Sermons

Sermons

 

First Christian Church

“I'm God and You're Not”

Job 38:1-7 (34-41)

Let me preface the sermon with an invitation. The Book of Job is laborious to read, and requires a commitment of time and patience to get through it, but it's worth it. It's worth it because though you'll be able to appreciate this sermon the sermon only deals with a small representation of the entire book. Granted, it's an important part of the book, but to be able to see it's application in terms of the entire story is far more rewarding. Therefore, I encourage you to read through Job over the course of several nights, and to read it using a contemporary version of the Bible like The Message is highly recommended.

With that said lets take a quick overview of the story beginning with Job's lamenting in chapter 3. His lamenting is understandable since he has been afflicted with bleeding, itching sores all over his body; he has lost all his livestock; and his children have been killed. His three friends Bildad (Bill-dad), Zophar ((Zoe-far), and Eliphaz (El-eh-fase), along with Job have been engaged in this long, drawn-out discussion, which are really speeches given by each of them. It all culminates in a somewhat lengthy defense given by Job, and then a new friend appears. His name is Elihu (El-eh-who) and he offers a theological analysis of Job's situation, and throughout all of this Job insists that God make an appearance, but God does no such thing.

Finally, God appears and the silence is broken, and in contemporary language our text for today sounds like this:

Why do you confuse the issue? Why do you talk without knowing what you're talking about? Pull yourself together, Job! Up on your feet! Stand tall! I have some questions for you, and I want some straight answers. Where were you when I created the earth? Tell me, since you know so much! Who decided on its size? Certainly you know that! Who came up with the blueprints and measurements? How was its foundation poured, and who set the cornerstone, while the morning stars sang in chorus and the angels shouted praise? (Job 38:2-7; The Message Bible)

From here God takes Job on a kind of whirlwind tour of the cosmos, and surprisingly says nothing about Job's lamenting and pain. If God were to be graded on his pastoral response he'd get an “F” grade. Instead, what happens is God begins with the foundations of the earth, along with the birth of the sea, and then goes where the wild things are describing lions, mountain goats, deer, wild donkeys, ostriches and eagles. For many of us this is a disappointing response because we want to here about the bet made with Satan, and we want God to be caring, or even apologetic about Job's suffering.

It brings to mind the way Chevy Chase used to say on Saturday Night Live when he'd open as the newscaster. He'd say, “Good evening I'm Chevy Chase and you're not.” It's as if God is saying in no uncertain terms that “I'm God and you're not!” Possibly added to this is, “I'll do whatever I please.” It's just not the answer any of us anticipated, but then again this whirlwind tour needs to be taken at face value. It's really something, and the nearest I can come to it are the thunderstorms in Ohio. One afternoon I was looking out the window and watched the lightning come down the alley and street adjacent to our house. It was quite remarkable as the lightning bolts struck in succession getting closer with each strike.

On another occasion I was looking up into the clouds and all I saw was a point of light, a flash and then immediately heard the thunder. I never saw a lightning bolt because I was looking nearly directly into it. That's how close the bolt came to me. It was terrifying and beautiful at the same time.

What we expect from God is nurture and care such as the lyrics conveyed in “Wings of a Dove,” the song Karen will play for us today. They go like this: “On the wings of a snow white dove, He sends his pure sweet love, A sign from above, On the wings of a dove, When troubles surround us, when evils come, The body grows weak, The spirit grows numb, When these things beset us, he doesn't forget us, He sends down his love, On the wings of a dove.” That's what we expect, but the story of Job gives us a different picture of God, and in that is its intrinsic value. God doesn't hold to our egoic desires, or limited perceptions. God is God and we're not, and we need to be constantly reminded of it.

The cumulative effect these closing chapters have on us as fantastic creatures are described, and a magnificent universe is conveyed is our imaginations are stretched to the limit, and we realize we're a part of something far, far greater than ourselves. Listen now to the second half of our text:

Can you catch the eye of the beautiful Pleiades sisters (these are directly above us each night), or distract Orion from the hunt? Can you get Venus to look your way, or get the Great Bear and her cubs to come out and play? Do you know the first thing about the sky's constellations and how they effect things on earth? Can you get the attention of the clouds, and commission a shower of rain? Can you take charge of the lightening bolts and have them report to you for orders? What do you have to say for yourself? Who do you think gave weather-wisdom to the ibis, and storm-savvy to the rooster? Does anyone know enough to number all the clouds or tip over the rain barrels of heaven when the earth is cracked and dry, the ground baked hard as a brick? Can you teach the lioness to stalk her prey and satisfy the appetite of her cubs as they crouch in their den, waiting hungrily in their cave? And who sets out food for the ravens when their young cry to God, fluttering about because they have no food? (Job 38:31-41; The Message Bible)

God begins in this portion of the text with images of the created cosmos, and ends by telling us God is caring for the animals making sure they have what they need to get by each day; whether that be life-sustaining abilities, or being provided with sustenance. At this point we might be shocked when we realize what's missing in these four closing chapters, and that is the presence, or even mention of human beings. In this incredible description of the creation we don't seem to have a place, or play a part, even a minor part.

At one point Job was trying to play God, and decided to end his own existence. He says:

May the day of my birth be buried in deep darkness, shrouded by fog, swallowed by the night. And the night of my conception – the devil take it! Rip the date off the calendar, delete it from the almanac. Oh, turn that night into pure nothingness – no sounds of pleasure from that night, ever! May those that are good at cursing curse the day . Unleash the sea beast, Leviathan, on it. May the morning stars turn to black cinders, waiting for a daylight that never comes, never once seeing the first light of dawn. (Job 3:5-9; The Message Bible)

One might say that Job is attempting to both end his own life, and un-create the world at the same time. It is a sensational display of sheer hubris where Job is imagining himself to possess extraordinary powers over himself and the creation. God answers this in the closing chapters by re-establishing order and celebrates the beauty and freedom of creation including the stars and sea monsters, lion and raven, antelope and ostrich, horse and hawk. Once again God states clearly that I'm God and you're not. Though we may try to imagine ourselves at the center of the creation the Book of Job stands as ancient testimony to the truth of God's centrality in the scheme of things.

Creation spirituality can help us here by keeping us from elevating ourselves to divine status. This may be why we tend to be leery of creation spirituality because it has a way of revealing human arrogance. Karen and I take extended walks on Saturday mornings usually on the Olympic Discovery Trail, and I often attempt to pay close attention to the surrounding forest, animals, and other objects of nature. Sometimes I do this well, and other times its hard to let go and be with my surroundings. When I do connect, and feel a part of the whole its a humbling experience. By humbling I mean it helps me see and feel my true place in the creation.

Suddenly I fit in, and to fit in is an incredibly important thing for us human beings. Its one of the two requirements we need to maintain our sanity. The other requirement is love. We need to feel we are loved, and in this the animals share with us. Though animals probably don't need to feel they fit in, in other words, “meaning in life” isn't a need for them, but they do need to feel loved. Our dogs Oreo and Groucho are in constant need of attention, and remind us on a regular basis. We respond to their need for love to the point they're are probably spoiled.

For me, when my ego boundaries recede both the feeling of being loved, and the recognition of having a place in this world happens at the same time. One follows the other, or at least they both occur together, because in that moment I'm no longer alienated by self-preoccupation. To reach this place of freedom from the bondage of ego is one of the primary reasons for religion. Religion probably began with religious experiences of this nature where an individual, or a group of people, were released from ego entrapment. Religion was created to describe a path that you could take that would lead back to this freedom.

That's what the Book of Job is all about. A path is being described that begins with characteristics of ego inflation, and the consequences of living with it. The solution to this human dilemma is to come up against something so much greater than us that by comparison we see and feel our true place in the universe. We are humbled, and that is never a pleasant experience, but an absolutely necessary one that we must endure time and again. The ego never gives up even after enlightenment, but it does get easier to recognize it, and therefore do what's required to escape its grasp.

We have to keep returning to our inner life, and to dig as deep as we can each time we venture into our souls. This story from St. John of the Cross encourages us to do so, and in the story he refers to his soul as a woman:

Dig here,” the angel said. She caught me off guard when my soul said to me, “Have we met?” So surprised I was to hear her speak like that I chuckled. She began to sing a tale:

There was once a hard working man who used to worry so much because he could not feed and clothe his wife and children the way he wanted. There was a beautiful little chapel in the village where the man worshiped and one day while he was praying an angel appeared. The angel said: “Follow me.” And he did out into an ancient forest. “Now dig here,” the angel said. And the man felt the strength in his limbs he had not known since his youth and with just his bare hands he dug deep and found a buried treasure, and his relationship with the world changed.”

Finding our souls beauty does that – gives us tremendous freedom from worry. “Dig here,” the angel said – “in your soul,” in your soul.” 

In our ever-moving, fast-paced culture we live in there is not much encouragement to dig deep into our souls. Actually, just the opposite is what's promoted in society. We have to turn to the scriptures, and other spiritual sources to find the inspiration we need to stay on the path to freedom. The Apostle Paul says it like this:

Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (Romans 12:2; The Message Bible)

You're changed from the inside out because we find God by digging deep into our souls. By going inside we're transformed into the likeness of Christ on the outside. As the rock group U2 sings this is a sloooow process, but one can have faith in it. Actually, if you stop and think about it what else is their to have faith in? Of course, there are a variety of reasons we don't want to dig deep into our souls. After all, who knows what you may find down there. There could be demons lurking in the darkness. And it takes energy, and effort to be quiet, and to calm the ever-active mind, and wait for God to appear. No one likes to wait.

