| Some of David's Thinking |
Tuesday, 28 June 2011
I Corinthians 13:8-13
We have to know history. We are conditioned by it. William Faulkner said, “The past is never over. It isn’t even past.” If we do not know our history we are doomed, as warned Santayana, to repeat its mistakes.
However, blind imitation of the past, even the past at its best, is no way to deal with the present. Imitation of the past is impossible.
No two Shakespearean actors have ever sounded exactly alike, and no two readers of the Declaration of Independence, or of the Constitution of the United States, or of the sixty-six books of the Bible, will ever understand those documents in exactly the same way.
Great ideas, like liberty and equality, have o fixed historical context; they are goals, ideals, aspirations of a nation, and as such belong to the present and to the future as they do to the past. Christians can help this process by insisting that moral judgment is embedded into the fabric of history by bringing ethics to the forefront of politics and by renewing our commitment to these three abiding things: faith, hope, and love.
The abiding faith our country needs for its spiritual restoration and future health is the faith of the prophets. Prophetic faith is full of anger, yet it is always anchored in the greatness and goodness of God and not in hatred of enemies. Prophetic faith recognizes that economic tyranny can be as great as political tyranny. Prophetic faith sees justice as central, not additional, to salvation.
The point of God’s judgment is to mitigate pride, not to eliminate hope. The point of repentance is to see ourselves as individuals and to see our nation in perspectives other than our own, essentially in the divine perspective of God’s judgment and mercy.
No one was more hopeful than the prophets of Israel. They preached judgment, but only up to a point. When the people were willing to remember what they would sooner forget or repress, when the people announced their readiness to meet the challenge rather than to wish it did not exist, the prophets preached, in place of judgment, hope.
Let us put prophetic hope alongside prophetic faith. Let us say that a heart is Christian if it beats against all reason with a love not bounded by space or time. Let us say that the pursuit of happiness represents the hope that as we grow older we will become more alive and that love will absorb our souls. Love never ends. It is what binds us to God and to one another, and against it the powers of death cannot prevail. Love is what each of us and all of life is all about.
“And now abide faith, hope, and love.” We keep the faith because God keeps us. “And now abide faith, hope, and love, these three,” to help our nation enrich its understanding of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Tuesday, 21 June 2011
Jesus was teaching and a man came and said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the family inheritance with me.”
This was not an inappropriate request. Part of the work of rabbis was to arbitrate conflicts between family members, neighbors, and coworkers.
But Jesus would not do it. Getting in the middle of family fights about inheritances was not on Jesus’ short list of the way he intended to spend his time on earth.
After saying no to the man, Jesus turned to the crowd he was teaching and he used the man’s request as a teachable moment.
He made a statement and then he told a story. The statement in one translation reads: “Take care! Be on guard against every form of greed, because one’s life does not depend upon one’s belongings, even when they are more than sufficient.” (Luke 12:15)
Jesus’ warning is specifically directed toward those of us who have more than we absolutely need. He says, “Be on guard against every form of greed,” –there is apparently more than one form of greed –“because one’s life does not depend upon one’s belongings, even when they are more than sufficient.” We need to be careful not to begin to suppose that our belongings give us life.
Then Jesus tells a story to illustrate his teaching. The story is about a rich farmer who has an unusually productive year. He doesn’t have enough space to contain his crops. So he tears down his barns and builds bigger ones. But that very night he dies. His new barns full of crops are no good to him at all. This is a tough story.
Jesus enjoyed partaking of the good things of life. So what Jesus has to say here is not about whether or not it is okay to live well. It is not a guilt trip. What Jesus is saying is that having more than we need makes us susceptible to a particular kind of delusion. The delusion is that having possessions and money to spend and being able to buy things takes away our vulnerability and mortality and susceptibility. The delusion is that our affluence somehow makes us safe and gives us security and power over our existence. The delusion is that our affluence saves us.
Let’s be realistic. There are things we can buy that make us more secure. Access to good health care does make us feel less vulnerable. Having a home makes us less vulnerable. Access to healthy food, education, therapy, safe neighborhoods – all these things that money can buy are good things, and they do make us less vulnerable and safer and they do make life better and we should try to make them available to more and more people. These things are not delusions.
But buying, owning, and amassing more than we need in order to cover over the anxiety of awareness within ourselves that we are mortal and finite is a delusion. And this is what we are in danger of doing. Be careful, says Jesus, your possessions do not give you life.
It is the temptation we all face – to try to deny the anxiety of our finitude, our mortality. Anything can happen at any time.
What if instead of masking it or trying to run away from it, we lived into it? What if every day when we begin our day we began with a ritual that said, one day I will die? It could be today. Anything can happen at any time. What can I do today to live a truly rich life, to be rich toward God? Not someday, when I have finished my education or have my dream job or have built up my pension or I am retired. How can I live a rich life today?
Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Have you heard about the man who is both a veterinarian and a taxidermist? His motto is: “One way or another, you’ll get your dog back.” It is clear that, one way or another, we are going to be the church. The question is: What kind of church?
