Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Stewardship - Oct 28 07

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

# How many evangelists does it take to change a light bulb?
Only one, but the bulb must repent of its darkness and be willing to be changed.

# How many liberals does it take to change a light bulb?
Ten, but they will need to debate whether or not the bulb actually exists. Even then, they still may not change it, for fear of alienating those who use florescent bulbs.

# How Many Presbyterians does it take to change a light bulb?
None. God has predestined when the lights will be on and off.

# How Many Roman Catholics does it take to change a light bulb?
None. They use candles.

# How many Pentecostals does it take to change a light bulb?
Ten, one to change the bulb, and nine to pray against the darkness.

# How many Charismatics does it take to change a light bulb?
Three, one to cast it out, and two more to catch it as it falls.

# How Many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb?
At least 15. One to change the light bulb, and two or three committees to approve the change. Oh, and also one to provide a casserole.

# How many Independent Baptists does it take to change a light bulb?
Only one, because any more than that would be Ecumenicalism.

# How many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb?
Three. One to call the electrician, one to mix the drinks and one to talk about how much better the old one was.

# How Many Mormons does it take to change a light bulb?
Five. One man to change the bulb, and four wives to tell him how to do it.

# How Many Unitarians does it take to change a light bulb?
We choose not to make a statement either in favor of or against the need for a light bulb. However, if in your own journey you have found that light bulbs work for you, that is fine. You are invited to write a poem or compose a modern dance about your personal relationship with your light bulb, and present it next month at our annual Light Bulb Sunday Service, in which we will explore a number of light bulb traditions, including incandescent, fluorescent, three-way, long-life and tinted, all of which are equally valid paths to luminescence.

# How May Amish does it take to change a light bulb?
What's a light bulb??

Did you know that you’re a light bulb … sort of … Jesus said,

“You are the light of the world.”

“Let your light shine, so that folks may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Speaking of good works, how many Presbyterian incomes does it take to support a pastor?


How many Presbyterian incomes to support a building?


How many Presbyterian incomes to support a ministry?


Simple math - based upon God’s math lessons … the tithe, the giving of ten percent …

10 to support one … 20 to support one building … 10 to support a ministry.

Simple math …

Pencil to paper … how much income anticipated? What’s ten percent of that? We begin where God begins.

Simple giving … giving according to God’s principles … a massive celebration of life and love … a celebration of all things good and decent …

A celebration of our mission to the world … every piece of research reveals the church to be efficient, responsible, and consistent.
A celebration of love … for God so loved the world … and with God’s love in us, we love the world, too … one neighbor at a time … down the street, across the town and all around the world.
A celebration of trust … what we give is pleasing in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD will provide all the more for us.
A celebration of our freedom from fear of not having enough, the greed spawned by fear, and the anxiety of fear. Giving sets us free.
A celebration of Christ … we give for Him, we give to Him, and through Him, our gifts – the fish and loaves – are multiplied a thousand fold, a million fold, and His name is exalted.

Now, let’s talk about circumstances …

Sometimes we’re in a pickle … unexpected situations; financial set-backs … too much debt … God understands … God knows our life, through and through … God knows the hard times we face … God knows what can happen … God understands.

Sometimes we’re blessed abundantly, with more than we expected … our cup runneth over; the coffers are full.

Whatever our circumstance, work with it on paper.

It’s important to set a target percentage … will it be three percent, four, five, two, one?

Pencil to paper keeps us alert and thoughtful – pencil to paper makes giving a part of the program, a part of who we are, what we do.

If it’s 3%, 2%, 1% - do it …
If we can half-tithe - do it …
If we can tithe - do it …
If we can add offerings to our tithes, do it.

Bill Evans remembers a pastor saying: “Give until it feels good.”

When we give according to God’s plan, it feels good …
When we give for the sake of Christ and His glory, it feels good …
When we give to set ourselves free from the entrapments of wealth, it feels good …
When we give to relieve suffering, it feels good …
When we join arms with our sisters and brothers at Malibu and in Louisville and in Hungary and in the Sudan and Belize, it feels good …
When we give to keep a church on the corner of 80th and Sepulveda fully functioning, it feels good.

The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 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.

“Give and it shall be given unto you is the still the rule about life.”

