Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | March 1, 2014

Welcome to Skokie Central Church

Each week, the Sunday sermon by Rev. David Haley, pastor of Skokie Central Church, will be posted. As the archive of sermons is completed, we will link to the archive from the blog as well.

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Central United Methodist Church
Parable of the Talents: Commendable or Corrupt?
Pastor David L. Haley
Matthew 25: 14 – 30
November 19, 2017

 Horn of Plenty

“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ – Matthew 25: 14 – 30, the New Revised Standard Version

In just a few days we will take our seat for one of our most beloved family rituals; no, not football, but the public and private holiday that is Thanksgiving.

As we gather around the table, thankful for those who can be there and missing those who are not, our minds may be divided this year. Yes, we will be thankful our blessings, for our families, and for what we have, which is considerable. Not all of us have completely smooth sailing, but for the most part, we have been blessed beyond measure, and as we gather for Thanksgiving, we are sincerely thankful to God.

But in addition to gratitude, we may also feel anxiety this Thanksgiving, that something has gone badly wrong. The list of concerns is almost too long to enumerate: North Korea, white supremacy, mass murders and gun violence, climate change, sexual harassment, and now the possibility of a changed tax code, which is almost certainly going to cost us more in many ways, not less. Given that it also adds to our national deficit – it is going to cost our children even more. According to a Gallop Poll conducted in September, 73% of U. S. adults are dissatisfied with the way things are going; in other words, three out of four Americans have measurable anxiety about the state of the country. So pardon us if we get a little Thanksgiving dyspepsia, and not just from eating too much turkey.

For those of us who are Christ-followers, as we give thanks for our blessings and say goodbye to some of them, there is a third thing to keep our eye on, which is, “What are we doing with that which we have received?” Or to put it more in line with Jesus’ Parable today: “with that which we have been entrusted?” Or, at least that’s what we might think.

I’ve been preaching Jesus’ parables for over forty years now, but without knowing exactly what Jesus had in mind, I can’t tell you for sure what they are about, or even who the good guys and bad guys are. Jesus’ parables are less like classical than impressionist paintings, open-ended. I like that description of Jesus’ parables from Clarence Jordan that I gave you a few months ago: “Whenever Jesus told a parable, he lit a stick of dynamite and covered it with a story.” The Parable of the Talents, which we hear today, is one of those stories.

For starters, we need to remember this: we need to stop reading parables allegorically, such that the “Master” is automatically God or Jesus. Because if God is like the masters in many of Jesus’ stories, we are in deep trouble!

Secondly, in this story, a talent was not a special gift or ability, as we often think of it. Rather, a “talent” was the largest denomination of ancient currency. Actually, they were big pieces of precious metal, like gold, which weighed as much as 60 – 120 pounds each; you are not going to be putting a talent in your pocket. Each talent, substantial as it was, was roughly equivalent to 20 years wages for the average worker. So right from the start, that makes this story almost unbelievable, to think that ANY master would EVER entrust such an amount to slaves, and then skip town hoping for the best.

Also, the wheeling and dealing for which this Master commends his servants, would have been outrageous to most ancient hearers. The master and his servant’s behavior with the money would have been morally reprehensible; because somebody somewhere was likely getting cheated. After all, usury – charging interest – was prohibited for Jews and Christians up until the 16th century.

In a city like Chicago, a city with a history of ward bosses and machine politicians, we recognize the kind of guy this Master was. As Tammany Hall politician George Washington Plunkett put it long ago: “I seen my opportunities and took ‘em.” In fact, you want to know what’s funny (or sad, depending upon how you look at it); when I preached this parable 10 – 15 years ago, you know who I used as a contemporary example for the Master of this parable? Donald Trump, on the Apprentice, hiring and firing. And now he’s President. What does that say about us?

And what about the poor third servant? Definitely a conservative, he kept safe that with which he was entrusted, making not a penny more, nor a penny less? Maybe he had just listened to Jesus’ parable of the ten Virgins which precedes this story, those ill-prepared maidens who ran out of oil before the Master arrived, and wanted to make sure that what happened to them, never happened to him? No sir, he was keeping that money safe, in a hole (a very big hole) in the back yard. And for doing so, he gets cursed and kicked out. You’re fired!

So, the so-called Parable of the Talents could be about this: about money, but more likely about trust. The Master trusted his servants, and his servants trusted their Master, to the degree of emulating him. Except for the third; who did not trust the Master, knowing him for what he was, a harsh man, reaping where he did not sow, and gathering where he did not scatter.” “I was afraid,” he said, “and hid your talent in the ground.”

If this is the meaning, I could preach a good message – and many preachers likely are today – on what we do with what we got, and the opportunities we squander in life, because we are afraid. Some of us are afraid of God, which is no surprise given how badly God is portrayed in much of Christianity. Rather than the God of love that Jesus preached, God is an angry God, a God who would send us all to hell in torment for eternity if he hadn’t taken it out on his own innocent Son, letting us off the hook. No wonder many people no longer want anything to do with Christianity in its current cultural form.

So this parable might be saying: “Don’t fear, trust the Master, and most of all do not squander the opportunity and resources with which God has entrusted us, but make the most of them.” That’s a good message, many preachers preach it, I have preached it. Only problem is, as a professor I once had used to say: “Good sermon, bad text.” Because that might not be what this parable is about.

What it could be about, is something completely different. What if the Parable of the Talents is not about what to do, but what not to do?

Let’s review the clues. Look at the behavior of the master: an absentee landlord who does no work himself, but lives off of the labor of his slaves. Look at the behavior he asks of them: the profit-making he demands would have been seen in Jesus’ time as coming at the expense of good people; greedy and grasping rather than smart or virtuous. Look at what the master tells the third slave, whom he treats harshly: his punishment is specifically for refusing to break God’s commandment against usury (Matthew 25:27), a practice consistently condemned in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.

So if this parable is not about making the most of our opportunities and using what God has given us, what’s it about? Jesus tells us explicitly in verse 29: “To all who have, more will be given, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. In other words – tell me if you’ve heard this before: “The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.”

Is the Master’s behavior something God would commend, let alone imitate? Is the kind of behavior the Master commends the behavior God expects of us? Some might think so; I do not. It would fly in the face of all that we know about Jesus and what he taught about God.

If you have any doubts, just wait until next Sunday, and the story Jesus tells then, the parable of the sheep and the goats. In that parable Jesus says that when the Son of Man comes, judgment will not be made of the basis of how much money we’ve made, or how religious we were, but rather on whether our walk matched our talk: what we did when we saw the least of our brothers and sisters in need: whether in prison, in need of food and clothing or health care. (Thanks to Sarah Dylan Breuer for her excellent commentary, SarahLaughed.net, Proper 28, Year A, November 9, 2005.)

So, maybe this parable is less about “making the most of what we got,” than it is about caring for those whom the world leaves out, like that poor third servant who did the right thing, but then got kicked out for doing it. Such people are like the people Jesus talked about in the Sermon on the Mount; those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, who are humble, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who are merciful, who are pure in heart, peacemakers, people persecuted for righteousness’ sake, like that third servant. They may not have a place among the wheeler-dealers of the world, but theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Maybe Jesus is saying to all those who can see and hear, that the world in which people like the Master and his flunkies always come out on top – seeing their opportunities and taking them – is passing away, to be replaced by the Kingdom of God. The question before us again becomes trust, but in a different way: whether we trust God enough to risk living as Jesus taught, rather than in the manner of the wheeler-dealers of the world, always trying to fleece us, whether in Congress or on the streets.

As we sit down to celebrate this Thanksgiving, let us remember those kicked out and cast out by the masters of the world. I have always liked and most years used, “A Child’s Thanksgiving Prayer,” written years ago by a child in the Spanish Mission of the United Methodist Church in Miami. It goes like this:

On Thanksgiving Day,
I thank God for my family and my sister.
I thank God for the rain and the sun.
I thank God for my Teddy Bear.
I thank God for my teachers and for my friends.
I thank you, God, for life and love.

On Thanksgiving Day,
I pray to God for all the poor people
who are hungry today because
they have no food, no home, no family
and no friends. They are all alone.
Only God remembers the poor.

On Thanksgiving Day,
I pray for the children who are hungry,
who have no parents, and no loving church.
I pray that God will spend Thanksgiving with them.
Please God visit me and love me;
I am not poor, but I love you too. Amen.
(CHISPA Spanish Mission of The United Methodist Church, Miami, Florida)

 

Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | November 5, 2017

2017.11.05 “A Gallery of Saints” – All Saints’ Sunday

Central United Methodist Church
A Gallery of Saints
Pastor David L. Haley
All Saints’ Sunday
November 5th, 2017

All Saint's Sunday

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us. . .” – Hebrews 12: 1, the New Revised Standard Version

Each year, if there is any Sunday that knocks us down, then picks us up and helps us go on, it is today, All Saints Sunday. All Saints Sunday is when we remember those who have died, especially those who have died over the last year.

It knocks us down because it powerfully reminds us of our losses – not just those who have died over the last year – but all those we have lost who were and still are dear to us.

Each year I approach All Saints Day like one walking on thin ice, afraid that it will crack and I will fall through, overwhelmed with grief for all those whose deaths I mourn. Nobody tells you when you start out in the ministry that one of the saddest things you will have to do is bury the older members of your congregations, one by one, especially when you have long pastoral tenures, as I have. For me, it has worked out to be about a third of the congregation per decade. After five congregations over 44 years, it becomes a cumulative load of grief and loss – like that thin ice – threatening to give way at any time.

But you don’t have to be a pastor to feel this way. Those of us who are further along in life understand: as we age, so many of our family and friends die before us, if we ourselves are fortunate to survive. Recently on a late-night talk show, the British actor John Cleese remarked that he doesn’t fear death, because the best people are there. (and some of the worst ones are here!) Some of us appreciate such statements more and more.

Given this, it should not be surprising that one of the major ways people have dealt with grief and loss, in addition to facing our own mortality, is through religion and faith. And – of all the metaphors and images religion offers – one of my favorites has become the one suggested by the writer of the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews, in chapter 12, verse 1:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us . . .”

Did you catch the image: that our lives are like a race we run, in an arena, watched and cheered on by a gallery of spectators, our “cloud of witnesses.”

Several years ago, the Rev. John Buchanan, former pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, focused this image even more when he compared our “cloud of witnesses” – our saints – to “our balcony.” If you remember, in the past many gymnasiums, theaters, and churches had balconies. When, as children or youth we did something, such as play basketball or a role in the high school play or read Scripture in church, our parents may have sat in the balcony, cheering us on. So, says Buchanan, now, in life, our saints are “our balcony,” the people who influenced and inspired us and now, in heaven, cheer us on. All Saints Sunday becomes our day to look up, acknowledge and wave to our saints, our balcony.

While All Saints Sunday may remind us of many; today, we want to remember five saints from Central, who have died in the last year.

Ilene KoniorThe first of these is Ilene Konior, who died November 17, 2016, at the age of 82. Ilene Ehrhardt was born in Chicago on September 10, 1934 to James and Ina Ehrhardt, graduating from Lake View High School in 1952.

