Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Are Parts of the Lord's Prayer More Essential than Others?

Lectionary Reading: Luke 11:1-13 (NRSV)

My earliest years of religious life were in Assembly of God churches.  I remember in Sunday school memorizing the 23rd Psalm.  It was the King James Version and that remains my preferred reading for this passage regardless of the better scholarship available in newer translations.

My experience must be shared by others because we have the KJV of this psalm available in the United Methodist Hymnal (#137) as a responsive reading.  When I utilize Psalm 23 at funerals (often requested), I read from the King James.  Familiarity in religion is comforting.

As I became United Methodist, I memorized the Apostles' Creed for my confirmation class.  I'm not sure I understood everything in it as a 6th grader but I could recite it to you easily (and still can to this day).  Other things I learned in worship were the Gloria Patri and the Doxology.  These were easier to memorize because we sang them.


As a youth, I memorized Numbers 6:24-26 through the UMYF (United Methodist Youth Fellowship) Benediction:

May the Lord bless you and keep you.  May the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you.  May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.  Amen.

We would say this in an interlocking circle (right arm over left) and then spin out to depart.

As a college student, I solidified my memorization of a table blessing that we would sing together at the Wesley Foundation.  It was to the Old 100th tune and we sang these words:

Be present at our table Lord; be here and everywhere adored; these mercies bless and grant that we may feast in fellowship with thee.  Amen.

I learned to enjoy harmonization as we sang this multiple times through the week before meals together!  I still smile as I hear John Rusco's bass voice starting us out.

At some point, I learned the Lord's Prayer.  I can't remember when or specifically memorizing it - it likely came as an older elementary student after we joined Boston Avenue United Methodist Church.  Later, I learned that while I say "trespasses" that others say "debts" or "sins".

Even later, I learned that this prayer is named for Jesus because he taught it to his disciples.  The version that we utilize in worship comes from Matthew 6:9-13.  Luke also has a version found in this week's lectionary reading and it doesn't have different material from Matthew's version, just less of it.  Was Luke aware of Matthew's version and just utilized what he considered important or essential?  Or did he write about the tradition as his community prayed it?  

In Luke's version, we praise God and look for the divine reign to actualize.  We pray for sustenance for our immediate needs.  We ask for forgiveness that seems expectant based on our own merciful behavior.  And we ask that we could avoid any testing of our faith.  Maybe as we look at Matthew's version, we can see that these are the essentials.  I do like the emphasis on God's reign being earthly and spiritual in Matthew but maybe it is implied in Luke.  Was this so obvious, he felt it didn't need inclusion?

Those spiritual things that we memorize can become precious to us.  They may pop up in our heads at just the moments we need them.  They can be a source of strength ("And God will raise you up on eagle's wings...") that give us courage and fortitude.  They allow us to drink more deeply from the well, refreshing our thirst.

This Sunday, we'll be exploring this passage from Luke as it continues to not only apply to our lives but also lifts up God's countenance upon us and gives us peace!

In Christ,

Sam

Photo by jenni_froedrick via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, July 15, 2019

What is Jesus Thinking?

Lectionary Reading: Luke 10:38-42 (NRSV)

Leadership is a strange thing.  You have to try it on before it actually fits.

Some people seem to have natural instincts for leadership but even they must hone their skills, making poor showings along the way.  If a person can learn from mistakes, they will find this a life-long teacher!

Church taught me valuable leadership skills.  We had a summer program when I was in Middle School where I was named an "L.I.T." which stood for "Leader-In-Training".  We helped out at various activities through our church's children's ministry such as Vacation Bible School, summer church programs at Camp Egan, and two weeks of day camps at the Naifeh Ranch.

