Sermons

Sermons

 

First Christian Church

“When Less Is More”

John 6:24-35

There are some clear parallels with our text today and the parable of the Samaritan woman at the well. In the case of the Samaritan woman Jesus offers her “living water,” and in our text today its the “bread of God.” Both of these are spiritual metaphors for the nourishment of the True self, or that part of us that's holy. In the Message Bible, Peterson says it like this: “You've come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs – and for free. Don't waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last.” (John 6:26-27; The Message Bible)

A Buddhist would talk about this in terms of the impermanence (im-pur-muh-nuhns) of things on this material plane of existence. Jesus is trying to get people to focus on Spirit, and to begin to appreciate the lasting nature of a life focused on God. This is hard work because folks have a lot of other things they're interested in. One of the benefits of getting older is that it becomes apparent things don't last, and you may begin to wonder if there is anything of lasting value. Jesus tells us time and again that we need to stay focused on Spirit, but staying focused itself can be a challenge. Let me give you an example:

I've been watching on You Tube a video of a young man running down the South Kaibab Trail (Kyi-buhb) in the Grand Canyon. I watch this for a few minutes before I enter into centering prayer. It helps me to make the transition from everyday existence to my life with Spirit. He has to really stay focused on what he's doing because he's not walking down the trail, and he's not running fast, but he is running. The trail is anything but smooth and even. It is littered with loose rocks, small logs to channel water, and washboard ground not to mention a rather steep drop on one side of the trail. If he trips and falls it could be a disaster. All the while he's holding a camera in his right hand negotiating this potentially dangerous journey into the canyon. He must stay focused to not only accomplish the task before him, but also to avoid injury or death!

It would behoove us to take our spiritual journeys equally as serious, because God has given each of us a task to accomplish here on earth. We have been called by God to be the body of Christ and we're suppose to take that seriously. In fact, there should be nothing more important than this in our lives. As well, we put at risk our spiritual lives, or what they call in the evangelical churches, “our walk with God,” when we wander-off into the impermanence of the material world. Probably the best parable I can think of to further explore the importance of staying focused on Spirit is found in the Sermon on the Mount, and it sounds like this:

Stockpile treasure in heaven, where its safe from moth and rust and burglars. Its obvious isn't it. The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and the place you 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. Adoration of one feeds contempt for 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 in 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 the birds. Has anyone by fussing in front of a 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 along side them. If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers – most of which are never even 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 6:20-34; The Message Bible)

When one seriously considers this parable it becomes apparent that God is offering us a life of abundance, and that abundance is connected to a life aligned with Spirit. Since most people walk around with the notion they don't have enough it results in a constant effort to get more. This can mean more as in more money, attention, food, a bigger house, a more expensive car, another lover, more friends, whatever. But the spiritual life is more about letting go than it is about addition. We learn to live with less until eventually we “become the proud owners of everything that can't be bought.” This is when the creation itself becomes not something we own, but something we enjoy and feel intimately connected to, and not just in momentary religious experiences.

Richard Rohr has this to say about scarcity and abundance. I shared this with you a couple months ago, but its good enough to bear repeating:

The flow of grace through us is largely blocked when we are living inside a world of scarcity, a feeling that there's just not enough: enough of God, enough of me, enough food, enough mercy to include and forgive all faults. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the mind is apparently unable to imagine anything infinite or eternal. So it cannot image an infinite love, or a God whose “love is everlasting” as the Psalms continually shout.

A foundational abundance within reality is clearly exemplified in all the “multiplication” of food stories in the Gospels, when Jesus feeds a crowd with very little (for example, Matthew 14:15-21). The real spiritual point is grace and not some mere physical miracle. Notice in almost every case, the good old apostles, who represent our worldview of scarcity, advise Jesus against it: “But how will two fish and five loaves be enough for so many?” Jesus is trying to move them from their worldview of scarcity to a worldview of abundance, but does it with great difficulty. In the end there is always much food left over, which should communicate the point: reality always has more than enough of itself to give, it is an inherent overflowing. Observe the seeds, spermatozoa, and pollen of the natural world.

.A saint always knows that there is more than enough for our need but never enough for our greed. In the midst of the structural stinginess and over-consumption of our present world, how do you possibly change consciousness and teach the mind to operate from mercy and graciousness? It will always be an uphill battle, and it will always depend upon a foundational and sustained conversion....Only a personal experience of unconditional, unearned, and infinite love and forgiveness can move you from the normal worldview of scarcity to the divine world view of infinite abundance. That's when the doors of mercy blow wide open! That's when you begin to understand the scale-breaking nature of the Gospel.

I have a wonderful painting, a reproduction, of course, of Rembrandt's, “Return of the Prodigal Son” hanging in my office. It was a Christmas gift from my congregation in Lancaster and its become very dear to me, because it came as a gift of love from people who I came to love and admire. It's also dear to me because it represents the world of abundance that Rohr is describing. The father of the prodigal son freely embraces the return of his rebellious offspring because the infinite love and forgiveness of God is flowing through him.

This parable is Jesus' way of telling us that this is what God is like, and as his followers we're expected to do the same. This can be remarkably difficult, and especially if we're not staying in touch with Spirit. Its just not humanly possible to put anger and resentment aside to allow Spirit to flow through us unless we've spent a considerable amount of time in Spirit's presence. Even then its going to be a struggle whenever we're called to love and forgive in the manner the father does in the story. In a worldview of scarcity we just don't feel we have enough forgiveness to give, but God can change all that if we'll allow it. This means to learn how to slow down in a culture that's constantly pushing us to accelerate. Maybe this story can give us some insight:

In a small town in the mid-west there's a department store that has a large red button in one section of the store. If you need help and there is no one around you can push this button, and it engages a clock that starts ticking. The clock is set for two minutes, and if someone doesn't come to help you within those two minutes you get a reduction on whatever you buy there.

If we were to place ourselves in this situation we'd probably like to be the one who gets the fast service. But then imagine your on the other end of the process, and you're the one expected to deliver the fast service. This is how many people feel now days. In a culture driven by demanding organizational structures that support us, the internet and cell phones, the needs of family and friends, all happening as we cope with these aging bodies, we sometimes feel pushed to the brink. We look for refuge but there is none, because we're frantically trying to meet all the demands being put upon us.

If you'll recall God commanded the Hebrew people to keep a Sabbath, and it was so important it was included in the Ten Commandments. What's of particular note here is God added a reason for the commandment, and that was for them to remember they were once slaves in Egypt. When they were there the Egyptians forced them to work at hard labor without ceasing, and under oppressive conditions.

What changed is they were given their freedom, and because of that God wanted them to take an entire day to themselves, and to their devotion of him. What this means is under the new divine order, and for us Christians this constitutes the kingdom of God, this relentless, demanding, exhausting type of lifestyle is suppose to come to an end. In the kingdom we're to keep attentive to Spirit, making it the priority in our lives. A culture of rush is not of the Lord's making, and we're not to contribute to it in any manner. 3

The Apostle Paul tells us this in no uncertain terms when he says, “So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking around life – and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. 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 out the best in you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” (Romans 12:1-2; The Message Bible)

One way that I slow down, and detach from the culture, and try to pay attention to what God is doing in the moment is by making myself talk to people. For example, I took my break from writing this sermon by going down to the Starbucks in the Safeway store. There was only one guy working the store (not an unusual sight these days) and he was really working hard to keep up. When it came time to pay I pointed out that he was holding down the fort by himself. He told me he wasn't suppose to be working alone, but didn't explain why he'd ended up the only barista. When he finished making my iced green tea latte I had moved to where you receive the finished product, and told him if it was any consolation that I work by myself as well. He responded that he didn't mind at all, and that he thought the tips were better when he was by himself. After I took my drink I stopped at the tip receptacle and dropped a one dollar bill into it.

There was nothing said between us that was particularly profound, but upon reflection it was one of the best parts of my day. It was as though I'd found a kindred spirit. It was a connection made with another human being in the moment, and a way of paying attention to what God is doing. And it only happened because I made myself do it. Its far easier for me to remain quiet and undisturbed. I'm perfectly comfortable within myself, and feel no great need to make a connection, but my sense is God expects more of me. So I make myself talk, and in the long run feel better for it.

We began this morning with the “bread of God,” and “living water” as metaphors for the nourishment of the True self. God in his grace, and Jesus as grace giver, offers us these God provisions so we can be sustained as spiritual beings. In many ways in the Gospels, the Epistles of Paul, the Psalms, and other biblical writings, God reminds us of the impermanence of the creation around us, and of these very life's we're living. There is nothing we can see, taste, smell or touch that has any lasting value, or as the Book of Ecclesiastes puts it: … “all is vanity and a striving after the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 1:14b) What Jesus offers today is a way to live a meaningful, genuine life filled with love and hope. In other words, heaven on earth.

So don't look for Jesus to come in the clouds. He's not coming that way. He's coming from the inside out, and he's on his way.

