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Coach’s Corner

Published on August 4, 2016 by in Coach's Corner

Are we a happy church?

Dear friends,

Last month I wrote about “pressure balancing,” highlighting the challenges a small church like ours faces when it is required to face big projects. This month I want to emphasize the positive more by having us think about the “happiness” of the church.  This was a theme at the choir retreat at Zephyr Point.  They listened to the well known song by Pharrell Williams which has the following lines “Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof, because I’m happy, clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth, because I’m happy, clap along if you know what happiness is to you.”  The choir members and other guests learned that happiness had a lot to with gratitude. Happiness has always been an American preoccupation. The founding fathers made the “pursuit of happiness” a customary term by including it in the Constitution, citing it as an example of unalienable rights.  Unfortunately we are not completely sure how they would have defined it exactly.

While mindfulness is seen as a way to attain happiness for some, therapist and author Russ Harris speaks of the “happiness trap” in his book of the same title. He urges his readers to stop focusing on “the pursuit of happiness” but to be concerned about living life in the moment. In other words, through mindfulness.

Happiness has a lot to do with longevity too. For instance there are studies that indicate that loneliness will take year of a person’s life.  NPR recently aired a broadcast about the well known study of three groups with great longevity (people on an island near Okinawa, people in the mountains of Sardinia and Seventh Day Adventists in LA). A sense of community, a specific, healthy diet were important, but also the reality of “having something to get up for in the morning.”

The Bible does not really talk about happiness, but is interested in joy. Also, Jesus talks about “life abundantly,”(John 10:10) which is a spiritual, not a material state.

Now, if we take “happiness” out of the personal sphere to the sphere of our Parkview community, does Parkview make you “happy” and as a result are we a “happy” church?  That is a question only you can answer, although above we have some of the indicators: 1. is our church something that gets you out of a bed on a Sunday morning rather than a chore? 2. Are you grateful for what the church provide you? 3. Can you appreciate it for what it is right now with its familiar as well as new faces rather than as something that needs fixing? Can you experience a kind of joy and wellbeing there? If the answer is yes for a majority of you, then perhaps Parkview is a happy church.  Even the Founding Fathers might agree! See you in church and may God bless our ministry. Aart

 
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Reflection July 31

Published on August 4, 2016 by in Reflections

Hosea 11: 2,3,4; Luke 12: 21 

The idols of our time

What’s the deal with idols?  Do we really have an issue with that?  In the Old Testament that was a huge problem.  Hosea tells us about the relationship between God and the people of Israel. It is a story of disappointment and betrayal. The people of the Northern Kingdom known as Israel or Ephraim go are worshipping the idols known as the Baals.  It all seems of another time to us.  We don’t worship other gods. We try to respect the religion of others, but tend not to worship their God. The people then were very practical in their own way. They picked the “god” that offered the greatest pay-off for them.  If their neighbors had other gods and they seem to be pretty prosperous, why not give them a try? So we get this problem of clear idolatry. This causes God enormous heartache. God had “bent over and fed” Ephraim. In other words God had nursed and nurtured the child. Now Ephraim wants to try out other parents.  So the story is born about Hosea who must marry a prostitute to show that God thinks of Israel as a prostitute.  Going after the Baals is akin to prostitution, you see. Underneath the harshness of this story, however, is the tender beauty of God’s love for the people as the love for a child that can never be extinguished.  Still we see it as remote from us. It all seems of another time to us.

Jesus really takes idolatry in a different direction. It is a direction we are more able to understand. Essentially he says that trusting the material is a kind of idolatry.  Appreciating the material may be okay, but worshipping it is idolatry.  Okay, that we can get.

What’s the deal with idols, friends?  What’s the deal with idols in our lives?  Our issue isn’t having too many gods, our issue is having one at all.  I also believe that most of us do not idolize people so much anymore.  Too much information is available on the internet and cable tv to put anybody on a pedestal.  In countries where information is tightly controlled leaders can still turn into idols, but in a free and open society this is not the case. The moment someone raises a famous person to the level of idol, another person posts a video presenting that person as the devil.  But we do have our idols. They’re just not gods or people.  Jesus has already mentioned one:  Wealth or possessions. The moment the accumulation of wealth becomes an end itself, a greater value, that is where it is at danger of becoming an idol.  As Gordon Gecko played by Michael Douglas in “Wall Street” said:”Greed is good.”  Of course it isn’t. Another idol can be power.  If we idolize the power that well known people hold and hunger to be close to it, when power no longer exists for the common good, then there is a danger of idolatry.  Then there is status of position. If our place within groups and society starts taking on a life of its own, there is the danger of idolatry.  Beauty is another tricky thing.  We all need beauty to behold and to create, but if the beauty of ourselves and the people who want to be near becomes too important, then there is a danger of idolatry. Pleasure and enjoyment are fine in itself but if they become an escape through drugs or alcohol or an overconsumption of the wrong foods, it can become not only an addiction but an idol we worship. Knowledge is crucial for us to understand and manage our world, but if knowledge and education and always thinking we are right take us away from humility and compassion, there is a danger of idolatry.  Then there is admiration.  We all want to be admired.  Sometimes we will do almost anything o be accepted and admire. But if we worship the thought of being worshipped, then there is true danger of idolatry.  There may be a few people in the world who have all seven of these above, but I wonder how happy they are. Appreciating the things I just mentioned are in themselves not bad, unless they become worship.

