10-15-17 Worry, Anxiety, Fear, and Hope!

Worry, Anxiety, Fear, and Hope!

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

October 15, 2017

Philippians 4:4-9The Message (MSG)

4-5 Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!


6-7 Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.


8-9 Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.



The text for today is one of my favorite “reality checks” in scripture. Whenever I read it, I find it raising a lot of different feelings and thoughts and causing me to stop and think about the things I worry about, my anxiety, and what all I fill my mind with throughout the week. Wrestling with these thoughts are such important things to help us build self-awareness and understanding. Whenever I do this type of spiritual exercise, I understand better what Eugene Peterson meant when he called the Bible, “a book that reads us even as we read it.”


In one of the classes I used to teach at Huntington University, I began each lesson with some Lectio Divina. If you are not familiar with Lectio Divina, those words are Latin for "divine reading," "spiritual reading," or "holy reading." They represent a method of prayer and scriptural reading intended to promote communion with God and provide special spiritual insights. I have even heard one person call it Quaker Bible Reading.


Often it takes repetitively reading the scriptures and honing in on specific words or phrases, instead of specific answers, doctrines, or thoughts. This often leads one to see new things or actually ask different questions of scripture. Too often Bible reading is simply about finding answers or proving others wrong. That is not what Lectio Divina is meant to be. 


Part of the class I taught, as well as in my own devotional life, I utilized a book called, “Solo: An Uncommon Devotional” which utilized Lectio Divina and the Message version of scripture.  The process that the book lays out is rather simple:


Read          Think         Pray           Live.


That could easily be described as somewhat of a mantra for my own life - Read, Think, Pray, and Live. 


This morning, for a change of pace, I would like us to experience a similar process with our text from Philippians. 


To begin I am going to read our text through twice.  As I read, take time to listen for specific phrases or words that speak specifically to you and your condition. Don’t get caught up with why the text is being written, or who it is being written for, or what it’s doctrinal intent...but rather let it speak to your heart and condition in the present moment without any of these other limitations.   


As I used to tell my students, “You may need to close your eyes to open up your ears.


Listen to these words from


Philippians 4:4-9 (MSG)

4-5 Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!


6-7 Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.  It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.


8-9 Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.




Now, that we have heard the words of this text a couple of times. Hopefully some things have stood out to you as I have read.  It seems with all that we are bombarded with on the nightly news, or in our families, or even in our work or school situations we are all dealing with some aspect of worry, anxiety, fear, or inability to center ourselves down.


So next, I want to ask you a few queries to help you think a little differently about this text and what maybe running through your minds. Please note: these are just prompts to get you thinking.


Also, for some of you, God may already be saying something to you and you may want to stay with that, but if not, I am going to utilize some queries for this specific scripture from the book, “Solo” to prompt more thoughts - causing us to enter the second part, which we call - THINK. 


●     How do you handle something that worries you?

○     Do you ignore the problem so you can put it off thinking about it for as long as possible? 

○     Do you feel depressed and pessimistic about it, pretty sure of negative results, no matter what?

○     Do you spend a lot of energy identifying a solution and working toward it?

●     (Whatever your answer, pinpoint your primary way of reacting. See if you know why you handle worry the way you do.)


●     Now, consider one worry you have today and how you’ve been dealing (or not dealing) with it.  Name that worry. 


At this point, I want to read again the text for this morning. In leu of what you have just been thinking about regarding worry, allow the text to speak again to your present condition.  

Philippians 4:4-9 (MSG)

4-5 Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!


6-7 Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.


8-9 Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.


As we move into our the third section - Pray. Sit in silence for a few minutes with your eyes closed. Breath deeply and let your mind quiet down again.  Become aware of God’s presence within and around you. [Pause]


Now, take a moment to express to God your concern. Even though God knows the situation, take time to silently tell God about it. (As you do you may want to ponder how your anxiety has affected other areas of your life, such as relationships, work, school, community, etc…)


Ask yourself: What is the worst-case scenario you’re afraid might happen? 


Whether rational or irrational, share with God what you FEAR.


And finally, as we move into our last step - Live.  To live means to rest, reflect or act as you discover how to take what you have learned in this experience into your day. 


So this morning, take a moment to ponder who God is to you. 


Maybe God is too distant or you aren’t sure what God is saying, or maybe you have a clear sense of who God is and what God is saying. The important thing this morning is that you leave this space believing that God has heard you. God has heard you and your concerns and is working “you into his most excellent harmonies.”


How have these scriptures this morning “read you” and how is God working out his most excellent harmonies through you?


As we move into waiting worship - let it continue this process - maybe go back and ask yourself some new questions, or ponder some of the other thoughts or phrases that were speaking to you.  What is or has God been saying to you this morning?




10-8-17 Rejected but Chosen

Rejected but Chosen

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

October 8, 2017

Matthew 21:33-45 (MSG)

33-34 “Here’s another story. Listen closely. There was once a man, a wealthy farmer, who planted a vineyard. He fenced it, dug a winepress, put up a watchtower, then turned it over to the farmhands and went off on a trip. When it was time to harvest the grapes, he sent his servants back to collect his profits.


35-37 “The farmhands grabbed the first servant and beat him up. The next one they murdered. They threw stones at the third but he got away. The owner tried again, sending more servants. They got the same treatment. The owner was at the end of his rope. He decided to send his son. ‘Surely,’ he thought, ‘they will respect my son.’


38-39 “But when the farmhands saw the son arrive, they rubbed their hands in greed. ‘This is the heir! Let’s kill him and have it all for ourselves.’ They grabbed him, threw him out, and killed him.


40 “Now, when the owner of the vineyard arrives home from his trip, what do you think he will do to the farmhands?”

41 “He’ll kill them—a rotten bunch, and good riddance,” they answered. “Then he’ll assign the vineyard to farmhands who will hand over the profits when it’s time.”


42-44 Jesus said, “Right—and you can read it for yourselves in your Bibles:

The stone the masons threw out

    is now the cornerstone.

This is God’s work;

    we rub our eyes, we can hardly believe it!

“This is the way it is with you. God’s kingdom will be taken back from you and handed over to a people who will live out a kingdom life. Whoever stumbles on this Stone gets shattered; whoever the Stone falls on gets smashed.”


45-46 When the religious leaders heard this story, they knew it was aimed at them. They wanted to arrest Jesus and put him in jail, but, intimidated by public opinion, they held back. Most people held him to be a prophet of God.



The parable of Jesus for this morning is a very interesting one.  Jesus often likes to ask queries of his followers, often answering questions with follow up questions. To put the scripture in context, Jesus has just come off of overturning the tables of the temple tellers and advocating that wages be paid to workers without regard to their relative productivity and then he gets to our text for today - a story of tenants in a vineyard who kill all those who come to collect their rent, even their landlord’s son. 


Just a reminder - Jesus was teaching this in the temple and his audience was made up of the religious and state leaders. Jesus was being sidetracked by a these leaders wanting his credentials - remember they had already gone after him about where he was born when saying “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?.”  I think it sound extremely familiar to our present day...


So Jesus gets to the end of his parable and asks these leaders, “Now, when the owner of the vineyard arrives home from his trip, what do you think he will do to the farmhands?”  Jesus is asking them to make his point, but also to expose their (and I believe, our) quick judgment and willingness to reject people - even kill people - for our desired outcome. And they didn’t bat an eye saying, “He’ll kill them” called them names and turned to the outcome - profits or money.


