Thursday, March 27, 2014

Sermon for March 23, 2014 / Lent 3

“Lent: Giving Up Expectations”
John 3:1-17

Do we take the Bible literally, or do we take the Bible seriously? You can do both, of course. But what about those who choose not to read the Bible as the literal, word-for-word voice of God? What about those of us who struggle to understand it in its context – those who doubt and ask tough questions and seek to live faithful lives? Can we still take the Bible seriously?

Biblical literalism goes something like this: “In this text, the Bible says X, therefore we must believe and/or do Y." It’s usually selective literalism with clobber verses. Clobber verses are the preferred scriptures some people use as the raw material to fashion weapons. Those in the majority pick a set of verses that least affect them and then “clobber” those on the margins. Some people brandish today’s scripture reading as a clobber verse. John 3:16 has provided motivation for some of the most destructive impulses of those who take the name Christian. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life." Taken literally and out of context, John 3:16 suggests that those who do not believe in the Son will never die. By extension, those who do not believe in the Son will perish. Forever. It is difficult to overestimate the harm and abuse that comes from this literal rendering of John's Gospel. I think part of the problem is that we make these words a new creed – a test of faith –an absolute statement about whom God loves and whom God rejects, who is in and who is out.

The irony is that out of the four Gospel writers, John is the least literal of them all. The author takes great freedom in retelling the story of Jesus. It is particularly ironic that in today's Gospel story, Jesus rejects the very literalism that has so often dominated the reading of this text. Jesus offers the metaphor of birth to speak about spiritual growth. Jesus says that followers must be born a second time. Nicodemus, the teacher and elder statesman, takes a literal approach to Jesus’ words: "How can one be born a second time from your mother's womb?" I can just picture Nicodemus sitting there, scratching his head. He can’t figure it out. It’s almost as if Nicodemus parks himself in a worldview from which he cannot feel any other options. Jesus talks about being born of the Spirit. Born of the Breath. Born of the Wind. In both Hebrew and Greek, the words for wind and breath are the same words for spirit. Jesus says, “The Wind will give you second birth.” Nicodemus wants facts.  Jesus gives him some poetry.

Amazed at Nicodemus' literal understanding of this evocative image, Jesus says, "How are you, a teacher of the faith, unable to understand what I am saying?" Jesus might be equally amazed at how an invitation to deepen our encounter with God is still used today as a basis for exclusion, rejection, dominance, and judgment. I used to be the person who assumed my personal values and interpretations of Scripture were tests of faith for others. I know I’m not alone. The reasoning went something like this: “If you believe what I believe, think like I think, and live as I tell you to live, you are acceptable.” This is not who we are at Christ Congregational Church. Our congregation affirms that all people are free to make choices regarding their own personal and spiritual journeys.

Jesus was not interested in making a person’s personal faith the cornerstone for acceptance or rejection by God. He was very interested in the question: “How does one come to have faith?” Do we have faith because someone tells us what to believe? Do we have faith because we are scared that if we don’t say the right words and show up at the right church, and live approved lifestyles, and associate with the best people, that God will punish us? Do we have faith that can tolerate doubt? Faith that can grow and change? Faith that relies on the work of the Spirit moving through the gathered people of God?

Congregationalists have always struggled with these questions. The United Church of Christ, in its original Constitution, affirmed:
“the responsibility of the church in each generation to make this faith its own in reality of worship, in honesty of thought and expression, and in purity of heart before God.”
Uh oh. We are not so great at this. Faith calls each new generation to listen to God and follow God’s breath. We have continuing opportunities to allow the wind the give us second birth. This means we need to be willing to let go of the tethers that can keep us from being pliable, versatile people of faith. You see, most of us are not great risk-takers. We want our lives to be comfortable, and safe, and predictable. And we turn to Christian faith to provide us that comfortable, safe, and predictable life. So we take something unexplainable like faith and cement it into certainty in order to fill a need for security.

To me, that’s not faith. Faith is not certain. Faith is a risk with no guarantee of anything!

Sometimes people are with UCCers because we are not willing to use scripture, or creeds, or church teaching as tests of faith. We choose not to tell people what they should believe. We want to be born of the Wind. We have no centralized authority or hierarchy that can impose a doctrine or a form of worship on its members. We seek a balance between freedom of conscience and accountability to the faith. We take the Bible seriously. We listen to the historic creeds and confessions of our ancestors as testimonies, but not tests of the faith. In other words, our faith is founded on the Bible, and informed by the Church of the past. But it can never stay frozen in the past. We must continue to grow and evolve: to receive new insights, and, when necessary, to reject past ideas when they have been disproved.