The latter were times where we went out with small groups and had a home-in-the-woods each day.  We learned here to dig a pit for the fire where we cooked our food.  We learned to ring the pit with rocks - only the
You learn when cooking on a fire that
the heat helps you keep a safe distance!
one tending the fire would be allowed inside this circle.  I can remember making all kinds of meals such as hobo dinners, banana boats and pudding in a cup.  This was the first place I ate super spuds.  I learned that you couldn't get antsy with the cooking time of the potato unless you wanted a crunchy spud!  One of my favorites was when we made mini pizzas by placing foil across some hangers.  We used English muffins topped with spaghetti sauce, grated cheese and pepperoni slices.  My older brother rigged foil on the hangers at a 45 degree angle so the heat reflected back on the top and really melted the cheese!

I learned when playing games like Capture the Flag that if the teams were not even, the game was not enjoyable for everyone.  When a particular athlete was dominating a game like "Squirrel-in-the-tree" you could switch the rules and reverse the person who was it so that the slower child could get off the hook.

I learned about leading a particular Psalm in worship through our small group's particular interpretation.  This may have been my first foray into church liturgy!

I learned that the leaders of the camp took me seriously even though I was in middle school.  I was held to standards, given real responsibilities and expected to carry my weight.  This was the camp where I brought my brother's blow torch (with his permission) to help light the campfires after a downpour the previous night.  I had no temptations to misuse it because I realized that this was a big responsibility.  I also knew my brother's reputation was on the line.  I desired to live up to the person the church thought I could be.

In today's scripture reading, we may be wondering why Mary is slacking off.  This would definitely be a 21st century reading!  When Martha addresses Jesus about her sister, she may be concerned about the gender roles that were being bent.  The phrase "sat at the Lord's feet" was a euphemism for discipleship.  If someone bothers to learn something, they would be expected to eventually teach it.  Women of that day would not be considered to teach and so Martha may have been trying to restore the order of things.

This example shows us that the church has long had a history of seeing the potential in people whether it was a woman being able to do things normally reserved for a man or a youth doing something normally reserved for adults.  I wonder at the image of Mary teaching people about Jesus (and being able to repeat lessons he taught) following the resurrection.  I bet that people came from all over to hear this marvelous woman.

To share God's grace is a blessing.  When we do so whether it be in a Bible lesson or in helping someone else to learn fire safety while cooking, we may find that we have chosen the better part and it can't be taken away from us!

We'll be exploring this passage further this Sunday in worship!

In Christ,

Sam

Photo by Dan Thibodeaux via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Boundaries of Love

Lectionary Reading: Luke 10:25-37 (NRSV)

This week's Gospel reading contains what may be the most famous parable Jesus ever told.  While some might give the Prodigal Son that title, I would be hard-pressed to say that it is more well-known than the Good Samaritan.  While both titles have taken on life of their own as pop-culture examples (you can be called both a Prodigal and a Good Samaritan depending on context), I would argue that there are probably more references to being a Good Samaritan.

There are lots of takes on this particular parable which does make it interesting for sermon interpretation.  

As I was re-reading it, I thought that Luke (only author to use this parable) might be foreshadowing the fate of Jesus as he seeks to expand our understanding of the Christian mission.  I believe that Luke's Gospel would have been written to the churches in the Mediterranean world rather than in Judea.  This would mean a much broader audience and a wider variety of cultures than a more Jewish context.  As the Church expands into Gentile territory, Christianity must reflect a greater appreciation for the types of people that it will seek to evangelize.

Most Christians have heard many times over about how the Samaritans and the Jews were enemies.  It would have been a surprise to see the Samaritan cast in the hero's role.  The lawyer can't even bring himself to utter "Samaritan" when Jesus asks him which was the noble person in the story.

What if we imagine Jesus to be the man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho?  The bandits who set upon the man rob him, strip him, beat him and leave him for dead.  Jesus when turning over the tables in the Temple quotes scripture telling them that they have made God's house a den of robbers. 
Sometimes when we offer a helping hand,
we find that we are holding onto resurrection.

The priest and the Levite who avoid tending to the injured man could also refer to the factions of Judaism that ignored Jesus as the Messiah.  The Samaritan who provides for the man could represent the Gentiles who are now embracing Jesus as the Christ in Luke's day.

