Sunday, July 31, 2016

Barbara Moyer Lehman: Set your hearts and minds on things above

This is a story full of love
Psalm 49:1-12; Ecclesiastes 1:2,12-14, 2:18-23; Luke 12:13-21; Colossians 3:1-11

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    A quote I saw recently said, “Show me your checkbook and I will tell you what you believe”.  It was on the back cover of a book I am reading, called, Money and Faith: the search for enough.
    How do we ever know when we have enough?  And who decides?  Our relationship with and use of money reveals a great deal about our values.  The lifestyle we choose, the cars we drive, our home, how we dress, where we go on vacations and how often, the stores where we shop, what schools our children attend, ....all of these things and more, make statements about what is important to us, how we spend our money and what we value most.
    Our scripture texts for today all have something to tell us, teach us, remind us about wealth, greed, God and even death!  (Sounds pretty grim and sobering.  And it can be, but it doesn’t have to be)
    Covetousness was a widespread problem in the early church.  Is it any less of a problem today?  To covet: “to desire or crave enviously that which belongs to another.”  Greed...also a problem.  Greed: “a desire to acquire more than one needs or deserves”.

    The problem lies not in wealth isn’t a bad thing, but the problem is in the way we often orient our lives around the acquisition of it. Too often it controls our very lives.  Wealth disorients people in their relationship to God and often in how they relate to others.  Our thoughts and opinions about money, create tension and lead to heated arguments in many marriages, and between parent and children.  We disagree on how much we think we need, on how much to spend or what to spend it on.  We disagree on how much to save, invest or give away.

    So what do we see in our lectionary texts for today?
1.)  Psalm 49:1-12 - We heard part of this in our opening call to worship.  It is a wisdom psalm and a teaching psalm.  It is addressed to people everywhere, rich and poor, persons of every economic scale and status.  Apparently those who were poor and powerless lived in fear of the rich and powerful. Sounds familiar.  The psalmist reassures them that death is the great equalizer.   In the end, we all die! It levels everything and everyone out.  Knowing that, it still doesn’t make life easy here on earth for many who are poor and powerless. But no matter how much real estate one owns or how large a bank account one has, none of it goes with us.  The LORD rules the world; the rich and powerful do not!  Death is inevitable and wealth is all transitory.  We can’t buy our way out of dying.

2.)  Our Ecc. passage...we hear of a teacher who is lamenting the unfairness of life.  Toil is meaningless...all is vapor..a chasing after the wind!  Is it worth it all...what you are doing day after day?  Nothing makes sense.  Dos this sound familiar?  We put our heart and soul and body into our work/career, but what happens?  Well, we can’t take it with us.  When we die, we turn it over to someone else who will have control over it and determine what to do with it.  And you know what, that person who inherits it might be a fool!  It might be a person who cares nothing about what you worked hard to accomplish throughout your entire life.  That person may be one of your very own children!  We leave it all behind us.

3.)  Luke 12:13-21 We hear of a man who was having a problem with his brother about the family inheritance and he wanted Jesus to get involved, to settle the matter, but Jesus didn’t fall for that.  And in that interaction, Jesus reminds or warns the man and the crowd about greed!  But if they didn’t really get the message, Jesus proceeds to tell them a parable.  They have a second chance to learn the lesson!
    The rich farmer who has a bumper crop doesn’t have room to store his surplus of grain.  What to do?  He comes up with a plan...a rather self serving plan.  Tear down the old barns and build bigger ones, then he will have plenty of room for the grain and, actually for all of his goods!  Problem solved and he can retire, relax, go on a cruise.  He is set for a lifetime, or so he thinks.  Jesus says, “You fool!  Tonight you die and who will get all of your stuff?”

Peterson’s The Message says for the last verse, “That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God.”  This man lives for himself, talks to himself, plans for himself and even congratulates himself.  In the end his possessions are worth nothing.  They are all treasures turned toward self, stored in bigger barns, with the doors closed.  No plan to redistribute and share the surplus
    Three years ago when these texts came up in the lectionary cycle, I also preached on them and John and I happened to be building, for real, a bigger ‘barn’ in a corner of our back yard.  Well, let me clarify was a storage shed replacing one that was about the size of a walk in closet.  It was old, rotting, and little creatures sometimes crawled underneath it.  It was time to replace it.  And we did.  It is serving us well.  We felt totally justified in doing this, ...building something simple, useful and modest.  After all, we have no basement, a small one car garage, little storage space in the house and it seemed the right thing to do.  But I know that even as I was preparing for that sermon 3 years ago, I had to stop and think about what we were doing, knowing how easy it is to slip into a way of thinking whereby we can justify doing most anything we want to, without giving it a great deal of thought and discernment. We want to enlarge/remodel the kitchen, finish off the family room, add another garage, update our computer and all the rest of our technology.  We are convinced there is nothing wrong with any of this.