During High School Graduation practice, Ilene met her future husband Ron Konior, when they were introduced to each other by a mutual friend. They ended up going to a square dance with a group from Lake View Lutheran Church – which is ironic, since Ron does not dance – and began dating after that. They got married April 2, 1955 at Lake View Lutheran Church, where they were members for many years. They would have two children, Karen and Christine, and in 1968 the family moved to Skokie; soon after they became members of Central.

We remember Ilene in many ways. She was a wonderful cook, and a world class cookie baker. She was also a musician, playing the piano at church and at local nursing homes, and also singing in the choir. She was a caring and loving person, caring not only for her family but for people beyond her family. Even after she began to exhibit signs of dementia, she continued to be her caring, loving, mild mannered self. As the disease progressed, the one thing she never lost was her contagious smile, which those of us who knew her will always remember.

Helen BextelHelen S. Bextel died May 20 at the age of 102. Helen was born at home in Providence, Rhode Island, October 13, 1914, to Karl Wilhelm and Emma Kristina Sward, immigrants from Sweden. Her father died when she was just 4 years old. After her father’s death, her mother struggled to care for their four daughters and one son. Faith, which was an important part of their family life, helped them through hard times: Every Sunday it took two streetcars to attend the Swedish Congregational Church, where Helen was eventually confirmed.

Helen was the only one of her siblings to receive an education, graduating with a secretarial diploma. Eventually, she was employed with a jewelry company. Her boss, Harold Van Cleve Bextel, eventually became her husband, in 1934. Helen worked until she became pregnant with her first child, Harold. A second son, Donald was born eight years later. When Mr. Bextel invested in a new business with his brothers, the family moved to Skokie. Mr. Bextel died in 1970 at the age of 64.

Helen volunteered – both in the community and at Central – in many ways. She served as PTA president for Lincoln school and served four terms as president of PEO Educational organization. For two terms, Helen tutored one day a week at Thomas Edison school, of which she says: “I loved every minute.”

Helen was a member of Central for 70 years. Although she served in many ways, the way we knew her was as the Rummage Queen, organizing an annual rummage sale. Her real claim to fame was her hard work, constant smile, good nature, and peaceful negotiations, at the “right time.”

Several years ago, Helen moved to Tamarack Retirement Home in Palatine, to be closer to her family. It was there she lived out her last years, cared for by family and new friends. We were blessed to have Helen in our congregation and in our lives.

Ruth JaklinRuth Jaklin, died June 18th, in Bluffton, SC., at the age of 87. Ruth was born on January 17, 1930; I think Ruth grew up in Chicago, and at one time, I think she was a deaconess, for sure a long time Methodist.

How we most knew Ruth at Central was as part of a team, with her husband Roger. Roger and Ruth were often seen, organizing the golf outing for HARP (Happy Active Retired Persons), maintained the rose garden, and also serving in the office as Central’s bulk mailing experts.

After Roger’s death in 2012, Ruth had a hard time of it. Her health was deteriorating, but even so she hated leaving her home and moving to a assisted living center. Then – last year – the hardest move of all, to South Carolina, to be near her family. Most of all, Ruth missed Roger. My favorite saying of Ruth’s throughout all of this – which I heard her say often – was: “What are you going to do?” Ruth is survived by her son Roger Jaklin, Jr. and his wife Robbin and her grandsons Benjamin and Daniel.

Leone O'RoarkLeone O’Roark, died July 19 in Glenview, at the age of 101. Leone Nelson was born September 30, 1915 in the upstairs back bedroom of her parent’s home on Kostner Street in Chicago. Her father, Louis, was an auditor at the Chicago Post Office, and her mother, Mamie, stayed home to care for the family. She had two brothers, and a sister who died at the age of three from scarlet fever. Her family attended Irving Park Methodist Church, which her mother had attended since 1901.

After high school, Leone’s first job was as a cashier for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933 and 1934. While still living at home, one night her brother brought home a school friend, Joe O’Roark, to sample their mother’s home cooking. They were going to a movie and asked Leone to join them. One thing led to another and Leone married Joe in the living room of her home in 1941. They had three boys, Joe Jr., Bob, and Michael, who blessed them with grandchildren and great grandchildren. Tragically, her husband Joe was killed in an auto accident in 1961, leaving Leone a widow for 56 years. Her oldest son, Joe, Jr., died last year.

Besides raising her family, Leone worked in the Devonshire office of Skokie Park District for twenty years. After her retirement, she volunteered for Meals on Wheels, delivering meals for 25 years, and was honored for her service by the Village of Skokie.

Leone joined Central Church in 1949 when services were still held in the log cabin. Through the years, she did everything: she picked up the altar flowers at Margie’s every Saturday morning; she took care of the altar; she was an offering counter; and every month she folded, put on labels and stamps, and mailed the newsletter.

On her 97th birthday, Leone moved out of the home she had lived in since 1949, into a nearby assisted living facility, the same one Ruth Jaklin lived in. Two of my favorite Leone stories are these: Once when Kathy Shine remarked to her at Bible Study on Sunday morning that she was glad she was there, Leone replied: “Where else would I be?” (I hope Kathy did not explain her options). The other is once when I visited her at Lincolnwood after she could no longer come to church, she told me that on Sunday morning she sat and watched the clock, thinking: “Now they’re starting the service, now the choir is singing, now the Pastor is starting his sermon, etc.” (“Where else would I be?”) For 73 years, Central and those of us who were late-comers to Central were blessed with Leone’s cheerful personality, her presence and her service.

Russ NelsonRuss Nelson died September 8th at the age of 95. Russ grew up with 4 siblings on the north side of Chicago. As a teenager he and his older brother, Harry, were members of a gospel quartet and sang in Chicago churches.

Russ was a veteran of World War II, where he served as a Navy Radioman aboard two oil tankers that refueled aircraft carriers and supplied high-test gasoline for the Air Force, serving one year in the Atlantic and one year in the Pacific.

Russ enjoyed roller-skating at the Riverview Roller Rink, an interest that was to prove significant. On one of his leaves, a girl skating alone caught his eye. He asked her to skate with him. She said, “No.” Russ persisted. Eventually she joined him, not only for roller-skating, but as his life’s companion. Russ and Mildred were married for 55 years, until her death in 2003. They had one son, Kevin, who lives in Evanston.

Russ and Mildred came to Central in the late 1960’s. Russ made his living as a commercial artist, winning seven design awards, and over the years, gave Central many artworks. Russ’s final oil painting of the Church now hangs in the Narthex. We are thankful for Russ’ life, his talent, his generosity, his service to our country and to Central.

If there is any Sunday that knocks us down – as we remember those we have lost – it is today. But – at the same time – by remembering these and all those we have known and loved – All Saints picks us up and helps us go on, filled with gratitude and hope. Inspired by their friendship and their examples of generosity and service – how well they ran the race set before them – let us lay aside every weight and run with perseverance the race set before us.  Amen.

Central United Methodist Church
The 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation:
How One Man Changed the World
Pastor David L. Haley
Reformation Sunday
October 29th, 2017

Luther Nailed It

 

If there is any one thing I hear and even say myself during our troubled times, it is this: “What possibly can I do that will make a difference? How can I change the world?”

My answer would be, “One person, acting in faith and courage at the right time, can change the world.” Jesus was one, the Apostle Paul was another; but today, on the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, we remember that Martin Luther was also a man who changed the world. It was only two days from now, a mere 500 years ago, on October 31, 1517, that Luther posted his 95 theses for debate on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church, beginning what we know as the Protestant Reformation, whose consequences – for better and worse – remain with us to this day.

The story of Martin Luther is one of the most fascinating stories in the history of Christianity. It is a story that has everything: parental conflict, spiritual struggle, life-changing moments, near-misses, disguises, daring escapes, princes, popes, emperors, castles, kidnapping, mobs, revolution, massacres, politics, courage, controversy, humor, and romance. And not only is it a good story, it marks a turning point in Christian and Western history. Hundreds of books have been written not only on the Reformation, but on Luther himself. (The official edition of Luther’s writings alone contains 113 volumes.) For this reason, unless you want to be here another 500 years, I can’t go into great detail.

If you would like to know more, I recommend to you a book written in 2004 by a former professor of mine, Martin E. Marty: Martin Luther: A Life. And there are many resources online, including videos (not least the 2003 film Luther, starring Joseph Fiennes. Rick Steves has a good video tour of the Luther sites, and Adam Hamilton has a sermon from Germany this weekend (Why didn’t I think of that?).

Essentially, the story of Luther is a religious story. Born in 1483 in Eisleben, Germany, Luther was born into a world ruled by religion. The only church was the Roman Catholic church, rich and powerful, who controlled – as Luther once put it – every part of the body. It was a world filled with demons and devils and the threat of hell; of these, Luther was terrified. Such that one day as he walked down a road, when a storm blew up and a bolt of lighting knocked him to the ground, he cried in terror, “St. Anne, help me! I will become a monk.”

And what a monk he was! Luther later wrote, “I was a good monk, and I kept the rule of my order so strictly that I may say that if ever a monk got to heaven by his monkery, it was I. All my brothers in the monastery who knew me will bear me out. If I had kept on any longer, I should have killed myself with vigils, prayers, reading, and other work.”

And he might have, if his superior, Johann von Staupitz had not refocused him as a scholar of the Scriptures, in Greek and Hebrew. Eventually, Luther focused on the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Hear Luther’s own words:

“I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, “the justice of God,” because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant.

Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that “the just shall live by his faith.” Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the “justice of God” had filled me with hate, now it because to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven.”

To put it concisely, Luther became convinced of two great Reformation principles: “sola fide,” that salvation is by faith alone, and “sola scriptura,” that Christian faith and practice are governed by Scripture alone. In 1508 he was transferred to the University of Wittenberg as a professor; what would happen there would surprise everybody, including Luther.

In Rome, Pope Leo X launched a fundraising drive, to build a new St. Peter’s. The drive consisted of the church selling indulgences. It worked like this: If you had a loved one in purgatory, you could spare them a few thousand years by buying an certificate of indulgence. As one of the most crass hawkers of indulgences, John Tetzel, put it, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”

When Tetzel came near Wittenberg, some of Luther’s parishioners complained. They had bought indulgences, and wondered if it was so. So you might say the Reformation began with a pastoral problem, which was also an ethical and theological problem. Such that on October 31, 1517, Luther wrote to his bishop, protesting the sale of indulgences, and enclosed in his letter a copy of his “”Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences”, which came to be known as the Ninety-five Theses. Thesis 86 asks: “Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?”

It’s not clear whether they were actually nailed to the castle church door, but in any case, as we would say today, they went viral, thanks to a new invention by Johannes Gutenberg called the printing press (1439). In two weeks copies circulated throughout Germany, and in two months throughout Europe. It was like what Karl Barth said of his own unexpected experience as a reformer, that he was like a man climbing in the darkness of a winding staircase in an ancient cathedral. In the blackness he reached out to steady himself, caught hold of a rope, and was then startled to hear the clanging of a bell.