I remember how my dog Omar used to dig for things out in open fields. He'd work so hard at it until only his tail would be sticking up above the ground, with the dirt shooting straight up into the air above him. Finally, after much effort and sheer exhaustion he'd come up with a snake in his mouth. He really wanted that snake, and we need to really want God. Such desire is called spiritual desire and its a gift we can ask for; and sometimes it comes when our back is against the wall, and we desperately need God. At such times we may dig deep to be rewarded in ways we can't even imagine.

Job does a lot of digging, and when God finally appears its in a way he could have never imagined. God's appearance finally results in Job's religious experience, and it sounds like this:

Then Job answered the Lord: “I know that thou can do all things, and that no purpose of thine can be thwarted. (Now God speaks) “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?” (Job speaks) “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” (God speaks again) “Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.” (Job speaks again) I had heard of thee be the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees thee; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6)

This ending to the story of Job rewards him with a mystical encounter. Before Job had only known God through teachers and priests (I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear), but now Job “sees” the reality of God. Now he knows what the teachers and priests have been talking about all this time.

It is a long, hard road to the kingdom of God, and an indescribable blessing when you arrive. “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:14; New International Version) Job stayed on the road, and because of it found God. We can too.

Rev. Mitch Becker

October 17, 2021

Port Angeles

 

 

First Christian Church

The River

Mark 10:17-31

Lets begin by looking at a few of the details of this text. It tells us Jesus is “...setting out on his journey,” which is a reference to Jesus being on The Way. The Way is a common notion in the Gospel of Mark, and it's not a journey in general, but represents his commitment to go to Jerusalem, and there to be hung-up on a cross. This sacrifice is an expression of a love that is beyond human comprehension. To our everyday experience the demand Jesus puts upon himself seems extreme in the same way the demand Jesus puts upon the rich man seems extreme. Both of these demands make this parable difficult to understand and except, but we need to be careful here because something crucial is being conveyed. Though sacrifices of this nature may seem impossible they are not when one allows God to guide and enable.

Another detail of note is that throughout the Gospel of Mark whenever someone kneels down to get Jesus' attention it is always to ask for healing for either the person kneeling, or someone else they care about. That's not what is happening here since the man is asking a question. Is it possible that the gospel writer wants us to think of giving up wealth as a healing? To look at it in this manner makes it easier to except. To imagine giving our wealth away seems like taking our faith to an extreme, but if we think of it as pointing to a need that must be met, or to put it bluntly: the healing of our souls, it seems easier to embrace.

Also of note is he is not told to simply give away his money, but it is to be given to the poor. Revealed here is an important aspect of the kingdom of God. Life in the kingdom is not a solitary experience, but somehow keeps one attune to the needs of others. You're compelled to staying alert to those needs, and to be actively employed in meeting them. In this way you're sharing in the hardships and struggle of those disadvantaged in society.

Finally, the rich man is not the only one taken back by Jesus' pronouncement. Anyone else in proximity of this teaching will be equally shocked to hear it, since in the first century wealth was considered a blessing from God; and it could be argued that the same holds true in the 21st century. Therefore, these words about giving up your wealth, along with the implication that it will be utterly impossible for a wealthy person to get into the kingdom will be alarming for everyone.

Looking at the text in terms of details gives us something of a fragmented picture, so lets try to get a more holistic perspective. We can say that wealth results in challenges to discipleship, so how can we stay on The Way with Jesus regardless of these challenges? To help us along I offer this story about money, and this comes from a young pastor in their first year as a parish leader.

“She says that the church had a discretionary fund that was to be used in case of emergencies, and there was about $200 in it, and she was told she could use it only if certain conditions were met. These conditions were characterized in terms of negatives. In other words, it couldn't be used if the person in need was apathetic, favored drink, or did not manage their life well. She responded that she couldn't think of any other reasons someone would be in a position of need. As far as she knows the church is still in possession of that money.”

As a pastor its been my historic practice to not give away money to people that come to the church due to material needs. I have given away food, personal items, and have taken people to the nearest gas station, but rarely do I hand out money. The word tends to spread rather quickly, and if you don't mind a line at the door when you arrive at work than go ahead and give people money. I prefer to give tomatoes away, and while in Port Angeles I once chased down someone to give them a mask to wear. I would rather somehow be in service than to simply hand-out money.

When I was pastor of First Christian Church, Tacoma I helped the church close-out its life after more than a hundred years of faithful service to God and community. During those last days there were two concerns that often came to the surface, and they involved both money and the lack of youth. Obviously for a church to exist as a physical institution money is required to pay for utilities, general upkeep, and the employees. In terms of the church continuing after the older generation is gone there must be younger folks ready to step-up and assume responsibilities.

FCC Tacoma lacked in both these areas, and one result was a great deal of lamenting. I tried to steer the church away from the lamenting, and bring them back to the gospel message. Following is an example of the gospel message I tried to drive home:

It's obvious, isn't it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being. Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have! You can't worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you'll end up hating the other. You can't worship God and money both. If you decide for God, living a life of God worship, it follows that you don't fuss about what's on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put into your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body.

Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds. Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch. All this time and money wasted on fashion – do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers – most of which are never seen – don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you?

What I'm trying to do here is get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. (Matthew 6:21-34; The Message Bible)

When people are anxious and fretting about the death of their church its difficult, to say the least, to get them to rise above their anxiety and trust in the gospel message. The reason for this is that people are ego based, and the egos primary concern is annihilation. The ego frets and focuses on its own end. Therefore, lamenting about the end of the church is really just an extension of the lamenting that always exists for ego based people. We resist the end of the church because we resist our own ending, but that has nothing to do with the gospel message. The gospel is not an ego message, it comes from the True self, it comes from God.

The solution then is to recenter yourself in the gospel message, which means to find a home at the core of your being. It means to transcend to your True self and learn how to stay there. That's what the text means by knowing the way God works. God works from the inside out, and so that is where we must always begin. Once you know how to stay centered in God the anxiety and fretting lessens overtime, and love increasingly fills the empty place that's left. Love fills the vacuum. Then you can truly relax and allow God to meet your needs.

If all you can see is what is lacking, and in this case we're talking about money and youth, the result is going to be a gradual increase in dread and disappointment. You will be blinded by your negativity, and unable to see what God is doing right in front of your face. God wants us to pay attention to what God is doing at this very moment, and that is all. To pay attention to God right here and now, and to absolutely trust that God will help us deal with whatever problems come up as we live-out a life of discipleship.

Whether the life of this church, or any other church for that matter, continues or doesn't is not any of our concern. Its not our concern because its not our church. We're just passing through, we're just taking care of it for awhile. We're caretakers, and in that sense we're all ministers caring for this holy place we call First Christian Church, Port Angeles. God is caring for this church, and God knows what's best for it.

On our trip to Greece I anticipated some of the same problems that occurred when we went to Thailand. Surprisingly none of them did. When we went to Thailand I had to get up in the middle of the night to journal and meditate in order to get back to sleep. I only did that once in Greece, and I didn't even meditate, I only wrote a few lines in my journal and went right back to sleep. So what was different? In Thailand our hotel was in a pretty rough neighborhood, and that was not the case in Greece, but that alone doesn't explain my lack of anxiety.

It seems to me now days I spend more quality time in the moment, and a lot less time with negative thoughts. It seems to me that I've grown spiritually since Thailand, and I trust more so in God's provisions and presence. Of course, I don't do that perfectly, but there does seem to be considerable gain that's been made. That's the only way I can explain the comfortableness I experienced with this last trip whether that be on the plane, or on the ferries, or with being in relationship with unfamiliar people, including people from an entirely different culture. This comfortableness is consistent, even ever-present, which suggests its coming from a place of considerable depth.

When your comfortable at that level there really isn't anything on the outside that can't be managed. I'm not saying that nothing upsets me anymore. What I'm saying is nothing seems to permanently upset me. Its as if everything just visits for awhile, like I'm in a stream floating with the current watching everything on the shore pass by. There is an objectivity about it, like I'm a spectator just enjoying the view, and with it an internal peace that feels like a gift given freely away. I didn't earn it, it's just there.

Of course, Richard Rohr has something to say about all this:

What, then, is the path to holiness? It's the same as the path to wholeness. And we are never “there” yet. We are always just “in the river.” Don't try to push the river or make the river happen; it is already happening, and you cannot stop it. All you can do is recognize it, enjoy it, and ever more fully allow it to carry you.

Jesus has a name for the river, and he calls it the kingdom of God. As we grow as his disciples we come to recognize the river a bit more each day that passes. We learn to enjoy it, and to allow it to carry us where it will. In the river you come to realize that your life is not yours anymore. It belongs to God, and in that recognition there is a freedom that's hard to explain with words. Jesus tells us how to enter more fully into his kingdom with the use of stories and parables. To the extent we can rise above our ego limitations is the extent we can grasp the meaning of the parables. Of course, this is more easily said than done. The ego is both clever and determined to lord over us.

