3-18-18 It Begins in the Heart Where God Put It!

It Begins in the Heart Where God Put It!

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

March 18, 2018

Jeremiah 31:31-33 (NRSV)

31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband,[a] says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.


I found myself on several occasions this week talking about how to be a nonviolent presence in our world. With students walking out of schools and plans being made for marches it seemed to be on many people’s mind. Sadly, too often the nonviolent efforts don’t make the news because they often are hard to sensationalize. This week’s walk outs and the continued marches across our country are a continuation of a long history of nonviolent ways to speak to injustices and violence in our country and world.  


It has been 11 years since a good friend of mine and a pacifist-progressive-Mennonite introduced me to this nonviolent way through two life-changing books by John H. Yoder. Sadly, John Yoder was disgraced over sexual harassment allegations and passed away at the age of 70, but his work in the area of nonviolence and what he coined “The Politics of Jesus” (the title of one of the books) are still classics on the subject and transcend his personal life. 


Yoder’s book, “If a Violent Person Threatened to Harm a Loved One…What Would You Do?” (which is a compilation of answers to that question from the likes of Leo Tolstoy to Joan Baez) stopped me in my tracks.  For the first time, I was challenged to see the issue of violence and nonviolence as not just an outward reaction, but something that was happening within my own heart. I realized I needed to ask some serious queries of myself in relation to my own views and what I actually believed.  This in many ways started a crisis of faith in my own understanding.    


It was in this crisis and discovery that I headed into a year of diversity training at Huntington University and my first classes as a doctoral student at George Fox Evangelical Seminary. I found myself reading the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas Merton, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, John Woolman, and many more.  All people who found the benefit of nonviolence and have taught on its value. 


Yet, it was specifically in my study for a paper about Gandhi’s influence on Martin Luther King Jr.’s spirituality where I began to hone my understanding of nonviolence and its importance at the core of my life. Since this time, I have come to learn that Gandhi and King are essential reads in understanding nonviolence and its impact on our world.


It was the following quote from Gandhi, in a book edited by Thomas Merton titled, “On Non-Violence” which first grabbed my attention. Mahatma Gandhi says,


Non-violence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our very being. . . . If love or non-violence be not the law of our being, the whole of my argument falls to pieces. . . . Belief in non-violence is based on the assumption that human nature in its essence is one and therefore unfailingly responds to the advances of love. . . . If one does not practice non-violence in one’s personal relations with others and hopes to use it in bigger affairs, one is vastly mistaken.


To begin seeing the seat of nonviolence as my heart, started an evolution in my soul. In many ways, I was learning that the condition of my heart was key to how I respond to my world. This was a little different than just saying I had the love of Jesus down in my heart, like I was taught in the Sunday School song. This was saying that it was more than an acknowledgement or belief. For the first time, I sensed the need to take care of nurturing my heart, finding inner peace, and connecting to my inner light (as we practiced last week) to help me become a more peaceful and non-violent presence in this world.  I had to admit that some of the violence I experienced in this world – I actually caused – and it stemmed from my own soul. 


Gandhi wrestled with this as well. Not only did he begin to see non-violence (or as he named it Satyagraha) as inseperable from our being, he also saw it as desperately important to the future and shalom (peace) of humankind. Unless we found the seeds of nonviolence in our own lives, the world was not going to get any better.


Ironically, many people do not know this, but in my research I learned that Gandhi said many times that he developed his ideas about Satyagraha (nonviolence) in large part from the New Testament teachings of Jesus.


Gandhi considered Satyagraha a way to synthesize Jesus’ teaching about peace and non-violence into the life of the individual. He believed that non-violence came through embracing the qualities Jesus lived out in his life – such as:  

n  loving our enemies,

n  seeking truth,

n  experiencing personal transformation,

n  being people of virtue,

n  and having a religious faith

 all things that Jesus had lived out in his life and had said should flow from our hearts.


If you remember, on one occasion, Jesus goes out of his way to make a point about where our thoughts, beliefs, actions, and what we say stem from with the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. Jesus said,  


“You have minds like a snake pit! How do you suppose what you say is worth anything when you are so foul-minded? It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words. A good person produces good deeds and words season after season.” (MSG)


The importance of the condition of the heart was something that Martin Luther King Jr. learned from Jesus but allowed to be nurtured by studying Gandhi during the difficult days of the Civil Rights movement. King knew that retaliation or violent means were not what should flow from the heart and if they did it would only make things worse. Gandhi was leading sit-ins, walk-outs, and marches in India with non-violent methods and King adopted the same perspectives for his movement.  The key for both of them was to make sure their heart was centered and in the right place.  This is exactly what I saw many students do this week across the country as they walked out in the same non-violent tradition. King learned that nonviolence and nonviolent resistance as Gandhi taught were better responses to what he was facing just like the students in Parkland, FL.  King also realized that to do this work meant to go deeper and see what was behind the outward violence – something many people are calling our politicians, administrators, and leaders on today.


For Martin Luther King Jr. going deeper and seeing behind the violence meant to start within himself.  King said this,    


“Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.”


King’s views changed dramatically as he internalized an ethos of nonviolence and allowed his responses to flow from that centered-space.


I believe, King and Gandhi both realized that nonviolence transcends our outward actions and must be rooted in our hearts where true love is found and nonviolence has it’s beginnings. 


Gandhi said,  


“Nonviolence which is a quality of the heart, cannot come by an appeal to the brain.”


Nonviolence was not simply a body of knowledge to learn or be taught – it was something that (as I said in this week’s “As Way Opens” in Friend to Friend) is  planted deep within each of us and must be cultivated and nurtured by actually living it out through our love for God and others.  


Just inside the door of my office, I have hanging the Six Principles of Nonviolence  which I purchased at the King Center in Atlanta on one of my visits. These are a summary of Kings thoughts on nonviolence which he compiled after learning from Gandhi.  They show just how nonviolence must stem from our depths. Just listen as I read these 6 principles to you:


Principle 1: Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.

Principle 2: Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.

Principle 3: Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people.

Principle 4: Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform.

Principle 5: Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.

Principle 6: Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.


And this takes me back to our text for this morning which Eric read. God says the new covenant is 

I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

What did that look like?  What was God writing on our hearts?  The prophet Micah gets to the details when he writes,


He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?


What God wants of us resonates with Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Thomas Merton and many more.  It sounds simple, but it is the foundation for building an “ethos of peace” in our world.  Our hearts should be filled with the desire to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with our God – and that, I believe describes a nonviolent spirit.   


Folks, love is nonviolent. Love is peaceful. Love is kind. Love is what binds us to one another.  And when that is what is found in our hearts we can understand better Martin Luther King Jr.’s words,


“Love is a force by which God binds man to Himself and man to man.  Such love goes to the extreme; it remains loving and forgiving even in the midst of hostility. It matches the capacity of evil to inflict suffering with an even more enduring capacity to absorb evil, all the while persisting in love.”



I want to end this sermon with reading what we as Quakers say about being people of peace and nonviolence.  This is from the American Friends Service Committee webpage under Quaker Testimonies.


In renouncing war and violence, Friends embrace the transforming power of love and the power of nonviolence, striving for peace in daily interactions with family, neighbors, fellow community members, and those from every corner of the world.


This is who we are – people who embrace the transforming power of love and the power of nonviolence.  When we live this out – we too have the ability to change our world like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. before us.  Let’s join our children and take up that mantle of nonviolence and march forward with love and nonviolence in our hearts!



American Friends Service Committee has offered some queries for us to ponder regarding nonviolence (I have included them on the back of your bulletin). As we enter waiting worship, take some time to ponder these as we wait and listen.


How can I nurture the seeds of peace within myself, my community, and the world?


How can I work to eliminate hatred, injustice, and both physical and institutional violence?


How can I be more open to seeking the goodness in people who act with violence

and hatred?


How can I increase my understanding of nonviolence and use it in all my interactions?




3-11-18 - Come to the Light

Come to the Light

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

March 11, 2018


A few months ago, I read to you a description of Quakers by Rex Ambler in one of my sermons. It has come to resonate with me and many of you, and I find it speaking to our condition again and again. This week as I was reading more from Rex Ambler, I returned to his description as a grounding statement for us as Quakers, but also as a way to focus our attention on the Quaker spiritual experience that I am planning to lead you through in a couple of minutes. For now, I would like to read Rex’s description once again as a way to begin our process of centering down this morning.

Quakers sit in silence because they want to know something that words cannot tell them. They want to feel something or become aware of something that they can really make connection with. It is something fundamental to their life, they know that, indeed it is the underlying reality of their life, but they are not normally aware of it.

They are preoccupied with other things. They are taken up, like others, with the relatively shallow things of life, encouraged by the media and contemporary culture generally, and they hardly feel the depth of it all.      So they feel the loss, the distance, and want somehow to get close to this deeper reality.

They want to become "the Friends of Truth," as they liked to call themselves at the beginning. Not any truth, but a truth that relates specifically to their deepest felt needs, and to the needs of the world. They are looking for a truth by which to live, that is, a sense of reality that tells them who they are and how they should live.

Part of the reality of their life, of course, is their relationship with one another and with other people, both near and far. So they want to "discern" what happens between people, what makes for a good life together, and what makes for a bad one.

They want to learn in their own experience how relationships that are broken can be mended, how conflicts can be resolved, and how "the Friends of Truth" can work together to make these things happen in the world. (pp.10-11 from The Quaker Way: A Rediscovery)


John 3:19-21 (NRSV)

19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”


Sarah just read to us a very Quakerly passage of scripture – “but those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”


Quakers are always taking about “the light.”  We use the phrase to say things like,


“I am holding you in the light.” 

“We need to mind the light.”

“I am seeking my inner light” or “the light within.”


