Sam’s Office

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.  And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,  who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.  The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.  In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.  He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’  But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.  Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’  He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house—  for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’  Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’  He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’  He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”  Luke 16: 19-31

 

Ahh, one of my kids favorite bedtime stories…  “Dad, tell us again how the rich man said to send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in these flames.”  Maybe it is there favorite because of the nice pictures.  The picture that shows the contrast of the wealthy man in the royal garb—the finest linens—the guy on the cover of Forbes magazine with the keys to success so you too can build an empire.  Dad, tell us that story again…so I work harder, smarter, and go to college.  It’s a nice Darwinian survival of the fittest story…  

And here we are…  in a series of stories that challenge us.  It has been a tough stretch—quite frankly, it would be nice to select one of the other texts the last few weeks.  It would be nice to focus on 1 Timothy—the nicer sections on conversion, seeking to once again return to the church in its glory days…the days of yesteryear.  We could pick the Psalm—for the lectionary tends to take out the hardest parts we don’t want to deal with anyway.  So I ask myself, why do I want to avoid this text?  As I ask this question, I am taken back into the office of my mentor, the best teacher I have ever been blessed with in areas of conflict resolution.  For my friend,  Sam Massey is a master with conflict.  I won’t bore you with the details that his mastery comes with his education that combines quantum physics with quantum relationships…  Confession—it’s not a matter of boring you, but a fact that he is brilliant.  So, back to Sam’s office.  In his gentle, but strong way—Sam was asked me a tough question.  In my crafty way, I answered with a nice story that avoided what he was asking completely—and he called me on it.  He confronted me—Rob, why did you avoid my question?  And then he went to the source…what is it in your sub-conscience that keeps you from going there?  This was my self-awareness lesson—one that will always remain with me to listen with deeper cognition of why we avoid what we do. 

With this in mind, I welcome you to join me in Sam’s office.  Have a seat, take your shoes off, and stay awhile.  In the comfort and safety of someone you trust, after hearing this parable, we are asked why this is the most unfamiliar parable?  It confronts us where it hurts.  We are brought into the story because that is what parables do.  This is what good story-telling does.  And this story welcomes us into last weeks text that concludes, “You cannot serve God and wealth” followed immediately by, “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money…”  And we change the story. 

What is the number one thing we avoid talking about in church?  Number two is sex (so where are our most influential ears learning about it?).  The number one thing we avoid talking about in church is money.  Reasons given are, it is private, the church is always asking for it,  and deep down I hear the gentle giant asking me, why is it your sub-conscience that has you avoiding this? 

So, like Jacob, let’s wrestle with this.  This parable takes us into two worlds within two worlds.  One world is earth, and the other world is eternity.  On earth, fences are built.  There is separation, categories.  And these categories break down to the haves and the have nots. 

And there is motivation…including many good reasons, to work hard to fall into the haves.  For the haves come with creature comforts.  Nice purple linens and gated communities.  But it is more than this.  In the last couple of years, there has been a lot of discussion accompanied with the ‘Occupy Wall Street Movement.” Or the 1% compared to the 99%.  And we build walls, boundaries, and ideologies on such.  As we categorize, the reality is that if we own a car, if we have air conditioning, and if we have food readily accessible in our refrigerator, we all fall into the 1%. 

The reason we struggle, is that in one way or another, we identify with the rich-man.  Let us enter in, and get to know him.  He doesn’t show disdain towards Lazarus.  There is no ill-will, he is simply unaware of Lazarus.  Lazarus in invisible. 

But there he is…named.  In fact, the only person named in all of Jesus’ parables.  And there is meaning in a name.  The fact that Lazarus is named is a marker that says, ‘pay attention.’ For Lazarus means ‘God helps.’  God helps…and God knows him by name. 

What happens to Lazarus?  Does he die hungry… waiting at the gates?  Hoping for a scraps of food?  Does the temperature dip overnight, and he freezes?  Or do the dogs…  the same dogs that were probably eating the scraps he was hoping for…do the dogs?  

I shared with you a few weeks ago, the story of my friend in North Carolina who with the support of five community churches, had been feeding the homeless and hungry for 13 years when one morning, one hundred breakfast biscuits in hand and hot coffee, and the police under threat of arrest confronted them to turn away. 

