To What are We Listening?

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February 11, 2018

Mark 9:2-9

Who remembers playing telephone when you were younger?

Perhaps, you weren’t that young when you played it the last time. I have participated in playing telephone during leadership retreats. I have had the confirmation students play it before. It is a great exercise to determine who is really listening to the message that is being shared. It is a great game that creates laughs because the message that gets to the end of the line is almost never the same message that started the process. There are many factors that affect the transmission of the message. We are affected by the noise around us and the many distractions that vie for our time. The message can also be very different depending upon the source.

In the commotion of our lives and the constant clatter of noise that occurs in our society, we are reminded that God has sent Jesus and it is in Jesus that we are called to listen.

Jesus comes bearing a message of good news in a time of uncertainty. There is upheaval in Israel and concern for the occupation by the Romans. Jesus Christ is the good news. Born incarnate in a world that needs a sign of hope. A sign of hope that darkness will not vanquish the light. A sign of hope that the light will illuminate even the darkest corner.

It is on the mountain that Peter, James, and John are caught by surprise. They are in awe of the sights and sounds. Jesus is transfigured, or changed, right before them. They then encounter Moses and Elijah. Peter is so caught up in the whole event that he wants to stay on that mountain top. It is a glimpse of things to come, yet there is still much to be accomplished in Jesus’ ministry in his earthly life.

Peter is fooled into the temptation that everything has been accomplished. There is nothing more to do. His concern for the disciples that did not come up the mountain does not even exist. He is so eager to set up shop and stay here for eternity. He is listening to his own inner desire to live in the present moment and is not even contemplating the things to come.

Can you think of those moments in your life that you thought you had reached the top of the mountain and did not want to look down? Like Peter, it would have been nice to just build a dwelling and stay there for all of eternity. We have so many voices coming at us today that it is hard to decipher to what or to whom we should be listening. We are surrounded by the media (print, television, social) as well as very vocal individuals that want to make sure their voices are heard. Some of these voices are valid and others we have to sift through.

Advice maybe coming from those around us, however, we often want to do things our way. We fail to listen to those in our lives that may actually have some words of wisdom to share. There are two experiences I can point to in life when you do truly feel like you are on top of the mountain. Life could not get any better at that moment.

One instance is on your wedding day. It is something that you have been preparing for and the excitement builds up until the very day of the ceremony. Standing in front of the officiant and hearing the words that you are now married empowers you with the notion that you can conquer the world. That is, until you take off the rose-colored glasses. As those of us that are married can attest, marriage is not easy. It requires work. We do not stay up on that mountain top. Sure you may, for a short period of time. During the honeymoon period. Then life comes at you full blast and you must learn to listen to one another and build upon the foundation of your relationship.

The birth of a child can also be one of those times that you think you have reached the mountain top. I was present for the birth, by cesarean section, of both of our children. I recall having the same emotions each time. After a little scare during labor, seeing Emali being born healthy and full of life put me on top of the world. I made sure to hand out cigars, both real and bubblegum. The same emotions ran through me 18 months later when Kiefer was born. Let me tell you, babies remind you how real life is much sooner than coming off from the honeymoon! Then they become teenagers before you know it!

If we could have just went back up to that mountain top and stayed there.

Peter wants to stay on the mountain top as well. While a little unnerving to see Moses and Elijah at first, it is also pretty awesome. A glimpse of the kingdom of heaven that will come down to us.

Jesus does not let him stay. This glimpse that he has seen has forever changed him as well. While Jesus was being transfigured, I am sure that Peter started to experience a transformation in his own heart and mind once he fully got to understand the occasion.

We hear the voice from the cloud say, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” A beautiful book end to our time after Epiphany. We first heard the voice from the cloud when Jesus was baptized, and once again it guides and instructs us to listen to Jesus.

It is in the listening that the disciples will continue walking with Jesus. In the listening they will begin to sense where their ministries will lead after Jesus has been crucified and resurrected three days later. The voice of the Trinity will not leave them. It is forever present and they must still their minds and hearts to listen to where they are being called in their ministry and begin fulfilling the great commission.

