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Reflection May 14

Published on June 8, 2017 by in Reflections

Acts 7:58, 8:1a, 9:4,15; II Corinthians 12:9

Dimensions of an apostle

We are not like the apostle, Paul. Practically everyone here would not be comfortable being called an apostle.  Our mind is on mother’s day and the emotions that brings out in us.  Yet in today’s lectionary reading the apostle Paul is not an apostle yet. In fact he is the opposite of an apostle.  He is a persecutor. This text catches Paul at his lowest moment morally.  He is instrumental in the killing of a blameless disciple.  What I want to focus on today is the reality of this one person being so different within the text of the Bible.  In all fairness, chances are that Saul, as he was called at this point, was very committed to the cause of religious purity. Chances are he didn’t go from being evil to angelic.  One thing that is constant about Saul/Paul is that he is always very committed to the principles of his faith.  But as we have seen in history committed people can lose their way, they can distorted.  Ben Ferencz was a 27 year prosecutor at the Nuremburg trials. He prosecuted not the extermination camp administrators, but the SSrs who killed Jewish men and women in cold blood on the streets of Russia and Ukraine. Ferencz says that a lot of those soldiers did not start out as savages, war made them savages.  Ferencz became an anti-war activist and was instrumental in the birth of the world court of justice.

Friends, Saul wasn’t a war criminal, but there was something of the savage in him.  But the story takes a positive turn just two chapters later in Acts.  Saul finds himself on the Damascus road; he is blinded and he hears Christ speak to him, wondering why Saul is persecuting Him. This is the turning point.  Saul becomes Paul who will eventually die in Rome as a persecuted Christian, suffering the fate of his own victims. This is one of the great transformations in human history.  But Paul is still Saul and Saul is still Paul.  He is still committed and his fervor for one cause becomes the fervor for another.  But what is different is his spiritual evolution, how Paul surrenders himself to the grace of God and how he overcomes his ego.  Our text in Second Corinthians shows us that Paul.  So here we have it, friends, three men in one, Saul who persecutes and condemns, Saul/Paul  who converts and Paul who humbles himself.

A few years ago there was a short Spanish film entitled “Aquel no era yo” or “that wasn’t me” about a child soldier in Africa who has to come to terms with his cruel past and learns to speak about it.  The film reminds us that people can be shaped to do terrible things under the influence of others they either trust or fear or both.  It is the Holy Spirit of Jesus that saves Paul from staying Saul.  Paul hints at his own suffering in his letters.  He speaks of the thorn in his flesh, some physical ailment it seems, but could it be that the thorn is his past?  Fascinating  thought.

Friends, we did not persecute or condemn like Paul.  We did not have his kind powerful conversion experience.  We will never reach the stunning wisdom, humility and willingness to sacrifice Paul has made.  But the dimensions of the apostle are also in us, just to letter extent.  We have a condemning, judging side; we have a part of us that can change from selfish and mean to compassionate and good, sometimes in the twitching of an eye; we also have a side of faith to us that can cause us to becoming people of humility.  Judging, changing, humbling.  These are dimensions of us, friends.

The point here is what we can learn. We know that God calls us to become more like that Paul in Corinthians.  He is still the same person, he is just a converted and transformed person.  He is troubled by all the issues we also struggle with like annoyance and insecurity and the desire to control.

Does the person who condemns and judges in us stay forever? Can we ever completely get rid of that part? Do we backslide into that way of viewing other people?  Are we open to change for good once we open our heart to transformation?  Or do we slide back into judgmental thinking. Once our faith in God matures and we become more humble, can we sustain that? Or do we go back to inflexibility and arrogance. Perhaps all we can expect is that through prayer and reflection we can shrink the dark and destructive part of us and make the lighter side of us grow.  It is a question of reconfiguring ourselves.

Friends,  let us look honestly at the condemning and judging part of us, the part of us that is open to change and transformation and the part of us that committed to humility and a reliance and God’s grace. May we become better people.  May God give us wisdom.

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Reflection May 7

Published on June 8, 2017 by in Reflections

John 10: 3-6: I Peter 2:25

Finding the pepper in a stale text

A Frontline program (PBS May, 2017) follows a researcher who tracks where fish is caught in the pacific and where it goes.  He also commits to eating only fish and no land meat up to three times a day for one year.  All the Omega-3 fatty acids are supposed to improve his brain strength.  After a year he does feel slightly healthier and more energetic, but according to a physician the brain-boosting power of the fish is offset pretty much by the mercury they find in his hair follicles. Omega-3’s are good for the brain and mercury is very bad.  So he tells the audience what fish to eat. The other good affects of fish on heart and blood pressure show no detectable change.