By the way, how many Presbyterians does it take to change the world?

One! … You! … Amen!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Brave Heart - Oct 21, 2007

Luke 18:1-8

She’s a brave woman!

She single-handedly confronted the judge and demanded justice for the wrong done to her.

What we know about 1st Century Palestine, it was likely a monetary complaint … someone failed to fulfill an obligation, perhaps trying to take advantage of the widow, and who would care; she’s not likely to press her case – women don’t do that!

But to everyone’s surprise, she pushes ahead and pleads her cause … repeatedly, until the judge gives in and agrees to grant her justice.

She stays the course … and prevails.

Jesus tells this parable about our need to pray always, and never lose heart … not because God is some intractable judge to be worn down by our entreaties, but rather, just the opposite … if the judge could be moved, says Jesus, think how much more easily God is moved by the cries of His children.

Our prayers count … every prayer is heard and well-received … our prayers are a part of God’s mighty work … our prayers add to the well-being of the world … prayers offered in good faith, prayers for justice.

God will grant justice, says Jesus, and will do it quickly.

Jesus ends the parable with a question: When the Son of Man comes, will He find this kind of faith on earth?

The kind of faith portrayed in the woman who doesn’t give up … who seeks justice and doesn’t lose heart.

Faith that goes to bat for a better world.

Jesus said it of Himself to His hometown congregation:

The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor (Luke 4:18ff)

To pray without ceasing … to never lose heart!

Several guys were trying to load a moving van, and they were arguing about which box ought to go in first, and while they were arguing, one of them said, “While you’re arguing, I’m going to pray.” And with that, he picked up one of the boxes and moved it into the van.

Practice what our words portray … faith is as faith does.

“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

“That’s just a dream,” you say!

Yes, it’s dream … thank God for dreams … women and men who stand above the crowd and dare to dream …

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963

Speaking of dreams … Donna told me, "I dreamed last night that you gave me a pearl necklace for our anniversary. What do you think it means?"

"You'll know tonight," I said.

That evening, I came home with a small package and gave it to Donna.

Eagerly, she opened it to find a book entitled "The Meaning of Dreams."

We have our own special dreams …

“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

That’s a gutsy dream … a dream worthy of our highest ambitions and our greatest endeavors … a dream worthy of a lifetime and then some … “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” …

The prophet Micah asks (Chapter 6):

“With what shall I come before the LORD,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

The prophet answers the question with these stirring words:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

“Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you.”

“Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.”

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?”

“Be merciful just as your Father is merciful.”

“Forgive and you will be forgiven.”

“Give and it will be given to you.”

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.

Dreams all over the place …

My brother recently had some medical tests, and we were anxious … counting the days until the reports were available … and then the phone call …

My brother and his wife were out at the time, so messages were left on their answering machine … two different calls from two different offices.

Bob & Carol got home, the little red light flashing … “you’ve got a message” … and there it was … “The reports are back, Mr. Eggebeen. It’s only a cyst; no malignancy. You’ve a clean bill of health.”

My brother said to me, “Tom, it takes a few days to recover from the anxiety … I left the messages on the answering machine; I play them every day, just to make sure they’re saying what they’re saying. I’ll leave them on the answering machine for a few more days.”

Dear Christian friends, what’s on your answering machine today? … what messages do you play and replay over and again? Messages of hope? Better days? Confidence and faith? God’s love for you and for all the world?

Keep those messages on your answering machine and play them every day:

Play it again, Sam – just to make sure it says what it says.

Someone asked me the other day, “How can we attract new members?”

The answer is simple: “Be an attractive church.”

Filled with faith, hope and love; grace, mercy and peace … filled with Christ and the Holy Spirit … filled with faithful words and kindly deeds.

A church with open doors, open windows, open minds … a church willing to let go of past certainties to embrace the creative uncertainties of the future.

Scripture, Christ, mission … a church on the road … a church in transition, never settled, always seeking … Jesus didn’t say, “Sit down with me!” He said, “Come and follow me!”

Praying constantly and never losing heart … praying for justice … praying the dream of a new world …

Filled with brave hearts … hearts in love with Christ, hearts straining forward to a new day …

A new day soon to be,
When the storm clouds are all past,
And the sun shines on a world that is free.