To make a long story short, the many pieces of the big map that was the Holy Roman Empire began to move. Some joined the protest – like Luther – for religious reasons; others for power and wealth and land. What Luther had intended as reform of the church, became the Protestant Reformation, the rise of the middle class, the beginning of European nationalism, and the beginning of the Renaissance. Some areas became Protestant, others stayed Catholic, by the Latin phrase: “cuius regio, eius religio,” which means “whose realm, his religion.” For those of us of European ancestry, this is why our families are Catholic or Protestant, depending upon where we are from. Later, European colonization of the world would spread this around the world; so that, depending upon which country and which accompanying missionaries you were a colony of, that was your religion. The Philippines, for example, because of Spain, are primarily Catholic, with a few Protestants (like Methodists) thrown in. I like what South African Desmond Tutu once said, “When the missionaries came, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, ‘Let us pray.’ When we opened our eyes, we had the Bible and they had the land.”

Luther TrialPope Leo X was not pleased, and Luther was summoned before the Diet of Worms, presided over by the Emperor, Charles V. There, Luther’s protector, Frederick the Wise, asked the Catholic scholar Erasmus: “Tell me, what great sin has my monk committed, that he is attacked so fiercely?” Erasmus replied: “Two very grievous ones: he has laid his hands on the crown of the Pope and the belly of the monks.”

Asked to recant what he had written, Luther uttered his famous reply:

“Since then Your Majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason, I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot  and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me.” (Later versions say Luther added: “Here I stand, I can do no other.”)

Luther was banned, his books were burned, and he was excommunicated, a sentence of death. On the way home, he was kidnapped by allies and taken to Wartburg Castle, where he hid out in disguise under the name of “Junker Jörg” and grew a beard and long hair. While there, not having anything else to do, he translated the Bible into German, giving the Germans a standardized language and a German version of the Bible they use to this day.

At the beginning, I asked if one person can change the world. Occasionally – as with Luther – there is an opportunity, but it always depends upon a constellation of factors. With Luther, it could easily have turned out otherwise. If Gutenberg had not just invented the printing press; if his ruler, Frederick the Wise, had not protected him; if the Emperor Charles V had not been off fighting the Muslims at the gates of Vienna, Luther would have likely suffered the same fate as the English reformer John Wycliffe or the Czech reformer Jan Hus, a hundred years before, both burned at the stake.

The Reformation spread to other countries: in Switzerland, it was led by Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin. In Scotland, by the fiery Presbyterian John Knox. In each place radical changes followed in church liturgy, architecture, and music: congregational singing, for example. In England, the Reformation was not only religious and political, but personal: King Henry the VIII needed a divorce, and the Catholic Church would not give him one, so Henry took over the church, confiscating the church’s land, and made himself head of the Anglican Church. Out of the Anglican Church would come our dear old Daddy, John Wesley, who – like Luther – only wanted to reform the existing church, not begin a new denomination of Christians. The schism has continued since, such that – in the U.S. alone, there are some 217+ denominations and 1,200 religious bodies.

Tragically, terribly, none of this happened without bloodshed. There was the German Peasant’s Revolt, which Luther himself approved crushing, which slaughtered 100,000 poorly armed peasants. There was extreme violence against such third-wing-of-the-Reformation Anabaptist groups as the Hutterites and Mennonites. There was the Thirty Years War, from 1618 to 1648, which resulted in eight million casualties, killing 25 to 40% of the population in Germany alone, ranking with famine and plague as one of the worst catastrophes in modern European history.

Great people also have great flaws. Luther himself, throughout his life and especially in his later years, until his death in 1546 at the age of 62, wrote some anti-semitic things, which later used by the Nazis (and the accommodating German Church) against the Jews, resulting in the Holocaust. I believe this is one of the reasons Europe is so secular today: they have suffered so much from the violence brought on by religion. This is also why so many of our ancestors left to come here to America; and why freedom of religion is such an important part of our Constitution. Without it, I fear we’d be killing each other again.

Where does this leave us today, on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation? What are we still protesting? With Luther, we believe that our standing with God depends upon faith in God’s grace alone. With Luther, we believe that the primary guide of Christian faith and practice is Scripture alone. With Luther, we believe in the priesthood of all believers, that we are priests to each other. But guess what: in Councils (Vatican II) and conversations since, the Catholic Church believes these things too, in different ways. So we might even say – in most ways, if not all – the reformation succeeded.

The critical principle that came out of the Reformation was this: “the church reformed, but always needing to be reformed.” (ecclesia reformata sed semper reformanda). Or as another called it, always “correcting the correction.” So now, after 500 years, while we may take pride in Protestant faith and practice, we have sinned against the substance and unity of the church, and we need to correct the correction, working together with Roman Catholics and Episcopalians and Lutherans and all who own and follow the name of Jesus Christ.

We should also keep in mind what philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once said, that at heart, the Reformation was really a “family quarrel.” The Orthodox Church in the East and certainly not the Muslims or the Hindus or Buddhists of the world took note or cared. But now, we live and work with them. So while we choose and follow the Jesus Way and the Protestant way, let us recognize that all are God’s children, following our different paths of love God and serving othes and seeking to change the world, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.

On this 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I like what the late Phyllis Tickle had to say, which is that every 500 years the Church has a giant rummage sale, to throw out everything that doesn’t work anymore and that we no longer need (and I’m not talking about clothes and shoes). The last one was the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century; now it’s time for another. Such that, in 500 years, what will they say about us? That we – acting in faith and courage at the right time – changed the world for better or for worse? May God grant for the better. Amen.

Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | October 22, 2017

2017.10.22 “Show Me The Money” – Matthew 22: 15 – 22

Central United Methodist Church
“Show Me The Money”
Pastor David L. Haley
Matthew 22: 15 – 22
October 22nd, 2017

Roman Coin

 

That’s when the Pharisees plotted a way to trap Jesus into saying something damaging.  They sent their disciples, with a few of Herod’s followers mixed in, to ask, “Teacher, we know you have integrity, teach the way of God accurately, are indifferent to popular opinion, and don’t pander to your students.  So tell us honestly: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Jesus knew they were up to no good. He said, “Why are you playing these games with me? Why are you trying to trap me?  Do you have a coin? Let me see it.” They handed him a silver piece.  “This engraving – who does it look like? And whose name is on it?” They said, “Caesar.” “Then give Caesar what is his, and give God what is his.”  The Pharisees were speechless. They went off shaking their heads.”  – Matthew 22: 15 – 22, from The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Have you ever noticed what’s on a dollar bill? If you have a dollar, you might want to get it out; for those who don’t have a $1 to your name, I’ll put a picture on the screen.

$1

While you are getting out your dollar, you can reflect upon the fact that – although figures vary – about 50% to 80% of all dollar bills contain traces of cocaine. This is not because every dollar bill has been used to sniff cocaine, but because they have come into contact with bills that have. And – lest you are tempted to put your money where your mouth is, you should also know that 94% of bills contain bacteria, including fecal bacteria, bringing new meaning to the term “filthy rich.”

On the dollar, look first to the “black side,” the one with the picture of George Washington. As our first President, it’s appropriate that George Washington should have his picture on the One Dollar Bill.

On the right hand side, superimposed on the word “One”, is the seal of United States Treasury. Inside the seal, will see scales – the symbol for a balanced budget (hah!). Just below the scales are a carpenter’s square, and underneath the square, the Key to the United States Treasury. Good luck with that!

On the left, in the circle, is a letter designating at which Federal Reserve Bank the bill originated, as well as various serial numbers and marks. As printing technology has become more sophisticated and accessible, counterfeiting is obviously a serious problem. Have you ever paid with a $20 or larger and had the cashier hold it up to the light to examine it? When that happens, don’t you hope it’s real?

The reverse side of the bill is green (which is why the dollar bill is sometimes called a “greenback”). It pictures the word “ONE” flanked by two circles, picturing the front and back of the Great Seal of the United States of America.

The circle on the left pictures an unfinished pyramid with 13 steps. At the top of the pyramid there is an all-seeing eye radiating light, an ancient symbol for God. There are two phrases in Latin: “Annuit Coeptis” (“He (Providence) favors our undertakings”), from the Roman Poet Virgil, and “Novus Ordo Seculorum” (“a new order of the ages”), reflecting our belief in American exceptionalism, that we are different than what has come before.

The circle on the right pictures the front of the Great Seal. It shows a bald eagle holding an olive branch and 13 arrows in its talons, with his head pointing toward the olive branches, favoring peace. There is a banner in the eagle’s bill reading, “E PLURIBUS UNUM” (which means, “Out of many, One”). There are 13 stars above the eagle and a shield with 13 stripes in front.  (If 13 is indeed an unlucky number, we are in trouble). There are some who say many of these symbols are Masonic or Rosicrusian in origin, which at the time the dollar was designed were secret societies.

In the center, above the written “One”, you will note the most controversial phrase, which is in “In God We Trust.” This phrase did not appear on paper money until 1957, 3 years after “Under God,” was also added to the Pledge of Allegiance, during the Cold War, when our enemy was the atheistic and communist Soviet Union.

These mottos, referring to God, in the Pledge of Allegiance and on our money, have always been controversial. One side argues “separation of church and state” requires the motto should be removed from public use, including on coins and paper money, and in pledges recited in publicly funded classrooms. They argue this because they believe religious freedom includes the right NOT to believe in God and therefore the gratuitous use of this motto infringes upon these rights.

The other side argues that “freedom of religion” was never intended by the Founding Fathers to be “freedom from religion”, and that these phrases in the Pledge of Allegiance and on our money reflects the will of the majority.

Interestingly, Theodore Roosevelt argued against the requirement of the motto on money, not because of a lack of faith in God, but because he thought it sacriligious to put the name of God on something so common as money. Indeed, if truth were told, it ought to read this way, “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash.”

Who would have thought a piece of paper 2.61 inches wide, 6.14 inches long, .0043 inches thick, weighing 1 gram, and costing the government 4.9 cents to make, would become a source of controversy (like the American flag and the National Anthem) regarding such things as money, taxes, government, and even God?

According to today’s Gospel, in the time of Jesus, similar  controversies were at play regarding money. Such that when religious authorities tried to trap Jesus into saying something controversial with a coin, what he said in response has made us think about money, taxes, government, and God, ever since.

The situation was this: Jesus is in Jerusalem, and tensions were arising, between his prophetic words and actions and the religious establishment. At that time, the religious establishment consisted of two groups, the Herodians and the Pharisees. The Herodians were collaborators with Rome, because it served their purposes and lined their pockets. The coin under discussion was the Imperial Tax; not only did Rome occupy the country, they made those occupied pay for the privilege of it. It brings to mind the Monty Python skit: “What have the Romans ever done for us?” Answers emerge: “Aqueducts. Sanitation. Roads. Education. Order. Peace!” But to pay for this, there was a tax. For Jesus to say not to pay it, he would be branded a rebel, an enemy of Rome, subject to execution.

On the other hand there were the Pharisees, the people’s party, as it were, resentful not only of Rome’s occupation but their idolatry. On the coin in question was an image of Emperor Tiberius as “son of the divine Augustus” (that is, a son of a god), offensive to Jews for its violation of both the 1st and 2nd commandment, “idolatry” and the making of “graven images.” If Jesus says “Don’t pay it,” he’s in trouble with the Romans. If he says, “Pay it,” he’s in trouble with the people.

But Jesus deftly evaded the trap by asking, “This engraving – who does it look like? And whose name is on it?” Then saying, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

For them and for us, the question remains: “What is Caesar’s (representing whatever government we live under) and what is God’s? What does Jesus’ answer tell us about money, taxes, government, and God?