Friends, how would you like to eat fish twice a day?  I wouldn’t like it.  I like sashimi and had it the other day, but if I would have to eat it four days in a row I probably wouldn’t touch it for four months after that.  The experience gets old. Now sashimi doesn’t taste good if you do not mix the wasabi into the soy sauce to mix it in.  I didn’t realize the other day that I had mixed in too much wasabi, but it didn’t hit me until the piece of tuna had half disappeared.  That’s when the kick came.  Rice and water to the rescue!

The text today is a little bit like fish. First, if we hear too often, like eating fish too often, it goes stale to us. Its taste is diminished.  Second, the tuna may have great texture but it is nothing without the mild kick of wasabi.

Friends, there is nothing wrong really with the text the way it is written, other than perhaps that Jesus is both shepherd and gate (which may be a result of his quotes being merged).  The way Jesus tells it, it’s good.  The problem with it is what the Church has done with it over the centuries.  The Church has turned it into something bland, Jesus as the protector, the one Whose voice we the sheep all know. It’s like sashimi without any wasabi.   We have to remember that Jesus spoke this to a larger audience who felt oppresses and marginalized and hopeless in the midst of corruption under Roman rule, but also to a minority of his followers who did not feel secure as a new movement.   As the Church flourished between the third and twentieth centuries, most people in majority Christian countries felt included in the sheepfold. It was comforting to hear this message, but not particularly earthshaking. The centuries turned it bland.  Now Christianity is in crisis in the west and in Europe on the wane. It is till powerful in this country but it has been hitching its wagon to ideologies that exclude rather than include.  One of those ideologies has just pushed for a health care bill that passed the house, a bill that allows for insurance of many but leaves one group vulnerable outside the gate: really sick people.  As if being really ill is not horrible and frightening enough.

Jeffrey Gallagher, a pastor in Tolland CT, has found the kick in this passage as we reexamine it in this new time Gallagher talks about how the gate could be something that keeps people out.  Many people feel left out or alienated by the church.  He says that a young woman who has just come out to her family may listen to this text and hear something else.  “She too is fixated on the sheepfold. ‘There are many sheep inside,’ she thinks, ‘and I’m not one of them.’ And there’s a barrier to getting in-the church wants to keep me out. I’m not good enough. I’m not good enough: I haven’t been faithful enough. God doesn’t love me for who I am. The sheepfold will never be for me, because I’m the one the gate the gate in intended to keep out. So she slips out before the benediction, as quickly as she entered, realizing, once again, that the church is not the place for her.” (Christian Century, April 12, 2017, p.21).

Friends, in the world of His time on earth Jesus needed to tell people they were safe with Him. The sheepfold, the corral, needed to be secure.  Our question with this text as a Church as a nation with so many churches is to ask:”who are we keeping out and how can we be welcoming to people who want to come in?”  Being inclusive does not just mean: everyone is welcome, we also have to ask:”who are we keeping out?  That is the spice, the pepper, the kick in this text.   This passage is not about being nice and comfortable within the walls of our church, it is about expanding the sheepfold and opening the gate to all Who fish to come in. When we examine Jesus’ words, you will find He talks about that more than once.  Children, the poor, the lame, the sick, the mentally ill, the oppressed, the possessed, even the dead are included in His sheepfold. May we never forget that.  Thanks be to God.

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Coach’s Corner

Published on May 8, 2017 by in Reflections

Coordinating Q and A

Dear friends,

Once in while I realize a number of you have questions surrounding a specific topic.   You have told me it helps you when I do a little Q and A on such a topic in this column.  This time the topic is coordination.

Q 1:  We used to have various committees  in the church with specific  responsibilities. How come those committees mostly disappeared, even though our attendance isn’t significantly lower?

A1: Over time there were ‘nt enough people willing to serve on those committee. We also found it was harder to get session members (who have to be church members and then be ordained) and we did not want to burden session members with chairing committees. The only session member still chairing a committee (Christian education) is Cathy Nishizaki. Please thank her !  Two session members serve on the resident selection committee (Carol Sakai and Maurine Huang complementing Titus Toyama and Jennifer Nishizaki) and one of them (Maurine) also sits on the resident supervisory committee with Irene Uno and Lois van Beers. Thank them too! In fact thank all the session members (Carol, Maurine, Cathy, May Lee, Christine Umeda, Gary Younglove), because they are all great servants.

Q2: since we have groups who are responsible for organizing events, why do we need a coordinating committee (i.e. Mariners, Jujikai, Men’s, PPW, Choir, College Hi, Eddie’s Crew, Golf Group, Biking Group etc.)?  A2: Because a) it allows them to sync up on events together, b) it creates positive energy because the people who are there are invested and so they can bounce new ideas off each other, c) a large number of active Parkview family are not official members (either because they are not comfortable giving up membership in their home congregation/denomination or are not ready to profess their faith in the way the Presbyterian Church USA prescribes).  This coordinating group allows them to take active leadership in planning events for our congregation without the pressure of membership.