It’s hard to put this into words … so I think of people who live the dream … brave hearts who never give up.

I think of Mother Teresa - in spite of doubt and many a dark night, she labored humbly and patiently to relieve suffering in her beloved Calcutta.

I think of Gandhi who dreamed of freedom for his beloved India and held the British accountable to their own high ideals and taught his followers peaceful resistance.

I think of Martin Luther King, Jr, sitting in a Selma, Alabama jail cell, formulating plans and programs to help this nation realize it’s greatest dreams – We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

I think of film makers like Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney … who hold a mirror up to our soul … reveal our sins and remind us of our goodness.

I think of the Dalai Lama, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and just recently awarded our highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal, which brings me to the prayer shawl I’m wearing - last evening, our Westminster Hall was filled with hundreds of Tibetans celebrating their dreams for a free Tibet – I stopped by, had a splendid time, and they surprised me with this prayer shawl and a book by the Dalai Lama.

I think of a friend now with Jesus … a Presbyterian pastor, who happened to be gay … ordained in the days of “don’t ask; don’t tell,” he fulfilled his calling, he lived faithfully with his partner for 17 years … with gentleness and humility, he helped folks understand that being gay is not some horrible crime against God … he helped folks open their Bibles and re-read the text to discover a different way of thinking about such things … he was a clear and convincing witness for Jesus.

I think of Billy Graham who quietly and forcefully integrated his Crusades … early on, in the deep south, going down the center aisle of the auditorium before the doors were opened – Graham took down the rope that divided white from black.
“The ground at the foot of the cross is level,” said Graham, “and it touches my heart when I see whites standing shoulder to shoulder with blacks at the cross.”

That’s the kind of faith this brave-hearted women lived until her cause was vindicated and justice done.

Will the Son of Man find this kind of faith on earth when He returns?

Of course He will … He will find this kind of faith all around the world, and right here, at Covenant Presbyterian Church.

Brave-hearted women and men who dare to dream the dreams of God. Amen!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Thank You - October 14 2007

Luke 17:11-19

I love the way our story begins … on the border … an in-between place, a no-man’s land, neither here nor there …
On the border … between Judea and Samaria, neighbors and kinfolk, sharing the blood of Abraham and the Law of Moses, but no love lost – each believing the other to be defective.

Judea to the south, centered in Jerusalem … the City of David, the Second Temple built by Herod the Great … God’s dwelling place on earth … tens of thousands of lambs and goats, bulls and birds sacrificed … a place of atonement and hope … beauty, power and pomp.

To the north and west, Samaria, descendants of the 10 Northern Tribes – under the iron heel of Assyrian conquest in the 8th Century before Jesus, intermarriage, racial mixing, dislocation …

Judea looked at Samaria with contempt.
Samaria looked at Judea with disgust.
No love lost between these neighbors and kinfolk.

But on the border, things are different … in the in-between place … ten lepers, nine Judeans and one Samaritan … brothers in sorrow and suffering … leprosy … unclean and dismissed from family and town; objects of fear and loathing, under the wrath of God, so it was thought – to fend for themselves, beggars along the road.

We are the desperate
Who do not care.
The hungry
Who have nowhere
To eat.
No place to sleep,
The tearless
Who cannot
Weep. (Langston Hughes)

As of late, I’ve been reading two books, and only recently did I see their connection … Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath – portraits of the poor … trying desperately to make something of this life … but hamstrung by events and systems beyond their control.

Scrooge bah-humbugs his way through Christmas, believing the poor to be poor by their own hand, and if they want shelter, they can go to prison or a workhouse. A cold, mean-spirited man avoided even by the neighborhood dogs.

The Okies hit the road in rattletrap trucks and oil-burning cars, stacked high and deep with whatever belongings they can take – off to California, the land of dreams and opportunity … their farmland decimated by draught and dust, their farms swallowed up by banks and big corporations – homeless migrants on the road west … trying to make something out of this life.

On the border between Samaria and Judea … ten lepers … vagabonds, the abandoned ones, trying to make something out of life.

