Monday, February 20, 2017

Judgment-Free Zone

Dana Carvey played the Church Lady
on NBC's Saturday Night Live in the late 1980's.
"Well, isn't that special?"

This was the catch-phrase of the Church Lady played by Dana Carvey during Saturday Night Live in the late 1980's. Church Lady would say this phrase in a sarcastic, mocking voice that indicated that the behavior in question was not special at all.

The recurring character was a big hit for the show - possibly because she represented an archetype that many Americans had experienced at some point in their lives.

Dana Carvey supposedly based her on older women that he had grown up with in church.

One of my favorite episodes was one of the first where the Church Lady was interviewing Jenny Baker played by Victoria Jackson.  Jenny was a girl from the Church Lady's congregation and had attended worship consecutively for 200 times before she missed. Rather than applauding the girl's attendance, the Church Lady's response was, "Well, I guess some people only come to church when it's convenient!"

The girl replied that the reason she missed was that her grandmother had slipped and fallen in the tub.

Instead of apologizing, the Church Lady remarked that this accident left Jenny and her boyfriend unchaperoned at the house.

Do you ever feel like you can't win with some people?

This Sunday, we will be looking at Matthew 7:1-12 from the Sermon on the Mount which contains the oft-quoted, "Judge not, lest ye be judged!"  from verse 1.

We've all experienced being judged and we've all made snap judgments against other people.  Our hope is that this characteristic doesn't define us or our church.  Yet at the same time, good judgment is needed to preserve our safety and the well-being of those we love.  Where do we draw the line and what is appropriate when it comes to our judgment of someone else?

Join us for a subject that we all need to revisit from time to time!

In Christ,

Sam
 

Photo is the property of NBC and used by fair use under United States copyright laws.

Monday, February 13, 2017

I'm Not Anxious, I'm Just Imaginative!

One of the most peaceful experiences of my life followed a period of great anxiety.  This happened while Sheryl and I were vacationing in Mexico before we had Kyla and David.
Sheryl and I are the ones on the bottom right
corner.  This was a sunken ship off the coast of
Jamaica on our anniversary in 2014.


My wife Sheryl is a certified scuba diver.  One of her favorite activities if we go near an ocean (it also has to be warm) is to strap a large tank of oxygen to her back and swim under the water for long periods of time.  She insisted that I would love it too.

Being an adventurous sort, I decided to try the beginner’s dive.  This involved an hour of instruction in a classroom-type setting.  They give you all of the hand signals you need to know while you are under the water – evidently, they can’t hear you while you’re screaming into your oxygen mask!  Some of them are a little confusing.  For instance, if everything is okay, you do not want to stick your thumb up.  This is the sign that we need to swim to the surface.  After the not-so-lengthy instruction, they strapped us up and shoved us into the water.

“I’m not getting enough air!” was my first thought.  I had snorkeled before and assumed (falsely) that it wouldn’t be much different as far as the breathing went.  As I began to thrash around in the water, my next thought was, “You are panicking.”

My third thought was, “They are not going to refund your money at this point.”  My cheapness won the day and I began to take slow deep breaths.  After a while, I began to feel okay about this new venture.  Then we began to descend along the bottom of the ocean.  We swam toward the wreckage of an old airplane which really is neat to swim around.  Then we moved toward some coral reefs.  The coral and the fish were simply amazing.  It went from really frightening to really peaceful within a handful of minutes.  As you swim along, you hear your own breathing slow and steady in your ears.  It is very relaxing.

Sometimes in life, we have to move past our anxieties to really enjoy the peace that is at hand.  Jesus Christ calls us to do this quite often.  We may be experiencing some great worry but as we face it, we often find that we were more able than we realized.  As Christians, we see that God gives us strength to move past our fear into life.  God wants us to know this peace and I believe it comes at all levels.  It can be personal.  This peace may take place in our families.  It sometimes takes place on a national scale.  Peace is even God’s plan for the world.  This Sunday, we will continue to look at the Sermon on the Mount and the particular passage that deals with worry: Matthew 6:19-34.  Join us for worship and breathe deeply!

