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Reflection June 28

Published on July 3, 2015 by in Reflections

Mark 5: 21,22,24; II Corinthians 8: 10, 11

Living the interruptions

What if we were judged by the interruptions in our lives?  Isn’t that a novel concept?  What if we were asked to write a resume, we would not have to give our academic, social or work accomplishments, but we would write down our interruptions.  We might write:  on the 15th of April 2004 I was in the middle of completing a task I had been working on for two years and someone called.  I listened to them and as a result was set back so far that I missed an important deadline. “ And the interviewer would ask: “What gave you the strength and what prepared you to embrace that interruption?”  Silly isn’t it? W. Edwards Deming wrote: “The average American worker has fifty interruptions a day, of which seventy percent have nothing to do with their work.”  In other words interruptions translate into lost productivity.   Interruptions are a nuisance to us.  They are about as welcome as the hours per month we spent waiting at traffic lights.    Some interruptions are particularly tragic.  When President Wilson, whom Theodore Roosevelt called “that moralistic Presbyterian” near the end of World War I pushed hard for the League of Nations to avoid more war, his opponents in congress led by Henry Cabot Lodge fought back and thwarted it.  The establishment of the United Nations thirty years later under the leadership of Roosevelt’s niece Eleanor ironically was preceded by the tragic interruption of that thing we know as World War II.  But, friends, interruptions are also an integral part of our lives.  We deal with it.  Sometimes we get sarcastic, like in this your e-card: “I’m sorry, did the middle of my sentence interrupt the beginning of yours (2x).”  Brian Spellman in the Cartoonist Book Camp writes: “First let me finish, then interrupt.” Michael FoleyThe Age Of Absurdity: Why Modern Life Makes It Hard To Be Happy  describes the situation well “Being constantly the hub of a network of potential interruptions provides the excitement and importance of crisis management. As well as the false sense of efficiency in multitasking, there is the false sense of urgency in multi-interrupt processing.”  Race care driver Mario Andretti has the following famous quote contributed to him: “Circumstances may cause interruptions and delays, but never lose sight of your goal.”

In the Gospel of Mark Jesus is surrounded by desperate people all clamoring for healing and help.  It must have been overwhelming.  Yet never in the Gospels do we get a sense that Jesus has a schedule He goes by.  It is almost as if He lived a series of interruptions.  His professional resume as we know it is powerful, but also very short.   Life happened to him, was almost forced on him. “Marcia Lebhar  said:“If you had slept in the same house or field with Jesus, awakened with him, eaten with him and helped him, what would you have observed? One thing we always think of is that Jesus gave himself almost entirely to what we would consider interruptions. Most of the teaching, healing and wonders we see in his life were responsive…seemingly unplanned.  He trusted that what the Father allowed to cross his path was exactly that…from the Father. Jesus always seemed willing for things to get messy.”

Friends, interruptions can be grace-filled.  I have mentioned a few earlier.  They can be providential. Sometimes they can be what it’s all about.  Sometimes we need to get knocked off the straight road to our goal and get realigned, because perhaps our wheels aren’t quite pointed straight.

C.S. Lewis ( The Collected Works of C.S. Lewis) The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own,’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life — the life God is sending one day by day.”

Okay I know, we are never going to write resumes listing the interruptions to our goals. But I believe the point has been made.  Paul in his second epistle to the Corinthians urges the people to go and achieve the ministry goal they have been working on for years.  His words are echoed by the John C. Maxwell:”One of the major keys to success is to keep moving forward on the journey, making the best of our details and interruptions, turning adversity into advantage.”

Friends, I have peppered you with quotes just now, but as I researched the topic the lectionary readings presented to me, I felt that today these people could say a lot of things better than me.  May it be food for thought for you.  May we not lose sight of our goals and may be also live the interruptions mindfully, for every moment of our lives is important to God and every minute of our lives has the potential of being transformative in the greater picture of God’s purpose and of human existence on this fragile planet. May God bless our efforts!

 
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Reflection June 21

Published on June 25, 2015 by in Reflections

Luke 15: 11,12,13,20; Hebrews 11: 1

Prodigal father

Perhaps we all have something of the prodigal inside of us.  We may not like to admit it, but perhaps we all fear not having been a good son or daughter.  Maybe that is even not all that bad.  Maybe it keeps us on our toes.  On the other hand, it can cause a lot of harm of families.  Think about all the millions of conversations everyday between siblings about who is the better child and who is the deadbeat child.  Anger, guilt , resentment and anxiety get pressed together.   The parable of the Prodigal Son has all those elements as the destitute party animal returns to the homestead to find a deliriously happy father and a resentful brother.  