Rev. Mitch Becker

August 1, 2021

Port Angeles

 

 

First Christian Church

2 Samuel 11:1-15

“Our Hidden Life”

The text opens with some comments about previous Ammonite (an-muh-nite) aggression the Israelite's had to deal with, and King David decides to eliminate these troublesome people altogether. So he sends his top general, Joab (Joe-ab), and a good size detachment of troops to do the deed. They lay siege to Rabbah (rah like rabbit bah), their most important city, but David doesn't go with them. The text opens in this manner not so much to give us information about the military history of Israel, as much as its to show us David is being negligent in his kingly duties. Kings were expected to lead in a military operation of this size. As I said in a recent sermon David is often depicted as being self-centered and this text is no exception.

Our central story today begins with a beautiful woman, as many stories do, and shes taking a bath. Nothing unusual about that except this bath is being taken in what appears to be a rather public manner. She's on a rooftop, and at first one might think of this as being unnecessarily public, but maybe she was on the rooftop to be alone. She may have thought the rooftop provided some privacy. David, as kings often are, is located at a higher elevation and he sees her. Which raises the question was David up there because he thought he might see something interesting?

David is enthralled by what he sees and inquires about her. They tell him her name is Bathsheba, and also that her husband is Uriah (you-rye-ah) the Hittite (hit-tight). Apparently David knows her husband is at the front, so he sends his agents to get Bathsheba, and he goes to bed with her. At this point the text tells us Bathsheba is in her time of purification meaning she's just had her period. Why the text tells us this I'm not sure since the days immediately following menstruation would be the least likely time for a woman to get pregnant. Yet the next line tells us she's pregnant!

She tells David and he freaks-out! Now he's got to cover his tracks, and he gets in touch with his top general again and tells him to send Uriah to him. When Uriah arrives David makes small talk with him inquiring about the front, how everyone is doing there, and then tells him to go home. But Uriah won't do it, because even the thought of him going home and taking it easy, and enjoying his wife, while his friends are roughing it at the front makes him feel guilty. David has to think fast, and invites Uriah to dinner where he tries to get him drunk, but he still won't go home and lie with his wife.

Without Uriah going home David knows he may well be implicated in an adultery scandal, not to mention complications with Uriah himself. He decides to have Uriah killed, and tells Joab to put him at the front of the front lines, and that's where the text ends today.

God obviously wants us to identify with David, and though we're not people of authority the way he was, we are prone to temptations, bad judgments, and we all make bad decisions. In a word we make mistakes. What God would like to see us accomplish is to learn how to take responsibility for our mistakes. Responsibility simply means having an ability-to-respond to our sinful/selfish behavior. But we can't respond if we don't know we're making the mistakes in the first place. We have to learn to be uncomfortably honest with ourselves, and this takes practice. It also helps us to get to that blessed spiritual state called humility.

The Apostle Paul, in a state of abject humility shows us how to do it:

I realize that I don't have what it takes. I can will it, but I can't do it. I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don't result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. It happens so regularly that it's predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up.

I truly delight in God's commands, but its pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one that can do anything for me? Isn't that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. (Romans 7:18b-25; The Message Bible)

If the Apostle Paul, an en-lighted being called by God to establish and maintain Christ's church on earth has this kind of struggle with sin and selfishness how much more is our struggle? Do you see that no one escapes the ravages of sin? We are all caught-up in a condition of radical self-focus with only one hope in the world to lend us aid. We find help through our relationship with the One who was without sin. It is in and through Christ that we can do better. It is in and through him that we can get beyond ourselves and be freed to make decisions that are pleasing to God. Its that simple, and its that hard.

Here's a paraphrase of a daily devotion that may help us out, and it begins by citing scripture from the Letter of James: “Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.” (James 4:17)

Much of the time we are given at least two options when we have a decision to make. We can do the right thing, or we can ignore the right action, and go ahead and do what we want. We can rationalize to the point that the wrong thing seems like its not to terribly bad, and maybe it doesn't directly do anyone harm. But God wants us to do the right thing, and to skip all the self-justification.

The trouble is its often difficult, if not extremely difficult, to do what is right as the Apostle has illustrated. There are even times when its hard for us to determine what the right thing is to do. But as the Apostle has pointed out Christ is right there to help us, if, in fact, we will turn to him for help, and that constitutes the real problem. We want to go it alone. If you stop and think about it what else would a self-centered being want to do?

Some examples of the right thing to do could include seeing someone who looks lost in a parking lot. Do you stop and ask if you can help them, or do you just keep going? When we get irritated with another self-centered being like our spouse or a sibling do we engage them in anger, or try to understand their struggle is the same one we're having. What do we do with the homeless person we encounter on the street? Is he or she invisible or is it an opportunity to lend assistance? In each case Christ is right there beside us, and will tell us what the right thing to do is, but we have to ask. Maybe we're afraid to ask and that constitutes another problem.

That last line brings to mind something I read from another devotion: “Fear came to the door and knocked. Faith answered and there was no one there.”

When we make a self-assessment about our ethical behavior my hunch is most people will say they're basically good people or good Christians, and often do the right thing. There is probably few things more spiritually misleading than to consider ourselves as good Christians. The reason that's such a grave error is because it assures that we won't get the help from that God we need. It keeps us from reaching the end of our rope which is a place we typical find God. Let me give you a example of what I'm talking about by telling you what happened to me on my walk to the high school.

As you know by now I walk either to the college or the high school everyday while at work. When I walk to the high school I have to cross Park Avenue at a designated crosswalk. The white lines are quite distinct, and there's no question that a crosswalk exists. I haven't checked but my assumption is that a driver is required by Washington State law to stop for a pedestrian at a designated crosswalk. I know this is true in California because I have checked that out. So if this is true than we can all agree that the right thing to do if someone is about to enter a crosswalk is to stop.

Roughly half of the people, and “half” is being generous, actually stop for me at the crosswalk on Park Avenue. The rest I wait for and they drive by often never even letting off on the gas pedal. Granted the crosswalk I'm talking about is kind of out in the middle of nowhere, but the law is what it is, and I imagine a police offer would hold you to it. I could get angry with these people who ignore me waiting at the crosswalk, but I've done the very same thing myself. The other day in Sequim a woman was waiting for me to stop at a crosswalk with this incredulous look on her face, and it wasn't until I passed her that I even realized she was waiting for me to stop. I felt really bad, and wondered what was wrong with me?

One explanation is we get so caught-up with our busyness and preoccupation with ego driven goals that we sometimes become oblivious to the outside world. In the Revised Standard Version of the Bible the Apostle ends the quoted portion I earlier shared with you with: “Wretched man that I am. Who will save me from this body of death!” (Romans 7:24) My feelings exactly following this incident with the woman at the crosswalk. Now take this one example, from a person of faith, a minister of the gospel no less, and think of all the people in our culture who don't give Christ a passing thought anymore? Who is helping them do the right things?

The other day I wrote about the movie “Rain Man” and want to return to that story because it applies to our ethical theme today. In the movie Charlie (Tom Cruise) essentially steals his brother Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) from the mental health hospital he calls home. Raymond needs to be there because his autism is severe, and he needs constant care and the familiarity the hospital provides. Charlie takes him because Raymond has inherited all the money from their father, which amounts to three million dollars, and Charlie wants his “half.” Charlie's motives are strictly self-centered and therefore “sinful beyond measure.” (Romans 7:13b).

They end up driving from Cincinnati to California because Raymond is afraid to fly. Charlie has business in California, and in the beginning Charlie's girlfriend (played by Valeria Golino) (Val-a-reen-a Go-leen-o) is with them, and she knows from the get-go that taking Raymond is wrong. But Charlie convinces himself that he has a right to the money, and therefore is justified in taking Raymond. As the movie plays-out, and what makes it a great movie, is Charlie eventually comes to see Raymond's value not in terms of monetary gain, but rather in terms of having a brother.

In-spite of Charlie's self-centered actions he eventually realizes he loves his brother. In a very moving scene close to the end we see that Raymond not only loves Charlie, but has been taking care of him all along. In the same way he did when Charlie knew him as a child, and called him the Rain Man.

God can take our sin and change it into gold, because love has a way of getting beneath our skin, and reaching that place deep within us where God resides. This needs to be our spiritual goal everyday of our lives. That deep place within known as the True self, or the child of God, or the core of our being, whatever you want to call it is what we need to always be seeking. Because its from there that we can do the right thing. From there love dictates our actions, and love is the way out of this sinful dilemma we find ourselves immersed in. Its kind of a catch-22 but in a good way. We seek love by doing the right things, and the right things lead us deeper into God's love. Jesus says it like this:

These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit – but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock. But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don't work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards. (Matthew 7:24-27; The Message Bible)

This parable of the wise and foolish builders is how Jesus ends his Sermon on the Mount, which is his keynote address to his followers, and sums up his teachings in a concise and illustrative way. The Sermon on the Mount is found in chapters 5 through 7 of the Gospel of Matthew, and every Christian needs to return to it until one comes to know it by heart. The parables and teachings therein become a constant reminder of how to live an ethical life, and how to stay on the path that leads to our inner True self.

King David, of course, didn't have the Sermon on the Mount to consult. He had the commandments of God which are what Jesus relies primarily upon in developing his own ethical instructions. Jesus simply refines the Old Testament to bring out the heart of the Hebrew scriptures (another name for the Old Testament) to finally center all of his teachings in compassion. Its all about love, because as 1 John tells us “God is love.” (1 John 4:7) What else would God teach?