Q3: Why introduce this coordinating group idea now? A3: a) because some groups are not as active as others and this helps their leaders, b): there are a number of Parkview family who do not strongly identify with any group, but would like to take an active part in leadership, c) if an event is announced by the coordinating group rather than a specific group, new people are more likely to feel that event includes them.

Q4: What about the relationship between the session and this coordinating group?  A4: we anticipate that the two will complement each other. The coordinating group a) brings together the representatives of all the groups plus other interested individuals, b) keeps the master planning calendar and c) makes sure new information gets communicated with the office manager (Donna until Jan1, 2018) and the website calendar manager (Lori Hart).  Those present may have to vote in the event there is no consensus, but any difficult decision can be referred to the session (and in rare dire circumstances by the session to the members of the congregation). The session must approve plans by the coordinating committee if they present a new precedent pertaining to moral/ spiritual, financial/budget, building usage or inclusiveness issues.

Q5: Will the coordinating group take over any of the tasks of the existing groups? A5: No.

Q6: Does it have to be called “coordinating group?” A6: Again no.

Q7: Does the group have open membership and attendance? A7: Yes.

Q8: Does the group have a chair? A 8:  Yes, Jerry Champa. Please Thank him too.

Q9: Will the group take notes. A9: they must, yes.

Q10: When will the second meeting be? A 10: June 25 at 12 p.m. pastor’s office.

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


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Reflection April 30

Published on May 8, 2017 by in Reflections

Luke 24: 17, 28-32


We find the men on the road to Emmaus. Emmaus is a little village, but it has become a symbol of mysterious encounter or encounter filled with spiritual promise.  What is interesting is that geographically the place of the encounter can be pinpointed exactly. You can fly there on  Google Earth.  It is all so small and so detailed that you can probably find within half a mile where the interaction took place between the men and the Stranger. But it striking that the emotional and spiritual landscape is so muddled. The men know exactly where they are on land, but they are totally lost. What would become of this band of followers of this man Jesus now that He was gone?  They are searching the possibilities, but more than anything they must be searching their own soul.  You cannot have been witness to such an important spiritual movement and not be touched. When then the rug is pulled out from under you, you have to completely reorient yourself.  What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus now as compared to what you thought before?  But then they meet up with this stranger who does a little bit of the clueless reporter thing with them:”Oh tell me what happened.” Luke of course uses the story to get his point across about the Resurrection.  The stranger, Jesus, is not interested in the story, he is interested in the state of their soul.  Cleopas and the other man are not interested in the stranger at first, but as He starts to lecture them, they become intrigued. So the men search their own souls, the stranger searches theirs, in the end they search His and nothing else matters. As they arrive at their destination, the stranger moves to travel onwards, but they invite Him in and then they see Him for who He is, what His soul is. They recognize Him as the greatest soul of all.

Friends, do you know the soul of Frank Lloyd Wright, the greatest American architect of the Twentieth Century? Many people have been fascinated with him.  Simon and Garfunkel wrote a song about him “So Long Frank Lloyd Wright.”  They sing:” Architects may come and, Architects may go and
Never change your point of view. When I run dry, I stop awhile and think of you.” Lloyd Wright designed the Imperial hotel in Tokyo in 1921 in Maya revival style, most of which stood until 1967. The entry hall is in a museum in Tokyo.  But he remains mysterious. T.C. Boyle in his novel the women in a way tries to find the soul of the architect “The Women.” Through the perspective of the four women Frank Lloyd Wright has long relationships with, Boyle tells the story of who this famous man really was.  So we get a view from Olgivanna, the Russian, whose daughter Svetlana is very close to Frank. Then there is Miriam, the addicted Southern woman with a big temper. They all make their way to the Taliesin house, his most iconic creation in the Wisconsin Prairie. That’s how far I got so far in the book. Two more characters to go.  But there are these interesting footnotes throughout the book by a Japanese protégé of Lloyd Wright who calls him Wrieto-San. Slowly the man behind the driven genius is becoming clear.  But it is hard to see someone’s soul.

Friends, have you ever have somebody describe you or your intentions and just being stunned at how wrong you think they are about how you see yourself? I think that has happened to all of us. It is almost as if the image they have you has been taken off a shelf somewhere or borrowed from another person and projected on you as if you are some projection screen.  It doesn’t ring true and it alienates. It is profoundly frustrating.

But guess what, friends, we do the same to others.   Not always consciously, we size people up, make a judgment for ourselves and then look for proof that our assessment was correct.   We look at people’s dress, how tidy they are, how they walk and talk and we draw our conclusions. This is not fair of course, but nevertheless very common.  What we don’t look for is people’s soul.  We may do some soul-searching when it comes to ourselves once in a while, but we don’t do much soul-searching of others.  What I mean is that we tend to make a judgment about people based on physical traits and behavior,   rather than on what moves them, what their deepest wounds and longings are, what insecurities they are covering up.