Friends, Woody is the brother who returns to the hometown of Hawthorne NE, a farm town of retired people and adult children that kept hanging on there in the movie Nebraska (Paramount Vantage, 2013).   Woody isn’t planning to go back there but the mother and the sons agree to meet there, since one of the sons and he are already in Nebraska to try to claim the Publisher’s Clearing House prize in Lincoln.  It is not exactly clear who Woody is.  Is he just a grouchy, delusional, selfish man fixated on getting a new truck? We start out not liking him, but a complex picture emerges of a man in an unsatisfying marriage who was traumatized in Korea as a young soldier and who cannot say no to anyone who needs his help.  At the same time his family is finding a way to cash in on his imaginary prize.  The movie ends with Woody driving through his home town wearing a cap that says “prize winner” driving a new second hand truck his son has secured for him.  The son, who has his own disillusions, has great pity and compassion for his father, even to the point that, as gentle as he is, he decks the father ‘s old friend in a bar with his fist. There is triumph here for the old man: he gets to ride through town and all the people whose opinion matter to him see him: his brother who likes to sit and watch cars pass by from a plastic chair in his front yard, his old friend with the bruised face, his old girlfriend Peg Bender who still carries a torch for him after all these years.  There is also enormous sadness in how we spend so much of our lives impressing people who do not give a hoot about us anymore.   It is almost like we are imprisoned by our desire to impress people.  It is as if they determine what our lives should be like while instead we should spend time trying to please God in the service of others.  The father and son return home to Montana in the end as the son has learned to love his father more. What Woody has learned is not clear.  Yet there is a sense of redemption.

At a deep level the movie is about faith, about faith in oneself and faith in your children and faith in your father, about faith in marriage, but more so about faith in the world.  Is the world a place we can trust? Do we live in a reliable universe?  Is there meaning or are we just stumbling about trying to make the best of?  Religious faith perhaps is a deeply personal way for us to make sense of a universe that we sometimes think considers us “of no account.”  Woody for a moment feels as someone who is of “some account,” a fake prize winner driving his own truck through his childhood farm town, seen by people who will soon forget him.  “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” says Hebrews so articulately.  In the end the son winds up with a little more faith in his cranky father and Woody keeps his faith.  He never stopped believing in what people tell him, for better or for worse.  So while in one sense he is a depressing, absent and uninspiring bore who lives in his own world, in another he is the best of America, a person who keeps the faith in what people tell him.  So we don’t want to be like Woody at all, because he is so disengaged. But on the other hand we want to be like him, because he doesn’t really hurt anyone and he still has faith in the basic meaning of the people in his society.

Friends, while the film Nebraska in its somberness and its simplicity can seem depressing to us, underneath it tells a story of loyalty and redemption and hope and of the humor of human existence.  It is about life stripped down to its essentials in a grayish tone. In doesn’t have all the distractions modern life provides us.   What we learn is that the prodigal is everywhere. We all lose our way at one point or another and we forget what life is all about.  We are very good about seeing where others, especially our immediate family, go wrong, but we are not as good at recognizing our own wastefulness and lostness.  But it’s that lostness we feel on days when we don’t know what ails us and it is that lostness that draws us to God.  It is with God that the source of our faith lies.  So, friends, as Christians, God comes to us in our lostness to help us find faith,  so we can find redemption and healing in all our relationships. Thanks be to God.

 
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Reflection June 14, 2015

Published on June 18, 2015 by in Reflections

I Samuel 15: 9-12; Mark 4:26-34

The Great Sower

Last week we talked about power seen and unseen.  We learned that the Bible teaches us that God prefers invisible power to work in our lives.  We learned that soft power can have more impact than hard power.  In today’s text Jesus tells the parable of the sower and it has a lot to do with the Biblical idea of power.  A person sows and then gets up at night impatiently to see if the seed will grow, so excited and nervous is this grower.  Effortlessly Jesus transitions to the parable of the mustard seed: the humblest of seeds will grow into a great big tree to give people shade.   Friends, what if we were to take this parable as far as we could and see God as the One Who sows seeds?

When I was sixteen I had a chance to visit the US for the first time and one of the places I wanted the visit the most was California.   A barely sixteen year old boy in 1972 from Cold War Europe looks at the world a certain way.  There were a few impressions that stayed with me.  One was driving through New Mexico and Arizona and feeling like a pioneer and then suddenly the lights of San Bernardino County appearing and then feeling disappointed that so many people had gotten to California before me.  The second was the high diving board at the old hotel in Arowhead Springs where I almost messed up my back for good.  Then there was the shock of walking across the border into Mexico where you could ten walk from the wealth of San Diego County straight into the slums of the Third World in Tjuana. Then there was the Golden Bridge and finally: the Monsanto Pavilion in Disney Land.  What a modern company that must be I thought.  But what company was it?  It took me about 30 years to find out, because you don’t hear much about them.  Well, it turns out Monsanto has a near monopoly on the agricultural seeds in the world. They have great hybrid seeds that are resistant to disease, but they also have forced the world to buy there seeds, thereby limiting seed diversity which could be disastrous. This is what I heard. I’m not an expert.  Friends, we forget how crucial seeds are for the worlds.  Jesus obviously understands that.   Maybe the idea of the seed is crucial in understanding the mind of God.