The prophet Nathan does eventually confront David about his selfish actions leading David to sincere remorse. David will turn to the Lord with a repentant heart, and he seems to have faith that God will forgive him as it shows in the first verse of Psalm 51: “Generous in love – God, give grace! Huge in mercy – wipe out my bad record.” (Psalm 51:1; The Message Bible)

What David is doing here is feeling remorseful which leads to constructive actions and eventually forgiveness. Guilt is about self-punishment, and that is by and large destructive. In our remorse we seek God's mercy. So by all means be remorseful and repentant, and just skip the guilt. Seek God's love and forgiveness. That's the right thing to do.

Rev. Mitch Becker

July 25, 2021

Port Angeles

 

First Christian Church

“The Blood of Defeat”

Ephesians 2:11-22

In the Roman world of Jesus day the Roman emperors, and Augustus in particular, were viewed as semi-divine figures who introduced and sustained an unprecedented peace among the rivalries of the Mediterranean and Asia Minor. This type of peace was brought about and maintained through military force. The Romans had no qualms about using terror and torture, specifically the use of crucifixion, with anyone who dared challenge this peace established on the Empire's terms. On state occasions and festive days such as the birthday of the emperor, when the “lordship” of the emperor was put on display, the emperor as the “peace-bringer” would be celebrated in the public square.

Now transport yourself back to the first century AD and imagine yourself packed into the largest home that's available for a reading of a letter sent by a prominent leader of the new religious movement. These were the folks who first identified themselves as the people of The Way, and later would call themselves Christians. They have gathered to hear a letter written by the Apostle Paul, and it has to be read out-loud because most of the people there cannot read. As the reader gets to the part where it says, “You who were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ....He is our peace,” blood pressure would begin to rise, and some folks would be making quick glances at the door.

Being fully aware of Roman practices of terror that sustain their dominance – to hear and embrace “He is our peace,” as opposed to the emperor being the harbinger of peace, would constitute treason punishable by death. To create even further conflict what is being suggested is that true peace is brought about not by military dominance, but rather by a man who has been crucified by the empire! This dissonance between the claims of the state and the unprecedented claims of the gospel would send any listeners blood to racing. The resulting spiritual truth is that true peace is not introduced or sustained by the spilling of blood – true peace comes about by the blood of defeat.

Lets consider what's being said by listening to the first portion of the text again, but now interpreted in more conventional terms:

But don't take any of this for granted. It was only yesterday that you outsiders to God's ways had no idea of any of this, didn't know the first things about the way God works, hadn't the faintest idea of Christ....Now because of Christ – dying that death, shedding that blood – you who were once out of it altogether are in on everything. The Messiah has made things up between us so that we're now together on this, both non-Jewish outsiders and Jewish insiders. He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance....Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody. Christ brought us together through his death on a cross. The cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility. (Ephesians 2:11, 13-14, 16; The Message Bible)

Paul is talking about the reconciliation of two separated groups of people in the first century. These were the Jews and Gentiles, who did not sit at the same tables together, and who shared a common hostility toward one another. Paul is describing how Christ, in his act of vulnerability on the cross, has brought down these long established walls, and made the two groups one by creating a new kind of human being. What this all amounts to is he's describing what true spiritual power is, and the revelatory new awareness that this kind of power comes by defeat, not victory.

From here I'm going to use a Richard Rohr meditation that not only describes true spiritual power, and the way one comes about it, but also gives us the big picture explaining how the church has arrived at a diminished place in society, and what we need to do to turn things around. Even though the future of the church can look rather bleak there is always hope in God. Resurrection is built into the Christian system, and is at the heart of our theology and practice. There is always hope for renewal as long as there are faithful people still praying and living-out the gospel.

With this meditation we're going to start at the point that the Christian faith became the established religion of the Roman Empire:

The last great formal persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire ended in AD 303. Ten years later Christianity was legalized by Constantine I. After this structural change, Christianity increasingly accepted, and even defended, the dominant social order, especially concerning war and money. (My words: It would be another 12 centuries before the banks and stock exchanges took over completely) ….Texts written in the hundred years preceding 313 show it was unthinkable that a Christian would fight in an army, as the army was killing Christians. By the year 400, the entire army had become Christian, and they were now killing pagans.

Before AD 313, the church was on the bottom of society, which is the privileged vantage point for understanding the liberating power of the gospel....Overnight the church moved from the bottom to the top, literally from the catacombs to the basilicas (baa-sill-lee-cahs)....The Christian church became the established religion of the Empire and started reading the gospel from the position of maintaining power and social order instead of experiencing the profound power of powerlessness that Jesus revealed....

The failing Roman Empire needed an emperor, and Jesus was used to fill the power gap, making much of his teaching literally incomprehensible and unhearable, even by good people...God the Father became angry and distant, Jesus became the needed organizing principle, and for all practical and dynamic purposes the Holy Spirit was forgotten. An imperial system needs law and order and clear belonging systems more than it wants mercy or meekness or transformation.

By the grace of God, saints and holy ones of every century and in every denomination and monastery still got the point, but only if they were willing to go through the painful descent – which Catholics call “the way of the cross.” ….Without this journey there's something essential you simply don't understand about the very nature of God and the nature of your own soul. You try to read reality from the side of power instead of powerlessness, despite the fact that God has told us (through the image of the crucified) that vulnerability and powerlessness is the way to true spiritual power. But Christians made a jeweled logo and decoration out of the cross, when its suppose to be a shocking strategic plan charting the inevitable path of full transformation into God.

Its the blood of defeat, not the blood of victory that leads to true spiritual power, but in a world that values success, wealth, and winning; vulnerability and powerlessness make about as much sense as taking a blind man to a silent movie. From here its not difficult to understand the struggle we're having keeping the ship afloat. All around us in books and movies, on television, and in the political arena the message that the powerful conquer, and the meek are losers is repeated time and again. Think for a moment about young people who have no prior experience or knowledge enabling them to make wise decisions. Many simply go with the prevailing winds of society, and never think twice about any alternative values.

Allow me to personalize the notion of true spiritual power coming through powerlessness. In the early days of my recovery from alcoholism I came upon a notion that resulted from the habitual reading of the Holy Bible. I kept reading verses like “The humble will be exalted” and “the meek shall inherit the earth” and The poor in spirit are blessed because they'll be given the kingdom of Heaven; and I finally came up with the “rule of opposites.” It occurred to me that if you do the opposite of what you want to do you'll be rewarded with joy, or at least contentment.

I wanted to stop drinking, but didn't know how to go about it. The rule of opposites suggested if instead of going to the tavern or to the store to buy a six-pack, if I'd just take a walk, or maybe go to the pool and swim for a half-hour I'd feel better about myself. So, that's what I started to do, and I did start feeling better about myself. I began to do it in other ways also, sometimes in just little ways like instead of getting a chocolate treat from the store, I'd just buy peanuts. Or maybe I had a pie in the fridge and instead of eating that second piece of pie I'd take my dog to the park. Instead of having fries with my hamburger I'd go home and eat a banana. When I wanted to skip my homework, I'd do it anyway.

I discovered that though I wouldn't be able to enjoy the immediate satisfaction that came with gratifying my ego craving, it was replaced by a deeper, more long-lasting feeling of contentment. I didn't have a word for it at the time, I just knew it was working. I do have a phrase for it now however, and its called spiritual empowerment. When you crucify the ego and its cravings it allows the spiritual empowerment of the True self to come forward from the depths of your being.

This often happens when I sit down for centering prayer and allow God to take me to the depths of my being where time and thought no longer preside. I transcend to a spaciousness that is not easily defined because words simply do it no justice. Sometimes, but not usually, during times of upheaval and mental distress I can drop into this place of deep inner peace. When that happens I actually feel my consciousness shift. It feels as if I've fallen backwards and am momentarily disoriented, and then it all clears and I'm at rest. Safe and secure in the arms of God of the Angel Armies. It sounds like this in the psalms:

You who sit down in the High God's presence, spend the night in Shaddai's shadow, Say this: “God, you're my refuge, I trust in you and am safe!” That's right – he rescues you from hidden traps, shields you from deadly hazards. His huge outstretched arms protect you – under them you're perfectly safe; his arms fend off all harm.... “If you'll hold on to me for dear life,” says God, “I'll get you out of any trouble. I'll give you the best of care if you'll only get to know and trust me. Call me and I'll answer, be at your side in bad times; I'll rescue you, then throw you a party. I'll give you a long life, give you a long drink of salvation!” (Psalm 91:1-4, 14-16; The Message Bible)

“Salvation” in this psalm is not the distorted notion of popular Christianity that has to do with earning your way into the afterlife, but refers to life with God in this world, right now. The word “salvation” itself comes from the Latin root word that means wholeness or healing. We get the word “salve” from the same root word, and, of course, salve is a healing agent. So in its most comprehensive sense salvation means becoming whole or being healed. My favorite phrase representing this process is to be “healed of the wounds of existence.” Some other phrases in the Bible that also represent salvation are: “Sight to the blind,” “Enlightenment,” “Return from exile,” “Being born again,” and “Becoming 'in Christ'”...a much used metaphor of the Apostle Paul. Lets look at the rest of the text for this morning:

Christ came and preached peace to you outsiders and peace to us insiders. He treated us as equals, and so made us equals. Through him we both share the same Spirit and have equal access to the Father. That's plain enough, isn't it? You're no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You're no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He's using us all – irrespective of how we got here – in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he's using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day – a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home. (Ephesians 2:17-22; The Message Bible)

In Paul's writings he's usually writing about and to the faithful community. There are times when he's speaking about individuals, or explaining how individual people can grow in Spirit, but mostly he's talking to the churches as he is in our text today. Also Paul's writings are not limited to the integration of Jews and Gentiles, because in other letters he also attempts to include traditionally marginalized groups.