Friends, idolatry is the worship of things other than God.  This always drives us away from God. God does not like this. It hurts God. That is the message of Hosea. But what takes us there, you think?

In the books of Moses the people build a golden calf to worship because they feel afraid or a vacuum with Moses away. There are people in this country who are on the edge of worshipping their weapons. It comes out of a kind of fear that gets whipped up into paranoia by those who wish to manipulate them for their own financial or political gain.   So emptiness and fear are risk factors of idolatry. Perhaps there is another. Perhaps when we are out of balance, when we focus on only one thing in our lives like our security or insecurity or our financial strength or weakness, or the attractiveness of our bodies or lack thereof, or our popularity or lack of popularity, when we lose perspective, there is a danger of idolatry.  It is then that we must remember Hosea and think not of God’s disappointment, but of God’s love. God is the One Who has been with us since before time, God is the One Who bent over to love us. There is no need for the worship of anything else. Only God should be worshipped. Thanks be to God.

 
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Reflection July 17

Published on August 4, 2016 by in Reflections

Psalm 52: 8,9; Luke 10: 40,41, 42

Who we are and who we ought to be

What is the problem that we run into our texts?  We start with one verse in Psalm 52 where the author says” I am like an olive tree…” describing it color and good qualities. The author is identifying with the olive tree.  It is true, in the Middle East the olive tree is of huge importance, but it is by no means a perfect tree.  There are limitations to its usefulness.  For one thing, it only produces olives and not oranges, lemons or figs.  The same is true of us humans. We are capable of producing certain benefits, but we are useless when it comes to others.  We wish we could do everything well and people rarely come close.  This is not only true of our abilities, but also of our accomplishments. There is always that one thing we weren’t able to do any given day.  There is always a gap between who we are and who we think we should be.  The way we get peace with that is by comparing ourselves to other people who perform even worse. But the problem remains: we may be like a great olive tree, but that’s all we are.  We are always stuck with the reality that we will always be disappointing God and, as a result, ourselves also.

In another form we find that reality in the Gospel of Luke.  Jesus is visiting Mary and Martha.  Mary sits at His feet and has full attention for Him, while Martha is so busy doing all the work of being good hostess that she forgets to focus on Jesus.  Jesus criticizes her for this.  The text says she is “distracted by her many tasks.”  The discussion starts out with Martha’s complaint of having to do everything alone.  Martha thinks Mary should be helpful like her and Jesus thinks that Martha could be more like Mary and pay attention to his teaching.  But in the end Mary cannot be Martha and Martha cannot be Mary completely.  In one way or another they both fall short. There is a gap between who they are and who they know they ought to be. Friends, this something you and I are always struggling with, this gap between who we are and who we should be, no matter how hard we try.  Lots of times this is a real moral issue for us: we feel guilty or even ashamed.  Something ails us.  One way we deal with this in our society, is to get counseling.  It can be very helpful..  One of the associate professors at our oldest son Daniel’s school, historian and Psychologist Philip Cushman wrote a book a number of years ago about the “cultural history of psychotherapy.” Its main title is: “Construction the Self, Constructing America.” (On p. 7) he writes: “Notice that I am treating psychotherapy as a cultural artifact that can be interpreted, rather than a universal healing technology that has already brought  a…”cure” to earthlings. As a matter of fact, nothing has a cured the human race, and nothing is about to.”  I think therapists of all kinds have come to this conclusion. Much of the treatment is more about coping and adjusting than about curing.  Psychotherapy is a lot more realistic these days. He also writes on (on page 9):”We have no way of developing shared moral understandings that would help us cooperate in using our newfound power for the betterment of human kind.” So even though therapists can make the world a better place, there is no moral compass necessarily other than trying to relieve suffering.  Each therapist has to operate from his or her own.