Let’s take the universe.  It turns out the building blocks of the universe are surprisingly simple.  Positively charged protons will attract negatively charged electrons which will go into orbit around them. That’s where we get hydrogen.  Karl Giberson (Christianity century, June 16, 2015 p, 21) writes:”

Everything that has happened from the moment 13.7 billion years ago (i.e.the Big Bang) until now was an expression of just four kinds of interactions: gravitational, electromagnetic, strong nuclear (…enables nuclear fusion) and weak nuclear (..produces radioactivity). Every event in the long history of the universe, from the formation of the first atom, to the explosion of a distant star, to the recollection of a childhood memory, to the purr of a cat, was and is controlled by these four interaction and the simple rules they are constrained to obey. “ He explains that slowly hydrogen balls turned into stars, producing the first-what we would call it- sunrise.

Chinese thinker Chuang-Tzu once asked:”Who governs this? Who maintains this? Who, without acting, pushes and makes this move?”

Friends, what if we were to think of the creating God as sowing these simple elements of the universe until the universe became ever complex and the mind of people developed so much that they were able to conceive of machines a million times more powerful than the human muscle and a million times faster there the movement of a finger; until the human heart grew so much that it was able to love without seeking its own survival?   What if God works that way: from protons all the way to human love?  So God picks the shepherd David to become the greatest, yet deeply flawed, leader of the Hebrew people,  thereby sowing the seeds for the future of the nation.  Is God not always sowing something, something that may grow or may not grow, depending on the reaction of the people in their environment?

Buddhist monk Matthieu Picard, sons of a well-known French philosopher has just published a book called “altruism.”(interview with Tavis Smiley, KVIE, June 2015).  He argues that altruism is in our self-interest, even though economists tell him otherwise.   He is sowing an idea that is not strange to us, but may still sound a bit naïve.

Friends,  if God is the great One Who Sows, as Creator, as compassionate liberator, as Holy Spirit,  then perhaps we too must sow and maybe that’s the logical implication of what Jesus is saying. Perhaps you and I are here to sow, sow kindness, goodness, compassion, social justice,  faith, hope, love etc.   If this is true then the question of the Church and of this congregation becomes not: how do we maintain what we have, but what will we sow? May God give us wisdom.

 

 
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Reflection June 7

Published on June 13, 2015 by in Reflections

I Samuel 8: 4-11 ; 2 Corinthians 4: 16-18

Power seen and unseen

The texts in Old Testament and New Testament lead us to a contrast between power that is visible and power that is invisible.  Samuel is disappointed in the demand of the people to have a real king.  It is almost as if they feel like gypsies who have roamed the region and are now established without an indisputable leader they can follow into combat.   They have forgotten the miracles in the desert after they made their way from the slavery in Egypt back to the Promised Land, a journey of many decades.  They don’t much care for the invisible, spiritual power God rules them with.  Although there are stories in the Bible that have been embellished through centuries of oral retelling, the Bible isn’t that much interested in great shows of power.  Paul has a completely unique perspective.  He cannot imagine the Christian community that will emerge in Constantinople several centuries later when the Emperor converts.  In Paul’s day the movement is tiny and spread out across the northern Mediterranean.  There is no visible power, just earthly power.   But friends, there are limits even to the power of kings and potentates and leaders of elected governments.  Shows of force will only keep you in power for so long. Power seen and unseen in terms of governments is often described as hard power and soft power. Hard power is about compelling your adversary to comply with your will through the threat or use of force. Soft power is about attracting your partner to share your goals through dialogue and exchange.In terms of objectives: Hard power seeks to kill, capture, or defeat an enemy. Soft power seeks to influence through understanding and the identification of common ground. In terms of techniques: Hard power relies ultimately on sanctions and flows from the barrel of a gun. Soft power is rooted in meaningful exchange and the art of persuasion.  In terms of values  hard power is macho, absolute, and zero sum. Soft power is supple, subtle, and win/win.  In terms of economy hard power engenders fear, anguish, and suspicion. Soft power flourishes in an atmosphere of confidence, trust, and respect.”(themark,news)

In some places neither soft nor hard power succeed in the foreseeable future,  Philip Gordon may have a point when he says: “In Iraq, the U.S. intervened and occupied, and the result was a costly disaster. In Libya, the U.S. intervened and did not occupy, and the result was a costly disaster. In Syria, the U.S. neither intervened nor occupied, and the result is a costly disaster (in an article by Zack Beauchamp in Vox.xom, June 2015). That should tell us about North Africa and the Middle East.