Regarding money, this particular passage does not teach us much. Perhaps Jesus had to ask for a coin, because he didn’t have two denari to rub together. However, we do know from the rest of Jesus’ teaching that money was important, because he had more to say about money than he did about prayer or even heaven. Therefore, what we do with our money becomes important, too.

What do Jesus’ words teach us about taxes and government? Over the centuries, many Christians have based their attitude about government on this passage. Some have said Jesus’ response establishes two separate realms, Caesar’s and God’s, and that people should render to each what each asks. Practically, some say therefore we give to Caesar – in the way that Caesar asks, whatever it might be – Monday through Saturday, and we give to God what God asks, Sunday, from about 10 to noon. What’s wrong with this picture?

It’s like the story about the Pastor, the Priest, and the Rabbi. As they discussed how they divided the offering, the Priest said, “We draw a circle on the floor, and throw the offering in the air; what lands in the circle goes to God; what lands outside the circle we keep. The Rabbi said, “We do just the opposite; what lands in the circle we keep; what lands outside goes to God. The Pastor  says, “We have a better system. We throw the money in the air: what comes down we keep; what stays in the air we give to God.”

In context, Jesus’ saying is ambiguous. The word “render” means “give back;” thus the first phrase could mean, “It’s Caesar’s coin – give it back to him.” The second phrase could equally mean, “Pay your tribute tax to Caesar, and your temple tax to God,” to “Everything belongs to God.” In that case, what is owed to Caesar? Nothing. As the late Marcus Borg concluded:

“Thus this text offers little or no guidance for tax season. It neither claims taxation is legitimate nor gives aid to anti-tax activists. It neither counsels universal acceptance of political authority nor its reverse. But it does raise the provocative and still relevant question: What belongs to God, and what belongs to Caesar? And what if Caesar is Hitler, or apartheid, or communism, or global capitalism? What is to be the attitude of Christians toward domination systems, whether ancient or modern?” (Marcus Borg, What Belongs to God?)

Which – for us – makes paying taxes both simple and abhorrent; you hold your nose and write a check. With this check, you pay for a system of domination, but also for civilization. You pay for bombs and bullets, but also roads and schools and police and fire departments and hospitals and social security. WHAT our taxes pay for, is not only a political question, but also a moral question. For most of us, this is the problem with the tax bill now before Congress: it cuts programs for the poor and children and the elderly (both Medicare and Medicaid), in order to give a tax break to the rich, none of which is paid for other than in fantasy. So much for those scales.

Finally, as Jesus’ question provocatively poses, “What then belongs to God?” The answer: we do. The book of Genesis tells us that we are made in the likeness and image of God, that our lungs are filled with the Breath of God. We come from God, every thing we have and are is the gift of God, and in the end, we return to God. What then belongs to God: everything. With each word we say, with every decision we make, with each deed we do, we must remember this every day.

Lately Michele and I have been watching The Crown, the series about the British Royal Family, the House of Windsor. If there is anything Queen Elizabeth has understood clearly throughout her life, it is that members of the Royal Household must always act appropriately (even if they have not.) Such that, years ago, I remember hearing – I don’t know if it is factual or anecdotal – that when Prince Charles was growing up and was tempted to “normal” behavior, Queen Elizabeth was quick to remind him: “You must always remember who you are.”

And so must we. While our money may belong to Caesar (whose image and likeness are on it), we belong to God (whose image and likeness are upon us). Let us remember and act like it every day.  Amen.

Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | October 15, 2017

17.10.15 “The Gift of Peace” – Philippians 4: 1 – 9

Central United Methodist Church
The Gift of Peace
Pastor David L. Haley
Philippians 4: 1 – 9
October 15th, 2017

phil 4.7

 

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” – Philippians 4: 4 – 9, The New Revised Standard Version

 

Is it just me, or has it seemed lately that the news has been nothing but bad? Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, left people cleaning up and Puerto Rico in darkness. Then the Las Vegas shooter. Now the Northern California forest fires and people fleeing for their lives on short notice; some of us have friends who live there; we worry if they are alright.

Then, there is President Trump not only rattling sabers with North Korea, but governing like a bull in a china shop. The things now broken are almost too many to list: immigration, health care, Dreamers, climate change and the environment, UNESCO, and last week he threatened the 1st amendment – freedom of the press – when he threatened NBC’s license. As someone said, “It’s a good thing President Obama didn’t pass the Law of Gravity, because for sure we’d be repealing that too.”

These are only the things happening in our country, those who follow international news know bad things are happening elsewhere as well, like the massacre of the Rohingya people fleeing Myanmar, which United Nations officials have called a “textbook example” of ethnic cleansing. So far, despite horrific stories coming to light, the world has mostly looked away.

As if that’s not enough, John Tiffin had the kindness to send me an article warning about the mega-volcano underneath Yellowstone National Park, which geologists are warning could spew more than 1,000 cubic kilometers of rock and ash – 2,500 times more material than the Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980 – potentially blanketing most of the United States in ash and plunging the Earth into a volcanic winter. So we’ve got that to look forward to . . . (Thanks, John!)

I know, you say, it’s bad, but there’s only so much bad news I can handle, only so much I can do. Besides, I have enough problems of my own. Recently in a conversation someone said, “All these issues? For most people they are right over their heads, because most people are just trying to make it through the day.”

I understand, but it’s not true: when we take our eye off the big problems, they don’t go away or get smaller, eventually they come back to impact us. If you’re a Dreamer and suddenly you’re subject to deportation to a country you’re never even visited, that’s a problem. If you find out you have cancer or any other life-threatening disease and can’t afford treatment, that’s a death sentence. If you don’t have access to clean water and air, your life and your children’s lives suffer. If you turn away from gun violence and say there’s nothing we can do, then it may come back to threaten you, just as it took the life of the 64 year-old Chicago School teacher – Cynthia Trevillion – at the Morse Ave. EL stop in Rogers Park on Friday night. Such an incident is a real and tragic example, of how these larger issues can come back to impact us.

So – as it turns out – when I speculated in my email this week that we often seem to be living in a pre-apocalyptic, pre-dystopian world, and how long it might be before we live in a world that looks like Bladerunner, where it rains constantly, and is so dark and cloudy you can barely see, I may have been more right than I wish. All we need are a few replicants, which some of us suspect already exist as members of Congress. Sadly, this is becoming the world we live in. Is this what we want for our children and grandchildren?

I know, by now you’re saying, “Thank you, Pastor; I come to church to find strength and encouragement, and – two pages into your sermon – so far, I have NONE, because you have become Chicken Little, saying “THE SKY IS FALLING!”

Cluck, cluck; you are right, but this is the kind of world we live in, and this is why we come to church. In the midst of such fearful and frightening times, we come to hear words such as these:

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

These inspiring words were written by a first century Jew turned follower-of-Jesus, the Apostle Paul. As he writes late in his life, it’s not that he has nothing to worry about, he has plenty to worry about. He’s under house arrest in Rome, and likely knows he will never see his dear friends and colleagues in Philippi, ever again. He may or may not know he will be executed, which is what happens. So you might expect him to say something like: “Get ready, watch out, be prepared, run! Something terrible is about to happen!”

But incredibly, what he says is: “Rejoice! Don’t worry! Pray! And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Think about it: here’s Paul, under house arrest, perhaps chained to a guard. What he is saying is, this peace that we gain through prayer – this peace God gives us – is like this guard I’m chained to, standing there keeping watch over us. Who wouldn’t want a peace that stands like a sentinel over us, guarding our hearts and minds from the frights and fears which assail us, of which we have a lot right now.

So how do we get this peace of God? Contrary to what you might think, there are not three simple steps and no magic formula. The gift of peace is not like the guy who came running up to a priest during a hurricane carrying a crucifix, asking: “Hey, Father, how do you work this thing?”

For Paul, , his peace is centered in his relationship with God through Christ Jesus. Whether by that Paul meant the peace that was seen in Jesus, who in the midst of his ministry never appeared ruffled, who against death threats never threatened retaliation, who taught his followers to love their enemies, and to pray for those who persecute them, who told his followers, “Let not your hearts be troubled.”

Or perhaps Paul meant the peace he found in his relationship with Christ, whom he had met on the road to Damascus, a relationship which he drew upon daily in prayer: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

It has been my experience that when I am faithful in daily prayer and meditation, I have more peace in my life; when I am not, I do not. When I do not, the harder it is to do so, because my fears and anxieties spin out of control. “How can I possibly sit in silence and prayer, when I have so much to do?” Sometimes I pray in silence by attending to breathing, sometimes I pray the Lord’s Prayer. I love the prayers of St. Teresa of Avila, and most of all, I love the Prayer of St. Francis: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. . . .” All means and forms of prayer become a means of fulfilling Paul’s word to us: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

But there is one more thing in St. Paul’s prescription for peace, it is this: don’t focus on the bad, focus on the good:

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”

This is not the Power of Positive Thinking. I have always liked what former Illinois Governor, Adlai Stevenson, once when asked what he thought of Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking. Stevenson replied, “Yes, you can say that I find Paul appealing and Peale appalling.”

As Monty Python put it, “Always look on the bright side of life.” For some of us, especially if we are prone to depression, this may mean NOT watching the news, and staying off Facebook. For some of us, it may mean we need to be more particular about who are friends are. If we want to be good and radiate good, we’re got to think good things, and fill our lives with art and music and literature and nature, not garbage. This is not escapism, it is sanity; it is why such things as art and music were created, to elevate ourselves, to make our lives better, to balance out the bad in life. Think about such things, in order that we are not overwhelmed with the bad.

Though Paul didn’t make it out of Rome, what he wrote to the Philippians has inspired Christians through the centuries, helping anxious and fearful people like us through difficult times.  In our own time, few people have given us a better contemporary example than the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, whose final book was entitled, The Gift of Peace.

As leader of the Chicago Archdiocese, wrongfully accused of sexual abuse (his accuser later recanted), then diagnosed with terminal cancer, Bernardin wrote only a month before he died on November 14, 1996, words almost as eloquent as St. Paul’s:

“As I write these final words, my heart is filled with joy.  I am at peace.

It is the first day of November, and fall is giving way to winter. Soon the trees will lose the vibrant colors of their leaves and snow will cover the ground. The earth will shut down, and people will race to and from their destinations bundled up for warmth. Chicago winters are harsh. It is a time of dying.

But we know that spring will soon come with all its new life and wonder.

It is quite clear that I will not be alive in the spring.   But I will soon experience new life in a different way.   Although I do not know what to expect in the afterlife, I do know that just as God has called me to serve him to the best of my ability throughout my life on earth, he is now calling me home.

What I would like to leave behind is a simple prayer that each of you may find what I have found – God’s special gift to us all:  the gift of peace.  When we are at peace, we find the freedom to be most fully who we are, even in the worst of times. We let go of what is nonessential and embrace what is essential. We empty ourselves so that God may more fully work within us. And we become instruments in the hands of the Lord.”