It also has been associated in Quaker circles with the historical Christ and as well the metaphorical understanding of Christ. We have a variety of names for Christ that speak of light:


Light of the World.

Father of Lights.

Light of Lights.

Light of God.

And the list could go on.


But for most Quakers our obsession with “the light” metaphor goes back to our founder, Geroge Fox.  Here is a modern English translation of George Fox’s words:


“So long as you live in the light nothing can trip you up, because you will see everything in the light.  Do you love the light? Then here’s your teacher!  When you are out walking it’s there with you, in your heart – you don’t have to say ‘Look over here’, ‘Look over there’. And as you lie in bed it’s there with you too, teaching you, making you aware of that wandering mind of yours that likes to wander off, and of your attempts to master everything with your own thought and imagination – they themselves are mastered by the light. For if you follow your own thoughts you will soon get lost. But if you live in the light it will reveal to you the root of your wrong doing, and the distortions of your life, and the degraded condition in which you live, and your endless thinking about everything.”


That sounds very similar to our scripture reading for this morning.  The light is our inner teacher and is shedding light on the darkness of our life – bringing awareness, capturing our wandering mind, and helping us find direction.


The problem is that for many people, we have a hard time connecting to that inner light on a daily basis – especially in our busy lives.  Rex Ambler in his studies started to wonder similar things. His journey took him back to the early Quakers to see how they found joy, peace of mind and courage to share it with others even when beaten and imprisoned for doing so. 


Rex knew that Quakers didn’t have specific spiritual practices of this nature and honestly, “how to” manuals weren’t that big in the 17th century.  But as he looked through the Early Quaker writings he found a clear pattern emerge.  Which Rex shares in his book, Light to live by: an exploration in Quaker spirituality.


On his website “Experiment with Light,” Rex identified 4 stages of a spiritual practice which early Friends used and described.


1.     Mind the Light.  This means stopping to consider what the Light within you shows you about what is happening in your life. Is anything causing you unease? Is there anything you need to attend to?


2.     Open your heart to the Truth.  Be honest and open with yourself and with God. Let the Truth emerge of its own accord. Don’t try to evade or excuse anything that you are shown. But don’t let yourself become confused or guilty.


3.     Wait in the Light. Instead of worrying over what the Light shows you, or trying to come up with solutions, be calm and patient. The Light itself, as it shows you the Truth, is a sign of something of God which is in you. Its power can show you what you need to understand (or to do!) in order to achieve peace of mind—providing you don’t lose yourself in troubled emotions. “Be cool” said Fox in his longest account of the process (GFJ, p.346).


4.     Submit to the Truth. Fox wrote in a letter, “When you have seen what’s going on in your mind, and the temptations there, do not think but submit... You will then receive power. So, stand still in the Light, submit to it, and all the rest will quieten down or disappear”. At times, the Light impels you to a necessary course of action, and then submitting means obeying it.


So to help modern Quakers understand and find a practical use for what the early Quakers knew and taught, Rex created what he called an “Experiment with Light.” In creating this, Rex realized these steps were very similar to psychologist Eugene Gendlin’s therapeutic process of “Focusing.” This led Rex to finding a way to re-introduce the early Quaker spiritual practice to us today. 


This morning I sense we need to experience Rex’s “Experiment with Light” based on Early Quaker understandings. For several weeks we have been wrestling deeply with issues in our lives and country, and our minds and lives are full. Several of you have asked me about how to center down and mind the light in your personal lives but in the manner of Friends. This is one helpful way that I have found to allow myself to focus on the light and let it be my present teacher. 


Don’t worry, you will be able to stay right where you are seated. I will be reading a prompt and then giving about 4 minutes after each prompt to allow you to experience the light. In the times of silence, please stay silent – this will be both our teaching time and our waiting worship.  At the very end I will give you a chance to share if you are so led. Then we will greet each other and sing the closing hymn.


Let us begin the “Experiment with Light.”   


1. Relax your body and mind. Make yourself comfortable. Feel the weight of your body on the pew or chair. Let all the tension go, in each part of your

body (start with your head and work all the way down to your toes). Let your immediate worries go, your current preoccupations. Be relaxed,

but alert. [Control your breathing.] Let yourself become wholly receptive.


2. In this receptive state of mind, let the real concerns of your life

emerge. Ask yourself, 'What is really going on in my life?', but do not try to answer the question. Let the answer come. You can be specific: 'What is happening in my relationships, my work, my country, my Meeting, in my own heart and mind?' And more specifically still: 'Is there anything here that makes me feel uncomfortable, uneasy?' As we gradually become aware of these things we are beginning to experience the light.


3. Now, focus on one issue that presents itself, one thing that gives you a sense of unease. Try to get a sense of this thing as a whole. Deep down you know what it is all about, but you don't normally allow yourself to take it all in and absorb the reality of it. Now is the time to do so. You don't have to get involved in it again, or get entangled with the feelings around it. Keep a little distance, so that you can see it clearly. Let the light show you what is really going on here. ‘What is it about this thing’, you can ask, ‘that makes me feel uncomfortable?’ Let the answer come. And when it does, let a word or image also come that says what it's really like, this thing that concerns me.


4. Now ask yourself what makes it like that. Don’t try to explain it. Just wait in the light till you can see what it is. Let the full truth reveal itself, or as much truth as you are able to take at this moment. The answer will come.


5. When the answer comes welcome it. It may be painful or difficult to believe with your normal conscious mind, but if it is the truth you will recognize it immediately. You will realize that it is something that you need to know. Trust the light. Say yes to it. It will show you new possibilities. It will show you the way through. So, however the news seems to be at first, accept it and let its truth pervade your whole being.


6. As soon as you accept what is being revealed to you, you will begin to feel different. Accepting truth about yourself is like making peace. Something is

being resolved. If none of this seems to have happened, do not worry. It may take longer. Notice how far you have got this time and pick it up on another occasion. In any case this is a process we do well to go through again and again, so that we can continue to grow and become more like the people we are meant to be.



When you feel ready, open your eyes, stretch your limbs, and bring the meditation to an end.


At this time, if you are led to speak out of the silence, you may. 



3-4-18 - Be Angry Like Jesus

Be Angry Like Jesus!

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

March 4, 2018


John 2:13-22 (NRSV)

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.



This coming Thursday is a very important day – it is International Women’s Day.  Thus, I would like to have us acknowledge that this morning. I am considering this International Women’s Sunday.  If you weren’t aware, International Women’s Day has been celebrated since 1911.  It is also know as the United Nations Day for Woman’s Rights and International Peace.


Woman have come a long way since 1911, but let’t be honest – IT NOT FAR ENOUGH!  To even think that tonight’s Oscar Ceremony (along with the Golden Globes a few months ago) is being overshadowed by the need for a “Me Too” or previously an “I’m With Her” campaign shows that we still need a lot of work. The way men in the highest offices, in powerful positions, and in the media have been exposed is a wake-up call of grand importance in our day, and it is just one of many ways that we need reverse the abuse and acknowledge and lift up the importance of women in our world. 


Sadly, we keep seeing our government cut funding for women’s organizations, human trafficking is still on the rise, and abuse, neglect, and belittlement of women continue to be reported nightly on our news.


I will be honest.  As a man, not only am I embarrassed at how men in our world have behaved, but I too have honestly had to take a look in the mirror and make some changes in my own life.  Sadly, how I was raised right here in Indiana taught me differently and in all reality it hasn’t changed that much in my 45 years.  Even the church taught me differently.  The church I grew up in would not allow women in leadership.  They taught that men were the head of the household – and that the Bible supported the unhealthy view of marital control by the man.


I remember getting in a huge argument in my Freshman year of college because I said that women should be pastors (and that was in my Freshman initiation) I hadn’t even taken a class.  Overtime, Sue and I were drawn away from this damaging thinking and soon found ourselves seeking out the Quaker Faith where women were valued as equal, where they had an important voice, where from the beginning they were respected and listened too and allowed to make an impact in their world.


Today, it makes me angry, yes angry, to think about what history has missed because of the way we have and continue to treat women.  There should be no need for a “Me Too” or “I’m With Her” movement.  There should be no different pay scales for women, or barriers or hurdles to cross. There should be no “war on women,” no need for a women’s march, but sadly that is simply not the world we live in. 


Now, before I get to far on my soapbox, I want to return to our scriptures.  Megan read one of the most controversial stories about Jesus.  Most people have a hard time with Jesus getting angry and taking it out on the money-changers in the temple – they say, “This doesn’t seem like something the Jesus I follow would do?” In reality, most of the time we have such a weak view of Jesus that we cannot imagine or even understand this outburst by him.   


The issue with seeing Jesus angry is that it doesn’t fit our desired views of God.  Whenever I come across this conversation in theological circles, the conversation quickly digresses to the topic of wrath.  Pastor Dawn Hutchings sheds some light on this as well. She says,


“In Latin, “ira” is often translated as wrath, but the church liked the more generic form of ira and so wrath quickly became known as anger.  Now, you can call me cynical if you like, but I can think of all sorts of reasons why a budding institution that was developing an elaborate hierarchy might want to warn its members not to get angry. Anger is, if you will pardon the pun, the mortal enemy of institutions and most particularily hierarchal institutions like the church, so it is easy to see why Jesus was stripped of this common and indeed most useful of human emotions.”


Why can’t Jesus get angry?  That’s the question. Why not?


To understand this, we need to see Jesus holistically. His great compassion has to be balanced by his passion for justice.  Too often we have him out in the pastures with cute white puffy lambs, when Jesus was actually a pretty serious radical.  Throughout history the Institutional Church has wanted to balance his anger with patience. Which all that does is lessen the blow and allow for us to manage Jesus. 


Pastor Dawn Hutchings points out the fact that


“Nowadays, the most common word associated with anger is management. We have become obsessed with controlling our anger, and so we send offenders to anger management courses to insure that they learn not to offend us with their anger.”