Friends, is it possible perhaps that our image of God ‘s power is too much as hard coercive power.   It is the idea of a mover of brute force that whips the universe into shape and unleashes great forces of nature in a sheer act of will.  Should we not think of God as a force of energy in creation that more often that is much more persuasive than coercive?  That is at least the picture our texts appear to paint.  The idea of a violent but also loving God confuses us.  It seems to be a God with a split personality while a God Who uses mostly persuasive power is much more coherent.

Friends, what about our power as individuals to impact our world? How much power do you think you have?  Can it be measured?  How much good do we do?  Paul says the invisible is eternal, and by that he means the grace of God at work in the world.  That is where Paul believes the great power lies.  But how does that work? Let’s take an example.  When Herbert Hoover was President, there was only one mail clerk assigned to him, because he didn’t get much mail.  When his successor Franklin Roosevelt was in the White House, they needed fifty clerks, because Franklin and Eleanor would receive at least 5000 letters a day from people who felt that they would be listened to.  Now Presidents just get too many. But in this day and age can writing letters to senators make a lot of difference?  I think we don’t believe so anymore, because we think most congresspersons, unless they are in a safe district, are beholden to their big donors.  There is the internet, but it’s getting harder and harder to be heard there.  Search engines tend to go to sponsored sites.

Ultimately I believe the answer lies clearly written in between the lines of Paul’s words:  the answer is faith in God as embodied in Jesus Christ.   If we believe God has enormous soft power to work in the world and God is with us then all the good we do has a place within God’s work.  Without faith we can often despair at how little changes in the world.  With faith we own the effort, but God owns the result.  Our soft power can go a long way provided we think God is at work.  That is the key.  But God’s soft gentle power does need our persistent partnership.  Sitting on the couch will do nothing.  We are responsible for the souls we have the power to impact, one helping hand, one righteous protest, one encouraging word, one check written to a charity at a time.  Thanks be to God.

 

 
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Coach’s corner

Published on June 13, 2015 by in Coach's Corner

Making the case

In an earlier coach’s corner I floated the idea of a resident internship program at the church with two seminarians or seminary graduates living in the Kansha building.  Although  I have already discussed some advantages of such a program, I want to give ten clear reasons for doing this.  After the worship service on June 14 we can then have a discussion on the logistics of going forward or not.

  1. Generational inclusion:  as has been made clear earlier, we must think of the children and youth of this church who need role models and trained leaders of a younger generation.
  2. Sampling of future leaders:  Being exposed to seminarians/seminary graduates will give you insight into who is out there for future ministry leadership.  A diverse congregation like Parkview with its unique character will not be able to hire just somebody down the road with no understanding and skills in dealing with a multicultural congregation.
  3. Energy creation:  In the past we have talked a lot about energy groups and a commitment to only pursue the programs that have energy behind them.  Interns/residents will bring their own fresh energy to the situation and we may be able to learn much from them.
  4. The labor of ministry:  our exploration group has come up with the outlines of a new mission statement, but to make this mission statement (which involves outreach to the community) a reality it will take work.  Interns/ residents will be able to help with the labor of new ministry.  Our congregation already has a lot of work in maintaining and funding the church and to provide church family activities.
  5. Supervision:  we have an intelligent, open,  healthy  and supportive congregation that would provide positive mentorship.  Also my own twelve years of seminary teaching experience may be helpful.
  6. Presbytery support: The Mission Support Committee of the Presbytery of Sacramento is endorsing the project and I have discussed with them whether part of all of our annual $7000 mission giving could be applied to this program. The committee also encourages us to request labor help from the Presbytery for Kansha building refurbishing.
  7. Thorough research: 80% of the extensive research has been done.  We have been in touch with five seminaries (in the Bay Area, Southern California, Austin, Pittsburgh and Princeton) and have talked to contractors, the fire chief,  the county and city planning offices,  an architect and an appraiser  and have contacted our insurance among others.
  8. Impact and influence:  a unique program such as this would allow a small congregation like Parkview that has found a unique formula for being the church and “doing church” to share its learning regionally and nationally just as our society becomes increasingly multicultural and the mainline Church lags far behind.
  9. Cost effectiveness:  A program such as this would allow the continuity of the good things we have going and fresh leadership to happen at the same time at very little additional cost (essentially: the cost of improving the Kansha).
  10. Flexibility:  The program, although planned for five years, could be discontinued at any time (provided we met our commitment to current interns/ residents).

 May God bless our ministry!  See you in church. Aart

 

 
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Reflection May 31

Published on June 13, 2015 by in Reflections

John 3:1-17; Romans 8: 14

Human spirit and Holy Spirit

Our two lectionary texts for today address the call to the spiritual life.  We read the words of Jesus and the words of the Apostle Paul.  These words are spoken to the people of a specific time and place.  Jesus speaks to a Pharisee who is fascinated by Jesus; Paul speaks to the Roman Christians, a new, often oppressed minority in the heart of the Roman Empire.  Both Jesus and Paul call people to spiritual transformation.  Nicodemus the Pharisee has to be “ born form above” in the words of Jesus and Paul’s audience in Rome is called not be “slaves to the flesh,” meaning they must rise above materialism and physical gratification.   So on the one hand we have people trying to live within the bounds of their cultural contexts and on the other we have the power of the spiritual that must transform them.   So here we see the human spirit meet the Holy Spirit.  How does that work and can that really be done? 

