Sunday, June 30, 2013

June 30, 2013 - "Foundation in Christ and Human Rights"

1 Corinthians 3.1-23; 4.14-21; 14.20

I’m glad to be an American … ours is a remarkable nation … founded on a vision, a unique vision - a land of equality, with liberty and justice for all … from sea to shining sea.

The vision remains … and we’re still working at it … we’re not always on target, and sometimes the story becomes garbled and confused … we’re unsure sometimes of what it means to be an American, living in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Sometimes the story has been sad … 

America decided that it was okay to wipe out the Native American population, take their land, break whatever treaties we might have signed, because Native Americans weren’t Christians, and weren’t always interested in our religion … and besides, “they were dirty savages.”

America decided that it was okay to have slaves … and throughout the Americas tons of sugar cane and cotton were grown and harvested on the sweat and tears of tens of thousands of slaves brought here from Africa, and preachers said it was okay, because people of color were the Sons of Ham, from Noah’s story, condemned forever to be slaves, to serve the interests of the white man … and besides, people of color weren’t fully human; they were less in the eyes of god, and in the eyes of the European - African culture and religion were labeled, “savage,” and the Europeans, in spite of centuries of war and bloodshed, claimed to have the upper hand and stood closer to God … and Christianity was too often preached by missionaries, not to liberate, but to quiet the people, make them subservient to their white masters. 

To resolve the questions of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” we had to fight a Civil War … and we’re still struggling with the big questions.

The Paula Deen flap of recent weeks reveals some of the fault lines still present in our nation … she tells us that she’s just a little white girl raised in the South and doing the best she can … but I’m not so sure … I wish she had simply said, “I’m sorry, and I’m going to do better” … but she posed as a victim, and claimed that jealous forces were out to get her … she could have been noble and wise, but instead Paula Deen choose to throw a pity party for herself … she might have become a spokesperson for a better day, but she ran away from the ugly truths of racism and bigotry, and hoped people wouldn’t notice her running away.

This morning, in some church pulpits in California and in other parts of the the nation, preachers will open the Bible and proclaim in loud and holy voices, that the Supreme Court is a great evil, President Obama is the Devil, and this nation is headed to wreck and ruin because of Marriage Equality … 

Preachers will haul out the few verses that seemingly deal with this question … just a few verses, that’s all, just a few verses, and build a whole world of exclusion and bitterness and hatred on those few verses.

Those preachers forget the bloody and shameful ways in which the Bible has been used for centuries to hurt and to harm … 

Last week Sunday, remember - the Bible tells us to stone to death unruly sons, and burn to death adulterers … the Bible tells us that women have no place in the church and ought to be quiet, and shame on women for wanting their rights and their place in the sunshine.

Heard a conservative describe what the Supreme Court did on DOMA and Prop 8 as "the unraveling of the American family" ... I thought to myself, "Unraveling? Not at all, but a blessing, an invitation … and invitation to millions more to enjoy the power and goodness, and the challenge, of being an American family." What we have today is not a loss, but a gain. Not an unravelling, but further knitting … the great tapestry of American Freedom and Hope just got larger … the quilt of our story, had a few more squares added.

When it comes to reading the Bible, we have to be wise … and this Sunday, all across the land, thoughtful preachers will lift up the goodness of God … churches will celebrate new found-freedoms and liberty … well-trained preachers will carefully open the Bible and expound the great message.

The central message of the Bible … the big message … the message that towers over every other story in the Bible … the message that defines how we read those few verses that condemn others … the message that anchors everything else, Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so … little ones to him belong, they are weak, but he is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me, this I know … for the Bible tells me so.

This is our gift to America!

And Happy Birthday America! Keep on keepin’ on … we’re a great nation, and we’re still learning what our greatness needs to be … we’re still forging the American Dream … 

It’ll never be finished … the work of liberty will always remain our greatest challenge … providing life for all of our citizens, and all who come to our land … we’ll always be a work-in-progress … the work goes on!

