Sunday, November 22, 2015

Isn't It a Little Early to Talk About Christmas?


Revelation 1:4b-8, John 18:33-37

 

        Today is New Year’s Eve. Let me put this a little differently. Today is Christ the King Sunday, which happens to be the last Sunday in our liturgical year. Next week a new liturgical year begins with Advent. I don’t preach many sermons on Christ the King because this is the Sunday we usually celebrate Thanksgiving. But recent events in our world have left me in a less than thankful mood. Therefore I ask you to join me in turning to a couple of New Testament texts which promise that the Kingdom of God lives among us, even when the evidence might suggest otherwise.

        Surely the most complicated and misused book in the Bible is the last letter in the New Testament. If I should announce next week the Sunday School class will begin a study on the marvelous book of Second Isaiah, only those who come faithfully every Sunday would attend. But should I announce a four week study of the Book of Revelation, we would have to build a new fellowship hall. It amazes me how much interest Revelation creates. Most of the curiosity stems from its misuse by excitable yet barely biblically literate charlatans who want to fill your heads with predictions about the End Times. Such exploitation has caused many a brilliant mind to reject the book entirely. Martin Luther deemed the book to be utter nonsense. Calvin refused to preach from it.

The Book of Revelation was written about 60 years after the death of Jesus to a group of churches located in what today would be southern Turkey and Northern Syria. Jerusalem had been destroyed by Roman troops. Pompeii and its neighboring towns had been demolished by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Each of these events weighed heavily on the hearts of the inhabitants of this particular region. Some Christians were convinced the eruption was God’s reaction to the destruction of Jerusalem. Many Romans believed Christians were secretly plotting to overthrow the Emperor Domitian, the same emperor who demanded everyone address him as, “Our Lord and God”. Failure to do so was considered an act of treason.

The recipients of the letter of Revelation, commonly known as the seven churches of Asia, were faced with a difficult decision. They could leave the church, fight Rome, lie about their faith, water down their beliefs, or die.  These people desperately wanted to know what to do. They were citizens of the Roman Empire, they were raised in a culture vastly different from Rome, and they had been recently converted to a religion which often stood over against their citizenship and their culture. In their anguish and confusion they listened as the letter began, “I know things are looking bleak, but heaven will reveal a different truth. Take heart. Christ is the Alpha and Omega. Trust in God’s future, not your past. The Holy One will arrive soon.”   I wonder if these words left them comforted ………… or disturbed?

Religion, culture and citizenship often make strange bedfellows. The brilliant novelist Marilynne Robinson, in a recently published essay, points to the contradictions that arise when the three are blended. She writes, America is a Christian country. That is true in a number of ways. Most people living in the United States, if asked, will identify themselves as Christian, which may only mean they aren’t something else. We are indentified in the world with this religion because some of us espouse it not only publicly but rather enthusiastically.  As a consequence, we carry a considerable responsibility for its good name in the world, though we seem not much inclined to consider the implications of this fact. If we did, we might think a little longer about associating our precious Lord with the ignorance and intolerance often associated with our faith.

My difficulty with claiming that America is a Christian country is that contemporary America is full of fear and fear is not a Christian discipline. As children we learned, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Thou art with me.” Before and after his resurrection Jesus told the disciples, “Fear not, I will be with you always.” When we forget this, or place the words of Jesus to the side, fear rules our lives, making us unable to make the distinction between real threats and irrational responses. Our anxieties and prejudices are channeled into the emotions of those who misuse words like courage or patriotism. Ultimately this translates into our lives being ruled by fear, as unchristian as that may be.

I know Robinson wrote the last sentence with her tongue fully pressed against her cheek, but her point is valid. What we confess on Sunday morning is often in conflict with what streams across our televisions on Monday morning. Forgiveness, grace and mercy play well in sermons but not against headlines which make our blood boil. Are we first Christian, American, or citizens of the world? How can we be all three and not exist in a paradoxical conundrum?