For example, in the Letter to the Galatians he says, “In Christ family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in common relationship with Christ.” (Galatians 3:28; The Message Bible) Now just expand this by reviewing the ministry of Jesus who embraced not only the hated Samaritans, but women and children who had no status whatsoever in society, prostitutes and tax collectors, demon possessed and lepers, even the Romans, just about anybody who was marginalized, outcast or hated in Jewish society – Jesus fully embraced. This constitutes the “temple in which God is quite at home.” It is made up of a radically inclusive community of people who are all connected because of a common relationship with Jesus Christ. But inclusion is difficult, isn't it? It's time for a story:

There was a Christian woman who was deeply involved in her studies at the university. She rented a room not far from the campus where she was preparing to take the dreaded final exams. One has to take them seriously, and every night she'd study most of the night, taking a break only around midnight. She'd go to a small all-night cafe, and the proprietor came to know her well. Upon seeing her he'd grill a cheeseburger and pour a cup of coffee. It was the same every night. She joined the men of the night sipping on her coffee and reviewing the possible questions on the exams.

One night she noticed a black man that came in and stayed at the end of the counter for a long time. Finally the proprietor walked over and asked what he wanted. He was an aged black man with a considerable amount of gray hair. She couldn't hear what the man said, but the proprietor turned to the grill, and took a little patty off it, and placed it on a piece of bread without any dressing, salt or sauce. The black man gave him some money and went outside by the garbage can to eat it. He sat on the edge of the street while the trucks drove by with just the seasoning from the street to add to his sandwich.

She offered no rebuke or reproach, not even acknowledgment to the proprietor of what she saw. She didn't do anything, other than continued to review possible upcoming questions on exams. She returned to her room, and studies, and off somewhere in the distance heard a cock crow.

There is something in all of us that doesn't like inclusion. Maybe its fear or maybe we just think we're better than some people. Whatever it is God is trying to move us beyond it, but its slow going, and we do better when we let the Spirit lead.

Rev. Mitch Becker

July 18, 2021

Port Angeles

 

First Christian Church

“Waking Up Is Hard To Do”

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19

On May 27th, 2012 Karen and I were celebrating her birthday in Gig Harbor. We had found a quaint little bed and breakfast, and in the morning walked to a nearby restaurant to have breakfast. While at the table eating Karen suddenly said she was having trouble using her right arm, and couldn't easily lift her coffee cup, which for Karen was something of a crisis! She once told me her morning coffee is like a Zen experience. She also said she had a headache, and as I looked at her face I noticed one side was drooping, and it was especially noticeable around her eye. She said she was going to go back to the room and lie down, and after I finished my breakfast to return to the room.

At this point stroke didn't occur to me as a possible explanation for what was happening, but in hindsight it was clear as crystal. When I returned to the room she was lying down, and told me the headache was not improving, so we decided to return home. By this time Karen was entertaining the idea she was having a stroke, but it took a call to the Blue Cross nurse to light a fire under us. The nurse said to get to the hospital immediately, and though there was an urgency about things it was all so foreign to me I still felt in a fog.

At the time I was doing a chaplaincy at Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup, so that's where I set my sights, though in hindsight I'd probably would have chosen Tacoma General because it was closer. But I was familiar with Good Samaritan and knew how to go directly to the emergency entrance. When we arrived Karen went right into one of the emergency rooms, and the medical ordeal officially began. The cat scan confirmed a blood clot in her brain, and the doctor recommended a TPA treatment, which is a combination of drugs that can dissolve blood clots. It thins the blood and is dangerous because it does it very quickly.

All this time Karen is semi-conscious, and she hears the doctor explain that if she doesn't get the treatment paralysis is certain, and death a real possibility. He explains that the TPA treatment comes with a 10% chance of making the bleeding worse, but without it the prognosis is equally bad. All the while Karen is slipping in and out of consciousness, and this is when God comes to counsel her. As she recounts this religious experience she says that God came to her as an older man, with a short, white beard, a bit heavy set, and wearing an off-white robe. They sat on a bench together and had a conversation.

She says at the time she needed a father figure to care for her, so that's how God appeared to her. Like in the movie The Shack where God appears to McKenzie as a large black woman, because he wouldn't be able to accept a man, since his father was abusive. The question Karen proposed to God was the obvious one. She asked God if she should take the TPA treatment, and God said, “Yes.”

It was two nurses that administered the treatment, and it seemed like it took them forever to get started, because one of them was delayed and they both needed to be there. After the treatment they took Karen to her room on the sixth floor. The floor for folks who are critically ill. I fell asleep due to sheer exhaustion, and woke up after a couple hours. Karen was awake and somewhat conversational, and I knew in my heart that she was going to make it. The TPA treatment worked beautifully, and adequate blood flow had resumed! Within the next year, and with daily blood thinning medication, the blood clot disappeared completely.

The blood clot vanishing was also due to direct intervention by God, since the neurologist told us, “It just doesn't happen this way.” Apparently surgery is commonly needed. Over this entire time Karen had hundreds of people praying for her healing. This included family and friends, people in the hospital associated with my chaplaincy, the church in Sumner, and even an online prayer group of about 100 people. They say you have a three hour window to get the TPA treatment started, and after that its too late. So know the symptoms of stroke which include loss of balance, weakness, facial paralysis (and in Karen's case her arm also), difficulty with speech, and headache.

That's an account of a religious experience Karen had more than nine years ago, along with some practical medical education for old folks like us. Though her stroke was severe with hard work and prayer she has come back from it with flying colors! This included intense rehabilitation, medication regiments, frequent doctor visits, the faith of a saint, and dogged determination to keep moving into unknown territory. Karen once said that she's going to live this life, and she absolutely means it. She is often an inspiration to me, as well to many others, and the most courageous woman I've ever known.

Our text today is about the Ark of the Covenant, and how Karen's religious experience ties into this is the ark is about God's presence. The Ark of God has achieved a certain popularity in our time because of the movies. There is a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark where Belloq (bell-lock), Indy's archival, opens the lid of the ark to unleash the glory of God. Which literally melts Belloq and his Nazi companions, and anyone else who would dare to look upon the Lord. That's Hollywood with a touch of biblical truth, in that it was forbidden to look upon the Lord because it was believed death was certain if one did so.

This week the lectionary provides an opportunity to take a legitimate look at the story of the ark, and the way it assured God's presence for the ancient Israelite's. King David plays a prominent role, but at the very center is the ark. Technically, the story is about David physically moving the ark from Baalah (Baa-lah) to the temple in Jerusalem. And the overarching theme of the text is that the ark assures the Israelite's of God's presence with them, since for them God literally sits on the Mercy Seat found between the two cherubim (chair-eh-bum).

To give you a brief sketch of the history of the ark it begins with Moses giving instruction to an artist of how to craft it. After its constructed Moses places the Ten Commandments in it, and puts it in the tabernacle, also known as the tent of the congregation. The ark travels with the people through the wilderness, and crosses over the Jordan with them into the Promised Land. Its with them at the siege of Jericho, but then it goes virtually unmentioned until the time of Samuel. While the ark is in the temple at Shiloh, Samuel as a child receives the call of God. After that the ark takes center-stage, and becomes the locus of the Lord's presence with the people.

Our lectionary text skips over the part where God kills Uzzah (ooh-zah) when the cart becomes unstable and he touches it. Apparently the lectionary people don't want us to see God in one of his bad moods. This confusing event so upsets David that he leaves the ark with somebody else at their house for three months. It turns out the person he leaves it with receives endless blessings because of the ark, and David decides he'd like some of this blessing too (David is often portrayed as self-centered in the Bible, and in that way its easier for us to identify with him). So, David takes it back and leads the procession into Jerusalem. He dances with joy, and the procession is complete with all types of musical instruments including harps, tambourines, castanets, and cymbals. And though David's wife, Michal (Mee-chal) is shocked by her husbands erotic display as his bouncing ephod (eff-fod) reveals all, never-the-less the dance goes on. God's presence moving into the city can only be accompanied with utter joy! 2

What David is trying to accomplish is he wants God to be around to bless him, and by extension his people. He achieves this by placing the ark in the temple in Jerusalem, and he's really happy about it! There is a bit of irony in all of this because many of us now believe that God is present to us all the time, and its we that separate ourselves from God. We do this largely in creating, and entertaining ourselves with the fanciful notion that we know what's going on. By labeling the world around us we come to believe that we understand the world, and the way it works. In other words, we like to play God, and for the most part don't even know we're playing the game.