Their quick and enthusiastic response was just what Jesus wanted - it was a self-indictment, And as Rev. John Allen in his commentary notes, “Jesus turns quickly to chastise their desire to repress the poor tenants and unleash the justice of an oppressive economic system upon them.”


The church and government leaders were oppressing the poor - but even worse they were willing not only to reject certain groups of people - they were willing to literally remove them from the face of the earth.


Now, this really hit home to me.  It trudged up some deep feelings from my religious journey. 



I remember 20+ years ago sitting in the dining commons of my undergraduate college trying to defend a woman’s right to be a pastor, while sadly on other days joining in as Christian friends spoke of putting gays on an island and blowing it up to purify our world. 


I remember as a child and youth, people of my denomination bad mouthing, slandering, and ridiculing other denominations and religions for what they believed, while thinking my denomination had the “right” answers - never once considering the journey they were on.


I remember Christians affirming that HIV/AIDS was retribution for sin, and yet completely breaking down trying to understand the death of Ryan White in our own state and later the rejection of a man who had AIDS by the pastor I served with on my ministry internship.


I remember on 9/11 listening to good Christians speak of retaliation and revenge and even ridding the world of all Muslims, and wondering why all Christians were not labeled by our extremisms like Nazis or the Klu Klux Klan. 


I remember meeting with a pastor’s association in my home town where my colleagues explained to me that they had asked families with “special needs” children to stay home from church events because their people were bothered and could not our meeting had an over-abundance of “special needs” children and youth that we valued and loved so much. 


I remember a woman who was asked to not wear her Nascar Jacket during the worship service or simply stay at home because it promoted a national beer distributer, a man who wore shorts to church and was told he was not appropriately dressed, and a young women who had not been in a church for years told that her skirt was too short and should have wore something else...and this list of rejected people sadly could go on.


I remember a group of people who diligently tried to run their pastor out of town and destroy his family for making them feel uncomfortable, asking tough questions, and welcoming the rejected... that pastor was me.


I believe rejection is a disease in the church and in our world.  


Have you ever felt rejected?


The dictionary described being rejected as

●     Being turned down

●     Being refused acceptance

●     Being spit out or vomited


Did you know that research shows that rejection triggers the same brain pathways that are activated when we experience physical pain. Rejection can be and often is a form of abuse. 


Yet, when I read the Bible, I notice something very different. God has a theology of the Rejected. And God has been presenting it to us through Christ from the very beginning.  


Remember this story...

And Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,


“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives

and recovering of sight to the blind,

to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”


And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21



Even his mother realized that he was about the rejected when she proclaimed:


 And his mercy is for those who fear him

    from generation to generation.

51 He has shown strength with his arm;

    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones

    and exalted those of humble estate;

53 he has filled the hungry with good things,

    and the rich he has sent away empty.  (Luke 1:50-53)


Then there is the Beatitudes…


Who are blessed?


The Poor in spirit.

The Mourners

The Meek

The Hungering for righteousness

The Merciful

The Pure of heart

The Peacemakers


Often these are the rejected in our world.


What if in reality the rejected are actually the “chosen people of God”?


What if the people we use as the scapegoats, the focus of our attacks, the oppressed by society, the demonized and labeled “dead weights” in society, the poor both spiritually and physically...what if these are the people God has chosen to bless? And even more is asking us to bless?


As Quakers you and I are called to seek “That of God in everyone we meet.”  And that doesn’t mean just the ones that are easy to see God in - it means even the ones we ourselves have rejected.  That is not easy.  It has taken me many years to see how my and the church’s rejection of others has caused such hurt and pain. I have to come to the realization that understanding our rejections and reaching out to those we have hurt may not be comfortable all the time, we may get persecuted on occasion, we may be threatened or rejected ourselves by people we thought we trusted, but that is what God has been calling us to all along.    


In his book, “The Rebirthing of God” (which I highly recommend) John Philip Newell says,


“To be bearers of the Light -- which is pure gift and not of our own doing -- means that we are made to shine.  But when we truly shine, and when we work for the true shining of every child, woman, man, and creature, we find that sometimes we create discomfort in the people around us and in the holders of power in our communities and our world.  Not only do they feel uncomfortable; sometimes they feel threatened.  This is as true in our personal relationships and workplaces as it is in the great struggles of communities and nations.  Those who cling to power for their own sake, or for the sake only of their chosen communities and their special interests groups, do not want everyone to shine.  The shadow side of power is a determination that only some should shine, and that only some should be considered worthy.”


So, what is your theology of the rejected? 


Just maybe we need to heed the words of Jesus and hear them again as a call to us this morning.


The Spirit of the Lord is within each person at First Friends,

because we have been anointed and set apart,

to proclaim good news to the physically and spiritually poor.

We are being sent to proclaim freedom to the captives,

sight to the blind, hope to the world,

to provide opportunity and acceptance to those

who are oppressed and rejected,

and to proclaim a year of God’s favor in Indianapolis





10-1-17 Radicalizing Spirit

Radicalizing Spirit(World Quaker Day)

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

October 1, 2017

Philippians 2:1-5 (NRSV)

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was[a] in Christ Jesus.


Since it is World Quaker Day, I thought we needed to spend some time exploring who are are.  So as a good Quaker, I will begin with a query...


How radical are you?  (Just ponder that for a second). 


What lines do you draw around being radical

Who is radical and who is just passionate? 

Is being radical helpful and beneficial or is it hindering and annoying?


Maybe even the word itself“radical” is not a descriptor for you because of the associations it represents. 


If we, Quakers, believe we are a people who are alive and have meaning and purpose in this world, then we will have to admit that there is a relationship, as Quaker Jeffrey Dudiak states, between “what is” and “what is not, but should be, between the past and the future, between, on the one hand, the grounding practices, and on the other hand, the aspirations of a living tradition.”


This is why Jeffery describes Quakers as a people with a “radicalizing spirit.” From the earliest of days they went beyond the law, following the Spirit, and opening Christianity to new possibilities. It was as I talked about a couple weeks ago - though...this was an entire group of people experiencing metanoia - what I described as going beyond their own minds and into the mind of God.


We must admit, our Quaker ancestors had a “radicalizing spirit” and were even defined as a “radical faith” by other Christians, faith traditions, and even the government of their day. All for their beliefs around “what is” and “what is not, but should be” in the early days of their formation.


If you are not familiar with some of those beliefs, here are just a few that early Quakers professed:


●     The social and political equality of the sexes.

●     The abolition of slavery, which they saw as evil.

●     That no lands should be obtained from indigenous peoples except through negotiation and mutual agreement.

●     Complete pacifism.

●     No class distinctions.

●     Complete tolerance of other religious views.


Some people, other faith traditions, even governments still would consider many of those beliefs “radical” in our day.  But we must be careful with how we use our words today, especially with all that is going on in our world and country, it seems being radical takes on a new meaning.


What does it really mean to be radical - let’s take a moment to explore this idea.