Like Paul, like Cardinal Bernardin, may we be instruments in the hands of the Lord. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Central United Methodist Church
Called to be a Prophet: Nice Work if You Can Get It
Pastor David L. Haley
Matthew 21: 33 – 46
October 8th, 2017

Vine

“Vineyard, Image by Jenny Downing via Flickr licensed under CC by 2.0”

Here’s another story. Listen closely. There was once a man, a wealthy farmer, who planted a vineyard. He fenced it, dug a winepress, put up a watchtower, then turned it over to the farmhands and went off on a trip. When it was time to harvest the grapes, he sent  his servants back to collect his profits.

“The farmhands grabbed the first servant and beat him up. The next one they murdered. They threw stones at the third but he got away. The owner tried again, sending more servants. They got the same treatment. The owner was at the end of his rope. He decided to send his son. ‘Surely,’ he thought, ‘they will respect my son.’

“But when the farmhands saw the son arrive, they rubbed their hands in greed. ‘This is the heir! Let’s kill him and have it all for ourselves.’ They grabbed him, threw him out,  and killed him.

“Now, when the owner of the vineyard arrives home from his trip, what do you think he will do to the farmhands?”

“He’ll kill them — a rotten bunch, and good riddance,” they answered. “Then he’ll assign the vineyard to farmhands who will hand over the profits when it’s time.”

Jesus said, “Right — and you can read it for yourselves in your Bibles:

The stone the masons threw out is now the cornerstone.

This is God’s work;

we rub our eyes, we can hardly believe it!

“This is the way it is with you. God’s kingdom will be taken back from you and  handed over to a people who will live out a kingdom life. Whoever stumbles on this Stone gets shattered; whoever the Stone falls on gets smashed.”

When the religious leaders heard this story, they knew it was aimed at them. They wanted to arrest Jesus and put him in jail, but, intimidated by public opinion, they held  back. Most people held him to be a prophet of God.” – Matthew 21: 33 – 46, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Once again, we come to church on a Sunday morning, saddened, prayerful, fearful, even angry over the event of the week: another senseless mass murder, by a gunman with not one but 47 weapons, who used them to take the life of 59 people, injuring over 500.

While it has been a difficult week for everybody, it has not been nearly as difficult for us as for the families of all those killed or injured by the Las Vegas gunman, Stephen Paddock, or for all the law enforcement and first responders and medical personnel, who had one of the worst weeks of their lives, which they will never forget as long as they live. (One of my friends is on Las Vegas Fire & Rescue, though I think he was off duty that day.) With an incident of this magnitude, all of us have been affected.

As if to drive home the ubiquity of the threat, we got an additional shudder later in the week when it was revealed that the gunman had booked rooms at the Blackstone Hotel on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, overlooking Millennium Park, during the Lollapalooza Music Festival, though fortunately he never showed. My daughter Becca and her friends attended Lollapa- looza, as did Malia Obama and others. We would like to think it was the layers of security he would have to have navigated traveling across the country that deterred him. Would that there would have been more layers of security – especially in regard to guns – that would have effectively deterred or prevented him from committing the mass murder that he did in Las Vegas.

For all of us, it raises fearful questions, to the point of making us hypervigilant. What could his motive have been? It’s a terrible thing to say, but if he was going to kill himself, why could he have not done that first, before taking 60 people with him? Who else is out there is ready to become murderous, storing up an arsenal and plotting mass murder? What public venue or mass gathering (such as today’s Chicago Marathon) might it be? As a former FF/paramedic, I already had a degree of hypervigilance, now it is worse. I advise family and friends who are traveling, anywhere, to keep their heads up, to be aware of surroundings.

Too many times, we have gathered as a congregation after such horrific events, feeling this way. Like many, after the shooting and killing of

20 elementary school children at Newtown five years ago, I thought something would finally change. But I was wrong: nothing changed and such incidents continue to happen, in escalating numbers.

In addition, we should not forget that 50 victims a month die through gun violence here in Chicago, but perhaps we have become inured to this or even given up knowing what to do about it. But the factor is the same: people dying through gun violence, with guns being the common factor. In macabre humor, it’s like the old joke about the man getting drunk on Monday on vodka and soda water, on Tuesday on gin and soda water, and on Wednesday, whisky and soda water: “Obviously, it’s the soda water!” Duh!

So – what to think, what to say, what to do? At first glance, our Gospel for today – Jesus’ Parable of the Wicked Tenants – seems to  offer us nothing; early in the week when I first looked at it I thought, “Ugh, I don’t want to preach that.” Murder in the Vineyard; sounds like something out of Agatha Christie. But after the events of the week, the more I thought about it, the more I begin to hear the Word of God to in this story.

It – too – is a story about violence, gangs in the vineyard. When the Vineyard owner sent out his servant to collect the produce, the gang of tenants or sharecroppers or farmhands beat him up. He sent another servant, they stoned him. He sent another, they killed him. The Landlord – not thinking clearly – says, “I know; I’ll send my son, they’ll respect him!” As we expect, they beat up the Landlord’s son and kill him, throwing his  body out of the vineyard. (Thankfully, at least, they didn’t have AK-47’s).

As with all of Jesus’ parables, it is only a story. But after this story, Jesus turned to his hearers, the priests and religious authorities gathered around him in the temple, and said: “Now, when the owner of the vineyard arrives home from his trip, what do you think he will do to the farmhands?”

And they answered: “He’ll kill them — the dirty rotten scoundrels, and good riddance,” they answered. “Then he’ll assign the vineyard to farmhands who will hand over the profits when it’s time.”

Then – getting in their face – looking them in the eye – pointing a  finger at them, Jesus says:

“This is the way it is with you. God’s kingdom will be taken back from you and handed over to a people who will live out a kingdom life.”

Did they get the point?

“When the religious leaders heard this story, they knew it was aimed at them. They wanted to arrest Jesus and put him in jail, but, intimidated by public opinion, they held back. Most people held him to be a prophet of God.”

We can imagine how that went over, the time when the clock on Jesus’ life began ticking if it wasn’t from the day he was born. I remember once sitting in a meeting with a Catholic priest, as well as most of the local park district. There was an issue about the overuse of a soccer field, and – in  plain language – the priest accused them of racism. Judging by how red the Director got, I thought for a second he was going to explode, but to his  credit he restrained himself, and dealt with the accusation civilly. I can imagine the reaction of the religious authorities, when Jesus said what he  did to them.

Think about it: did Jesus get killed because he healed sick people? Because he fed the hungry? Because he was a super nice guy, polite and considerate  of  everybody?  No,  he  got  killed  because  he  criticized  the

authorities, threatening their prestige, their power, and especially their income. (Always follow the money!) Crucifixion was a death reserved specifically for rebels against Rome, that was the charge for which they condemned him to death, as a warning to any other prospective rebels.

And while Jesus may have been a rebel, what he really was, was a prophet, As the text says, “all the people considered him a prophet.” In the Hebrew tradition, a prophet was not one who so much FORETOLD the future, as one who FORTHTOLD the truth in the present, to whomever it concerned, whether priests or kings, according to the Word of God given them.

While this story may reflect tensions between Jews and Christians later in the 1st century, when it was written; while it sowed the seeds for Christian accusation and persecution of Jews once Christians became the dominant majority, there is no doubt that in his time, through his words and stories and actions, Jesus was a mighty prophet, in the tradition of Moses and Elijah and Isaiah and Jeremiah. And that’s what got him killed, just as it does prophets before or after, right up to our own time.

Like some of you, I recently watched Ken Burns & Lynn Novick’s The Vietnam War. Although I did not go to Vietnam, the Vietnam years were the backdrop of my youth. One of the most painful episodes was to watch spanned the year 1968, (I was a junior in High School) when – within the space of three months – both Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Senator Robert Kennedy were killed by assassin’s bullets, gun violence. For those of us who remember, historically and personally, that was a difficult time. But even so, I’m not sure it was worse than now, when our leaders are safe – protected  as they are by layers of security – but the rest of us – school children and churchgoers and nightclub and concert goers – are fair game, unprotected from murders with an arsenal of assault rifles.

Anybody willing to be a prophet today? Anybody willing to follow Jesus and speak up about what’s wrong – and what should be right – about God’s Vineyard, whether we view that as Church or Society? You don’t have to be  a preacher to do this; it is part of our baptismal statement, when we become Christian: “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?“ And we say – with a gulp – “I do.”

Some people say the Church – and especially pastors – should stay out of politics, especially in the pulpit. If you are talking about  PARTISAN politics, I agree. I fully support the Johnson Amendment, the 1954 provision in the U.S. tax code, that prohibits all non-profit organizations, including religious  organizations  such  as  churches,  from  endorsing  or  opposing

political candidates. Many conservative churches and Christians are pushing President Trump to repeal that; I do not agree; I think it would be a poison pill for the Church and I personally would not attend a church that does that.

Politics, on the other hand, is a non-partisan necessity that we must all engage in, if we care about the society we live in. The word “politics” – as also “policy” and “political” and “politician” – come from the Greek word “polis,” which means “city.” Politics is about how we govern where we live, whether city, state, or country. It is about constitutions and laws and government, how we create and participate in a just and  free society. Politics is old and honorable, and has been thought about since Confucius and such ancient Greeks such as Socrates and Aristotle. Politics – the state of society – deserves the full attention of citizens and leaders, pagans and Christians, pastors and people.

If we do not participate – if we do not fulfill our Judeo-Christian prophetic tradition of speaking truth to power – then we will not only NOT reap the benefits but suffer the consequences, as we are right now in our violence-drenched society, where everyone has the right to own as many guns of that they want, but apparently no one has the right to healthcare. If we as churches and Christians take the easy path and only concern  ourselves with trivial things – if we only sit in our pews and sing praise songs

– we run the risk of not only accommodating evil, but becoming accessory to it. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

It was the Chicago novelist Saul Bellow who once said: “Being a prophet is nice work if you can get it. But to be a prophet, sooner or later, you have to talk about God.” I believe the reverse is also true: “If you’re going to talk about God, sooner or later, you are going to have to be a prophet.”

So welcome – my brothers and sisters – to the venerable and always endangered band of God’s prophets. Stand up! Speak out! This is the Word of God for the People of God. Amen.

Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | October 1, 2017

Central United Methodist Church
Have This Mind in You
Pastor David L. Haley Philippians 2: 1 – 13
October 1st, 2017

Let This Mind (1)

“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care — then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the  top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He  had  equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead,   he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death — and the worst kind of death at that — a crucifixion.

Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth — even those long ago dead and buried —will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.

What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.” – Philippians 2: 1 – 13, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

Last Saturday evening, Michele and I had the opportunity to do what we’ve rarely done during 44 years of ministry, which was to go out on a Saturday evening – the night before Sunday.

What we went to was Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Love & Comedy Tour, here in our own back yard at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. Everyone knows Garrison Keillor is known for his stories about Lake Wobegon – “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average” – but perhaps not known so well known for his love of singing, especially acapella singing. He began by leading the full house in singing, “My Country, Tis of Thee” and “God Bless America.” Later, at what should have been the intermission, he walked into the middle of the audience and led us in singing songs from “Amazing  Grace” to “Fools Rush In” to Oklahoma to John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, and yes, Silent Night (even in September), sung surprising well by a predominantly Jewish audience. But what was most surprising was that everyone – especially older folks like me – knew all (or most) of the words, including “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt,” which I don’t think I’ve sung since Boy Scouts, fifty something years ago. As for the young people – what there were of them in an older crowd – they googled the words and joined  in.