Friends, the man never recognize Jesus physically. They cannot see Him in a physical sense. They recognize Him when he breaks the bread, the way they have seen Him do t before.   They look beyond all the distractions that could their judgment about him and they see Who He truly really is.  Could we do the same?  May God give us the wisdom and the commitment to really search for people’s souls.



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Reflection April 23

Published on May 8, 2017 by in Reflections

John 20: 24-28; I Peter 1: 8,9

Heart and Head

It’s the week after Easter and we go from the mountain top of faith in God to the shame of the doubt of Thomas.  We don’t think of him highly, although he is a distant candidate for our disappointment compared to Judas.   We are ambivalent.  In a way we love Thomas, we’re happy he’s in the Bible, because he makes us feel a little less bad.  If even a disciple who knew Jesus doubted His Resurrection, then, two thousand years later, we’re not so bad.  We usually think of Thomas in terms of doubt, but we could also look at it differently and approach his story from the vantage point of being a logical person.

Thomas is on end of the spectrum of faith, the head end that is.   On the other end of the spectrum are the people addressed in I Peter:  they are full of faith in spite of never having seen Jesus.  Compared to those people Thomas looks like a failure, but maybe we should cut him some slack.

There was an interesting announcement last week. The coal museum in Kentucky is going solar, meaning it will be powered by solar power not by coal.  Now that’s ironic.  I am sure it’s not because they are environmentalists, but because it makes good common sense.  They followed their head, not the emotions of politics. It is encouraging that despite discussions to return to a more polluting past, enough progress has been made that as a society and in the world at large we are starting to understand the importance of this planet that is now so fragile.  Score one for climate science.  A victory for the head that also warms the heart.

In the next week or so there is a march for science.  Had Thomas lived in our day and age, perhaps he would have liked to take part in the march. Thomas is a man of the head, of the mind, at least in this passage. He will not believe the story of the Resurrection of Jesus until he has seen the wounds from the nails in his hands. He does a great job of doing that.  He wants to see the results of the experiment before he commits to the findings.

Friends, are you a person of the heart or of the head?  Do you want to get proof or do you follow what moves you? There are psychological tests that will tell you where you fit in, although they are not longer considered them scientific.  Now, If in Easter we go a little more for the heart, on this Sunday we always go a little more for the head. But sometimes we can be torn between the heart and the head.

Every five year or so I like to submit an article to an academic journal, usually Pastoral Psychology. It is good to do so, one to make a contribution to keep my reasoning sharp.  Just recently I did another submission. I had been thinking about for about four years. This particular one came out of a concern for pastors and it so happens that it has to do with our topic for today. You see I was worried about the wellbeing of future pastors who find themselves between the head and the heart and I am concerned this is not good for the soul. You see the pastor in this day and age must explain ancient texts, but also take into account the constant progress of science and talk about them in a way that makes sense and touches people’s hearts .  On top of that pastors do not only have to interpret the ancient in the midst of today’s problems, but their behavior has to be consistent with what they preach.  In other words the pastor has to be faithful, smart and act consistently at the same time.  If he or she is or does not do not one of these things, she or he can feel fake or inadequate or even “fictional.”. My concern is that these demands can tear at the pastor or even tear him or her apart.  So the article was a head exercise about the heart of the pastor.

Friends, what s true of the pastor is true to a certain degree of any person of faith.  Just listen to what . Garrison Keillor, the former host of Prairie Home Companion writes:”I came to church as a pagan this year, though wearing a Christian suit and white shirt, and sat in a rear pew with my sandy-haired gap-toothed daughter whom I like to see grow up in the love of the Lord, and there I was, a skeptic in a henhouse, thinking weaselish thoughts.  This happens around Easter: God in a humorous way, sometimes schedules high holidays  for a time when your faith is at low tide. (Homiletics March/April 2014). Friends, Garrison Keillor came heavy on the mind stuff and not quite ready to have his heart be touched at Easter.

Friends, God’s creative powers have gifted us a heart and a head.  We must use both of them. Thomas couldn’t be a disciple with a head only.  Jesus reminded Him he needed heart.  But faith cannot be all emotional either.  If we cannot reason we cannot convince anyone, including ourselves.  May God help us live with heart and use our head.


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Reflection April 16

Published on May 8, 2017 by in Reflections

Easter; John 20:1-4

Tale as old as time

Humanity has a problem. We can live life well, be kind to people, accomplish many things, but ultimately the problem remains: it doesn’t end well.  Comedian Norm McDonald said it well. He complained about how it seems we are always on the way to finding a cure for some disease, but “how about a cure for death. How about finding a cure for that, hey.”

Friends, religion is always dealing with death, with dubious forms of success. There have been quite a few losses in this community lately, so I know it is on people’s minds.  Many of those who do not embrace Christian faith may have the impression that Christianity just glosses over the subject and throws a few Easter eggs at it.  But then most people don’t go to Good Friday services.  If you dig deeper, Christian faith actually takes the subject head on in the statement:”He is risen.” We focus on the empty tomb, but we all know what the tomb is for.  Death is the great beast that the human race never learns to deal with, even though since time immemorial we have been inflicting death on each other and on all the other species. The human race is by far the most murderous of all.