Jeffrey Dudiak shed some light for me on the word radical and how it is used.  He says,


“Indeed the term ‘radical’ harbors a wonderful ambiguity.  The etymological origin of the term radical is the Latin radix, which means root.  Among the dictionary meanings of radical is the following: ‘forming an inherent or fundamental part of the nature of someone or something.’ Here, then, something is at its most radical when it is rooted most securely in what it is.


But the term also has taken on another meaning, obviously related to, but seemingly contradictory to the first. On this meaning, radical refers to a change or action “relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something,” and it is this meaning that gives us radical in the sense of something “characterized by departure from tradition; innovative or progressive,’ and as ‘advocating a thorough or complete political or social reform.


So this means that…


The term radical can mean either being deeply rooted, or tearing something up from the roots. It can mean either being bound firmly and securely to its ground, or being liberated from such an attachment altogether.


Most people would say we have to pick one or the other, but the word radical actually is the perfect word to describe the paradox that we find in Quakerism. This is not an either/or but rather a both/and scenario. Quakers are radical in both ways. 

1.   We are rooted and secure in who and what we are... and

2.   We are characterized by change or action and a departure from tradition while being innovative and progressive.


It is probably because of what Quaker Rufus Jones identified as “The Beyond Within” - how he described the two minds (our own mind and the mind of the Spirit or Christ) which must learn to cooperate.  Rufus Jones said,  


“Through cooperation with God they [the two minds] build a new stage of the Kingdom of God in the world. We are in that respect not dreamers; we are actual builders...We become organs of a spiritual kingdom and stand in vital relations to an Eternal Mind and Heart and Will with whom to cooperate.”


We become Organs of the Spiritual Kingdom.  (Now, there is a bumper sticker for your car).


Even George Fox wrestled with connecting and cooperating with the Mind ofGod, he said it well,


“Be still and cool in your own mind and spirit from your own thoughts, and then you will feel the principle of God to turn your mind to the Lord God, whereby you will receive his strength and power from where it comes from...therefore be still a while from your own thoughts, searching, seeking desires and imaginations, and stay in the principle of God in you, to keep your mind upon God, and what he is up to.”


This is radical in our day and age. 


1.   Be still and cool in your mind and spirit.

2.   Be still a while so your thoughts, searching, seeking desires and imaginations can focus on what God’s mind wants.


Who has time for that.  We want action, we want response. We want to do anything but be still.  We are a people on the go, seeking God’s mind, heart, and will when we have some spare time. 


If we are going to be Radical Quakers or at least have a “radicalizing spirit” like our ancestors in our world today, we are going to need to understand what that means. 


A while back, I found a book in the dollar bin of a bookstore - sometimes I find the best books there. It was by Rex Ambler called “The Quaker Way: A Rediscovery.” I found this book a breath of fresh air - the reason being was that Rex Ambler was able to give new life to the way we understand our Quaker faith.  And his definition jumped off the page when I read it. Just listen as I read it:


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 so that they can really make a connection with it. 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 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. They want the truth in this sense because that is the only basis on which they could expect to enjoy life to the full and to contribute to life.


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.



So being a Radical Quaker embodies just that - being still and connecting to the mind of God so that we can impact our world.


I believe this was the metanoia that Paul described Jesus experiencing and that we are to experience in our text from Philippians, today. Just listen again at what Paul is saying.

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was[a] in Christ Jesus.


When we, Quakers, embrace our “radicalizing spirit” and go beyond our own minds and get into the mind of God we begin to see with new eyes.  No longer is it about us, but it is more about our neighbors, more about their interests. This was Christ’s example, this was the early Quakers legacy, and this continues to be our calling today.  Let us embrace our “radicalizing spirit” today and work to make a better place in this world. 



9-24-17 The Power of a New Quest, by Dan Lee

Scripture reading: I Samuel 17:32-40

The Power of a New Quest

By Daniel Lee


When I was a teenager, one of my favorite bands was the 1970s rock group Kansas. One of their most popular songs was “Point of Know Return.” Does anyone remember it?


The opening lyrics tell of an alluring but dangerous ocean voyage…


I heard the men saying something
The captains tell they pay you well
And they say they need sailing men to
Show the way and leave today


Then the song’s chorus repeatedly asks:

How long, How long to the point of know return?


What’s really interesting is that the song title has a clever play on words – it reads “how long to the point of know return,” spelled K-N-O-W, not the expected N-O.


It seems that the point of know return (K-N-O-W) is very fitting when it comes to the idea of a quest – that you learn, experience or achieve something that fundamentally transforms you. After the quest, you can never go back to the prior version of yourself.


When I think about today’s scripture, I think about David going past that point of know return as he confronted Goliath.


From today’s scripture reading … Then David took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with the sling in his hand, approached the Philistine…


Imagine the scene. The Israelites were on one hill, the Philistines on the other. Every morning and evening for 40 days, the giant Goliath – described as a champion – came forward and mocked the Israelites, challenging someone to fight him. The Bible describes the Israelites as dismayed and terrified.


Then David, a shepherd with a slingshot, steps out from the mass, past the point of know return.


HERE I AM, David said to Goliath.


We all know how the story ends – David slays Goliath. As a boy in Sunday school, I was enthralled with King David.


Now, as a Quaker, I prefer to read the New Testament, particularly the Gospels, and tend to stay away from the more violent parts of the Bible. Perhaps you’re the same way.


But the New Testament cannot be read without the Old Testament. The opening words of the Gospel of Matthew refer to Jesus as the “Son of David.”


Jesus faced the cross much like David faced Goliath – brave and faithful. But Jesus – the Prince of Peace – turned everything on its head to be consistent with His mission of non-violence, forgiveness, and renewal.


David inflicted violence; Christ received it.


David rejected Saul’s armor for the chosen weapons of a shepherd, a sling and staff. Jesus rejected disciples Peter’s sword for the chosen spiritual weapons of a Savior; compassion and non-violence.


Resolute after his time of prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus passed the point of know return in his earthy quest. Just as David willingly met Goliath, Jesus willingly met Judas and Roman guards sent to capture him.


“Friend, do what you came for,” Jesus said before Judas kissed Him.


Jesus boldly said: HERE I AM.


That is the power of a quest. A quest is more than just a mere goal. It’s a determined and careful search for something new or something hidden. A quest is a high-risk expedition to secure or achieve something significant.


I’ve come to realize that our faith journeys are more meaningful and adventurous when we think of our spiritual lives as a series of quests.


The quests I’m talking about share three characteristics:


First, Quests bring together our spiritual and physical worlds.


Second, Quests are dangerous because they expose us to the power of God.


Third, Quests teach us, transform, and expand our influence.


The artwork in our hallway here at First Friends tells the stories of Quakers who lived their lives embarking on one courageous quest after another.


George Fox felt called to climb Pendle Hill, where he had a vision of a Great People to be Gathered – that was the birth of a Quaker movement. We are here today because Fox went beyond the point of know return.


There’s also a portrait of Elizabeth Fry in our hallway. She grew up in the late 1700s a Quaker, though she loved dressing and bight colors and dancing. But as a teenager, she went on a quest. She became interested in helping the poor and prisoners after hearing American Quaker traveling minister William Savery speak.


Young Elizabeth seemed well aware she was headed toward the point of know return. She would never again be a frivolous young girl.


She wrote: “I am like one setting out on a journey; if I set out on the wrong road, and do not try to recover the right one before I have gone far, I shall most likely lose my way for ever….”