In the following weeks, tense city council meetings, the ugliest side of humanity found in comments on the discussion blogs…we enter into the story of the Rich-man and Lazarus.  The rich man—the city, the police, the city attorney—justified reasons for not feeding…but it comes down to what so many do…including the rich man in our story…if it is invisible, if we build walls, if we move poverty somewhere else, if we draw school district lines to eliminate the poor…if we keep it outside the gates…if we don’t see it, it is not real. 

But back in Sam’s office, we enter into asking what are we avoiding?  Why are we building walls?  And when we allow ourselves to hear what we don’t want to hear, and see what we don’t want to see…and ask why is this man sitting and eating with tax collectors and sinners…

It is then that we can focus on the tearing down the walls that we have built, and to see that the gates swing open.  When we tear down the walls, we can see Lazarus.  It is in seeing Lazarus, that we can join at the table.  And it is at the table that we become equal.  It is at the table we break bread and share together and hear that Lazarus has a name…a name that means God helps.  It is at the table that walls fall down and we have the opportunity to get this right, to get to know one another.  This is where we have the opportunity to do it right…to see others as beautiful, as children of God…

In tearing down walls, we get past our exteriors, our masks that hide the hurts…and we find that God knows all of us by name.  Maintaining walls the prevent us from seeing is no excuse.  As we work on tearing this down, may we together look for the gates to be servants of all.  For this is God’s perspective…this is why God entered, poor.  This is why God lived among us, poor…meeting all at table.  And what proof do need if we cannot hear it in Moses and Prophets?  As our text says today, then we will not hear it even if someone rises from the dead. 

Our proof is resurrection… 

We have one other story on a road to Emmaus where the disciples did not recognize the stranger in their midst.  But as they doubted, they welcomed the stranger.  And they met him, offered hospitality, and broke bread together.  And it was in sharing at the table that their eyes were opened to Moses and the prophets…   It is in sharing at the table that barriers come down.  It is at the table that relationships change to kinship. 

How are we at Spirit of Life going through the gate?  How are we making the invisible visible, and seeing Lazarus? 

I challenge you this week to a scavenger hunt.  For this scavenger hunt, I will ask all of us on ways we can keep our eyes open to see what is presently ‘hidden’.  As you discover needs around us, please share them.  If we could gather these needs in the comments section on our website, we are helping make the invisible visible.  It is in the seeing that we begin to tear down barriers.  And in this seeing, may we begin by choosing one of these needs as a congregation and take action. 

October newsletter

October 2013 pdf

October is packed with many great opportunities to serve and connect with each other.

And a Little Chid Shall Lead Them (Isaiah 11:6)

And A Little Child Shall Lead Them (Isaiah 11:6)
“Why do we do what we do what we do?” May we always ask this question. May this little child be our GPS. May this wonderful story where God chose to camp among us, to be with us, to become one of us, and to lead us be our guide.
As I sit here reminiscing and celebrating that it has been one since you called me as your pastor, this is the Scripture that comes to my mind: ‘And a little child shall lead them.” It is with great gratitude that I share how blessed we are to be sharing in ministry with all of you. What a wonderful year it has been.

  •   Blessed with a great team.

◊ Shari, Kate, and Trista-so blessed to be working you.

◊ Our Session: God has called a great team that gets spiritual leadership.

◊ Our Deacons: Thank you for sharing in our caring ministry.

  • Our children.

◊    I share tears of joy with you as we see all of our children gathering for the children’s sermon. May we be

led by all of our  children.

◊    Carnival and Kids Camp: The Spirit is doing something new.

◊    Peggy Cerise: Child of God whose ending is a new beginning.

◊    This is what it is about. Together we share our story and we pass it on.

  • Our youth.

◊ What Do You Stand For? Our youth stand for something special, and I was fortunate to share with them and get to know

them better on the mission trip.

◊    Also, so thankful for our youth leaders who volunteer many hours from their heart.

  • Wednesday Club: You inspire me with your care for each other and our church.
  • Food and Fellowship: So blessed to share in a community that enjoys being together.

◊    Valentine Cabaret: Speechless-the talents and joy astound. Can’t wait for next year.
◊    Worship: Passing of the Peace says it all followed by fellowship time.
◊    Fourth of July: ‘I want to bang on my drum all day’-A joyful noise was shared.
◊    Our people: Thankful for each one of you.