In the UCC, we are like the Tree that the Board of Stewardship created. They took our hopes and visions and remind us that we are a glorious mix of the old and the new. There are parts of our faith that bring comfort and happiness. We send down deep roots and are nourished by tradition. There are also some areas of growth and challenge. We send our branches into the air, allowing them to be ticked by the Wind, moved by the Breath, swayed in the Spirit. Deep roots and new heights. Our roots grow down into God’s love and keep us you strong so we may have the power to understand how wide, how long, how high, and how deep God’s love is, as Christ makes a home in us (Ephesians 3:17-18).

Faith is a risk. If we’re going to take the risk of faith, we have to reckon with the fact that when the Wind and Breath of God blows, it may be safe and predictable. It might shake up our beliefs. It might make us redefine ourselves. It might take us to places where we never thought we’d go. When the Wind and Breath blows, we will find ourselves exposed and vulnerable. In that moment, we may want to try to hang on to our routines and keep all the pieces manageable and predictable and safe. If we are going to take the risk of faith, we can respond by opening ourselves to the new beginnings God brings. We can respond by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. Changeable. We can respond by saying, “Here we are. Use us.” I think that’s what the Bible calls faith.

And faith is not safe.

During this season of Lent, I encouraging myself and others to give up on expectations.

I’m giving up the expectation that God guarantees us prosperity. I’m learning to trust in a God who is with us through whatever circumstances we face. I’m learning to have hope that God will work with us to make the best result out of even the most hopeless of places.

I’m giving up the expectation that a church like CCC has to root-bound. You gardeners out there, you know what I mean. A root-bound plant has been in its pot for too long. It doesn’t get the nutrition it needs. It’s roots start growing in circles inside the pot. The roots don’t spread out. Eventually, the plant will die.  There is a solution, but it take some strength and courage. You have to rip or cut the roots. But don’t worry, plants are pretty tough. Though some don't like you messing with their roots, most will be just fine and will grow better after their constricted roots have been untangled or cut.

Yes, sometimes we in the church get root-bound. We hold on to ideas to long. It’s comfortable. It’s safe. It might even be good. But sometimes we don’t sense when God is doing something new. We might be so busy laying roots, we can’t sense that God has moved on and is calling us to follow. What might happen if we give up expectations that God’s word is fixed? What might happen if we give up expectations that church programs are meant to last forever? What might happen if we give up expectations that faith has to be easy? We might remember God doesn’t call us to do things we aren’t capable of doing. God calls us to participate in God-sized tasks that we can’t do on our own. See the Wind. Feel the Breath. Be born of wind and water and become one with its flow. Listening for the Wind in the trees as it makes a melody of love across the hills. Be willing to go where others might not want to go. God always sends wind. It is our challenge to catch the Wind and ride it.

Sources:
http://thewakingdreamer.blogspot.com/2011/03/question-to-myself-john-31-17-1-it.html
http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=2713
http://transformingsermons.blogspot.com/2011/07/john-35-born-of-water-wind.html
https://www.stphilipscathedral.org/sermons/newsView.asp?NewsId=40968652&CategoryID=1
http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/literalist-gluttony



Saturday, March 22, 2014

Sermon for March 16, 2014 / Lent 2

Lent: Giving Up Control
Listen to audio here
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." But he answered, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'" Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! for it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'" Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him. Matthew 4:1-11
In almost every area of modern life there comes an examination of some sort – a test. The results of the test determine whether or not you can continue along the path you are following. Obsession about passing tests begins early in life. Our Elementary and Middle School students have recently gotten stressed over MSAs – the Maryland State Assessments as part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Students must pass proficiency exams in school before they can proceed to higher levels of learning. You cannot drive a car legally until you pass a written and a road test. You cannot participate in high school or college athletics unless you can pass a physical exam and a skills test. If you want to get authorized to fix air conditioners, or give manicures, or be an electrician, or fly an airplane, or sell stocks and bonds and other financial securities you first have to take a test.

Whether you want to be a plumber, a barber, a scientist, a lawyer, a teacher, or a minister there comes a moment when you must take and pass the test before you can reach your goals.