Elizabeth’s chosen road would lead to become a pioneering leader in prison reform.

She would spend her life helping prisoners living in a literal hell on earth.


HERE I AM, she said to the anguished prisoners.


Elizabeth Fry’s portrait is featured on the five-pound British note. I’ve carried this one in my wallet since I visited England last year because she has so inspired me.


But quests aren’t only for the heroes of the Bible or Quaker history.


Perhaps you’ve been on quests. I have.


I’m holding in my hand highly sensitive documents that have been hidden away for more than 30 years before I sorted through boxes in my basement. These are “Poor Progress Reports” that my high school sent to my parents midterm because I was getting either a D or F in a course.


I intercepted these from the mailbox before my parents saw them. Believe me, others got through!


Let me read a few of my teachers’ comments:


“Dan has done poorly on several major tests this quarter.”


“Dan often ‘drifts away’ during class.”


“Dan has failed to complete several major assignments.” This poor progress report also notes that I had a poor attitude.


One teacher simply wrote, “Dan can certainly do the work, but he is not making any effort.”


Let me ask, what worse could a teacher write about a student?


Looking back at my teenage self, I really don’t have any answers to why I was the way I was.


I remember the evening of my high school graduation feeling a sense of shame. Throughout that summer, for the first time in my life, I became determined to transform myself into something – into someone – different.  In the fall of 1987, my parents dropped me off at Ball State. When they drove away, I knew no one on campus. I was alone.


That was what I wanted – to face my challenges alone. Looking back, I realize now I was beginning a quest that would change my life.


My freshman year, I truly lived a life of inquiry. I spend hours at the library. I voluntarily got a tutor to improve my English composition grade. I sat in the front row of classes and would wait after class to talk further with professors. Outside of class, I read C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity,” took part in a candlelight march to honor Martin Luther King Jr. and attended a lecture by Dr. Maya Angelou.


Quaker Elton Trueblood said, “Deliberate mediocrity is a heresy and a sin.” By holding myself accountable for the first time in my life, I passed the point of know return. My quest created within me a spiritual and intellectual framework that still guides me today.


At their most basic level, quests are about being accountable to the Inner Voice of God. Have you ever experienced a point of know (K-N-O-W) return? Is God leading you on a new quest?


Maybe you want to explore Quaker writings in our meetinghouse library.


Or write your own spiritual autobiography.


Or serve the poor.


Where new in your life can you courageously declare, HERE I AM.


I opened today with a song lyric, and I’d like to close with a song lyric. This one is from a meaningful song for me during my freshman year at Ball State.


It’s U2’s “I Still Have Found What I’m Looking For.” There’s one verse that captures the beautiful paradox of faith—that we have found Gold yet still search for God. This makes quests necessary for us to expand God’s inclusive and loving Kingdom:


I believe in the Kingdom Come

Then all the colors will bleed into one

But yes I'm still running

You broke the bonds and you loosed the chains

Carried the cross of my shame

You know I believe it


But I still haven't found what I'm looking for.


That is the power of a new quest.



9-17-17 Forgiveness Stimulates Forgiveness

Forgiveness Stimulates Forgiveness

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

September 17, 2017


Matthew 18:21-35 (NRSV)


21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church[a] sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven[b] times.


23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents[c] was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii;[d] and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister[e] from your heart.”


The concept of forgiveness is extremely important in our world today.  Some consider forgiveness the business of the church, and if that is true, I would ask, how well are we doing? 


David Zenon Starlyte in an article on Beliefnet titled, “Why Radical Forgiveness” says this,


“It seems that in today’s world, selfishness, lust for power, hatred, violence and other unwanted dramas are still very much at play. The despair and separation seems to be reaching saturation point. It is an invitation to consider what historian Charles Beard said when asked what he had learnt from history, “when it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”


It is similar to several conversations I have had over the last couple weeks, where I find myself sharing an illustration from a Brian McLaren conference I attended 8 or so years ago at Goshen College. It was when gas prices had sky-rocketted to $4 a gallon and people were grumbling about the high cost of driving. A heckler had come to question Brian and before he even stepped on the stage to speak the heckler asked out loud and in a sarcastic tone for everyone to hear, “Hey Brian, what did you drive here today!”  Now, Brian was talking about making a major shift in thinking about ecological issues and their relationship to theology and the church. He knew this heckler was trying to back him into a corner and make a point. Calmly, Brian said, “I drove a Prius. But there is two ways I can answer your further questions, we can talk about my carbon footprint or we can talk about what needs to happen right now in our world.” Brian didn’t miss a beat - he looked at the man and said, “Do you know what high gas prices should do?...(without giving the man a chance to respond, Brian continued…) “They should cause people who think differently and creatively to make better cars.” 


Looking back, it is interesting, that in the past 10 years, we have seen the largest production of high efficient, eco-friendly, battery-powered cars. This shows us that it matters how we individually respond to our times, because the change is going to first come from within you and me.


When it’s dark enough, you can see the stars.”

When the gas prices are high enough, you can make better cars.

And when we are so divided as people groups, religions, cultures, and nations, you can be better people - and I believe that starts with forgiveness.


Currently, we are in one of those times in our nation and world. And the question is what are we going to do? Whether it is time for reformation, whether it is time to return to our roots as Quakers, whether it is time to make changes in our seemingly dying faith, one thing that is clear is that our world is crying out for help and we are called to respond. 


Sadly, we have learned well to draw lines. Actually, our country was founded on drawing lines and living out an “us vs them” reality. To much of the world lives in polarities and has lost any sense of coming together for a greater good.    


If we are people of peace and we are seeking peace, we must heed the words of Jesus in our text for today.  Peace is not resolved through hatred and division, but by first humbling ourselves and changing our own hearts and finding ways to reconcile and forgive. 


Starlyte says


“If the past taught us anything, it is that conflict stimulates more conflict. So, too, forgiveness stimulates more forgiveness.”


Let me say that again - “Forgiveness stimulates more forgiveness.” 


Where on the news are we hearing stories of radical forgiveness? It is very limited even rare these days.


I believe the reason is that forgiveness is very personal. It takes commitment and a personal wrestling in our own hearts and souls.  Some would say we have to count the cost of forgiveness and know if we truly want to reconcile and forgive those that have hurt, abused, or treated us wrongly.  




Most likely you have heard our text at some time in your life. It probably has been conveyed in many different ways depending on your upbringing and church affiliation, but the more I consider what Jesus was doing, I see it as a window into what I will label “the mind of Christ.” Something we are going to be exploring throughout this fall from the pulpit.


What we have in our text this morning is a picture of a severely merciless king who takes pity on a simple servant who owes him a huge debt. And we have a picture of a common person who has been shown tremendous mercy unwilling to extend it to someone else.


We can get caught up with trying to make this about certain people and making God the merciless king, but I think we would be totally missing the point spending time trying to make that connection.


Jesus has just made a major point to Peter - when you forgive, (and let me put it in the Pixar translation) forgive to infinity and beyond.  Not 7 times but seventy seven (or as some translations say seventy times seven) all another way in Jesus’ day of saying “beyond count.” - or to infinity and beyond - either way Jesus was meaning never stop forgiving.  