Children in poverty … our nation’s inability to provide comprehensive health care, still arguing about women and their rights … millions of people having to choose between paying the rent and going to a doctor … 

Banks too big to fail.

Wall Street greed and the love of money.

Too many wars and too many secrets.

Building big walls on our borders.

American schools … safety for our children … student debt.

Our need for safe and reliable public transportation.

Let all of God’s Children in this great nation lead the way with wisdom and vision, kindness and charity, honesty and hope … because America’s original vision is a godly vision - life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness … justice for all … because all are equal in the sight of God … no one better than anyone else, and we have to help each other, because not everyone is strong … and we all have different gifts, and every gift is needed to make it right and good.

America is still exploring … no longer in a covered wagon crossing the great plains … now, our exploration is of the soul and of the mind … what DOES it mean to be free? … to be America … a land wherein the Lincoln Monument in Washington reminds us that of all the things Lincoln said and did, he saved the Union - all the people, and every state - that we belong to one another, and every human being within our borders, however they got here, to have a chance at the American Dream, and let no power, no government, no financial interests, stand in the way of hope and life.

I’m an American, and I’m glad to be here … I believe in the original vision, and I’m willing to say that God had a hand in it all … Happy Fourth of July to this nation, and to all who are here today, no matter how we got here - Happy Fourth of July.

This day, I’m a Christian, and I celebrate the name of Jesus … I lay claim to the Kingdom of God … the glory and the power of God’s love, here and now … the central message of the Bible, Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

Paul the Apostle tells the Corinthians to grow up … build on no other foundation than the one foundation laid in Jesus Christ our LORD.

This week, as our nation celebrates freedom … let us rejoice with one another, and hold one another up … securing freedom for one another, all the more.

Let us be wise in the ways of Jesus Christ … open wide the doors of freedom, the freedom for which Christ died.

Let welcome and affirmation be our way of life … speak the truth in love … seek justice … build the better way … keep on dreaming.

Help our nation be free … quiet the harsh voices of condemnation and greed … speak out for equality and opportunity … 

Let us be of good cheer … kick up our heels a bit … enjoy the Fourth of July … and bring to life the best we can, in the name of Jesus, who loves us all.

Amen and Amen!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

June 23, 2013, "What the Bible Teaches"

Psalm 105.1-5
Photo taken by D - Northern CA
1 Corinthians 16.13-14

Last week, at the end of our service

Our choir sang, Jesus loves me, this I know,

For the Bible tells me so.

For some reason, and who knows why

It struck me … what does the Bible tell us?

Certainly it tells us many things.

Or, at least offers many things:

For example, 

If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. They shall say to the elders of his town, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death ~ Deuteronomy 21.18-21.

If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death. The man who lies with his father’s wife has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall be put to death; their blood is upon them. If a man lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall be put to death; they have committed perversion, their blood is upon them. If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them. If a man takes a wife and her mother also, it is depravity; they shall be burned to death ~ Leviticus 20.10-14.

In the New Testament:

women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. 35If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church ~ 1 Corinthians 14.34-35.

Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. 12I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor ~ 1 Timothy 2.11 - 13.

silly women, overwhelmed by their sins and swayed by all kinds of desires ~2 Timothy 3.6,

These passages have been used to deny women a place in church and society … passages that seem to imply the inferiority of women, the weakness of women, the unreliability of women, that women should keep silent in the church, and so on and so forth.

In the United States, when women were seeking the right to vote, Scripture was cited to prove that women just weren’t capable of making sound decisions, women couldn’t be trusted with such weighty matters.

Women couldn’t be pastors, nor could they be elders or deacons … women weren’t fit for such things.

Behind some of the rhetoric these days about abortion and equal pay for women at work, we hear some of the same language - women cannot fully make their own decisions, but need a man to oversee them, subjugate them, keep them in line, behaving themselves.

The Bible offers many things ...