Why we don’t like Jesus getting angry is simple – we can’t control Jesus and make him out to be what we want.  I am so glad that this story is found in the bible – and especially in the gospels. This means we have to wrestle with it and try and relate and understand what is going on.


Now, Jesus was angry for a pretty good reason.  He was so exasperated by the merging of the religious officials and the Roman Empire, that he loses it. (In the past election cycle – we saw the same thing in our own country. Something that has been going on for a long time.)  Yet, the compassion of Jesus for the poor and his passion for justice has him storm into the Temple to put on a protest for political change. That may be a new way of seeing our text this morning.  Some may say, Jesus had become imbalanced – the patience that we so often encounter with Jesus had given way to his anger at the injustice. 


We don’t like Jesus getting angry because honestly it makes him too human.  Keeping him divine makes Jesus easier.  We can explain away the divine as almost magic or what in religious circles we call a miracle.  But anger is not explained away that easily – even though we try.


Again, Pastor Dawn Hutchings enlightened me on this, she says,


“Anger is a useful human emotion. Anger lies at the heart of human evolution. Our anger at the way things are can be just the impetus we need to compel us to change the way things are.  When anger moves us to reject the status quo, our protests can become the means by which we effect change.” 


I don’t know how many times, I have talked with young people (and adults) about anger, and I always ask them, what is the opposite of anger.  And the answer is always “Love.”  If you are not angry at them, well, you love them.  But as a father, I know that is not always true.  Sometimes I get angry because I love my boys so much.  I want them to learn, to obey, to see things differently. Sometimes we have all the right to get angry about a situation - that doesn’t mean we have to be abusive or hurt someone, but we can be angry.


As I was writing this sermon, I recalled a paper I wrote in my Master’s Program on God’s Wrath and Anger.  It was called “Wrath: A Corallary of God’s Love.” 


The feminist theologian Beverly Wildung Harrison in her essay, "The Power of Anger in the Work of Love," says,


"Anger is not the opposite of love. It is better understood as a feeling-signal that all is not well in our relation to other persons or groups or to the world around us. Anger is a mode of connectedness to others and it is always a vivid form of caring." She goes on to write, "Where anger rises, there the energy to act is present."


Just because Jesus made a whip and physically cleared out the temple doesn’t mean it was the only time he was angered.  From the very beginning he was angered at the plight of the people. In his very first sermon (Luke 4:16-21), Jesus called for change for the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. 


And on numerous occasions Jesus was found a bit angry over other injustices – the bible points them out rather specifically.  Jesus became angry over things like:


·        Hypocrisy

·        Greed

·        Lukewarm Living

·        Hard Heartedness

·         (religious, political, culturally, and I believe marital as well) Superiority

·        and Spiritual Pride


And yes, I believe if Jesus was here today he would be angry over some of these same things…like…


·        The greed of our politicians that willingly put money in their campaigns before considering the safety of their constituents.

·        The superiority of men over women, whites over blacks, the church over the LGBTQ, the government and the First Nations People.

·        The hypocrisy of our country being founded by refugees and our spiritual pride that led to the genocide of the First Nations People. 

·        The hard heartedness to being stewards of creation and being concerned for our environment.

·        The lukewarm living that has allowed women to become sexual objects rather than honored and respected individuals in society. 


I think Jesus might still have a little anger in him, today.  The point I am trying to make here is – if we are to follow the example of Jesus – then just maybe we too should be getting a little angry over what we are seeing in our world and the plight of the people in our country, in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces…


Just maybe we need to be like Emma Gonzales, the student from Parkland, FL who stood before the world and said, “I call B.S.”


Last week, we concluded our service with sharing the words, “I need you” with others.  Once we recognize that need and connectedness, we begin to see the injustices happening in our world.  Loving God and loving our neighbor becomes much more. 


And I know for me, at least, if I am not getting a little angry at the plight of the people in my world and work to do something about it, I will get comfortable and lack care for the people surrounding me. Yes, I will become myopic, selfish and   I will hurt my neighbor through my hypocricy, my greed, my lukewarm living, my hard heartedness, my superiority, and my spiritual pride. 


I believe we need to get angry like Jesus did when we see injustice. 

·        I am currently angered by the plight of the African Americans in this town whose communities are being gentrified – what the black community calls the New Jim Crow. I have been meeting with several different community leaders to understand this better and figure out what we can do.

·        I am currently angered by the plight of our children who continue to face horrific mass shootings with no response. I stand with them and support them as they, our children and young people, take up this mantle for change.  

·        I am currently angered by the plight of the Dreamers who not only need protected, but need acknowledged.  And I am willing to protect and give sanctuary, and fight legislation for those needing help – because that is what I believe as Christians we are called to do.

·        And on this International Women’s Sunday, I am angered by the plight of women in this country, and I want to do everything I can to help women feel respected and acknowledged for all they have to offer. 


And the list could go on…


As we move into our time of waiting worship.  I have a couple of queries to ponder… What injustices in our world anger you?  Where do you need to respond as Jesus did out of love and care for your neighbors?



2-25-18 - Weaving a Fabric of Care

Weaving A Fabric of Care

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

February 25, 2018

Galatians 6:1-10

1-3 Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.

4-5 Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.

6 Be very sure now, you who have been trained to a self-sufficient maturity, that you enter into a generous common life with those who have trained you, sharing all the good things that you have and experience.

7-8 Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.

9-10 So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.


This morning, I would like the sermon to serve as a multifaceted teaching.  I would like to have a little history lesson, some street art appreciation, and some Biblical exegisis.  Most of this will happen around the subject of “weaving.”  Last week we heard in our text to “tend to our knitting” so this week I thought I would continue that thought and expand it to the subject of weaving in general – which knitting is one type as we will learn.  When we leave this morning, my hope is that we will have a new metaphor for the care of our world.  


Let’s start with some history.  


Janis Rozentals gives us a great overview of weaving history on her website –


She says,


“Weaving is acknowledged as one of the oldest surviving crafts in the world. The tradition of weaving traces back to Neolithic times – approx.. 12,000 years ago.  Even before the actual process of weaving was discovered, the basic principle of weaving was applied to interlace branches and twigs to create fences, shelters, and baskets for protection.


So it is safe to say that weaving is part of our core knowledge. From the beginning weaving has been about taking care of ourselves, our possessions, our families, pets, etc… Weaving is an essential skill. Just look in this room at all that is affected by weaving:

  • Our clothing

  • The carpet

  • Wood beams

  • Books – hymnals and bibles have weaving in their spines

  • Even our hair – some of us with longer hair may have it in a pony tail or braided.


Janis goes on to point out:


“…early man developed the first string by twisting together plant fibers.  Preparing thin bundles of plant material and stretching them out while twisting them together produced a fine string of thread.”


Soon we had the need for stronger and stronger thread…


This concept is actually acknowledged early on in the wisdom literature of the scriptures where we read in Ecclesiastes 4:12


“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”


Janis says,


“During the Neolithic Era mankind developed great skills in weaving cloth.  Every household produced cloth for their own needs.  By the 11th century many of the weaving patterns used today had been invented. Weaving was not only an essential skill – it was foundational for protecting and caring for each other.”


That gives a deeper meaning to our text from last week – “Tend to your knitting.”  Knitting is an essential and foundational skill.


A couple weekends ago, Sue was trying to learn how to knit by using a training video. I picked up some knowledge as she was learning and it helped me consider even more in depth this process.   


I have learned that there are many different methods in which threads are woven. Some call it knitting, felting, braiding, plaiting, crochet, macramé, and the list goes on.  All of these weaving methods use at least two basic threads – a warp (longitudinal) and a weft (lateral) threads.


How these two threads come together through the process of weaving affects characteristics of the cloth.  Such as the tighter the knit – the stronger the weave.


Not only does it take two threads…when the loom is introduced to history to make the process easier – it actually required TWO PEOPLE.  Thus…


Weaving was a communal event – for a communal purpose.


Those who still utilize traditional or early methods of weaving see it as a communal event.  Quakers have a great history with weaving in many forms being a communal event. From Quilting groups to knitting clubs, to crochet gatherings. Even at our own meeting we have a sewing group that meets in our Fellowship Hall once a month. Even after World War I Quakers provided relief efforts to Europe and Russia through the Friends’ Emergency and War Victims Relief Committee by creating weaving huts to make cloth, blankets and more (see picture on front of bulletin).


In the town of Silverton, Oregon, where we used to live there was a shop called “Apples and Oranges” which provided yarn and materials for weaving of all types.  They had men’s and women’s knitting groups and crochet clubs throughout the week. I have noticed several shops of this nature in Indianapolis as well.  Weaving has become rather popular again.


Even when I served in Campus Ministries at Huntington University, one of the fastest growing clubs was the knitting club for both male and female students.


We even have what are called “Yarn Bombers.”  Actually one of the most famous Yarn Bomber was Grace Brett (she is on the bulletin cover with some of her work) – sadly just last year she passed away at 106 years old.  Look her up on the internet and you will see her still at 104 utilizing her knitting skills to brighten up her community.  It is amazing what all she would cover with her knitting.  She would cover lamp posts, rocks, fences, you name it…she made yarn creations for just about anything.  


So, now that we have had this lesson on weaving, what does this have to do with our text for this morning?


I believe “weaving” is a metaphor for our work as the body of Christ on this planet.


Jesus said it himself in Matthew 18:20:


“For where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them. “


And like weaving – we can’t do it with one string.  It takes at least two.


You could take this metaphor and run with it.  

  • You want stronger string – add more – make a cord.

  • You want strong materials – weave tight cords together.


Weaving supports the way Jesus approached our care for one another.


Just like in weaving…how we (you and I) come together affects the characteristics of the whole.