Friends, below the questions of the Pharisee and the new Roman Christians there is a deep question of human existence.  It is simply: are we okay?  Are we okay the way we are? In other words are we spiritually acceptable?  The answer might be:”Not quite yet. The fact that you ask this question is a good sign, but you have a lot of work to do.”

The series Mad Men (AMC) has just ended.  The fact that it was ending intrigued me enough that I watched a number of old episodes just to see what I had been missing all these years.  If you disregard all the affairs, the pillow talk and moments of drunken stupor that kept popping up, you see people honestly struggling with the meaning of their lives and with truth and untruth.   At one point Don Draper, and interestingly enough this isn’t really his real name, explains to Lucky Strike executives what the advertising strategy should be. They believe the ad should attack the medical report that smoking is dangerous.  Draper disagrees. He says:” what the consumers want to know is that with Lucky Strike they will be ok.”

“Am I okay and will I be okay?”  That is the nagging question we have.  We live in a society where people believe and don’t believe at the same time.  So we are kind of in tension, torn: “ If it is true, are we going to be okay?” If it isn’t: what on earth is going to happen to us?”  And we can’t have a strategy to cover all bases: we have to choose: have faith or not have faith. Within our culture we all do things to be accepted and to be okay:the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the neighborhoods we live in, the kind of tattoos and the size of our hubcaps.  There are all these signs that say:” I want to be okay in this culture. I want my people to say I fit in.”  But all of that is constantly changing.  Talking about ads, there is a commercial where company executives are standing in an elevator with cool bicycle messengers.  One of them asks the other:”man, are you on woo-woo?” and the other says:”Yeah, man, everybody’s on woo-woo.”  The idea is that woo-woo is like face book or Instagram.  So the executive run onto into their offices and call out:” Everybody, we’re on woowooo.?  the next scene the same bicycle messengers are alone in the elevator and the same asks: “Hey, man, are you on woo-woo. He anwers: “No, man, my mom is on woo-woo.”  It’s hard keeping up with the culture, friends. It’s hard to be okay.  We are all in the culture. So here comes Jesus calling us to be transformed spiritually and Paul who tells us not to be a slave to all that stuff.   Now there us a lot that humans do that make the world better through our culture.  I don’t believe the world is necessarily at war with culture as a lot of Christians think. We are moving to more inclusiveness and diversity and eradication of illnesses slowly but surely.  We are more diverse in our thinking.  Just look at the Miss Universe election in Japan the other day, when a hafu woman won the title.  But all that is not enough if it does not go together with us becoming spiritual and constantly trying to transform ourselves.  All those attempts to change the culture have to have their roots in a spiritual kind of compassion.  Otherwise they will not last. They will just be trends.  This means moving away from the desire to get accepted by our culture to being pleasing in the eye of God.  This means moving away from ego and power and fame .  Last week we saw this Swiss potentate named Sepp Blatter who heads the FIFA organization hold on to power because of shameless ego that uses bribery and corruption.  In his desire to be loved by the world he sells his soul.  What a terrible example to set for the world’s young people.  It is the opposite of what Jesus and Paul are talking about.  Friends, as we try to transform our culture through compassion, may we seek to be spiritual transformed , not focusing on the recognition of society, but on the desire to be who God wishes to be. After all our culture ad our world will not always like us and approve of us, but God will always love us. Thanks be to God.

 

 
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Reflection May 24 Pentecost

Published on June 13, 2015 by in Reflections

John 15: 26-27; Acts 2:1-21

The many languages of the Spirit

There is a story I once shared with you of an old fashioned lady who wanted to spend a few days camping in Florida. She was, however, very concerned about the proximity of the toilet which she prudishly referred to as the B.C,  or Bathroom Commode.  So she wrote:”does the campground have its own B.C.?” There was a problem,: the campground director did not know what she meant.  After consulting with other campers about this, he still couldn’t figure it out. Finally he concluded she must be talking about the Baptist Church.  So he wrote the following reply:’ Dear Madam, I regret very much the delay in answering your letter, but I now take pleasure in informing you that B.C. is located nine miles north of the camp site and is capable of seating 250 people at one time.  I admit is quite a distance away of you are in the habit of going regularly but no doubt you will be pleased to know that a great number of people take their lunches along, and make a day of it. They leave early and stay late.  My wife and I last went six years ago. It may interest you to know that right now that a supper is planned to fundraise for more seats.  I would like to say that it pains me very much not to be able to go more regularly, but it is surely not of lack of desire on my part…It seems to be more of an effort at my age, especially when it’s cold….If you decide to come to the campground, perhaps I could go with you the first time ..to ..sit with you…and introduce you to all the other folks…This is really a friendly community.”