Then Jesus does what he does on numerous occasions he has those gathered sit down for a story or lesson to illustrate his point. What Jesus gives us is an example of what this looks like lived out in the Kingdom of God. When Jesus does this he is literally saying,


Let’s get into the larger mind.

This is what it looks like.

This is how you do it.

Let me help you see.


In Greek its call metanoia.  Meta means beyond and noia means mind - so Jesus is trying to take us beyond our own minds. It is interesting because metanoia is actually the word we often translate “repent” - to make a change or turning from sin.”  But what Jesus is really calling us to do is see beyond our own minds into God’s mind.   


We are such literalists that we look so hard at the characters to represent certain people and even try to apply it to others to make us feel better - but the point is for us as individuals to learn the struggles of our own hearts and minds and to transcend our own thoughts and align ourselves with the “Mind of Christ.”


In the story Jesus tells, we are presented a double standard of sorts regarding radical forgiveness and mercy.  If forgiveness is to stimulate more this example it does not happen. Actually, the one who is forgiven, does just the opposite to the next person he comes across.


Often Jesus gives us “negative example parables” to learn from and to prompt our minds to get us out of our ruts and thinking.  When we begin to realize that we so desire forgiveness and reconciliation with our neighbors, but often don’t take the opportunities afforded us to give forgiveness and mercy to others, we then seem to have an inner crisis.


It is when we are presented this that God wants us to have a moment of metanoia - a moment of going beyond our mind into how God thinks about forgiveness and its possible impact.


David Zenon Starlyte sheds some light on this process as it relates to our personal struggles with forgiveness. He says, 


“When you liberate yourself, you automatically liberate others. Choosing goodness crosses the barrier of ego limitation, and invites others to walk with us, as our light is shared amongst others. Radical forgiveness is a broader gift – an act of grace and service to humanity. It’s a process of final resolution, release and healing. Radical forgiveness is not sensible, rational, logical or “right” – it’s an invitation to open the heart to acting completely and unconditionally loving without a selfish motivation. Not that one doesn’t get something out of forgiving. Forgiveness is an act of self-love – it gives a double gift, rewarding both the giver and the receiver. That’s why forgiving and letting go is the most powerful choice one can make for oneself and for humanity.”


In the mind of Christ, forgiveness is a radical, liberating, life changing, releasing, healing, and the most powerful act we can engage. 


The whirlwind of crazy we find our world in is crying out for people to embrace a position of radical forgiveness.  To break down barriers of hate, fear, privilege, and selfish motivations, God calls us to transcend our own thoughts of revenge, retaliation, and division and find ways to extend radical forgiveness. It may take time, some personal metanoia, and lots and lots of humility. Yet when we attempt to live out the mind of Christ in our world, we will see change. 


Forgiveness stimulates Forgiveness. 


So, as we go into waiting worship, let’s take a moment to look at the queries in the bulletin.


Who do I have a hard time forgiving? Why?

What metanoia needs to take place in my heart to be able to forgive?

How might forgiveness lead to peace in my world?



9-10-17 Patronus of Love

Patronus of Love

Indianapolis First Friends

September 10, 2017

Pastor Bob Henry


Romans 13:8-14

8Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.


11Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.




Our text for this morning is a major shift in thinking for early followers of Christ and for the average citizen in the Roman world. Often I find the Roman world not much different than our own - in this case, I can’t read the text for this morning without first getting an understanding of the backstory. 


Why would Paul be talking about running up debts?


It seems like it would be similar to someone saying today, Stop using your credit cards or going shopping and pour it all into your love for one another. But there is more to this discourse than we first glean because we see with 21st century eyes. 


Morgon Guyton in his commentary on this text gives great insight to exactly what Paul was addressing.  Just listen to what he says,


“In the ancient Roman times when the apostle Paul was writing, social debt was a lot more overtly recognized. Roman society was organized according to what is called a patronage system. The way to gain political power was to do favors for powerful people so they would be indebted to you. You could throw parties for them if you had the money, or if you couldn’t afford to throw parties, you could at least throw rotten fruit at the chariots of their enemies [It sounds familiar doesn’t it...not much is different in our political system still today in America, just our “rotten fruit” comes in the form of Tweets]. Some “debts” were acknowledged and compensated; others weren’t. The art to moving up the social ladder was to figure out how to make your generosity stick to somebody more powerful...Roman civilization very openly acknowledged that everyone except the emperor was indebted to somebody. Debt didn’t mean fiscal irresponsibility; it was inherent to every relationship. So when Paul writes, “Owe no one anything except to love one another” in a letter to first-century Romans, he is making a radically counter-cultural statement that repudiates the basic building block of the entire Roman social pyramid.


This really sheds some light on how politically infused the message of early Christianity was and why it cost the early Christians often their livelihood or even lives. Paul, as much as Jesus, pushed back on the political system in not so subtle ways. Just the idea of Paul - most likely a fairly well-off religious leader of his time - fighting the system of patronage was a radical and activist-like approach. 


As an artist, I have had a positive spin on patronage most of my life.  You may have heard in the history of art the term “arts patronage” which by definition refers to the support that kings, popes, and the wealthy have provided to artists such as musicians, painters, and sculptors. If it wasn’t for “arts patronage” we would not have the beautiful museums, architectural sites, and natural areas of beauty in this country and the world. 


The problem is that Patronage has been closely linked to status in our world, today.  It is the wealthy that are patrons. When wealth and power and money combine we can have two different outcomes - it can be either extremely beneficial - or it can become abuse of privilege.   


What Paul is addressing in his day [and very appropriately in our day] is patronage that has taken the wrong turn - that has gone from support, encouragement, and financial aid bestowed on others - to a system that has become about power, privilege, and upward mobility. 


It is still evident in the church today, it is what we call having a “prosperity gospel.”  Benjamin Corey describes it this way. 


●     It associates the rich with being “blessed” instead of the poor. The very opposite of what Jesus taught.    

●     It claims the idea that obeying God results in a “good life” by worldly standards.

●     It can’t explain why bad things happen to faithful people - because that messes with the premise of it all.  [For example: A megachurchpastor in Houston (which most people know) told hurricane victims that they should “take it (the hurricane) as a compliment” as if losing your house is somehow a sign of coming favor of God.]

●     It creates people and religious ministers who are detached from their neighbors - who live in religious bubbles and do not know the needs of their neighbors.

●     It teaches people to put their hopes in the wrong place.


This is almost exactly what Paul is addressing in our text for today. 


So how do we not get sucked in by this religious and social culture prevalent in Paul’s day and in our world today? 


I will phrase it this way, we need to become patrons of your neighbors


Instead of creating a patronage system that is focused on us and our gain - Paul as well as Jesus taught that we need to be patrons of our neighbors -- that means the poor, the downcast, the widows, the orphans, the people imprisoned, addicted, less fortunate - those different than us, and those who have been minimized, marginalized, abused, unwanted and forgotten.  I believe every person in this meetinghouse today can relate to one or more of these. 


What does it mean to be a patron of our neighbors.  Let’s start with the word “patron”...


Wikipedia says the word "patron" derives from the Latin: 'patronus' ("patron"), one who gives benefits to his clients.


To be a patron of our neighbors we will need to give benefits of LOVE to our neighbors. 