And that is where our text comes in…


To “weave a fabric of care” we must know how to live together and why we are coming together, and what affect we have when we do interweave our lives.


Prior to our text, Paul addresses the Galatians and exhorts them to live by the “Fruit of the Spirit.” We have probably heard these a few times in our lifetime -- Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control.


He then moves into our text for this morning – and explains what it looks like to live by the fruit.

1-3 Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.

4-5 Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.

6 Be very sure now, you who have been trained to a self-sufficient maturity, that you enter into a generous common life with those who have trained you, sharing all the good things that you have and experience.

7-8 Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.

9-10 So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.

To weave a fabric of care involves our lives and communities.

  • We need to forgive and be forgiven.

  • We need to reach out to the oppressed.

  • We need to share the burdens of others.


That will take (as we said a few weeks ago)

  • Examining ourselves.

  • Knowing our calling or skills and doing them to the best of our ability.


It also means

  • We shouldn’t be too impressed with ourselves.

  • Or compare ourselves with others.


When we do those things we stop the weaving process and it affects the creativity.  It is a fact – ask anyone who has used a loom for weaving - One knot can screw up an entire woven piece.


It means as it says in verse 6 that we are going to have to enter into a “common life” with our sisters and brothers sharing the good life and experiences.  

  • This is what Threshing at the Tap and Women at the Well is all about.  

  • This is what small groups, choir, book groups are all about.  

  • This is what serving at the food pantry, teaming up with Shalom Zone, and community soups are all about.  

  • This is what youth groups, children’s ministry, even bowling together is all about.

  • This is what Creation Care, lobbying our government, and social action is all about.

  • And this is what Meetings for Worship are about – ENTERING THE COMMON LIFE TOGETHER.


The German Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in his classic Life Together:


“A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses.”


Being a Quaker is not a personal or private thing – it takes each other. He goes on to say.

“The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves around them will create community.”


In verses 7 and 8 Paul then returns to the metaphor of “planting a harvest.” He says,

“the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.”

Real life is holistic – it takes you and me and all our gifts, abilities, talents, and care, support and love.  

Weaving a fabric of care needs others – it takes us all and all of life.  

And yes – sometimes it will wear us out – fatigue us.

A while back, Relevant Magazine posted an article by Eddie Kaufholz who spoke to this. He said,

“…there can be drama within a group of people, even people who follow Jesus. This of course, is not because they’re bad people.  It’s because of sin, clashing personalities, circumstances, genuine mistakes, family dysfunctions, mental health issues, substance issues, bad weather, bad college sports teams – and the list continues…

Nothing about community, even with all of its beauty and God-centeredness, will be clean.  People will fight and disappoint you. People will fail to live up to expectations and fall short of God’s glory. In short, people will be as they’ve always been.

But it isn’t God’s best for us.”

God’s best is when we choose to “weave a fabric of care” with each other for the benefit of ALL.      AND IT STARTS RIGHT HERE IN THIS ROOM!


As we enter waiting worship – ask yourself:  

  • Where am I “weaving a “fabric of care” at First Friends?

  • What causes me to be a “knot” in the fabric?

  • How can I enter more fully into the “Common Life” at First Friends?



2-18-18 - The Humble Learner

The Humble Learner

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

February 18, 2018

Romans 14:5-12 (MSG)

5 Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.


6-9 What’s important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. That’s why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.

10-12 So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I’d say it leaves you looking pretty silly—or worse. Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren’t going to improve your position there one bit.


Read it for yourself in Scripture:


“As I live and breathe,” God says, “every knee will bow before me;

Every tongue will tell the honest truth that I and only I am God.”


So tend to your knitting. You’ve got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God.


How many of you have a day that is sacred during your week?

You may call it your sabbath, your day of rest, your day off, your play day…


●     Every so often when I was a kid we had what my parents called a “Bobby Day.”  This was a set apart day where I would get to pick what we did for the day. This became a tradition that has been passed down in our family and we try and do this with our own boys - setting apart special days for each of them. 


●     Fridays (ever since I started ministry) have always been my “Sabbath” or day of rest - a day where I don’t do work, try not to answer phones and emails. It is a day to recenter me. Usually, I spend time painting, going to vinyl record shops, and art museums. 


●     Saturdays are usually days for family in the Henry household and we try to spend the entire day together (which is often difficult with busy lives).


●     And yes, Sue and I continue dating after 22 years of marriage - setting apart a night or day every once and a while to keep our marriage alive.  


For me these days or nights are all sacred and needed in our lives.


Can you believe, back in Bible times people fought over what days were sacred? Sure, their lifestyles were much different than ours and time was determined by sun up and sun down, and then there was the many rules associated with their down time put on them by the religious leaders. Yet the biggest discussion was centered around the day or days -- whether it should be Friday at sundown until Sunday at sunrise...Maybe just Saturday....and then later even just Sunday.


Today, we still debate and struggle with what is the real sacred day.  Seventh Day Adventists hold to Saturdays like our Jewish brothers and Sisters.  And with work schedules and lifestyles changing, Sunday morning activities have often reluctantly been moved to Saturday nights, or a weeknight, leaving the debate brewing.  So not much has changed.


But, we as Quakers make this much easier.  For Quakers EVERYDAY is special. If you didn’t know, early Quakers rejected Sabbath-keeping as practiced by the church in England. They felt that everyday life could be lived as sacred if one attended to The Light Within on a daily basis.


I think it is important to hear what our text said for this morning: person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.



Then, right after this, Paul jumps from sacred days to talking about food. So typical of religious people concerned about meeting days and food. I love what it says in The Message:


What’s important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters.


You may not know this, but for about 8 years Sue and I were vegetarians. We started when we lived in Indiana before moving to Oregon. The one thing that was evident was that there was a big difference when we said we were vegetarians here in Indiana vs. out in Oregon. Here we were labeled, people assumed they knew who we voted for, and we were at times considered everything from hippies to anti-farming (and my wife grew up on a farm!). Things were different in Oregon. In all reality though, the reason we became vegetarians was because I was challenged by a professor and fellow colleague in looking at vegetarianism as a spiritual discipline. Later, we had to give it up for health reasons.


What I think is interesting is that these were huge issues for the early church. Sacred days and what food they ate caused big debates.


Let’s be honest, not much has changed. Many meetings, churches, religious groups still like to debate things...maybe not sacred days and food per se but things like...

●     Worship styles

●     Social, political, and theological views and change.

●     The end times.

●     Music (hymns or praise songs, Drums or guitar use in church)

●     What version of their scriptures is the proper version. (There are churches in this city that have “KJV Only” written on their sign)

●     Even whether gatherings should happen in set-apart religious buildings or in homes, coffee houses, or even warehouses.

●     And the list could go on…


What I believe God is trying to tell us this morning is that we all have different preferences...AND THAT IS OK.  Or as it said in our text...


 “...each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.”


The only big problem is when it simply becomes all about what I want instead of having or picking preferences that give God glory.  This is where there is a difference. I think God wants us to have preferences, sure, but to be humble about it.  Like in our text where it says...  


“None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other.”


It is our entire life that is to be lived for the glory of God - 24/7 - from birth to life.  The whole shabbang! 

●     Not just Sunday!

●     Not just on my Bobby Day or my Day Off.

●     Not just when things are going good.

●     Not just when I get my way.

●     Not just when someone else thinks things are going good for me. 


Life is to be lived for God’s glory because it keeps our focus on what God is up to in our lives.  Paul says it this way…the reason we are to live our lives for the glory of God is...


“so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.


Now, some of us may have just brisseled a little.  To have God be a “master” over all aspects of our lives can bring up negative thoughts. 


The word most translated here is “Lord or Master”  But let’s be honest, we don’t like it when people “lord over us” and the idea of God being a “Master” brings up the idea we are merely slaves or puppets. Those don’t seem to be helpful thoughts either. 


Actually, for many people these concepts of God send mixed signals and even more mixed messages. 


Think about our text alone God is saying we have freedom to choose preferences and yet we are being Mastered by God. 


It is almost like God is saying “You have Freedom...not really, Psych!” 


I will be honest...this is exactly how many churches and religious groups out there draw people in.  You think you have freedom...and then they give you God’s rules (or what they have written down as God’s rules - often rules that more resemble the rules of the pharisees than God’s).  Things that seem as trivial as what day is sacred and what food is clean enough to eat. 


Paul must have realized human nature though, because as he continues to explain this he paints a different picture which, I believe, is very important for us - and I think he does it through some good old Quaker Queries… In vs. 10 he asks:


10-12 So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother?

And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister?


Paul finishes with his own answer: “I’d say it leaves you looking pretty silly—or worse.“ These are the “petty tyrannies of each other” that he was talking about freeing us from earlier in the text.


Paul is saying...our arguing, criticizing, looking down on, condescending leaves us trying to be the MASTER or LORDing it over some one else.  It puts you and me in the place of God. It puts you and me in the place of receiving the glory. 


Now, if you remember, last week my challenge was to “Be the Shepherd.”  A shepherd guides, cares for, protects those they have been placed over.  And sadly, some shepherds can become abusive. They begin to control, to play God, to forget that, as I said last week, they are also sheep.   


Folks, we are not the master of others.

●     We may want to be at times.

●     We may think we are at times.


But what I believe Paul is emphasizing is that when we try to be the Master and not do all we do for the Glory of God - we go beyond being “good shepherds” and we do it all for our own glory or power.  There is a difference between being a shepherd and a master.   


If you look at the dictionary’s definitions of master you will find three definitions:


1.   A person with the ability or power to use, control, or dispose of something.

2.   An owner of a slave, animal, etc...


Those are what we usually think of first, but I sense Paul is saying that God is a master or Lord like the third definition (which is the adjective form):


3. Having or showing very great skill or proficiency. One who has acquired complete knowledge of a situation or subject.


So back to our text - Paul says,


“Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren’t going to improve your position there one bit. Read it for yourself in Scripture:


“As I live and breathe,” God says,

    “every knee will bow before me;

Every tongue will tell the honest truth

    that I and only I am God.””