There is extraordinary power in song, especially songs sung together. No wonder Garrison Keillor includes congregational singing as part of his nostalgia trip into the past. After all, where do we sing together anymore? In church, maybe, but not many people go there. In megachurches, nobody sings because nobody knows the words, so songs are mostly performed not sung. At sporting events, we may join in the National Anthem, not the easiest song to sing, and – as we saw last week – now we have to choose how we sing it, standing with our hand over or heart or kneeling. (I have a hard time singing it without tears, regardless of where or how I sing it.) Garrison reminded me – and all of us – that long ago we sang in public school, but I’m not sure that happens much anymore, especially in Skokie’s schools, where people are from everywhere. But isn’t it amazing, while we can’t remember what we had for lunch yesterday, when an old song comes on the radio, or someone starts an old hymn, we can still sing most if not all of the words. What is it about song that etches itself so in our minds?

Regardless of who we are, where we are from, or what language we speak, music and songs are a universal language. It stirs something deep within us, it moves us and motivates us, especially those songs we sing together.

Long ago, St. Paul knew this, and perhaps it is for this reason in today’s reading from his Letter to the Philippians, that he quotes an early Christian hymn. This is why in most translations – in the NRSV, for example, if not in Eugene Peterson’s The Message – it is written in verse.

The year was around 62-63 AD, some 30 years after Jesus, before the four Gospels were written (with the possible exception of Mark’s Gospel). Most people think Paul wrote the Letter to the Philippians while he was under house arrest in Rome, awaiting trial, and unknown to him at the time, eventual execution.

Since we don’t know the tune and can’t sing it, Michael Perry, at The Jubilate Group, has put the text back into a liturgical form, so we can at  least say it. I’ll say a phrase, and then you to respond with “Jesus is Lord.” Adjust your loudness to follow my hand.

(gradually getting quieter)

Equal with God:

Jesus is Lord Emptied himself: Jesus is Lord Came as a slave: Jesus is Lord Found as a man: Jesus is Lord Humbly obeyed: Jesus is Lord Went to his death: Jesus is Lord Death on a cross: Jesus is Lord

(getting louder) God raised him up: Jesus is Lord

Gave him the name: Jesus is Lord Higher than all: Jesus is Lord Every knee bow: Jesus is Lord

All tongues confess: Jesus is Lord

(Jesus is Lord, based on Philippians 2:5-11; text by Michael Perry © The Jubilate Group (admin. Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188)

Questions arise. Was this a hymn known and loved mostly by Paul, as an inspiration to his own life and ministry, or was it a hymn known by early Christians and sung in Christian gatherings? Was there a tune (lost to us), that everyone would recognize and join after a few notes, like we do “Amazing Grace” or “How Great Thou Art?” Would they stand, sit, or kneel to sing it, expressing both reverence and allegiance to Jesus the Christ?

And what about the theology expressed in it: there’s almost no end to the questions it raises. What does it mean that Jesus had equal status with God; in a monotheistic religion, how is that possible? What does it mean that he emptied himself, of what? Divine status, power, even knowledge? We like to think of Jesus as a supernatural super hero, but doesn’t this say he gave all that up? To the degree that he not only died, but died by crucifixion, one of the most humiliating forms of death in the ancient world. Because he did this, not because God made him do it but because he CHOSE to, God raised him up, far above anyone and everything in honor. And what does it mean that all created beings, even those dead and buried, will bend the knee before him in worship and praise, to the glory of God the Father? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but they have profound implications for what we believe about Jesus, and – even more so – for how those of us who want to follow him conduct ourselves in the world.

Because, consider this: Paul didn’t quote this hymn for theological reasons; he wrote it for pastoral reasons. He quoted it because a Christian congregation he founded and loved was having a hard time getting along with each other, sometimes even treating each other unkindly.

We  get  a  sense  of  this  when  we  hear  how  he  begins  chapter 2.

Sounding like a Gospel preacher, Paul says:

“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ,” if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care — then do me a favor: “Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.”

Paul is saying that as Christians, we should not be arrogant, self- obsessed, but rather humble, putting others first, pouring out our lives for others, like Jesus poured out his life for us. Imagine that? Do we live like this? Do we know Christians who live like this? Do we know people who live like this? Sometimes we pour out our lives for others in day-to-day living, and some few get the opportunity to do it dramatically, all at once.

Let This Mind (2)The story of Rick Rescorla, one of the bravest heroes of 9/11, illustrates both the power of song, and an example of pouring out your life for others. Although his story was written about extensively after 9/11, I regret to say I did not know his story until this year, when I read about him in the New Yorker magazine.

Rick was born in England, in Cornwall, on England’s southwestern tip. Growing up there, he learned the old songs, and loved to sing them in pubs with the old timers whenever he went back to visit. In his twenties, he was a decorated war hero in Vietnam, winning a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart, among others. Later in life, he became Director of security at the financial firm, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, whose offices were in the World Trade Center.

On the morning of 9/11, he rose as usual at 4:30 am, and his wife Susan heard him singing an English music hall tune in the shower. When he came out of the shower that morning, he continued singing and broke into a dance routine. Then he launched into an impression of the actor Anthony Hopkins. “I’ve never felt better in my life,” he told Susan. He grabbed her around the waist for a few dance steps before he kissed her goodbye. “I love you so,” he said, and then left for the train station.

Susan called him at eight-fifteen, as usual, and he was at his desk. A half hour later, she got a phone call from her daughter: “Put on the TV!” she yelled. Susan rushed to the set and she saw smoke pouring from the north tower.

In St. Augustine, FL, Rescorla’s best friend from as back as Vietnam, Dan Hill, was laying tile in his upstairs bathroom when his wife called, “Dan, get down here! An airplane just flew into the World Trade Center. It’s a terrible accident.” Hill hurried downstairs, and then the phone rang. It was Rescorla, calling from his cell phone.

“Are you watching TV?” he asked. “What do you think?”

“Hard to tell. It could have been an accident, but I can’t see a commercial airliner getting that far off.”

“I’m evacuating right now,” Rescorla said.

Hill could hear Rescorla issuing orders through the bullhorn. He was calm and collected, never raising his voice. Then Hill heard him break into song:

Men of Cornwall stop your dreaming; Can’t you see their spear points gleaming? See their warriors’ pennants streaming

To this battlefield.

Men of Cornwall stand ye steady;

It cannot be ever said ye

for the battle were not ready; Stand and never yield!

In the days and weeks that followed, his wife Susan heard accounts from many how Rick kept marching people down the staircase, singing into his bullhorn, as firemen and rescue personnel came up. At one point, he had nearly been overcome by the heat, and had to sit down on the stairs. But he kept singing or speaking reassuringly. “Slow down, pace yourself,” he told one group. “Today is a day to be proud to be an American.” He refused to leave the building until everyone else was out. Rick Rescorla, an American hero, is an example of a life poured out for others. (James B. Stewart, “The Real Heroes are Dead, The New Yorker, February 11, 2002, www.newyorker.com/magazine/2002/02/11/the-real-heroes-are-dead )

“Have this mind in you,” said St. Paul – before breaking into song – “which was in Jesus Christ our Lord.” Amen.

Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | September 24, 2017

2017.09.24 “Life is Not Fair (It’s Grace)” – Matthew 20: 1 – 16

Central United Methodist Church
Life is Not Fair (It’s Grace)
Pastor David L. Haley
Matthew 20: 1 – 16
September 24th, 2017

The Red Vineyards near Arles, Vincent van Gogh, 1888

“The Red Vineyards near Arles, Vincent van Gogh, 1888.” 

God’s kingdom is like an estate manager who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.  They agreed on a wage of a dollar a day, and went to work.

        “Later, about nine o’clock, the manager saw some other men hanging around the town square unemployed. He told them to go to work in his vineyard and he would pay them a fair wage. They went.

        “He did the same thing at noon, and again at three o’clock. At five o’clock he went back and found still others standing around. He said, “Why are you standing around all day doing nothing? 7

       “They said, “Because no one hired us.’

       “He told them to go to work in his vineyard.

       “When the day’s work was over, the owner of the vineyard instructed his foreman, “Call the workers in and pay them their wages. Start with the last hired and go on to the first.’  “Those hired at five o’clock came up and were each given a dollar. When those who were hired first saw that, they assumed they would get far more. But they got the same, each of them one dollar. Taking the dollar, they groused angrily to the manager, “These last workers put in only one easy hour, and you just made them equal to us, who slaved all day under a scorching sun.’

       “He replied to the one speaking for the rest, “Friend, I haven’t been unfair. We agreed on the wage of a dollar, didn’t we?  So take it and go. I decided to give to the one who came last the same as you. Can’t I do what I want with my own money? Are you going to get stingy because I am generous?’

       “Here it is again, the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first.”– Matthew 20: 1 – 16, from The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

 

We have heard it, from the mouths of our children. Almost certainly, at some time or another, we have said it ourselves: “Life is not fair!”

Usually when we say this, we are comparing ourselves to others, which most often, brings no joy. We enjoy the car we drive, until we see our neighbor with a nicer or newer one. We are OK with our marriage, until we see the couple down the street, who seem to love each other more. We love our kids, but wish they were better-rounded and more accomplished, like our friend’s kids. We are OK with our grades, until we hear about friend – who studied less than us – who aced the test. As I said, comparing ourselves to others, rarely brings joy.

But then there are other times when comparing ourselves with others has nothing to do with it; sometimes life is observedly unfair. A car crashes into another stopped at an intersection; people – even children – die. Terrorists fly an airplane into a building; thousands of innocent people die. An earthquake or a hurricane strikes, not once but twice, and people lose everything, including those who lose their lives. Life is not fair. We say this to our children, we say it to ourselves, because it’s true.

However, while it is true, it is also true to say that most of life is grace: the undeserved, unmerited gift of God. For most of us, most of the time – especially to those of us born into the privileges of race and class and time and place – life is good. If only we could open our eyes to see it.

To help us open our eyes, Jesus once told a story, known as the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. As Clarence Jordan of Koinonia Farms once said, “Whenever Jesus told a parable, he lit a stick of dynamite and covered it with a story.” That’s the way this story is.

He told it after Peter had said to him, basically, “Life’s not fair. A rich young ruler had come to him, asking to be his disciple, but after Jesus told him to first go sell all his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor, he went away sorrowing, for he had much. Jesus said, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for the rich to enter God’s kingdom? Let me tell you, it’s easier to gallop a camel through a needle’s eye than for the rich to enter God’s kingdom.” This shocked his disciples), who asked: “Then who has any chance at all?” (Seriously, how much stuff did they have?)

And Peter – who speaks for us – you can almost hear the whine in his voice – says: “But it’s not fair: we left everything and followed you. What do we get out of it?” Jesus replied:

“Yes, you have followed me. In the re-creation of the world, when the Son of Man will rule gloriously, you who have followed me will also rule, starting with the twelve tribes of Israel. And not only you, but anyone who sacrifices home, family, fields — whatever — because of me will get it all back a hundred times over, not to mention the considerable bonus of eternal life. This is the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first.”

On that note Jesus tells this story, which begins not in church but out in a parking lot, because it is a scene we can still see today, if we look.

