The Self On the Spiritual Journey

The Self On the Spiritual Journey

Sermon on Mark 8:27-38 for September 16, 2018, Pentecost +17B  Audio Version here

Mark 8:27-38

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

When I lived overseas, one morning I left the house to go to the corner market for bread and milk, but it was closed.  So I walked a couple of blocks up to the larger market area, but instead of bustling, it was deserted.  It took a while to become aware that it was a state holiday. 

There is a strange rule that seems to be in effect everywhere: “What everybody knows, nobody says.  For example, you would never think to tell your neighbor that there is no school on Christmas; we all know it. 

The same thing happens when we read the bible.  Sometimes the curtain is lifted a little and we get a peek at how Jesus and the disciples lived, like when we hear that Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, “as was his custom” we learn that Jesus was a regular at synagogue worship.  (Luke 4:16)

Similarly, we know that Jesus went off to pray at night, and Luke tell us that Jesus “would withdraw to deserted places and pray” (Luke 5:16) which means that he did that customarily; it was part of his spiritual practice.  But we are never told what he did in those long nights of prayer.  We are not given a method. 

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“Tikkun olam”  Healing the World

“Tikkun olam”  Healing the World

Sermon on Mark 7:24-37 for September 9, 2018, Pentecost +16B   Audio Version Here

Mark 7:24-37

From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

In Judaism, there is a phrase that sums up our human responsibility as “tikkun olam” which means repairing, or healing the world.  Our moral duty is not only our own spiritual welfare, but extends to the entire world.  The starting point of this perspective is that something is broken and needs repairing, or sick and needs healing. 

Philosopher of comparative religion Huston Smith has said that nearly all religions agree that part of the human condition is our feeling that something has gone wrong that needs to be put right.  Whether they teach that we have many lives to go through, or some kind of purification process, or path to follow, the assumption is that our current state is an unwell state.  We need tikkun, healing.

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Jesus’ Radical Reorientation

Jesus’ Radical Reorientation

Sermon on Lev. 11:1-12 and Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23, for September 2, 2018, Pentecost +15B

Audio Version Here

Lev. 11:1-12

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’ You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.

“For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

In our church, after each Sunday morning service, we gather for lunch in Fellowship Hall.  Sharing lunch together is important to me, and I am so thankful to all who participate.   I sent an email to our folks about shared meals, so they already know a bit about why I consider them so significant.  Sharing a meal with people is as ancient as any human practice is.  Sharing meals is far more than simply eating together.  It establishes who is part of your group, whether it is a family, a clan, a tribe, or a church. 

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Stories that Nurtured Jesus – Ruth 4

Stories that Nurtured Jesus – Ruth 4

Sermon on Ruth 4 and Luke 6:27—31 for August 26, 2018, Pentecost +14B  Audio Version Here 

[I’m assuming that you have just read the texts linked above – otherwise this may be hard to follow.]

All of us who use computers know about hyperlinks — they are the words which, when you click on them, link you to another location.  Often a table of contents will be hyperlinked so if you, for example, click on the title of chapter 5 it will take you to chapter 5.   Well, some have called the Bible the most hyperlinked text in the world.  Not in a literal sense, but in the sense that the stories are so interconnected to each other that reading one automatically brings up many others, and that this is intentional and part of the meaning.

We are going to see this happening today, as we bring to a conclusion our series on the book of Ruth that I have called, “Stories that nurtured Jesus.”  Jesus never referred directly to the book of Ruth, at least in the written records we have of his teaching, but Jesus’ central theme, that the Kingdom of God was actually at hand, to be lived and  experienced as a present reality, in spite of all indications to the contrary, is what the book of Ruth is all about.  There is no doubt in my mind that the characters in this story formed part of the mental furniture of Jesus’ mind.

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Stories that Nurtured Jesus: Ruth 3

Stories that Nurtured Jesus: Ruth 3

Luke 6:37-38Ruth 3      Audio Version Here

I’m assuming you just read Ruth 3 (if  not, this may not make much sense).

I was listening to a podcast which asked the question: what is meant by masculinity?  The answer given was that it is a series of stories we hear that tell us what little boys should do or not do, and what they should like and not like.  Big boys don’t cry.  Boys play with trucks, not dolls.  Boys like sports, not dressing up.  Boys like blue, not pink.  And femininity is similarly a set of stories that tell us what little girls are to do and not do, what to like and not like. 

The stories we receive shape our worlds.  They tend to present a binary picture of the world of black and white, all or nothing, without ambiguity. 

We cannot help hearing stories that shape us as children.  But as adults, we learn to question the adequacy of some of those stories, or even the truthfulness of them.  We learn that there are alternative narratives that deserve a hearing.  We learn that binary categories of all or nothing, do not adequately account for the world as it really is. In fact, these stories end up marginalizing people who do not fit into the strict binary categories.  The stories become oppressive.

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Ruth 2 – The Stories that Nurtured Jesus

Sermon onRuth 2 and Matthew 22:36-39 for August 5, 2018, Pentecost +11B

Ruth 2 (Please read this first)

Matthew 22:36-39

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”   He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  38 This is the greatest and first commandment.   And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

Screen Shot 2018-08-04 at 2.18.55 PMIn the days of danger and chaos, when “there was no king in Israel and every one “did what was right in his own eyes” there was a famine in the land.  So a family of Israelites, from Bethlehem (which means “house of bread”) went to live in Moab, to find bread. 

The father, Elimelech had two sons who married Moabite women.  The father and the two sons all died, and the mother, Naomi, whose name means “pleasant”, heard that there was food back home, so she returned to Bethlehem at the time of the barley harvest. 

One of her daughters in law, Orpah, turned her back on Naomi, but the other, Ruth, whose name means “friend, or companion,” stayed with her, leaving behind her home, her relatives, and the gods of the Moabites to become an immigrant to Israel. 

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Ruth 1 – The Stories that Nurtured Jesus

Ruth 1 – The Stories that Nurtured Jesus

Sermon for July 29, 2018,  on Ruth 1:1-22 and Luke 6:32-36    Audio Version Here

In the next few weeks, we will look closely at the book of Ruth.  Please pause here and read Ruth chapter 1.  This charming and apparently simple story is actually far from simple.  The issues it deals with are profound issues for us.  We will look at the setting of the story today, and learn that the book of Ruth, though set in times far different from our own, nevertheless brings us face to face with problems that are as relevant as today’s’ newspaper and ones own daily journal entry. 

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