There are other tests beyond career and academics. One of the most important tests I passed was when met Chris’s mother and sisters as Chris’ boyfriend. Did I have the potential to be a good husband to their daughter and baby sister? Did I have good values? Did I have potential to be a good parent? I think I did OK.

So, there are some tests that measure the content of one’s knowledge. Other tests measure the content of one’s character.

Life gives us a series of tests that can identify type of persons we are. We are tested on what the lengths we will go to bring fulfillment to our lives. We are tested on how we use or abuse our influence and privilege. We are tested on the limits of care and respect. Fulfillment. Power. Autonomy. These are the same kinds of tests that Jesus faces in the wilderness in today’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel.

The story is not so much about temptation as it is about passing the test. Imagine the devil as a prosecutor, not a demon. The devil is an accuser who appears to see if Jesus has true character. He gives three oral examinations to test three key areas of integrity: fulfillment, power, and autonomy. Wait a minute . . . those words also sound like American idealism to me. They are part of the pillars of American exceptionalism. The American Creed can be described in five terms: liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, and laissez-faire.

In other words; power, fulfillment and autonomy. Are these tests to be passed, or ideals to be embraced?

This year, perhaps more than any other, many of the movies that contended for the Oscar’s Best Film ask the same question. The Wolf of Wall Street tells the story of whether money can bring fulfillment. Jonah Hill, nominated for Best Supporting Actor, said he wanted his role because he knew men he had grown up with who worshipped wealth exclusively, who could not see anything in life as alluring, as enticing, as money.  Leonardo DiCaprio’s character has everything money can buy:  drugs, sex, financial corruption. Will it bring happiness?

Blue Jasmine won Cate Blanchette an Oscar for her performance as a woman who sacrifices everything for a privileged lifestyle of wealth, living happily among people who, like her, have no other real attachments. Ill fortune plunges her into the misery of a blue collar life, from which she tries to escape by going it alone, and fails.

American Hustle preaches a sermon on greed for power and its destructive effects.

Philomena, Nebraska, and Dallas Buyers Club turn the camera toward the meek and the persecuted, showing how suffering comes to them by the greed and cruelty of the powerful around them. The young Philomena is persecuted by nuns who sell babies for money and who enjoy lording it over penniless pregnant young women. Nebraska depicts the wonder of a family that never had much love for one another, rediscovering their abiding affection and declining the temptation to pull apart in the name of individualism. Dallas Buyers Club follows a hate-filled Texan from his discovery that he has AIDS to his creation of a group of mostly gay men who buy powerful drugs from other countries and smuggle them in to keep themselves alive. To what lengths will people go for survival? Fulfillment. Power. Autonomy.

Matthew’s gospel wants us to know that Jesus faced these things, too. He wants readers to know that Jesus has the credentials to be the Messiah. He’s vetted for the job, because any Messiah worth anything will remain faithful under fire. So the Devil appears and says, “Jesus, turn these loaves into bread.” Jesus is now tested to use power to create self-sufficiency. Jesus knows if he can make bread out of a stone once, he can do it twice. Then he can do it a hundred times more. Then he can store it. Then he can feel less afraid when hunger pangs make his stomach grumble. Then he can sell the surplus to others and make a profit out of suffering. But that’s not part of Jesus’ economy. He’d rather rely on God’s daily bread.

The Devil says, “If you really want to show everyone you are Messiah, you need a dramatic, high risk stunt. Throw yourself off the top of the Temple and show us you can fly with the angels. Scripture says any good Messiah would be able to do it.” Jesus is now tested on whether he will manipulate authority for his own purposes. Stunts create spectacle and buzz; oohs and ahhs. In God’s economy, the gold standard is love and its value grows one heart at a time.

Finally, the Devil gives a melodramatic ultimatum. “I will give you everything your heart desires if you worship me!” Jesus can become like the other political rulers of the day who become power hungry and join Rome to get a slice of the Empire’s power. Jesus says no. In God’s economy, the oppressed are set free by the power of sacrificial love.

In this sense, Jesus is more like Solomon Northrup in this year’s Oscar-winning best picture, 12 Years a Slave. In the movie, Christian slave masters wear a devilish mask for horror, shown to us through the unflinching eyes of a kidnapped slave. Solomon Northrup hangs on fiercely to his sense of Belovedness. Similarly, in the wilderness, Jesus refuses to endorse an economy of slavery that ensnares and enslaves God’s beloved.