  • Mission: From our community garden to the Crop Walk, blessed with people that like to get their hands dirty serving God.
  • Worship: Sing a new song unto the Lord! This congregation loves to sing and this says it all. May we continue to sing new songs together with faith like a child, as the little child continues to guide us.

Thank you for a wonderful first year in vocational ministry. God is good all the time. Pastor Rob

Huh?

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property.  So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’  Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.  I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’  So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’  He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’  Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’  And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.  And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

  “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.  If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?  And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?  No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” Luke 16: 1-13

For context—followed immediately by: The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him…

Huh?  Really?  WTH?  So I read it again only to scratch my head find myself repeating—Huh?  Really?  WTH? 

So I turn to the experts—the scholars.  And the one thing that I find in common with each one is the repetition of my initial thoughts as they say—Huh?  Really? WTH? 

Well, kind of.  One attempted to minimize the story by making the master the pinnacle of the community.  Another tries to resolve by making the ‘dishonest’ not really ‘dishonest’—but instead hired as the problem solver in a dishonest system…  But these explanations only leave me more confused—asking them Huh? Really?  WTH? 

So let’s recap the story.  We have two main characters, the master and the manager.  We don’t know much about the master other than he is a rich man that has entrusted his wealth to his manager.  Putting this puzzle together, I want to somehow fit the metaphor of master with God, but this doesn’t work either as I reflect on Luke and rich people. (See Luke 4:18-19, 6:35, 7:41-42, 11:4, et. al.) Let us enter into the story from a way we may understand better.

There was this rich country, abundant in wealth and resources.  This rich country had a manager that had great responsibility in managing housing.  Not to point fingers—or to point more fairly, we could name this rich manager FNMA/Freddy Mac, or Lehman Brothers, or ________.   The manager had become lazy in his management and the master had caught wind of this.  The manager was confronted with questions asking what they are doing?  But the manager was savvy—so he quickly through together a very unpopular program that protected the rich master called too big to fail.  The master commended the dishonest manager because he acted shrewdly. 

Really, it is not much different than this—and the manager was rewarded, given large bonuses, and no one was arrested.  Shrewd and savvy—and we all go—huh?  Really? 

And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.  And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

Jesus is talking with disciples.  They have been together for a while—the plot is thickening, the tension has been building.  It is hard to follow—even when we have heard the teaching, seen the healings, and can recall where we have been.  Discipleship is hard.  It is like now—finding ourselves 6 months removed from that beautiful Easter morning…where we say with confidence “Christ the Lord is Risen!”  (Response: He is risen indeed!)  Remember? 

But now school has started again?  The desire for routine sounds good…but wow, what a routine it is.  Or the demands placed on us from work?  Our families, aging parents, our children, struggles in a relationship…  And we began looking back…  we doubt, we struggle, we question…  Following Jesus is not easy…Discipleship is not easy.  It is hard to keep looking forward with anticipation of a promise when our feet grow weary.  Can we stop and rest awhile?  Or even, can we go back to the way it was painting a sensationalized picture of what it was…cause the future is hard…so we fall back.

And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

Means of dishonest wealth until gone—for all of this world—it is temporal.  It is material, it is earthly.  A very provocative way of saying, “who on their death bed every has stated, ‘I wish I would have spent more time in the office.”  Oh, but the draw is great…  but look ahead—beyond that what is temporal.  What is truly important?  For the rich master, how much is enough?  Consider a system where the deck was stacked–where the landowner had all the cards.  On a good year, when the olive crop was abundant, or the wheat was plentiful…yet will there be enough to pay the master?  Will there be enough to pay the oppressive Roman government?  And if there is not, this debt is added to the prior, and carried to the next year. 

Now find yourself as the manager, or the mediator.  You are the go between.  From our earthly perspective, we have a job to do.  It is a hard job, but that has been what supports us—has helped us be upwardly mobile.  For we once were on the other side.  We were the one trying to find out how we were going to put food on the table.  To make our friends by honest wealth, we are hanging with the right people, the who’s who, the best seats.  And then we pray a prayer that we way, ‘forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.’ 

What home are we preparing for?  For to get ahead, to be the first, is to be last.  But to prepare for that which is eternal, we forgive our debtors.  We pardon the burden.  We are confronted and asked, what is important? 