Jesus does not let us stay on that mountain either. The voice coming from the clouds to listen to Jesus is the same for us. It is a promise that God will be with us. What a reassuring fact as we prepare to enter the season of Lent. A season of repentance and turning back towards God.

We are called to come down from the mountain top and be the hands and feet of God in our world today. We come down to the valleys to walk with our brothers and sisters that need help.  We come down to be a voice for those whose voices are not being heard. When we come down, we must listen. When we listen, we must do it with our whole heart, mind, and soul. We must listen to our sisters and brothers that have been affected by racism. We must listen to our sisters and brothers that are dreamers and grew up with us. There are so many people that we can listen to. It is in these conversations that we can hear Jesus speaking. God is present among us, especially where we fail to look.

Igor Stravinsky said, “To listen is an effort, and just to hear is no merit. A duck hears also.”

Ernest Hemingway said, “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”

Part of being in relationship with others is listening. Actually, we should be listening much more than we choose to open our mouths. We find God in our relationships when we are open to the Spirit moving in and among us as we listen. The love that God shows for us through Jesus is a love that can grow exponentially through our relationship with others.

God not only loves us enough to send Jesus to bear the cross with unending love, but God loves us so much to listen as well. To listen to our struggles and challenges. To listen to our celebrations of joy. To listen to all that we raise up in our prayers and even in our anger. It is in that love that grace abounds.

Let us pray. Transforming God, you call us to listen. May we hear in your words, a prophetic message of love that transforms all of your children. May your call to listen provide the opportunity to open hearts and minds. May we listen more and be slow to judgement. May you continue to be the light that shines within us. Amen.

 

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Gather us In

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August 20, 2017

Matthew 15:10-28

This past week has not been easy. It has been full of anxiety. Anxiety about the current dialog in our country and an uneasiness of what will happen in the months, if not days to come. Today’s gospel lesson makes us pause.

First, the disciples come to Jesus to discuss how he offended the Pharisees with his talk of what defiles a person. We could look at this discussion and say that it revolves around the food laws of ancient Israel and what you can and cannot eat. What is clean and unclean. We can also look towards what it means for us today. The fact that what we surround ourselves with often affects our own behaviors and actions. It shapes our thoughts and the words that come out of our mouths. It is then those words that can defile.

Much of the speech that we heard last weekend and this past week defiled. There was hatred, bigotry, and an exclusivism that radiated from it. The actions of one individual driving into a crowd of people and killing one woman and injuring others stemmed from the hate. Unfortunately, we saw a similar act play out in Barcelona on Thursday where fourteen were killed and many more injured. The beginning of this weekend there were stories of police officers being targeted and one officer losing his life. All of this is unacceptable.

Returning to our gospel, Jesus encounters the Canaanite woman. This is where I was taken aback. Jesus’ reaction at first seems to be one that we have seen in those spreading hate. He ignored her. He then said he was not there for her, only the lost sheep of Israel. Who is this Jesus? He does not sound like the one in whom we find love and grace. Depending upon the commentary you read, there are many different theologians trying to explain Jesus’ response.

I believe that in this moment, we witness the Jesus of humanity. The Jesus that walked in this world was just as human as he was divine, and in this moment, we see a bit of this humanity. Perhaps he was distracted. Perhaps he had his mind set upon his next destination. In this, we can relate because whether we want to admit it or not, we have all been in this same place. It takes the words of the Canaanite woman to stir him and he sees the faith that she has in him. “Lord, have mercy on me.” It is a cry for help. It is a cry we can relate to in our own brokenness. It is her persistence and courage to step up that we all need to have at this time.

I will be honest with you, there are some days that I really must conjure up the courage to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Why? Because it seems that the gospel speaks so counter to what we practice within our own country and culture. Yet, today the Canaanite woman leads the way. In my ordination vows, I was asked, “Will you give faithful witness in the world, that God’s love may be known in all you do?” To this, I answered and continue to answer, “I will, and I ask God to help me.” I cannot be a faithful witness if I do not talk about where our faith is leading us today.

