Saturday, November 19, 2016
This Sunday, November 20th, we enter a special six-week period for both cultural and religious holidays. It all starts this coming Thursday with Thanksgiving Day, and then ends with New Year’s Day.
This six-week period is a fun time within secular culture. It is a time for shopping and preparation; a time for decorating our homes; a time for holiday concerts and programs; a time for holiday parties at the office, and among neighbors, and with family and friends. For some of us, this is a special time for sporting events; for others it will be a time for travel to see friends or enjoy a vacation.
In addition to all of the festivities and merriment, this is also a special time to encounter the Divine from a Christian perspective. Thanksgiving is an opportunity for gratitude to God for all of the blessings which God gives us. Christmas offers the celebration of Jesus’ birth and God’s love for all of us. New Year’s Day offers the opportunity to make a new beginning and be mindful of all the opportunities which God offers us as we move into the future.
The next six weeks are, indeed, a special time during the year. But, this coming Sunday, November 20th, we will be asking a very foundational question of ourselves: “How do we intend to celebrate during this special time? Will we focus on our opportunities to encounter the Divine? Or, will we be so dazed by many distractions so that we miss the opportunity to encounter the Divine?”
Our anchoring scripture illustrates two very different approaches to these next weeks. It tells the story of two women and how they responded to an opportunity to meet and welcome Jesus:
“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10: 38-42)
Martha and Mary present two polar opposite approaches to encountering the Divine in Jesus. On the one hand, Martha focuses on being the perfect hostess. She works to insure that her house was clean and refreshments were prepared. She wants everything to be just right for her guests, especially Jesus. So, she became distracted by all of the details of hosting people. And, she lost sight of the most important thing: to meet and engage with the Divine.
By contrast, her sister Mary sat down at Jesus’ feet and listened intently as he began to teach his disciples and others visiting in Mary and Martha’s house. Mary kept the most important thing, the most important thing. She met and engaged with the Divine through Jesus Christ and his teachings.
As we stand on the cusp of this six-week special time of the year, we must decide how we will approach this time and the opportunities for encountering the Divine. All of us will embrace and claim Mary’s approach to meet and engage the Divine in Jesus the Christ. However, the truth is that each of us has a healthy streak of Martha within ourselves, as well. We can be easily distracted during this period and lose contact with the Divine. We can become easily distracted and lose our balance.
To guard against this tendency to become distracted, we must learn to keep our balance by being centered. In my proclamation, I will suggest that there are several practices which we can follow to stay centered during the next six weeks. These practices include:
1. Being intentionally grateful for all that God has already given us.
2. Being generous, by investing time and money on those who are most needy: the hungry, the homeless, the lonely, the imprisoned, the sick.
3. Spending some time in corporate worship, celebrating the birth of Christ and the new
possibilities inherent in new beginnings.
4. Spending some time appreciating Creation, and actively seeking God within Creation.
This perspective is beautifully summarized in the anthem, which our Chancel Choir will sing during the 11 am service on December 20th:
“Lord, before this fleeting season is upon us,
let me remember to walk slowly.
Lord, bless my heart with Love and with quiet.
Give my heart a leaning to hear carols.
Grace our family with contentment,
and the peace that comes only from You.
Lord, help us to do less this busy season;
Go less; stay closer to home; kneel more.
May our hearts be Your heart.
May we simply, peacefully, celebrate You.”
If you live in the Lincoln, Nebraska area, come, join us this Sunday, November 20th, at Christ United Methodist Church, as we worship and center ourselves for the start of the holiday season. Our church is located at 4530 A Street in Lincoln, and our traditional worship services are at 8:30 and 11:00 on Sunday mornings.
Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.
Saturday, November 12, 2016
We are just emerging from the most controversial, bitter, divisive political campaign in the history of our country. We are no longer the United States of America. We are deeply, deeply divided. Although neighbors may live side-by-side in a common neighborhood, they may have completely different perspectives and value systems. Indeed, we are so polarized that we are really two separate nations overlapping a single geographic territory.
This polarization has shredded the fabric of our society, leaving us with deep, gaping holes. We are all bruised and battered as individuals and as a society. As a nation, we are in deep need of healing. In my proclamation this Sunday (November 13th), I will suggest that Christians are uniquely qualified to bring this desperately needed healing to our country.
The basis for my reflection will be Christ’s teachings in Luke 6: 32-37, 41-42. There teachings come from his “Sermon on the Plain.” While these teachings form the basis for a personal ethic, I will suggest that in our current context they make an important contribution to a social ethic. Jesus begins these teachings by expanding the scope of one’s personal ethic (verses 32-34):
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.”