Jesus stood before Pilate. Can you imagine the headache the governor must have been having? Who was this guy? He looked like a peasant. Some claimed he was a rabbi though the Temple swore he wasn’t. The accusation was treason. Pilate must have thought somebody was really frightened of this guy if those were the charges. Jesus had no Army, we had no weapons of mass destruction, and he certainly didn’t have that crazy look in his eyes that would have the betrayed a sickness in his brain.

Pilate was in a pickle. Jesus might have been guilty of something but it certainly wasn’t treason. But releasing Jesus might result in a riot and the last thing Pilate needed was word getting back to Rome that he couldn’t control the affairs of Jerusalem. So Pilate posed a question. “Are you the king of the Jews?”

The answer Pilate got was hardly what he expected. Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

Pilate probably thought he needed to check Jesus’ eyes a second time. “So you are a king?”

“Yes, I was born to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Pilate then uttered the line that too often falls from our own curious or frustrated lips, “What is truth?”

I am not so sure “The word of the Lord” as it came in a letter to the Seven Churches of Asia was all that comforting. A thin reading of the text would be, “Here is the truth. This world doesn’t really matter; just don’t lose sight of heaven. God has a plan.” Yet a deeper reading of the Book of Revelation becomes complicated. It addresses the “things of this earth” by promising the destruction of Rome or any other hegemony that places itself above the one true God.

 So what is God’s truth? Does it only pertain to things of heaven or does the Bible have something to say concerning immigration, inner city turmoil or terrorist threats? One thing for sure, “Fear not” preaches really well on Sunday but usually falls on deaf ears by Monday.

What a mystery we have? Consider the complexities from a theological perspective. Our first declaration of faith is God created heaven and earth. If heaven and earth are the dominion of God, should we be so quick to flee the plight of earth for the promises of heaven?

What about good and evil? Can this only be answered from our perspective? If Jesus demanded we love our enemy might that mean we are to at least attempt to see the world through their eyes?

        More than a handful of you have spoken or e-mailed me this week asking if I might take a moment and offer some wisdom concerning the horrific tragedy in Paris. After session meeting I spoke briefly with Dave Lawson, who as you know is one of the “real radicals” in our congregation. Dave wisely said, “I am not one of those people.”

        I applauded Dave’s wisdom, mainly because any word I might offer is certainly flawed by my limited perspective. Imagine my surprise when Dave sends an e-mail which included the following poem.

What if we awoke one morning to find ourselves

        A member of a different race?

                One despised by our neighbors.

What would it be like if we went to bed

in a comfortable home,

        Only to wake in some cold hovel

                Without running water and no plumbing?

What if we went to bed in a peaceful valley

        And were jarred awake in the morning

                By automatic weapons just outside our door.

What would it be like to fall asleep

in Virginia as Presbyterians,

        and awake in Syria as Muslims?

What would it be like?

 

If we claim to be a people of faith, shouldn’t we be open to the claims our faith makes. Is God loving? Is God vengeful? Is God merciful? Is God judgmental? Are God’s people limited to a select few, or is God’s grace universal?

Does faith mean we blindly follow God or can we be blinded by faith statements which are ungodly? Can faith be flexible and open us to transformational moments? How can our faith journey be kidnapped by culture, intellect, fear or antiquated beliefs?

Today is New Year’s Eve, Christ the King Sunday. Next week we begin the season of Advent, a season of self-examination and expectation. It is a season when we wrestle with Godly intentions. Why did God send Jesus? Why did God become involved in the waywardness of humanity? What is heaven? Can there be heaven on earth? How expansive is the idea of being a child of God? What is truth?

        The beginning of fear is when we are too fearful to examine the world through the lens of our faith or when we are too fearful to examine our faith through the lens of the world. Tomorrow a new year begins. Have the courage to plunge into the mysterious and revealing essences of God’s Word. Use Advent Season to wisely address your hopes and fears. Pray unceasingly that new answers and perhaps new questions might arise as together we search not only for truth but a deeper trust in the one we call Alpha and Omega.  