In Christ,


Sam

Monday, February 6, 2017

Can You See the Real Me?

As a pastor, I have sometimes run across posers in my ministry.  By posers, I mean people who are posing as someone they are not.  Posers don’t reveal their true selves by intent.

Once, I was teaching Sunday school when one of the men of our church interrupted me and told me that there was a visitor who desperately needed to speak with me.  I asked someone else to take over the lesson and went to visit with him.

We went to my office and I discovered that this man had a brother who had died rather suddenly in St. Louis.  He was leaving behind a wife and little boy.  This man needed airfare to get to St. Louis that afternoon to help his family cope.  The little boy especially would need his uncle during this awful time.

I felt terrible for this man’s situation but I also felt like his story wasn’t quite adding up.
I got some details from the man and told him that I would need to see his driver’s license so that I could put his identification on the check.  Strangely enough, he didn’t have it on him but told me that he would return shortly with it.

After he left, I called the airlines to verify the flight time and price.  There was no flight at the time he gave me.  I also called the funeral home to check on his brother.  They had no man listed by the name he gave me. 

The man never returned to our church.  He was obviously running a scam, coming during Sunday morning hours, hoping that the pastor would be so busy that he would just write him a check or better yet, give him cash.

All of us put on masks from time to time.
Jesus reminds us that God knows who we really are.
This kind of behavior can make a person suspicious.  It makes it difficult to take people at their word.  However, it also shouldn’t keep me from treating people with dignity and respect if they have a need.  I should follow my due diligence as I did but I should also continue to help where I can.

As I reflect upon this story, I recognize that all people have a public self and a private self.  Sometimes the two line up and sometimes they don’t.  We all have our own “make up” that we put on in some way or another.  Sometimes this is because our inner feelings betray a doubt or a callousness that we wouldn’t want others to see. 

So if we are really honest with ourselves, all of us are posers once in a while. 

This Sunday, we’ll be continuing with the Sermon on the Mount with Matthew 6:1-18.  This passage includes the Lord’s Prayer and instructs us to have integrity with our piety.  If we are pious so that others may praise us, it may be that we are no different than the con artist seeking to cheat the church.

This is a subject that we all need to examine once in a while.  Even good intentions can get lost in the shuffle.  Keeping our own intentions in line is something that takes work and discipline.  I know those two words are not popular with an over-worked and under-disciplined society but they are more likely to give us peace than continuing to fake it.

In Christ,

Sam

Photo by Victoria Pickering via Flickr.com, used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Divorce is a Breaking...

This week's scripture within the Sermon on the Mount series doesn't get any easier.

Matthew 5:27-37 speaks about adultery, divorce and oaths in that order.  Would you like to skip straight to the oaths?

The passage on adultery is very difficult because it almost reminds one of the Thought Police from George Orwell's 1984.  However, the difference here is that the church is not given the responsibility to police the members but it seems to be a self-policing that Jesus is asking us to do.

The passage on divorce is also difficult because the church has been the morality police on this issue for a long time.  Unfortunately, that may not have been the intention for Jesus when he gave us these words.  At that time, women had no power to divorce.  And so this prohibition was actually a balancing of power in the marriage relationship.

While it may be difficult, possessions
are easier to split up than the children.
When we think of divorce today, we certainly don't advise people to remain in an abusive relationship.  It is also important to understand that it takes two to make any covenant work.  If one of the married partners decides that the relationship is over, the other person cannot make them take the marriage seriously.

In marriage counseling, one of my most heart-breaking situations is visiting with a couple when one of the two is already checked out.  Many times people are looking to justify their impending divorce.  I hear things like:

        I don’t love my spouse anymore.
and
I’m not in love with my spouse anymore.

Both are telling.  The first sentence shows a reality concerning their action.  I am not actively loving my spouse at this time.  This may or may not be resolved.  One may say, "Okay, we're done here" or one may say, "What if I began to actively love my spouse again?"

The second sentence is more about a state of being usually concerning how I feel about my spouse.  Feelings change in marital relationships all the time.  Sometimes we do feel "in love" with our spouse and sometimes we don't.  Yet we remain in covenant and pursue the relationship until we can discover a deeper sense of what love really means.

