Tuesday, October 28, 2008

God Bless This American

Psalm 1071-7
“Oh, thank God—he’s so good! His love never runs out. All of you set free by God, tell the world! Tell how he freed you from oppression, then rounded you up from all over the place, from the four winds, from the seven seas. Some of you wandered for years in the desert, looking but not finding a good place to live, Half-starved and parched with thirst, staggering and stumbling, on the brink of exhaustion. Then, in your desperate condition, you called out to God. He got you out in the nick of time; He put your feet on a wonderful road that took you straight to a good place to live.”

I almost never preach out of the Psalms. No doubt that is for many reasons. The reason standing at the front of that line is that King David drives me nuts because we are way too much alike. It seems to me that he is both manic-depressive (I hear we call it Bipolar now-a-days.) and just a bit ADD. We are kindred spirits. If he weren’t Jewish he would have made a great Irishman.

In this Psalm he manages to do his bipolar thing well. He begins by talking how much and how often God blesses us, frees us and rescues us. But the end of the psalm David is eloquently telling us how God can turn steams into deserts and fruitful land into salt flats. He is not complaining, just mentioning that God can bless and God can blast. And that is true. I get a kick out of North Americans. We go for years and pretty much ignore God. And then something goes wrong and suddenly it is okay to pray in public, “God Bless America” banners pop up in every conceivable place, it becomes common to question, “Where is God in all of this.” We are pretty good at practicing panic button religion.

King David of Psalms fame didn’t think twice about calling on God when he found himself in a bind. When times were tough, he had no problem hanging out the “God Bless Israel” banner. But he also learned to walk with God in the good times, too. He could shout out for help and he could shout out some praise and thanks. The reason that the Psalms resonate with most of us is that they speak for us when things are good and they speak for us when life pretty much sucks. And, if you are paying any attention at all, you have noticed that life can do both.

Perhaps you have heard the word that the stock market has crashed. People have panicked. The world economy is at risk. Banks are afraid to lend money to each other or anyone else. The sky is falling and the latest numbers on my retirement fund say I will be working until I am at least 75. Giving is down at the church and my job is in jeopardy. I have been practicing in case I have to change professions. “Hi. Welcome to Wal-Mart.” Quick, I think I will pray. Quick, I think I’ll put a sign in my yard, “God Bless America.” I am scared and God needs to show up. Perhaps it is a good time to read a Psalm or two.

A perfunctory reading of the New Testament makes it clear that God has a plan to set us free from the sickness of greed and consumerism. And many believers have practiced the plan. But many of us are more inclined to ignore God when it comes to the “realities” of life. But when those realities prove to be less than reliable, we turn back to God and beg for help. We begin to beg God to bless America in general and this American in particular. And God can. The question becomes, will He?

Max Lucado wrote and shared with his congregation a great prayer concerning our present financial crisis. I share it with you because it sounds, to me, like a prayer King David might pray.
“You have our attention, Lord. We’re listening.
Our friends are losing their house
A co-worker lost her job
Family members have lost their retirement
It seems that everyone is losing their footing.
This scares us. This bailout with billions; these rumblings of depression;
These headlines: ominous, thunderous-
“Going Broke!” “Going Down!” “Going Under!” “What’s Next?”
All this Dow dipping and finger pointing and market freezing and credit squeezing. People are asking, what’s next?
So, Father, we come to you and ask; “What is next?”
We’re listening.
And Heavenly father, we admit: You were right.
You told us this would happen.
You shot straight on the issue of loving money and worshipping stuff.
Greed will break your heart, you warned.
Money will love you and leave you.
Don’t put your hope in riches that are so uncertain.
You were right. Money is a fickle lover and we feel like we just got dumped.
We were wrong to spend money we didn’t have,
Wrong to forget the poor, wrong to forget you,
Wrong to think we ever earned a dime.
You are the one who owns it all and gives it all.
And now, Lord, we acknowledge you are the giver, the maker, the creator, the sustainer.
And only you can get us out of this mess.
We are wondering if you will. We know you can.
We know you can because you always have.
You led slaves out of slavery, you built temples out of ruins, and you turned stormy waves into a glassy pond and water into sweet wine.
This seems impossible for us. But what is impossible for us is always possible for you.
Lord we have heard enough council from the financial experts.
We come to you in behalf of our country.
We ask for your help.
This disorder awaits your order.
So do we.
Through Christ,

As we look at this Psalm this week, perhaps we should remember that God is good and following His way is the best way. Remember that God is with us in the good times and the bad. And that knowledge can make the good times great and the bad times tolerable.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Welcoming a New Contributor

I'd like to introduce a new contributor to our Lectionary Group Blog. Please welcome Bill McConnell, lead minister of Legacy Christian Church in Harrison, Ohio. You can get to know Bill a little bit by visiting his blog "Lives of Significance." Bill will be posting this week.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Frightening Responsibility

October 19, 2008
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

I had originally thought I would write on the Matthew scripture but after reading and re-reading this one, I decided I liked it. This week, Paul is writing to the church of the Thessalonians, giving thanks for them and always remembering them for their great work.