One thing that happens when were in the clutches of the ego is we're easily distracted. Even to the point of forgetting what we're doing, or in leaving important or unimportant items behind. At the outset of our trip we had to go to the third floor of the parking garage at SeaTac to cross over to the terminal. We noticed on one of the cement benches in the garage that someone had left their large brown purse on the bench. Someone was going to have a rude awakening. I saw a security person inside the terminal and told him about the purse, and he said he would check it out.

An even more striking example of someone being distracted was one of the people in our group actually forgot her luggage in the parking lot as we were boarding the ferry. She was walking in the darkness in a line with the rest of us, and forgot she was towing her suitcase. I looked over to see this suitcase standing upright all by itself in the parking lot? Someone said, “Somebody has left their luggage behind!” And Kay turned around and laughingly claimed it as hers. Now, how do you forget you're towing a suitcase while your about to board a ferry?

All in all Karen and I did very well in remembering things, though I forgot the heating pad which is probably on the upper shelf of a closet in the hotel in Heraklion (heh-ruh-klai-uhn), Crete; and I left my neck-rest on the plane. Karen gave us both a good scare when she couldn't locate her COVID test results as we stood in the incredibly long-line at the airport in Frankfurt. If she hadn't found it we'd probably still be there. They really need to employ more boarder control officers to check passports in Frankfurt.

The parables of Jesus are brilliant because he's a religious genius, along with the Apostle Paul; but all there genius is for naught if our minds and hearts are not open to grasp the meaning of their parables and stories. This is, and always will be our responsibility. God will help us if we ask, but somethings depend on us. We have to transcend the ego, and we have to do it everyday. It takes a lot of practice, and that's an important part of good discipleship.

Rev. Mitch Becker

October 10, 2021

Port Angeles

 

 

 

First Christian Church

“Beyond the Nightly News”

Isaiah 50:4-9a

In the Book of Isaiah the four Servant Songs are found in chapters 42 through 53. The first and second Servant Songs are about the Servant bringing justice to the nations, and this is followed by further definition of his mission. It is the third Servant Song that is our text for today. In this third song the word “Servant” isn't even used, but what's described is the Servant's ability to encourage the exile's through the use of words, along with his capacity to be open to instruction and guidance from God. Also described is the abuse the Servant receives due to his mission, and regardless of the suffering inflicted upon him he is determined to fulfill God's calling. On a final note, the fourth Servant Song concerns the “Suffering” Servant, and is used on Good Friday to describe Christ's sacrifice on the cross.

As for the identity of the Servant at times the prophet seems to be talking about an individual, but other times he appears to be describing the nation of Israel. This has been a source of much debate, and in the end we have to live with the inherent ambiguity. Jewish people tend to think of the Servant as the nation of Israel, but the prophet may have had a person in mind.

The text begins by explaining the Servant has the ability to teach, and knows how to use words to encourage and inspire, and the only reason he has anything worthwhile to say is because he's listened to God. Keep in mind that the exiled in Babylon are his audience. These people have suffered much having lost their homeland, and had to make a life for themselves in a strange land. “Weary” is probably a generous term to ascribe to them. Maybe exhausted, and reaching the end of their rope would be a better description. God has commissioned the Servant to bring hope to these worn-out peoples.

The text tells us that: “...he wakens morning by morning, he wakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.” (Isaiah 50:4b) So we get the clear indication that the Servant is spoken to by God every day, and in this way he's given his marching orders. Unlike most of us the Servant begins the day with a certain clarity about what God wants him to do. The text continues: “The Lord Yahweh has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away backward.” (Isaiah 50:5) Here, and very much like the rest of us, the Servant might be inclined to rebel, or even run away, because often to follow God's will means to suffer. Some prophets did run away such as Jonah, and Jeremiah complains a great deal; but the Servant is able to follow-through, as does eventually Jonah and Jeremiah.

The text hinges on the next verse as it describes someone whose being terribly beaten with whips or rods, and to add insult to injury they pull out the hair of his beard. This kind of abuse would be painful both physically and emotionally. The physical pain is obvious, the emotional pain can be understood as one considers the culture of the Servant. For a man his beard was an important part of his identity, and the only time a beard was shaved-off was during a time of grief. The abuse continues as he is spat upon, and verbally insulted. In our time we're uncomfortable with shaming, but in his time they took shame very seriously. One could say the culture itself was honor/shame based, and even the gospel, several centuries later still reflects such a culture.

The question arises who would be put-off by the Servant's ministry? The answer can be found in the previous chapter where Yahweh is telling the Servant of his plans for the people. It sounds like this:

God also says: When the time's ripe, I answer you. When victory's due, I help you. I form you and use you to reconnect the people with me, to put the land in order, to resettle families on the ruined properties. I tell prisoners, 'Come on out. You're free!' and those huddled in fear, 'It's alright. It's safe now.' There will be food stands along all the roads, picnics on all the hills – Nobody hungry, nobody thirsty, shade from the sun, shelter from the wind, for the Compassionate One guides them, takes them to the best springs. I'll make all my mountains into roads, turn them into a superhighway. (Isaiah 49:8-11; The Message Bible)

The abusers are aware of the Servant's intention to take the people through the desert and back to Zion. We can surmise that those offended by his ministry are probably exiles who've managed to create a comfortable existence for themselves, and are threatened by the Servant's intention to upset their comfortable lives. On top of this they probably think it's the height of foolishness, if not insanity, to try to take a large group of people through a hostile desert to the rubble of a city that no longer exists.

In answer to this the Servant speaks of his confidence in Yahweh's ability to care for him, and enable him to endure all hardship and challenges, and by extension his people: “For the Lord Yahweh will help me; therefore I have not been confounded: therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be disappointed." (Isaiah 50:7) The Servant could blame God for bringing people's fear and resistance to bear upon him in the form of torture, but instead he praises God for his care and faithfulness. The word “flint,” suggests a kind of steely determination to move forward in his ministry.

To sum up: The Servant is more than just encouraging the exile's, he's also setting an example for them. Though he has been terribly abused he remains assured of Yahweh's caring presence, and of a certain kind of vindication. He's telling the people that though they feel weak, and have suffered much, with the right kind of vision it is possible to find hope. The exiled community can stand boldly without shame, and trust in Yahweh' sure deliverance, in the same way Yahweh has delivered them in the past.

The prophet Isaiah walked the earth eight centuries before Jesus showed-up. Yet, the parallels to the Servant and the ministry of Jesus are striking. Jesus, as well, tries to guide his people through the wilderness. Although, unlike the desert leading back to Zion Jesus attempts to lead them through the wilderness of sin. And as we saw in last weeks text when Jesus refers to the Gentile's as “dogs,” in the beginning he was chiefly concerned about the Jewish people. His concern soon broadens to include us, and his disciples continue to expand their vision over time.

Like the comfortable exile's, we too may resist this journey into the wilderness, because we have created comfort zones of our own. It could be argued that Americans are some of the most comfortable people on earth, and therefore the most resistant to being relocated; as well as resistant to hardship and challenges brought about by faithfully responding to God's will. To some extent this resistance helps to explain the two most prominent wilderness journey's we presently face. These being the two pandemics I mentioned last week: the viral pandemic and the pandemic of hatred.

The viral pandemic is allowed to persist because people are resisting the cure. They don't trust it, and for good reason. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccine's are not a vaccine like the flu vaccine. They are not the dead virus, but rather are a synthetic mRNA vaccine made in the laboratory. That is reason for concern, and another reason is because of the urgency the pandemic creates there has been no time for adequate long-term studies about possible side-effects. In the light of this it's not hard to understand people's hesitancy about taking the shot.

On the other hand what choice do we have? At present the only viable way of bringing the pandemic to an end, or at least getting it under control, is for everyone to take the shot. In my mind its worth the risk, but obviously, in a lot of peoples minds its not. My hunch would be that many of these folks resisting the shot don't get the flu vaccine either, and that is their choice to make. As more and more people succumb to the virus more people will take the vaccine, but there is a better way, and that is to trust God is caring for us and that the vaccine is part of the plan. Of course, that requires faith.

The other “pandemic” is one of hatred, and here peoples unwillingness to be led becomes even clearer. Jesus set the example for us to follow in his ministry of radical inclusiveness, where he embraced the marginalized and outcast of his society. This included the hated Samaritan's, tax collectors, lepers, demon possessed, women, children, the Roman occupiers, and anyone else who seemed to be lacking in Jewish credibility. In our time this exclusiveness results in a deep-seated hatred toward people who appear to be less than American, where American is defined as white, male, and often touting a beard.

Both of these pandemics are potentially lethal, and are slowly, but persistently taking lives, ruining health, and eroding the values that we most cherish in this country. As a faithful people, and followers of Jesus, we must trust once again in God's caring presence in the same way the Servant did so long ago. We must engage in the journey through the wilderness with great trust, and we will be given what we need to endure. Jesus has shown us The Way, and will not abandon us in our time of need. The following story speaks to us of endurance:

One time as a young woman trying to be competitive with my peers, I found myself struggling to get ahead of my two team mates in the race. I could hear my brother on the side-lines yelling at me to, “Get a move on Jenny!” I wanted to get moving, but I was running out of steam. I should have spent more time in practice running long distance, but it was too late now. After what seemed like an eternity I finally crossed the finish line dead last. They gave me a medal for it, for third place, but it was really in finishing the race itself that I felt I had won. Though I desperately wanted to give up I endured to the end, and that was my personal victory!