    Hoarding, collecting, storing, accumulating, is so easy to get caught up in this.  When we crave more and get more, we often end up putting these things in the place of God in our lives and disregard the needs of others.  One person wrote:  “We say we want only enough but no one knows how much is enough until one has too much.”

4.)  Col. 3:1-11   In Colossians we are reminded that since we are made alive in Christ, raised with Christ, as Christians we need to set our hearts and our minds on things above, on things that Christ is doing, not earthly things or things that society around us pressures us into thinking are important and needed.  Our old self died and those old practices of an earthly nature, like greed, should have died with it.  God is to be the center of our life.  Christ alone matters.  Not wealth, but God.  Unfortunately, too many of us in our Western materialistic society are bent on chasing money and building bigger barns.  It afflicts most of us in some way.  Greed is seductive and controlling.  It can pull us away from God.  Too often wealth creates a false sense of security.  We feel we no longer really need God.

    In the book I referred to at the beginning, Money and Faith, a search for enough, one of the contributors, Killian Noe, wrote an article called “The Ultimate Question; Where is my security?”  The author has lived in many intentional communities around the world and has learned much from that experience.  She lived in D.C. and was a member for many years of the Church of the Savior.
She relates her own early experiences of tithing and then proportionate giving and shares some excellent practical advice given to her by Gordon Cosby when she had a young family and was trying to balance their own needs with the needs of the larger human family.  Cosby counseled her to take time with her husband and discuss openly and honestly their needs for housing, food, clothing and medical needs, but also to include needs for recreation , vacation and occasional treats.  After determining your family’s financial need, put a cap on that need.  Adjustments would need to be made as the family grew and unexpected and expected expenses would be planned for, but within reason put a cap on your needs.  “If you do not you will never be free.  Faster than your income rises, what you think you will need will rise.  The need for more will always be two steps ahead of what you earn.  You will never feel free enough to share financial resources with the poor and you will not know the joy of giving.” (Gordon Cosby)

    Killian Noe writes that when she received that advice she had no idea the power of the compulsion to want more.  Letting go of more money, and its buying power can be hard.
    “We in the United States live in a culture addicted to the pursuit of more.  The compulsion to consume is an unrelenting force.  We cannot on our own hear an alternative, more life-giving message.  I have discovered I must stay planted in the soil of authentic community if I am to have any chance of breaking free from my compulsion to seek more and more of what will never satisfy my deepest longing.  In the context of authentic community, I grow more free of what I ‘possess’ and begin to view money as a resource, like all resources, to be used for the purpose of building up the whole community, the entire human family, not just my own biological family.” (p. 167)

    She includes some other important insights that are helpful , encouraging us to practice being in authentic relationships with some individual or group of people who suffer under the weight of poverty.  Real relationships have the power to transform.
    Along with building relationships with the poor, and sharing resources, we begin to see how we also need to confront systems and work for justice.  We may not always see change in systems and laws, but in the process of working in ways we can, we discover we are being transformed. 
    As we take some of these steps, we see that things are shifting for us.  Our hearts and minds are being transformed and we begin to find balance in our life.
    Elton Trueblood, in his book Confronting Christ,, wrote:
Christ does not say that is it impossible for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.  Instead, he says that it is difficult.  Part of the difficulty arises from the sense of security, with lack of need, which often marks the person of wealth.  Security is itself a barrier to spiritual growth.  The broken and needy are far closer to the Kingdom than are those who feel adequate and successful.  God reaches us more easily when there is a crack in our armor.”  (p, 171 of Money and Faith: a search for enough.)

    If we are serious about living this new life with Christ, then we need to act like it.  As The Message states in Col. 3:1:
     “Pursue the things over which Christ presides.  Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you.  Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is.”

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Park View Youth: Reflections on service trip to Atlanta

This is a story full of love
Isaiah 58:6-12

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Several of our high school youth reflect on their recent trip to Atlanta, Georgia, to serve for one week with DOOR (Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection).

