Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Micah: Justice, Love Humility - sermons shared 17 September 2017

Sunday 17th September was remarkable! Our service  was jointly led by Me with two colleagues, Rev Marci Glass from the USA and Rev Rola Sleiman from Lebanon. 
It was a golden opportunity, and between us we reflected on Micah's vision, recorded in chapter 6:6-8 
What shall I bring to the Lord, the God of heaven, when I come to worship him? Shall I bring the best calves to burn as offerings to him? Will the Lord be pleased if I bring him thousands of sheep or endless streams of olive oil? Shall I offer him my first-born child to pay for my sins? No, the Lord has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God.
Below you will find our three short sermons on each of the elements, Marci chose Justice, Rola chose Humble Fellowship and I chose (was happy to be left with) Constant Love  

Three RevGals ready to preach the Word

To Seek Justice

I'm a justice kind of person. Sometimes that's a good quality, and sometimes less so. I'm willing to stand up for the people whose voices are not being heard and advocate with them to bring justice and mercy their way. When that kind of justice informs my life, things go pretty well.
I only have 5 minutes, so I will spare you of the illustrations of when my finely-honed sense of justice doesn't bring out the best in me.
Justice work has taken up a fair amount of my pubic ministry in the United States, both working for justice in the church and in the secular political sphere as well. While the United States technically has a separation of church and state that is different than here in Scotland, clergy still can use our office to speak to public matters. I regularly speak to the state legislature and my city council about issues where I see proposed ordinances working in opposition to the values I see in scripture. I advocate for better care for homeless people, access to healthcare, women's rights to make their own healthcare choices, welcome and hospitality for refugees and immigrants, and for the full inclusion of people in church and society, regardless of their sexual orientation.
St Francis of Assisi is quoted as saying "It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching". I do preach about justice issues from the pulpit, if the issue is related to the text I'm preaching. I recognize that unless my life outside the pulpit matches the words I say when I'm preaching, then my words are in vain. I pray my walking is my preaching, as much as my sermons are. As the hymn we just sang puts it, "faith proves itself in deeds".
Of course, one person's deeds, or stands on issues of justice may be seen by another person as heresy, or at least bad public policy. And people of faith differ on all of those justice issues I have mentioned, even within my congregation. People have different views on those and so many other issues at play in our world today. While scripture is my guide as I navigate issues of justice, I recognize it is also the guide for some of the people who view those same topics and reach very different conclusions.
I don't want to steal from the rest of our passage from Micah, which is what Julie and Rola are going to be preaching on, but it is important that Micah connects those three behaviors. If justice is not pursued while attending to "loving kindness" and "walking humbly" as the text continues, it ceases to be justice. Justice, removed from loving kindness and humility is a bullying dominance.
Martin Luther King, Jr, an American civil rights icon, whose writings challenge me every day, wrote this about the relationship to love and justice:
"Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anaemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love".
Justice is never about only removing someone from oppression. Justice has to also be about liberating the oppressor. Walter Wink, an American theologian wrote:
“The command to love our enemies reminds us that our first task towards oppressors is pastoral: to help them recover their humanity... It is not enough to become politically free; we must also become human.
“There is no one, and surely no entire people, in whom the image of God has been utterly extinguished. Faith in God means believing that anyone can be transformed, regardless of the past.”
This is not to say we are to remain passive in the face of injustice. Just because an oppressor is also a child of God does not mean we stand by and encourage their oppression. To really seek justice that would redeem us all, on both sides of an issue, requires us to engage in faithful discussion--to see where they are coming from.
Are we willing to be in a listening, conversational posture with the people we see as oppressors? Are we willing to trust they have something to teach us as much as we have to teach them? Are we willing to be wrong in the face of our opponents, for the cause of God's justice? It reveals a truth of the risk of faith--by following a God who chose to die on a cross, we claim our strength in God's vulnerability.
As Paul said in his first letter to the church in Corinth in chapter 1: "For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength." One might argue that Jesus' very life, and death, and resurrection, are the divine embodiment of Micah's instruction to seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

The problems of the world are huge. Individually, we may feel we cannot make a difference. God doesn't call us to single-handedly fix the world. Friends, that is God's job, not ours. God does call us to participate in God's work of justice and redemption-- It can be as simple, and as profound, as one on one conversations over a beverage or a meal with people who see the world very differently than we do, trusting the promise that God, our creator and sustainer, is at work to redeem us all. 