Interestingly enough, the first person to acknowledge the righteousness of Jesus following his death was a Gentile in Luke 23:47: "When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, 'Certainly this man was innocent.'”

Of course, this allegorical interpretation is only one way to look at the parable.  That's the beauty of the stories of Jesus - they are worthy of much discussion and we find a great multitude of truths contained within them.  The Good Samaritan should always challenge us and just when we think that we are getting it right, it should remind us that we may have a ways to go.

I hope you'll join us this Sunday (or online at your convenience) as we encounter this most famous of parables once more.  Even though we may know it well, it is surely worth another listen so that we may continue to be shaped by it.

In Christ,

Sam


Photo by Vicki DeLoach via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Snakes and Scorpions

Lectionary Reading: Luke 10:1-11; 16-20 (NRSV)



Handling serpents at the 
Pentecostal Church of God. Lejunior, Kentucky
15 September 1946
Ever been to a snake handling?  They were more prevalent in the 20th century in some holiness churches where some of the church members would prove their faith in God’s protection by handling venomous snakes.

While this may seem ludicrous, those with a more literal interpretation may have looked at this Sunday’s reading for justification.

Luke speaks in verse 19 of Jesus giving his disciples the “authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you.”

Likewise, Mark’s Gospel states something similar in 16:18 when Jesus refers to future disciples being able to “pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them.”

Snakes often represent evil in the Bible starting with Adam and Eve in Genesis.  While God’s people were on the move to the Promised Land, their own complaining caused venomous serpents to attack them in the desert as recorded in Numbers 21:4-9.  John’s Gospel refers to this in chapter 3 just prior to verse 16 which may be one of the most famous passages in the Bible. 

The apostle Paul suffers no ill effects after being bitten by a snake in Acts 28:3-6.  They name the reptile as a viper which is venomous. 

As we go back to Luke’s account, we see snakes associated with the “power of the enemy”.  What does it mean for God’s people to have authority over evil?  I do not think that it means that we should participate in flashes of “faith” where we make a show of our belief in God’s protection. 

As interpreters of the Bible, we conclude that handling venomous snakes in worship would not be in accordance with God’s will as Jesus reminds us not to put God to the test in multiple Gospel accounts.  Rather the venomous snake is a metaphor of evil.  As we are in Christ, evil has no sway over us.  This doesn’t mean that we won’t suffer on account of evil.  The passion of our Lord quickly sets this thought aside.  Rather, it may mean that as we remain in Christ, we are able to vanquish the sway of evil.  We do not fear that evil will unduly influence us in our actions.  In this way, we trod on the serpents and scorpions that we encounter in life.  We put them under foot and our ankles remain unscathed.

After two solid weeks of church camp, I’m looking forward to being back in the pulpit on Sunday.  One of the best things about having this emersion in youth culture is that I’m able to stay young (at heart) and to share this indirectly with the rest of the congregation.  It is important for us to remain aware of what is happening with the next generations so that we might better communicate the Good News with them.  This hopefully helps us to hear it in a fresh way as well which keeps us all young (at heart). 

I hope you’ll join us this Sunday in Edmond.  Trey and our Worship on Hurd band will be starting in Guthrie this Sunday at 8:30 as well before heading back here for the 10:50 service.  Please keep this new venture in your prayers and send us names of any people in Guthrie that you know that do not regularly attend worship anywhere.  We are excited for this new chapter in ministry together!

In Christ,

Sam


Photo by Russell Lee (Public Domain) via Wikimedia Commons. 

Monday, June 24, 2019

The Difficulty of Oncoming Suffering


Lectionary Reading: Luke 9:51-62

Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

This is what most people believe about Jesus maybe because we learned it through singing about it at a very young age.  Through John Wesley, as Methodists, we believe that Jesus seeks us out even when we have strayed (prevenient grace).  We also get this through parables like the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan.  We understand that love is a difficult task and yet, we believe that the love of Jesus tries to overcome the barriers that we put before it.