In Beauty and the Beast an arrogant young prince and his servants fall under the spell of an evil being who enchants them, who turns the prince into the hideous Beast.  He will remain in that form until he learns to love and learns also to be loved in return.  The story doesn’t do what we usually do with beasts: riddle it with bullets it, blow it up, or at least tranquillize it.  The story transforms the beast. When the story is done with it, the beast is no longer frightening and dangerous.

In Ang Lee’s film “Life of Pi” an Indian zookeepers son is lost at sea in a storm as the sole survivor of a shipwreck. Lost in the wreck are his family and animals from the zoo they sold back in India. He drifts across the ocean with a Bengal tiger in the boat and he must find a way to tame the beast who sees a tasty meal in the boy if he is to survive.  As the movie reaches a conclusion the symbolic nature of the beast for him personally becomes clear.   There is a beast inside of us that ensures our survival, but also diminishes us. We cannot slay it, but we can transform it.

The old Christian words say something similar about death:”Death where is your sting?” It is the beast, a kind of giant dark scorpion, that Christ takes on.

In the CNN series Believer Reza Aslan explores the devotion of criminals, prostitutes, the destitute and transgender people in Mexico with the new saint Santa Muerte, Saint Death that seems to hark back to some old Aztec god.  It is gruesome and disturbing, but it comes out of the idea that established society and the established church has abandoned the marginalized.  So they pray to the “beast” itself in the form of a benevolent female skeleton with clothes.  The Catholic Church is horrified as this devotion makes holy something that is the enemy of Christ and the Church.

In an opposite or church perspective Central American poet Julia Esquivel who writes about the victims of government brutality wrote a poem “Threatened by Resurrection.”  The killers threaten the powerless with resurrection. At first the poem is confusing.  How can you threaten someone with something good? It’s like threatening someone with giving them money or a vacation or a delicious piece of pie.  But then it becomes clear, you can’t kill something if it is already guaranteed to live.  Whatever you kill that is good, that has faith and love and hope, will come back and take shape among you in other ways,   especially if you are attacking a whole group of oppressed people.  Think of the story of the Risen Christ. How many billions has it given hope to over the century? Yes. It has also given in to beastliness many many times, but o so many sacrifices have been made in the name of Christ.

Friends, the Easter story does not kill the beast, but it disarms it.  How does it do that, you may ask. It does so through the power of love.  People will quote the Bible to support their own perspectives and interests, but if you read it deeply in the end everything boils down to God’s bottomless love.  God’s love is so powerful that that God’s love makes sure that the story of our lives, no matter how we live it at times, can have a happy ending. It ends well.  God’s love takes on not only our hurt and our insecurity, our hatred and resentment, our flaws and short coming, it even takes on the beast we fear.  God ‘s love is so powerful that it gets stretched so far in the beloved Christ that it is able to vanquish the power of the Beast.  And so the women find the tomb empty. Happily, they are terrified by Resurrection. He is Risen! Thanks be to God!



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Reflection April 9

Published on May 8, 2017 by in Reflections

Palm Sunday; Matthew 21: 9-12

Christ enters the city

History is riddled with great historic dates. Today we remember one, A.D. 32 approximately.  A date when it looked a fledgling movement had died, but in fact it grew into the greatest movement of faith the world has ever known, with billions of followers. When Jesus enters Jerusalem he didn’t enter the city in a vacuum, in virtual reality or somehow detached from the people. He entered into a real and complicated world of Romans and Jews of different persuasions.  The temple was in the hands of the Sadducees, a group in line with the Romans. It is they who are to blame for the temple becoming so polluted by business and by money.  What Jesus did by overturning the tables and blasting the money changers was a revolutionary act that challenged the established order, fragile as it was.

Jesus is being celebrated into Jerusalem by palm waving people as if He is a king, a celebrity, but we can sincerely doubt that He felt like that.  He knew most likely what was to come.  He knew the dangers. Romans were in the habit of crucifying rebels along the roads in different way, a brutal way to kill someone. This supposedly got worse since Pontius Pilate was assigned as prefect for the region.  There were also insurrections in Judea and the Romans wanted to send a clear message.