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Exaltation Despite Barrenness


I Samuel 2:1-10; Hebrews 10:16

 

        Deb and I used to live in West Texas. We loved the people, but the land and weather wore us out. I think what finally broke us was the year I only mowed the grass on Memorial and Labor Day. The grass didn’t need cut on Labor Day but I wanted to empty the gas out of the tank in order to store the lawn mower for the winter.

West Texas defines barren. It is a 400 mile drive from San Angelo, where we lived, to El Paso. There are three stops along the way. Big Lake, which has no lake, is occupied by the 937 meanest folks in West Texas. Ft. Stockton, which has no fort, survives because it is the only gasoline and fast food stop on Interstate 10 for 200 miles.  Van Horn is a uranium waste dump. Traveling west you can spot Van Horn long after sundown.

Other than those three towns there is nothing but sand, mesquite, tumble weeds, wind mills and oil rigs. It is a waste land so barren that despite attempts to irrigate it, none have proved successful. There appears to be no water, no life, and no hope. To the naked eye, West Texas is as barren as Hannah, the subject of our Old Testament text.

In the ancient Hebrew culture, and unfortunately in some cultures today, a woman’s worth was defined by her ability to have children. When a public census was taken, the worth of a family was determined in the following order: the male, any male children, livestock, adult females, and finally female children. When the adult females were no longer able to produce children, they were not included in the census. To be barren was the equivalent of being as desolate as the West Texas desert. This morning we meet  Hannah, a woman who was barren, but not without hope.

As Ruth played a crucial role in the birth of David, the boy who would be king, so Hannah played a critical role in the story of Samuel, the priest who anointed kings. Without Ruth and Hannah, there could be no David or Samuel. How amazing that God used an immigrant and a barren woman to bring about the golden age of Jerusalem.

If you don’t know the story, it is worth hearing. Elkanah had two wives, Peninnah and Hannah. Peninnah was the mother of multiple children. Hannah had failed to produce a single off spring. Daily Peninnah threw this in Hannah’s face. You can imagine the conversation. “Hannah if you were a real woman you would give our husband at least one child. Oh, that’s right, you can’t have children. So why don’t you run away or even better just die? What good are you? You are taking the food my boys need to grow stronger.”

Hannah daily lived with the humiliation of infertility. I think we all know stories of young couples who are unable to have children. My daughter underwent test and procedures valiantly trying to get pregnant. Hannah had no procedures available to her. All she received was the disgrace and shame of being childless. Even words of encouragement from her husband fell on deaf ears. In her desperation, she went to the Temple to pray.

Despite her condition, Hannah remained a strong and determined woman. As she entered the temple, Eli, the chief priest, asked if he could be of assistance. Hannah looked at him and must have sarcastically thought, “Just what I need, another man.” By coming to the Temple she sought the only entity that could address her problem.

Hannah prayed. At first she prayed silently. Then she began to groan as her prayer erupted from a place of utter vulnerability. Her prayers were so intense that Eli thought Hannah had been drinking. How could he understand her plight? Hannah had come because of her loneliness. Hannah had come because of her despair. But Hannah also came as a person of great faith. She knew God to be full of grace, full of compassion and full of life. She came to the Temple because she had the audacity to believe that God is able to create life out of chaos.

There is a song the first service choir sings that brings me to tears every time I hear it. The words are:

Write your blessed name, O Lord, upon my heart.

There to remain, indelibly engraved;

That no prosperity, no adversity shall ever,

Ever move me from your love.

 

The words come from the 16th century poet Thomas a Kempis, who took them from the tenth chapter of Hebrews:

This is the covenant I will make with them. I will put my love in their hearts, and I will write my law on their minds.

Hannah had written upon her heart that nothing could separate her from God’s love for life.  The old patterns, the ancient laws that derided and eradicated those deemed unworthy begged to be transformed through an invitation to the God who will not be limited by our vision. So she prayed, or perhaps she sang, with a faith that would not be confined by the social structure of her day. She prayed, or perhaps she sang, with God’s name engraved upon her heart.