Early every morning, day laborers line up and wait for the trucks and vans to come by, to offer them a job for the day. Many are immigrants (though not all); all are willing to work hard for low pay. It might be landscaping, harvesting crops, replacing roofs or digging ditches, even the repetitive (and dangerous) work of meat packing plants. There are no benefits like health insurance or pensions; the work may even shortcut OSHA safety guidelines, such that should you get seriously injured or even killed, you’re on your own. But when 50 line up for work, and only 5 are needed, you take what you can get. People give these laborers a lot of grief, but they work harder than anybody, at jobs most of us would not want or do. Despite the grief they get, our economy would not survive without them, the crops would rot in the fields. Cesar Chavez, an early advocate of farm workers’ rights, once said: “I’m angry, that I live in a world where a man who picks food for a living can’t afford to feed his family.” Sadly, this is still true today.

Out there in that parking lot, the boss pulls up in his Ford F-350, and takes a load of workers to the field, promising them a day’s wage, a dollar a day.

But what’s with this boss, who seems more concerned that there are people waiting and not working, than how many are actually needed? He basically begins a shuttle service, going back around 9 to pick up more, back around noon, back around 3, even back at 5, around quitting time, to find workers still waiting. He said, “Why are you standing around all day doing nothing?” “They said, “Because no one hired us.’ “Let’s go,” he says.

At the end of the day, everybody lines up to get paid. Those hired last, who worked only an hour, get a dollar. When those hired early see this, they say, “Woo hoo, we’re going to get rich!” But then, those hired at 3 get a dollar. Those hired at noon get a dollar. Those hired at 9 got a dollar. Bringing up the rear, those hired at dawn, get a dollar. When they see this, they grouse to the boss, “These last workers put in one easy hour, and you just made them equal to us, who slaved all day under a scorching sun.’

To which the owner says, “”Friend, I haven’t been unfair. We agreed on the wage of a dollar, didn’t we?  So take it and go. I decided to give to the one who came last the same as you. Can’t I do what I want with my own money?  Are you going to get stingy because I am generous?’

In other words, if you want a world that operates on bean-counting rules of fairness, you need to find another parable. In this parable, in my kingdom – everything moves according to generosity, and everybody gets enough to live.” “Here it is again, says Jesus, the Great Reversal: “The first end up last, and the last end up first.”

What does it mean? There are some things, this parable is not. It’s not an allegory, in which the late guys are the good guys (Christians), the early guys are the bad guys (Jews), and the boss is God. After all, the boss is generous like God, but is that the kind of boss you’d want to work for, get paid by? As Thomas Long says, “this parable is not a blueprint for labor practices or economic systems any more than the Parable of the Prodigal Son is a class on parenting or the Great Banquet a manual of table etiquette. Any company that paid people who work one hour a day the same as it paid full-time workers would soon have a hard time finding employees willing to show up at nine.”

What the parable may be, is this: it’s almost certain Matthew shares this parable to illustrate the tension brewing between Jesus and his opponents, and especially their failure to accept his radical sense of grace; hard to stomach for some, still today. We see it today when old immigrants (unless we’re Native American we’re all immigrants) hate new immigrants, we see it when Christians who like old ways of doing church hate new ways of doing church. As I said at the beginning, comparing ourselves with others rarely brings joy to anybody, especially when it involves trashing others.

What this parable definitely is, is this: a window on the kingdom of God. It allows us to imagine a world characterized by generosity and mercy, rather than ambition, greed, and competition. It parallels a father waiting for his lost son and who welcomes him with open arms, a king who invites guests to the wedding banquet from the streets, rather than let the table be empty. It is a world in which those who stand ignored, idle, and discarded by society are nevertheless of great value to God – worthy, regardless of their circumstances, to live with dignity each day. And yes, it is a world with implications for both the market-place and economic justice. As Thomas Long says: “After letting our imaginations dwell in the surprising generosity of this parable and of God, we can no longer look at that parking lot filled with farm workers who are paid unjustly and who are viewed as disposable, and rest easy.” (Thomas Long, “Imagining Economic Justice,” On Scripture, September 24, 2017)

But if we leave it at this, we miss the truth it offers us to live each day. Because when we hear this parable, more often than not we identify with the laborers working all day who feel taken advantage of, rather than the late-comers who received unexpected generosity.

Yes, life is sometimes unfair, but we have a choice to make, every day. Do we keep careful track of what we think we deserve but didn’t receive, or do we give thanks for all we’ve been received but don’t deserve? Do we live moaning about what we lack and what we want, or do we give thanks for the surprising abundance we have? Do we envy what others have and we do not, or do we delight in the wonder of all we have been given, including life itself? Do we choose to live in bitterness and misery, comparing ourselves to others, or do we choose joy, thankful for all the blessings God has given us? (David Lose, “Pentecost 16A: Choosing Joy,” In the Meantime, September 20, 2017))

 

Before he died on December 30th of last year at the age of 97, scholar of world religions and lifetime Methodist Huston Smith contemplated what he wanted his “last line” to be, to bring the curtain down, so to speak. After a lifetime not just of teaching but practicing the Great Religions of the world, Smith found he couldn’t settle on just one, but picked three.

His first was to echo the British author Elizabeth Pakenham (mother novelist Antonia Fraser, whose last words were “It has all been very interesting.”

His second was more an observation, that the older he got, the more – as he put it – the boundary between “me” and “not me” thinned and became transparent. So he could look back on the paths he had traveled and think, “This is me.” He could look at his wife of sixty-five years, Kendra, and think, “This is me.” He could feel his hip replacement and think, “This is me.”

But his third and favorite was borrowed from the martyr St. John Chrysostom, who while being drawn and quartered was said to have exclaimed, “Praise, praise for everything. Thanks, thanks for it all.”  Says Smith: “I savor the words in my mind, roll them on my tongue, and repeat them as my own: “Thanks for everything! Praise for it all!” Whether – at the end – he got to actually speak them, I do not know. Because, as the 13th mystic Meister Eckhart once said, “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”  (Huston Smith, The Huston Smith Reader, 2012).

Life is indeed unfair. But life is also grace, pure gift, where apart from who we are or what we do, the first shall be last, and the last shall be first, in parking lots, in fields, and marketplaces, as they are in the kingdom of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | September 17, 2017

2017.09.17 “God Give Us Magic Eyes” – Matthew 18: 21 – 35

Central United Methodist Church
God Give Us Magic Eyes
Pastor David L. Haley
Matthew 18: 21 – 35
September 17th, 2017

Forgive 7 x 70

 

At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?”

Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.

“The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn’t pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market.

“The poor wretch threw himself at the king’s feet and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt.

“The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, ‘Pay up. Now!’

 “The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ But he wouldn’t do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king.

“The king summoned the man and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?’ The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that’s exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.”

– Matthew 18: 21 – 35, The Message

 

One of the movies which – once you see, you will never forget – is the 1979 science-fiction horror film Alien, by director Ridley Scott. Alien stars Sigourney Weaver, and other such as Harry Dean Stanton, who died this week at the age of 91. The film’s title refers to a highly aggressive extraterrestrial that stalks and attacks the crew of a spaceship, one by one.

In one unforgettable scene, after one of the actors (John Hurt) collapses, a baby alien erupts horrifyingly from his chest. (After this scene you will never see John Hurt (who also just died this year) in any other movie without feeling sorry for him.)

Oddly, this was the image that came to mind as I thought about today’s text, about the touchy topic of forgiveness. Congregations are full of people who know we should forgive, who know there is a value in doing so, but who find it impossible to do. Being abandoned or abused by a parent, cheated on by a spouse, or double crossed by a business partner, as examples, are experiences that never leave you. On the contrary, they sit deep inside and fester, until one day in an conversation in a living room or hospital room or anywhere, it erupts – like that alien – as well as the extent and depth of the hurt. Forgive? We’re working on it. Or not.

As an example, when I first moved to Skokie from West Chicago, I went looking for a barber. In the past, I’m used to interesting, lively, sometimes shop-wide conversations. This barber cut my hair and never said one word the whole time, not to me, not to the other barber in the next chair. Turns out, as I heard later, the other barber was his brother, and somewhere along the way they had a falling out, and do not speak to each other! I never went back; I figure I have enough discord to deal with in my life, I don’t need a mad barber with a straight razor near my throat. (They already made a musical about that, Sweeney Todd).

We might shake our heads in disbelief, but we know people who can’t forgive even small things not to mention BIG things, we might even be one of them ourselves. Lewis Smedes, who I’m going to talk more about later, says: “Forgiveness is the hardest trick in the bag of personal relationships.”

Before deep psychic wounds became the work of counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists, they were viewed as moral, even theological issues. And, since our religion and faith has also to do with our relationships with each other, rightfully so.

In our Judeo-Christian tradition, the argument goes like this: since we have all fallen short of the standards of a just and holy God, we are all in need of forgiveness. But since God has also been revealed as not only just and holy, but merciful, our sins have been forgiven. Amazingly, God has chosen mercy over justice; this is why it’s called amazing grace.

But then the other shoe drops: because we have been forgiven, we are to forgive others. In other words, our forgiveness of each other is rooted in God’s forgiveness of  us. Jesus even went so far as to put it in the prayer he taught us to pray every day (maybe he thought it was something we would need to be reminded of every day): “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”  We pray it, we know it, but to do it? As we all know from experience, that is the HARD thing.

In today’s Gospel, Peter (our mouthpiece and spokesman), raises the issue with Jesus, after Jesus had raised the issue of what to do about those who sin against us. “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive?” “Seven times?” After all, that would cover every day of the week.

But Jesus replies, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.” We’re not off the hook after the 490th time, but infinitely. Not good news to those of us who have trouble getting past just ONE very bad slight. What are we to do?

To convince Peter and us, Jesus tells one of his maddening little stories, called parables, stories which delight us and confuse us and maybe even outrage us. This one is called the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.

In many ways, it is an outrageous story. What was with that guy? After the $100,000 he’s had been forgiven, he couldn’t forgive a measly $10 bucks?

And what does it mean? Does it mean that if I do not forgive those who injure me, God will withhold forgiveness from me? Is God’s forgiveness conditional on me letting go of grudges and hurts? Am I in trouble? Or is the point that human forgiveness of small things is rooted in God’s forgiveness of big things? In the story, the King forgives the servant an incalculable amount: 10,000 talents would be the wages of a day laborer for more than 150,000 years. Meaning, there is no way to measure God’s generosity when it comes to forgiving. Seventy-times-seven doesn’t do it; neither does 10,000 talents. Forgiveness cannot be measured on a calendar or calculator.

What’s missing most of all in the story is a changed attitude, which Lewis Smedes once called “magic eyes.” “Magic eyes’ are what we need to see both life and people – including those people who we feel have wronged us – in such a way that we might begin to forgive.

In this story, there is none of this. On hearing his reprieve, there is no rejoicing, no gratitude, no celebration with wife and children, who are spared imprisonment, no reflection on his new freedom. All we hear is that on the way out he rebuffs the plea of another, for much less than he had been forgiven. He does not have the gift of magic eyes, to see himself as a gifted person, the recipient of mercy rather than justice. What the parable really portrays is the incredible kindness of God, who surprises us by not dealing with us acording to justice, but mercy. And then asks us, whether we will view others in the same way, not with justice, but mercy.

