Sunday, October 25, 2009

Who is the Real Blind Man

Good news folks, I am now officially a Bronco fan! I registered for free agency and have been welcomed with open arms by the Bronco fans. This will probably also be helpful for my son and my in laws since they have always been Bronco fans. When my father in law passed away my wife came home with a bag full of Bronco swag for the kids and herself to wear, so I guess you could say it is about time!
But even though I left the Seahawks behind I don’t think I will ever lose my allegiance to the Mariners. You see I have loved the Mariners since they began as an expansion team for the American league west in 1977. My uncle was a King County sheriff at the time and had spent some over-time hours guarding the Kingdom as it was being built for the Mariners (and the Seahawks but we are already beyond there so…) He was able to work tickets out to at least a few of the games that season. Good tickets too right behind home plate about 15 or 20 rows up from the field. The first time I walked into the Kingdom it was magical. Even those of us living in Seattle knew this building was UGLY from day one. This huge hulking concrete structure had about as much character as a northwest banana slug. But once you got inside and walked through the tunnel the magic began to happen the unnatural green turf lit up everything the Mariner blue walls pulled your attention down to the playing field and there in the pre-game warm up were the hero’s of the day having a catch with each other for our amusement! I was 7 years old the first time I went and I have spent the last 32 years of my life going to any Mariners game I can!
So as you can see I have a passion for this team and moving into Safeco field (which coincidently was designed by the same folks that did Coors field) and the ensuing seasons only helped build that passion. Yep sorry no amount of jeering or loss of pennant races will deter me from loving the Mariners! In fact just this last summer the Mariners were playing the Rockies and I of course was there, wearing my 2001 (that is the 116 year) commemorative t-shirt under my Ken “the Kid” Griffey Jr. jersey. My wife and kids had their Mariners attire on too. To our surprise we were not completely surrounded by Rockies fans. I guess Mariner passion runs deep for lots of others too. But as we sat there being those visiting fans cheering on our team and jeering the home team, one gentleman was getting very upset. He had mentioned a number of times that maybe we had better just shut up. Maybe we had better not share our comments out loud about our love for the Mariners. But it did not stop us! We just continued on. Our passion could not be put aside. I mean hey the Mariners were right here in front of us!
I think Bartimaeus had this strong, probably stronger passion for Jesus. Here he is sitting in the dirt on the side of the road yelling out at the top of his lungs "Son of David, Jesus! Mercy, have mercy on me!" He is being threatened with bodily harm if he did not shut up and all the more he shouted, "Son of David, Jesus! Mercy, have mercy on me!" Where did he get such a passion for Jesus? How did he gain such a strong faith?
And how ironic is it that Mark has been telling his story of Jesus and of restoring sight to the blind with the Apostles in tow all along and yet as he performs his final miracle before heading to the cross the only people Jesus met who are still blind are his own Apostles! I wonder how much of this story can been seen as a symbolic telling of how blind we are in seeing Christ in our midst and only when we sit in the dirt helpless and hopeless that we can see him for who he is. How symbolic is it that while we continue to theorize about the “true” Jesus, about who the person of Jesus was, we are blind to the divinity of who Christ is, of how we can’t see his mercy pouring out or recognize his work in our own lives today when we are so focused on yesterday.
The story of Bartimaeus, as recorded in Mark’s story of Jesus, is an interesting and important story. A nobody in the world’s eyes, a sidelined person, a blind beggar sitting in the dust, suddenly, and to the surprise of all, becomes the hero of the story. When he raised his voice, people were quick to remind him he was a nobody. Shut up they shout back to him.
With the persistence which can characterize the desperate, he does not shy away from being a nuisance... I am not odd, stupid, a case, a need. I’m a person, not a discounted person nor a person to be discounted. Jesus responds, hears his request, and, just as we are told, makes him whole.
William Loader suggests this is Mark at his subversive best. “Mark can do this because he knew such stories. Jesus did not sideline people. Jesus responded to what were seen as the ‘hopeless cases’ of his day”. He continues; “Whether at the symbolic level or at a literal level, the story illustrates an approach to people which is central to Jesus’ teaching”. (WLoader/Web site-2003)
Again we see this inclusive theme coming straight to the top of Jesus life and ministry that Mark never fails to include. We have seen Jesus include so many outsiders whether they are whores or children, tax collectors or lepers, “unclean” women, or legalists. All are invited, none are excluded.
For Bartimaeus it was merely an obstacle for his faith to overcome in order to regain his sight. But what about us what keeps us blind? Is it a similar obstacle for our faith or is it an obstacle to overcome to have faith? Jesus says to him, without even so much as a touch, “Go, your faith has healed you!”
But what about our contemporary culture? Are we ready to hear these words or are we more like the rest of the apostles that leave this story still spiritually blind? As Eugene Peterson puts it has our Spiritual grounding in the Word of God wandered into the self help isle and become just an accomplishment of time management and organization? It is Jesus Christ at the root of our spiritual journey. It is the Word of God that is the root of our Spiritual quest. If we lose track of this, - church quickly becomes a place to come and feel good about yourself, a place where it is all about me and not about the other.
Robert Funk, founder of the Jesus Seminar, was quoted as saying “The invisible domain of God is populated with the poor, the destitute, with women and unwanted children, with lepers, and toll collectors, all considered under some circumstances to be the dregs of society. They are outsiders and outcasts. They are exiles from their native religious tradition” (Funk 2002: 55). Yet there is Jesus. Much of Jesus’ energy in controversy with his fellow Jews was spent trying to show that we must interpret scripture in a way which sees its priority as concern for well being of the other, of the outside and the outcast.
I can’t help but think of a movie I just watched Thursday night, John Q. In it, John Quincy Archibald, a father and husband whose son is diagnosed with an enlarged heart and then finds out he cannot receive a transplant because HMO insurance will not cover it. Therefore, he decides to take a hospital full of patients hostage until the hospital puts his son's name on the recipient's list. He screamed out at the top of his lungs; “Have Mercy on me”, and the insurance industry responded shut up!
While I would never condone such actions as justified, the movie clearly highlights the messed up healthcare system we currently deal with. Rapidly escalating health care costs are crushing families, and business. Employer-sponsored health insurance premiums have doubled in the last 9 years, a rate 3 times faster than corresponding wages. This forces families to sit around the kitchen table to make impossible choices between paying rent or paying health premiums. The United States spent approximately $2.2 trillion on health care in 2007, or $7,421 per person, even if not everybody saw a benefit. – That’s nearly twice the average of other developed nations. Americans are now spending more on health care than on housing or food.
Last spring I was having horrible headaches. They would come on in the middle of the day and last two or three days. I went to the doctor to find out if it was anything serious. He was pretty sure it was stress related but wanted to do an MRI just to rule out anything else. When the insurance company found out about this I was informed that with my deductable and co-pay it would cost me $1200 to have the MRI. I did not get it. Now given I am still alive it likely is not something more serious - but why should we have to decide between loading up our credit cards or getting a clean bill of health?
The people of our nation are screaming out “Have mercy on me!” We the Church have an obligation to be involved. Jesus does not call us to silence the outspoken but bring them to Him!
Please do not mistake this for support of any particular political plan. I am not a politician nor an expert on how to fix the problem. All the same - as Christians we have a calling to take care of the least of these. We need to scream out with our brothers and sisters that are dying alongside us because they can’t afford a doctor or have to claim bankruptcy because their child gets cancer. We need to be able to say to those in need “Take heart; Get up, He is calling you!”
Let me end with this parable: The shocked family was standing on the sidewalk in front of their house, watching the firemen swarming in and out. A grease fire had severely damaged the kitchen and smoke was saturating everything they owned. They watched in dismay as the fire was put out. Holes in the walls. Scorched ceilings. Broken plates. A real mess awaited them.
Suddenly a pizza delivery car pulled up next to the curb, and a young guy jumped out carrying one of those large pizza delivery bags. The father of the family looked puzzled: “Sorry fellow! You must have the wrong address. None of us ordered a pizza, and besides, my wallet was in my coat pocket - in the kitchen”.
The delivery guy smiled, shock his head and said: “Yea, I know you didn’t order this. But I saw you all just standing there and I had to do something. “There’s no charge. Just take it easy and have something to eat”. And with that he jumped back into his car and sped off as the astonished family watched. (A story adapted from William Bausch)
How many people saw the fire, shook their heads, and drove on? How many saw the people in need? One young fellow saw and decided to do something about it. The ‘doing’ was some simple words and ordinary caring. But he saw, his blindness had been lifted and he followed without a hesitation. Let’s do the same!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The PC(USA) joins the 21st Century! You think they posted it on You Tube?