Faith is something that cannot be rationally explained. Every generation believes it has more knowledge than the last and perhaps this is true. I remember watching Star Trek as a kid and was amazed that Captain Kirk could flip open a small hand held device and communicate with Spock who was hundreds of miles away. Because of the intelligence of our generation, our communication devices rival Captain Kirk’s and our personal computers are something Spock would love to get his hands on. We are a brilliant generation, but we are no more equipped to understand faith than we were a thousand years ago. If anything, our dependence on rational thought has made faith somewhat obsolete. In the minds of many, prayer is seen as an act of the desperate and faith has become the crutch of the na├»ve. That said, may I remind you, despite all attempts by our greatest minds to bring water to West Texas, it remains barren……..until the second or third week of March, when for no rational reasons, the desert blooms. Bluebonnets and Mexican Hats dominate the wasteland reminding anyone with eyes to see that grace exists despite the evidence to believe otherwise.

Hannah wanted to bloom. Hannah wanted to erase the barrenness of her womb. Despite the evidence, Hannah knew, God willing, life could be brought into her desert. And so she prayed, and then she bargained, and finally she went home. Nine months later Samuel was born, and Hannah broke into song.

I Samuel 2 is one of those great poems of the Old Testament which ought to be written on our hearts. It celebrates the power and faithfulness of God. Hannah sings even when the human imagination is exhausted. Hannah sings because she believes that nothing is beyond the power of God. Barrenness is redeemed. Death is left humiliated. Life in the form of a child is resurrected.

I cannot imagine any mother not giving thanks at the miracle of birth. I have heard there are no atheists in foxholes. The same might be said of the birthing room. This daring and dangerous song of Hannah transcends any simple lullaby. Listen to the words.

God lifts the lowly. God raises up the needy. God gives             life to the barren. God restores the feeble with strength.

Walter Brueggeman writes, “Yahweh’s cosmic power is mobilized for the socially marginal. No wonder Hannah sings. The hope of the weak is rooted in the power of God which holds the world together. No wonder every Jewish mother joins Hannah in this song. Yahweh is the only one with power who is attentive to the plight of the poor, the needy, the hungry, the ignored, and the barren.”

Tradition suggests that every Jewish mother since Hannah has prayed this song upon discovering she is with child. I am sure that is terribly overstated. But then, it is recorded in the Book of Luke that a young girl, on learning that she is pregnant, sings her own version of Hannah’ song. Listen to Mary’s words.

My soul magnifies the Lord, for God has looked with favor on his lowly servant. God will scatter the proud and bring down the powerful. God will lift up the lowly and fill the hungry with good things. God will remember the promise made to Abraham and to David and to Hannah.

 

There is life in the desert.

There is hope for this world.

We might not find it in the shenanigans

Of those who would be king.

We certainly won’t find it among those

        With malice in their hearts.

But if we look,

        With our hearts rather than our eyes,

If we look,

        Believing in what other’s disparage as foolishness,

If we look,

        Not for power as the world defines it,

But power as God ordains it,

The Bluebonnets will bloom,

        The Mexican Hats will dance,

                And the barren will experience

                        The joy

of unexpected life.

 

To God be the glory, Amen.

       

       

 

                       

 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

A Tale of Two Women





Ruth 3:1-5; Mark 12:38-44

A Tale of Two Women

 

        The story of Ruth is a complicated tale which has far more substance than just the one verse which often finds its way into wedding ceremonies. On the surface, it is a story of a woman’s loyalty to another woman. As we dig deeper we discover questions concerning immigration and sexual mores. But if we follow the story of Ruth to its conclusion, two themes emerge, hospitality and faithfulness.