Jesus will emerge from this and make his way through thickets of conversation, angry mobs, and stumbling friends, until he comes to a brooding capital city, as tense as Kiev is today.  The shadows will lengthen, and he will once again wrestle with these fearful temptations in the Garden, his closest friends asleep by his side.

On one hand, none of these Jesus stories are not about us, unless someone here is trying out for the role of Messiah and didn’t tell us yet. On another hand, these stories are all about us. We need these stories to remind us that life can become a wilderness, whether it’s family life, the car pool, the office, small towns, large cities, the church, even a zealous vision for peace. Tests of character abound.

For me, these tests are all about weighing costs and demands. Making priorities. Living out our values with our lives. Tests are about being true. Staying faithful. Being grateful. It’s about stewardship. Lent is actually a great time to relearn stewardship. Lent invites us to a spiritual practice Italians call distacco. It means giving up a lesser value or goal to achieve something better, like an athlete who stays home Saturday night and doesn’t party before a big game, so as to be in great shape. This kind of detachment is a healthy spiritual way to help us regain control over our instincts and desires.

Think back to the American Creed I mentioned before: liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, and laissez-faire. Are they tests to pass or essential principles for survival? We can only answer that when we become aware of times we have accepted and follow the Creed without thinking about it. It’s true of any creed or doctrine. Have we made a wide-awake, character-driven choice to follow a creed, or are we living out someone else’s ideals uncritically? Once we become intentional, once we become awake, only then can we decide if something helps us or harms us.

That’s what Lent is for. Lent is a season of intentionality. It’s a time to give up control. We give up fear-driven control that makes us grasp for security. We let go of the ways others control us. We ask, “What are the ideas and behaviors that, if I were to lose them, would actually enhance my quality of life?” We ask, “What are the ideas and behaviors that, if I were to take them on, might help me to feel closer to God and others?”

Since it is our Stewardship Season, what if we were to accept the idea of giving just 5% of our waking hours for prayer, reflection, and works compassionate justice – a half-tithe of our time? How would our lives look? During a 168 hour week, average American s work 50 hours, sleep 45 hours, eat 15hours , watch TV 12hours, socialize 6 hours, shop 5hours, read/watch movies 4 hours, do hobbies 3 hours, exercise 2 hours, and do religious activity 1hour -- .6% of our weekly time. 5 % of our time for prayer and service is 8 hours a week – just about one hour a day. When it comes to how we spend our time and talents, I encourage us to ask, “What are the ideas and behaviors that, if we were to lose them, would actually enhance our quality of life? What are the ideas and behaviors that, if we were to take them on, might help us to feel closer to God and others, and can we give up a little control of some of these other things to nurture our spirits?”

And since it is our Stewardship Season, let’s think critically about how we spend money. This is good for us as we live in a culture of consumerism that entices us to purchase pleasure as a way to find power, fulfillment and autonomy. We are bombarded by appeals to buy things we do not need and often do not even use. We are told the economy depends upon it. During a total year, Americans spend $44 billion on soft drinks, $35 billion on sports, $29 billion on diets, $12 billion on candy, $8 billion on pets, $5.5 billion on video games, $3.4 billion on cut flowers, $2.7 billion on skin care, and $1.7 billion on religious ministry, or about 1.3% of our total expenses. When we think we are giving of our treasure, what are the ideas and behaviors that, if we were to lose them, would actually enhance our quality of life? What are the ideas and behaviors that might help us to feel closer to God and others? Can we give up a little control of some of our wealth in order to nurture our spirits?” Let’s not judge, yet. Let’s just be aware.

The question Lent raises is this: When the time of testing comes, what I am willing to let go of in order to make my character reflect the character of Christ? How can my community be better loved and better served? If we’re giving up something for Lent and we’re really not missing it, maybe we don’t need it at all or as much as we think. If we are adding a new practice at Lent and it’s not making an impact, perhaps we have more time, more talent, and more treasure that we could give for the good of others!