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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Grace and Yugo: From the slums of Jakarta to the New Jerusalem

This is a story full of love
Revelation 21:1-6

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Guest speakers Grace and Yugo share from Revelation 21:1-6, and reflect on their work and relationships in Indonesia. 

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Sunday, July 10, 2016

Barbara Moyer Lehman: Struggling with Tough Questions

Summer 2016: This is a story full of love...
Luke 10:25-37

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The story of the Good Samaritan, from the gospel of Luke. is familiar to many of us. We know it, we read it to our kids and grandchildren, we tell it, we teach it, we act it out in dramas!

It could be described as an ‘example story’, that is, it shows us how to live and be and act in our lives as people of faith. We are called to be imitators of Christ and to show love, care for others. Only one of the 3 men, the helpful Samaritan, acted compassionately. God and Do likewise! An example story, so we should pay attention.

But is that it? The challenge for any of us in using a very familiar story like this, especially preachers preparing a sermon, is to read it through fresh eyes, to ask new questions, to probe different angles. Is there anything at all that “afflicts” us, challenges us, or intrudes into our thinking that we didn’t see before?

Let’s step back, look at a slightly bigger context and get the fuller story. It starts with a lawyer, an expert in the law, asking Jesus the question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The text states he is testing Jesus. Maybe he is just being bold and wanting to get right down to the deeper stuff, not shallow thought and theology, but what really is important. Jesus responds to the question with his own question, turning it back to the lawyer. “What is written in the Law?” Jesus asks. “How do you interpret it, understand it?”

The lawyer gives an A+ answer...he is right on. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength and with your mind, and Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus replies, “That is correct. Do this and you will live.”

But the lawyer seems to need more, maybe further clarification, and so asks another question? “And who is my neighbor?” ahhh..tough question! “How much love are we talking about Jesus?’, he might be thinking. Let’s get specific. Where can I draw the line? There are lines, aren’t there? This can’t be totally open ended and without some limits and boundaries, can it?”

As a lawyer he might have been interested in more dialogue and discussion on this matter, wanting to know the finer points of responsible neighborliness. Instead Jesus tells a story!

The man walking down the road between Jerusalem and Jericho gets beaten, robbed, stripped of his clothes and left to die. A priest and Levite, one at a time, come by and pass on the other side. When the 3rd man comes along, a Samaritan, he came where the man was, he drew close, and felt great pity. He bandaged the wounds, anointed them with oil and wine, put him on his donkey, took him to the inn, where he cared for him, paid the innkeeper and promised to return.

“Which of the three was a neighbor to the man beaten?” Jesus asks the lawyer. “The one who showed mercy” he replies.

“Go and do likewise,” Jesus says. Do this!!!

Do this. Draw close. Show mercy. Extend kindness. ( The story,..... we know it, we read it, we tell it, we teach it, but do we live it?) Live out your theology in hands on care for other people. Get down on your knees. Get dirty, maybe even bloody, and bind the wounds. Don’t just Think love. Do it!

We may need to do something that makes us feel uncomfortable, or is inconvenient or puts us out of our comfort zone. It may be something major and time consuming or relatively small and a simple act of kindness.

(Example: tell stories of helping Ben and family move to Asheville, NC. Include hospitality and kindness shown by staff person at Lutheran Church, allowing us to come in and use restrooms, offering cold glasses of lemonade to kids, playground for them, etc. Also kindness/welcoming from their neighbor, who brought hot meal from Boston Market, plenty of food, a real feast, including a bottle of wine, as we were in state of chaos of unpacking and had not food or anything in house!!)

We ‘get it’, don’t we? We must do the same. It’s an ‘example’ story. At one level, this is the main point of the story, but is this enough? Might there be something else that is ‘afflicting’ us, even intruding into our thoughts that hasn’t before?

Two tough questions emerge!...

1.) In our context today, Who is our neighbor?

2.) Where do we find ourselves in this story? Does the story change depending on where we locate ourselves within it? 

Let’s look at that first “tough” question. Who is our neighbor? In the parable, during Jesus’ time, the ‘neighbor’ is the ‘other’, that is the enemy. The third man who came along and finally did something to help the beaten man was a Samaritan. There was bitter tension between Jews and Samaritans. The two groups disagreed about everything that they interpreted the Scriptures, where and how to worship and honor God, they avoided social contact with each other as much as possible. They really hated each other, so for Jesus to make a Samaritan the hero of the story, must have been shocking to those hearing this story in the first century. Absolutely shocking! It was a scandal. You just didn’t put the word ‘good’ along with Samaritan!