So when we examine today’s reading, Jesus may seem a little foreign to us.  At least at first glance. 

Sometimes we have to contemplate what
our discipleship looks like.
Jesus has his face set toward Jerusalem.  We are not sure what this means but it carries a harsher tone to it.  It could be that Jesus had to steel himself to the difficulties of facing the cross.  It would not be an easy thing to embrace.  Whatever it meant, we see that the Samaritan village doesn’t receive him because of it. 

As we think of it today, we like to imagine that we would whole-heartedly embrace Jesus in the here and now.  If Jesus were to show up at our church, we would throw wide the doors and give him our best!  But if his face were set toward Jerusalem – if he had prepared himself to suffer and die – I’m not so sure he would be such good company.  He would likely challenge us to say the least and while some may be up for the challenge, there are likely those who would find something “better” to do with their time.

We do see Jesus rebuke his disciples for seeking to punish the town.  He hasn’t lost his compassion, he’s just not as warm as he has appeared earlier in his life.  Then we encounter three people who seek to follow Jesus to Jerusalem.  Jesus either discourages them or breaks down their excuses.  The death of a parent seems pretty valid and we wonder at the tact of our Lord in this instance.

We want to excuse Jesus for this and so we invent back-story that is not in the text:

               The man’s father wasn’t dead yet and so his commitment was vague

               The man’s father lived in another town and this was a way for him to beg off

               The man’s inheritance would add duties that would never allow him to leave

It is not a bad thing to speculate on the text.  I make a living at it.  But we must be careful not to read into it what it doesn’t actually say.

What we do know is that following Jesus must be prioritized for it to be effective.  There are times when the call of our Lord is convenient and it fits with what we want to do anyway.  There are also times when it is the opposite of convenient.  I think the difficulty of the text (and why we sympathize with those who fall away) is that we are not entirely sure that we would be able to pursue discipleship during these same moments.

Join us for worship on Sunday as we wrestle with this scripture!  And yes, Jesus loves you!

In Christ,

Sam

Photo by Sandy via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

When We're Complicit in Demonic Possession

Scripture Reading: Luke 8:26-39 (NRSV)

What happens when we look at this story from a Family Systems Theory perspective?

Within this view, groups and relationships achieve homeostasis or balance.  Sometimes this is healthy balance and sometimes it isn't.  Sometimes our balance unduly rests upon the backs of others, creating injustice.  Slavery in the southern United States is an example of unhealthy balance.  Their economy was dependent upon the sinful practice of keeping other human beings in chains.
When this practice is called into question, there is resistance from those who benefit the most from the status quo.  Slavery was argued from moral, philosophical and religious standpoints as a reasonable way to live in relationship with people.  While we would find such arguments sad today, they were accepted by many of that day because the system was balanced.

Within today's scripture, at first glance, I find it odd that the townspeople react so negatively to Jesus curing the demoniac.  It is almost like they prefer him to be possessed and live outside of their town.  They had tried to keep him bound and living among them but that didn't work.  He would break out and go to live among the tombs.  Sometimes our possessions cause us to seek death rather than life.

The demons may have formed a kind of triangle between the man and the rest of the town.  When systems seek homeostasis or balance, we often will find the balance in triangles of relationships.  Whenever there is too much tension between two people, a third will often be brought in to relieve the stress.  Ever seen two parents arguing and then in walks an unsuspecting child?  Sometimes the wrath or ire is then diverted to the child who finds him or herself confused by why there are suddenly more chores to do!

Sometimes a parent and a child may have difficulty relating and so the parent enlists the other child to talk to the sibling.  Find out what's wrong!

Triangles can be unhealthy or they may also be healthy.

The triangle of the demoniac, the demons and the townsfolk is interrupted by Jesus.  He breaks the triangle by exorcising the demons and now the man is in his right mind.  The people are afraid.  When the man wants to leave and go with Jesus, Jesus has him stay and to relate to the people.