On his dedication page Cushman mentions Szmul Zygielbojm who fought in the Warsaw ghetto uprising, served on the parliament of exiled Polish government, was imprisoned, and then miraculously made his way to England to persuade the Western Allies to intervene against the genocide. But no one listened. On May 12, 1943, in protest and despair, he committed suicide on the steps of 10 Downing Street, the British Prime Minister’s residence, at 48.  Friends, is this an extreme example of a person who was caught in the gap between who he was and who he should be, between what he could accomplish and what he should accomplish?

Friends, we find a hint of the Christian answer to this gap, this discrepancy between who we are and who we ought to be in our lectionary reading from Colossians found on the front of your program.

Paul writes:” :”And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind…. He has now reconciled…., so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before Him.” 

The text is reminding us of what Jesus came to do: to reconcile us with God, so that we would be “blameless and irreproachable.”  What does this mean? It means that there is a cure for our despair. The burden we carry because of our disappointment in ourselves is taken on by Jesus. Yes, we still have to try to be our best, but we have to let go of our burden. Jesus’ message is: “let me carry that burden. Let go of that guilt.  I have taken that on.  Your shortcomings are not held against you.  What I will look at is your heart.”  It is a message of great comfort: our limitations and flaws are not held against us. Jesus is at peace with them. So should we be. Thanks be to God!

 
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Reflection July 10

Published on August 4, 2016 by in Reflections

Amos 7: 14, 15; Luke 10: 33-35

Risky relationships

Amos goes to the King to remind him God is not pleased with his actions.  God is patient, but God’s patience has its limits. As a poor farmer and Sycamore dresser Amos is not likely to get a positive hearing.  He may even be killed. So Amos’ relationship with the king was a risky one.  The Samaritan man is very low in status in the society. The Samaritans were considered inferior to the Jews because they were considered to be of foreign heritage and tended to mix faith practices. Ethnic purity was a big issue in those days. On top of it the Priest and Levite were high status people and considered purest among the Jews.  On that dangerous road they wanted nothing to do with what could be a dead body soon. They considered the relationship with the wounded man to be too risky.  The Samaritan man however “took pity.”  He engaged in the risky relationship. He did not hesitate to help people out.  Now he is the famous one from the parable. No one remembers the snooty men of the cloth.  I once worked in a hospital in Phoenix called Good Samaritan Hospital and there is now a “Samaritan” law in the US that requires people help out accident victims on our highways. On a dangerous road the relationship with the wounded man was still very risky for the Samaritan.

Friends, after this week of violence in our country, we are once again left raw and realizing that we are stuck in a situation where so many people are armed to the teeth.  It seems that it might lead to more violence. African Americans are sick and tired of getting treated unjustly by rogue cops and now the cops will be up in arms. We pray that the cycle of fear and anger and violence will be broken. A great deal of Americans now feel the relationship with the police is a very risky relationship. They don’t feel they will be treated equally under the law. At the same time more police will feel that their relationships on the most dangerous streets of this nation and there are many will be riskier than ever.  Nevertheless the relationship between law enforcement and the people they police is necessary.

I heard an interview with a woman with autistic spectrum disorder (NPR July 7, 2016).  Part of her disorder is that she has trouble reading the emotions of others. One of her worst experiences was that once during summer camp she was bound and gagged by her fellow campers and thrown outside the camp. She could not for the life of her understand why anybody would do such a thing. These people were supposed to be her friends.  It took painstaking explanation about how teenagers engage in bonding rituals before she could comprehend that the bad treatment of the young girls was a cruel bonding ritual.  Even with feel summer camp friends, relationships can be painful and risky. But in teenage relationships some risk may be necessary. Youth are hyper-social. They cannot grow up in isolation.

But risky relationships are not limited to the streets or to summer camps or even to schools, there is emotional risk even in families.  Siblings can manipulate each other or resent each other to the point that the pain of the relationship can be lasting. Marriage can be a source of intense hurt.  If you were to speak to marriage therapists you might find that one of the greatest threats to a marriage is contempt. Contempt is toxic.  Nothing breaks down self-esteem like contempt.  But ironically they say  ”familiarity breeds contempt” and who are more familiar than two people in a marriage. Yet the benefits tend to outweigh the risks.

Friends, risk in relationship even occurs when we are trying to help people with whom we no conflict.  Sometimes reaching out to someone in grief or despair or depression can carry emotional risk of some kind. The despair could be a bit contagious when we identify so much with the suffering person. But the risk is vital.

