died. With utmost sadness, Yudhisthira turned and continued, the dog faithfully keeping pace.

At last Yudhisthira and the dog reached the gates of the Celestial City, home of the Immortals. Yudhisthira bowed humbly and asked to be admitted. The great sky God Indra arrived to meet Yudhisthira and to welcome him to heaven.
But then Yudhisthira said that without his beloved wife and his four brothers, he did not have the heart to enter. Indra replied that these loved ones were already in Heaven, they had come before him.

This lifted Yudhisthira’s heart, but he had one more request.  “This dog has faithfully accompanied me on this long journey, never left my side. I cannot leave him now outside heaven’s gate. My heart is full of love for him.”

Indra shook his head. The earth quaked.  “You, Yudhisthira, through your goodness and courage, and by enduring this long and difficult journey, have earned your way into heaven. But you cannot bring a dog into heaven. A dog would pollute the Celestial City. Leave the dog behind Yudhisthira. It is no sin.”

“But where would he go? He has given up the pleasures of the earth to be my companion. I cannot desert him now.” Yudhisthira turned to leave.

Indra asked, astonished, “You would abandon heaven just for the sake of a dog?”

Yudhisthira declared that long ago he had vowed never to turn his back on anyone needing his protection and help. “And so,” he concluded, “I will not abandon my loyal friend.”  Yudisthira turned from heaven’s gate and began to walk away.

At that moment a remarkable thing happened. The faithful dog was transformed into the god Dharma, the god of righteousness and justice.

And Indra declared, “You are a good man, Yudhisthira. You have shown loyalty and love to a small, faithful dog and compassion for all creatures, ready to renounce for yourself all the rewards of heaven for this humble dog’s sake. You shall be honored in heaven!”  And so Yudhisthira entered heaven and was reunited with his wife and with brothers to enjoy eternal happiness.”  (From a sermon by Michael Moran at http://www.nmchurch.org/sermons/031206ser.html.)

William Bennett includes this story as an illustration of loyalty in his Book of Virtues under the title “Yudhisthira at Heaven’s Gates.”   The animated version from the PBS Kids series Adventures from the Book of Virtues pictures Yudhisthira cradling the dog in his arms at the gates of heaven, something I think of when I see people cradling their pets before releasing them to God.

You can listen to Odds Bodkin tell a version of the story here.

 

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