So in our contemporary lives, who is ‘the Samaritan? who is the last person on earth we would want to have save our lives or be deemed the ‘good guy’? Might it be someone who is at the other end of the spectrum politically, you know....the staunch conservative Republican, or the liberal Democrat? Could it actually be a person on our block who has strong beliefs on abortion or the death penalty and makes it known? Is the ‘other’ for us today, the gay couple who rent our apartment, or the person who comes to us for a job with a known police record or is a registered sex offender? And what about the recent immigrants that settle in our communities and work in our factories and fields and food service, some accused of “taking ‘our’ jobs”? Yet are we willing to do that work when we need a job?

The enmity between the Jews and Samaritans in Jesus’ day was real. The differences were real and not easily negotiated; each was fully convinced that the other was wrong. Sounds familiar....I hear that today regarding our discussion and debates on same-gender issues. Faithful Christians studying the Bible using the same texts and coming to different understandings on issues of the day, each fully convinced that the other is wrong.

So when Jesus deemed the Samaritan ‘good’, it was radical, risky and probably stunned his Jewish listeners. He was asking them to think ‘outside the box’, to dream of a different kind of kingdom, to put aside the history they knew, the prejudices they carried, the hatred that was buried deep. He asked them to leave room for the divine, for God to work and for the possibility that old ways and ideas might need to be altered and even transformed.

So how would you answer the tough question, “Who is your neighbor?

Let’s look at the second tough question.

Where do we find ourselves in the story?

Where do you locate yourself?

Do we find ourselves identifying with the ‘religious leaders’? Many of us are in some of those roles? Do we find ourselves busy, preoccupied, doing ‘good’ work in the church, in ministries, in institutions, and most days can’t find the time, the energy to add one thing more? When needs arise, how do we weigh whether we get involved? When do we pass on by? and then sometimes feel guilty. How do we protect ourselves from taking on too many things and trying to solve and fix things and people? What are our limits? Are we like the lawyer who asks the question, Who is my neighbor? and wanting to know if there are some boundaries, some limits, some guidelines? Do we sometimes respond to needs that become more than we can handle, becoming overwhelming and then feeling trapped?

(Ex. I confess I have frequently felt like the priest who walked on by, especially when I receive calls at the office from someone in need, especially when it is close to 5pm and I am ready to leave the office after some stressful work, and I debated whether to answer the phone, but did, then found out I was listening to a person recount their situation and knowing I somehow had to respond with ??? money, pledge of payment, compassionate listening ear, or sorry, can’t help. What to do??)

Do we find ourselves identifying with the good Samaritan? offering what we can, mercy, compassion, support, money, food,.... On good days, maybe we see ourselves in that person, hoping we can in some way, large or small make a difference. Maybe it is enough to ‘draw near’ to the needy and not to pass by on the other side. Maybe we need to go where the need is, to draw close, to see, to bend down, to touch, to listen, to anoint, to carry, to be present! Maybe on some days, that is enough. We are not expected to carry the whole load, to fix all the parts that are broken in people’s lives. God is already at work and we find ways to join in that work, however we can.

Do we ever locate ourselves in the story, in the beaten and bloody man, dying on the road, or lying in the ditch? We don’t know his religious belief, or profession or social status. He is just beaten, bloody, broken, vulnerable and in desperate need. Have we ever been in that place? some of us have, maybe physically, emotionally, spiritually broken, grateful to anyone, anyone at all who will show mercy and kindness and compassion. All divisions of ‘us’ and ‘them’ disappear. Maybe this is more than an ‘example story’. You know, go and do likewise, like the good Samaritan. Maybe this is a ‘reversal story! When you think of yourself as the one lying in the ditch, bloody and bruised, it isn’t important if you have the same beliefs or faith, or sexual preferences or political views. What matters is whether or not anyone will stop to show you mercy, love, compassion, before you die. You may not have ever experienced that kind of desperation, maybe some of you have. It won’t matter if you interpret scripture the same way or like the person, or agree with her views. All that matters will be that someone is there to reach out and pull you up and hold you together. And you might have to swallow your pride and grab hold of a hand you thought you would never touch or a person you would never speak to, or the person you can barely tolerate!