Friends, not all relationships are important or essential, but our lives are made up of relationships which are necessary.  They all carry some risk of harm or hurt. We all carry the scars of the relationships that went awry, that came apart no matter how hard we tried to maintain them or fix them.  I think those experiences have given us a certain weariness and wariness and caution about relationships. We like to exercise a certain amount of control over them.  But the Christian faith is a relational faith. The Christian faith is a faith of community.  It doesn’t function well as a faith of individuals, at least not for very long.  The whole Bible is about God reaching out in love and of people reaching back or failing to reach back and reaching for each other or failing to.  Jesus the Christ never stepped back from honest, truthful relationships with anyone and he thought His followers should not either. That is why Jesus told this parable. In that vein, the risk of relationship in general for a Christian and for the Church becomes a calculated risk, because we are called to engage with others. We are one-dimensional without relationship.  May God give us strength and wisdom.

 

 

 

 
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Reflection July 3

Published on August 4, 2016 by in Reflections

2 Kings 5: 10, 11, 12; Luke 10: 4

Acting outside the box

The element that unites both our texts today is that people are asked to do something unusual, something strange, something counter-intuitive. The first is Naaman, the Syrian military leader who is told by Elisha to bathe a number of time in the river Jordan.  He gets mad and grumbles that where he is from the rivers, the Abana and the Pharphar, are just as good to bathe in.  The whole thing seems silly to him.  It is very strange way to be healed that way.   The King of Israel isn’t happy about this either, because if the visit by the decorated military leader does not go well, there could be a war with the King of Aram.  In Luke Jesus asks the disciples to go out and witness for Him and orders to 70 to go out in groups of two. But Jesus gives specific instructions. They are to stay briefly with people, have no possessions, no sandals. Again it is counter-intuitive. Who would want to listen to paupers dressed like beggars? Sure these principles are popular in Buddhism and Hinduism now for instance but then they didn’t make much sense.  It was  strange now.  To us it still is.  One afternoon about four years ago-you may remember this- a young, Korean American couple rang the doorbell at Parkview and they told me that their church in Portland had sent them here with no resources; except they had a laptop so they could report their experiences by email. They said they believed God would take care of them.  I was a bit annoyed. They weren’t dressed like beggars. They probably just left their money at home.  Suddenly they were my problem, one I had never asked for.  Of course, their faith was rewarded and I put them up in a hotel on Alhambra and paid the cost. I said goodbye and wished them well. I never saw them again.  Odd, unusual, counter-intuitive. And in my view, they were taking this text in the Bible a little too literally.  Their view was different however.

So, friends, at first glance the texts are about Elisha and Jesus asking people to have faith and follow strange orders.  Okay, that could be the message here: be counter-intuitive sometimes, don’t always follow your instincts, do what’s smart, good people asks you today.  Dare to be strange.  That’s nice, but there must be more than that.  But believe me I had trouble getting there. When you peel off the layers of the onion, these texts may be about freedom? This is fortunate as this is Fourth of July weekend.  You see, Naaman wants to be free of leprosy, but he also wants to be free of strange cures and weird baths in unfamiliar rivers.  He doesn’t want to give Elisha as God’s prophet the freedom to act Elisha and God see fit.  The same is true of the disciples.  They love having the Jesus and the liberation of despair the Gospel offers the, but they prefer the comfort of good sandals and predictable meals. They’d rather not give Jesus the freedom to choose how they should serve Him.

Friends, the founding Fathers wanted their freedom from the British, just like the British now want to be free from Europe.  But a number of the signers were slaveholders.  They wanted their freedom, but the slaves wouldn’t get theirs for another ninety years.  This whole issue was lived out in the Spielberg film “Amistad” when a Spanish slave ship is taken over by the men in chains and the ship floats off to New England. In a trial the judge has to decide whether to give the men and women back to the Spanish or let them return home.

Friends, what we forget is that freedom is not a unilateral thing, because one person’s sense of freedom can be another’s oppression. I think this point is often missed in the gun debate: one person’s freedom to have incredibly lethal weapons can lead to another feeling a lack of freedom of movement.

This is true of the Divine-human relationship.  I think that over the centuries we have seen that relationship as one not of freedom, but of control.  God was seen as controlling our fate, keeping us in check through the commandments and in return we respond by trying to control God through our sermons and our prayers. God is seen as trying to control us we trying to control God.  But it looks to be a lot more than it isn’t a relationship of control at all, but of freedom.  We and all created things have the freedom to choose our path and God’s grace becomes part of our life in whatever way God chooses. Sometimes we have to take baths in strange places. This is true of Chakrita our first resident who had to take a bath in health club down the street the first ten days because the Kansha had no hot water.

Friends, freedom is not unilateral, it is mutual. Everyone wants to be free, including the people in countries where we engage our military. But their idea of freedom may be a bit different.  The text from Galatians on our cover ties it together.  It is about the good of all.  Freedom was never meant to be just an individual thing (that is a Western concept). It was to be for the good of all.