For the kingdom of God is in our midst—and when we find ourselves living in the kingdom, in the presence of a living Christ—we catch a glimpse.  Friends, I will trade with you any of the fanciest of luxuries—cars, front row seats, first class flights, expensive vacations, finest of jewels, or as the Beatles sing: I don’t care too much for money, cause money can’t buy me love.  I will trade any of these temporal things—to find myself in community…the kind of community where we can put aside any inhibitions, no need to impress, no need to climb ladders, but the kind of community without pretense.  Reflect for a moment on the happiest of moments—and we can share as a community that these moments were times full of laughter.  These are times of being together, sharing stories, and belonging. 

As followers of Christ, what master are we going to feed?  For we can’t serve both?  Where do we wish to set our foundations?  It is not easy…but that is why we are not alone.  That is why we are a community.  Not a perfect community—for we are one made of many.  But it is the many that help make one strong.  And we are a community in Christ.  Christ—a manager—who made friends in low places—a manager who afflicts the comfortable, and comforts the afflicted.  But does this to bring us back to what is truly important. 

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen 

Lost and Found

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.   And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable:   “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?   When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’   Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?   When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’   Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

This is up there with the most familiar parables.  If your recollection is the same as mine, it is a nice parable.  A parable of a good shepherd, a cute lamb that has gone astray, and shepherd that brings this lamb back into the fold.  The flock is whole, and there is a celebration.  I remember this parable with the picture of white/Euro Jesus carrying the sheep over his shoulders.  And we all say, ahhhh, cute….  right.  Right? 

The tax collectors and sinners were coming near…and the Pharisees and scribes were grumbling.  There was a murmur…a whisper—insider to insider—that said “Can you believe this fella—this one who welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 

It’s not a cute little sheep/shepherd story.  No, it’s a story with an edge.  Okay, it’s more than an edge.  Jesus shares a story to provoke the insider-to the grumbler that is saying, what are they doing here—what is he doing with them. 

There is a Jewish story that speaks to the good fortunes of a hardworking farmer.  As this farmer was out working hard, the Lord appeared and granted him three wishes.  But the wishes were conditional.  For each wish the Lord granted the farmer, the same wish would be given double to the farmer’s neighbor.  He could hardly believe his good fortune as he wished for 100 cattle.  Immediately, 100 head of cattle appeared and he was overjoyed.  But the joy was short-lived when he saw his neighbor received 200 head.  So he wished again, and this time for 100 acres of land, and again was filled with joy until he saw that his neighbor had received 200 acres.  Rather than joining in celebration for the Lord’s goodness, he was filled with jealousy and a sense that he was slighted because his neighbor had received more.  With contempt, he offered his third wish—that God would strike him blind in one eye.  God wept.[1]

“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?   When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.   And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 

Full Stop—he then shares with the crowd:

Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 

Wait a minute, sheep don’t repent?  Seriously?  There is one—a sinner or tax collector, and ninety-nine-righteous…  And there is a party.  Invite the neighbors and friends, but where are the ninety-nine? 

Grumbling—this fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them. 

So there is this woman who has ten silver coins, and after losing one turns her house upside down looking for it.  After finding it—she throws a party.  She welcomes friend and neighbor, and they celebrate. 

This story of losing and finding—it’s less about our lostness, and more about the finder.  It is less about sheep, and more about the shepherd.  It is less about the coin, and more about the woman—and think how amazing that is!  God is like a woman—(and has to be, because Lord knows that coin would be right in front of my face and I wouldn’t see it.)  So this God, our God is so much bigger, so much better, and one that seeks…seeks—us.

This story is about God—a shepherd, a woman, and one who continues to leave ninety-nine to seek one.  This God who says the community is missing something until the lost are found, and when found—it is a celebration. 

In light of a God that is this great, it is too about us.  It is about us because community matters—community where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  Yet wholeness requires completeness…each and every one of us…and more.  For lost or found, we belong to God—from the beginning.  We are God’s when we are 100, and we are God’s when we stray–perhaps the reason God would go so far to rescue one, to reclaim what belonged in the first place.  And this lost is not only one out there—in the wilderness, but we all struggle at times of our lives with lostness, with struggles. 

Lost, God searches, enters the wilderness as a shepherd, turns the house upside down.  Finding—God throws a party. 