Sources:
http://www.the-american-interest.com/articles/2014/02/15/the-end-of-american-exceptionalism/
http://biteintheapple.com/the-tempters-snare/
http://www.questionthetext.org/2014/03/03/questions-questions-and-more-questions/
http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Devil-Debriefs-Alyce-McKenzie-03-07-2011.html
http://www.umoi.org/enewsletterarchives/detail/613
http://www.stpeterslinger.com/StPeterChurch/NEW-CHURCH/Mass%20Schedule/Homily%20For%20March%2003-04.pdf
http://www.preaching.com/sermons/11549852/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/melissa-browning-phd/dare-to-sit-with-suffering_b_4948392.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000051


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Sermon for Sunday, March 9 / Lent 1

Lent: Giving Up Superiority
John 4:5-42

Jai Stone is a blogger and entrepreneur who has a passion for creating paths to authentic joy and healthy relationships, especially in the Black Community. Jai also writes about her decision to leave her parents church, along with the disappointment of her Southern-bred, church-going parents. She writes, “I don’t have a problem with the institution of church itself; it’s primarily the people at church that have always given me the Georgia Blues. That, coupled with the fact that I’ve never truly found healing in church environments, has led me to seek a relationship with God in other ways. I suppose I should slingshot back a few years to give you some background here. Initially when I distanced myself from church, it was because I had been plagued by emotional duress and other mistreatments by people affiliated with ‘the church.’ It didn’t matter what city I lived in or what denomination of church I attended, it always ended the same way—with me heartbroken and disappointed by members of the congregation. But as my spiritual intelligence evolved, I came to understand that there are broken, damaged people everywhere – especially in the church. The people became less of a factor, but the damage lingered. Eventually, what I came to understand was that I was in immense emotional pain, and I had no idea how to even begin to heal myself. I just knew that going to church didn’t seem to make the pain any less. I had survived a series of catastrophic events, and although I was physically intact, my spirit and emotions were damaged.” Jai went on to found her own organization that helps women move through emotional pain without fear, guilt or apologies.

I meet a lot of people like Jai Stone -- people who could be called "church-damaged," people who have had some of their most painful experiences of shame and humiliation in churches, often in God's name. I've also met a lot of Christians who call themselves evangelists, whose major concern is to make sure that sinners know just how shameful their behavior is and disgrace people into accepting the Reign of God.

Some people, including a few in churches, are skilled at tapping into another person’s sense of shame. We humans have developed a number of responses to shame. Some people deal with shame through avoidance or withdrawal: “I will stay away from the people who trigger these feelings in me. If I can create physical distance, I can at least protect my emotions and not open myself up to the judgmental remarks of another.” Withdrawal and avoidance can be accompanied by feelings of depression and self-centered protectiveness. This is Jai Stone’s story, right? Even if she did not feel shamed by the church, the church did not make her pain any less. So she left.

Some people feel shame and attack the Self, either psychologically or physically: “I will put up with it and bear the marks of shame in my soul and on my body because I don’t want to live without you.”

The most primal and destructive shame response is to attack the other: “You hurt me, so now I’m going to hurt you back. I feel so endangered by you, my self-esteem feels so reduced when you are around, I need to respond in a drastic way to get you to stop looking at me.” In this scenario, the victim becomes the victimizer and can start a cycle of escalating revenge.

I imagine most of us can think of times when we have felt ashamed. Today, as part of our Lenten journey, I want us to turn our attention to the other side of shame – the times we have acted as “the shamer” – the times we have been inappropriately judgmental, smugly self-righteous, and snobbily superior. It can be satisfying to sit in judgment on others.  In a penetrating essay on the “put-down,” Joseph Epstein says that judging others is “malice formulated in tranquility.”

If you are willing to go there with me, I want to be honest about the times when we, as a religious community, have contributed to heartbreak and disappointment of others. Have we ever failed to be a place of healing because of a sense of superiority? If so, can we get to a place where church-damaged people –  life-damaged people – can feel the welcome embrace of equal faith partnership when they come to CCC? To use the words of another Joseph Epstein essay, “Is there a snob-free zone, a place where one is outside all snobbish concerns, neither wanting to get in anywhere one isn't, nor needing to keep anyone else out for fear that one's own position will somehow seem eroded or otherwise devalued?” Although Epstein’s path to the snob-free zone is different than what I would suggest, the idea is the same: Can we come to a place where we can all value one another, outside of the madness of superiority?

Today we heard a Gospel story about the ability to give up and get over superiority.  It’s a story about a woman at a well. A Samaritan woman. Tens of thousands of Christians are going to hear sermons about her this lent, and they are likely to hear their preacher describe her as a prostitute. 