God above all is free. God’s grace in our lives moves freely and we will never know in what form and at what moment it will come. We may not even recognize it. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

 

 
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Coach’s Corner

Published on July 6, 2016 by in Coach's Corner

Pressure balancing

When we were working on the Kansha house to get ready for our first resident, one of the plumbers said that we should “pressure balance” the water lines to the bath. After inquiring what pressure balancing is supposed to be with a number of people who might know, I still don’t know the meaning.  But in my mind “pressure balancing” has taken on a life of its own.  At first I thought that pressure is bad, but then of course that is not true: pressure can be good or bad.  For instance, it is good to have strong water pressure most of the time and good air pressure some of the time, but not so good to have high oil pressure. It is good to have the strong pressure of a good massage they say or the pressure of a foot reflexologist.  It is good to have the pressure that challenges us to perform, although not so good to have that pressure cripple us emotionally.  Pressure can be good or bad whether it has to do with natural elements or it has to do with the functioning of the body.

In the letter to the Ephesians the functioning of the body as in other parts of the New Testament is used as a metaphor of the functioning of the Church. Ephesians 4:16 says:” …joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”  The parts of the body should be supporting each other to the establishment of a loving community.  That is the ideal.  In reality it is not always so easy. In the body joints can be twisted, spines can go out of alignment, blood sugar and blood pressure can go off the scale; neither down or up is not good news.  It is a matter of whether “pressure” is balanced so that bodies don’t go out of whack.  This is true of congregations too. We can place too much pressure on a number of people and too little on others.  Sometimes in a small church like ours we can put too much pressure on almost everybody for a number of days or weeks. This will affect the functioning of the church body.  There may be too little “good” pressure and too much “bad” pressure. There could even be so much pressure on one element of a congregation that resentment starts to build.  As I have told you before this is one thing I as a pastor worry about.  When you have an awareness of the physical condition or age or the emotional demands or stresses, you need to think twice about what you ask them to do or let them do.  It is a matter of “pressure balancing.”

I would like to thank the many people at Parkview who went out of their way to help out in the busy few months which are behind us. There were number of responsibilities Parkview was committed to. Especially Donna should be mentioned. She really was key. Nevertheless we are conscious that we put pressure on you also. There are so many people in our church whose work we count on and may be tempted to take for granted. May we all know our pressure points. May we all know where the pressure is good and where it is destructive. May God give us wisdom so we may continue to be a healthy congregation for many years to come. May God bless our ministry. Aart

 
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Reflection June 26

Published on July 6, 2016 by in Reflections

2 Kings 2: 9, 10, 13; Luke 9:57

In the footsteps

Both the text in 2 Kings and in Luke speak about following.  The first is about following in the footsteps, for Elijah will be taken up.  But really so is the second, Jesus too uses that kind of language. He knows His ministry will be short. There is something about footsteps.  Most of the time a footstep is the only way we make contact with the earth.  In Kona, heart of the ancient Hawaiian kingdom, there are a number of historical markers along Alii drive and they simply say:”Royal footsteps along the Kona Coast.” That simple line grabs you and stimulates the imagination, because as you pass that marker you are connected with those who have passed through history in that place through the earth. But footsteps are also temporary, they have a way of vanishing.  Time washes and burns them out.  Physically both Elijah (who for all practical purposes was Israel’s greatest prophet) and Jesus have footsteps that are vanishing and they have awfully big shoes (or sandals) to fill.

When I was thinking about today’s message, I was also thinking about some words I needed to say about Osame today and at one moment it became intertwined. What if, I thought, we were to take everything that was written for the memorial services for Parkview people over the last (assuming we could find it), have somebody edit it and put it together, it would give a pretty clear picture of the Nisei, the second generation, the people most of you here are following.  The idea occurred to me that the perfect title might be 2 Kings 2:9:”Give me a double portion of your spirit.”

Friends, there are two things I would like to highlight about following and how it is not easy, one from each text. The first is that when we wish to follow in the footsteps of someone, we can get more than their spirit. We also inherit their burdens. Elisha asks for a double dose of Elijah’s spirit and Elijah says:” you have asked for a hard thing.” Why does he say that? Well, it could be that Elijah’s spirit is already humongous!  But here’s that thought: you cannot just take someone’s spirit you inherit, because you also inherit their burdens, their grief and sorrow and, when applicable, their sins. You cannot inherit someone spirit without their worries and their passion. Where this hits home hard is on the reservation spread around North America or Native Americans and First Nation peoples.  I got a taste of that when I first got started in ministry, which was on a reservation on the Nevada/Idaho border. On the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, there a huge crisis on teenage suicides. Alcoholism is a way of life. Up to 500 kids get referred to behavioral services per year.  One local counselor talked about historical grief that the next generation takes on.  I think this is true of other groups in this country too, including Asian Americans.  The kids do not just inherit the pride and culture of the Lakota, they also absorb their sorrow. I guess this is why people leave home sometimes. They want to clear the slate from all the baggage. So following has its perils.