Jesus goes to border regions often … He moves with ease between places and peoples … Judea and Galilee, Samaria and the Decapolis … He shuns no one, welcomes everyone … pedigree and purity mean nothing to Him … ancestry and social position are irrelevant to Him … religious claims carry no currency with Him … He sees the heart and knows the soul … His love has no boundaries … there’s a wideness in His mercy.

The lepers call out to Him … forbidden by law to approach, they call out from a distance … with a loud voice, says the text – “Can you see us? Can you do something?”
“We know who you are … we’ve heard the stories … will you help us?”

With a marvelous simplicity, Jesus says, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”
The priests determine who’s clean and who isn’t … who’s in and who’s out, who’s naughty or nice.

Jesus nods his head to convention … “Yes, show yourselves to the priests” … let the priests examine you, so they can declare you clean.

We might imagine the lepers saying to one another: “What’s up with this? Look at us, we’re lepers … we’re a mess … what’s to show the priests today any different than yesterday.”

But they go as Jesus says … simple obedience.

On their way, they’re made clean!
One of them, seeing that he’s healed, turns back and falls at the feet of Jesus, praising God with a loud voice.

Were the others not grateful?

They were all grateful for their healing … but only one returns to say it.

The other nine hurried home to greet their friends and attend to their business, intending, I’m sure, to return to Jesus and thank Him.
But things turned out otherwise; they were kept at home longer than they meant … and in the meanwhile, Jesus was put to death.

Albert Schweitzer writes:

We ought all to make an effort to act on our first thoughts and let our unspoken gratitude find expression. Then there will be more sunshine in the world, and more power to work for what is good.

Schweitzer reminds all of us that the waters of gratitude run deep in the human heart … but rarely rising to the surface, never coming up like a spring.

Jesus said: “The water that I give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

Schweitzer continues: “… we ourselves must try to be the water which does find its way up; we must become a spring at which men can quench their thirst for gratitude.”

Maybe that’s the point of the story … say it … put it into words … let someone know that you’re grateful.

Emerson said: “Words are alive. Cut them, and they bleed.”
The poet, George Herbert, noted: “Good words are worth much and cost little.”

One of the common stories throughout my ministry – someone says, “I know that my folks loved me, but they never said it.”

The story is told always in the same way, the same words, “I know they loved me, but they never said it.”

The story is told because something is missing … the words are missing, “I love you” … powerful words … words to finish the work of love. We are creatures of mouth and ear, as much as mind and heart.

People with whom I’ve counseled over the years all say the same thing, “I wish my father could have said it to me before he died. How I would have loved to hear those words.”
I know many a story wherein an adult child worked up the courage to sit beside a dying parent, take a hand, and say, “Dad, I love you” … and something like a dam breaks, a window is thrown open, a light turned on, a spring gushes up … and Dad says, “I love you, too” …
With tears and hugs – so long avoided, so long withheld … why?
Why the reluctance?
Why the restraint?
What’s to fear?

The words, “I love you” – frosting on the cake, butter for the bread, gravy ladled hot over mashed potatoes.

I know that my children love me, but I never tire of their words: “Love ya’ Dad.”
When we part and say goodbye, when we chat on the phone and have to go, we say to one another, “Love you.”

To put it into words …

Jesus asks, “Where are the others?”

That has to be the most poignant question ever asked by Jesus: “Where are the others.”

With a delightful tongue-in-cheek, a wink of the eye, Jesus says to the Samaritan at His feet, “What? Only a foreigner returns to say thanks?”

To put it into words … “Jesus my LORD, thank you.”

God longs to hear those words, and our soul longs to say them.
There’s something healthy and redeeming in speaking the reality … to let those words rise from the deeps, rumble through our throat and finally pass our lips: “Jesus my LORD, thank you.”

Jesus tells the man to get up and go on his way – “your faith has made you well.”

That day, there were two healings … a healing of the flesh, all ten of them.
A healing of the spirit, but one … the one who returns, the one who puts it into words.

Some years ago, I received a letter from a young mother who wrote: “Dear Rev. Eggebeen, perhaps you’ve forgotten me. You were my pastor when I was in high school, when my folks were going through a terrible divorce.
When I was able to make it to church, you’d give me a hug at the door and tell me that it’s going to be all right.
I made it through those hard years.
I’m married now to a fine man, I’m the mother of two young children, and in my Bible study group, we talked about people who made a difference in our lives, and we decided to write letters to them, and that’s why I’m writing to you, because you made a difference for me, your words of encouragement meant the world to me, and I want to say, “Thank you.”