The Christian life is described as a race in the Letter to the Hebrews. It says, “...and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us...” (Hebrews 12:12) We all experience times of great hardship as we refuse to give-up, and set ourselves like flint to the ministries we are entrusted with, and the key to victory is to keep our eyes on Jesus. This can be difficult in a world obsessed with everything that has gone wrong, but with perseverance and trust it can be done. God will help us every step of the long journey.

To endure we have to stay positive because negative thoughts drain us. The key to staying positive in a world immersed in the negative is to understand how the human mind functions. As Richard Rohr has often pointed out the human mind gets stuck on the down-side of events and possibilities. This is why the Nightly News is almost entirely devoted to everything that's gone bad, and is going wrong. The audience identifies with the negative, because that's where we spend so much of our mental time. So don't blame the News for being depressing, just try to embrace your own darkness, and become fully conscious of it within yourself. That's the real beginning of change. When you can begin to accept your own negativity.

To keep our eyes on Jesus can be defined as just another way of staying positive, and trusting in what God is doing. This is not to say that there isn't global warming, hatred, and an unmerciful deadly virus. These terrible things are happening, and if you use the Nightly News as your sole way of judging reality things can start to look pretty bleak, pretty fast. Keeping our eyes on Jesus is a way to stay focused on the best part of ourselves, or on the God part of ourselves. From this place of spacious creativity, beauty and goodness become apparent. God's gracious creation is always before us, but a mind stuck on the negative is incapable of seeing it.

And when I say “gracious creation” I'm not limiting that to the natural world. I mean the everyday world of human interaction as well. If you can see God within yourself, you can see God on the outside. Eugene Peterson has a wonderful way of saying this as he interprets the sixth beatitude in the Gospel of Matthew: “You're blessed when you get your inside world – your mind and heart – put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.” (Matthew 5:8; The Message Bible) So the task before us is to get our mind and heart put right. To do that you have to get away from the Nightly News, and much of media content to accomplish the inside-outside balance.

Something that helps is to get away somewhere you're not familiar with, and this can be done by taking a trip across the Strait to Whidbey Island, or down to Olympia or points South, or flying to Greece for a couple weeks. That last destination is where my wife and I will be going soon. There are a lot of terrible things happening in the world, but its still a beautiful world. It's easier to see that if one makes a point to get away from the negativity, and get a clearer vision of what always is.

This happens many nights for me when I walk Oreo outside and look up to see Orion, the Pleiades, and the Big Dipper. They're always there and I depend upon them to be so, and they sparkle and shine with an endurance that's everlasting relative to my short life span. When we travel to Greece at the end of this month there will be risks taken, and especially in a time of COVID. But all travelers must take a COVID tests just prior to boarding, and, of course, must be vaccinated. So in this respect a plane may be one of the safer environments to be in these days. There will be risks involved with interacting with those in the travel industry, but I imagine masks and social distancing will often be observed. The greatest risk is with the general public, and God willing we'll be safe.

What stands to be gained is several nights away from the Nightly News, and valuable time spent in observance of our beautiful and fascinating world. Jesus teaches us, time and again, that we have to give-up something we value to discover the real things of value God has to offer. Jesus had a name for a world of endless beauty and love. He called it the kingdom of God, and you can't get there holding on to negativity and fearful notions. You have to let-go, and that always takes courage. It always takes faith.

The Servant wants his people to let go of the familiar, and return to their homeland. It won't be an easy journey, but God will be with them. God will take care of them. Many of them resist, and some do quite violently, but to the one's who trust and follow there is no end of joy.

Rev. Mitch Becker

September 12, 2021

Port Angeles

 

 

 

First Christian Church

“The Blame Game”

Mark 7:24-37

Jesus has just finished confronting the religious leaders about “purity” codes, a common point of contention in the gospels; and as if he wants to demonstrate his point of view he goes off into “impure” territory. The vicinity of Tyre (Tire) is Gentile country, a place of considerable impurity, and he seems to have another reason for being there. It appears he's trying to take leave of his duties seeking a little “down time” as he enters a house in the hope no one will notice he's there. But its to no avail because he's discovered anyway, and it turns-out his healing abilities are already in great demand. This is surprising in that he's now in Gentile country rather than Jewish, but word also seems to have spread quickly in this part of the ancient world.

Suddenly a woman approaches him, and there are many reasons for her to keep her distance from the rabbi. To begin with she's Greek, or Syrophoenician (Sigh-row-foe-knee-shun) by birth making her impure by Jewish standards. She lives outside of Israel, and therefore outside of the law of Moses. This is compounded by the fact that her ancestors were once enemies of Israel. On top of this she's a woman not escorted by any man, a husband or male relative, and here she is starting a conversation with a male stranger. This kind of behavior was strictly forbidden. To add one more problem her daughter is “disturbed,” and in Jesus day she would be considered demon possessed. People with this affliction often demonstrated anti-social behavior, and could be downright bizarre. This is not the type of family people would be likely to ask over for dinner.

Anyway you sum this up the woman is clearly marginalized within her own community, and beyond this Jesus tells her as much in an unusually direct way. His response to her asking that he heal her daughter is: “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs.” (Mark 7:27) Keep in mind this is Jesus Christ talking, and by “children” he means the children of Israel, and by “dogs” he's referring to everyone else! What an absolutely crass response for the Son of God to make! What exactly is going on?

Some bible scholars suggest that Jesus is testing her faith, and others propose that he's simply exhausted from his ministry, and perhaps he's not entirely aware of the full scope of his mission. We can't know exactly what Jesus is doing. All we know for certain is after the woman approaches him, his gut response is to consider not her needs, but the needs of his own people. At this point we come to the most interesting part of the story, and that begins with the woman's clever response.

She says to him: “Sir, even the little dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.” (Mark 7:28) Apparently this opens Jesus' eyes to what is possible, and he responds, “For saying that, you may go, the demon has left your daughter.” (Mark 7:29) It's as if Jesus can only agree with the woman that God's love knows no boundaries, not ethnic, political or social. The woman returns home to find her daughter well and in good spirits.

Now we enter into the second half of the text where Jesus is on the road again heading for the Decapolis (Duh-ka-puh-lis), or the Ten Cities, also Gentile country. The Ten Cities are all located on the Eastern frontier of Israel with the northern most city being Damascus, and the southern most city Philadelphia, close to the same latitude as Jerusalem. These cities are maybe 250 miles apart with eight other cities located between them. So the text can be understood not as Jesus is going to visit all those cities, but rather is going into the area that includes those cities.

Maybe Jesus is still seeking some kind of refuge by traveling to the furthest reaches of the frontier, or maybe due to the encounter with the Gentile woman his vision has been expanded? Whatever the case it still proves impossible for him to escape notice, and they bring to him a man with both hearing and speech problems. This man is not unlike the Gentile woman since he too is an outsider. An outsider not only in ethnic terms, but is also separated from everyday life by his impairments. The difference is Jesus immediately responds to the request to heal him, and its a very earthy type of healing. Here's what happens:

Some people brought a man who could neither hear nor speak and asked Jesus to lay a healing hand on him. He took the man off by himself, put his fingers in the man's ears and spit on the man's tongue. Then Jesus looked up in prayer, groaned mightily, and commanded, 'Ephphatha!' (F-fah-thaw) – open up! And it happened. The man's hearing was clear and his speech plain – just like that. (Mark 7:32-35; The Message Bible)

These miraculous healings are incredible events in themselves, but there is something else happening here that is equally intriguing. Jesus seems to be enlarging his sense of mission as he progresses through his ministry. He resists the Gentile woman's request, but upon her clever response immediately changes his approach, and does as she asks. After this encounter he heads even deeper into Gentile territory, and continues to respond to peoples needs. In the same way that his disciples are progressively called out to a larger vision of their mission, so Jesus is setting the pattern for them in our text today. This larger vision aims to embrace the outsider, stranger, and even the enemy.

The pattern of inclusion Jesus demonstrated so long ago still applies to us, and maybe more so now days than at any other time. Recently in our culture we've seen a resurgence of nationalism, racism, and general xenophobia (broadly defined as a fear of strangers). Jesus and his disciples had to struggle with the prejudiced notions of their own culture, which our text today seems to be an example of, and Jesus points us in the right direction with his words and actions. The following story that takes place in more current times shows us some things never change, or as the Book of Ecclesiastes tells us: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

We'll call the storyteller Francis, and he begins by telling us he has to be careful because he has a tendency to pounce on people who are the way he used to be. In other words, people who haven't grown-up in the way he has. And he used to make this mistake a lot back in his younger days, and especially throughout the troubling years of the 1960's. He grew-up in the South, in western Mississippi, where many people are deeply prejudiced, and he says it was like this everyday of his life. He was immersed in bigotry, and there was one incident in his life that stands-out to exemplify the way things were.