        You know the story. Ruth, a Moabite woman, marries a visitor from Bethlehem. Her husband dies leaving Ruth an outcast in two cultures. Not only has she married outside her clan she is rejected by her husband’s kin. Yet a special bond existed between Ruth and her mother-in-law, hence the verse, “Where you go I will go.  Your people will be my people. Your God will be my God.”

        Ruth, an illegal immigrant, crossed the border looking for work. Hebrew law can be a bit confusing when it comes to immigration. Ruth, a Gentile, was considered to be unclean therefore unfit to enter any place of worship. But the law was quite explicit that a widow or sojourner was to be given assistance regardless of their cultural pedigree.  Ruth had no legal status when she sought refuge in the city of Bethlehem. Imagine her surprise on discovering it was the responsibility of the community to make certain she did not starve. What a magnificent concept!!!

        I was riding my bike a few weeks ago down Route 56. A few miles past Crabtree Falls I passed a large pumpkin patch. I could see the best pumpkins had been harvested and sent to market. But the field was still full of less than perfect pumpkins. Maybe they were not esthetically pleasing but the fruit inside would still have made a delicious pie. At the end of the patch was a huge sign which read, “No Trespassing.” I translated that sign to mean, “It is better to let food rot in the fields than be picked by those too poor to buy their own pumpkins at the market.”

        I am aware we live in an economic system that depends on produce being bought at a fair market price. I understand the average farmer struggles each year in a never ending battle to feed the country and make a profit. But we also waste a lot of food in the fields and on the shelves that could be addressing the frightening reality that every night 17 million children in our country alone go to bed hungry.   

        In Biblical times, places like Bethlehem observed a code of hospitality. Part of the responsibility of taking care of the sojourner and the widow was at the end of the day, the poor were allowed to enter the fields of harvest and take home enough food to get them through the night.

But there were dangers involved in going out into the fields. Woman, particularly those who were strangers, became targets for sexual predators. I recently received a letter from Westminster Presbyterian in Charlottesville that a young woman had recently been sexually assaulted on their grounds. If churches are not safe can you even begin to imagine how unsafe an open field might be?

Each time Ruth ventured into the field the eyes of young men literally undressed her. She was a stranger. She was not Jewish. She had no rights, no privileges. Some may even have figured when Ruth entered the field she was actually enticing them to have sex with her. Naomi knew the risk Ruth was taking. In order that the illegal immigrant would be safe, the mother-in-law vowed to watch over her while she was in the field. As Ruth was faithful to Naomi, so Naomi exhibited her faithfulness toward the stranger.

Martin Copenhaver observes, “God places us where we have the opportunity to learn and live with folks we do not choose. Our fidelity to those we are stuck with can be a reflection of the fidelity of a God who is stuck with us all.”  Life in a covenantal community such as a church should place a higher responsibility on us. Most folks understand the need to be loyal and trusting toward good friends and family members. But God ups the ante. God calls for a connection with those we hardly know. God calls on us to expand our hospitality and fidelity beyond our comfort zone even though at times our actions seem to make little or no sense whatsoever.

        Francine Christophe entered the German concentration camps as a young girl. She managed to live through the experience and has become a noted poet. A couple of years ago she was asked if she might share some of her experiences in a documentary call “Human”. The incident she selected revolved around a piece of chocolate. As you can imagine food of any kind when one is imprisoned is precious.  Francine’s mother managed to smuggle some bars of chocolate into the camp when they entered. They were down to their last few pieces when it came to their attention a woman in the camp was going to give birth. The poor woman was emaciated, weighing less than 90 pounds. Francine offered her last piece of chocolate to the woman. Miraculously the mother and child survived the birth process. Nearly seventy years later Francine Christophe was sharing this story during a lecture. At the end of the talk a woman approached her with a small bar of chocolate. The strangers first words were, “I am the baby you saved.”