After coming away from the Regional Assembly on Saturday, this is what I think we, as Disciples, should be doing. We should be connecting with our fellow churches, lifting them up in prayer and praising them for what they are doing in God’s name. Matthew 18:20 states, “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them”. Good things, even great things are happening in our local congregations, and we should be sharing those with each other.

In taking this one step further, we sometimes get so busy within our own lives; we may even forget to lift up the members of our own congregations. The gifts and talents that walk into that building on a regular or irregular basis are astounding. In verse four Paul writes, “For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you”. What an awesome opportunity, but also a frightening responsibility at times. If God has chosen us, then we must be the example. We must love our neighbor as ourselves. We must reach out to those in need. We must imitate Jesus.

Just some thoughts as I prepare to write lesson plans for children’s worship.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Church Lady Smackdown!

Philippians 4:1-9

Paul's letter to the Philippians is very warm and affectionate, yet there are issues even in this church that must be addressed. Throughout the letter Paul has been urging the Philippian Christians to be united, "of one mind," "having the same mind." But rather than specifically addressing whatever dispute is going on there (in this week's reading we find out that it may be some kind of argument between two women who are leaders in the church) Paul turns the church's focus to something (Someone) else.

In chapter 2 of Philippians Paul expands his call to be "of one mind" by describing the one mind the Philippian Christians are to have: the mind of Chirst. He quotes what may well be an early hymn, speaking of how Christ Jesus, who had the right to great honor and divinity, left all that behind for the sake of obedience to God's will, even though that led to death on a cross. Whatever the problem may have been in the Philippian church, Paul reminds the brothers and sisters that there is something much more important.

In 4:4-9 Paul offers still another alternative: joy instead of anxiety, gentleness as witness, prayer that brings about peace. He urges the Philippian Christians to follow his example ("be imitators of me, as I am of Christ," as he says in another letter) and his teaching, which--because he is a follower and imitator of Christ--leads to a deep peace that comes from God.

Fred Craddock says the main problem in Philippi may well have been a petty one--but he also says that one of the biggest problems in many Christian churches is pettiness. A colleague of mine in the United Church of Canada asserted once that "anxiety is counterproductive to ministry." I wonder if that could be because anxiety often leads to pettiness, which might be another reason for Paul to urge against anxiety. Had Paul come in and declared which of the two women in the dispute at Philippi he thought was in the right, he might well have given in to the pettiness that was present htere. Instead, he reminded the church that their reason for begin together was much, much more important.

I think this text could be well served by a story sermon: flesh out what the dispute might have been between the two women, perhaps even bringing it into a modern church setting (Euodia the board chair in a disagreement with Syntyche the CWF president, perhaps?), and considering how a church functioning as the body of Christ--where we are all members of one another--might work to bring about unity.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

vineyards and stones

I apologize for the latenes of this post. I'm in the middle of my first semester in Seminary, dealing with a sick 18 mo. old son, yada - yada - yada...

Matthew 21:33-46

In this parable of Jesus, the one with the wicked tennants, a landowner planted a vinyard and, after moving away, hired workers to care for it in his absense. Those workers killed the landowners servants and his son in hopes of taking the inheritance.

Jesus uses this parable to explain the relationship the religious leaders had with the Hebrew people. God, (the landowner) planted a vineyard (Israel) and appointed tennants (religious leaders) to oversee it. They ignored the servants (prophets) and the son (Jesus).

So Jesus told them that the landowner would replace the tennants with new tennants (gentiles), suggesting once again that the kingdom of God is open to all.

Stuck in the middle of this parable is Jesus quoting a Psalm, mentioning that some stones that are rejected will become cap stones, the most important stone in the building. He might be claiming this about himself, since he was rejected by many of his hometown. He also could be making a statement about the outcast individuals in his society; another "the first will be last" kind of statement. Jesus is also claiming that the gentiles would play a significant role in the growth of his movement.

But i wonder about that line, v. 44, "The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” Is he suggesting that some people will try to understand and know him but fail? Is he saying anyone standing against him will be destroyed? The latter part, "it (the stone, ie. Jesus) will crush anyone on whom it falls" might be a political statement, meant to warn the religious leaders, and encourage his followers.

So Jesus calls out the religious leaders on their shabby practices, and in a way, threatens that their power would be taken away and they would be replaced.

I wonder what Jesus would have to say to those in positions of power today? How might Jesus react to the mishandlings of finances by those involved with the global economy today? What might be a good parable to address the issues of injustice and poverty today?

Happy pondering!