There was a chaplain who accompanied Benjamin Franklin and an all volunteer militia back in 1756.  Living in the threats of the frontier, Franklin helped lead the recruits to build a fort.  Once safe inside the walls that protected from the threats of the outside, the chaplain (referred to by Franklin as “a zealous Presbyterian”) complained to Franklin that very few were attending worship.  Franklin, an astute problem solver, assigned the young chaplain the charge of handing out the daily ration of rum.  Attendance increased—for sure.  More importantly, Franklin reflects that “never were prayers more generally and more punctually attended.” 

May we find ourselves at Spirit of life, a place that not only welcomes the lost, but a place that will turn our community upside down searching for—and a place that leaves its comfort zone to seek out one.  Instead of a house of saints, a crystal cathedral, may we view ourselves more as the 80’s sitcom (Kate begins playing theme song) Cheers.  A place that welcomes, a place that calls you out by name: Norm!

“Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.

Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows your name.
You wanna go where people know, people are all the same,
You wanna go where everybody knows your name.”

 

Seeking, God calls us by name.  But to call each one of us by name, let us enter back into this cute little story.  A story of a hundred lambs.  Ninety-nine-righteous, and one that wanders into the wilderness.  May we see this story in the larger story.  Of the one lamb, who in the wilderness enters the thicket.  This one, perfect lamb, who is not rescued, but dies.  This one lamb, who enters the wilderness for the purpose of restoring the ninety-nine who remained in the wilderness.  This lamb is our good shepherd who died and lives so that in our lostness, our straying, that we may live in fullness—together. 

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.



[1] R. Alan Culpepper, The New Interpreter’s Bible: Luke/John, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 298. 

Pastrix: Coffee and Nadia

“Nadia Bolz-Weber takes no prisoners as she reclaims the term “pastrix”(pronounced “pas-triks,” a term used by some Christians who refuse to recognize female pastors) in her messy, beautiful, prayer-and-profanity laden narrative about an unconventional life of faith.

Heavily tattooed and loud-mouthed, Nadia, a former stand-up comic, sure as hell didn’t consider herself to be religious leader material — until the day she ended up leading a friend’s funeral in a smoky downtown comedy club. Surrounded by fellow alcoholics, depressives, and cynics, she realized: These were her people. Maybe she was meant to be their pastor.” http://www.pastrix.com/

Who would like to join in a book discussion on Nadia’s new book, Pastrix?  Recently, I received an inquiry on visiting Spirit of Life.  Their question was if I (and Spirit of Life/and PCUSA) believed in the ordination of women.  Without hesitation, “Of course.” The next question was if I knew of any non-apostate Reformed churches in the area.  If ‘apostate’ = ordaining women, come be an apostate along with me as we read one from one of my favorite pastors.  Nadia holds together tradition and post-modernism, hymns and beer, and AA meetings and worship.  Sounds like church to me.

Let’s do church together.  Thinking early morning during the week at a local coffee shop.  Reply if you are interested and what time you could make work?

Shalom,

Rob

takes no prisoners as she reclaims the term “pastrix”(pronounced “pas-triks,” a term used by some Christians who refuse to recognize female pastors) in her messy, beautiful, prayer-and-profanity laden narrative about an unconventional life of faith.

Heavily tattooed and loud-mouthed, Nadia, a former stand-up comic, sure as hell didn’t consider herself to be religious leader material — until the day she ended up leading a friend’s funeral in a smoky downtown comedy club. Surrounded by fellow alcoholics, depressives, and cynics, she realized: Nadia Bolz-Weber, author of Pastrix; Photographer: Courtney PerryThese were her people. Maybe she was meant to be their pastor.

– See more at: http://www.pastrix.com/#sthash.KDSQ2P47.dpuf

takes no prisoners as she reclaims the term “pastrix”(pronounced “pas-triks,” a term used by some Christians who refuse to recognize female pastors) in her messy, beautiful, prayer-and-profanity laden narrative about an unconventional life of faith.

Heavily tattooed and loud-mouthed, Nadia, a former stand-up comic, sure as hell didn’t consider herself to be religious leader material — until the day she ended up leading a friend’s funeral in a smoky downtown comedy club. Surrounded by fellow alcoholics, depressives, and cynics, she realized: Nadia Bolz-Weber, author of Pastrix; Photographer: Courtney PerryThese were her people. Maybe she was meant to be their pastor.

– See more at: http://www.pastrix.com/#sthash.KDSQ2P47.dpuf

This Sunday, September 15, is Youth Sunday!