Sometimes people are really asking, "How can I get out of my marriage covenant and will you bless my breaking it?"

If some kind of abuse is not involved (of which there are many kinds), this may reflect the idea that, "I didn’t really mean the whole 'for worse' part."

We seek for marriages to work through tough times and flourish in ways people don't always see as possible.

At the same time, I am a compassionate, forgiving Christian.  If someone comes to us who is divorced, I don’t ask any probing questions as if they need to complete a quiz in order to insure that they were divorced for the right grounds.
 
It would be as if I were saying, “I just want to make sure you’re the victim here.  I know you’ve gone through a lot so a little more humiliation at my hands won’t make much of a difference, will it?”

While the church has never stated this so explicitly, I believe that we may have implicitly given off this attitude.  People who have needed the grace and healing of God the most may not have felt welcome.

That’s what makes this such a tough passage.

We want to teach our people that our vows are important and to hold fast to them.

At the same time, we want to welcome each person with dignity, treating all as first class citizens in the Reign of God.

We'll continue to wrestle with this on Sunday during morning worship.  If you can't join us or live stream our church's Facebook feed, you can find the sermon under our Facebook videos for later viewing.  We would love feedback in the form of comments or questions on this as faith is a community effort!  If you are struggling in your marriage, we invite you to contact our church.  We would like to help.

In Christ,

Sam


Photo by cylent via Flickr.com, used under the creative commons license.  

Monday, January 16, 2017

Have Insults Become Our Way of Life?

With the impending inauguration, the country is reminded of the division within our nation.  As we witnessed the debates and rhetoric leading up to the election, we were exposed to character attacks rather than the defense of proposed policies.

Anger is something we share with all primates.  The
feces we throw at each other now is verbal but
it probably doesn't wash off as easily.
Insults have become the easy way to debase a person's ideas.  Rather than point out deficiencies in the opposed philosophy, one can ridicule the person making the argument.  If we lose respect for a person because they are now embarrassed or seen as foolish, their arguments seem less sound.  It is far easier and takes less thought to point out a person's physical flaws than to show why their ideas wouldn't be helpful.

No one political party has a monopoly on insults or insulting behavior.

And while it does seem that we are degenerating in our discourse, the tendency toward public insults seems to enjoy a cyclical life.  In fact if you examine the election of 1800, the supporters of two of the founding fathers, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, could sling the mud with the best of them!

As we continue with the Sermon on the Mount during the season of Epiphany, we are now at Matthew 20:21-26.  Within this pericope, we see Jesus taking on the unholy trinity of anger, insults and grudges.

The consequences for violating these seem dire.  No one wants to be thrown into prison and yet Jesus seems to be indicating that anger, insults and grudges create a prison of their own.

When I do premarital counseling, I always try to advise the couple to "fight fair".  This includes forbidding yourselves to insult each other during an argument.  Anyone can set a line we do not cross and keep to it.  After all, we do it in public all the time.  We can (not so) easily translate it into our private lives.  When you are trying to live out your life with another human being, to degrade that person becomes a tearing down of the self in a way because you are yoked together.

What if we kept this advice for all of our interactions?

If you are in a disagreement with someone, be persuasive rather than demeaning.  Both of you will be lifted up by your example.

This Sunday, we will examine this passage in worship together at 8:30, 10:50 and 11 am. If you are in town and healthy (and attend FUMC Edmond), I will take it as a personal affront if you aren't at one of those services!  (Okay, being slighted too easily is another sermon for another time.)

In Christ,

Sam


Photo by Dan Hutcheson via Flickr.com, used under Creative Commons.
 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Salt, Light and Law

Sermon on the Mount Part II: Matthew 5:13-20

Hot dogs are easy to cook outdoors but
I usually like mine a little less "Cajun"!
When cooking outdoors on a camping trip, sometimes we don’t have seasoning available to us that
we normally have in the kitchen.  We may not even have salt or pepper.  We tend to use things that we would normally throw out like bacon grease or the fat from the meat.  It’s amazing how much different (and better) fried potatoes can taste when you add a little salt to them.