Throughout scripture, when it speaks of “every knee bowing” and “kneeling together” it is talking about taking a humble position.  Not a position of power or control or criticizing or condescending, but rather, what I would like think of as a “humble learner.” 


That third dictionary definition of Master is not the Mastor of a slave, but rather a student or pupil - We are familiar with this relationship - it is the Rabbi Jesus and his disciples, it is the Zen Master and their Deshi, it is the Jedi and their Padawan. 


Putting ourselves under the Master means our actions will look like those of our master as much as what we say (confess) will sound like them as well.


So Paul wraps this up rather simply. 


“So tend to your knitting. You’ve got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God.” 


I love Eugene Peterson’s translation because he brings it back to the ordinary.  Tend to the ordinary.  The things that are uniquely you.  The things you love to do - your preferences.  Don’t get so caught up in pointing fingers and arguing and trying to Master others.  Enjoy life!  Take care of yourself by being a pupil of God’s Life - and really living!


So ask yourself this morning…


What “debates” in my life keep me from the freedom I could have?


Where in my life am I trying to be the “Master” instead of the “humble learner”? 





2-4-18 - Be The Shepherd

Be The Shepherd

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

February 4, 2018


 John 10:11-16 (NRSV)


11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.



“I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me.”


This phrase from our text is loaded for those listening to Jesus.  Especially for his Hebrew audience. First, he describes himself as a “good shepherd” -- sometimes it is even translated “great” - but here it is good.  


“Good” like the word used to describe God’s creative work in the creation poem in Genesis - “God saw all that he made and it was good.”


And then he calls himself a shepherd -- interesting that he didn’t call himself a king or a ruler or a rabbi or high priest, not a business man, not even a typical “blue collar”  worker of his day, but rather the bottom of the barrel,  a stinky, useless, ignored shepherd.  This was the lowest of the low in Jesus’ day. You may be unaware of the fact that shepherds weren’t even allowed to worship in the synogogue or temple, nor were they were  allowed to participate in society.  Very similar to the more modern banning of African Americans, women, the LGBTQ and even immmigrants in churches and society.


It is even worse than we are imagining - Shepherds were ritually defiled. If you read the book of Leviticus carefully, it is clear that there were a multitude of things people living under the Law had to do to please the Lord in Jesus’ day. Among those were prohibitions against making contact with feces or dead things - something that any shepherd dealt with on a daily basis.  Thus they were never clean - or maybe I should say clean enough. The society of this day was fanatical about cleanliness, thus shepherds had to stand aside. They were never clean; it was impossible. They were constantly walking about in excrement and touching dead things, and both activities left them in a state of ritual impurity.


Think about that not only did Jesus identify with shepherds - he called himself a “good shepherd” That would have been considered an oxymoron in his day and down right wrong.


It is kinda funny how we 2000 years later connect with this imagery.  Some of the most recognizable pieces of art in the Christian world are of Jesus the Great Shepherd. 


As well, the most popular psalm - actually one of the most popular texts from the entire bible - only out done by John 3:16 is Psalm 23, which begins... 


“The Lord is my shepherd.” 


It is one of the most used scriptures at funerals, at hospital and hospice bedsides, and in hundreds of pieces of music.


So, the Hebrew people had been hearing of their God identifying as a shepherd for quite some time. I am sure it was not as popular of a metaphor for them as we have made it in our day.  With our fluffy white sheep and our smiling Jesus walking in a lush meadow.  I am sure their image was quite different - maybe even difficult to relate with the God of the Universe. 


In the book “A Shepherd looks at Psalm 23” by Phillip Keller, he relates to this difficulty. He says…


“Now the beautiful relationships given to us repeatedly in Scripture between God and man are those of a Father and his children and a shepherd to his sheep...These concepts were first conceived in the mind of God our Father. They were made possible and practical through the work of Christ. They are confirmed and made real in me through the agency of the gracious Holy Spirit. 


So when the simple -- though sublime -- statement is made by a man or woman that “The Lord is my Shepherd,” it immediately implies a profound yet practical working relationship between a human being and his Maker. 


It links a lump of common clay to divine destiny -- it means a mere mortal becomes the cherished object of divine diligence...To think that God in Christ is deeply concerned about me as a practical person immediately gives great purpose and enormous meaning to my short sojourn upon this planet.”


Folks, we must remember the Good Shepherd knows his sheep. 


The word know in Greek (ginosko) means - TO PRECEIVE, TO FEEL, TO UNDERSTAND, and TO BECOME KNOWN.  


So this means that God - the Good Shepherd- preceives, feels, understands, and knows you and me - and wants to become known in our lives and we in his. 


You and I are cherished by God - we are deeply known.  God knows us so intimately (the word known in the Jewish culture is a actually a sexual term) - sadly that doesn’t have the depth of meaning in our day and age due to our over sexualized media and world.


Let me give you a picture of the depth of what God is saying by reading a modern interpretation of Psalm 23 - from the book Psalms, NOW! (actually I am not sure how modern it is - I noticed in the front cover it was released the year I was born.).  The words speak of this intimate relationship between the Good Shepherd who truly knows his sheep.


The Lord is my constant companion.

There is no need that He cannot fulfill.

Whether His course for me points

          to the mountaintops of glorious ecstacy

or to the valley of human suffering,

He is by my side,

He is ever present with me.

He is close beside me.

          when I tread the dark streets of danger,

          and when I flirt with death itself,

          He will not leave me.

When the pain is severe,

          He is near to comfort.

When the burden heavy,

          He is there to lean upon.

When depression darkens my soul,

          He touches me with eternal joy.

When I feel empty and alone,

          He fills the aching vacuum with His power.

My security is in His promise

          to be near to me always,

          and in the knowledge

          that He will never let me go. 


Realizing this relationship with the God of the Universe can be overwhelming.  When we realize that God loves us this much (as our query from last week prompted us to consider) it may take us some time to fully grasp it.  That is why I believe God says in Psalms, “Be Still and Know that I am God.”


God knows you and me - I can understand that -- but for me to know God takes a lot more. 


Actually, it may not be possible until we actually step into the Good Shepherd’s shoes (or maybe I should say sandals).  Jesus actually shifts the metaphor after the resurrection with his conversation with Peter.  Her says…


Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?

“Yes, Master, you know I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”   [BE THE SHEPHERD]


He then asked a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

“Yes, Master, you know I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”     [BE THE SHEPHERD]


Then he said it a third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”


Peter was upset that he asked him for the third time, “Do you love me?”

So he answered, “Master, you know everything there is to know. You’ve got to know that I love you. “ 


Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”  [BE THE SHEPHERD]



Wow!  This means you and I are both sheep and shepherds.  As Quakers we can understand this because we believe in the priesthood of all believers or that everyone is a minister. 


We are to imitate God in our daily life - and that means we must become shepherds -

●     Shepherds in our families [Feed my children]

●     Shepherds in our neighborhoods [Feed my neighbors]

●     Shepherds in our workplaces [Feed my workers]

●     Shepherds in our schools [Feed my students]

●     Shepherds in our government [Feed my citizens and immigrants]

●     Shepherds in our Scout Troops [Feed my scouts]

●     Shepherds in our Meeting [Feed ONE ANOTHER]




How are you being called to “Be the Shepherd” in your world this week? 



1-28-18 - The Gravity of God's Love

The Gravity of God’s Love

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

January 28, 2018


Romans 8:31-39

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,


“For your sake we are being killed all day long;

    we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”


37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.




I wasn’t raised in a Quaker Meeting, I was raised in a church that had, what we called, a corporate confession.  This confession read like this,


“I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess to you all my sins and iniquities.”


One could not say those words out loud without in some way feeling bad about one’s self.


“Poor...miserable...sinner.”  Three words that none of us in this room want to be described as.  


When you and I begin to go inside as I talked about last week.  As we start to ask ourselves some difficult questions like, “Who am I?” we begin the hard work of cleaning out our “inner castle” as Teresa of Avilla labeled it in her classic “The Interior Castle.” 


Most of us consider this type of soul work rather hard - often it resembles the difficult work of “Spring Cleaning” in our homes.  I know we are still in winter, but with the couple warm days last week I pondered starting the process.  It’s almost time to:


●     Move the furniture and clean in those places that haven’t seen light for months - maybe years.

●     Throw things out that have begun to mold, have gone out of date, or that have begun to clutter our rooms and are no longer needed.   

●     Clean the glass on the windows to see more clearly and let the LIGHT in.

●     prepare the gardens beds so new life can burst forth with beauty and color.


With Spring Cleaning, we know the outcome. It may have been a long time, but we know our home can again be a healthy and clean place.  Yet...first comes the hard work!  Stopping the procrastination, the excuses, the covering up of the dirt, the ignoring of the dishes, the hoping that it will disappear or that someone else will do it.


If you haven’t caught on yet, our own Spiritual Spring Cleaning mirrors this same process.


Only you and I can work on our “inner lives” (or castles).

Only you and I can face our own troubling thoughts and struggles.

Only you and I can begin to do the hard work of spiritually disciplining ourselves so that the “Light” can again be seen and felt inside!


It was the great theologian Marty McFly in the movie Back to the Future who always used the expression, “This is heavy.”  And if you remember, Doc Brown not knowing the ‘80s expression always questioned Marty, “Why are things so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with earth’s gravitational pull?”


I kinda think they were both right as it relates to our soul work. Spiritual Spring Cleaning is “heavy” work and it may be in relating to gravity that we may gain some insight to understanding God’ part in all of this and some hope for our future.  