Who is your neighbor?” the lawyer asked. Your neighbor is the one who turns things on end, reverses things, the usual categories no longer apply, and suddenly you might see the hand reaching out is the ‘other’ and it shocks you, for in that person you see the face of God. “Your neighbor is the one who mercifully steps over the ancient, bloodied line separating ‘us’ from ‘them’ and teaches you and me the real meaning of ‘Good’.

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Sunday, July 3, 2016

Phil Kniss: Hurry up and wait

Summer 2016: This is a story full of love...
Luke 10:1-11; Galatians 6:7-10

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The notion that the world is going down the tubes,
    is getting so commonplace,
    it’s almost become common knowledge.
I don’t actually believe it myself,
    but seems a lot of people do.

I don’t know how you actually measure
    this level of global despair,
    but I’d say it’s as high as I’ve seen it in my lifetime.

Whatever common bond it is that provides stability,
    that holds together institutions, systems, nations, denominations,
    political parties, economic alliances, you name it . . .
        in many places, that common bond is dissolving,
        trust in each other as human beings is eroding,
        much of the fabric that holds us together is fraying.

The Rev. Dr. Stephen Cherry, of the Church of England,
    who, you might recall,
        preached here at Park View a couple years ago,
        just before he took his current post
            as the Dean of Kings College, in Cambridge,
    commented recently on Britain’s exit from the European Union.

    He wasn’t in favor of it,
        and he’s worried about its long-term implications.
    But the part of his comments that caught my attention
        were his talk of “granular politics.”
    That is, politics that get narrower and narrower,
        down to the individual grains . . .
        always preferring individual autonomy and independence
            over collaboration and community.

Today, on July 3, one day before our national holiday
    celebrating independence from Great Britain,
    and individual freedom in general,
        it might be apropos to listen to the wisdom
        of at least this one Brit.
    Having learned to know Stephen personally
        during his sabbatical among us in Harrisonburg,
        I know him to be compassionate, wise, humble,
            and a passionate follower of Jesus.

So . . . Dr. Cherry,
    in his written comments on the Brexit referendum,
    lamented the “absence of convincing political leadership
        (which is essentiality the art of selling principled compromise).”
    And he lamented “the desire for binary questions
        based on unsubstantiated promises . . .
        [which] panders to the deep desire we all have
            to believe things boil down to a simple yes / no
            and to believe that at last someone as noble and wise as ME
                is making the decision that counts.
        This is . . . foolish (he writes)—but also deeply seductive.”

Put simply, Stephen Cherry is calling us all to account,
    we who favor quick and simple and black-and-white answers,
    we who value individual autonomy over working hard together,
    we who are looking for strong leaders that like to “go it alone,”
    we who act out of ideology, rather than collaborate
        and hammer out a compromise for the good of the whole.

He is warning us all of the dangers of “granular politics.”

I resonate with him.
And it seems to me this rabid desire to “go it alone”—
    and to diminish the value of community,
    gets especially dangerous when you combine that thinking
        with pent-up frustration and anger,
        and a feeling that you are losing control.

All sorts of less-than-virtuous behaviors result,
    that further divide us and inflict injury on each other.

In the church, it gets expressed in all kinds of sub-Christian
    and even violent behavior—
        divisive and manipulative tactics,
        controlling maneuvers,
        mean-spirited discourse.

And in the larger world,
    it comes out in embarrassingly bad politics,
    divided neighborhoods and communities,
    and in the most extreme form—acts of terrorism,
        at home and abroad.

The more granular we get in our thinking and behaving,
    the more violent this world becomes.

No longer do we wonder how many months
    before the next incident of public terrorism,
    where scores of people lose their lives.
We wonder how many incidents will there be this month.

In the month of June we had the Orlando massacre,
    then two more this past week—
        at the Istanbul airport, and a Bangladesh bakery.
    In earlier months, there were the Hesston shootings,
        the Brussels airport attack, and more.

The sense of helplessness is pervasive, and contagious.
    It brings even more anxiety and more fear,
        and more hostile acts committed by fearful people.

The need in this world for the peace of Christ to come and reign,
    is obvious, and urgent.

So I am here this morning to proclaim the Gospel,
    the Good News of Jesus.
    That’s my job as a preacher.
    And by God’s grace I will undertake it, even in these dark times.