We may not have the same appreciation for salt that they did in the ancient world.  Low-sodium diets kept it off the table for a number of years and we certainly don’t have the same respect for it that they did in generations past.  Salt was an important trade commodity and when we think about the spice trade of antiquity, we may not immediately think of salt but this would have been key.

In a world without refrigeration, salt was a wonderful preservative.  This would have stretched resources and allowed armies to grow larger and move farther than ever before.  So salt changed the world.

What does it mean when Jesus uses this term in the Sermon on the Mount, saying “You are the salt of the earth”?  Is he referring to his disciples or the congregation at large?  Does he mean all people or just those present?

Many times we use the term “Light of the World” to refer to Jesus (stemming from John’s Gospel).  But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus uses it to refer to you!  What does it mean to be salt and light?  What did it mean to a world without refrigeration or even electricity? 

This part of the sermon may be challenging or comfortable but the next part throws us over the edge because we’re not really following it if you use a literal reading.  Jesus mentions that we shouldn’t be breaking any of God’s word (which we think of today as the Old Testament).  No one I know follows all of the Old Testament laws today.  There are too many that would get you sent to jail (various forms of capital punishment meted out as a consequence for your neighbor's violation of the law).  What does Jesus mean when he says, “whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven”?

This Sunday, we’ll continue with the series on the Sermon on the Mount as we look at Matthew 5:13-20.  The first part is rather affirming while the last bit may be kind of a head-scratcher.  I hope you'll plan on joining us for this important look at our faith!  

In Christ,

Sam

Photo used via Flickr.com through the Creative Commons license.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Who Doesn't Need a Little Blessing to Start the New Year?

"The Sermon on the Mount"
by Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1877.
As we begin 2017, I, like most people, would like to start it off well.  I would like to have sound practices that shape my mind, body and spirit in ways that not only keep me healthy but facilitate growth.  For most Americans, this resolve lasts about a month.  Fast food sales start to pick up in February just as visits to the gym start to decline.  However, if you have peers that you make resolutions with, you are more likely to stick to it.

This is one of the geniuses of Christianity.  In fact, Methodism was founded around small covenant groups that helped keep Christians accountable.  Christian community ideally helps its members grow in the faith as they journey together.

Within worship, we are entering the season of Epiphany which will last until Lent.  This will be eight Sundays which will get us through Ash Wednesday which occurs on March 1 this year.

Since Epiphany is a season which emphasizes shining the light of Christ to the world, I thought it would be helpful to explore the Sermon on the Mount.  We are currently in Year A of the lectionary which features Matthew's gospel.  The Sermon on the Mount starts with chapter 5 of Matthew and then continues in chapters 6 and 7.  It is some of the most challenging material in the Bible and some interpret it as only to be observed by monastic orders.  Since we are under the priesthood of all believers, I see it as applying to all Christians.

We'll be dividing it in the following schedule:

January 8          The Beatitudes               Matthew 5:1-12
January 15 The Law                      Matthew 5:13-20
January 22 Reconciliation              Matthew 5:21-26
January 29        Vows              Matthew 5:27-37
February 5         Love Your Enemies         Matthew 5:38-48
February 12 Integrity in Faith              Matthew 6:1-18
February 19 Anxiety      Matthew 6:19-34
February 26 Judgment                      Matthew 7:1-12

Then we will finish the series on Ash Wednesday:
March 1 Follow Through      Matthew 7:13-29

This basically divides the Sermon on the Mount into 9 sermons which will help us focus on the ethical wisdom of Jesus.  Matthew presents Jesus as the new Moses in many ways as the Sermon on the Mount is similar to Moses bringing the law down from Mount Sinai.  Ethics are universal to human philosophy but as the Christian community, we interpret these teachings in light of the resurrection.  This makes it distinct for us as we settle into our own identity.

I hope that this will help us in our spiritual growth as we start this new year together. It will at least get us through the end of February before we start to slide!

This Sunday, we'll begin with the Beatitudes.  We could all use a little blessing although we may wonder if we fit into these various categories or if we would even want to fit. Join us as we begin to interpret this most important teaching of our Lord!

In Christ,

Sam