In the scripture reading above, Jesus directs strong words at the religious leaders. He says that they do things in order to be seen, not in order to help. Then, he says something way out on the edge about the religious leaders: “They devour widow’s houses and for the sake of appearances say long prayers.”
Jesus then sits down across from the temple entrance and watches as people come to make offerings. He doesn’t speak to them; he just watches them. There were rich and poor among them. There was a destitute widow who put two copper coins in the treasury, maybe worth about fifty cents.
At some point, ready to reflect on what he had seen, Jesus says to his disciples, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had to live on.”
This is one of the most misused stories in all the Bible. The standard interpretation goes something like this:
-the widow made a sacrificial gift
-therefore, you must make a self-sacrificial gift to the church
However, the story is much more radical. Jesus does not commend this woman for her gift, he simply reports her behavior. He reports that she gave everything she had while those of wealth still had something left over because of their abundance.
Reading the story apart from its setting in Mark’s gospel turns it into a sweet story of a self-sacrificing woman who supports a great cause. Yet, this story is about a destitute widow being sucked dry by an institution that had forgotten that its role was to help the destitute widow not to be destitute. Jesus may well have been grateful for the woman’s generosity, but he was horrified by what the temple had become.
Just like the veterinarian/taxidermist, one way or another, we are going to be the church. The question is, will it be a church which gives life or which sucks life out of people? Will it be a field hospital and a front line trench for those wounded by the world or a haven for those seeking insulation from the world?
How does the church suck life out of people?
-by pretending that the only way, or the best way, to be in mission
is to give more money.
-by asking people to fill spaces on a committee rather than
encouraging people to discover what God is calling them to
do within the church’s mission.
-by pretending that the church’s mission is only what happens
within the walls of the buildings.
-by discouraging people from going where their natural energy is
because it doesn’t fit our current plans.
How does the church give life? That’s the great challenge that is before us. That is the question I imagine Jesus to have been asking as he watched people come to the treasury and make their offerings. How will we know if this is a life giving church? That is the great challenge before us. I invite, encourage, and challenge you to think and pray about this matter.
Monday, 06 June 2011
Sunday, June 12, we will celebrate the day of Pentecost. It is celebrated in a variety of ways around the world.
Pentecost is a Jewish holiday that falls fifty days after Passover, which is essentially fifty days after Easter. It was a day on which the Jews celebrated God’s giving of the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel through Moses at Mt. Sinai. This is the understanding of Pentecost that provides the background to the story we find in Acts 2:1-21. On Sunday, June 12, I hope we have an explosion of red. Because red is the color associated with Pentecost, you are invited to wear red to worship.
In Acts 2 there are two words used to describe speech. One is the Greek word glossais which means ecstatic or miraculous speech, outside oneself speech, or speech in other languages. The second Greek word is dialecto which means language, syntax, grammar, as in speaking in our own native dialecto. What is interesting in the Pentecost story is that verbs of hearing and understanding are as prevalent as those of speaking. The point here is the miraculous possibility that people can speak and understand the gospel.
Pentecost is the baptism (not birthday) of the church. The church receives its calling and empowerment on Pentecost. The meaning here is clear: the church of Jesus Christ is not its own project going on its own steam. The Holy Spirit is the possibility of the gospel being appropriated, the possibility that the gospel can be comprehended.
In the early Easter/Pentecost community we are told “those who believed were of one heart and soul.” In fact, they were so reconciled to one another and trusted each other to the extent that they pooled all their possessions and shared everything in common. There is nothing in this text about being of “one mind.”
We are a community called together not because we think alike, but because God loves all of us and we are charged to share in God’s love by caring for each other. John Wesley writes in his famous sermon Catholic Spirit: “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one mind? Without all doubt we may.”
Life is much easier when we think alike. There’s no misunderstanding, no arguing, no hurt feelings, all is well. But communities are not like that, even the community called church. What we are called to do is love one another in the midst of our differences.
We are not a democracy, we are a theocracy. We are not here to do our thing, we are here to do God’s thing. The question is: “Where is God calling us and where is God pulling or drawing us next as a congregation?” This is the kind of question our Holy Conversations team is wrestling with in these days.
We do not know what happened to that early community described in the book of Acts: how long it lasted, what issues it struggled with, what finally caused its demise. Maybe some folks got angry at how resources were being distributed and gave up on the idea of living in community. Maybe some had great expectations of their leaders and were disappointed in their decisions and left in search of a more ideal community. Maybe some felt unaccepted and unloved because other people didn’t agree with them and left the community for a more accepting place. Maybe some began to emphasize “like mindedness” rather than the unity of heart and soul as the organizing principle for the community, and those who thought differently felt unwelcome and withdrew. We do not know. What we do know is that living in community is challenging and often difficult whether it is in a family, a neighborhood, a church, a nation. We have been created to live in community, and that community is grounded in the forgiving, reconciling, resurrecting love of God.
We have been called to live together in this community called Kessler Park United Methodist Church. May we commit ourselves to the task of participating in a community where we focus on loving one another as Christ has loved us, on loving alike even though we do not think alike.
This blog is written by Senior Pastor David Carr, (email,
214.942.0098 ext 25).