Jesus pulls no punches when it comes to talking about following.  “Foxes have holes..” but the Son of humanity has nowhere to lay is head.” Essentially Jesus is saying:”you want to follow me, know what you are getting into. I am going to take you places you thought you’d never go and nothing will be predictable.”  There is risk in following.  This is especially true when Jesus says:” I set my face to Jerusalem.”  When you are leader “sets His face” for a great goal, then hold on to you seats. Things are about to get interesting!

Friends, we all have a relationship to the act of following.  We have all some of that.  Our society kind of frowns on following these days.  Following seems to imply weakness. “He/she is follower,” is not a positive statement.  “Follower of Christ” is a little more positive perhaps, but only in certain circles. Sometimes when we follow we can be tentative.  “We’ll try out and We’ll see how it goes,” we whisper to ourselves. “We’ll try it out.” Most of us have been burnt one way of another in the act of following. Our leaders, including our religious leaders, have disappointed us. Their promises have sounded hollow over time. Their humanness had disillusioned us. But there is also an inevitability in following. We follow the previous generations unless we totally detach ourselves from them which almost always is a bad idea. We follow our predecessors and therefore inherit the works they wrought. These things happen unless we live by ourselves in a cabin in the woods, but that would create a whole different set of problems!  Our texts today call us to a revisiting of following, a following that catches the spirit of those who came before and a following that is risky and unpredictable. May God give us the strength to follow the ones who came before us with dignity and diligence and courage to follow the Christ Who takes us places we did not think we would go. Thanks to be to God.

 
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Reflection June 19

Published on July 6, 2016 by in Reflections

Luke 5: 1-7

Finding your fish

The Giant Trevally or Ulua as it is known in Hawaii is widely sought after by fishermen and women in the warm reaches of the world.  For Hawaiian fishermen it is quite a catch to be proud off. Not too long ago on a lava field leading from a quiet beach on the Big Island, a healthy young man with a spring in his step bounded past us. He had a small plastic crate on his back. On top of the crate (for it could not fit in it) was what turned out was a male Giant Trevally, which was as wide as the young man’s shoulders.  The Hawaiians likened the fish to a great warrior and for that reason women were prohibited from consuming it. Friends, the powerful young man had struggled down the fish and took it home as a trophy.  He had found his fish.

In the animated movie finding Nemo, family and friends, including his forgetful friend Dory go in search of a little fish that has wound up in a cooler in Sydney, Australia.  At the end they are reunited. They find their fish.  Now there is a sequel opening in theaters called finding Dory. It seems the amnesia of the little friend has worsened and now her friends have to find her. The journey takes them to the Monterey bay Aquarium.  I assume they will find their fish.

Friends, the disciples are tired from fishing. Jesus tells them to go out one more time.  Simon agrees reluctantly. He is discouraged and tired from a night of fishing.  Rieko in her dance already showed us the frustration of fishing for something you desperately want when you keep catching everything you don’t want. Simon knows this lake and this teacher, not an expert, tells him to go again.   It was a good thing that he did, because he does not only find his fish, he finds all the fishes he could possibly want for quite a while. Nets are breaking. Help is needed from the other boats.

Friends, we are not all fishing men and women.  Most of us would not know what we were looking at in a bait and tackle shop. But then we understand that this passage is not a clear water fishing manual. It is about something else.  We get it.  In the movie a Fish called Wanda (not for kids), the plot isn’t about a fish at all. There is a woman called Wanda in it and there is a fish called Wanda in an aquarium. Keys to a treasure have been hidden in the aquarium.  The hapless criminal Ken loves Wanda the fish and when an evil criminal called Otto eats all the fish in then aquarium and threatens to eat Wanda, Ken gives a way the secret to the diamonds. So in the movie the Fish only points to other things.  It is a symbol, but in a way it is also a distraction or a diversion.  The movie is a comedy about white collar crime and the strange characters that get caught up with it.

Friends, what is the lesson of all this?  If this story is not really about fish, then is it a distraction or a diversion perhaps? We assume Jesus isn’t going to be catching their fish for them all the time, so what’s going on? Late in the Gospels he speaks of making his followers “fishers of people.” In another passage when he appears to the disciples he asks for a fish. Then there is the account of the loaves and fishes being multiplied.  But Jesus does not seem to be in the habit of going fishing.