The day I wrote this sermon I walked up to the college after lunch. This has become my routine, though sometimes I walk to the high school, but on this day the city worker was blowing dust everywhere, so I went the other way. When I got down to the grass and shrubs just prior to the lawn at Laurel Place I noticed something in the grass. I turned and about jumped out of my shoes as the doe jumped at the same time! She was no more than five feet from me, and when she stopped on the sidewalk I told her she startled me, and she just stood and stared at me.

I called her a doe so you would know what I'm talking about. I could of called her a deer, and you would recognize that label as well, and my point is these are just labels. I'm using them so I can play the teacher, which is another label. My point is these labels don't actually say anything about the objects I'm describing. Whatever “doe” or “deer” is is far beyond my ability to comprehend. The best phrase I know to actually describe things is “they are what they are,” or reality “is what it is.” This make believe world of labels we live in creates the fantasy that we actually know something, and in that way helps us feel comfortable in an utterly mysterious universe.

The major downside to labeling is it separates us from God's love by creating a reality (with a small case “r”), while keeping us estranged from Reality (with a capital “R”). The overall result is anxiety and loneliness. God (another label) in my way of seeing things is Reality, and “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28) within that Reality. Therefore, God's presence is always with us, it is we that can't see that because of the game we play. Sometimes, and often due to crisis, we have to drop the pretenses in order to survive. Karen did that in the midst of the terror and trauma of a stroke event. She needed to know what to do, and the only source she could trust was divine. Her ego boundaries disappeared so God could appear.

When the ego boundaries drop, usually when there forced to do so, we can see God or Ultimate Reality or that which is or whatever you want to call it. The label is of know particular interest, its the experience that counts for something. In the mid-nineties I was studying the Gospel of John in my office when my ego boundaries, along with my sense of time, completely collapsed. I spent the next hour, in clock time, walking around the neighborhood in utter bliss. There was no fear except for one thought far in the back of my mind that if this didn't stop was I going to have to be like Jesus Christ.

It did stop, and my ego boundaries returned, and what happened was a result of many years of centering prayer, sermon preparation, study, attempting to follow Jesus, and so forth. Ultimately it was an act of grace, and maybe it will happen again when I'm ready? When I was at the Northern Lights Regions introductory celebration in Yakima there was a speaker. His name is Phillip Gulley and I bought his book and read it. At one point during his presentation I asked him a question about religious experiences. I told him that I used to have them quite often, but in recent years they seem to have stopped.

The response he gave me was quite unexpected, as he told me that when you reach a certain level of spiritual maturity you no longer need to have the individual religious experiences. Mind you this was taking place in front of Sandy Messick and maybe fifty other friends and strangers. I felt both intrigued and embarrassed at the same time. The way I understand his response is I'm just having one long extended religious experience all the time. In other words, religious experience has become my normative mode of consciousness. Suddenly I felt exposed, like my secret was out, but no one said anything to me about it.

Because of many years of centering prayer, and other spiritual work, I'm now kind of hard wired to my soul. When I pray I just close my eyes and my mind clears. Another label we could use at this point is the label “enlightened being.” That sounds like a big deal, like a big WOW, but actually its not. Its just the way we're suppose to be at this point, two-thousand years after God the Father sent us Jesus Christ. We're suppose to be well on our way to enlightenment. Enlightenment could be our normal mode of consciousness, but its not because sin and selfishness is keeping us at a distance from God.

We're running out of time. If we don't turn the corner and begin to wake-up we're going to kill ourselves. We are going to destroy the earth, and ourselves, and we are well on the way to accomplishing that as I speak. Its in every article of National Geographic that I read and I have a monthly subscription, its on the news every night, and we all know it in our hearts, but who wants to face the truth. Not many, and that's the heart of the matter. We have to stop being such cowards, and trust the Lord and do what he says or its going to be curtains for humanity!

We know in our hearts the truth of what I'm saying, and the question that arises is how is the church going to respond to this truth? Some people will continue in denial through drugs or other addictions. Some will immerse themselves in a fantasy about having power over others, something we see happening in political America, and around the world. Some will blame other people for our problems resulting in racial division, and persecutions of marginalized people. God through Christ has given us a way out. The Way leads to freedom, but it takes courage, which is another word for faith. Ask God for more faith, and that is the sort of thing God really likes to give away. The reason people don't get their prayers answered is because they ask for the wrong things (James 4:3). Ask for whatever opens the door to the kingdom of God and you'll get it!

To bring us full circle our Ark of the Covenant is the communion table. This is the gift Jesus left us, and is the divine portal for every worship service. In the fruit of the vine and the bread is his body and blood. Symbolic, of course, but the symbols serve as vehicles into our souls. In his sacrifice we see that weakness leads to God's strength, and it is through Christ we can reach our True-self. In this time of world trauma nothing is more important then reaching our True-self, and the freedom that entails. Paul says like this in the Letter to the Galatians:

For my part, I am going to boast about nothing but the Cross of our Master, Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, I have been crucified in relation to the world....Can't you see the central issue in all this? It is not what you and I do....It is what God is doing, and he is creating something totally new, a free life! (Galatians 6:14-15; The Message Bible)

Rev. Mitch Becker

July 11, 2021

Port Angeles

 

First Christian Church

“Boundaries”

Mark 5:21-43

With one story sandwiched between the other the gospel writer begins by giving us the setting for these two stories in telling us Jesus has “crossed again in the boat to the other side.” What he means is Jesus has now crossed over from the Gentile side of the Sea of Galilee to the Jewish side, and there is a big crowd waiting for him. Among this crowd is a man named Jairus (Jhi-russ) whose daughter is very ill, and close to death. Jairus is desperate to get help from Jesus having heard the stories of Jesus' healing powers. So Jairus leads Jesus to his home, and the entire crowd goes with them.

Sandwiched in with the lead story is the story of the woman with a flow of blood. This hemorrhaging condition has been going on for twelve years, and she has seen many doctors, but they've all taken advantage of her, and have done nothing to improve her condition. She is now in worse shape than she was when the condition first began, but the doctors are better off since now they're able to pay-off their boats. Apparently, she has also heard the stories of Jesus' healing powers, and she slips in from behind to touch his robe. She has so much faith that she believes by simply touching his robe she'll be healed.

At the instant she touches his robe she is healed, and in that same instant Jesus feels a discharge of healing energy go out from him. This surprises him since he's accustom to doing the touching, and initiating the healing and not the other way around. Jesus exclaims, “Who the heck touched me!” The disciples are incredulous and say, “Why are you asking who touched me when all kinds of people have been touching you?” But Jesus kept looking around for the person. All this time the healed woman knew what had happened, and she timidly approaches Jesus, kneels, and tells him the whole story. Jesus, in turn, commends her for her faith, and acknowledges that she is now healed and made whole.

Now Mark applies the other slice of bread to this sandwich and continues on with the lead story. Jairus is still waiting upon the Master, but others tell him his daughter has died, so why bother the Master anymore. Overhearing this Jesus tells Jairus not to worry, and to continue to have faith in him. Jesus takes with him three favored disciples, Peter, James and John, the same ones he took with him up the mountain to the Transfiguration, and they enter Jairus' house. Entering his home is not easy because its surrounded by people grieving and gossiping, and some waiting to see if the neighbors are going to bring casseroles!

All this commotion puts Jesus off a bit so he says, “What's with all the grief and gossip, this child isn't even dead.” The crowd responds sarcastically and tells him he doesn't know what he's talking about. At which point Jesus takes the little girl by the hand and says in Aramaic, “Talitha Koum” (Taal-eh-the coom) which means, “Little girl, get up.” Suddenly, she gets up and starts walking around, and, of course, everyone is beside themselves with joy! The story ends with Jesus pleading with everyone to keep it quiet. Apparently he doesn't want a lot of notoriety for these healings, but its to no avail because the word spreads across the land like wildfire!

One of the things that comes across clearly with these stories about miraculous healings is what we might call Jesus' healing authority. This healing authority crosses boundaries, whether those boundaries be related to ethnicity, gender, race, sexual orientation, politics, or any other boundary that divides society. You might say that his healing authority advocates life-giving meaning and change. The real question that emerges is can the church also share in this healing authority? Can we help bring about healing and wholeness in peoples life's?

Not long ago Judy came to me with an idea that the church might offer to wash the clothes of the homeless people that live in the ravine in our backyard. She has placed a bag with a note in it inviting people to leave their dirty clothes in it. Of course, I can't tell anyone about the offer until they come to the door of the church. Unless I, or someone else goes down into the ravine and tells folks what the church is offering to do for them. So, what kind of boundary needs to be crossed in order for this ministry to take place?

A few boundaries come to mind. We might begin with a “class” boundary where the relative wealthy must cross over into the realm of the poor. Or you could call it a boundary of prejudice where one must face your own prideful notions of being better than others. Or you could call it a “fear” boundary where one must face the unknown. We could probably think of some other boundaries, but without assuming the healing power of Jesus no one is going to cross any boundary.