I believe we have reached a time where we must move beyond the politics. What happened in Charlottesville last weekend and what we will continue to see and hear in our country points to a belief that is weaved into the fabric of our nation. Unfortunately, some of those strands have been weaved by evil.

It started with the genocide of the Native American people when Europeans first set foot on this land. It was weaved into the fabric through the slave trade and the exploitation of black people and others in the minority. The Civil War may have brought an end to slavery, but those strands had already been weaved in. Those strands were quite visible during the Jim Crow Law era and in the segregation of our public-school system. Those strands separated humanity in the red-lining of our major cities where leaders used their authority to say who could live where. We have even seen it continue to this day in the prison system and the unfair treatment of black people.

The first time I witnessed a similar display of hate was in my own hometown of Charlotte nearly thirty years ago. An inter-racial couple lived a few blocks down the street from my parents and had a cross burned on their yard. I also recall in high school the opposition to having the KKK come rally in front of the historic courthouse. All part of the fabric.

This fabric affects all our lives. Living in a rural white community keeps us insulated from the happenings of our larger diverse cities. Yet, we are only forty-five minutes away from downtown Detroit where the worst effects of these evil strands have been wove.

To borrow the words from Brother Chris Markert, Minister General of the Order of Lutheran Franciscans, “this isn’t a right vs left, liberal vs conservative, Republican vs. Democrat situation. It’s confronting evil that has decided it’s safe to come out in very public and blatant ways.”

I also believe that for us to address the racism and evils that occur in our country, it must be made visible for us. We can then enter into conversation. It has always been present, but now it is fully out in the open, and hopefully we will not sweep it back under the rug. There was a sign of hope yesterday as more people stepped up to call out the hatred in a mostly peaceful counter-protest in Boston.

The Canaanite woman was used to being pushed to the side. She would not have been given the time of day in the past by an Israelite. They would have looked down upon her as if she were a dog. Someone not deserving of their attention. This was not acceptable in Jesus’ time and it is not acceptable today. It may have even took Jesus a minute to see this. Yet, once he did, he showed compassion for the Canaanite woman and carried it to the cross for all of humanity.

While we are in the majority as white Americans, it is our responsibility as followers of Jesus to proclaim his message of love and inclusion of all. We are called to speak to the hatred and evil. We are called to step up boldly and name the evil as we see it. We are to be bold like the Canaanite woman and persist in spreading the love of the gospel.

We must also listen. We must listen to our brothers and sisters that have experienced the hatred and evil. We must not be quick to interrupt as we give them space to share their stories. We must enter relationships as God calls all of humanity together in the hopes of the Kingdom to come. In this all embracing love of God, grace is showered upon each of us.  In this we shall rejoice and be gathered in.

Are You Listening?

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Luke 10:38-42

Grace and peace to you from the Triune God.

As we packed up our campsite last weekend we discussed what we were going to do for lunch since it was about noon and we were starting to get quite hungry. We decided that we would stop at McDonald’s in Gaylord on our way home. This sounded like a great idea and when we pulled into the parking lot I noticed a tour bus on the other side of the lot. Come to find out, it was a group of Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts on their way to Mackinac Island to serve as guides. The line in that McDonald’s wrapped around the dining room. Needless to say we decided that our hunger would have to wait until we came to the next McDonald’s.

The employees were doing as much as they could and as fast as they could, it was just that they were overwhelmed by this influx of customers. For any of you that have worked in the restaurant business or retail, you can relate to how frustrating and nerve-wracking this can be. I bring this up because I believe that Martha could have related to the McDonald’s employees that we encountered that day. If you recall a couple of weeks ago, Jesus was traveling with the 70 he had called to go out and serve after they returned to him. At this point in the gospel, it makes sense that they are still with him and when over 70 people show up at your home after traveling, they are most likely quite hungry. Martha does what comes natural to her and that is to provide hospitality to those that have showed up on her doorstep. It is no wonder that she gets upset that Mary is not in the kitchen helping her prepare food for all of their guests to eat. Instead, can you believe it, Mary is at the feet of Jesus learning from him. Yet, could this be seen as a form of hospitality as well?