Friends, this is not a very likely scenario in miscommunication.  But things like this happen all the time.   A lot of are funny, some of them are tragic.  Nevertheless as a human species we are moving to a common language, one or another form of the English language unless the government of China can persuade the world to do otherwise.  The rest we will be able to do with facial expressions and emoticons and the kind of energy we bring to a conversation.  And those types of communication are very important.

Something happened the other day about ten days ago. A reporter went on a boat on the Andaman Sea to look for Rohingya refugees, a Muslim minority from Burma. He found them but his radio report was unique.  Unlike most journalistic reports about refugees when we hear the challenges of the situation described or see refugees arriving on shore, this report started with the audio footage of people wailing, adults and children starving in the middle of the tropical sea.  It was the human soundtrack of misery and distress.  That is why it was so unnerving.  Sometimes when we see people so different looking from us, we can’t identify a hundred percent, but this was a sound we could connect with on a visceral level.

Dear friends, as the world moves toward a common language, it is harder and harder to find a cultural language we share.  As David Letterman goes off the air, we see the end of an era in talk shows where the host was able to connect with a humor everyone understood or could relate to. But that is changing: we are going from full belly laughs to smiles.  We acknowledge humor more than we laugh about it.  We are aware than many topics are cruel and insensitive and non-inclusive.  This is good.  What isn’t good is that we are less and less understanding the private language each of us have, the language of the soul, which is at the heart of it a spiritual language. It is a language that involves our deepest memories which remind us of the person we have become.  So as we take a moment to remember those we lost since last Memorial Day, it is that private language we tap into, for only you know what the persons you remember meant to you.

In the Gospel of John Jesus promises the arrival of the Advocate, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit.  This is the day that we honor out of the Holy Spirit.  In Acts the Spirit makes the people able to communicate in the language of others, as the veil of miscommunication is lifted. You and I sit in church and we understand the words that are being said, but the language of our soul, the spiritual language may be different.  It may be that the message you hear in the prayers, the songs and the sermon are not a language that is familiar to you, are introducing you to a world you do not fully know.   So, friends, we are her e today to assure you that Holy Spirit speaks in endless ways, that the Holy Spirit knows your language and speaks your language.  If it didn’t, you might not be called to be here in these pews today.  This Holy Spirit does what the Spirit will and cannot be controlled by anyone.  The Bible is clear about that.  It is also not owned by any one person or any group.  Friends, you may not feel you know the language of this Spirit, but be assure that the Spirit knows yours. Thanks be to God.

 

 

 
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Reflection May 17

Published on June 13, 2015 by in Reflections

John 17, 7-9; Acts 1: 15-18

Let it sink in

Last week I quoted to you from the writer Arundhati Roy where she in her novel the “God of Small Things”(p. 33) writes…Christianity seeped into (note: her home region in India) Kerala like tea from a tea bag. “  Although last week’s topic was totally different, I wanted to pick up that thought that was really a small footnote last week and turn it into a main theme.  That main theme is “sinking in” or fermentation.   In today’s text in John, Jesus prays and communicates to God that His followers have been true, that they get what Jesus is about, that they understand the word which has been given to them.  In Acts 17 Peter talks to the disciples about Judas, the disciple who has betrayed Jesus and they come to a kind of understanding about Judas.  Judas had been the unfinished business, the sore spot, the wound of their community.  His act had traumatized them psychologically as of course it had traumatized Jesus in a physical way.  But it as if Peter wants to lay the issue to rest and move on to the “acts” of the apostles, begin a new.  They have had time to reflect and think, to let it sink and soak in.  In both these texts we see a kind of spiritual fermentation, a slow coming to terms with a spiritual concept and as its truth becomes revealed to them over time, they see something new.

Theresa Cho, a Presbyterian pastor in San Francisco writes about Kimchi in a Bible study: “In the fermentation process, it takes up to three days to notice any change. In the Korean church where I grew up, my mom and the other church ladies would make kimchi, gathering around huge bins of napa cabbage and salting each leaf to jumpstart the process. This was also a time for them to share news, stories and prayers. Often you would find them either laughing so hard or weeping so deeply that I’m convinced some of their salty tears made it into the kimchi. …Kimchi in the early stages of fermentation resembles a crunchy, refreshing, spicy salad.  As it continues to ferment the smell becomes more pungent, the taste more sour, and the ingredients more amalgamated. At a certain point the kimchi becomes so sour or old that it even has been described as smelling like death.”(Christian Century, p. 20, May 13, 2015) But, as Theresa Cho says, this is when kimchi is at its best.