        Stories touch our hearts much quicker than doctrine and theology. But the theology of hospitality which inspired Naomi to care for Ruth reflects the same theology which stirred Francine Christophe to offer chocolate to a stranger. Both actions were taken as an act of hospitality and an act of faithfulness toward a God who cares for the widow, the stranger, the sojourner. Knowing the outcome of both stories motivates us toward acts of hospitality. Perhaps a greater faith is present when we act, even though all the facts deny anything will change.

        If your name is not Mary, you don’t get much air time in the New Testament. We know of Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary the sister of Martha, even Mary Magdalene. Perhaps the woman in the New Testament text’s name was Mary, but it hardly matters. For two thousand years we have only known her as the poor widow.

        The incident happened during worship. The songs had been sung, the prayers offered, the scripture read and interpreted. It was time for the offering. Everyone rose to participate. Some of the folks put in large sums. The widow contributed two small copper coins. Jesus remarked, “It is easy to give out of your abundance. That gift is hardly missed. She gave all she had. She is the true giver.” Who was this woman? She is never mentioned again. All we know is Jesus declares her to be righteous.

        Kathleen Norris writes in her book Amazing Grace, “The word righteous used to grate on my ear. I associated it with self-righteous. But gradually I discovered it has a larger, Godlier meaning. Righteousness is consistently defined by the prophets, the psalms and the gospels as a willingness to care for the most vulnerable people including the orphan, the widow, the alien, and the poor.”

        This story deserves to be heard in the context of the entire text. Jesus began his “sermon” by railing against the religious leaders. On the Sabbath they read the scriptures, lead the faithful in long prayers and then let it be known just how much they give to keep the synagogue afloat. But during the week they make their money by putting widows out in the street and selling their homes to the top buyer. Jesus had the nerve to boldly suggest the entire religious system was a fraud. The concept of hospitality had been forgotten or at least ignored. The synagogue was more interested in elevating the powerful than uplifting the down trodden. When that happens, the synagogue, or any church, has replaced hospitality and faithfulness with the business of self-preservation.

        So my question becomes, why did the woman give? She had to know the money she gave was being used to feed the mouths of the priest rather than the poor. Certainly she understood the travesty she was supporting?

        The cynic in me wants to call the gift an investment in herself. If she gave, then the synagogue wouldn’t let her die. After all she was a good and faithful member.

        The skeptic in me wants to see the woman as too ignorant for her on good. She believed in the fancy priest with his thousand dollar cuff links and million dollar smile. She believed if she prayed hard enough and faithfully contributed a miracle was going to happen.

        The trouble with these theories is Jesus would have seen straight through both of those schemes. So this leaves me with an improbable conclusion. THE WOMAN WAS RIGHTEOUS. She gave, not for herself, but because she belonged to a community of faith that was supposed to be based on hospitality and faithfulness. The fraudulence of the institution meant little to this woman. She knew God was faithful, and that was all that really mattered.

        I read an article the other day suggesting to many folks under the age of 40 the church is no longer relevant. That should frighten us because it is those folks who are giving birth to children. Folks under 40 haven’t given up on God. They have given up on us. We flaunt words like atonement, incarnation, and justification by faith. We quarrel incessantly about what sin is and what it isn’t. We even disagree who is in and who is out of the Kingdom of God. Folks under 40 seem to be more interested in hospitality and faithfulness. Folks under 40 are more interested in feeding the widow and the orphan. Folks under 40 don’t seem to have issues with immigration or even sexual orientation. I sometimes think they understand righteousness better than those of us who are suppose to be righteous. So what does Jesus think about this conundrum in which we have found ourselves?

        I have a feeling before all our doctrines and traditions were created, Christians were just simple people finding profound richness in the most ordinary stories.

A widow, who also happened to be a foreigner, discovered hospitality in the most unusual circumstance.

An elderly and impoverished relic never lost her faith despite the antics of her not so religious community.

Perhaps folks under 40 aren’t all that interested in doctrines and traditions.

Perhaps what they desire is a church community which reflects the love of God through acts of hospitality and demonstrations of selfless righteousness.

Perhaps we can be that community.              Amen.

 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

What Is Your View of the Universe?