She put it into words.

Some years ago, I wrote a note to one of my former pastors, when I was in high school and college, Grand Rapids, Michigan - Dr. Jerome DeJong – now at home with the LORD.
A passionate, articulate preacher … a man of the Word … who made it clear every Sunday, there’s nothing more important in this life than returning to Jesus, to fall at His feet, and with a voice of conviction and surrender, to put it into words, “Jesus my LORD, thank you.”

He wrote back a few weeks later: “Yes, I remember you, and how grateful I am to have received your letter. One always wonders if anyone hears or anyone cares. It’s gratifying to know that I had some small part to play in God’s work in your life.”

It’s more than gratitude … it’s putting it into words … it’s turning around and going back to Jesus, saying it loud and clear, Jesus my LORD, Thank you!


Sunday, October 7, 2007

Baloney - Oct 7, 2007

Luke 17:5-10

A fly was buzzing along one morning when he saw a lawn mower someone had left out in their front yard. He flew over and sat on the handle, watching the children on their way to school.

One little boy tripped and fell, spilling his lunch on the sidewalk. He picked himself up, put his lunch back in the bag and went on. But he missed a piece of baloney.

The fly real was hungry. So he flew down and started eating the baloney. He ate so much he couldn’t fly, so he waddled across the sidewalk, across the lawn, up the wheel of the lawn mower, up the handle, and sat there resting and watching the children.

There was still some baloney on the sidewalk. The fly was stuffed, but that baloney sure looked good.

So he jumped off the handle of the lawn mower to fly over to the baloney. But alas he was too full to fly and fell straight to the ground... splat!

The moral of this story is simple... don't fly off the handle when you are full of baloney.

Baloney … who likes it? … I do … I love a good baloney sandwich – white bread, Velveeta Cheese, mayonnaise and lettuce … in Oklahoma, you can go to a barbeque place and get it smoked … umm good, but don’t ever ask what’s in it.

“Baloney,” says Jesus … when the disciples say, “Increase our faith.”

Well, he didn’t exactly say “baloney,” but that’s how I read it … when Jesus says, “Faith, the size of a mustard seed, can uproot a mulberry tree and plant it in the sea.”

It’s not about having more faith, it’s about using what faith you have!
And it doesn’t take much faith at all … even faith the size of a mustard seed … a tiny, tiny, itty bitty bit of faith – more than enough to do great things.

The immediate context for this episode is forgiveness … how many times? As often as it takes … as often as the offender repents, and then some!

There is no other way to survive life – without forgiveness, we imprison ourselves behind heavy bars … bars of resentment and bars of dependence, debilitating dependence on what others say or do, or fail to say or do.

Forgiveness is our freedom …

Jesus makes it clear … go ahead and let someone know if they’ve hurt you … it happens, and it happens a lot … things said poorly, the flick of an eyebrow, the tone of voice, a misunderstanding, a miscommunication, a forgotten promise, or just a bad day, and we’re hurt by someone else’s behavior.

We all have a large book, many chapters, wherein is recorded a lot of difficult memories … parents berating us, teachers scolding us … our own personal faults and failings, and the various and sundry versions of unkindness that flow through our lives.

At the end of teaching for several days, Jesus ends with piece on forgiveness … what else is there, to set us free from the attitudes and behaviors of others.

Go ahead, and let someone know they’ve hurt you, and if they repent, forgive them … and if the sin occurs again, and again, and they repent, forgive them – as often as it takes. The name of the game is NOT the other person’s behavior, but our freedom to live and get on our with life.

But there’s more to this then meets the eye … think about Jesus … the ultimate moment of His suffering and humiliation – dying on the cross – bloody and beaten, stipped naked for all the world to see – those discreetly placed loin cloths we see in artistic recreations are not a part of the Roman crucifixion – criminals were hung on the cross, naked.

So there our LORD hangs, death approaching … in words so utterly profound they still leave us breathless, Jesus says, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Radical forgiveness … the Lamb of God dying for the sins of the world … not waiting for an apology, no waiting here for repentance … God goes way beyond our behavior.