“If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.”
“If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.”
In these verses, Jesus points to the deficiency of an ethical scope which only focuses on our concern for those who are already our allies. As such this is a “negative ethic.” However, in the next verse, he summarizes these claims by flipping them and making a “positive ethic” in the process: “But, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return.”
Christ continues his teaching by announcing the consequences of following his ethic: If we follow Jesus’ ethic, “Your reward will be great, and you will be Children of the Most High [that is, ‘Children of God’], for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” Then, Jesus continues with an admonishment, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
In these reflections, Christ calls for an ethic which promotes an all-encompassing love, a commitment to promote the good of others, and a generous and merciful heart. Jesus continues his ethics teaching with four stipulations, two negative and two positive, with their consequences (verses 37-38):
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged.”
“Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.”
“Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
“Give, and it will be given to you.”
Finally, Jesus provides a parable, which exemplifies and summarizes the heart of his ethical proposal: “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or, how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” (verses 41-42)
At its heart, Christ’s proposed ethic is one of love that requires a generosity of spirit to those who oppose us. That is, his ethic requires an attitude of generosity which seeks the good in the other, rather than celebrating and belaboring their faults and failures. This attitude does not focus on judging and condemning those with whom we disagree. Instead, Christ’s proposed attitude is one of mercy, forgiveness, and generosity of spirit.
As I noted above, Christ’s proposed ethic is a personal ethic. That is, it focuses on how we conduct our personal affairs and interactions. However, I believe that it might also provide the social ethic which we so desperately need for our society. Christ calls upon us to treat our political opponents—that is, those with whom we politically disagree—with kindness, generosity, mercy, forgiveness, all while trying to find the good in them.
In our present, post-election context, Christ’s personal ethic also needs to become our political ethic. Such a political ethic would be characterized by the following five components:
1. Forgiveness. The first step towards healing is for everyone to forgive each other for all of the hurtful things that have been said during this election.
2. Empathy. The second step towards healing would be trying to empathize with, and understand, those with whom we disagree. To a certain extent, this means trying to put ourselves in the shoes of our opponents; trying to see the situation from their perspective; trying to understand their fears, thoughts, and beliefs. For Trump voters, this means trying to understand why the proponents of “Black Lives Matter” feel as though they cannot trust the police and thus feel disenfranchised. For Clinton voters, this means trying to understand why so many working class whites feel as though they have been left behind economically and culturally, thus leading to feelings of disenfranchisement.
3. Humility. The old cliché, “Pride goeth before a fall,” remains true to this day. We need to face the future with a healthy humility that we do not have all of the answers and that our motivations are sometimes flawed. There are important insights which we can learn from our opponents, and they probably hold important pieces to the puzzle.
4. Compromise. For 240 years, our society has engaged is this “Great Experiment” with Democracy. Democracy is only possible through the art of compromise—being willing to accept partial victories. We need to relinquish a “zero-sum” mentality in which the only acceptable resolution is when we get 100% of what we want and the other side gets 0%.
5. Inclusivity. Now, in 2016 and beyond, the U.S. is a very diverse society. If we are to survive as a country and if we are to thrive as a society, then we must re-learn inclusivity. Another old cliché says, “United we stand, divided we fall.” If we want to be secure militarily, economically, and politically, then we cannot be divided. We must be inclusive of everyone. Rather, than denigrating difference and diversity, we need to celebrate difference and diversity as our greatest national resource. In order to promote social inclusivity, we must condemn and completely reject racism, misogyny, huge economic disparity, and all forms of discrimination.
At this point, we might well ask, “How can Christians bring healing to our country?” “How can we move Christ’s teachings from being a personal ethic to a social ethic?”
In another teaching, Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened” (Matthew 13:33) Christians can bring healing to our country by becoming the yeast which leavens the dough of our society. When we follow our personal ethic in our interactions with others, then we provide the yeast which will leaven the dough and bring healing.
That is, when we love others; when we are kind and generous and merciful and forgiving, then through our interactions we bring healing. When we do not judge or condemn, but seek rather to understand and appreciate the fears and anxieties and perspectives of others, then we begin the healing process. And, when others experience our love and generosity, then their hearts will be transformed and the healing will continue. This healing will lead to more healing and more healing, rippling out to impact others, until eventually our society is healed.
If you live in the Lincoln, Nebraska area, come, join us this Sunday, November 13th, at Christ United Methodist Church, as we explore the possibilities for being instruments of healing for our nation. Our church is located at 4530 A Street in Lincoln, and our traditional worship services are at 8:30 and 11:00 on Sunday mornings.
Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.