Fortunately, the Gospels, in our written form, make it easy to do.
    These Gospels serve as our sacred compilation
        of Jesus himself living and proclaiming and demonstrating
            the Good News of God’s reign of peace,
            in the midst of one of the most fearful, anxious,
                and brutal periods in the history of God’s people.
    Think there is urgency for the Gospel of peace today?
    No more than there was for the people in Jesus’ day.

So let’s dig a little more into Luke 10
    and examine this urgency for the kingdom of peace,
    and see what it means for us.

Jesus lived in a period of occupation and oppression by Rome—
    an Empire known for its pure domination of the known world.
His people were ruled by one of the most brutal regional kings,
    Herod the Great,
    who terrorized everyone under his rule, including his family.
    Jesus’ own people, to whom he preached and healed and ministered,
        were under even more stress and distress, I believe,
        than we are under today.
The urgency for peace was obvious
    to Jesus, to his disciples, to all the people.

So Jesus sent out his disciples in pairs, to surrounding villages,
    to preach and proclaim the Gospel of peace,
        the Reign of God.
    And it was urgent.

The fields were white and ready for harvest, Jesus said,
    and the workers were few.
    Many of us have heard that text
        explained by contemporary evangelical preachers,
        as if it were referring to individual souls ready to be saved,
            like ripe heads of grain ready to be plucked,
            and all they need are more available Christians
                to lead them in the sinner’s prayer.
        Now, I’m not suggesting that’s a bad thing.
        If the Spirit leads you to pray with someone
            seeking reconciliation with God,
            by all means, pray, and expect God to do good things.

    But this text is not about that particular kind of harvesting.
        If all we see in this text is a way to advance the cause
            of individual witness and evangelism,
            we have ignored its original context and meaning.
        The fields are ripe, but in an entirely different way.
        Jesus spoke these words in a time
            of wide-spread stress and distress
                among the people of God,
                among the faithful and devout.

    Under the pressure of public persecution and violence,
        God’s people are fast losing their identity and calling.
        They are looking for salvation in the wrong places.
    In this time of social and spiritual upheaval,
        some seek redemption through violent retribution—
            confronting the Romans on their terms.
        Some seek salvation through ritual purity
            while ignoring the cries of the poor and widow and orphan.

    And in the middle of all these differences among themselves—
        different moral visions of how to live in this world,
        different understandings of what God wants of them—
            in the midst of that
                they are acting out their fears and anxieties,
                they are fighting among themselves,
                and they are losing their faithful witness to the world.
        Sound familiar?

    So into this wide-spread social and spiritual upheaval,
        ripe and ready for a new compelling vision,
        Jesus sends out his disciples in pairs,
            and gives them an urgent assignment:
            “Say to the people, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’”

    There is another way,
        beyond answering violence with violence,
        beyond ritual purity, or a spirituality of escape.
    There is the way of God’s Kingdom—and it is near us.
        Close enough to touch.
        God is calling his people to see, and embrace, and enter into
            the new order God is establishing—
                a real, present, and socially embodied peoplehood,
                where God in Christ rules, now and forever.
            And rules in peace,
                and with justice for the oppressed,
                    with healing for the broken,
                    with mercy for the sinner,
                    with salvation for the lost.

    It is a new way of living that few understand,
        and even fewer have experienced.
    It is a message of peace for a kingdom of peace,
        grounded in the life and work of Messiah Jesus.
    And it is available for all.
    It will keep God’s people from utterly perishing
        under the iron hand of King Herod.
    There is another king who demands their loyalty,
        who reigns not with violent threats,
        but through self-sacrificing love.

This is a radical message,
    and it is urgently needing to be shared.
        The time is now.
        The fields are white.
        And there are too few workers.

That entirely explains Jesus’ strange instructions:
    Go, now!
    Don’t get distracted by sidewalk conversations along the way.
    Walk with purpose down the middle of the road,
        turn neither to the right or left.
    And don’t take anything with you
        that will weigh you down or slow you down.
    Get there!

And then, once you get to the place where you are being sent, stop.
    Receive before you give.

In other words, hurry to get there. And when you arrive, slow down.
    Hurry up, and wait.