Friends, when it comes to life of faith and its meaning, we deal with ingredients that are often not attractive or strange or useless to us, so no wonder that people reject it.  It is not easy to go from hamburger to kimchi and it is just as hard to go from what we talk about on the internet to the Bible.  To us the Bible is just raw napa cabbage.   People rather get French fries.   The issue is do we take the time to let it ferment, to let it sink into our being, to let in drip into our bone marrow, so that we get the rich taste and meaning.   We toss it out right away as alien and strange and perplexing, then it’s like letting the cabbage rot and throwing it out until it becomes the kimchi  that will give taste and meaning to the meal?

Brian Doyle, a Roman Catholic thinker, writes about his two quiet uncles, the ones he took for granted, who would sit on chairs in the living room at family get-togethers and just listen. They would never talk about themselves.  It wasn’t until they were gone that Doyle realizes how lucky he has been to know them.  One of them had been a good student and saved his boyhood money for college and lost it all in one day in a market crash. The other had been in the army. One was a telephone lineman and the other in the insurance trade.  They were amusing and pleasant people. They didn’t need to be the center of attention or be in control of the situation, they were always “of the main stage.”  Doyle regrets asking them what they thought, …”deep in their soul; what they wished to be, and never became; the shape and yearning of their love, the seasons they loved best, the music they hummed when they were alone…which small habit of their wives drove them mad; which household tasks they hated most, which books they loves best; which gods they imagined when they prayed, what fates they hoped for….-and things I will never know, unless….(Christian Century, may 13, 2015, p. 13). Doyle reminds us there is so much to learn from the people around us, so many simple and not-so-simple spiritual lessons they can teach us.

Dear friends, we are creatures who are set in our ways.  We don’t change easily.  How often will be fail to learn the lessons of life and give in to our muscle memory, fall back into our old habits? How often will we make the same mistakes over and over again?   In our internet culture nothing seems to sink in anymore. How often will be fail to listen and rush by without letting the lessons God is teaching us sink in and ferment?   May we pay attention.  May we allow the words and the Holy Spirit to work as we prepare for Pentecost.   May God give us wisdom.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Reflection May 10

Published on June 13, 2015 by in Reflections

John 15: 9-17; I John 5: 2,3

The mothering gap

On Mother’s day we tend to get into this celebration and demonstration of motherly love.  This is good.   People need to be more grateful for the people who have given us motherly love, who have showered us with their maternal instinct.  But there is a problem.  Not everyone receives and gives as much or the same quality of motherly love as the next person.  This we do not like to talk about on Mother’s Day , but it is reality .  

The Bible pretty much lays it out in our lectionary readings today, in the Gospel of John and in the first letter of John: love is a commandment. It is a Christian must.  And this commandment should give us joy.  Love, commandment and joy are tied together.   We are not always comfortable with that, friends.  We see love more as a feeling or a gift or a privilege or a treasure to be found somewhere, either by surprise or as a result of hard searching.  Now of course we are not talking about romantic love here.  That is a whole different discussion.  What we are talking about here is unconditional love, love for the sake of love, love without a hidden agenda,  love for us as we are, as we come, with all our flaws.

When we think of that kind of love, we are more likely to think of mothers than we think of anyone else.  But is that really fair, friends?  Is that really fair?  We still tend to associate that with the idea of the woman who physically gives birth and raises a child with a kind of serene, calm wisdom and patience.  It’s almost like some stereotypic idea of womanhood.  Is this fair to children who did not have or do not have that or to women who are not like that or to men that are like that?  I think we understand a lot more now.  We know about testosterone and estrogen change in men and women at different times of life.  We know motherly love is not limited to a biological mother.  We know now that gender is a complicated thing and will understand more as time goes by.  ‘Where am I going with this,’ you may think.  My point is that not all of us give or receive motherly love in equal measure.  There is a mothering gap.  Not every woman can give enough and not everyone receives enough.   Some people get more of that motherly love than others.

In the seventies novel The Conservationist Nobel prize winner Nadine Gordimer shares the thoughts of her main character, a white city business man in South Africa who has bought a farm on the high veld, the high plain of the Transvaal. He thinks about life and at one point he muses, thinking about the poverty of the African population. He thinks:”when will it be our turn, when will it be our turn to be poor and to starve.”  It is an acknowledgment that people do not receive in equal measure, whether it is wealth, money or love.  Arundhati  Roi, another celebrated woman novelist, this time from India, in “The God of Small Things” writes beautifully about a girl called Sophie Mol who comes to the Christian region of southwest India known as Kerala.  Bad things happened to her and the author wonders why and she starts talking about love.  She wonders if all that happens to people has already been laid down, including love, as if there are laws about love.  She writes (p.33):”It could be argued that it began long before Christianity arrived in a boat and seeped into Kerala like tea from a teabag.  That it really began in the days when the Love Laws were made. The laws that laid down who should be loved, and how. And how much.”(p.33)   Friends, we have talked about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and the love they received as a child and how different their experience was.  It shows that the experience of motherly love does not come in equal measure, how painful that may be.