Friends, there are layers of meaning here. There is the meaning Jesus’ entry has for Him, there is the meaning it has for the palm frond waving crowd, there is the meaning it has for the disciples who will tell the story to be penned down decades later, there is the meaning it has the high priest Caiaphas and for the Jewish rulers under control of the Romans. Then there is the meaning it has for us.  This takes us to the question James Ensor’s painting “Christ’s entry into Brussels” is posing to me and perhaps to you:” Does the entry of Christ into the city” always mean the same thing?  Or does the message change in different times and places?  Generally when we do Palm Sunday, we focus not on the calm before the storm, but on party before the tragedy.  It is a fleeting moment when we are reminded of the greatness of Christ and the hope He represents, only to move on to Good Friday and Easter very rapidly.  We can notice that Ensor calls it “Christ’s entry,” not “Jesus’ entry.” He thereby acknowledges that we are dealing with the eternal and divine figure, not just the man Jesus. We also notice how large the canvas is and how small Christ is.  It reminds us that the people always try to be in the forefront. Yet, when we think of it, nobody except of few Belgian historians remembers who these people were.  Their being forgotten and now being irrelevant is the most prominent thing about them.  The one permanent thing is Christ, the One Who comes to us still year after year and Who leaves us wondering what it all means.

This was 1888. Now let’s go back in history 24 years.  What if there was a painting of Christ’s entry into Copenhagen and Christ’s entry in Washington.  The Danish people had great visions of grandeur in 1863. They felt powerful and in their confidence took them into war against the mighty Prussians who defeated them decisively. This changed the self-image of the Danes forever. It turned them inward and made them think of their culture as small.  Would Christ’s entry into Copenhagen have meant something different in 1863 than it would have meant in 1865?  1864 in the US was one of the most brutal years of the Civil War.  What would we see of a painting of Christ’s entering? Would we see the Union soldiers or the Confederate or both? Would we see a rising African American population, would we see smug politicians on both sides or would Lincoln dominate it all? And how would a painting of Christ’s entry into Washington have been different painted in 1860 as compared to 1866?

Friends, the point is that the context changes and the people who crowd into the foreground always change, but one thing that remains the same is that Christ enters our lives year after year as the One we must celebrate, as the One Who brings us hope.  What does that mean?

What it means is in essence transformation.  God is always transforming the world through the people in the picture.  Today in the painting it was a bunch of rowdy Belgians from 1888, a snapshot crowd of days gone by, but we could think of today’s city, state or national politicians and clergy persons.  We could even think of ourselves in the picture: Christ entering across the Golden Tower Bridge, Christ coming in on route 160, past the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacramento, between the orange trees and palms of Capitol Park. We can imagine all that.  The scene changes and the characters change.  Even as the characters fade with time, the crowd in the picture of Palm Sunday remains important, because it is through us that God seeks to transform the world.  So in all the paintings we could make of Christ’s entry in the city Christ is always constant and we the characters change, but the characters always matter tremendously, they always belong in the picture, for it is through them that Christ came to transform the world.  Great is our responsibility. Thanks be to God!

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Reflection April 2, 2017

Published on May 8, 2017 by in Reflections

Reflection April 2, 2017; Genesis 1: 27; Psalm 130: 5,6; Matthew 10:42

Keeping the faith 5: Recognize your value

Today we conclude our Lenten series on Keeping the Faith.  Lent is about keeping faith in and keeping faith with Jesus on the road of suffering to Jerusalem. Sometimes keeping that faith is hard when we see Christians, including ourselves, not behaving the way we think they should.  We get disappointed and turned off and sometimes assume it is a reflection on the value of faith?  So this series asks the question: how do we keep up the faith when we get discouraged like that. The first Sunday we talked about the value of humility and of telling the truth about ourselves and of not pointing at others. The second Sunday we spoke about the value of realizing that the world does not exist to makes us happy and pleased.  The third Sunday we saw the value of true and honest conversations, for nothing spiritual can happen in fake conversations.   Last week we concluded that there is value in being receptive to new ways of hearing God’s calling in the world.  Finally, in today’s fifth reflection on the theme of keeping the faith we focus on recognizing our own value and the value of others.

In Bob Burg and John David Mann’s small book the “Go-Giver” they lay down some laws for being an entrepreneur.  I will not mention all of them.   Last week I referred to being receptive which is, as it turns out, in line with their law of receptivity, of being open to new ideas and gifts.   There are also three other laws I’d like to mention, namely their law of value, their law of influence and their law of authenticity.  About value they say that people’s worth is determined by how much more we give in value than they take in payment.   About influence they say that that people’s influence is determined by how much they place the interests of others above themselves.  About authenticity they say that the greatest gift we have to offer people is ourselves.  Now being a person of Christian faith is not like being part of a business, but there is something to learn here I think and that there is great value to our contribution, that we have influence and that we have we have a great gift in ourselves we can offer to others.  So instead of demanding that others show much value, we can celebrate our own value for others.  It boils down to value we have for God and others just by being authentically ourselves.

Friends, in the first chapter of Genesis verse 27, the author tells us that God made us, female and male, in God’s image. This means there is something of God in is, whether it is visible or whether it is a mere possibility.  God implanted something in us that is of great value.  In our lectionary reading from Psalm 130 we are reminded that we must keep our eyes on God the way the watchman waits for the dawn.  In other words, we cannot realize our full value unless we keep our eyes on God.  When we lose the perspective of being God’s creature, of being beholden to God, we lose our way and we become of less value to others.  Finally, in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 10, verse 42 Jesus tells us that every act of kindness is important.  It may be as little as a glass of cold water.  These texts affirm our value as human beings, especially as human beings who aren’t giving up on God.