This Sunday our youth will be filling many of the leadership roles for our 10:00 a.m. Worship Service.  We also we welcome our guest musician Classical Guitarist, James Falbo. As a classical guitarist, he has played in many churches for weddings, and various other events throughout Minnesota. With over 18 years experience, his repertoire varies from typical composers such as Bach, Mozart, Schubert, to Latin American and Spanish music. To hear a sample of his music go to  http://www.jimfalboguitar.com/ .  Prelude music will begin at 9:45 a.m.

How Much???

Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them,  “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.  Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.  For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?  Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him,  saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’  Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand?  If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace.  So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.—Luke 14: 25-33 (NRSV)

Officially, I tap out.  I wave my white flag. Cry out Uncle.  Anyone else wish to take a stab at this one today?  It’s a beautiful Sunday.  School has just begun.  We kick off Sunday School today with a chili cook-off.  With everything going on, I am grateful.  Grateful for many of the right reasons.  Going to church is a good thing.  If it is good-then it is even better to share with more people, right?  If I were able to set aside any impure motivations, this is good.  But please allow me to share my vulnerabilities.  Success is also good.  Being liked is good.  Cookies after worship are good.  More money in the offering plate—Good!  Hearing the words, ‘that was a good sermon, pastor’-feels good. It’s all good.  But how much of this is about me?  Or how much of this is about us?  That’s the paradox, right?  It’s not, but it is? 

Please allow me to stay here for a little bit.  Each in it’s own right is good.  Offering, a good sermon, eating together for a meal, being liked, a larger community—all good.  The working out of our story together—a story that began here in 1996, is a good story.  But may we always be reminded of our thesis?  In our own lives—in our joys and happiness—may we be reminded of our thesis.  In our struggles—our busyness—our families, children, wife, husband, may we be reminded of our thesis.  A thesis that unites incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection together asking how much? 

The last few weeks, we have been exploring grace.  In the story of the bent over woman, we journeyed together exploring how amazing a love is that extends grace in all of our bent-overed-ness .  In our desires for seeking the front rows—we explored humility, hospitality, and grace that welcomes the poor and the least of these.  Now, our story begins that large crowds were following…  So I ask, where?  Where is the crowd going?  Do they understand what it means to follow Jesus?  While they follow Jesus, Jesus is following the path to Jerusalem—the cross already looming. 

Planet Fitness is a large gym with over 120 locations throughout the United States.  A few years ago, they adopted a new policy that banned grunting in the gym.  Perhaps the strategy was seeking it’s own niche, but the idea was something like: “We need to be welcoming to the novice—and this grunting is intimidating to the beginner…”  In catering to the novice—the beginner, they established this hard rule on ‘No Lunks’.  The definition of  ‘lunk’ is ‘one who grunts, drops weight, or judges.’  To communicate this new rule, purple siren’s were hung on the wall in the weight room to enforce the new no grunting rule.  Each gym on average enforced the policy two times per month, often asking the lunk’s to leave.  Regardless of the intentions of such policy, I regard this as ‘No weightlifter left behind’.  Just ask Albert Argibay, a New York bodybuilder who triggered the lunk alarm when he exhaled to loud while hoisting 500 lbs over his shoulders.  This lunk infraction resulted in rovacation of his club membership being terminated—for grunting—at a gym. 

And as the large crowds began traveling with him, Jesus turns to the crowd.  Especially noticeable in Luke, there is a pattern.  The pattern follows teaching to disciples, warnings to Pharisees, and speaking to the crowds.  The instruction shared with each is not limited to a small band of followers, or to the specific detractors, or to a crowd that gathered a long time ago.  Instead, we find ourselves with tendencies of each.  We want to identify with the disciples…except when we find them acting more like Gilligan and the Skipper, we prefer to see another as the Pharisee, and no one likes to identify with following the crowd (join us next week in a reading of lost sheep).  And Jesus turns to the crowd…he turns to the crowd as the plot in the gospel thickens, as the tension has been growing, the Pharisees had just been trying to trap him in a meal, and as he just shared a parable of the privileged rejecting an invitation to the wedding feast.  As the plot thickens, the work-out is getting harder, the weights are getting heavier, Jesus turns to the crowd and asks with some matter-of-fact words…do you have what it takes to work out in my gym?