Martha is so distracted with the water she is boiling, vegetables she is preparing, bread that needs to be baked, that she has overlooked the possibilities of the moment in front of her. As she brings her concerns to Jesus, she seems to be more concerned about getting her job done then hearing what Jesus has to say in his teachings.

How often do we find ourselves in the same situation? A situation where we put blinders on and forget about everything else around us. Now, I am not saying that to be focused and intentional in our actions is a bad thing. What can lead us down the wrong road is not paying attention to our surroundings and breathing in the life of those people around us. Not knowing what it is that motivates them and what touches their hearts. Not only being with them in times that we celebrate, but also being with them in their darkest of days. Allowing ourselves to be present in a way that allows us to connect with community and build relationship.

There are times that we are called into action. Called by circumstances that happen around us. Called to be God’s hands and feet in this world that at times seems to be falling apart The good Samaritan was called into action in last weeks gospel in helping the half-dead man along the roadside. The continued violence that we have been experiencing in our own country, leaves us wondering where God is in all of this and how we are called to act upon it.  We hear of violence happening in other countries, where just this past Thursday a truck driver drove through a group of people gathered to celebrate Bastille Day in Nice, France killing 84 and injuring hundreds more. We witness groups, like Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter, being vocal and wanting their voices to be heard. We have rhetoric going back and forth between political parties as we are  getting closer and closer to election season. There are so many voices at times we wonder who it is that we should truly listen to.

As we hear of all of this violence, I have to admit, part of me wonders if it truly is any worse than say 50 or 100 years ago, or if the way we communicate today through social media, hearing news instantaneously, just makes it appear worse. One thing is for sure though, and that is that we are not loving our sisters and brothers as we should. While there are times to be called into action and stand beside our brothers and sisters in protest, there are also times that we may just have to shut-up and listen.

This is the route that Mary takes as Martha and her welcome Jesus into their home. She sits at the feet of Jesus listening and breathing in all that he has to say. She is not distracted by those things that can wait. She knows where God is calling her to be at the time and that is sitting and listening.

It is in Jesus’ reassurance to Martha, and his loving guidance, that there is only need of one thing. That one thing is to be in relationship with Jesus and for Mary at this time it is sitting and listening and for Martha it may very well be preparing food and serving others. How can we follow Mary’s example in the midst of everything that is happening around us? We need to be able to listen and not be quick to judge. This goes for those on either side of a debate. Once we listen, and pray for God’s guidance, then and only then should we act and raise our voices to be heard.

As you attempt to decipher the news from the past couple of weeks may you sit in silence and listen. Listen to your sisters and brothers that have been affected and pray for them and pray for God to guide you in the right direction. For as Jesus says this morning, we are only in need of one thing. Christ has given up his life for us and shown us what it means to live into a new creation. May we take his example and let it guide our lives as we listen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now You’re Speaking My Language by Gary Chapman: A Review

  
I was intrigued when I found this book on Netgalley for review. My wife and I read Chapman’s Five Love Languages several years ago and learned a lot from it as we were able to see which love language each of us appreciated and responded to the most.

In Now You’re Speaking My Language, Chapman brings a much stronger Christian feel to the book with scriptural references to support his ideas. I will admit though that I have some issues of recommending this book to others.

He speaks of marriage in two terms, as contract and covenant. Of course, his thesis is that a good Christian marriage should reflect a covenant marriage in which the couple is open to all and communication is always open. This is compared to a contract marriage which there is just simply agreements and bargaining made. He makes it seem that for a marriage to be successful you have to be Christian and follow all of these steps. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of a covenant marriage, however, I also believe there is room for a relationship to work in other terms as well.

The second issue that I have with this book is the image that he portrays that all marriages should be made to last regardless of what occurs within the marriage, including abuse. His argument is that you should be able to confront the issue and seek forgiveness. This is great in theory. In reality though, some relationships are just not healthy regardless of all you try to do.