To help translate what I am talking about, I want to share with you a poem I have come to love by Anthony DeMello. It is titled, “The Satellite.”  Just listen as I read it and allow it to speak to your condition and soul this morning.


The Satellite by Anthony DeMello


I look at nature and reflect on the existence in it of a farce so silent and invisible that human beings were not aware of it till lately;

and yet so mighty that the world is moved by it: the force of gravity.


Because of it the bird flies in the sky,

Mountains are held in place,

Leaves flutter to the ground,

Planets are kept in orbit.


There is no better symbol of God’s power and presence.


Scenes of suffering flash though my mind:

Torture chambers;

Concentration camps;

The ravages of famine;

Scenes of war;

Of hospitals;

And of accidents;

And I see him there as silent and invisible as gravity.


I conjure up a thousand painful scenes

From the history of my life:

Of boredom and frustration;

Of pain, anxiety, rejection;

Of meaninglessness and despair;

And in every scene I sense his silent presence.


I see his power like gravity.

In every nook and corner of the world:

No place in space,

No point in time

Escapes, for it is all pervasive.


Then I see his love to be like gravity:

I hear Paul’s cry that nothing in creation

Can wrench us from God’s love (Rom. 8:31-39)


I remember with emotion

The times I fought his love

-- in vain, for love is irresistible!


I see that God has never ceased to draw my heart.

The pull, like gravity, could not be felt.

But at some blessed moments

That I now recall with joy

The tug could not be missed.


When was the pull last felt?


Not yesterday? Why not?


I end by letting go,

Succumbing to this power of divinity,

As my body does to gravity.



Now, the reason I shared this poem is the fact that whenever you or I do some soul searching or what I am calling Spiritual Spring Cleaning, we feel the heaviness of our own struggles, our own difficulties, and even our own  selfish ways -- as well as the weight of the world’s problems that are surrounding us on a daily basis.  That in itself could leave us feeling a poor, miserable, sinner.


The reason any soul work can leave one feeling less hopeful and missing the fact that God is still at work in one’s life is because we love to dwell on all the bad things in and around us.  But there is another side to soul work.  


In the poem, DeMello asked, “When was the pull last felt?”  God’s Love is like gravity in our lives and the query for us to ponder is, “Do we sense it?”


Do we sense the pull of God’s love in our lives? 


Paul in our scripture text for this Sunday wants to remind us of what we heard last Sunday, that we are chosen, called, justified, and being made whole. Paul wants to birth hope in our “poor, miserable,” lives by showing us where our hope comes from - the gravity that is drawing us in.  


Let me read again the text from Roman’s 8:31-39 - this time from a more modern translation:


Romans 8:31-39

31-39 So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:


They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.

We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.


None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.


If there were ever a set of Scriptures that identifies Paul as a Quaker - these are it.  A set of Queries to ponder the faithfulness of God and the gravity of his love.


Let me break these down more simply for us to ponder:


1.   With God on our side like this, how can we lose?

2.   If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition in Christ to face the worst of humanity, is there anything else that he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us?

3.   Who would dare tangle with the God of the Universe by messing with or pointing a finger at one of God’s chosen people?

4.   Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and God’s love for us? 


This is heavy stuff to ponder - but that’s just it - this is the gravity of God’s love for you and me. 


●     Our troubles

●     Our hardships (those hard times, that homelessness, that loneliness, that abandonment)

●     Our persecutions (for who we are and who others think we are to be)

●     Our famines (physically or spiritually or mentally)

●     Our nakedness (our vulnerability, our bullied natures, our worn down hopes)

●     Our dangers or fears (our worst moments and failures)


None of these can get in the way of the gravity of God’s love that is pulling us back in.  All those things that get brought to the surface as we explore our souls or as we do our Spiritual Spring Cleaning, all that we trudge up, all that we don’t know how to name or figure out, all that we simply fail to understand about ourselves - none of it can become greater or get between us and God.


Instead, it is the gravity of God’s love which roots us. It brings stability and hope. It helps us see with new eyes. It reminds us that we are united with a God who overwhelms us and grounds us with LOVE and then calls us to love those around us. Yet before we can love others, we must recognize God’s love for us and believe that it makes a difference in our own lives.


Just maybe where we need to begin our inward journey is by asking ourselves one query:




As we move into waiting worship, let us ponder this query and begin our soul work or our Spiritual Spring Cleaning. 



1-21-18 - Remember That You Are An Original

Remember That You Are An Original

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

January 21, 2018


This morning as we center down during our time of silence and meditation, I would like to prompt our centering with a couple queries. Over the years, I have taught college classes, book studies, and led personal spiritual direction around the topic we are addressing this morning (as well, on many occasions I have personally wrestled with this topic).


Each of us are original…each are unique…but often we don’t take the time to understand or even study that (for some it is selfish and negates our spiritual journey).  It was the religious scholar and mystic, Meister Eckhardt, who said it succinctly,


“No one has known God who has not known himself.”


As Quakers/Friends we believe that we all have an Inner Light, so just maybe the first place we need to explore to encounter God is within our very own lives.  That is why I would like us to ponder this morning the queries from the opening pages of a book that has been integral to my spiritual formation and many others. That book is “To Be Told” by Dan B. Allender (if you have not read it – I highly recommend it).  Here are the simple, but important queries, we need to ask of ourselves in light of our theme (You can find these three queries in your bulletin):


●     Who am I?

●     What about God am I most uniquely suited to reveal to others?

●     And how is that meaning in my life best lived out?


Let’s take a few moments to center ourselves and then here our text for this morning.


Galatians 5:25-26 (The Message) 

25-26 Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original. 




When was the last time you thought about who you were?


Every year, usually in January, I enter a process of asking myself some deep questions.  For several years I went on (or took students with me) on a spiritual retreat – usually it is a silent retreat for at least 24 hours (often for the entire weekend) all to get back in touch with myself where I can hear my own heart’s desires.


The spiritual giants of the past called this experience getting to know your “true self.”  Which immediately garners the question, are their parts of me that are not my true self?


For many of us, we spend a great deal of our lives trying to be somebody else.  Even as Christians, we often have been told to be somebody else or at least feel the guilt of not being someone else. Let me give you an example that most of us can relate to from James Martin’s book, “Becoming Who You Are.” He says,


“I would notice that another novice whom I admired was quiet and soft-spoken and diffident and introspective.  I would think, “I need to be quiet and soft-spoken and diffident and introspective.” Consequently, the following days were spent in a largely useless attempt at being quiet, until someone would eventually say, “Are you feeling alright?” The very next week I would meet someone who had a particular fondness for praying very early in the morning, and who seemed very holy, and I would say to myself, “Well, I guess I have to start praying early in the morning, too.”  And then, up at five in the morning for my new regime, until that tired me out, too.”


Martin says, “My spiritual director kept reminding me that I didn’t need to be like anyone else except me. But it took a while for that to sink in.”


Does this sound familiar to you?  [Pause]


Don’t we all at times get a little envious, even jealous of other people, especially when it comes to how it affects our faith?  I will be honest...

●     I have at times envied the monk’s life.

●     I have at times envied those who have ongoing revelations from God.

●     I have at times been jealous of people who actually hear from God.

●     I have been envious of those that make the spiritual journey look so easy.


It is this very thing that too often causes religious guilt or even worse “Holier-than-thou” lives.


As the old adage states: The grass is always greener on the other side.


James Martin gets to the truth that what we are really doing is “minimizing our own gifts and graces and maximizing the other person’s… and vice versa….we often do the opposite with our problems and struggles: we maximize our own and minimize the other person’s.”


This becomes what one of my mentors called, “victimization.” We love to play the victim – “everyone else has a perfect life, but poor me.”

Folks, no one’s life is free of suffering.  We are all going through stuff - and we need to remember that, to help put our own situations in perspective. 


We may not be able to see it in their life - we don’t know what is terrorizing someone else’s soul.  Yet, you and I often want to be someone else, most likely to escape our own situation. We say things like...


●     If only I had her/his good looks.

●     If only I had their money.

●     If only I had a spouse/partner/parent/friend like that person does.

●     If only I had her/his knowledge.

●     If only I had _____________fill in the blank.


We can’t know All that we are asking for when wishing in this way. There is experience, pain and suffering that has gone into these lives. 


●     Are we willing to experience that as well? 

●     Or are we simply seeking a quick fix in our own lives?


We have to admit it; we live in a world who loves to compare. One of the hardest things as a minister is not to compare your meeting to other meetings, churches and ministries.


But let’s be honest, isn’t this the same for most junior high and high school students – always comparing grades, abilities, talents, looks… 


Actually…isn’t this how most of life is at all ages and stages?


James Martin says, “The tendency to compare ultimately leads to despair, since our own real life can never compare with the perceived (but false) perfection of the other person’s life.”


Thus we have the phrase, “Compare and despair.”


Now, I want to pause on this point and make a 180 degree turn. 


You and I have no reason to despair.  Just the opposite.  We are a people of hope.  We are actually chosen by God.


Throughout the entire Bible, God is trying to remind his followers of this very fact…probably because we are so prone to wander, prone to compare, prone to feel guilty, prone to want to be somebody else.  Just listen to what Scripture says:


He had to remind the Hebrew people in the Old Testament…

Deuteronomy 7:6 “…you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.”


1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”


Revelation 17:14 “He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful”


1 Corinthians 12:18-30 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, ...


I Peter 4:10 “Serve one another with the particular gifts God has given each of you, as faithful dispensers of the magnificently varied grace of God.”


Did you hear it...this is how we are described by the God of the Universe.


We are…

●     Holy

●     Chosen

●     Treasured possession

●     Royal priesthood

●     Called out of darkness to Light

●     Faithful

●     Needed

●     Indispensable

●     Gifted

●     Dispensers of God’s grace.