So yes, forgiveness is a theological issue we have to think through, a psychological issue we have to work through, but perhaps more than anything else, forgiveness is a spiritual issue requiring a change of heart, “magic eyes” through which we can see others, especially those who have hurt us.

Forgive & forgetThe best book about forgiveness that I know of – other than the Bible – was written by the late Lewis Smedes, a former professor of theology and ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA. It is called, Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve, and has now sold over 500,000 copies. (Smedes died in 2001 at the age of 81 after falling off a ladder). I have a copy somewhere, but I searched both my office and house and cannot find it. I probably gave it away to someone struggling with forgiveness; if I had known it was so good when I bought it I would have bought a case.

Like Jesus, Smedes begins with a parable; you should not be surprised to hear it’s entitled: “The Magic Eyes.”

“In the village of Faken in innermost Friesland there lived a long thin baker name Fouke, a righteous man, with a long thin chin and a long thin nose. Fouke was so upright that he seemed to spray righteousness from his thin lips over everyone who came near him; so the people of Faken preferred to stay away. Fouke’s wife, Hilda, was short and round, her arms were round, her bosom was round, her rump was round. Hilda did not keep people at bay with righteousness; her soft roundness seemed to invite them instead to come close to her in order to share the warm cheer of her open heart. Hilda respected her righteous husband, and loved him too, as much as he allowed her; but her heart ached for something more from him than his worthy righteousness. And there, in the bed of her need, lay the seed of sadness.

One morning, having worked since dawn to knead his dough for the ovens, Fouke came home and found a stranger in his bedroom lying on Hilda’s round bosom. Hilda’s adultery soon became the talk of the tavern and the scandal of the Faken congregation. Everyone assumed that Fouke would cast Hilda out of his house, so righteous was he. But he surprised everyone by keeping Hilda as his wife, saying he forgave her as the Good Book said he should. In his heart of hearts, however, Fouke could not forgive Hilda for bringing shame to his name. Whenever he thought about her, his feelings toward her were angry and hard; he despised her as if she were a common whore. When it came right down to it, he hated her for betraying him after he had been so good and so faithful a husband to her. He only pretended to forgive Hilda so that he could punish her with his righteous mercy.

But Fouke’s fakery did not sit well in heaven. So each time that Fouke would feel his secret hated toward Hilda, an angel came to him and dropped a small pebble, hardly the size of a shirt button, into Fouke’s heart. Each time a pebble dropped, Fouke would feel a stab of pain like the pain he felt the moment he came on Hilda feeding her hungry heart from a stranger’s larder. Thus he hated her the more; his hate brought him pain and his pain made him hate. The pebbles multiplied. And Fouke’s heart grew very heavy with the weight of them, so heavy that the top half of his body bent forward so far that he had to strain his neck upward in order to see straight ahead. Weary with hurt, Fouke began to wish he were dead.

The angel who dropped the pebbles into his heart came to Fouke one night and told him how he could be healed of his hurt. There was one remedy, he said, only one, for the hurt of a wounded heart. Fouke would need the miracle of the magic eyes. He would need eyes that could look back to the beginning of his hurt and see his Hilda, not as a wife who betrayed him, but as a weak woman who needed him. Only a new way of looking at things through the magic eyes could heal the hurt flowing from the wounds of yesterday.

Fouke protested. “Nothing can change the past,” he said. “Hilda is guilty, a fact that not even an angel can change.” “Yes, poor hurting man, you are right,” the angel said. “You cannot change the past, you can only heal the hurt that comes to you from the past. And you can heal it only with the vision of the magic eyes.”

“And how can I get your magic eyes?” pouted Fouke. “Only ask, desiring as you ask, and they will be given you. And each time you see Hilda through your new eyes, one pebble will be lifted from your aching heart.”

Fouke could not ask at once, for he had grown to love his hatred. But the pain of his heart finally drove him to want and to ask for the magic eyes that the angel had promised. So he asked. And the angel gave.

Soon Hilda began to change in front of Fouke’s eyes, wonderfully and mysteriously. He began to see her as a needy woman who loved him instead of a wicked woman who betrayed him. The angel kept his promise; he lifted the pebbles from Fouke’s heart, one by one, though it took a long time to take them all away. Fouke gradually felt his heart grow lighter; he began to walk straight again, and somehow his nose and his chin seemed less thin and sharp than before. He invited Hilda to come into his heart again, and she came, and together they began again a journey into their second season of humble joy. (Lewis M. Smedes, Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve, Harper, 1984)

Through struggle and parable, through divine grace and human help, may God – who has forgiven us – give us the magic eyes we need to forgive others. Amen.

Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | September 10, 2017

Central United Methodist Church
Jesus is in the Room
Pastor David L. Haley
Matthew 18: 15 – 20
September 10, 2017

Come together

If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” – Matthew 18: 15 – 20, the New Revised Standard Version

Today, after the two services of summer, our congregation is together again. While multiple worship options are a good thing, it is also good to have the congregation together. No more saying, “I haven’t seen so-and-so in awhile,” with me answering, “O, he/she was at the early service today.”  It’s good for people to worship together, eat together, and be together, to ask how we are doing and take note of those who are missing.

Two who are missing this morning are Jaz and JoAnn Faber. They are – unfortunately – on the west coast of Florida (near St. Petersburg), with JoAnn’s stepmother. When I expressed my concern on Facebook, JoAnn’s answer did not comfort me: “Don’t worry, Jaz is good with duct tape!” I fear it’s going to take more than duct tape to withstand Hurricane Irma, so are prayers are with them – and all of those today – in the path of Hurricane Irma.

Inevitably when people attend Central for the first time, they express surprise that we are so diverse. Make no mistake, our diversity is a blessing, but for those not accustomed to it, it can be intimidating. Sometimes we are a little shy, because we feel like we know so little about who people are and where they have come from. So we fall short of true Christian community, and remain a group of strangers, with the only thing uniting us being our faith and our worship, not to mention that we are all facing in the same direction. (Except the choir, facing the opposite way. Welcome back, choir!)

The truth is – in any church, whether megachurch or small church, whether a church is diverse or homogeneous, whether United Methodist or untied Methodists (the most common typo), people are people, and sometimes we don’t get along.

This is what Jesus talks about in today’s Gospel: the perils and promises of Christian community. It actually begins on a discordant note: as Eugene Peterson renders it in The Message, “If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him — work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.” The NRSV is even more blunt, saying, “Treat them like a Gentile or tax collector.” I dunno, how do YOU treat Gentiles and tax collectors, especially considering that we are Gentiles; if not tax collectors.)

To me, such words sound suspect coming from the lips of Jesus, for multiple reasons. First, they sound like they come from later in Christian history, when Jews and Gentiles quickly discovered this love stuff only goes so far; sooner or later problems must be named and dealt with. Second, it is contradictory, of that which precedes and follows it. Just before, Jesus talks about the shepherd that has the ninety and nine sheep, but risks everything to go after the one sheep that is missing: wouldn’t that apply here? Just afterward, when Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive, Jesus says: “Not 7 times, but 70 x 7, in other words, infinitely. Third, really, Jesus was good to tax collectors and Gentiles, making a tax collector an apostle (named Matthew at that) and healing whoever was in need, whether Jew or Gentile. So what Jesus says here doesn’t seem to fit. We must remember that the Gospels began as collections of Jesus’ sayings, and sometimes it is hard to tell which are authentic, and which they put in Jesus’ mouth.

Practically, there are problems too; I wouldn’t run out too quickly to point out another’s faults unless you have good insurance. In my experience, sometimes it is those eager to “point out another’s faults” as much as it is those who refuse to listen. My grandfather, for example, was once kicked out of the Baptist Church because he was attending church with my grandmother, a Methodist. People can and do misinterpret Jesus’ words and use them in hurtful ways. I do agree with Jesus, however, that it is ALWAYS better within the church to talk TO people rather than to talk ABOUT people, behind their backs; that always only causes more trouble.

And it should be acknowledged, from time to time there are serious problems. Because, as I said earlier, people are people, and sometimes the neediest of them come to church and cause problems. Some people are antagonists, who cause trouble wherever they go. What about gossips, or inveterate liars; sadly, I’ve known a few of those. What about sexual offenders: some congregations have had known sex offenders show up and ask, “Can I worship here?” What would we say to that? While churches and denominations and congregations are wise to think about such things beforehand and develop plans of action, their application always both requires the love of Jesus and the wisdom of Solomon, the key principle being no one should get hurt: physically, emotionally, or spiritually.

While there are perils in Christian community, thankfully there are also great promises. “Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” Well, we know that’s out, because any two of us rarely agree about anything, sometimes even how and what to pray for. In fact, as the old saying goes, “Where two or three are gathered together, you’re have five opinions.”

But the best promise is Jesus’ final word here: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” What an amazing promise, that – even when we are not alike and can’t agree – Jesus is in the house.

Every time our congregation comes together – whether there are 2 or 20 or 200, Jesus is here. And not just in the worship service or Bible study or prayer group, but when we eat and when we meet. And not just in church rooms, but in disaster zones and hospital rooms. Especially this weekend, as the victims of Hurricane Harvey and Irma face what’s left and take care of the homeless and hold funerals for those killed, how comforting to believe that Jesus is still with us – even in times of disaster. At such times, through Jesus we believe God knows the depths of our suffering.

But while for most the thought of Jesus’ presence is comforting, for others it is challenging. Depending upon what we say or do, the way we talk or treat others, the thought of Jesus’ presence might be embarrassing, even disturbing.

These days, by what they say and do, it appears that some church committees and congregations and even denominations might prefer Jesus not be in the room, because should he overhear their discussions and decisions, he would be appalled. For example, that recent declaration of evangelical leaders out of Nashville who condemned LGBTQ people, could have possibly imagined Jesus was sitting at the table with them, when they came up with such a harsh and hurtful declaration?

And what about us, do we remember? When we are in worship or at a potluck; when we are in committee meetings or Council Boards, do we remember that Jesus is there with us? When we are making decisions about where our money will go or whom we will welcome, Jesus is there among us. When we question – on controversial issues – whether we should speak or stay silent, Jesus is there among us. When we are discussing our mission statement, our vision, our future, Jesus is there among us. (With thanks to Karoline Lewis, “God Is With us,” at Dear Working Preacher, September 03, 2017)

It was so important he even reiterated it again at the end of the Gospel: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Exactly how is he with us? I don’t know. But it really doesn’t matter how, if we believe it is true.

Grapes of WrathI have always loved those wonderful lines from John Steinbeck’s book, The Grapes of Wrath, spoken by Tom Joad, especially as played by Henry Fonda in the 1940 movie of the same name, words that have inspired artists from Woody Guthrie to Bruce Springsteen. Like Jesus, Tom Joad promises to be with those who need him, even after he is gone. And so he tells Ma:

“Whenever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there.  Whenever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there . . . . I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’ — I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready.  An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build — why, I’ll be there.”

​So it is that the God in whom we believe, and Jesus – God’s incarnation on earth – is an immanent God, Emmanuel, who has promised to be with us. “Whenever two or three are gathered in my name, “I am there among them”

Gathered back together, despite our difficulties, whether we are different or alike, whether or not we agree, Jesus is in the room. May all that we say and do be pleasing to him. Amen.

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