Monday, May 11, 2009

All You need is Love

This was my first sermon preached at Presbyterian Community Church of the Rockies in Estes Park, CO It seemed very hard to write. Maybe it was because I don't know the congregation well yet or maybe I was just distracted? Either way here it is...

There's nothing you can do that can't be done.
Nothing you can sing that can't be sung.
Nothing you can say, but you can learn
How to play the game –

Nothing you can make that can't be made.
No one you can save that can't be saved.
Nothing you can do, but you can learn
How to be you in time –

All you need is love, all you need is love,
All you need is love, love. Love is all you need.

These words written by John Lennon, some 42 years ago seem so simple and yet speak volumes toward what God desires in relationship to humanity. It was written as a universal song that would transcend cultures all around the globe. Brian Epstein, the Beatles manager said, "The nice thing about it is that it cannot be misinterpreted. It is a clear message saying that love is everything." Love is everything.

John Lennon wrote these words hoping to elicit change in the attitudes of the world. It was a time and an age when love seemed to be in short supply as War was raging and Fear seemed to be ruling the day. Lennon hoped that this simple song could spur on a revolution bringing back what I think he knew God had desired for our relationships with God and with one another.

Somehow the enlightenment had turned love into a specimen under a microscope to be studied and dissected. Over time humanity began to over intellectualize what love is. We studied it in classrooms, wrote books about it and dedicated entire careers to explain it to the rest of us. Love became domesticated and tamed. The problem was that Love was never supposed to be primarily a warm fuzzy blanket for you alone to snuggle up in. Further love became synonymous with personal happiness (not that this isn’t a byproduct of love).