Now, if you are a Harry Potter fan, like me, you might have heard something else - You may have just thought, “Did Bob just say that “patron” derives from the latin “patronus”?” And that may lead you to wonder as I did about that famous charm that those young wizards and witches of Hogwarts learned from Professor Lupin - the Patronus Charm.   


I have thought often that JK Rowling was a literary marvel to get children and adults back into books (and not little books, but big-ol-books 500-700 pages long) with the draw of technology and social media being so strong.


And at times I have found the Harry Potter books prophetic metaphors for culture, religion, and even political and societal constructs. In this moment, I went to the JK Rowling’s Pottermore website to look into the Patronus Charm - or what we remember the characters holding out their wands and yelling “EXPECTO PATRONUM.”  On her sight it says this...

The Patronus Charm (Expecto Patronum) is the most famous and one of the most powerful defensive charms known to wizardkind. It is an immensely complicated and extremely difficult spell that evokes a partially-tangible positive energy force known as a Patronus (pl. Patronuses) or spirit guardian. It is the primary protection against Dementors and Lethifolds, against which there are no other defence.

If you remember the scene where Harry and Hermione have used the Time-Turner and went back to save Sirus Black from being taken by the dementors, Harry and Hermione are watching the scene from across the lake awaiting what Harry thinks is his father’s patronus coming to bring protection. All of a sudden, Harry realizes that what he saw was not his father’s patronus but rather his own. It is a moment of personal insight for Harry.  He realizes in that moment he must evoke his own positive energy - the stag of inner light - the spirit guardian within himself.  And with those words, “Expecto Patronum” Harry conjures up a light that wipes out all the dementors and darkness and saves the life of his godfather Sirus Black. 


What a beautiful metaphor for us as Quakers. We all have a “Patronus” - a powerful inner light. That positive-energy-light needs to be lived out, activated, evoked out of us to be “Spirit Guardians” for our neighbors, our family, and our loved ones.   


The patronage is not for our own personal gain, but for the sake of our neighbors. Just listen one more time to what Paul wrote to the a more modern translation.

Romans 13:8-10 (MSG)

8-10 Don’t run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other. When you love others, you complete what the law has been after all along. The law code—don’t sleep with another person’s spouse, don’t take someone’s life, don’t take what isn’t yours, don’t always be wanting what you don’t have, and any other “don’t” you can think of—finally adds up to this: Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can’t go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love.


That is our call from last week’s Labor of Love gathering and that is our call as Quakers as we say, “Our guiding principle is LOVE.”  Will you join me in evoking our inner Patronuses and living out that positive energy and light as spiritual guardians of our neighbors?  Instead of Amen - I think it is more appropriate to conclude this sermon with…





9-3-17 - Labor of Love Morning Message by Malkah Bird

First Friends Meeting Labor of Love Meeting for Worship


Morning Message by Malkah Bird, American Friends Service Committee


Malkah Bird works for AFSC-Peacebuilding Indiana, is one of the chapter leaders for Jewish Voice for Peace-Indiana and is also a kindergarten teacher at Meridian Hills Co-Op.  She has a deep commitment to anti-racist work here in the United States and in Palestine and Israel. Malkah is inspired by the Jewish traditions and values of her upbringing to actively work and organize within her community to help build peace, justice and equality. Originally from Detroit, Malkah and her family moved to Indianapolis five years ago.  As a family, they love caring for chickens, cats and dogs and making time to explore outdoors. 


If you had told me, a couple of years ago, that today- I would be here speaking about racial justice, white supremacy, and Jewish resistance movements at a Quaker meeting- I would definitely not have believed you.  I am a kindergarten teacher.  And a mom, and I am not someone who ever thought of myself as an activist or an organizer.  But…some days we are called to be kindergarten teachers, and moms, and some days we are called to organize.  I am humbled and honored to be here with you all today. 


A few years ago, when my daughter was very young, she started asking us questions about faith and religion and Judaism.  I didn’t have a lot of answers for her and I started thinking back to when I was little and was learning about our faith from my family.   I remember asking my mom, “Who are Jews?” and she said, “Jews are The Chosen People.” and I said, “Chosen for what?” and she said, “Chosen to be Democrats.”


Now that I am older, I have come to realize that it is a bit more nuanced than that, but I think, at the time, she had made her point.  What she meant was, because of our history, our traditions, our beliefs, our faith, our values- we, as Jewish people, must always find ourselves standing on the side of the oppressed against the oppressor.  I grew up understanding that we must commit to the idea of Tikkun Olam, or repairing the world, to stand against injustice- even when it is uncomfortable or unpopular- actually, especially when it is uncomfortable and unpopular


In May of 1939, the ship the M.S. St Louis set sail from Germany with over 900 Jewish refugees aboard. They traveled across the Atlantic, fleeing persecution from Hitler and the Nazis in Germany. Upon arriving in Cuba, the US and Canada, they were not permitted to disembark, systematically turned away from each county on the basis of their religion. Ultimately, with no other option, the ship returned to Europe, where it is now known that a great number of the passengers lost their lives in the Holocaust.


I am part of one of the generations of Jewish people who was raised in the shadow of the Holocaust. Six million Jews, five million Roma, LGBTQ, disabled, communists, unionists and others murdered by the Nazis. After these horrors, Jewish people around the world made a promise that is etched into our beings. We said never again.


Never again will we allow the world to shrug at genocide.

Never again will we allow scapegoating of the most vulnerable.

Never again will we miss the warning signs of approaching madness.


But as people of conscience, we know that Never Again is not limited to Jews, it means Never Again for any one. From Gaza to Ferguson, Charlottesville to Indiana and everywhere in between.


A few weeks ago, The American Friends Service Committee, Jewish Voice for Peace, and all of us, watched in horror as white terrorist neo-nazis marched in the streets of Charlottesville.  The problem is, though: these acts of anti-black racism, anti-Muslim racism, anti-Semitism and nativism are neither new nor isolated.  


As we know, the news out of Charlottesville gained a lot of national attention, but we have to be clear on its nature.  It is really only the latest chapter in a book that must be named, again and again: White supremacy.  White supremacy that pervades our society.  White supremacy that devalues black and brown lives.  White supremacy that has been given official voice in several facets of our government.


And it is white supremacy that we must resist:  We cannot afford to condemn it as a fringe phenomenon.  


Instead, we — white people especially — must actively work to dismantle it in our streets and schools; our police departments and statehouses, our synagogues and our churches, and in our homes and our hearts.  


And we are heartbroken for the victims in Charlottesville, and for the daily victims of police brutality, systemic racism and marginalization.  But I am  also hopeful.  I am deeply moved and inspired by the tireless work and leadership of the people of color who are, and have always been, on the frontlines of the resistance movement. 


This weekend, with the looming uncertainty of DACA, we are reminded again of the humanity behind the talking points.  Of the 800,000 DACA recipients, children and families who are afraid, and yet continue to move forward, to show up, speak up and advocate for a more just and peaceful nation.  One in which black and brown lives matter as much as any other. 


A few years ago, when we had only been in Indianapolis a short time, Jewish Voice for Peace hosted an interfaith Passover Seder.  It was one of the first events that I did with the organization and it was attended by a widely diverse group of people- Jews, Muslims, Christians, Quakers.  We called it a Liberation Seder and focused much of the discussion on the on-going Occupation of Palestine and the need for peace and Justice in Palestine and Israel.  Part of the Seder was an opportunity for people to stand up and share their current justice work.  The overwhelming majority of those who stood to share were Quakers.  They had long lists of beautiful, non-glamorous justice work that seemed to be integral to their lives.