We have to stay in connection with others.  It may be easier to cut-off ourselves from others but for healing to happen relationally, we may need to stay connected.

When we find that we are free from what possessed us, we must be careful not to fall into old habits that put us right back in the same fix.  And so, while it may sound like the healthy option for him to leave with Jesus, it may also be that to really find healing, we must confront those behaviors that led us down the dark path in the first place.  We can't change how others treat us.  But we can change how we react to that treatment.  When they find us free, they may find this scary at first.  The system is not what they expect!  But as we live into our freedom, they may find the courage to change how they treat us as well.  As they begin to act differently, our transformation may be contagious.

I'll be exploring this passage on Sunday.  I hope you'll join us either in person or online in one of our many formats!

In Christ,

Sam


Photo by Peter Miller via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.
 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

What's in a phrase?


Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church
Last week, there was some stir as to Pope Francis changing a phrase from the Lord's Prayer.  The line, "And lead us not into temptation" was changed to "do not abandon us to temptation."

This has garnered some attention and some anxiety for those who hold the prayer dear to their hearts.

To be specific, Pope Francis did not change the language.  It was proposed by an Italian bishops' conference of the Roman Catholic Church and this was approved by the Apostolic See which includes Pope Francis but may also include other Vatican officials.  For United Methodist context, this would be like a theological study of the church similar to Wonder, Love and Praise proposed by the Faith and Order Committee but then approved by the General Conference.  Of course, a big difference here is that this new United Methodist study has not been used in worship for generations!

Pope Francis in the past has called into question the theological stance of asking God to "lead us not into temptation" in that it might lead us to believe that God "pushes me toward temptation to see how I fall."    If we believe that God does lead us into temptation as part of a spiritual experiment, this seems to stand against the fundamental notion of God's grace and love that we receive in Jesus Christ.

Some may wonder if this will cause us to change how we utilize the prayer in our local worship.  This particular change is Roman Catholic in scope and is specifically for churches that speak Italian.  The English speaking Catholics have not addressed this particular phrase in their liturgical use.  Protestants use their own liturgies that are approved by their own bodies.

While I utilize the United Methodist version of the Lord's Prayer from our hymnal (#895) that includes the phrase, "lead us not into temptation" we actually have an Ecumenical version approved for our use if we wish (#894 in our UM Hymnal) which states "Save us from the time of trial".

Some have berated Pope Francis for changing the prayer but if we look back to the original prayer of Jesus, we have to look at two similar but not identical prayers.  Our liturgical prayer is patterned after Matthew 6:9-13 from the Sermon on the Mount.  But we also have a shorter version found in Luke 11:2-4.  Liturgical worship is the work of the people.  How we express ourselves to God may change with the generations (our worship today is different from a service 100 years ago).  We may hope that some of the ways we express our devotion and worship would be constant.  There is a comfort we take from constancy in the midst of all the change we experience.  But the ideas we express in our worship vary just as human language varies.  I would say that this is why theology matters.  How we communicate about God matters for the people who still need to hear.  If I am only communicating about God in ways that I understand but have no regard for my neighbor's hearing, then I may be doing a disservice to the Good News by placing my own need for familiarity above God's call upon my life.

This Sunday, the liturgical church will recognize Trinity Sunday.  This is doctrinal in nature in how we understand God from the basic Christian confession of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The default for doctrinal sermons is frequently lecture, more lecture and then is followed by even more lecture.  As a narrative preacher, I try to tell a story that leads us to understand doctrine more fully.  You'll have to let me know if I've succeeded or not!

We'll be looking at Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 from the lectionary.  I hope you'll join us either in person or online (and you can always go back and listen to the sermon later if you are unable to be present on Sunday).  Worship should be familiar as the familiar gives us spiritual comfort.  But Spiritual comfort should then give us strength to fulfill our mission to fully love God and our neighbors!  Tightropes are all about balance and moving forward.

In Christ,

Sam


Photo by PaoNu via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.