To Embrace Love 

It is so simple; what does God require of us? To seek justice, embrace love (show constant love) and walk humbly with God. Love causes us to do amazing things; things we never knew possible. Things we thought only others could do.
People the world over know and understand that crazy little thing called love. Or do they?! Love. In English, we have just one word – which can mean so many very different things; in other languages, they are far more liberal, using different words for the different expressions of love. Whether it is romantic love, friendship love, loyal love, holy love… there is a different word. What Micah was describing is holy love I think; and this, holy love, is the one thing we all have, all the time, even when, or maybe even, especially when, we are not aware of it. when the prophet Micah committed his vision to paper – recorded the words, I wonder if he ever thought just how much the simple phrase we are exploring this morning, would grow in the hearts of the faithful? That these three things would last and be repeated, again and again, thousands of years later.
Love has been the greatest motivation for many heroic acts; for many foolish gestures; and for many ordinary, quiet lives of faithful people.
In reality, to show love is simply to express our humanity – for humanity at its best is indeed loving and kind. Imagine what the world would be like if everyone who heard that command lived by it.
The prophets talked about love and faith; Jesus talked about love – when he was asked what was the greatest commandment his answer was simple: love God with all your heart and all your soul, and love your neighbour as you love yourself.
All through history, men and women have sought to love and be loved. And, have written poetry and prose, composed music and song, created novels and movies all about love; Love between two people; love between us and our dogs, love between friends who have overcome great adversity together – pretty much every aspect of love has been recorded.
The divine spark of love implanted in each of us has caused us to seek companions on the journey; to create friendships based on mutual respect and love.
Maybe that simple truth is too simple for some.
But for me, as I look at the world, it remains my hope for all humanity – that each will acknowledge that God’s greatest gift to us, was that spark, that love, planted within each of us – reminding us, again and again, we love because God loved us first.

To Walk Humbly with God

 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
Winston Churchill was once asked by one of his helpers, "Doesn’t it thrill you to know that every time you make a speech, the hall is packed?" "It’s quite flattering," replied Churchill. "But whenever I feel that way, I always remember that if instead of making a political speech I was being hanged, the crowd would be twice as big."
It is very beneficial to always train our mind that we are not the center of the world, and that we do not control everything in life. Humility dear ones, is a worldwide human virtue that we teach our children to adopt, but to us as Christians and believers the greatest example of humility can be found in our Lord Jesus Christ "Who, being in very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:6-8)
Jesus set aside His divine glory to take the form of a servant. He voluntarily accepted temptation, hunger, loneliness, suffering, and death in order to understand and identify with each one of us.
When Jesus chose to become man He laid aside His glorious majesty, so that when He was "lifted up from the earth," He could "draw all men" to Himself. (John 12:32) Jesus had to suffer humiliation in order that we could be forgiven.
If you humble yourself and repent of your pride and understand that u will find the ability to forgive the unforgivable.
Thus to say, “I am not the center of the world and I can’t control everything in life means, I am admitting I have weakness and limitations, I am not in control of everything in my universe, I need help from a power far greater than myself.
PRIDE is not so much bragging as it is this illusion that I am at the center and can manage everything on my own without help. Bragging may be a symptom of pride, but pride itself is much deeper. Even very insecure people who would never be caught bragging can demonstrate an amazing amount of pride.
HUMILITY therefore is the opposite of this attitude. Humility is just living in the truth about ourselves… and the truth is I am not God, I’m not the center, I have needs, I have things I can’t control, I am dependent on God. That’s humility.
Because Jesus broke into history to begin a spiritual kingdom that expands one heart at time, we too can say,
“There is a God. So I can just let go. Sometimes being out of control or serving in obscurity is our chance to grow in my acceptance of reality… I’m not God, I’m just his precious son and daughter!”
A church located in a town with a seminary needed a substitute preacher when their pastor was on vacation. The President of the seminary chose their best student. Straight A’s, the teachers all loved him. Ego as big as creation, obviously unaware of his own limitations. The young man wrote a great sermon and memorized it. On Sunday morning he confidently climbed into the pulpit and immediately forgot his sermon. He managed to muddle through it but left the pulpit in unhappy. A sweet little lady has some advice for him as she shook his hand that morning. She Told him “If you had gone into that pulpit with the attitude that you had when you came out of that pulpit, you would have come out of that pulpit with the attitude you had when you climbed into it.”
The humility of Jesus Christ is rooted in his experience of God’s love. His heart and soul were filled with that love so that all his emotional and spiritual needs were completely met. His cup overflowed! Jesus knew who he was: a beloved child of the God he called “Father!”
His confidence, his power, his courage his humility came from one place: his faith in a loving God. The love of God so filled his heart that his life became an expression of that love. He recognized every human being as a brother or a sister, just as important in the eyes of God as he was. He loved and cared for everyone because each person was his brother or sister.
Humble disciples of Jesus Christ begin with faith in the love of God, with hearts and souls filled with that love. We feel no need to act important because we are important. No need to pretend we are somebody, because we are somebody: we are the beloved children of God. Humble disciples of Jesus Christ strike an important balance. Confident without bragging; humble without losing our dignity and loved without putting ourselves at the center of the universe. Hearts full of God’s love give us the confidence that God affirms our successes and forgives our mistakes.
God gives us the ability to be the love we are. To measure up to the standard that the author of the book of James describes: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”
One day a sage came to a King for an interview. The sage had to wait for a long time because the King was very busy. Finally, the King said he could come in.
When the sage entered the hall, the first thing he did was to take off his hat and bow to the King. Immediately the King took off his crown and bowed to the sage. The ministers and others who were around the King asked, “What are you doing? He took off his hat because he is an ordinary man. But you are the King. Why should you have to take off your crown?”
The King said to his ministers, “You fools, do you think I wish to remain inferior to an ordinary man? He is humble and modest. His humility is a peerless virtue’. He showed his respect to me. If I did not take off my crown, then I would be showing less humility than an ordinary man, and I would be defeated by him. If I am the King, I should be better than everybody in everything. That is why I took off my crown and bowed to him!”
Dear sisters and brothers let us think of the example of a tree. When the tree is in full bloom, when it is filled with ripe fruits, when it really has something to offer the world, the tree bows down. If we can become one with the consciousness of a tree, we will feel that the more we have to offer, the more humility we will have, the more we have God’s love in our hearts the more pride vanishes and humility takes its place. For our Lord we give glory and honor Amen.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