It was a powerful moment and a big part of the reason that I feel so lucky to now be working for the American Friends Service Committee, an organization that has been building peace and humanizing instead of militarizing for over 100 years.  I realized then that we are not all going to do everything, but we do have to do something.   Find some way to be in the world that helps amplify the voices of those in our society who are marginalized.  To stand behind those who are in the daily struggle for a more just, equitable and peaceful world.  Allow ourselves to be challenged and transformed by the struggle of solidarity and justice.


Last Spring I had the opportunity to hear the minister and Black Lives Matter activist Nyle Fort speak. He told us that, yes, we need resistance but we also need radical imagination- for, while the resistance tells us what we are working against, it is our collective imaginations tell us what we kind of world we are working for.  


So today- I thank you again for having me here in this beautiful space and I invite you to continue imagining and building peace and sharing your work as we transform together. 





8-27-17 Are You Listening?

Are You Listening?

Indianapolis First Friend

August 27, 2017

Bob Henry


Isaiah 51:1-11 (NRSV)

51 Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. 2Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many. 3For the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.


4Listen to me, my people, and give heed to me, my nation; for a teaching will go out from me, and my justice for a light to the peoples. 5I will bring near my deliverance swiftly, my salvation has gone out and my arms will rule the peoples; the coastlands wait for me, and for my arm they hope. 6Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and those who live on it will die like gnats; but my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended.



This week, I read through the text chosen for this day several times. I often read it in Lectio Divina style and read it over and over and allow specific words or phrases to speak to me to focus on.  This week, as I was listeningI heard God speaking these words in a more personal way and almost as though it was being re-written for us as we gather. So this morning, I will read the text we just heard again, but this time in a more personalized translation for our gathering this morning. You may want to close your eyes, if it helps you focus...


Listen, people of First Friends, you that seek God.

You are chips off the old blocks, Remember the names carved on those foundation blocks, George Fox, Elizabeth Fry, John Woolman, Susan B. Anthony, William Penn, Mary Dyer, Margaret Fell, and the list could go on, They make a quarry of great blocks from which we have been hewn. In the same way you are chips off the blocks of the greats. All the way back to Abraham and Sarah who were called and blessed and made many. God has always been wanting to comfort, nurture, and bless you. Yes, even you, who are living in difficult situations and unsafe times. God is comforting and renewing, bringing back to life, you and your community. There will again be laughter and smiles seen on your faces - and a song of thanks will play from your car radios and iPhones.


Listen, people of First Friends, and pay attention everyone in the entire United States and throughout the world. God’s words of hope have been delivered and have been sent out. God’s justice has become a beacon of light which now dwells within each of you.

God desires to swiftly deliver you from all that ails and destroys your world. A deliverance which saves you from wars, natural disasters, the evil of humankind, and your own mind. How will this be done, you ask? Instead of lifting up arms in war and wrath against you, God wants to embrace you with his arms of peace and give you hope.

Look up, and down, and all around for God is enveloping you in the midst of your pain, your struggles, your hurt. Don’t be crushed and die by the effects of those around you - those who discriminate, are greedy, who hate, rage war and live in anger. Instead, be embraced by the hope, peace, and joy of the saving grace of God. And in turn embrace neighbors, friends - even enemies - until they all experience God’s love and live in peace for ever.



I don’t know about you, but I think that is the message we need to hear in our world today.  Don’t you? 


This passage from Isaiah is filled with strong images of encouragement for people who have been through tough times.  I used to think that “tough times” were what other people went through - but as I have grown and matured, and experienced life, I have realized “tough times” can take on a variety of disguises - from difficult transitions, to depression, to loss of abilities, to technology challenges, to neighborhood and societal challenges, and yes, to the big things like death, sickness, unemployment and bankruptcy.


On my way home a couple nights ago, I was stuck in rush hour traffic on 69 listening to NPR.  The conversation revolved around the fastest growing killer in America [Pause] - social isolation.  Yes, you heard me right. Social isolation has surpassed some of the biggest killers in America. The study showed that,


“...people who spent very little time with friends and family, or at social events, were more likely to die regardless of income or health status,”  (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.)


It’s alarming - but it makes sense. We have become so busy, so obsessed with technology, so focused on societal issues and living the American dream, that we have missed the fact that people are isolated, lonely, neglected, and forgotten. 


A few years ago now, I was studying geriatrics and came across a study that talked about elderly people moving into nursing homes. It said that on the average, the last time an elderly person sees their family is on the day they are dropped off at the nursing home.


“Grandma and Grandpa (or mom and dad) are taken care of - so I now have more time to do what I need to do. I will get back to visit soon…” but that actually doesn’t happen. 


The elderly are not the most isolated though. Are you ready for this....Middle aged men are. Yes, you heard that correctly - middle aged men.


I could not believe at what an alarming rate middle aged men are becoming socially isolated. It has become rampant in the last 20 years.  Men wrap themselves in work, family, and technology and soon friends disappear...and quickly social isolation has enveloped them. This was a wake up call for me - as a middle aged man. 


But maybe this is a wake up call for all of us and our busy lives. Just maybe our “tough times” are because we are not engaging our friends, neighbors, our families, even our enemies.


●     We no longer know how to talk to each other.

●     We no longer spend time together - without our clocks ticking or phones dinging.

●     We no longer have time to relax, enjoy, and LISTEN. Media has our attention, our ears, our eyes, our lives. 


That is why our text for today is so relevant to our times - in both statements from our text this morning it begins with the word: LISTEN!


We are supposed to be good at this - we are Quakers.  We are all about expectant waiting and listening.  We have processes for listening and gaining clearness. This is considered one of our distinctives anddisciplines.


Looking a little deeper, listening actually means we have to stop, take a moment to evaluate and become aware again, and then respond.


Frederick Buechner, in his book, “Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation) describes it this way...


“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”


Listening to our lives will have us looking back to our origins, just like in our text for today - maybe we will need to explore our personal or family history, maybe our spiritual ancestors, maybe the people who have inspired us.  Doing that helps us remember who we are and reminds us of the promise that God has not abandoned us.  


When I was at Huntington University I had my students create a Spiritual Biography timeline. They were to mark where they recognized God active in their lives.  As they would present their timelines, many would share horrific struggles and difficult times that they had endured in such a short life span.  What amazed me was it was in those “tough times” that they would say they recognized God’s presence the most. Whether it was a parent, friend, relative, pastor, etc...they recognized it as God’s presence in their lives. God never abandoned them - even though they thought they were going through hell. And looking back, and listening to their lives they recognized it. 


We often have to look to our past to find hope for the future. With all that is going on in our world, I have been reading a lot of Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Desmond Tutu, and John Woolman lately. I even picked up a copy of Cornel West’s National Bestseller “Race Matters” from 1993 and could not believe how helpful it was for our current day.


The past can help us to see a way forward and remind us of what not to repeat.  And it most definitely shows us how God has used people to make a difference.     


The question is...are we listening? 


●      Are we listening to God?