When you and I lean into this calling – this life, when we realize how God views us – that we are all the attributes I just read, it is evident that God sees us as very important to His ongoing work on this planet. Right now!


So when we choose to embrace God’s view of us , we must remember our calling…but also remember our uniqueness – our “true self” – how God wired you and me differently.      


And this is where our text from Galatians 5:25-26 comes into perspective. Let me read it once again.


25-26 Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.  Galatians 5:25-26 (MSG)


Just look around this meetinghouse.  Each person here this morning, each child (even the one’s down the hallway), each teenager, each adult is an original in God’s eyes – not one is alike.


We are originals made in the image of God.  When we look around the room – God is represented not in simply one manner – but in a variety of ways in each of our lives.


Together, because of our originality, we have a greater privilege of seeing a clearer picture of God and sharing that picture of God with others.


What is our calling?


I agree with Dan Allender when he answers that question by saying,


“It is to make known something about God that is bound to my unique face, name, and story.  It is to reveal God through my character.”


Folks, we are “Each an Original” by the grace and love of God.


So let move into waiting worship by returning to those queries from our centering time.


●     Who am I?

●     What about God am I most uniquely suited to reveal to others?

●     And how is that meaning in my life best lived out?




1-14-18 Is Your Heart Right?

Is Your Heart Right?

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

January 14, 2018

Back in Oregon, Howard Macy, a good friend and former professor at George Fox University, and I did some digging to find the background to the photos that are on the cover of our bulletin this morning. Since then, American Friends Service Committee has dedicated a page to King on their website with a couple of these photos.


What you see on the cover of our bulletin is Martin Luther King Jr. with Quaker Center president Jim Bristol an affiliate of the American Friends Service Committee. AFSC sponsored King on his trip to India to explore the impact of Mahatma Gandhi's message of nonviolent social action, which would have a monumental impact on the civil rights movement in our country. As well, It would be this work and support of the Quakers that would help pave the way for King to receive the Nobel Peace Prize 5 years later.


You could say Quakers were on the cutting edge of the Civil Rights Movement. King met with Quaker theologian Elton Trueblood at Earlham College and even spoke in their meetinghouse - when most churches in our country would not have him.


This morning, it would be wrong of me not to allow the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to be heard.  His legacy in the Civil Rights Movement, nonviolence, and speaking and writing are not only a part of our history -- they are a part of who we are as a country and as a people.


Back in 1997, I traveled with a group of leaders to Atlanta, GA to begin preparations for a National Youth Gathering of forty thousand youth. At the time, I was one of the Illinois representatives for the Lutheran Church.  On my visit, one afternoon, I boarded a bus by myself and headed to Atlanta’s northeast side to the King Center.  I was young, married for a couple of years, and our first son, Alex was on the way.  As I stepped foot on the King Center property, I knew this was not going to be any ordinary experience.


I was one of about five people in the entire place. There was a sense of reverence - almost like I had entered a sacred space.  Soon, that moment was broken as I was greeted hospitably by a southern black women who informed me that I came on a “good day’ - that I would have time to “fully experience” the journey.  Honestly, I wasn’t sure what she meant.  What was she talking about “a journey and an experience”? I didn’t ask any questions...I simply began the journey…


Nearly two hours I journeyed through the King Center by myself.  Gaps in my understanding of history were filled in.  Emotions were flowing often through tears.  At one moment I sat on a bench looking at the statues of men and women and children marching in solidarity and I was overwhelmed.


In the last cubical before exiting was a color video recording of Martin Luther King Jr.’s final address at Bishop Charles J. Mason Temple in Memphis the night before he would be assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.  The video was playing on a loop but it had just started as I entered the area.  I stood in complete silence...mesmerized by the words of what I realized at that moment was a modern-day prophet of our time.  As he announced, “I’ve been to the Mountaintop”, I simply wept.  I could not control the tears.  Standing there I was joined by three other people (2 black brothers and a black sister) and we all wept together.  I don’t think I have ever experienced such a moment.  


After King finished his speech, in silence we all walked together over to the plaza next to Ebenezer Baptist Church.  Where in the middle of a body of water King’s body (and later his wife, Coretta) were entombed. I sat in that plaza in silence until our bus came.  


Since that day, Martin Luther King Jr. has had a profound impact on my life, my faith, my art, and even my doctoral dissertation.  Most of us are familiar with his famous speeches and writings, but today I want to share with you parts of two sermons he gave just months before dying.


This morning, I am going to read from “Unfulfilled Dreams” and “The Drum Major Instinct” both were preached in Ebenezer Baptist Church - the church next to his last resting place and where he served alongside his father as a minister.  


The pieces I am reading are recorded in the book, “The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr.” edited by Clayborne Carson - which I would highly recommend if you do not know much about King and his life.  


From “Unfulfilled Dreams” Kings final address at Bishop Charles J. Mason Temple in Memphis.


I guess one of the great agonies of life is that we are constantly trying to finish that which is unfinishable. We are commanded to do that. And so we, like David, find ourselves in so many instances having to face the fact that our dreams are not fulfilled.


Now let us notice first that life is a continual story of shattered dreams. Mahatma Gandhi labored for years and years for the independence of his people. And through a powerful nonviolent revolution he was able to win that independence. For years the Indian people had been dominated politically, exploited economically, segregated and humiliated by foreign powers, and Gandhi struggled against it. He struggled to unite his own people, and nothing was greater in his mind than to have India’s one great, united country moving toward a higher destiny. This was his dream.

But Gandhi had to face the fact that he was assassinated and died with a broken heart, because that nation that he wanted to unite ended up being divided between India and Pakistan as a result of the conflict between the Hindus and the Moslems.

Life is a long, continual story of setting out to build a great temple and not being able to finish it.


Woodrow Wilson dreamed a dream of a League of Nations, but he died before the promise was delivered. The Apostle Paul talked one day about wanting to go to Spain. It was Paul’s greatest dream to go to Spain, to carry the gospel there. Paul never got to Spain. He ended up in a prison cell in Rome. This is the story of life.


So many of our forebears used to sing about freedom. And they dreamed of the day that they would be able to get out of the bosom of slavery, the long night of injustice. And they used to sing little songs: "Nobody knows de trouble I seen, nobody knows but Jesus." They thought about a better day as they dreamed their dream. And they would say, "I’m so glad the trouble don’t last always. By and by, by and by I’m going to lay down my heavy load." And they used to sing it because of a powerful dream. But so many died without having the dream fulfilled.


And each of you this morning in some way is building some kind of temple. The struggle is always there. It gets discouraging sometimes. It gets very disenchanting sometimes. Some of us are trying to build a temple of peace. We speak out against war, we protest, but it seems that your head is going against a concrete wall. It seems to mean nothing. And so often as you set out to build the temple of peace you are left lonesome; you are left discouraged; you are left bewildered.


Well, that is the story of life. And the thing that makes me happy is that I can hear a voice crying through the vista of time, saying: "It may not come today or it may not come tomorrow, but it is well that it is within thine heart. It’s well that you are trying." You may not see it. The dream may not be fulfilled, but it’s just good that you have a desire to bring it into reality. It’s well that it’s in thine heart.


Thank God this morning that we do have hearts to put something meaningful in. Life is a continual story of shattered dreams.


Now let me bring out another point. Whenever you set out to build a creative temple, whatever it may be, you must face the fact that there is a tension at the heart of the universe between good and evil. It’s there: a tension at the heart of the universe between good and evil.


Hinduism refers to this as a struggle between illusion and reality. Platonic philosophy used to refer to it as a tension between body and soul. Zoroastrianism, a religion of old, used to refer to it as a tension between the god of light and the god of darkness. Traditional Judaism and Christianity refer to it as a tension between God and Satan. Whatever you call it, there is a struggle in the universe between good and evil.


Now not only is that struggle structured out somewhere in the external forces of the universe, it’s structured in our own lives. Psychologists have tried to grapple with it in their way, and so they say various things. Sigmund Freud used to say that this tension is a tension between what he called the id and the superego.


But you know, some of us feel that it’s a tension between God and man. And in every one of us this morning, there’s a war going on. It’s a civil war. I don’t care who you are, I don’t care where you live, there is a civil war going on in your life. And every time you set out to be good, there’s something pulling on you, telling you to be evil. It’s going on in your life. Every time you set out to love, something keeps pulling on you, trying to get you to hate. Every time you set out to be kind and say nice things about people, something is pulling on you to be jealous and envious and to spread evil gossip about them.  There’s a civil war going on. There is a schizophrenia, as the psychologists or the psychiatrists would call it, going on within all of us. And there are times that all of us know somehow that there is a Mr. Hyde and a Dr. Jekyll in us. And we end up having to cry out with Ovid, the Latin poet, "I see and approve the better things of life, but the evil things I do." We end up having to agree with Plato that the human personality is like a charioteer with two headstrong horses, each wanting to go in different directions. Or sometimes we even have to end up crying out with Saint Augustine as he said in his Confessions, "Lord, make me pure, but not yet." We end up crying out with the Apostle Paul,  "The good that I would I do not: And the evil that I would not, that I do." Or we end up having to say with Goethe that "there’s enough stuff in me to make both a gentleman and a rogue." There’s a tension at the heart of human nature. And whenever we set out to dream our dreams and to build our temples, we must be honest enough to recognize it.


And this brings me to the basic point of the text. In the final analysis, God does not judge us by the separate incidents or the separate mistakes that we make, but by the total bent of our lives. In the final analysis, God knows that his children are weak and they are frail. In the final analysis, what God requires is that your heart is right.    