He was about nine years old, and was with his grandpa, and a friend named Bill, and they were out harvesting the wheat crop which meant they had a wagon they were stacking the wheat on. He was riding on the wagon, and his grandpa was driving the mule team, and his friend Bill, who was a colored man, was walking along behind. Bill was a close friend of his, and though Bill was considerably older they did a lot things together.

Bill shared with Francis much folk wisdom, the kind of things you don't learn from books, or from going to school. Things like how to tell when an apple is ripe by the smell of it, and the difference between the bees that sting you, and those that don't. Bill was a great friend to Francis, and he deeply valued that friendship.

On this particular day they were headed back to the barn, and Bill yelled out something to Francis, but he couldn't quite make it out, so he yelled back to him, “What did you say, sir?” Suddenly the lights went out, and when he came to Francis was lying flat on his back on the ground. One side of his face was numb, and hurt like the dickens, and the next thing he knew his grandpa was not 3 inches from his face saying, “If you ever show that kind of respect to a (the “N” word) again I'll string you up to the nearest tree myself, and I mean that so help me God!”

Francis says the experience has always stayed with him reminding him of how deeply hatred can effect otherwise responsible, and often caring people. He felt that over time he was able to come to terms with what happened that day, and thought he'd moved past the hatred itself. And then one day while he was being judgmental of someone else and their prejudiced behavior, a friend pointed out that he was being more hateful about the prejudiced person prejudice, than the prejudiced person was being hateful.

The hatred and bigotry that Jesus and his disciples had to cope with, both within their culture, and within themselves, is still very much with us. In this regard the human race has not made a great deal of progress, but few causes are more important, and our faith is in the vanguard of the movement toward inclusion of all peoples regardless of race, nationality, religion, gender or sexual orientation. It seems apparent to me that in our text today Jesus comes-up against the prejudice of his culture which is revealed in his own words, and especially in referring to us Gentiles as “dogs.” But as the story progresses we see at least two breakthroughs occur. The first is Jesus' decision to respond to the need of someone other than a fellow Jew, followed by the breakthrough of God's healing power into the life of the daughter.

Later on in the life and ministry of the disciples, and after Jesus' death, the Holy Spirit breaks-through into Peter's consciousness in the form of a dream, and this is what happened:

So Peter, starting from the beginning, laid it out for them step-by-step: “Recently I was in the town of Joppa (Jaa-puh) praying. I fell into a trance and saw a vision: Something like a huge blanket, lowered by ropes at its four corners, came down out of heaven and settled on the ground in front of me. Milling around on the blanket were farm animals, wild animals, reptiles, birds – you name it, it was there. Fascinated, I took it all in. Then I heard a voice: 'Go to it Peter – kill and eat.' I said, 'Oh, no, Master. I've never so much as tasted food that wasn't kosher.' The voice spoke again: 'If God says it's okay, it's okay.' This happened three times, and then the blanket was pulled back up into the sky.” (Acts 11:4-10; The Message Bible)

Though Jesus had already laid the groundwork for a wider mission to the Gentiles, his disciples still had to confront the deeply rooted prejudice of their day before they could minister effectively to everyone. The Apostle Paul throughout his missions to the Gentiles was constantly trying to convince the disciples of the necessity of reaching out to non-Jewish peoples, and further arguing that you didn't need to convert people to Judaism before they could become Christian's. It was all an an uphill battle. Prejudice and bigotry are alive and well, and resides within all of us whether we're aware of it or not.

Karen and I watched a movie last week entitled, “African Doctor.” It was a true story about a doctor who was educated in Africa, and had just received his medical degree. He was approached by the mayor of a little country town in France looking for someone to come to the town and open a medical practice. Though it turned out the mayor was reluctant to hire the new doctor the doctor convinced him he could make it work. So the mayor hires him, and the doctor collects his family and they travel to France, and in the opening scene the bus lets them off in the pouring rain.

From the get-go its a story of hardship and hatred where the country folk can not bring themselves to put trust in this man who looks so very different from them, along with his family which includes his beautiful wife and two children. The wife and children must cope with the same type of resistance the doctor does, and the trials the children go through are especially heartbreaking. Though the timeline is not clear in the movie, it obviously takes a considerable amount of effort and tears before the doctor and his family are accepted by the community.

The turning point is when the African doctor delivers a a baby who is a breach-birth with a extremely prejudiced woman. She does everything she can to keep him from even touching her, but at the same time is growing increasingly desperate to get the baby out. With great irony, the woman is able to push the baby out because of her loathing of the doctor! Her hatred of him comes with such passion that the very thought of him touching her results in forceful pushes. Before you know it the baby is out, and the doctor becomes a celebrity. There is much rejoicing in the town, and soon people are lined-up at his doorstep. Its a true story about hard work and perseverance that eventually results in acceptance.

I'm going to close the sermon with some comments about hatred in America, because the disease has become so acute, like a cancer that is spreading. You might call it the other pandemic. The symptoms of this societal cancer that's most pronounced is a kind of insane blame game. And the thinking that provides the baseline is that other people are the problem. Within this mindset the liberals think the conservatives are the problem, the Republicans think its the Democrats and visa versa, the media takes their turn blaming nearly everyone, and a great many people believe immigrants are the problem, or homosexuals, or people that support abortion, and on and on.

This kind of behavior is crazy-making, and drives people deeper into hatred everyday, which ultimately threatens the democracy we live in, because what democracy is is people who learn how to agree to disagree. In a democracy we don't all think and see the world the same way, but the differences are fundamentally respected. And it doesn't stop here, because within this insane social practice what people do is shore-up their point of view until they decide that they're absolutely right, and not only is anyone who disagrees with them wrong, but they are judged as existentially “bad.”

During World War II it wasn't that the German people were a hateful race. Hitler and the people who surrounded him were full of hatred, but what happened to the Jewish people and others happened not because the German people hated them; it happened because they didn't make a commitment to not hate. That is what they should have done, and we can learn from their mistake. We can decide everyday to commit ourselves to not hate. We will not participate nor tolerate the blame game. We will not participate nor tolerate the insanity. That's how it will stop. One loving person at a time.

Rev. Mitch Becker

September 5, 2021

Port Angeles

 

  

First Christian Church

“Caring Correction”

James 1:17-27

This opening chapter of the Letter of James is a look at “coming attractions” in the chapters ahead, and its possible to breakdown the chapter into three sections. The first section has to do with being on the receiving end of God's grace, as opposed to life dictated by ego driven desires. The second section is about listening, and can we accomplish that without getting angry. The final section is about putting our faith into actions that benefit the less fortunate than us, and the chapter concludes with a little vignette about staying, “unstained from the world.” I'll attempt to unpack each of the sections in succession.

To get a comprehensive picture of this first section we'll need to begin at verse 13:

Don't let anyone under pressure to give in to evil say, God is trying to trip me up. “God is impervious to evil, and puts evil in no one's way. The temptation to give into evil comes from us and only us. We have no one to blame but the leering, seducing flare-up of our own lust. Lust gets pregnant, and has a baby: sin! Sin grows-up to adulthood, and becomes a real killer. So, my dear friends, don't get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful about God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. (James 1:13-17); The Message Bible)

Peterson has replaced the word “desire” with “lust,” so don't be thrown off by this exchange. Though we often think of lust in terms of sexual desire, the term can apply to a strong desire for anything or anyone. The apostle goes on to explain that lust is both unstable and fickle, and cannot be depended upon; whereas God's truth is unchangeable. When we look out onto the world it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that the world is governed by lust which is transient in nature. Once you allow lust to dictate your actions things only get worse over time. Eventually it leads to sinful behavior, and “becomes a real killer.” The following story may bring further illumination to what James is trying to tell us:

It was late winter and it was neither raining nor snowing, but for some reason I wasn't as aware of my surroundings as I typically am. My wife and two sons were with me, and we'd been driving for some time on our way to meet grandpa and grandma. These moments with my family are some of the most important times of my life. It wasn't anyone's birthday, nor was it our anniversary, or anything like that, I was just thankful that my family was healthy, happy, and together on this trip. This all could have gone awry (ah-rye) if it wasn't for the bold red sign that was trying to tell me I was going in the wrong direction! I only saw it for a brief instant and was not able to clearly make out the words, “Do Not Enter.” I pulled off the road, and looked both ways before I made a U-turn to head back in the right direction. I couldn't help but imagine all the damage I could have done, not only to my wife and children, but to anyone else who might have been on the on-ramp at the time.

The same thing can happen in our spiritual lives when we are traveling in the wrong direction, and a friend or family member, pastor or therapist, or possibly someone we hardly know helps correct our course. God supplies people who stand-up against our lustful actions and air-brain behaviors to let us know, and sometimes painfully make us aware, of our mistaken choices. Who knows what damage we might inflict if not for the often subtle, but not always subtle, correction we may need in the moment.

 The Apostle James demonstrates what caring correction is when he says: “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (James 5:20) This kind of correction is an example of Gods' grace in our lives, and in-part what the apostle means by “rivers of light cascading down.” May our thoughtfulness and consideration for the well-being of others help us to stay on the path that leads to speaking and acting in ways pleasing to God.