Remember several weeks ago when the Words of Assurance came before our confession of sin? Remember when I said, “Confession doesn’t trigger forgiveness; forgiveness triggers confession.”

God acts before we do … because God is free … free to love and get on with it, to set us free, too.

Both God and humankind free from an endless cycle of hurt and recrimination … to close the book rather than writing new chapters – set free for higher and better things.

For this, the disciples say, “Increase our faith.” We need more faith to do this!

“Baloney,” says Jesus!

It’s not about having more faith; it’s using what faith you have!” Use it, and you will do great things with it.

The last part of Jesus’ teaching goes after a bad attitude … the attitude of entitlement … “Ill scratch your back, and you’ll scratch mine” – where things are done in order to gain something else.

Life in terms of reward and recognition … a crippling sense of entitlement.

Where good deeds and worthy efforts are undercut by our desire to be patted on the back and rewarded.

Talk about dependence … and we’ve all been there:

We invite Bill and Susie over for dinner, and six months later, no reciprocal invitation … we’re bummed – “That’s the last time we invite them over.” But Jesus asks, “Why did you invite them over in the first place?

We do something nice for Sam and Sally, and they don’t even bother sending an email, and we’re irritated. Jesus asks, “Why did you do the good deed in the first place?”

We work ourselves silly in our job, and no promotion. We grow resentful and jealous. Jesus suggests, “Let the quality of your work stand as it is – work for the sake of doing good work; don’t work for the sake of reward.”

We do a great deed, and there’s no recognition … or worse, our name is misspelled in the bulletin.

Speaking of bulletins – the following announcements actually occurred:

∑ "The cost for attending the Fasting and Prayer conference includes meals."

∑ The sermon this morning: "Jesus Walks on the Water.” The sermon tonight: "Searching for Jesus."

∑ "Ladies, don't forget the rummage sale. It's a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Don't forget your husbands."

∑ The peacemaking group scheduled for today has been cancelled due to a conflict.

∑ Don't let worry kill you off - let the Church help.

∑ Miss Charlene Mason sang "I will not pass this way again", giving obvious pleasure to the congregation.

∑ For those of you who have children and don't know it, we have a nursery downstairs.

∑ During the absence of our Pastor, we enjoyed the rare privilege of hearing a good sermon when J.F. Stubbs supplied our pulpit.

∑ The Rector will preach his farewell message after which the choir will sing "Break Forth into Joy."

∑ At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be "What is Hell?" Come early and listen to our choir practice.

∑ Eight new choir robes are currently needed, due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.

∑ Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered.

∑ Potluck supper Sunday at 5:00 pm - prayer and medication to follow.

Well, who doesn’t need a little prayer and medication now and then? … and good prayer and medication is what our LORD is offering to us today. To set ourselves free – from what others have done or failed to do, to see ourselves free the crippling attitude of entitlement.

“LORD, increase our faith so we can do this!”

“Baloney,” says Jesus … “It isn’t about having more faith, but using the faith you already have.” Trust God, trust those around you, and trust yourself.

Let’s think a moment about self-trust … I use something inspired by Joel Osteen … a little mantra of sorts to pull myself back to center … “I am who God says I am. I have what God says I have. I can do what God says I can do.”

Self-trust … God created us, our gifts are good, abilities are more than sufficient … we don’t need more of anything; we already have all that’s needed.

We have to be clear how debilitating is this “increase my faith” thing … strangely shifting the blame to God … “God, I can’t do this, because YOU haven’t given me what I need.”

“I’ve asked for more faith, LORD, but you didn’t do it. It’s your fault, LORD, because I asked, and you didn’t follow through.”

The great “If only I had … (fill in the blank – more money, more brains, better parents, better looks, better children, a better boss, better employees, a better education, more faith … ) … if only I had, then I would … (fill in the blank – then I would be happy, satisfied, content, successful, joyful, be more available, go on that mission trip, teach Sunday School, share Christ and study the Bible … if only.

“LORD, increase our faith.”

“Baloney” says Jesus.

It’s not about having more faith. It’s using the faith you have.”

This week, a good conversation with Marj Miller … responding to my Genesis comments about today’s message …

Is self-trust a form of pride?