I think there are three possible lessons here. The first is persistence. Friends, you and I all face discouragement of some kind.  There is something that we keep trying to achieve, but we fail to get there.  And this sense of futility and despair starts taking over.  If we let it, it can even change the narrative we have for our lives: from success to failure.  Jesus is fast forwarding that narrative and showing them what can happen in your life when you keep at it, when you don’t let up.  There is value in tenacity.

The second possible lesson is timing.  Fish do not do the same thing at every time of day, like all of us mammals. We have routines. We do certain things in the morning and certain things at night.  Timing may have been an issue here, although you would think fishermen know their fish quite well.  John Cleese, one of the main characters in a Fish called Wanda made a video on creativity and in it he said that if you are trying to be creative, wait until the last possible moment to produce, because then the product will be the best. Otherwise it is like picking an unripe fruit.

The third lesson is not distraction, but reframing.  It goes for this passage. We always think the point of this passage is: Wow, Jesus can catch a lot of fish. Maybe he’s really saying: ok, catching fish is easy: here you go, but what I am really going to ask you to do is hard, so hard by the way that you’re going to have to be persistent.  So do not let up.  It isn’t about the fish. Look at life a different way.  Throw your net somewhere else.  Find a new perspective.

Friends, as we face discouragement, there are lessons here: either persistence, or timing or changing perspective or perhaps all of the above. Thanks be to God.

 
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Reflection June 12

Published on July 6, 2016 by in Reflections

I Kings 21: 1-10; Luke 7:47-50

Power and love

How do we get love? It is a question that maybe we do not consciously think about but one that drives us through most of our lives.  How do we get love?  We try to get love by looking good. We try to get love by being cute, we try to get love by acting funny, we try to get love by being nice or being helpful.  We try to get love by being helpless or by misbehaving.  We try to get love by getting power or being close to power. We try to get love by having stuff.  Ultimately we are all craving to be fully, unconditionally loved.  Our lectionary texts today are about love, but also to a certain degree about power.  In I King Ahab is the King of Israel.  Ahab is not a good man. He wants Naboth’s vineyard so he can have it as a vegetable garden. Naboth says no and Jezebel. Ahab’s wife, sees to it that Naboth is stoned so Ahab can have his vegetable garden.  What a price for a vegetable garden!  Jezebel loved Ahab in her own way, but perhaps it depended on how much power he he had.  In Luke a woman comes to Jesus and anoints His feet with her tears.  To the Pharisee this discredits Jesus: “A prophet would know that this woman was a sinner.”  But Jesus disagrees. This woman is more in need of love than anyone else.

We have all heard a lot about Muhamad Ali.  I didn’t know much about what he did outside of boxing other than that he was a conscientious objector.  But I am learning love and power have a lot to do with it. As a boy Muhamad Ali felt powerless.  Someone had stolen his bike and he wanted to learn to box as a result of it.  As his boxing improved he started to feel his power and he started talking big.  And as a result he got so much adulation and love, although he had his many detractors.  But what seems to be the case is that he found out about love and that love for others is more powerful than anything else. That is where he really made his mark: he moved from love of power to the power of love.

So what about power and love when it comes to God?  Well, when we are younger we struggle with how God’s power works.  Why do things happen the way they do?  Well, as I matured, I still think God has power and God is loving, but I think of God’s everyday power more as the power of love.  God’s power does not work coercively so much, it seems to me.

Friends, in I Kings Jezebel loves Ahab for the power he has as the King although she does not seem to respect him. He is just a petulant, spoiled boy.  Her love appears to be very much conditional.  In Luke we see the opposite, we see Jesus loving the person who is most down and out, someone who is wetting His feet with her tears.  The Pharisee expects Jesus to show love to the upstanding citizens, not to the “sinner.” But what happens is that Jesus makes a point:”the one who is most in need of forgiveness is loved the most.”  Or rather:”the one who is down and out the most needs the most love; the one who is the weakest should get the most love.”

Liberation theologians, especially in Latin America, have always said that God has a preference for the poor.  Some interpreted that to say: God does not really love the rich. These seem to be black and white statements that don’t quite sit right.  But this passage sheds some light on that.  Those who are down and out get a special kind of love.  This would go for us too:” when we are at our lowest God loves us the most.  When it feels the whole world is against and everything goes wrong, God loves us the most.”