Here’s what you need to know about this story. First, Jews and Samaritans don't get along. Second, women and men in this culture generally keep a safe social distance from each other. Third, the woman is at the well at noon, in the heat of the day. It is not the time of the day for drawing water or making long travels. So the Samaritan woman at the well is quite surprised when Jesus, a Jewish man walking around in Samaritan territory at noon, asks her for a drink. When she makes a remark to that effect, he offers her living water. She is confused. And intrigued. She asks about the miraculous water. At this point, Jesus has all kinds of opportunities to act superior to this woman. He’s a Jew, one of God’s chosen people. She is a half-breed Samaritan. Jesus is a male and therefore has more privilege than she has as a woman. He is God’s only-begotten, and she is a wayward worshipper.

Jesus knows her past and could take the opportunity to judge her. Did you get that part where Jesus invites the woman to call her husband?  When she replies that she has no husband, he agrees: "You have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband" (4:18). And there it is – that one sentence has branded her as a prostitute.

Conservative preacher John Piper describes the woman as "a worldly, sensually-minded, unspiritual harlot from Samaria." At another point in a sermon he calls her a "whore." Talk about “church-damaged”! Talk about shame! The Samaritan woman has been trash-talked by preachers for centuries.

Let’s just get something straight. There are a number of ways that we might imagine this woman's story as tragic rather than scandalous. Is she a prostitute, or has her family had a sorrowful string of terrible deaths? Jesus never calls her a woman of loose morals. Male theologians did that later on.  Jesus never lords his status over her or manipulates her. Centuries of sexist biblical interpretation have done that. Jesus rises above misogyny and moralism. The woman has been shamed in the past. She has been shamed by centuries of chauvinist sermons. Scripture doesn’t even give her a name, for goodness sake. I wonder if she ever withdrew. I wonder if she ever took the same to heart. I wonder if she ever lashed out and tried to deflect the gaze of those who were shaming her.

Today, the woman from Samaria gets love and understanding. She looks at Jesus and she sees good news.  Jesus receives the Samaritan woman with so much love and grace, she transforms. She hears God’s love. She gets a taste of living water. Soon, she's rushing into the very center of the village, demanding to be heard by those who were once her tormentors. And she IS heard; many believe in Jesus because of the woman's bold testimony. In the process, she finds the path to authentic joy and healthy relationships.

Giving up superiority is transformative. It’s something I’m working on during this season of preparation, especially as I focus on spiritual practices. Jesus warns us even our prayers and fasting can be used to draw attention to how wonderful we are, instead of the goodness of God. What if, this Lent, we gave up superiority?!

I want to expose self- superior prejudices that keep me from encountering others with genuine joy.

I want to say goodbye to self- superior prayer that seeks my wellbeing without also seeking the wellbeing of others.

I’m skeptical about self-superior silence that does not include deep listening to others.

I’m doubtful about self- superior solitude that doesn’t make me crave immersion back into my community.

I’m questioning self- superior charity that keeps me at arm’s length from the poor.

I’m done with self-superior meditation that doesn’t make me one with my neighbor.

I’m through with self-superior simplicity that does not lead to more complexity in my relationships.

I’m tired of self-superior worship that encourages me to consume God rather than being consumed by God.

Here’s what I think: God doesn't care about any of the artificial lines we draw to make ourselves feel superior to others. If we let go of our status symbols and judgmental attitudes, we too can hear Jesus’ call more clearly and respond more faithfully. What transformed this woman could transform our world.  God spreads Good News through those who are considered “damaged goods.” If you are on the judgdy side of the question, it is time for us to get over it and learn some new behaviors. If you are on the “damaged goods” side of the equation, please know that your pain can be used to spread the Gospel.

Sources:
http://thecrookedmouth.com/saying-goodbye-spiritual-formation/
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/intense-emotions-and-strong-feelings/201212/violence-and-shame-the-attack-other-response
http://www.sarahlaughed.net/lectionary/2005/02/third_sunday_in.html
http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=3194
http://emotionalnudity.com/enl-founder-jai-stone/#sthash.J5mUN1P7.dpuf I
http://www.essence.com/2013/06/27/emotional-nudity-church-isnt-me-god/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-lose/misogyny-moralism-and-the_b_836753.html
http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2001/0206.epstein.html

Sermon for September 16, 2018

A Journey and a Return After this, the Lord chose 72 more followers. He sent them out in groups of two. He sent them ahead of him int...