This brings us to the second section of the text, and once again we'll hear it put into contemporary language:

He brought us to life using the true word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures. Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God's righteousness doesn't grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life. Don't fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! (James 1:18-22; The Message Bible)

That word “humility” is key to this part of the text, and carries with it tremendous spiritual importance. The blessed spiritual state of humility is not the typical state of affairs for most of us. We typically are prideful and want to be right in most situations. We like to be winners, rather than losers. We typically pursue our ego driven goals with a kind of abandonment in regards to others, and are more than willing to enlist them to help us reach those goals if we can. This isn't a very complimentary way of viewing ourselves, but it is a biblical based view, and one only needs to spend time in honest reflection to verify what I'm saying.

It all began in the Garden of Eden when Adam disobeys the Lord, and we've been doing it ever since. There is hope however in that the sinless One came to show us The Way, and even gave his life to demonstrate how much God loves us anyway, and is hoping the best for us. Yes, Christ made it obvious that God has faith in us as well. Faith that over time, struggle, great love & great suffering, and honest reflection we too can emerge from our prideful behavior to become the “crown of all his creatures” the text is talking about. The door that leads to the “salvation-garden” is called humility.

Humility usually comes with a price, because the kind of honesty required to reach this blessed state often means for us to become painfully aware of our true motives. Recently I've been involved in an exchange on the internet with a Facebook friend who showed me that I was being self-righteous. I was trying to correct him about a particular way he was describing people who refuse to be vaccinated. To be specific, I was correcting his usage of language on his own Facebook page and I felt perfectly justified. I just knew I was right, and that through logic and gentle persuasion he'd see the error of his ways.

When he used the term “self-righteous” in his response I immediately identified with it, though it took a couple days to feel it in my heart. It wasn't until I read these words at the beginning of chapter 7 in the Gospel of Matthew that the wrongness of my actions became clear to me. This is what I read:

Don't pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults – unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It's easy to see a smudge on your neighbor's face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, 'Let me wash your face for you,' when your own face is distorted by contempt? It's the whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor. (Matthew 7:1-5; The Message Bible)

After two days of self-condemnation and struggle, and upon reading those words it became obvious to me that I'd overstepped my bounds and needed to apologize. I've done that in a letter I mailed last Wednesday. One outcome of this was my Facebook friend unfriended me, so in the letter I've asked him if he would reinstate our online friendship. One way this all applies to our text is the letter is an expression of humility. One definition for humility involves seeing your true place in the universe. Because of this painful interaction I've been able to see my relative importance in the whole scheme of things, and I appear to be just another fragile, sometimes smug, simply wrong human being.

In the heat of anger one can seem pretty important, but when the anger subsides and you begin to see some of the consequences of your anger...the loss of friendships, burning-bridges of possibility, needless suffering, and the risk of collateral damage, it can leave you feeling fragile and vulnerable. We don't usually consider such feelings as positive, but when they ultimately lead to a state of humility they become priceless. It is from the blessed place of humility that love and forgiveness become possible. Humility is like a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stifling room of imaginary self-importance.

Because the cost is so great most people learn how to live in that stifling room and don't do anything about it until they're backed into a corner. As we practice our spiritual disciplines we're in effect giving ourselves some viable options when the moment of truth arrives. We can't will ourselves into a state of humility, it has to be done for us and that's where Christ enters the picture. The Apostle Paul said it like this: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24)

In this particular incident it was the words of Jesus recorded in the Sermon on the Mount that helped me to see my sinful ways. But then again the gospel itself has to hold a certain degree of authority in your life for it to be that effective. For some Christians the Bible doesn't have that much power in their lives. What about these folks? How can Christ help them reach that blessed state of humility?

This brings us to our third and final section of the text which reads:

Those who hear and don't act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like. But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God – the free life! – even out of the corner of their eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in action. Anyone who sets themselves up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world. (James 1:23-27; The Message Bible)

If you don't find the Bible persuasive, or even if you do, God can still breakthrough our arrogant ways to help us achieve a state of humility; and that can happen by putting yourself into relationship with “the homeless and loveless in their plight."

Of late, Karen and I have been sharing our abundance of tomatoes with the homeless in the ravine adjacent to our church. It was Karen's idea, and I'm doing the leg work by putting the tomatoes into a plastic bag and then leaving them at the bottom of the ravine by the creek. We've left three full bags, and all of the tomatoes have been taken (Actually the last bag left still had tomatoes in it. They may be getting tired of tomatoes at this point?) There is also a note attached to each bag that includes a blessing, and that the tomatoes have come from Pastor Mitch and Karen. As time goes by Spirit will surely hint at other ways we can show the compassion of Christ to the "homeless & loveless" who live in our backyard.

To sum up – There is a striking contrast between the activity of God's grace in our lives, and the relentless cravings, and lustful ambitions of our egoic lifestyles. Because of the Father's, “rivers of light cascading down,” which is symbolism for God's generosity, we can stay on the path that leads to speaking and acting in ways that please God. Humility allows us to listen to God's guidance, and even to caring correction without getting angry. Hopefully the Bible holds great authority for you, and there are other ways to be reminded of your true place in this world. Caring for the poor is a win/win for all involved, and though taking tomatoes to them is a small thing, it helps to keep them in mind. It's so easy to pretend they're not there at all.

Rev. Mitch Becker

August 29, 2021

Port Angeles

  

 

First Christian Church

“The Remnant”

Psalm 84

There are two things I want to say before we begin to unpack the 84th psalm. The first is what the psalms are about is prayer. They are the prayers of people who are in relationship with God, and who often need help to make the most of that relationship. The way they do that is by praying the psalms. This all started with the Hebrew people many centuries ago, so you could say they have a head-start on us. The psalms have been passed-down through the ages to the present moment where now we as people of faith still turn to them. We still need the psalms to help us open-up to God who is always with us, but sometimes feels distant.

The other introductory statement I want to make is Jesus also prayed the psalms. Sometimes he felt God the Father was distant from him, and he used the psalms in the same way we need to at times. So if even Jesus needed to pray the psalms how much more do we need them!

The 84th psalm is a beautiful psalm that includes the birds as it says, “even the sparrow finds a home.” The psalm writers identified as the Sons of Korah (Core-raw), seemed fit to include at least this aspect of creation important enough to dwell in the temple. These were probably the very birds that made there nests in the crevices and ledges on the outside of the temple, and in effect the psalm writers bring them inside where they find a home. It also includes the “valley of Baca” (Back-kuh) which may not be a real place, but clearly is meant to symbolize a wilderness made survivable by springs and early rain.

To sum up, the people of the psalm are prayerfully on pilgrimage to the temple, and make their way by the strength and guidance of God. Eugene Peterson interprets this part of the psalm with these words: “They wind through lonesome valleys, come upon brooks, discover cool springs and pools brimming with rain! God traveled, these roads curve up the mountain, and at last turn Zion! God in full view!” (Zion is the hill that Jerusalem is built upon) (Psalm 84:6-7; The Message Bible) So the psalm is about a journey of a faithful people, who find the journey possible because God is helping them through the hardships and challenges of a barren wasteland. The journey is to the temple of God where they will find a home, along with the birds of the air, at home with God and the creation. The psalm ends by making the claim there is nowhere on earth more desirable.

Our temple is this sanctuary. It's not exactly a cathedral, but it is our spiritual home. We as a people of faith come here to be with God, because we believe, in our minds and hearts, that God will become known to us here as we sing the hymns, listen to the Word, and pray to God. We also see God in each other because here we are more than friends, we are fellow pilgrims seeking God's presence.

Sometimes we become discouraged when we think of the gradual decline of the Church. Our denomination, the Disciples of Christ, has steadily lost members since the late 1960's. There was a time in the mid 19th century when we were the 5th largest denomination in the country! Now there are less than 300,000 members in all of the U.S. and Canada. In our own church we average maybe 12 people (a biblical number meaning wholeness) in worship on any given Sunday. These are pretty sobering statistics, but now for the good news.

We are the remnant. The definition for remnant is a small remaining quantity of something. But we're not any remnant. We're a remnant of God's people, and we're the one's that truly care about God. You see, in the 1950's and 60's people came to the churches in droves. All you had to do was open the church doors on Sunday morning and they came and filled the pews. The reason for this is if you wanted to be someone in the community, or if you wanted to get ahead in any way, you had to be a member of a church. It was the socially acceptable and the socially progressive thing to do.

Of course, the consequence of this is that the pews are filled with people who are there for all the wrong reasons. From the outside it looks great! Looks like you've got a real happening enterprise going, but on the inside a lot of people are spiritually lost. As they say, you can't judge a book by its cover, and as well you shouldn't judge a church by outside appearances.

What all this means is the remnant, those of us who now remain to occupy the pews are the one's that truly care. We're the one's who are left, because for us this is where you meet God. To us the sanctuary is truly a holy place, and we're not going anywhere. It is here we will make our stand, and continue to sing the hymns, listen to the Word, and pray to our God asking that needs be met, and guidance be given, and strength be conveyed so we can carry on in our God given mission.