Jesus asks the crowd, how much?  How much do you think it takes to follow this road?  Are you seeking membership in the fan-club, the no lunks allowed membership, following a crowd?  Or are you willing to follow with your lives?  Jesus defines lunk: “One who loves family more than God.” 

I interrupt the gym membership metaphor to struggle with you in the harsh language of today’s text.  “Whoever comes to me and does not hate their father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”  Not exactly the mission statement I would recommend for our website.  Even in the scenario of rising tension, this seems harsh.  Yet, I think harsh is what is being used to make a point.  Do I think Jesus is literally asking us to hate our families?  Ourselves?  Absolutely not.  As I wrestled with this text this week, I sought to prove my point by doing a word study on the word ‘hate’.  Greek is a complex language with words often having multiple meanings.  My hope was that this would lead to another word to justify such.  As I began to study the word, I was surprised that the Greek word Jesus used was ‘hate’.  Darn!  I was somewhat comforted that a regarded scholar danced around this with saying that hate didn’t have the emotional connotation we apply today of anger, resentment, etc…  Where I have found comfort is in the wrestling itself.  It is in the heavy lifting that we see where this fits in the story.  It is in the heavy lifting that we finally find ourselves kicked out of the gym because finally we find that our workout has climaxed to the point that I have grunted so loud that the crowd says, no lunks.

It is in the wrestling that I come to understand this as Jesus using hyperbole in strong words to say discipleship is hard.  No lunks allowed.  That while grace is free—Jesus is looking through the cross asking how much it cost?  With hyperbole, he is asking us where God is in our lives?  For a lunk is one who puts family before God.  A lunk is one who loves stuff more than God?

Still a little unsettled, may you journey with me to my seminary Hebrew class.  I had the most amazing Hebrew professor who only enhanced my love of Scripture, of a story that is alive, and a story that continues to speak today.  She taught me that when we struggle with a text, don’t avoid the hard part, but instead enter into the difficulty.  But we don’t enter into this difficulty alone.  We do this together.  The more we expand this circle, with the combined gifts and experiences, we come to a greater understanding and together we experience and know God more.  It is in this light, Jesus isn’t asking us to hate our families and even ourselves.  To the contrary, it is in hearing that by putting God first, we love our families even more.  It is in loving God, that we have the humility to make ourselves less.  In a faithful understanding, in taking the lower seat at the table, by standing with the bent over woman, and by bearing a cross, we are asked how much?  How much in following God are we better able to walk this path with our families?  In following God, how much are we better equipped to deny ourselves for that which is much greater. 

How much?  It is with gratitude that we approach the cross asking how much?  And Jesus asks us in return, how much?  “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”  Essentially, as the crowds have become bigger and bigger, Jesus offers a locker room speech.  It is half-time, the home team is behind, and Jesus knows what is ahead.  He offers this speech at a time in the game where the visiting team has been gaining momentum, it is going to be a hard second half…and it is going to take everything we got.  Do we have what it takes? 

When asked how much?  What is it that gets in the way?  What is obstructing our view of seeing the road ahead through the cross?  What is it in your own life that obstructs the view? 

We have many great and amazing things happening at Spirit of Life.  We have a loving community that cares for one another, that prays for one another, and has really been embracing listening to where God is leading us in mission.  This Sunday, as we celebrate the beginning of our Sunday School, may we see this as an opportunity for heavy lifting—for grunting.  May I challenge us all to continue to study, learn, grow, and get to know God better.  As we grow individually, may we get in better shape.  And as we grow individually, we are also growing as a body.  The more we can study with, and hear another path someone has walked, another experience, another viewpoint, a challenge to our own presuppositions…we lift more—grunting.  And grunting, we know God more. 

May I also ask that today’s text challenge us all as teachers.  May our teachers please come forward? (Time for commissioning our teachers and youth leaders).   

May we not take our calling lightly, but may we instead see the challenge that is before us in teaching our children, our youth, and our adults.  Teach with all of your heart, soul, and strength.  In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.     

Church happening

It was a blessing to share at table and in worship this last Wednesday and hear the MLK’s monumental I Have a Dream speech.  We were also blessed to have James Hohmann share his reflection as we examine the dichotomy of how far we have come while recognizing how the long arc of history bending towards justice has a long way to go.

In light of our gathering, I share this story (*warning-language alert):  http://momastery.com/blog/2013/09/01/church/