But the choir sang, Jesus loves me, 

This I know.

For the Bible tells me so.

Little ones to him belong.

They are weak.

But he is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me.

Yes, Jesus loves me.

Yes, Jesus loves me.

For the Bible tells me so.

Does the Bible have a central message?

A great theme?

An overarching idea?

One thought, one message, one image greater than all the rest?

That takes precedence over everything else?

In the light of which, everything else is read?



Preached and taught?

Some have said that everything in the Bible has equal weight …

Everything? like stoning a rebellious son.

Or burning to death an adulterer.

Or keeping women out of the pulpit.

I think we have to be very careful!

Now I don’t know about you.

But for me, there is a central message in the Bible.

A theme that stands out above all other ideas.

An image that transcends all other stories.

The life and love of Jesus the Christ.

Jesus the anointed one.

The holy one of God.

The Word of God Incarnate.

The Son of God.

The Lamb of God.

Who takes away the sins of the world.

Call it mercy.

Call it love.

Call it the final reality.

The ultimate purpose.

The overarching theme that calls all other themes to itself … the criteria by which we read the rest of the Bible.

Paul writes to the Corinthians: Let all that you do be done in love.

And what is love?

Paul says it best of all:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. 

Let all that you do be done in love.

Without love, it’s not real.

Without love, it can only hurt.

Without love, it has no value.

No endurance.

No lasting place in the kingdom of God.

Paul says it so well:

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Paul writes at the end of his letter:

Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.

Good words, for sure.

But Paul adds, just to be sure: Whatever you do, do it with love.

Be alert, but do with it love.

Stand firm in your faith, but do it with love.

Be courageous, but do it with love.

Be strong, but do it with love.

Alertness, without love, will only tire us out.

Standing firm in our faith, without love, will only make us stubborn and hard-headed.

Courage, without love, quickly becomes thoughtless grandstanding and showing off.

Strength, without love, quickly turns into domination and bullying.

Love is the preeminent idea that runs throughout all the Bible.

Love builds up.

Love makes all things new.

Love tends to forgive a lot.

Love seeks new beginnings.

So we no longer stone unruly sons.

We no longer burn to death adulterers.

Doors have been opened to women … though we still have a way to go … women in the workplace need to be free of sexual harassment … women deserve equal pay for equal work … and equal opportunity for advancement.

Love is all about open doors.



Invitation and welcome.

Love is real … 

Love meets the challenges of life.

On Thursday, I took the bus downtown to visit Nick at the Detention Center - he’s doing well, and gives his greetings and love to everyone here … and he asks for our prayers.

While on the bus, I saw some rowdy people … walking a few blocks through downtown LA, I heard three arguments … two in English, and one in a language I didn’t understand … but I didn’t need to understand it … raised voices, intonation, inflection, demeanor, cast of the body, fingers pointing … 

Human beings all argue in the same way …

Human beings are a tough bunch … a strange bunch of critters we are … we argue, because we misunderstand … we fight, because we’re afraid … we go to war to protect ourselves … we hate with ease, and we hurt someone without blinking an eye … our mouths speak trash … our hearts conceive of terrible things … and sometimes we commit terrible deeds … human beings are a tough bunch.

And that’s why love is essential.

Love is the only thing that can conquer the dark spirits of the human soul … love and love alone can shine a bright light of hope on the human predicament … love reminds all of us that we can do better, and we must.

Do we realize the fullness of love?

Sometimes we do.

Do we live every day in love.

Sometimes we do.

Do we turn to love when we’re tempted to go the other way?

Sometimes we do.

And that’s the point of the gospel … keep on trying … and sometimes we succeed, sometimes we really do it, and do it right …

So, never give up, dear friends.

Stay with it.

For the Spirit of God assists us.

And, yes, we can love.


And that’s enough to get the job done.

For God loves all the time.

And God joins God’s love to our love.

Our love …

With God’s love, becomes love, all the time.

Amen and Amen!