And the question I want to raise this morning with you: is your heart right? If your heart isn’t right, fix it up today; get God to fix it up. Get somebody to be able to say about you, "He may not have reached the highest height, he may not have realized all of his dreams, but he tried." Isn’t that a wonderful thing for somebody to say about you? "He tried to be a good man. He tried to be a just man. He tried to be an honest man. His heart was in the right place." And I can hear a voice saying, crying out through the eternities, "I accept you. You are a recipient of my grace because it was in your heart. And it is so well that it was within thine heart."


I don’t know this morning about you, but I can make a testimony. You don’t need to go out this morning saying that Martin Luther King is a saint. Oh, no. I want you to know this morning that I’m a sinner like all of God’s children. But I want to be a good man. And I want to hear a voice saying to me one day, "I take you in and I bless you, because you try. It is well that it was within thine heart."


And from “The Drum Major Instinct” where King encouraged his congregation to seek greatness, but to do so through service and love. King concluded the sermon by imagining his own funeral, downplaying his famous achievements and emphasizing his heart to do right.


If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school.


I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others.


I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.


I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question.


I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry.

And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked.


I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison.


I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind.  And that's all I want to say.


If I can help somebody as I pass along,

If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,

If I can show somebody he's traveling wrong,

Then my living will not be in vain.

If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,

If I can bring salvation to a world once wrought,

If I can spread the message as the master taught,

Then my living will not be in vain.


There is so much to consider in King’s words, but I want us this morning to ponder his query, “Is your heart right?”


Just a few years after I had my King Center experience, I had a mentor who taught me about King’s personal spirituality.  King understood the need to be aware of the condition of his heart. My mentor taught me King utitilzed Psalm 139 to process that query.  So this morning, instead of beginning with the scriptures.  I want us to hear Psalm 139 and utilize it to lead us into our time of waiting worship.  Ponder the words of Psalm 139 and King’s query, “Is your heart right?” and see what God is saying to you this morning.  


Psalm 139

1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

   you discern my thoughts from far away.

3 You search out my path and my lying down,

   and are acquainted with all my ways.

4 Even before a word is on my tongue,

   O Lord, you know it completely.

5 You hem me in, behind and before,

   and lay your hand upon me.

6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

   it is so high that I cannot attain it.

7 Where can I go from your spirit?

   Or where can I flee from your presence?

8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;

   if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

9 If I take the wings of the morning

   and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,

10 even there your hand shall lead me,

   and your right hand shall hold me fast.

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,

   and the light around me become night,”

12 even the darkness is not dark to you;

   the night is as bright as the day,

   for darkness is as light to you.

13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;

   you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

   Wonderful are your works;

that I know very well.

15     My frame was not hidden from you,

when I was being made in secret,

   intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.

In your book were written

   all the days that were formed for me,

   when none of them as yet existed.

17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!

   How vast is the sum of them!

18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;

   I come to the end—I am still with you.

19 O that you would kill the wicked, O God,

   and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—

20 those who speak of you maliciously,

   and lift themselves up against you for evil![

21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?

   And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?

22 I hate them with perfect hatred;

   I count them my enemies.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;

   test me and know my thoughts.

24 See if there is any wicked way in me,

   and lead me in the way everlasting.





1-7-18 A Fire That Lights, Kindles, and Burns

A Fire that Lights, Kindles, and Burns

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

January 7, 2018


Matthew 3:10-17 (VOICE)

Even now there is an ax poised at the root of every tree, and every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and tossed into the fire. I ritually cleanse you through baptism as a mark of turning your life around. But someone is coming after me, someone whose sandals I am not fit to carry, someone who is more powerful than I. He will wash you not in water but in fire and with the Holy Spirit. He carries a winnowing fork in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor; He will gather up the good wheat in His barn, and He will burn the chaff with a fire that cannot be put out.

And then, the One of whom John spoke—the all-powerful Jesus—came to the Jordan from Galilee to be washed by John. At first, John demurred.


John: I need to be cleansed by You. Why do You come to me?


Jesus: It will be right, true, and faithful to God’s chosen path for you to cleanse Me with your hands in the Jordan River.


John agreed, and he ritually cleansed Jesus, dousing Him in the waters of the Jordan. Jesus emerged from His baptism; and at that moment heaven was opened, and Jesus saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon Him, alighting on His very body.


Voice from Heaven: This is My Son, whom I love; this is the Apple of My eye; with Him I am well pleased.


Most of us could not read our text for this morning without thinking a little bit about FIRE. And with all the cold we have had - a little fire would actually be nice.     


Ironically, there are several references to fire in this text about Jesus’ water baptism,  if you did not notice we heard about…

  • cutting down and tossing into the fire

  • washing not in water but in fire, and...

  • burning the chaff with a fire


Too often we simply jump to hell or eternal damnation when thinking about fire in the scriptures and often truly miss what I believe John had been preparing the people in the wilderness for – that being the coming of the Light (the Fire) into their lives.


I sense the reason we move quickly to hell is that the word pictures John paints for us are messages that, as William Barclay in his commentary notes, seem to combine both “promise and threat.”


Before anyone get’s cut down and thrown into the fire, I think we first must remember what John says,


John says that the baptism of the one who is to come will be with fire.


William Barclay helped shed some important light on his ideas of what this coming fire would entail – and with many things in scripture it is three-fold.  He sees the fire in three ways – 1. Illumination, 2. Warmth, and 3. Purification.  


Let’s explore what Barclay said in his own words on this subject.


  1. There is the idea of illumination. The blaze of a flame sends a light through the night and illuminates the darkest corners. The flame of the beacon guides the sailor to the harbor and the traveller to their goal. In fire there is light and guidance.


  1. There is the idea of warmth. A great and a kindly person was described as one who lit fires in cold rooms...God kindles within our hearts the warmth of love towards God and towards our neighbor.  


And finally…


  1. There is the idea of purification. In this sense purification involves destruction; for the purifying flame burns away the false and leaves the true. The flame tempers and strengthens and purifies the metal.


For you and me, this often happens through painful experiences, but, if a person throughout all the experiences of life believes that God is working together all things for good, she will emerge from them with a character which is cleansed and purified, until, being pure in heart, she can see God within her.


We must remember that for us, what John the Baptist has described is a present reality.  When you and I realize the Light of God is in our present lives – as John realized on the shore that day when Jesus came and dipped into the water – our eyes and hearts are not only open, but even more our entire lives (physically, mentally, spiritually) are opened up to God’s fire and light to enter into our very souls.  


Thus becoming, as Quakers have always professed and testified, “THE LIGHT WITHIN”


A fire in our souls           

  • that lights and guides our journey.

  • that kindles in our hearts the warmth of love towards God and towards our neighbor.

  • that burns away the false and leaves the true


In the original Greek the word for cleansed, washed, or even baptized meant to be literally immersed - which meant...

  • To be thrust, plunged, or thrown into

  • To be consumed by – surrounded by or overwhelmed with.


John’s Baptismal cleansing was for repentance and people were immersed in the water of the Jordan river as a symbol of that cleansing.


But when Jesus comes, the immersion that takes places is one of being thrust, plunged into, consumed, surrounded and overwhelmed by the Spirit or refining fire of God.


When you and I truly experience the Light Within – that Refiner’s Fire – the simple truth is that we cannot stay the same.


Folks, I think one of the greatest things I have learned over the last several years is that fire is not always bad but rather transformational, and it doesn’t always mean hell.


A few years ago, when we were at Yosemite National Park and taking a tour over the valley floor, they told us how descendants of the Ahwahneechee people (the first settlers of the area) taught park rangers the importance of burning parts of the valley floor each year.  Doing this brings about new life - seeds that could not open without the intense heat of the fires would instead lay dormant.  The dry brush and overgrowth would naturally overtake the forest without the cleansing quality of the fires.  And if there were no little fires, an all consuming fire could take the entire park.


I was also listening to an interesting discussion on NPR awhile back, about how we view forest fire prevention today compared to just a few years ago.  I found out that what my family learned about at Yosemite is now called, “The Smokey the Bear Effect.”  


One of the reasons we have so many huge, all consuming forest fires in our country (often at or around our protected lands such as National Parks) is due to trying to prevent all fires in these landmarks. Most of us grew up with commercials or advertisements where Smokey the Bear taught that we need to prevent all forest fires from happening. Yet not only was that impossible, it was not true.  (How The Smokey Bear Effect Led To Raging Wildfires, OPB)


If we would have done what the Ahwahneechee people had learned by living close to the earth and learning from it, instead of abusing, distressing, and overworking it as we too often do, we may have been doing what they have just begun doing in Yosemite – lighting small controllable fires on a rotating cycle for the benefit of the forest and wildlife.    


I think this may be closer to what John was trying to teach us about Jesus’ baptism of fire.  We need more than immersion in water.  We need more than repentance (even though I believe that is part of it).  We need transformation.


It reminds me of the words of Martin Luther King Jr (a man who understood the need for transformation and who we will be focusing on next Sunday).


"By opening our lives to God in Christ, we become new creatures. This experience, which Jesus spoke of as the new birth, is essential if we are to be transformed nonconformists ... Only through an inner spiritual transformation do we gain the strength to fight vigorously the evils of the world in a humble and loving spirit."  Martin Luther King Jr.


We need to be thrust, plunged, thrown into, consumed, surrounded, and overwhelmed by the Light/Fire of God on a regular basis. Not just a once-and-done kind of thing, but a daily refining so that new life can come forth. So that cleansing can take place. So that we can prevent our own bad choices, destructive desires, and offensive ways from destroying those around us and making us useless chaff or non-fruit bearing trees.


As we enter our time of waiting worship - take some time to ponder how your Inner Light radiates the Love of God. Ask yourself...


How is my Light illuminating my path and directing me in the darkness?

How is my Light kindling the warmth of God’s love to my neighbors?

How is my Light purifying my world and speaking Truth to power?