Today we come to hear the 84th psalm, so that God can minister to us, and give us what we need to carry-on with the mission of the church. You have heard the psalm read from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, but now I want you to hear it again put in contemporary language because it's just delightful:

What a beautiful home, God of the Angel Armies! I've always longed to live in a place like this, always dreamed of a room in your house, where I could sing for joy to God-alive! Birds find nooks and crannies in your house, sparrows and swallows make nests there. They lay their eggs and raise their young, singing their songs in the place where we worship. God of the Angel Armies! King! How blessed they are to live and sing there!

And how blessed all those in whom you live, whose lives become roads you travel; They wind through lonesome valleys, come upon brooks, discover cool springs and pools brimming with rain! God-traveled, these roads curve up the mountain, and at last turn Zion! God in full view! God of the Angel Armies, listen: O God of Jacob, open your ears – I'm praying! Look at our shields, glistening in the sun, our faces, shinning with your gracious anointing.

One day spent in your house, this beautiful place of worship, beats thousands spent on Greek island beaches. I'd rather scrub floors in the house of my God than be honored as a guest in the palace of sin. All sunshine and sovereign is God, generous in gifts and glory. He doesn't scrimp with his traveling companions. It's smooth sailing all the way with God of the Angel Armies. (Psalm 84:1-12; The Message Bible)

The psalmist is acknowledging what he has found in the sanctuary of God. His dreams are being fulfilled, and he sings forth in joy as he now feels connected to the creation within the house of God of the Angel Armies. He feels blessed as a pilgrim who journey's as God's companion. He knows what it means to be lost in the wilderness, and to seek and find help from God. He acknowledges that God's presence and care changes his appearance, as it changes his inner being. There is no other place on earth he wants more to be than in God's temple.

Like the psalmist we too come from our own “Valley of Baca's” where we encounter countless little deaths at the doctors office, in our homes, or in the community in general. We come to worship hoping, or even daring to anticipate, that we too might be able to join the celebration of God's presence which will lift us up out of despair, or even depression. We seek a new vision, and yearn to be renewed with God's power and presence. It's happen before, and we trust it can happen again! The Apostle Paul knows all about this as he explains to the church in Corinth how God works:

We're not keeping this quiet, not on your life. Just like the psalmist who wrote, “I believe it, so I said it,” we say what we believe. And what we believe is that the One who raised up the Master Jesus will just as certainly raise us up with you, alive. Every detail works to your advantage and to God's glory: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise! So we're not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. (2 Corinthians :13-16; The Message Bible)

Sometimes it can be hard for us to stay focused on what God's grace is doing within us. This is especially true when we're deep in the mire of our problems, and at every turn we hope for resolution, or at least refuge, but to no avail. Sometimes all we can do is keep soldiering on until the breakthrough we've been waiting for happens. We may look out at the world squinty-eyed where little light gets into our dark cellar of despair. At such times we may feel guilty knowing we're Christians, and feel we should be doing better. But we always need to be weary of that word “shouldn't.” “Should” and “shouldn't” have to do with judgment, and we're no crueler in this area than with ourselves.

It is grace and forgiveness that frees us from the bondage of our own self-condemnation, and I wish I could tell you more about this freedom. But a recovering alcoholic is something of an expert in the realm of guilt and self-condemnation. I can only tell you about The Way of forgiveness. A Way that is in some regards still a new path that needs more wear for me. The following story may bring some insight into the way God's grace finds itself into our sometimes harsh and unforgiving heart:

Our wandering preacher, we'll call her Sally, found herself in a city she'd not visited before, and the airline she was using had lower rates if you flew on a weekday. So, rather than flying out after her conference on Saturday, she decided to wait until Monday to fly home. Since she was going to be around Sunday morning she inquired at the hotel desk if there was a church in the neighborhood within walking distance. The hotel clerk didn't know of such a church, so he asked someone else behind the counter. They did happen to know of a church a few blocks away, and Sally decided to visit it in the morning.

She walked into the church to discover a sanctuary with high-arched colorful stained-glassed windows, and dark redwood walls. The pews were of solid wood with cushions, and it all looked like a building that could be on the National Register of Historic Places. It looked like it might be able to sit around 200 people, and soon the sanctuary began to fill up. It was not long before there was standing room only, and at the appropriate time the choir filed in. Soon after the preacher walked in behind them, and it was the preacher that really grabbed Sally's attention.

He was a remarkably short man of not more than five feet tall, and the feature that most stood out about him was the manner in which he walked. It was as though he struggled to keep from falling, like it was hard for him to keep his balance. His misshapen head twitched quickly to one-side on occasion, and one arm hung straight down from his body never moving in any direction. Though he was at a distance from Sally she could tell he wore thick-lensed glasses, and that one eye was apparently not functional at all.

This meant when he read he had to hold the text very close to him, and when he spoke each word came out with great effort, as if he had to struggle to enunciate each separate word. The sermon he preached was well crafted, but nothing to write home about. All in all it was a mediocre sermon. It was not lyrical or prophetic. What it was was kind and warm-hearted, and the people were entranced by it. The love was almost thick enough to cut with a knife, and the people simply let it wash over them and cover them with comfort.

Sally had to think about the way Jesus ministered to people who were often marginalized, outcast, and rejected by the main-stream. Is this what she was witnessing in the pulpit? This disfigured, crippled human being who was so painful to look at from the outside, but at the same time was demonstrating a captivating inner beauty. She thought was this why Jesus spent so much time with the downtrodden and rejected because they tend to develop quality human attributes on the inside? Did Jesus spend so much time with them because they needed to be ministered too, or was it the other way around and they ministered to him?

She decided to try to invite him to lunch. It turned-out he wasn't free for lunch, so she waited until he'd finished visiting with his congregation at the front door. When he finished they took one of the back pews, and sat and chatted awhile. He told Sally something of his background where he'd been put-up for adoption, but because of his disfigurement and awkwardness no one was interested in him. So he was moved from one foster home to the next. One day he was passing a church and saw some other kids going into it. He wanted to be with kids his age so he went into the church. It was in the church that he met Grace. Sally asked, “you mean someone named Grace changed your life.” He replied, yes grace changed my life – the grace of God.

It seems the people who are most available to the Holy Spirit are the one's who have the least to lose by inviting God into their lives. We experience this openness to the Spirit when we're in desperate need of God's attention. We're willing to let God in when we feel backed-into a corner, or simply have run-out of options. But when you're disfigured and rejected what do you have to lose?

Other than his disciples who wanted to learn from him, the people Jesus pays attention to are the sick, blind or crippled, the demon possessed, lepers, tax collectors, and prostitutes. All the people who have nothing to lose, and everything to gain by embracing the God of forgiveness. God offers acceptance and healing to all of us. That's what this communion table is about every Sunday morning, but until we're healed of our egotistical pride there isn't much God can do but wait. We can do more. We can pray the psalms, and ask for renewed vision, and more time with Grace.

Rev. Mitch Becker

August 22, 2021

Port Angeles

 

 

 

First Christian Church

“Empowered to Care”

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14

The text opens straight-forward enough telling us that David is dead, and his son Solomon has assumed the throne. Then we quickly move to Solomon worshiping at local shrines, rather than in Jerusalem. This is negative commentary by the writers concerning Solomon's frequent worship of foreign gods. It's further indicated by citing he “sacrificed a thousand Whole-Burnt-Offerings on that altar!” Clearly an exaggeration, but the point is made. One has to wonder why more isn't said about Solomon's idolatry, since according to the Book of Deuteronomy idolatry was the most grievous sin of all! As stated in my sermon last week nothing makes love angrier than betrayal!

One of the commentaries I reviewed suggested Solomon's practice of worshiping at local shrines was because of his numerous marriages to foreign wives. Was he simply trying to appease these women? We don't really know, but worshiping in numerous lessor shrines certainly is a demonstration of the kind of absolute power the king possessed. No one but him could get away with this type of flagrant misconduct. Even more astounding is its while visiting one of these shrines God appears to him in a dream! In the dream God says: “Ask what I should give you?” It is a remarkable offer to make to this young king to say, “Ask what you will.”

It brings to mind that game we used to play as children. Perhaps the game was inspired by Disney movies where characters would be asked to make three wishes, or something of that nature. Some typical wishes might be for wealth or fame, or maybe a pony. Rarely if ever would a childhood wish be out of concern for the betterment of another. They were almost always self-centered wishes. God seems to know this game also, and its essentially what is happening in our text. God is offering Solomon whatever he wishes, and his response is not what one would expect.

We might expect him to ask for riches, power, long life, or at least victory in battle, but none of that is reported. Instead Solomon praises God for his faithfulness to his father David, and then recounts his own situation as the new king. He characterizes himself as a “little child,” which is an expression of humility, because in reality Solomon is old enough to marry. Before him is the challenge of governing a great many people, and they're are not just anybody...they're God's people, a chosen nation. So what does Solomon ask for but a “listening heart,” so he can judge God's people, and “discern between good and evil.”

These are the kind of qualities that make for good leadership, and the sort of thing we'd hope for in all our leaders. This really says a lot for someone as young as he is to be able to acknowledge the enormous responsibility he's been given; and rather than demonstrating self-aggressive behavior, he seeks gifts that will make him a better leader by meeting the needs of others. God is very pleased with Solomon's requests, and not only grants them, but also adds other benefits including wealth, honor, and long-life. It's not a striking parallel, but it reminds me of Jesus telling his disciples if they'll seek first the kingdom of God all their human needs will be met. In Solomon's case if he'll be a wise and caring king God will see to it that his cup runs over with blessing.