Sometimes people cross boundaries to enter our sanctuary, and sometimes they just knock on the door of the church. I had several people knock on the office door when I first arrived last August. You wonder how they know there is a new pastor in town, but somehow they do. They come to the door to see if I have anything to offer?

In the church in Lancaster we offered blessing bags to people who came to the church. In these large plastic bags were items that homeless people could use. Toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, protein bars, and at one point even a bus pass. Whenever I handed a blessing bag out the response was almost always with gratitude. I really appreciated the blessing bags because it was something I could give besides money. If you hand out money then you can count on spending a lot of time at the door talking to the homeless and handing out money.

Boundary crossing is always a brave thing to do, and the healing authority of Christ can serve as motivation in many situations. We have that authority available, but it only comes when you engage yourself in healing ministry. It won't come before you start, it only comes after you begin. It works that way so that you don't get confused about where the power comes from. It doesn't originate from you, its sole origin is the Holy Spirit. This is how God keeps your ego out of the picture.

Boundary crossing is an activity that takes on many different forms. When I entered the high school last week to inquire about a student to play the piano for us I crossed a boundary. I entered a place I didn't really have any business being in, and was greeted in such a manner. The initial look I got was, “Who are you, and what are you doing here?” It helped that I could say I was the pastor at the little yellow church at Park and Race Street. They immediately could place me somewhere, and by using the societal label “pastor” I was probably given a little credibility. I was at least determined not to be a threat.

I waited for the vice-principle to get off the phone, and when she came out she was attentive to me, but not especially helpful. It was a cool reception, and I had the feeling I was something of a distraction for her. I explained that we needed a pianist, and thought maybe a student could fill that role for us. She told me it was summer (I knew that) and that there was no one around. But then she told me she could send an email out to the staff, but since it was summer they were not required to look at it. At which point I said the one thing that seemed to get her full attention, and I told her the Holy Spirit might find someone for us. She perked-up for a minute and said, “Yeah, that's the way.” At which point I determined she was probably a Pentecostal or Evangelical Christian who was familiar with the Holy Spirit. I told her “thank you” and left.

When you cross boundaries the realms you cross into can vary greatly. If you cross a boundary and enter the realm of the poor in the ravine you'll probably be greeted with curiosity and kindness. Because the folks down in the ravine have nothing to lose. You can't take much from them because they're already destitute. And, for the most part, they are not trying to protect anything, unlike the people at the high school that must protect the students, and there own self-generated sense of importance. At the high school they've learned to be suspicious of people, whereas in the ravine anyone may be bringing good news, or gifts, or just showing some interest in a world that has lost interest.

And all boundary crossing requires courage, because when you do it you are destined to be changed, and you'll probably have to give something up after the experience. Maybe its your fears, or your prejudiced thoughts, or your own self-generated sense of importance. In some way or another you will be changed.

We've been hard at work bringing change to First Christian Church of Port Angeles. It started by you calling a permanent pastor and adding new elements to the worship experience. The elders are meeting on a regular basis making decisions that move us forward, the website is up and being updated as needed, and some people have returned to church. I wouldn't expect many others to come back as I have called everyone in the directory, more than once, and pretty much get answering machines at this point. With COVID on its way out there is at least one important thing left to do, and that is the topic I've focused on this morning. What I'm talking about is the need for a new outreach ministry.

Sometimes people ask me why some Evangelical or Pentecostal churches have parking lots full of cars on Sunday morning? The church's with the cars generally have active, viable outreach ministries. They may take the form of food banks, or serving meals to the homeless. They may have AA and/or NA groups meeting at the church. They may have a domestic violence program or other such program for women's ministry. In some form or another there is active outreach going on.

Such churches are deemed authentic in this sense, and it results in a credibility the general public finds attractive. It takes more than this, of course. For example some, but not all Pentecostal or Evangelical churches have a theology that aligns with existing cultural values. Some churches promote the “prosperity gospel” which teaches if you pray in a particular way you can have whatever your ego desires. Nothing could be further from the Good News of Jesus Christ, never-the-less there are many who can't, or don't want to discern the difference between greed and grace. You think a pastor could, but the proof is in the pudding!

So it takes more than outreach ministry to bring people into a church, but it sure doesn't hurt to have some type of mission to the outside going on. There was a time when our mainline protestant churches had only to open their doors and people joined in droves. That began to end in the sixties, and we've been losing ground ever since. Whenever Karen and I attend General Assembly there is always a major effort to promote mission in the churches. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) are trying to turn the corner by putting an emphasis on developing outreach ministries, but its slow going, and some church's are more successful than others.

My last church, First Christian Church of Lancaster, CA had a number of outreach ministries it was either directly involved with, or somehow associated with. Some of the church members helped feed the homeless at the community center once a month. After the city closed that ministry down we opened the church to the homeless and fed and entertained them. This was an ecumenical effort we did with other churches in the city.

We participated with the annual CROP Walk. CROP Walks are community wide events sponsored by Church World Service in an effort to end hunger around the world. We gave substantial monetary gifts, twice a year, to Grace Resources the primary community help organization. We gave generously to Week of Compassion, and beyond this we would take worship outside on Pentecost, and take fliers out to the neighborhood to invite people to special events at the church. We also engaged in prison ministry, Church World Service blanket ministry, we served the ham radio community, hosted the largest AA group in the city, and at voting time the church became a polling place. All these things fall under the category of outreach ministry and Christian mission.

Some people think its the big mega-churches that make a difference in our country. But my feeling is its all the little churches like us that keep this country morally and ethically afloat. You can think of it as like a pebble that you toss into a calm body of water. The pebble creates waves that radiate outward eventually reaching the shore. The goodness that comes forth from our little faith communities reaches far beyond anything we can imagine. Goodness and love cross all boundaries, and the more pebbles we can throw the more goodness and love that goes forth. Following is a story about how its done:

Bob and Fred Williamson graduated from college with a desire to make a significant and compassionate difference in the world. They wanted to serve God in a way that really helped people, but they didn't want to do it in any traditional sort of way. So they focused on world hunger, and at the same time tried to find a way to blend the skills they'd learned. They did this in an effort to create a new and innovative ministry. What they did is launched a restaurant that served only burritos, and it was indeed a different kind of restaurant. What their thinking amounted to was this: For every burrito that they sold they would give the same amount of money to provide meals for malnourished people in certain parts of the world. To this day their efforts have reached more than fifty different countries around the world, and their vision is to completely bring an end to hunger one burrito at a time.

The words of Jesus found in the Gospel of Matthew were influential with these two entrepreneurs (on-tray-pra-newers). Jesus said, “Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty....The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true disciple. You won't lose out on a thing.” (Matthew 10:42; The Message Bible) These words of Jesus are perfectly clear: Faithfulness is given integrity through actions, not words. Bob and Fred focused on world hunger, but need is not limited to the hungry. There are the poor, the sick, the prisoner, the refugee, the abused and abandoned, the elderly, the immigrant, victims of violence, the physically challenged, and those disadvantaged in any way.

In my sermon today I've suggested a ministry to the homeless in the ravine located in our own backyard. It would be a convenient ministry, and the original idea has come forth from someone in the congregation. But as the story ends today it shows us the width and breadth of need in our world. You may already be involved in some ministry that you feel personally called to, and that is well and good, but the church needs an outreach ministry it can call its own. Because faithfulness finds integrity in action, not words. Is there an outreach ministry you sense the church being called to? Please let me know what you are hearing the Spirit say to you.

Rev. Mitch Becker

June 27, 2021

Port Angeles

  

First Christian Church

“Golden Bowls”

Mark 4:35-41

 The Sea of Galilee is a large, shallow body of water, and because of this when strong winds blow over it violent storms can result. The storms come up quickly, and then just as quickly die down again. In the mountains on the Western side of the lake there is a mountain pass called Pigeon Pass. This pass creates a funnel effect where the winds blow in from the Mediterranean taking many fisherman and boaters unexpected. This may be, in effect, what happened that day when Jesus and the disciples were out on the sea, and Jesus was in the back of the boat napping. Because its short lets listen to the story again as interpreted by Eugene Peterson:

Late that day he said to them, “Let's go across to the other side.” They took him in the boat as he was. Other boats came along. A huge storm came up. Waves poured into the boat, threatening to sink it. And Jesus was in the stern, head on a pillow, sleeping! They roused him, saying, “Teacher, is it nothing to you that we're going down?” Awake now, he told the wind to pipe down and said to the sea, “Quiet! Settle down!” The wind ran out of breath; the sea became smooth as glass. Jesus reprimanded the disciples: “Why are you such cowards? Don't you have any faith at all?” They were in absolute awe, staggered. “Who is this, anyway?” they asked. “Wind and sea at his beck and call!” (Mark 4:35-41; The Message Bible)

As you can see Jesus simply awakens probably because things are getting dicey, and with commanding words quiets the restless sea. What is of interest here is the theological interpretations for what has happened. In stories which follow this one Jesus repeatedly shows an ability to overcome threatening forces that could destroy life. Later on he will cast out demons, cure illnesses, and even resurrect a dead little girl! In each instance Jesus has control over the threatening forces, and this story of calming the raging sea is really the towering example. Because the sea to the ancient Hebrews was a symbol for destruction and chaos, and even this Jesus has power over!