In the old movie the Maltese Falcon from 1941 a cast of characters have descended on San Francisco and most find their way to the office of private investigator Sam Spade played by Humphrey Bogart. They include the femme fatale Ms. O’Shoughnessy played by Mary Astor  and the exotic  well-dressed Joel Cairo.  Sam Spade’s assistant as well as the brother-in-law of Mary Astor’s character become victims. Everyone is after a statue of great value known as the Maltese Falcon, a covered-up statue of gold and diamonds that was owed to King Charles of Spain by the Knights of Malta.  It is worth an unmentionable about  of money and  group of people are roaming the world following its trail, from Istanbul to San Francisco.  Bogart’s character soon realizes his value as broker and go-between between the characters and the police and back again. No one can be trusted, including him.  The whole movie is about value: the value of the mysterious statue and the value of each of the flawed players in this game.  The players realize who has value, alive or not, and how much one can demand of the other in cost.  Once everyone fesses up to their truth up to a point, their value becomes ever clearer.

Friends, do you know how much value you have?  Do you know how much value you have to God?  Do you know how much value you have potentially to others?  This is key to keeping the faith.  In a way it is a bit ironic. I have made a point of saying during this series that it isn’t about us.  But in a way everything is precisely about us. So it is and it isn’t. Only by realizing that it isn’t all about us, are we free to discover our value for God and others. Think about that. Thanks be to God.



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Reflection March 26

Published on April 12, 2017 by in Reflections

I Samuel 16: 6,7; John 9: 30,32

Keeping the Faith 4: Be receptive

Friends, Dutch people have an expression which I am sure I have shared with you before:”What the farmer doesn’t know, he doesn’t eat.”  It’s all about being receptive to new foods and new experiences and new ways of seeing.

We continue with our series of reflections on Keeping the Faith, especially when Christians like ourselves disappoint us. The first Sunday we concluded that if we let ourselves be disappointed in others, we must begin by not wearing rose colored glasses when it comes to ourselves. We must be truthful about ourselves and our own flaws. Next we learned that it is important to understand that the world does not revolve around us, that it does not exist to make us happy only. Last week I emphasized the importance of genuine conversations, because in fake encounters nothing spiritual can happen. In other words it is hard for God to be present there. Today we talk about being receptive, about opening ourselves to new wisdom and insight wherever we may find and it that way rediscover our contribution to the world around us. (compare Bob Burg and John David Mann’s “law of receptivity” in their book “the Go-Giver”).

Friends, in our Old Testament text Samuel has an experience he never expected he would and it pushes him toward actions he did not anticipate.  He goes and finds a king and he thinks he knows which son of Jesse this will be, but he and all the people there get it completely wrong.  God gets him going where he did not expect to go, because it is God who spins him around.  The people there are not receptive to what God has for them.  In the Gospel of John Jesus heals a blind man in an unusual way, using spit and mud.  After being healed he is peppered with questions about this Man Who has healed him.  The blind man is new to sight and of course he never saw Jesus before he was healed. .  Jesus then uses this whole event to talk about sight and blindness in a metaphoric way, the same way He spoke about water last week.  He goes into an explanation of how those who cannot see can have sight and those who do have sight can be blind.  While the Pharisee want to question His validity, Jesus turns the whole discussion upside down. In the process their eyes are opened and they have a chance to learn about faith. Ironically it is the man who has had no any sight who sees who Jesus really is.

About ten years or so ago Jack Nicholson starred in two movies with similar very general titles.  One was “As Good as it Gets” and the second was “Something’s Gotta Give.”  In the first he is a rude, obsessive compulsive writer with money who befriends a waitress with a son with medical problems.  He says the most upsetting things to people, but he is actually a very generous person. The movie is about him opening up to the world around him.  It is the waitress played by Helen Hunt who makes him want to be a better man.  She is the one who makes him receptive to other opportunities in his life.  In the other movie he is still kind of a scoundrel (Nicholson tends to play rather unlikeable men).  He is a rap music producer who dates, surprise-surprise, much younger women.  One of the women takes him home to her mother’s house where he becomes ill.  Let’s just say that he is not open to women his age like the mother of the girlfriend but that he becomes more and more receptive.

Friends, as long at it makes us better and wiser, kinder and more compassionate.  There is goodness in allowing ourselves to be baffled and puzzled and stunned, if it leads to new ways of seeing. . Jesus knew what He was doing. He knew He was confusing the people around Him, but He had a purpose with that.  He knew people had to be disoriented sometimes to reorient themselves toward God.  So, friends, allow yourself to get spun around once in a while may God give you direction. We have to be receptive.  We have to allow ourselves to see what we don’t expect to see.  We are not wired for that.  We have these preconceived notions about how because of our age or gender or ethnicity or level of education there are certain things we can contribute to people around us.  But you’d be surprised how often we make an impact where we least expect it, doing or saying something that we are not even an expert at.