What about humility?

Self-trust is a form of gratitude – that our Heavenly Father did a good and decent job creating us …

Self-trust, a form of gratitude along the whole stream of life: our parents, though not perfect, did a reasonably good job raising us … all kinds of folks have helped us … life is good and we’re glad to be here.
Self-trust – a form of gratitude – a way of saying “Thanks.”

If one of our children constantly berated themselves, put themselves down, doubted their abilities, questioned their character, we’d finally say: “That’s not true. You’re capable, you’re gifted, you’re strong – you can do it, you can handle it, you’ll make it. Trust yourself,” we’d say.

On the flip-side of self-trust – humility - plain and simple recognition that life is a web of relationships – all the way from the butcher who helps us pick out a good cut of meat to our Father in heaven.

Thanks Mom and Dad, thanks teachers … thanks to all the world that made it possible for me to be who I am. And thanks to God: I have what it takes, and whatever it takes, I have..

Tomorrow, we’ll face all the usual challenges, and then some.

Jesus said it well, “occasions for stumbling are bound to come.”

But you’ve got what it takes … you already have the faith that can move mountains and transplant mulberry trees.

It’s not about having more faith; it’s about using the faith you already have.

I am who God says I am.
I have what God says I have.
I can do what God says I can do.

And that’s no baloney.


Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Eyes - September 30, 2007

Last week’s message, a simple thought about money: make friends with it!

Use it to make a better world for someone … make a difference with it … make as much as you can, save as much as you can, and give a lot of it away.

Today’s message is a follow up … our LORD tells another story … that of a rich man without a name, and a poor man named Lazarus, a beggar by the side of the road, the lowest of the low, the least of the least … sitting by the rich man’s gate.

As I thought about the message this week, I recalled one of my all-time favorite films: Empire of the Sun, 1987, wherein a young English boy, separated from his parents in the invasion of Shanghai, struggles to survive in a detention camp.

Prior to the invation, and his family live in the lap of luxury – the English community of Shanghai – with the look and feel of Merry Olde England – on his way to school, in a limousine – he leaves the house down a long driveway, passes through the gated high wall and into the street – there, by the gate, a beggar – the young boy stares at him, mystified, uncomprehending – he’s too young to see.

The image poses a simple question: who sees the poor man at the gate?

Our LORD's story puts the same question – who sees the poor man at the gate?

A few things that catch our attention as our LORD tells the story:

The wealthy man has no name … that’s odd!

Wealthy folks have names, prominent names.
We know them by name - Donald Trump, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey.

But in our story, the rich man has no name … in Medieval tradition, he became know as Dives, the Latin for “rich” … but he’s nameless in the text; it’s the poor man who has a name, he’s Lazarus.

There’s another story in the Bible about names … Exodus … Chapter 1.

Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, is out to do a little population control on the Hebrews … he instructs the Hebrew midwives, “If it’s boy, kill him; if it’s a girl, let her live.”

But the Hebrew midwives “feared God,” says the text; they defied the king.”

The great king of Egypt goes unnamed in his murderous plans … it’s the Hebrew midwives who’s names are recorded forever: Shiphrah and Puah.

It seems that God’s take on things is slightly different than ours.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts,” says the LORD.

“The first shall be last; the last shall be first,” says our LORD.

A different accounting system; heaven’s social registry … God’s book of life.

The story goes on … Lazarus dies and angels carry him off to Abraham’s side.

The rich man dies and is buried.
The text is abrupt, without sentiment – the RichMan made choices – dead-end choices, choices that could only end this way: to the land of the dead … Sheol, Hades … torment.

He looks up – an unaccustomed posture for a man who spent his life looking down.

He sees Abraham, “far away,” says the text.

All of life is a vector, a direction, a heading … the rich man choose a road that led him further and further away from Abraham … how many chances lost for a turn-around? … how many lost opportunities to make it right?

But the man didn’t know how to make friends with his money; he could buy friends, he could buy fame and influence; he could make a name for himself … “But what good does it do to gain the whole world and forfeit your life?”

The poor old rich man cries out, “Father Abraham” … a glimmer of hope? Some possible restoration of spirit? Something good about to happen?