The psalms often describe God as having power of the sea: “Thou dost rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, thou stillest them.” (Psalm 89:9) The gospel writer, Mark, is tying Jesus into the already existing power of God as depicted in the psalms and elsewhere in the Bible. This is the first theological interpretation of what is happening in Jesus calming the storm, and the second interpretation is the calming of the sea represents the presence of the Risen Christ among the disciples.

If we look at the end of the Gospel of Mark there are no stories of the Risen Christ appearing to the disciples after Easter. Rather this gospel ends with the silence of frightened women. So this story of the calming of the sea, and the Transfiguration, along with the second storm narrative are a way of looking back at Jesus' ministry through the lens of the resurrection. What makes our text today a resurrection story is when you understand the symbolism involved. The boat itself is an ancient symbol for the church, and Jesus being asleep at the stern, which typically would be where you're steering the boat, is symbolic for death. Life and death are at stake in the storm, and Jesus holds the key to both.

Another theme in the gospel, and our text today, is the contrast between faith and fear. Six times in Mark the disciples are seized by fear, and this kind of fear is made up of both terror and awe. All of these experiences of the disciples evoke the presence of God. They are epiphanies, which are times when God breaks into our lives.

But what would Mark's church have heard in such stories, and beyond this what can they be saying to us? We know that Mark's church was living in the time following the traumatic war against Rome that resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. If Mark's account of Jesus' life was to be Good News for the church, it would have to be a message proclaimed in the midst of the storms they were living through, and of which many were dying. It would need to be a ray of light and hope in the darkness the church was enveloped in. This story of the calming of the sea would be assurance for the church that the authority of God, and the crucified Risen Christ was still with them.

The message for us is one and the same. Even when the seas of change and doubt surround us, and the forces of chaos and evil threaten, the Risen One is with us in the boat. Christ's words, “Peace, be still!” still promise to carry us safely through the night.

The Apostle Paul ran into grave trouble on the sea in the Book of Acts, but he was assured God was with them and would care for them. It all begins with Paul being under guard with a few other prisoners, and they boarded a ship for Ephesus. After passing through a number of ports it was getting close to winter with its storms, and Paul warned that it would be dangerous to continue sailing. But the centurion in charge ignored Paul's warning, and they set out for the next port. This was when they encountered a severe storm with gale-force winds.

Out on the high seas they threw their cargo overboard which helped keep them from running aground, but the wind and waves were battering them unmercifully. This is when Paul stood up and announced an angel had visited him during the night. The angel told him everyone would survive, but the ship was going to break-up and sink! Some of the sailors tried to get into lifeboats and leave, but Paul assured them they needed to stay with the ship. There were 276 people all together, and at one point Paul encouraged everyone to eat, because they'd need the energy. He broke bread, and gave thanks to God and passed the food around.

Finally they saw land, and they steered the ship toward it, but they hit a reef and the ship began to break-up. The solders wanted to kill the prisoners, but the centurion in charge wanted to save Paul, so he stopped the soldiers from killing anyone. The centurion told everyone to try to swim for shore, and if you couldn't swim then to grab a plank! In the end everyone made it safely to shore. (taken from Acts 27:1-44; The Message Bible)

In the story Paul identifies the angel as, “an angel of the God I serve,” and this amounts to an epiphany that comforts Paul, as well as the others on the ship. This is but one account of God breaking through into Paul's life to give him guidance, and a sense of being cared for by God. He was acutely aware of such epiphanies, and we too need to expect them in our lives. We should anticipate God's help in the midst of our storms, but God doesn't always answer our prayers within our time frames.

This brings to mind a story about the longest delayed mail-delivery in recorded history. A few years ago someone in Britain received in the mail an invitation to a party, but it was addressed to someone who had previously lived in the residence. The postmark on the invitation was dated 1919, and had been originally mailed 89 years prior to the reception of the invitation. The Royal Mail system had delivered the invitation, and to this day no one has an explanation for the incredibly long delay.

No matter how sophisticated a communication system may be error is always possible, but when we read the Bible, and as the psalms constantly shout at us, God hears the prayers of the faithful. There is a wonderful passage in The Revelation that says God treasures our prayers so much he keeps them in “golden bowls” before him (Revelation 5:8). We need to trust that God will answer all our prayers, but that it will be done in his own perfect wisdom and way. In the Letter to the Romans Paul talks about prayer:

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired of waiting, God's Spirit is right alongside us helping us along. If we don't know what or how to pray, it doesn't matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves...and keeps us present before God. (Romans 8:26-27; The Message Bible)

In an online meditation Richard Rohr further expounds upon prayer and our relationship to God:

Most simply put, prayer is something that happens to you, much more than anything you privately do. It is an allowing of the Big Self more than an assertion of the small self. Eventually you will find yourself preferring to say, “Prayer happened, and I was there.” more than “I prayed today.” All you know is that you're being led, guided, loved, used, and prayed through. You are no longer in the driver's seat. Following this guidance you will know what is yours to do.

God stops being an object of attention like any other object in the world, and becomes at some level your own “I Am.” You start knowing through, with, and in Somebody Else. And then your little “I Am' becomes “We Are.” Afterword you know instinctively that your life is not about you, but you are about life. “I live now not I, but Another Life lives in me,” to paraphrase Paul's poetic words from Galatians 2:20.

This does not mean you are morally or psychologically perfect. Not at all. But you will now have the freedom to recognize your failings and grow and love better because of them. That is the major and important difference!

When we are centered in our own egos we tend to over-focus on our importance, and see ourselves as the captains of our lives. But as we begin to shed the ego (or the false-self) it becomes easier to accept our failings, and embrace our short-comings, and finally to forgive ourselves and others. Here, forgiveness is simply the religious word for letting-go. In this manner we grow in love, and become better people because of this process. We keep letting-go of our ego (what Rohr calls the small self in this meditation) to embrace the Big Self finally realizing “that your life is not about you, but you are about life.”

As children we always found someone else to blame for our own failings, and we thought of our lives as being all about us. But we are no longer children in this sense. We are now children of God. This means God has become the most important concern of our lives, and life itself is the continued process of falling deeper into the mystery of Christ one day at a time. Sometimes it can be scary to let go of what we know to trust God will be there for us. But as Jesus displayed to his disciples out on the Sea of Galilee, God is in command of the waves, as well as our lives. To know the joy of the Lord is to let go and be led, guided, loved, used, and prayed through by God.

 

Rev. Mitch Becker

Port Angeles

(Preached by Margaret Katz on June 20, 2021)

  

First Christian Church

“The Whole Nine Yards”

Mark 4:26-34

When I was in “exile” back in Ohio something I missed a great deal were the rhododendrons of the Northwest. Of course, there are rhododendrons in Ohio, but somehow it wasn't the same. Now that I've been here for awhile I'm beginning to take them for granted again, but they are a beautiful shrub. We have several around the house, and they populate the parks and city avenues everywhere you look. And they grow exceedingly well in the forest where they sometimes look more like trees than shrubs. If you walk along Park Avenue toward the high school its not long before you see humongous rhododendrons out in the forest. And in these giant shrubs the birds build nests, and the butterflies make cocoons, and the insects burrow into there limbs to make a home.

In our parable this morning Jesus doesn't use a rhododendron to create a metaphor for the kingdom of God, he uses a mustard plant. Now the mustard plant is not the smallest seed nor the largest shrub in the Middle East, but Jesus isn't trying to be agriculturally accurate. He's using the mustard plant because there is such a pronounced difference between the seed and the full-grown plant. He wants to emphasize how something can expand and include, because apparently this is what the kingdom of God does. So the kingdom of God becomes sorta like a huge mustard shrub, or closer to home a giant rhododendron in the forest.

If you were to reduce this to one word what Jesus is trying to convey here is the concept of wholeness. Take me for example, who or what am I? Well, I'm a pastor, but before this I was a lab technician, and a gas station attendant, a cannery worker, a construction worker, and so on. I'm also a husband, uncle, grandfather, son, and friend. I'm educated, have traveled to places like Thailand and Costa Rica, Italy and Yugoslavia, so I'm a world traveler. I have suffered through chronic depression, I've been in car accidents, I've had the measles, chick pox, but thank God I haven't had COVID.

Who or what am I? I'm all these things and more, and so are you. I cannot stop and focus on any one of those things and say this is who I am, because the minute I do I'm disregarding everything else. But in all these labels there is one that comes closer to a description of wholeness, or at least begins to identify who we are in totality, and that is the label “child of God.” Because when you speak of being a child of God you're transcending to a foundational place in your being. When the Bible talks about this it uses the word “heart.” Heart in the Bible means the core of your being that everything else is dependent on.