So, friends, you and I go through life sometimes “looking for love in all the wrong places.”  We wish for status, for fame, for beauty, for glamor, for money, for admiration.  What we are really doing is trying to convince the people that matter to us that we are lovable, that we are a keeper.  But then when we get to where we want to go, we’re still not completely satisfied.  Even becoming President won’t be enough, because you have to be a President people like and you have to get a second term and then you have to have a good legacy.  It never ends.  There is always something we have to do to earn people’s love. But Jesus says:” I love you, I love you now and if you fall on hard times, I’ll love you even more.  And if you’re begging for forgiveness with tears streaming down your face, I’ll love you even more. There’s a great comfort in that.

Friends, may we learn from this. May we be aware of “the things we do for love.” May we also be aware of whom we give our love to?  For let’s face it, love just comes more easily with certain people. May we learn to care for those who do not seem lovable, for those who are down and out.  May God help us.

 
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Published on July 6, 2016 by in Reflections

Luke 7:11-17; Galatians 1: 17, 18, 19,23

Collecting scars

As we have seen in our discussion of the lectionary reading in Luke, Jesus performs an amazing act of healing.  This is a crucial act because the mother in the account is a widow and widows were the most powerless people in that society.  When we read the Gospels however we can see that Jesus is sometimes reluctant to do great acts of miraculous healing.  It is almost as if He finds it a distraction from his main task: to usher in the Kingdom of God and reconcile people to God. He is ultimately a healer of the relationship of God and people. You and I neither know what to do with the miraculous acts nor do we understand why He would be reluctant to do them.  Part of that may be because our context for understanding healing is different from the context Jesus lived in.  Jesus lived in an impoverished backwater of the Roman Empire.  The people had no power and even their own leaders behaved like puppets.  Just decades later a great rebellion against the Romans would result in the permanent destruction of the Jewish Temple.  Pretty much the only way someone in that society could gain prominence would be to be a great teacher and a great healer. Any hint at political power would be the end of a leader.  Jesus found that out.  It almost cost Him His life as a child already.  In that world life expectancy was short and life overall pretty miserable. People looked beyond life on earth.  Physical healing in that light would only be temporary.

Our understanding of physical healing is very different. Miraculous things still happen but they tend to be more subtle and are often induced or facilitated by modern medicine. It is also crucial to us because in this the most powerful country and largest economy in the history of the world extending life and improving its quality are supreme values.  Life expectancy has never been greater.

Yet what Jesus teaches us and what is true for us as much as it was then is that there is more to healing than the physical kind.  We see healing mostly as the ‘success of a medical procedure.’ Everyone who needs that is to be pitied and everyone who doesn’t is considered lucky or healthy.  That of course is not true.  When we read Paul we see a man of great strength and courage, but between the lines we also see a man who is unsure of himself.  This is where today’s passage in Galatians intrigues me.  Why did Paul not connect with the disciples right away?  The pious response would be that he had ministry work to do. Still why not consolidate the ministry? From a pastoral counseling angle I would love to ask him that:” So Paul, what is behind this? What’s your story? You were their persecutor, do you have issues there?

Friends, where am I going with this?  Where I am going is to the point where we recognize that as human beings we spend our lives collecting scars and the scar tissue keeps building up. These scars are all over our body and in our body.  At one point they made it necessary for healing to take place.  But there are also scars of the mind and of scars of the heart and yes scars of the soul.  My guess is that to Paul some of those scars still caused him discomfort.  Persecution would always be a big part of his resume.

Harper Lee wrote a follow-up novel to “To kill a Mockingbird.” In “To set a Watchman,” Scout is a young woman who returns to Maycomb, Alabama to visit her aging father Atticus Finch.  The southern town loves revivals and the Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians all have them and often they combine. Scout or Mary Louise as she is known now remembers playing “revival” with her brother and her friend Dill. One of them dressed up as “The Holy Ghost,” a great sin in their churches.  They were reprimanded by revival leader Rev. Moorehead who says a prayer in the Finch house.  In the prayer the minister had asked for forgiveness from God for the bad behavior of the “motherless” children.  Scout saw Atticus crying during that prayer.  We can ask:” what was this prayer doing? Was it healing the wounds of the widower Atticus or was it opening the scars? You tell me.

Friends, we collect scars throughout life like we collect memories and wisdom.  Something someone once said that stung or something they didn’t say to support us; the attitude of a parent toward us; the insensitivity of a teacher or a principal; the loss of love or loved ones; the dashing of dreams of illusions, an unresolved conflict. We are in many ways shaped by our scars.  So healing is not something that is temporary and physical. It is a need we have throughout our lives.  The task, of the church, to a large degree, is to bring healing to the world, the healing of faith that brings forgiveness and hope, the healing of community and the healing that reaching out to the suffering provides.  We are all always in need of that. Thanks be to God.

 
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