In the mountain forest below the Himalayas in China’s Yunnan province there are a group of elusive white furred monkeys called snub nosed monkeys. They are gentle animals over all who are unafraid of humans.  In the KVIE program Nature it showed two male babies being born to the same mother.  No one explained why but the mother coddles and pampers one and rejects the other.  The pampered one throws temper tantrums when he is being weaned while the ignored one has to struggle and fend for himself from the get go.  In the end the tribe helps care for him, including adult males who are not his father. Nevertheless the two youngsters become fast friends.  There is the mothering gap right there friends.  Not everyone gives equal love and not everyone receive the same love.  Others have to step in. This does not make it right. It still violates God’s love commandment, but it is reality.  The Church can learn from this.  One of its main reasons for being is to share God’s motherly love for all with those who have received less love. Like the monkey tribe it has to fill and close the mothering gap.  May God give us the wisdom, the commitment and the strength to fulfill this commandment with joy.

 

 

 
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Reflection May 3

Published on June 13, 2015 by in Reflections

John 15:1-8; Acts 8:29-31

A grace delivery system

I think you would agree that overall our treatment of animals is becoming more humane.   There is a well known saying for politicians and bureaucrats:”If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” I think many people feel that way: they prefer their pets to people. For one thing, in most cases people’s love is conditional.  We have a cat and it maybe that our cat’s love maybe somewhat conditional.  With dogs it’s a different matter.  Sometimes their loyalty is so strong they will brutally hurt strangers.

People also love their plants, but it’s a different relationship.  We may refer to the personality of our pets, but not to the personality of our plants.  “Vegetative state” is one of the only references used for humans other s than “houseplant” and “wallflower.”  None of them are positive.  Yet in today’s text in the Gospel of John Jesus compares Himself to a grapevine. Jesus is comparing Himself to a plant!  Not only that, He is comparing His followers to plants.  Jesus is the vine, we are the branches.  Through Jesus the grace of God comes to us and allows us to bear fruit in life. It is a simple illustration everyone in the audience would have grasped.  And we have to understand that the wine the grapes were made out of was not a social drink or something to help you forget all the embarrassments of the day, it was one of the life giving fluids necessary for survival with well water and goat’s milk.

I chose to talk about this lectionary text after Maurine sent me an article entitled “Smart Plants” from a recent issue of National Wildlife (pp.36-40).  Turns out plants might be a lot smarter than we, that they may be able to communicate with other species.  Janet Marinelli claims that Douglas firs are “..using extensive underground fungal networks to share water and nutrients with other plants based on need… The roots of these and any other plant species monitor at least 15 environmental variables, including moisture, nutrients, soil microbes and temperature. Such plants also essentially create a three- dimensional perspective of their surroundings to tap necessary resources and optimize growth.”

Just under the outer bark of the vine and the branches are two layers necessary for the survival of the plant: the xylem and phloem. The xylem carries water and nutrients up from the roots, through the vine, into the branches and the leaves. The phloem carries sugars, the products of photosynthesis, down from the leaves, through the branches, through the vine, to the roots. It is a reciprocal arrangement of survival, nourishment and fruit bearing. (Susan Palo Cherwien, Christian Century April 29, 2015, p. 20).”  The Mystic Meister Eckhart said that a “plum brings forth plums not by an act of will but because it is in its nature to do so.

Friends, according to our faith, you and I are destined to bring fruit and to flower in this life. We are meant to flourish.  That is God’s intention for us.  Just like some plants, we sometimes only flourish under stress or at least show our best and most beautiful colors.  But grace has to find its way.  Grace has to have a delivery system.   The vine and branches must we healthy.  Christians believe that God’s grace flows best through our faith in Christ, that Jesus is the ultimate grace delivery system because in Jesus the Christ God showed Who God truly was and was about.  Susan Palo Cherwien says: “Through this connection to the vine of life, the community of faith receives the creative and merciful energy of God, that same love that flowed though Christ. And because of this creative and loving connection, we will bear fruit (Palo, p.20).”

But sometimes the grace delivery systems get damaged, blocked or destroyed.   We talked about the Vietnam War we are commemorating this week and how through stupidity, pride, stubbornness and hatred grace was blocked for so long and millions of people died as a result in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and other parts of South Asia. God did not want that.  Just like God does not want the tragedy In Nepal or the hatred in Baltimore. But God’s grace finds a way, new pathways and networks are created and Vietnamese immigrants are making a huge impact on the world, sending home billions to their country.  Today you have a chance to donate to the aid work in Nepal.

Friends, some or perhaps many of us have received an abundance of God’s grace.  But sometimes we block it because of our selfishness and ego and fear and anxiety.  Let us forget that we are here to flourish and allow others to flourish, not to be withering branches blowing around in the storms of life.  So my question for you today is: where and how are you blocking God’s grace from making you better?  What are the ways you are blocking what God wants to do with your talents in making others flower and flourish?  May God give us wisdom.

 

 
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