Friends, just because people we know or don’t know very well or don’t know at all do not behave according to their faith, this is no reflection on God. God’s Holy Spirit is still at work.  God ‘s race continues.  It’s like a friendly river.  It doesn’t go through obstacles usually and fortunately, but it goes around, makes new paths.  The river eventually makes its way to the sea.  Friends, go with the “flow.”  Be receptive to new ways of being a vehicle of God’s grave. May God give us wisdom.

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Reflection March 19

Published on April 12, 2017 by in Reflections

Exodus 17: 2,4; John 4:7,9,10

Keeping the faith 3: Have genuine conversations

We are in the third of a series of sermons on keeping the faith. It is all about how to keep the faith when people do seem not act like Christians and this could include ourselves. Two weeks ago we concluded that we must tell the truth about ourselves if we are going to keep our faith and keep faith in those who disappoint us, we have to be truthful. If we are not up front about who we are, then how can we expect others to be?  Last week we talked about the difficult notion that not everything is about us or about how satisfied we feel, that there is a bigger picture of God’s work and that we should not expect to be at the center of everything.  However we should expect to be deeply loved by God.  If we can step back and see our place in perspective, our philosophy changes. Today we move to conversations and it is important that we are genuine.  I saw a great cartoon (in the Christian Century) that showed a television broadcast.  It was the moment to share the weather.  One anchor said: “That was Brad with the Democratic weather and now we have Tammy with the Republican weather.”  Boy that cartoon tells the truth, doesn’t it?  We live in a country where we at the point that the weather is point of contention.  Maybe not so much if it will rain, but what causes the weather these days.  We have so many choices about where we get our news that we can switch the channel if we don’t like the news that’s presented. Social media is set up so we get the see the news we would like to hear, not what’s actually the most important. Otherwise we would be hearing about famines.  Then we see so much manipulation and game playing in language on tv, that everything is a smokescreen.  You do not get what’s real anymore.  Everything is disingenuous.  In the midst we hear the message from Jesus.  In that climate we have to talk to each other.

Friends, what is a good conversation? One where everybody said the right thing, but didn’t mean it? I don’t think so.  One where one person knew everything and looked down on the other? I don’t think so.  When people are asked about what a good conversation is, they will often say: there was sincerity and caring, there was wit or humor, there was relevance, it was original, there was clarity, it was informative. Now I don’ know if the conversation in today’s passage would be all of the above,  but something’s real is going on here.  In Exodus the people come to Moses and genuinely air their frustration: “ Did you take us out of Egypt so be could die of thirst,” they ask.  And Moses complains about the people’s lack of patience and  gratitude.  Then there is humor. The places where all this happening are called Massa and Meribah, words that mean testing and quarrelling in Hebrew.  This is very symbolic. Both parties are telling their truth and they get their issues out, but they are not exactly doing it is a way that furthers and strengthens the relationship. The conversation that Jesus has with the Samaritan woman is different.  Two people come together at Jacob’s well. One is a Samaritan woman of Jewish and local blood. The other is Jesus, the Jewish healer and teacher.  Like the conversation between Moses and the people, they seem to be talking about water, but it is really about something deeper.  The woman misunderstands Jesus when He is speaking about water.  She thinks he means it literally while Jesus is speaking metaphorically and spiritually about “living water.” The Samaritan woman speaks the truth and more than anything Jesus speaks the truth.

Friends, so many conversations that we are witness to in front of the tv, in the workplace or on the street or even that we are a party to are not real conversations.  They aren’t like that encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Look at what Jesus does: He tells the truth, but He also accepts her when she tells her truth, He names what is going on, but He does not humiliate her and in this process He transforms and heals.  This is what real conversations are about: they are truthful, they don’t humiliate and they transform and heal.

This is, friends, why I think a church community like this is important. It can help create a setting where people can be real with each other. I think this congregation is healthy and alive largely because you tend to have genuine conversations.

Friends, all of us know people whose voices aren’t heard.  Listen to a partial statement from the PCUSA peacemaking program:” Some people have voices we choose not to hear.  Some people have voices we ignore. Some people have voices we force to the margins.  Some people have voices we oppress, repress, suppress. Some people have voices we have silenced, sometimes for a long time, but all people have voices. “ Friends, are some of those voices from people we’d rather not listen to?

We cannot give up on people. Whether that is someone with a political opinion that twists your stomach or a relative whose behavior you find appalling, we cannot give up. The Hebrew people were almost impossible to talk to. The Samaritan woman was not ok to talk to.  If we are going to be Christians we have to keep engaging others, even though either we do not want to, like Moses, or it is not culturally acceptable as with Jesus. But let’s be real. May God give us wisdom and strength.

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