GO! Sermon 10 September

Genesis 21: 1-3,6; 22:1-14


(Letting go and trusting the unseen.)

There are passages in scripture which are not necessarily hard to understand, but cause us some serious thinking and consternation. Stories which cause us to pause and think, “what the heck?!”

Today’s reading is such a one of these.
In the first part we are told God blessed Sarah with a son; and Sarah’s joy is so complete she laughs for sheer delight. Then, just as the ancient couple are getting used to the fact that God’s promises are real and true, God does the unthinkable and tells Abraham to take the boy and prove his faith in God by sacrificing his only son.
It makes no sense!
The boy is the future
The boy is the fulfilment of God’s covenant promise
An unbreakable vow
A lasting legacy
It makes no sense!!
This passage tempts us to use explanations and excuses for God
God was just testing him
God didn’t really mean it
This is the God of the Old Testament – the God of the New testament is different – (this one is actually heresy!)

What are we to think?
And why is it there?
What good thing can we learn about God and God’s relationship with Abraham and humanity?
Is there any good thing in this passage? Except perhaps the ending – when Abraham is stopped at the last minute, and Isaac is spared.
But for me, even that seems a little off – how will Isaac ever feel able to trust his father and his God again? Will he forever be looking over his shoulder, wondering if God will test him again?
And what would Sarah say if she heard about it? or more accurately, what did she say, when Isaac told his beloved mother just what her husband had done? I’m guessing there may have been some raised voices here.

Perhaps, what I need to do instead of trying to explain the unexplainable is to explore the symbols here.
Abraham – father of a nation – has one son, and one son only.
Abraham – father of a nation – yet this promised destiny lies in this single life. A life that is precarious and vulnerable.
The bible, the law forbids child sacrifice – God doesn’t require the death of any human life in sacrifice
Rather, God seeks three things, as the prophet Micah tells us – not our burnt offerings, but that we act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. (A theme we will be exploring more fully next week)

Abraham had been promised his descendants would be as stars in the sky or sand on a beach – innumerable. Beyond measure. Hard to imagine when you’re ancient and you’ve just one child.
Yet, Abraham also needed to be able to let go of his own dreams and release them to Isaac and all the generations to come. I think it is time for me to own that I have no answer. In all my reflecting and discussing and reading I have yet to come across an answer that really satisfies me.
I look at our world:
Fires and storms
Earthquakes and floods
Hurricanes and disasters
Where do they come from? Who is responsible? Who makes bad things happen?

My own personal feeling about death and disaster is the things happen. Those things which the world may refer to as an “Act of God” – I prefer to think of as acts of nature – weather happens; volcanoes exist; tectonic plates move; storms blow up; God is there, alongside those who call out; those in need.
God doesn’t make it happen, any more than God prevents it from happening. It doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care, more that God is not our puppet master – moving us round the chess board of life – blowing us into danger, or sheltering us from harm.
Did God really want Abraham to be willing to sacrifice his son? Or did those who chronicled the early Old Testament want to establish the changeover, the inheritance being passed on – the new line being established. For Abraham to realise that it was not through him alone, but through his son, and his sons, and their sons – and on down the generations.  
Rather than sacrifice – the death of hopes and dream; this was about trust and obedience; following God’s leading; relying on God’s strength.
The world is a wild and complicated place; life is full of ups and downs; highs and lows; life and death; hope and anxiety. All intertwined, all interdependent; God doesn’t make bad stuff happen – if that was so, how could we believe in a God of love?
God is with God’s people – all God’s people.
In the storm and the fire
In the hurricane and the earthquake
Wherever people are, God is
In us, with us, through us, for us
God – creator, friend, counsellor – all wrapped up together
Parent, Brother, Companion
Constant, Word, Breath

All encompassing; in every moment
When we walk the path of life
We can trust that God is there in every step
When we follow God’s commands and leading – we can trust.
Always and forever