Mark 12:28-34

 

The stewardship ministry team has asked me to preach a sermon which will focus on our financial campaign. This sermon, plus the information you will receive in the tomorrow’s mail is intended to inspire your continued generosity which allows this Church to be a light in our wonderful valley. The problem is I find stewardship sermons to be redundant, counterproductive, and pretty much a waste of our valuable Sabbath time.

But the good news is today is more than Stewardship Sunday. It is also All Saints Day. We have taken a moment to remember the deaths of those good folks who have gone before us. Today is Reformation Sunday and I apologize for not including “A Mighty Fortress” as a hymn selection. In addition, the Stewardship and Building Ministry Teams have shared important information concerning our ongoing ministries which assist us in glorify God. Finally, and most important, today is a Communion Sunday and nothing, not even the Stewardship Ministry Team, shall stand in the way of us coming to the Table of Our Lord. Therefore today, as we celebrate life, and death, and everything in between, the stewardship meditation will be brief.

G. K. Chesterton, a famous English theologian of the early 20th century might be better known to you as the creator of Father Brown, a Roman Catholic priest who spent a great deal of time solving murders. In one of the stories Father Brown was persuaded to take some vacation time down by the sea. Father Brown was advised that before agreeing to any accommodations he must ask two crucial questions. “Would the sheets be changed each night and would eggs and bacon be included with each breakfast?” Father Brown ignored the suggestion and said he would inquire about the proprietor’s view of the universe. His associate looked confused until the good Father explained. “If they have a good understanding of the universe they will automatically make sure my bed is changed and my breakfast adequate.”

In Mark 12 Jesus is asked, “What is your view of the universe” or in other words, “What is most important to you?” Jesus spoke the words daily uttered by any devout Jew. “Hear O Israel, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind.” Before the questioner could comment Jesus continued, “Furthermore, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

What Jesus did was cite two verses that essentially interpret every other biblical text. From the beginning we are told since God is love, we are commanded to love God and be a loving people. If you don’t love God, why believe in God?  If you don’t believe in love, why love others? Jesus then upped the ante by commanding we not only love our neighbors but we also love our enemies. That’s hard. Most of the enemies we actually know are our neighbors.

        So what is your view of the universe? Do you love God? I am going to take a giant leap and assume if you are here on this beautiful autumn day it has something to do with your relationship with God. The harder question is the one posed by the young lawyer, “Who is my neighbor?”

        Jesus, being well trained in the Torah, understood this concept to include more than that person living next door. Loving your neighbor means not exploiting or taking advantage of others, particularly those with less power or authority. In biblical language your neighbor includes the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the sojourner. According to Jesus, if you love your neighbor than you will change their sheets and make sure they have a good breakfast.

        I believe this church loves God. I believe because we love God, we trust each other, care for each other, listen to each other, worship and pray with each other.

        I believe this is a church that loves its neighbors. Some of you chop wood. Some of you feed the hungry. Some of you visit the sick. Some of you advocate for justice. Some of you go to prisons. Some of you knit gloves. Some of you donate clothes for the poor. Some of you care for God’s good earth and all of God’s good creatures. Some of you do more than one of the above and some of you are doing equally good things I failed to mention.

        Everyday I witness how much you love God and your neighbor by the way you participate in worship and the ways you are involved with God’s neighborhood. You are  generous with your donations of time and money.

        So here is my stewardship pitch. If your view of the universe is understood through the way you love God and your neighbor than I know you are going to change the bed and fry the bacon. Therefore I encourage you to not only keep doing what you are doing but to challenge yourself and those around you to do more.

        But if you struggle with the idea of loving God and neighbor then I invite you to be open to a conversion by the spirit of God. Don’t give a dime until your heart is committed to God’s path of love and righteousness. God’s not after your money. What God desires is a transformation toward loving God’s creation more than you love yourself.  When this occurs, you will instantly know it because giving will become a joy and not an obligation.           TGBTG, Amen.