“Send your boy, Lazarus, to comfort me.”

Catch the drift of the story?

One rich man to another … “You’ve got a boy there, Lazarus.”

Irony: the RichMan knows the beggar’s name now … but remains entrenched in old ideas, old thoughts, stubborn pride, consummate self-interest.

“Send your boy to me … he can dip the tip of his finger in some water and cool my tongue” … a decadent image; a lascivious late-night party … power and command, money and control – “send your boy to comfort me.”
Poor old RichMan … still can’t see … blind as a bat … still giving orders; expecting folks to jump for his comfort!

Abraham speaks … “Son, you had your chance.”

Too late … a great chasm between us … no one crosses the great divide.

Why does no one cross the great divide?
Because they don’t want to.
They are where the want to be!
God never sends anyone to hell.
Hell is a choice.
Everyone in hell wants to be there!

C.S. Lewis writes of a bus tour arranged one day from hell to heaven … folks in hell board the bus and ride to heaven … they see the love of God, light and peace, but its painful and disturbing for them; loved ones beg them to stay, to let the miracle of love rework their minds and hearts, but at the end of the day, they can hardly wait to return to hell.

God never sends anyone to hell … hell is choice!

The RichMan: “Well, if you won’t send your boy to me, send him to my father’s house; I have five brothers. Warm them.”
The poor old RichMan knows how to give orders.

Abraham replies: “They have Moses and the prophets; they can listen to them.”

The rich man protests – “No, it’s not enough, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they’ll repent.”

Abraham: “If they can’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

End of conversation.

Jesus said, “Make friends with your money.”

Let’s think for a moment about life … things that capture our attention … and things we overlook …

No man on his deathbed ever says to his family, “I should have spent more time at the office.”

It isn’t so much a matter of choosing one over the other, but choosing things in proper sequence.

Did not Jesus say: “Seek first the kingdom of God, and all the other things that otherwise occupy your mind and unsettle your spirit, will they not also be added unto you?”

Have you noticed anything on the LORD's Table this morning? - a large jar of walnuts and rice.

Michelle and I did the jar on Friday – a simple exercise in priorities: if the rice is poured in first; no room for the walnuts.
Put the walnuts in first, then pour in the rice – everything fits!


Question on an application form for a newspaper job:
You have the choice of saving a drowning man or getting a Pulitzer Prize winning photograph. What type film would you use?

Two theatrical agents bump into each other on Wilshire Blvd.
One agent says, "Did you hear about Sam over at William Morris? He went into the hospital last week ... and the next day he died."
The other agent is shocked. "What did he have?"
"Not much, a few voice-over people, a magician, and two actors on a soap."


Walnuts in first … the kingdom of God first … faith, hope and love … kindness, mercy and gentleness; surrender and servanthood … Lazarus-at-our-gate.

Who is Lazarus-at-our-gate?

Mary Thompson meets Lazarus at the food pantry. Willie Hodges meets Lazarus at Living Water for the World. Leslie Evans meets Lazarus in Nicaragua.

Lazarus is real … the ragged man pushing the shopping cart along Manchester … the weary woman driving a beat-up car to her second job of the day … a family who can’t pay its medical bills … and you can fill in the rest of the story. Lazarus is real.

Lazarus could be a co-worker down the hall, in the next cubical - her car is clean, the home is large, but her life small and sad, neither purpose nor peace. Every day a grind; every night a weariness.

The Lazarus within each of us, our own spirit … the soul languishing at the gate, living on crumbs.
We leave the house with a fresh shirt and pressed pants, but our wounded soul is dressed rags.

Jesus says: “Life is more than food … more than clothing … don’t keep striving for what you are to eat and drink … it’s the way of the world to do these things … strive for the kingdom, and all the other things will be added unto you.”

The Apostle Paul tells his young pastor-friend Timothy: “As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life” (1 Timothy 6)

What goes into your jar first? I’ve spent many a day pouring in the rice and then trying to jam in the walnuts. It doesn’t work; it it never will.

Maybe it’s all about our eyes.

The way we see things.

“Your eye is the lamp of your body,” says Jesus.
“If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light. If it is not healthy, your body is full of darkness.”

I want to see things like God sees them … and I know that you do, too.