One way we can sum-up this critique of our text is to say its about the acquisition and use of power. Solomon, for whatever reasons, is able to see that power used for the betterment of others honors both God and the people he is serving. The following Richard Rohr meditation goes into further depth in explaining the difference between “power within” and “power over.”

If we watch the news, work on a committee, or observe some marriages, we see that issues of power have not been well-addressed by most people. When we haven't experienced or don't trust our God given “power within,” we are either afraid of power or we exert too much of it over others. Enduring structures of “power over,” like patriarchy, white supremacy, and rigid capitalism, have limited most individuals power for so long that it is difficult to imagine another way. Only very gradually does human consciousness come to a selfless use of power, the sharing of power, or even a benevolent use of power – in church, politics, or families.

Good power is revealed in what Ken Wilber calls, “growth hierarchies,” which are needed to protect children, the poor, the entire natural world, and all those without power. Bad power consists of “domination hierarchies” in which power is used merely to protect, maintain, and promote oneself and one's group at the expense of others. Hierarchies in and of themselves are not inherently bad, but they are very dangerous for ourselves and others if we have not done our spiritual work. Martin Luther King defined power simply as “the ability to achieve purpose” and insisted that it be used toward the growth of love and justice. He wrote, “It is strength required to bring about social, political, and economic changes. In this sense power is not only desirable but necessary in order to implement the demands of love and justice.”

A prime idea of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is its very straight-forward critique of misuses of power. From the very beginning, the Bible undercuts the power of domination and teaches us another kind of power: powerlessness itself. God is able to use unlikely figures who in one way or another are always inept, unprepared, and incapable – powerless in some way. In the Bible, the bottom, the edge, or the outside is always the privileged spiritual position. This is why biblical revelation is revolutionary and even subversive. The so called “little ones” or the “poor in spirit,” as Jesus calls them, are the only teachable and “growable” ones according to him. Powerlessness seems to be God's starting place, as in Twelve-Step programs. Until we admit that “we are powerless,” Real Power will not be recognized, accepted, or even sought.

At the beginning of his meditation he describes the difference between power that originates from within, and power that used to dominate and control people. When we don't cultivate our inner power we tend to misuse and abuse power, and we can see this demonstrated in everything from marriages to the nightly news. When people use power in this way they often don't realize the limitations they're imposing upon themselves where “power over” seems to be the only way to live and make things go your way. But there is another way that Jesus showed us in his life and ministry, and that has to do with “power within.”

But as Rohr notes, this kind of power only comes about gradually, if at all, and involves a radical change in human consciousness. What Jesus describes as being “born again,” and the Apostle Paul calls being “in Christ.” When you come to understand through personal experience that there is no real power over others, only power that comes from God's Spirit flowing through you, you tend to let go and trust God more. You know that in time not only the best interests of others, but even your own best interests will be served. You simply have to learn to be patient, and to not get ahead of the flow. This is where the practice of centering prayer, and living in the present moment become so important.

By intentionally slowing down, and eventually stopping the thought process altogether, one is able to wait upon God more effectively. This results in “selfless” power since your not seeking any type of self-gratification, but are more so waiting for God's goodness to unfold. God is in control, because you've given up control. All God really wants from us is to learn how to be empty vessels.

To help us see how selfless power works in the real world I'll use a personal example. As an up and coming “young” minister I made many mistakes, and some of the biggest ones came from the pulpit. If I saw changes that needed to be made in the church sometimes I'd try to orchestrate these changes from the pulpit. Now you might have some success with this in the Catholic Church where the priest in seen as being in charge of the parish. But Disciples of Christ congregations don't see you in that manner, at least not on the West coast. So if you try to control things you get Newton's third law of motion, which essentially says, with every action there's an equal an opposite reaction.

Newton's law is magnified if you try to employ the use of anger. If you attempt to make change by getting angry that anger comes back at you 100 times over. In fact, in someways it never ends, and you pay for it indefinitely. These were hard lessons in my early years, and to some extent I only survived as a pastor due to sheer will power, and a personal commitment to not giving-up. After those first three years, and two churches, I was called to South Tacoma Christian Church, and soon was invited to join a ministers support group. It was from there that I was able to hone-out the best parts of my existing pastoral practices, and focus on what works, as opposed to what never did.

In that group one of the ministers came across a book entitled, “The Art of Pastoring,” and that little book changed my life. After he gave us each a copy I had something I could set on my desk and refer back to time and again. As the psalm says I could now “...stay on the true road that leads to Somewhere.” Without giving you an actual example of a devotion in the book, I can say what it often does is tells you to not try to change people. Because when you do that you're treating them like objects, and you'll eventually lose them. What you have to do is stay in the Word, and involved with your prayer life, and that will create a space within you where they can reside. A place of safety where they can be themselves.

This has more to do with self-control then having control over others. So in the beginning days of my ministry I thought I had to take charge, and I felt that was my role, because I didn't know a better way. Through the support group, and this wonderful little book of devotions, I found a better way that involved “power within.” And because I was a recovering alcoholic I knew in my heart what it feels like to be powerless, or to be in the power of an addiction. I knew what it was like to be up against something I couldn't overcome by myself. I had to reach out to a higher power, and admit that I was powerless.

The present COVID pandemic we're all engaged in is rapidly bringing us all to this same realization of powerlessness. For a time now we've been celebrating the victory of science with the advent of a vaccine to use against the virus. But the celebration is coming to a close as the Delta variant picks up momentum, coupled with the rising awareness of another variant right behind it that the vaccine may be useless against. Once again our primary weapons are masks and social distancing, but that's hard to go back to after a time of relative freedom. No body likes to go backwards.

I've been spending a considerable amount of time reading The Revelation. Not because I'm giving up and I think its the end of the world. That's just ego drama. What I'm doing is looking for the passages that tell us to not give up. Here's an example: “The Angel continued, “Don't seal the words of the prophecy of this book; don't put it away on a shelf. Time is just about up. Let evildoers do their worst and the dirty-minded go all out in pollution, but let the righteous maintain a straight course and the holy continue on in holiness.” (Revelation 22:10-11; The Message Bible)

These two verses, and ones similar to this run throughout The Revelation, and constitute the core message of the book. This core message is the reason the Church Father's left The Revelation in the canon, and I believe we're entering a time where this book is taking on a new importance. It also promises a “new heaven and new earth,” and for me that's a hopeful promise. Because I understand the new heaven to represent a new kind of human consciousness. Jesus calls it being “born again,” and Richard Rohr refers to it as giving up the False self to make room for the True self, and that makes perfect sense to me.

When human consciousness has changed in this manner, and reaches a large enough number of people, its effect will be to change the earth itself. That's what is meant by a “new earth.” The new earth is a direct result of a changed consciousness in human beings. We will act and treat the earth differently when enough of us are operating from the True self. The trouble with all of this is that it will require a great deal of human suffering before people will admit they're powerless, and turn to God for help. That's why there is so much suffering in The Revelation that precedes the advent of a new heaven and new earth. The concept is presented in chapter 21 in a book with a total of 22 chapters. In other words, it comes at the end of a difficult, painstaking book to read.

As Rohr says in other meditations there are two things that result in increased human consciousness, and they are great suffering and great love. We have masks and social distancing to reduce the suffering, and we can increase the presence of great love by doing loving things. When we put others before ourselves were loving others. The Apostle Paul puts it like this: “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to their own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves...” (Philippians 2:3-5a)

The following story helps bring the point home: This story begins in a bus stop cafe where Bob, our storyteller, takes refuge from a snowstorm in the upper mid-west. As he enters the cafe he discovers there's very little room to sit, and it takes awhile for the waitress to get to him. She is a bit rude, and gives him a hard time when he asks for a menu. She says, there isn't much available other than chili and some soup. So he asks what kind of soup they have, and she replies, “We have soup, do you want some!” Bob says, “Well, yeah, that's what I wanted was soup.” So that's what she brought, and it was pretty bad soup. Looked like it had been sitting for some time, and after the first taste he just let it sit there, and used it to warm his hands.

As he sat there the door came open and a small, half-frozen woman walked into the cafe. The proprietor yelled at her to close the door, because the cold, icy wind was blowing into the room. She found a place at the counter to sit, and the proprietor went over to find out what she wanted. All she wanted was a glass of water, and he got it, and took it over to her. Then he asked what she wanted to eat, and she told him all she wanted was the glass of water. To this he became indignant, and told her she could either order food or leave! She told him she was just trying to warm up for a minute.

Reluctantly she began to get up at which point everyone else in the cafe began to get up with her, including Bob who thought to himself, “I don't know why I'm joining everyone but it feels like the right thing to do.” At this point the proprietor gave in and told her she could stay, so everyone sat back down. As he listened to everyone sipping on the terrible soup, he decided to give it a try again, and you know, it didn't taste so bad now.

When we put others before ourselves we're loving them.

Rev. Mitch Becker

August 15, 2021

Port Angeles