Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Gates of Hell

Lectionary Reading: Matthew 16:13-20 (NRSV)

Back in the 90's, I was working on curriculum writing for our conference.  We incorporated video clips into some of the worship and this involved the use of VHS tapes. Editing was a lot more time-intensive!
The movie Dracula was a lot more intimidating!

One scene in particular that we used was from the 1992 Francis Ford Coppola film, Bram Stroker's Dracula.  It involved the vampire hunter Van Helsing (played wonderfully by Anthony Hopkins) backing a vampire back into a coffin using a cross and shouting "We are strong in the Lord and the power of his might!"

The idea we used from this clip was the obvious nature of evil in this film.  If we could simply stand overtly against an easily identifiable evil, we would do it.  Yet evil is rarely so obvious.  It is often more subtle.  It comes in the guise of something that will placate our fears or desires.

Evil replaces God on our priority list without us even realizing it.

In the scripture reading, Jesus tells Peter that the Church will overcome evil with the imagery of the gates of Hades or Hell.  We have been given the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  We have authority to bind and loose.

Okay, this last piece seems a little vague.  What does it mean to bind and loose?  If Jesus is speaking of evil, when would there ever be a good time to loose it on the world?

Binding and loosing is likely referring to the binding and loosing of scripture in the world. Rabbinical tradition would bind specific scriptures to modern day situations such as when Jesus told us to turn the other cheek rather than take an eye for an eye.  Scripture was bound to how we respond to violence.  In last week's lectionary reading, Jesus loosens scripture when he spoke of our words defiling us more than the unclean foods that we might consume.

So our responsibility as the Church is to determine how we apply God's Word to the world and specifically how we stand against the evils of this world.

The litmus test I always use is "Does this application of scripture to this situation increase the love of God and love of neighbor in the world?"  Of course, this is from Jesus who gave these as the greatest of the commandments.

As we gather as the Church, we remind one another that "We are strong in the Lord and the power of his might!"

In Christ,

Sam


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

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

God of Grace or Judgment?

Lectionary reading for Sunday: Matthew 15:10-28 (NRSV)

When I saw the video of the car plowing through the crowd in Charlottesville, Virginia, it immediately brought to mind the automobile assault my family experienced in Stillwater almost two years ago.  The commonality for these horrific incidents seems to be a loathing of life.

Adacia Chambers was suicidal when she drove her car through the police barriers and into the crowd during the parade in 2015.  Unfortunately, this loathing for life seemed to cast its shadow upon her neighbors as well.

Now, the nation has been witness to another driver with lethal intent.  The motivation for suspect James Fields, Jr. seems to be racial as he has ties to white supremacy and was ramming a counter-protest of those protesting the removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Rather than seemingly random, this loathing of life is more focused toward neighbors with differing ideals on race relations.  The hate toward the other becomes stirred up so much inside that you would seek to engage in terrorist tactics and throw your own life away to make a statement.

As we see the nation look to race relations once more, we find Christians on both sides of the argument.  Many white supremacists claim to be Christian.  I know many congregants who have wondered how someone can claim to follow Jesus and hate other people so vehemently.

I took this picture of the Jefferson
Memorial during our recent vacation.
His words* are especially important today.
I believe it is a matter of how one views God.  Is God primarily a God of grace who loves all people?  Wesleyans believe in God's preceding or prevenient grace which reaches out to all humankind regardless of skin color or even cultural ideals.  To embrace this grace is a realization of our own deficiencies and allows us to connect with our brothers and sisters around the globe.  We see that we are all alike.

But if one has the primary view of God as the God of judgment who is measuring each person's worth by their actions, this seems to make one live in a state of fearfulness.  The realization of human deficiency in this equation doesn't lead to a common dignity but rather a sense of worthlessness with regards to people in general.  So instead of responding with a generosity toward our fellow humans, we have no respect for those we deem as worthless.

When you mix racism which is taught and not innate into the mix, you still may hold a faith in God but now you judge others with a fierceness that stems from self-judgment and ultimately self-loathing.

The lectionary reading for the Gospel this week is timely.  Jesus deals with race issues as Jews and Canaanites clash.  Surprisingly, some interpretation may seem to favor the tribalism so associated with white supremacy until we read it in its context with the preceding verses.  As we witness all of the anger and hatred being spewed on the national scene, we realize the truth in what Jesus says, "it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles."

It is important for us to worship and remind ourselves that we worship a God of grace. This ultimately shapes our lives into generous lives that seek to love all our neighbors as we love ourselves.

I leave you with the hymn lyrics from Harry Emerson Fosdick's hymn, "God of Grace and God of Glory."  As the pastor of Riverside Church in New York City, Fosdick was a chaplain during World War I and penned the lyrics for this hymn during the Great Depression.

Here is the second stanza:

Lo! the hosts of evil round us
scorn the Christ, assail his ways!
From the fears that long have bound us
free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the living of these days,
for the living of these days.

May God grant us wisdom and courage indeed!

In Christ,

Sam



*Words from the Jefferson Memorial:

"God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free. Establish a law for educating the common people. This it is the business of the state and on a general plan."
  

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Blessing of the Backpacks

2 Corinthians 9:8-9 (NRSV) reads:

And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.

As it is written,

    “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
         his righteousness (or benevolence) endures forever.”


This Sunday, we will have a "Blessing of the Backpacks" in worship.  We are getting ready to start with a lot of educational endeavors in Edmond following Sunday's service and it is appropriate to recognize God's partnership in this.

Lots of stuff goes into these school backpacks!
Because Wesleyans believe in Sanctifying Grace, we believe that God wants us to further ourselves in knowledge.  By equipping ourselves in this way, we are better able to help those we encounter.  This allows each of us to become more Christlike.  And so, we do this not by ourselves.  We are not isolated in our efforts to improve.  We don't see ourselves competing with one another educationally.  As the Body of Christ, we believe that all people should pursue and receive education.  In this, we see God working with us, helping us along our way.

This Sunday, the Blessing of the Backpacks will remind us of the spiritual help available to us throughout the school year.  Education is sometimes difficult and we often need strength and courage and endurance.  Sometimes we need to relax amidst the pressure to remember what we know.  God helps us with these tasks and we want to recognize this on Sunday.

If you live in the Edmond area and will have a student (any age or level) in your household, I would encourage you to bring them and their backpacks to worship with us this Sunday (8:30, 10:50 or 11:00 am) and we will begin their year with a blessing!

In Christ,

Sam

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