When Jesus describes the mustard plant that grows so large it becomes a home for the birds he's conveying an idea of wholeness, and he's saying the kingdom of God is sorta like this huge shrub that provides a home for birds. There is a wonderful passage in the psalms that is similar to what I'm describing, and it sounds like this:

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! God! How blessed they are to live and sing there! And how blessed all those in whom you live, whose lives become roads you travel. (Psalm 84:1-5; The Message Bible)

That's another description of wholeness and how blessed are those who find it! In such a place one sings songs of joy to God. As long as we see ourselves as a collection of labels such as I earlier described this kind of joy is not possible, and even happiness is fleeting. It can't last because its trapped inside of a mind that only functions in dualities. The minute you have a happy thought (sounds like Peter Pan) an unhappy one follows. You're stuck in a never-ending dance until you find something better.

That something better is the kingdom of God where you can see all the different labels you apply to yourself, but they no longer matter. They don't matter because they don't exist, and they never did, you just convinced yourself otherwise, with a little help from your friends, family, and the surrounding culture. You've worked a lifetime at creating this false self, this total fantasy, but its all you know. Jesus is trying to tell you about something else, something much, much better, and its the last thing your ego wants to hear.

What most people do throughout their lives is try to fix the ego. They do it with self-help books, and eating the right food, exercise, taking the right drugs in the right proportions, and on and on. This kind of activity isn't inherently bad. It can improve your life, and keep you moving from point A to point B. But its not a cure for the dis-ease of the ego. There is only one cure for this dis-ease and that is you have to let it go. You can't fix the ego, you can only jettison it! The reason for this is simple. You can't fix the ego because the ego IS the problem! It has to go, but even that has to be done in a particular way. You can't just decide to get rid of it. You get rid of it by finding something better.

You let it go when you can see the kingdom of God, and by “seeing” Jesus means experiencing it. The experience of the kingdom is so much better than the fantasy of the ego and its labels that you just sort of shed the ego, the way a snake does his skin. It's sort of like the way an addict stops an addiction. Most addicts struggle with their addiction over a long period of time, often years. They know they need to quit because the addiction is killing them. Neil Young describes this in a song when he sings, “Every addict is like a setting sun.”

The addict doesn't stop an addiction by saying, “Okay, I'm going to stop now because this thing is killing me.” They may try to do this for a long time, but it never works, and they always return to the addiction, and its usually worse after they return. The way they stop is by finding something better, and here's where groups like AA come in. In AA they find both community, and spiritual guidance. The blessed ones begin to experience God in their lives, which is to say they experience love. They begin to love, and feel loved, and it is healing.

The blessed ones stay with it, and have frequent experiences of moving outside of their egos, and connecting with others and God in a real and satisfying way. If they stay with it, stay with their spiritual practices, and “keep coming back” as they say in AA, which means to keep returning to the group, then they begin to shed the ego. It happens automatically. They're not doing it by choice as much as its just happening to them. In religious circles we'd say they are doing it by grace.

At this point, and to use Christian terminology, we'd say they are being born again. And its a gradual process, as it is for most everyone, but for those in AA its happening quite intentionally. They are specifically seeking the experience, though if you were to ask them they'd probably describe what they're doing as trying to stop drinking. And much like the addict needs to stop drinking or drugging, we all need to stop identifying with the labels.

This is accomplished in much the same way the addict stops drinking or drugging. It happens within a loving community, and with a great deal of spiritual guidance. The church is an obvious community for this to happen in, but it doesn't need to be a church. It can be any loving group of people who have access to some type of healthy and healing spiritual instruction. Let me give you a recent example of a group I was given the privilege of being a part of for about 45 minutes. The Port Angeles Wednesday Readers Group met here at the church last week. It was made-up of maybe 8 older women, including Jerrie, and they met for just over an hour. When they first came in I didn't know exactly what to do other than allow Jerrie to introduce me to everyone. And then I sort of hovered around until someone invited me to sit down. Which I did, and then we enjoyed chocolate pie and coffee, and I drank tea. I was curious to see how they conducted their meeting, and listen to the books they had read. It was an unusual reading group in that they all read a different book, and then shared it with the group. Whereas most reading groups I've heard about read the same book, and talk about it.

Suddenly the woman at the opposite end of the table from me said, “I think we should vote on whether we want to dissolve the group.” At which point I thought, “What?” All of a sudden I felt like I was the unofficial officiate of a funeral. I had already learned from previous discussion that this group had a historic presence in the community. One lady said when she first joined the group they had to wear hats and gloves, and couldn't read fiction! Now we're talking here at least the 1950's if not the 1940's! So here I am invited to sit in with what looks like a group that will be meeting at the church-only to discover they had a funeral planned all along, or at least some key members of the group did.

I could imagine a bunch of guys trying to do this as a group, and the objections being raised, and feelings becoming frayed, and the sadness of it all. But these ladies were so gracious, and sensitive to each other. I mean, they knew what was coming, and though there were many things said in support of continuing the group no one took a stand. When the vote came around everyone said yea to dissolution, though there was reluctance, and disappointment. But it was a good death, because everyone respected each other, and cared for each other, and came together for the common good.

Now let me tell you why I think this is all relevant to the text today. Before they could decide on ending this historic presence in the community, they had to decide on what to do with there funds. Apparently they had collected money over the years and wanted to do something worthwhile with it. So the suggestion was made to give the money to the local Boys and Girls Club. Just as the vote was being taken in how to disperse the money the doe with her two brand new babies, the fawns who still have their spots, came walking by just outside the window! Someone in the secular world might look at that and say, “Oh, how cute.” But if you're a person of faith you say, “Oh look, there's the kingdom of God!” Okay, maybe you don't say it quite like that, but you could. And though at the meeting the kingdom of God wasn't outwardly identified, I believe that many of us there felt in our hearts that those babies somehow represented God's presence in that moment.

You see, the kingdom of God is about wholeness. We live and move and have our being within the kingdom of God. Like that phrase used repeatedly in the movie the “City of Angels,” “Some things are true whether you believe them or not.” Another way of saying that is we live within the kingdom whether you can see it or not. Voting to send the money to the children, with the “children” walking by at the very same moment is not coincidence to a person of faith. To the person of faith its an act of God.

It is no surprise when I say that seeing the world in this manner is rapidly losing popularity. I don't say that to cause you to lose hope in our world. I believe we have every reason to hope in God and Goodness. One example I could cite is Eckhart Tolle's book “The Power of Now” which has sold millions of copies, and is still a sought after book. It didn't hurt that Oprah Winfrey promoted it in her book club. That book can only be of interest to people who are well on the road toward non-dual thinking, and eventual enlightenment. By the same token, our country is unraveling. It is coming apart at the seams one day at a time, and I don't see any immediate end to what is happening. When I look ahead most of what I see is more racial strife, more environmental degradation, more gun violence, and a general decline in goodness and basic morality. The reason I say this is that the ego is clearly in charge, and people as a whole are following the dictates of their egos. If we remain on this course then our eventual end is assured, because the ego can only think in terms of annihilation.

Everything on this material plane of existence comes to an end. The reading group, our country, this church, the person named Mitch and all his labels are all going to come to an end; and what really matters are the things of Spirit which do not have an ending. God has no ending because God is all there is, and the child of God within us, or the God part of us if you will, has no ending. It is eternal, and infinite, and ever-lasting. And I believe that's what God was saying to all of us when the babies walked by. God was saying, “Yes, this important group is ending, but I'm not going anywhere. Can you see me? Can you see the kingdom of God?”

The egos greatest fear is annihilation, and so when we look out at the world, or our country, or our church through the eyes of the ego all you will see is death. But if you look at these same things through the eyes of Jesus you will see the fruits of the Spirit that the Apostle Paul told the church in Galatia about: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23) And Saint Paul isn't just making this up, he is living it out. It is the inner world of an enlightened being, and he's sharing that inner world with the people he loves. This is the kind of love we need right now, but you have to jettison the ego, and seek ye first the kingdom of God. Here's a story about the love we need right now:

There was a family out for a Saturday afternoon tour in the countryside. Suddenly the three kids in the back started yelling, and slapping there father on the back urging him to stop the car. They had seen a little kitten along the roadside, but the Dad was reluctant to stop. He told them they didn't need any more animals, but they insisted if he didn't go back the kitten was going to die. Their Dad was obstinate, but the kids continued to plead with him. He told them all he wanted to do was enjoy their drive, and they couldn't believe what they were hearing. They couldn't fathom that their Dad could be so cruel.

Finally, Mom chimed in and said they'd have to stop, so reluctantly he did stop, and turned around and went back. He got out of the car and walked over to the emaciated kitten, and when he picked it up it bared its teeth and claws and hissed at him. They took it home and treated it like a king, with baths, warm milk, and a bed made for royalty. Several weeks later the kitten rubbed up against the Dad's leg, and he reached down to pet it, but this time it curled into him and quietly purred. So what happened? Well, you know what happened.

This is the kind of love we need right now. By the way, as I was ending this sermon a call came into the church. It was someone looking for a place to hold an AA meeting. Unfortunately, our church was too small for the size of their group. There is no such thing as coincidence, and this sort of thing doesn't even surprise me anymore. Its happening all the time, to everybody, and if you have the eyes to see – you see the kingdom of God.

Rev. Mitch Becker

June 13, 2021

Port Angeles