    This message about the new order,
        about a new way of relating to God as a people,
        is simply too radically different
            for people to embrace it immediately.
        Earn their trust.
        Accept what they have to give you—
            eat what is set before you, Jesus says,
            don’t move around from house to house, Jesus says,
                as if lingering conversations and lasting relationships
                    don’t matter.
        Enter into the life of that community,
            but don’t leave it at that,
            and don’t leave them where they’re at.
        As you are led,
            heal the sick,
            do works of mercy,
            and proclaim the good news that
                “The kingdom of God has come near to you!”
        In other words,
            don’t imagine you can usher in the kingdom yourself,
                by wielding your own power
                    or trying to control outcomes,
                    or looking for some magical inner capacity
                        to be spiritually pure.
        No, the kingdom of God belongs to God alone,
            and to God’s Messiah.
            It is yours to receive.
            And it is, even now, near enough for you to touch.

As I think about this crazy, over-stressed,
    and fragmented world we live in,
    that sounds like Good News.
    The kingdom of peace, the Kingdom of God, is near.
        Receive it.

    It doesn’t immediately answer all the questions
        about how we live in this world, in light of the kingdom.
    But it does provide an important, and necessary,
        spiritual posture of dependence.

    It might lead us to relate to current events
        in a dramatically different way.
    As a matter of fact, I’ve been pondering my own habits lately.
        Ways I habitually take in and process events
            that unfold in the larger world,
                in our political arena,
                and in the church.

    I have choices how to relate to these events,
        and how to respond.
        I can obsess over them.
        I can let anger and fear dominate.
        I can listen to every anxious voice straining to be heard.

    Or I can choose to stay informed and aware,
        while grounded and reflective,
            and dependent on God and God’s people
            for my sense of well-being.
    I can choose new practices and habits.

Recently I decided to limit—not eliminate, but limit—
    my exposure to network news and internet feeds,
    and other 24/7 sources of news and commentary and opinion,
        all of which are aimed at intensifying my emotional reactions,
        because that’s good for marketing.
    Sound bites, hyperbole, over-the-top reactions from talking heads
        stoke irrational fear and anxiety,
        more than provide meaningful information.

So I’m reading the newspaper more than I did,
    yes, the one made of paper.
    I’m sitting on our front porch more.
What do I really gain from being the “first to know”
    of the latest disaster or outrageous political remark?
Do I need continuous, real-time access to news,
    in order to be a good healthy citizen?
    Might I benefit just as much if I find out after a night of rest,
        from a more reflective and nuanced written piece
            by a thoughtful reporter or commentator
            (while sipping good coffee, of course).

Another intentional practice, lately, when driving in my vehicle,
    when it’s important to my own safety and to others
        for me to be grounded and attentive to my surroundings—
    is to listen to the news less, and to music more—
        jazz, classical, singer-songwriter, any good music.
    I let myself be moved by the art of song, the beauty of music,
        which often uplifts and inspires me.
    It’s not rocket science, but I think I finally figured out,
        that I function better when I arrive
            at my next meeting or appointment or hospital visit
            in a state of uplift and inspiration and gratitude,
            than in a state of tension and anxiety and despair.

And it kind of goes without saying
    that how we start off our day matters.
    I think and feel (and probably act) differently,
        when I begin in a quiet space,
            read some scripture, pray, meditate—
        before checking email, online news, and Facebook.

What we feed our minds with matters.
    As our Galatians text said this morning,
        “you reap whatever you sow.
        If you sow to your own flesh,
            you will reap corruption from the flesh;
            but if you sow to the Spirit,
            you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.
        So let us not grow weary in doing what is right . . .
            whenever we have an opportunity,
            let us work for the good of all.”

Limiting or delaying exposure is not denial.
    I can be fully aware of the brokenness and horror in this world,
    but still choose to move through life
        with love and gentleness toward everyone,
        and in confidence that the future belongs to God in Christ.

    That is not denial.
    That is a choice to live in light of the kingdom of God near us,
        the kingdom of peace that is within reach.

    Yes, there is an urgency today
        to get a fresh glimpse of that kingdom
        and by the grace of God in Christ,
            to proclaim it, demonstrate it, model it,
            in a world where the fields are ripe,
                and more than ready for Good News workers.

    We are blessed to be recipients of Good News,
        that God is on a mission to restore, redeem, and reconcile.
        That what we see, is not all there is.
    Now, more than ever, the world needs this kind of Gospel.
        Let us do whatever we need to do, and do it quickly,
            to get to whatever place God is sending us.
        Let us rid ourselves of whatever distracts us,
            or weighs us down.
        And let us seek out persons and places
            who are open to our proclaiming peace,
            open to receive the peace we pronounce.

        And Jesus Christ who sends us, will also go with us.

—Phil Kniss, July 3, 2016

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