Love is intended to be a self sacrificing act as was best seen in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It should have the ability to make us act in ways not typical of human nature. So what happened over that last 2000 years to transform love from a communal act to that of an individual feeling?

Beloved since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.” Said St John in this epistle.

Yet somehow Christianity is not always seen as a religion of love. In fact author/activist Shane Claiborne tells of an experiment he conducted on the streets of Philadelphia. He asked random people for their first reaction to a list of words such as ‘snow’, ‘teenagers’, ‘Eagles’ and ‘Christian’. None of the words seem to faze the people except for ‘Christian’. Some of the reactions to this word were: fake, hypocrites, and bigots. Not one person said love.

Some theologists suggest love has been co-opted by our insecurity. We are using it as a way to lock the door and shut the blinds to keep us safe from whatever is outside. The result has reduced love to an individualized sense of security. It has become a status to achieve or a goal to accomplish. Love is no longer about the other person, now it is about us.

William Sloan Coffin is quoted as saying that the opposite of Love is not hate but fear. It is fear that does not allow us to love the homeless person asking for change at the off ramp. It is fear that does not allow us to love the aids patient working in our office. It is fear that pushes out love.

Fear is most often directed toward the unknown. That could be somebody of a different race or ethnic background or it could even be change. This fear of the unknown is not a brand new thing either. Look at the story of Dirk Willems an Anabaptist martyr during the first reformation. He was scheduled to be executed for seeking change in the church. He managed to escape shortly before his execution. With the guards in hot pursuit he ran across a frozen lake. Hearing the ice crack he looked back to see the guard sink into the water. Dirk turned back and went into the water saving the guard, only to be returned to prison and executed for not upholding the right beliefs of the church. This man was not taking part in atrocities against mankind; instead he was asking questions of the status quo. He asked that question with the great unknown answer, Why? And fear of the unknown was more powerful then the churches ability to answer.

John tells us that since God abides in us we therefore know the love that God has for us. This knowledge is deep down in our DNA put there by the creator of all. It is our built in ability to overcome fear. It does not come automatically though. It takes us reaching down into our soul to that place God planted it long before we could love God. We need to seek to grasp this love that has moved God since before creation. The love that moved God to create a universe of richness and multiplicity. The love that moved God to rejoice in the stars and planets, then in the lands and the oceans, then in life itself, and finally in the diversity and culture of humanity. It happens when that love deep down inside grows out of us pushing the fear aside and embracing the unknown, loving our brothers and sisters exactly where they are and for who they are.

This is not an easy thing for us to do. Humans don’t like change (yet somehow we manage accomplish a lot of it.) I remember my 5th grade teacher more than any other. Mr. Robinson was a very tall large black man. I grew up in a place with very little diversity to it. It was not that I had a prejudice about this man it was that I knew nothing about him. I had never meet a black person prior to this. I think Mr. Robinson took a great deal of pleasure in expanding our minds. He taught me so much beyond what 5th grade typically accomplishes by loving each of us first before we understood how to love him.

John tells us again and again that God is love. All God’s activity is loving activity. If God creates, God does it in love. If God rules, God does it in love. If God judges, God does it in love. God cannot help it God is love. In his act of perfect love we are able to overcome fear. We are able to embrace the outcast and down trodden we are able to reach out to the marginalized and oppressed because God first loved us.

South African Bishop Desmond Tutu tells the story of a woman’s love that overcame all fear. A love that could only be expressed because of the love God has for us all. He tells of a South African black woman who listened in a court room as a white police officer acknowledged his part in atrocities. He had shot the woman’s 18 year old son, point blank, and partied with others as they burned the boy’s body until it was reduced to ashes.

Eight years later, this same Officer Van de Broek had come and seized her husband, and forced the woman to watch as her husband was bound to a woodpile, had gasoline poured over him, and was consumed by the flames. The last thing she heard her husband say was “forgive them.”

Now the court was bringing Van de Broek and others to justice. The Truth and Reconciliation Committee of South Africa wanted to know what the woman wanted.

“I want three things,” she said calmly. “I want Mr. Van de Broek to take me to the place where they burned my husband's body. I would like to gather up the dust and give him a decent burial. “Second, Mr. Van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so that I can be a mother to him. “Third, I would like Mr. Van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him, too. I would like to embrace him so he can know my forgiveness is real.” This is a true example of the love God showed us, a love that overcame fear, hate and even rage.

Knowing that such love claims all of us, how do we imitate it in our world? Maybe, we don’t need to think of dramatic stages from which we can change the world by the power of our money or wisdom.

Knowing the God who found us, one by one, in our hidden places, maybe we can look for hidden corners where people who have been hurt or wronged or misjudged can find affirmation and acceptance through us. And as we look eye to eye with these people, we may be a surprised. For although no one has ever seen God, as we learn how to love one another, God love is made complete in us. And we may be surprised to see him, face to face.

All you need is love, love. Love is all you need.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sitting @home enjoying a 40 man reminds me of high school