●      Are we listening to each other?

●      Are we listening to our own lives?

●      Are we listening to history?

●      Are we listening?


Let me close as I opened this sermon with my personalized version of Isaiah 51:1-6 - let it be a call upon our lives to first listen and then respond. 


Listen, people of First Friends, you that seek God.

You are chips off the old blocks, Remember the names carved on those foundation blocks, George Fox, Elizabeth Fry, John Woolman, Susan B. Anthony, William Penn, Mary Dyer, Margaret Fell, and the list could go on, They make a quarry of great blocks from which we have been hewn. In the same way you are chips off the blocks of the greats. All the way back to Abraham and Sarah who were called and blessed and made many. God has always been wanting to comfort, nurture, and bless you. Yes, even you, who are living in difficult situations and unsafe times. God is comforting and renewing, bringing back to life, you and your community. There will again be laughter and smiles seen on your faces - and a song of thanks will play from your car radios and iPhones.


Listen, people of First Friends, and pay attention everyone in the entire United States and throughout the world. God’s words of hope have been delivered and have been sent out. God’s justice has become a beacon of light which now dwells within each of you.

God desires to swiftly deliver you from all that ails and destroys your world. A deliverance which saves you from wars, natural disasters, the evil of humankind, and your own mind. How will this be done, you ask? Instead of lifting up arms in war and wrath against you, God wants to embrace you with his arms of peace and give you hope.

Look up, and down, and all around for God is enveloping you in the midst of your pain, your struggles, your hurt. Don’t be crushed and die by the effects of those around you - those who discriminate, are greedy, who hate, rage war and live in anger. Instead, be embraced by the hope, peace, and joy of the saving grace of God. And in turn embrace neighbors, friends - even enemies - until they all experience God’s love and live in peace for ever.





8-20-17 Forget the Hand Sanitizer

“There is a God force inside of you that gives you a will to live.” 

Dick Gregory (Comedian of the Civil Rights Movement)


Forget the Hand-Sanitizer

August 20, 2017

Indianapolis First Friends

Bob Henry

Matthew 15:10-20 (NRSV)

10Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: 11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” 12Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 13He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 15But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”



The text for today is a parent’s nightmare.  Actually, what Jesus is teaching may cause my Kindergarten-teacher-wife a bit of alarm or anyone who considers themselves a germ-o-phobe. 


Let me explain...


Sue has hand sanitizer wherever we go. It is in our car, in her purse, she finds random dispensers on counters, outside bathrooms, at hospitals...she even collects ones with specific scents and in a variety of sizes for her purse, the driver door in our van, and throughout the home. The boys and I are always being asked to “hold out our hands” as though we are going to be handcuffed by the handwashing police only to be lathered with a squirt of cold and quickly evaporating solution. 


During VBS, this year, I found myself channeling my wife’s persistence to utilize the hand sanitizer before our snack time each night. Not one kid could have a snack without first lining up and taking care of this ever important ritual.


Now, my boys and I often give Sue a hard time, especially when we are in a hurry, or just getting in the car from a shopping excursion, or I am trying to drive with Germ-X dripping all over the steering wheel. But I understand her desire to not let sickness get transferred - actually during flu season, it has probably saved our lives - literally!  


So to have Jesus in the text this morning say, “to eat with unwashed hands does not defile” is almost words of heresy in our household and to good parents everywhere!


Now, I know there are studies that show both good and bad aspects of washing our hands and using hand sanitizer all the time, but that is not really the point that Jesus is addressing this morning.  Actually, this was more about defilement and law-keeping that kept those the Pharisees or Religious Leaders of Jesus’ day considered unfit to associate or fellowship with away from their contact.


Yes, you heard that correctly - washing hands and eating the proper food kept at distance the people the Pharisees did not want to associate with.  This was what we call today - discrimination.  And Jesus begins to break down the barriers...just listen to what he says…


“Listen and understand: 11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”


In one of the commentaries I read this week it said that in Jesus’ day “defilement meant being unfit for fellowship with God and his people.”


True “evil” defiles a person - not the food they eat.


Boy...I think that had the disciples kinda freakin’ out.  So much so, they thought it was time to pull Jesus aside and let him know that he was offending the religious leaders.  I am sure they thought they were doing the right thing.  Maybe it sounded like this.


Peter under his breath says, “Oh goodness, we better warn Jesus” because...well, I don’t want to be in trouble by association.” (an issue I believe Peter struggled with).  Peter then leans over to James and says, “Jesus has to know that he needs to soften his message, right? or maybe we need to help “spin” his words to make them say more of what the Pharisees want to hear. At this rate he is gonna get crucified. We better tell him.”  


So they proceed to interrupt his message and warn him, but Jesus continued explaining...


Now, Yes, the pharisees were probably just a bit taken aback by Jesus’ words. They would have known exactly what Jesus was implying by speaking of removing these unnecessary laws and prohibitions.


The food laws were actually in the Torah - the scriptures. So already this Jesus has committed theological suicide. He just told them that something in their Bible didn’t apply anymore - that’s a no-no. Thus the reason the disciples were so concerned.


But Jesus’ response is kind of multi-layered - and remember the crowd was still gathered around and most likely included the religious leaders, followers and naysayers, and also the disciples.


First Jesus, quickly dismissed the religious leaders and says their work is not God’s work - actually he goes even further and says that they are “blind leading the blind.”  What you talking about Jesus? He just slammed the religious leaders at the core of their being. In one text it is translated that Jesus said, “Just forget them - or let them go.” 


And he didn’t stop there, he implies that they should let them go and FORGIVE THEM, because really “they are just the blind leading the blind.”


I believe by this point Jesus has offended everyone in the room with his words.


No longer can Peter stay quiet and proceeds to ask, “Jesus you have some explainin’ to do.”


So Jesus addresses Peter by talking specifically about the mouth (something I believe Peter could again understand). Jesus says,


“Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.””  


One commentary says that Jesus appears to anticipate Freud's formulation of the id by about 1800 years in this one statement.


What Jesus was doing was actually summarizing the Ten Commandments in that list of words which can brew down deep in our hearts and come out and break our fellowship with God and our neighbor.  Get it?...this is why later Jesus will summarize the Ten Commandments into Two - Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.


All these other silly laws are simply keeping one from fellowship and acceptance of their neighbors. Jesus is saying...Eat what you want and if you don’t want to wash your hands - then so be it, but don’t use it to discriminate against your neighbor - know what is in your heart and share it through loving one another.


Now, let’s be honest.  The Church has been notorious for creating hoops to jump through to be accepted. As I have been hearing your stories, many of you gave up on the those hoops.  Many of you saw the way the church discriminated in history and said enough is enough. 


Discrimination is not simply a “black and white” issue. In 22 years of ministry I have encountered, and sadly participated many times unaware, in all kinds of isolation in the church.


James Watkins put together a “Top Ten” list of discriminations in the church - here is what he found:

10 - Age

9 - Tastes (especially musical)

8 - Physical and/or Mental Challenges

7 - Levels of education

6 - Denominational affiliation and/or doctrinal beliefs

5 - Gender and Sexuality

4 - Married, Divorced, Single, or Celibate

3 - Politics and Ideology

2 - Economics as well as what we often first think about…

1 - Race and Nationality


If we are going to stand up to discrimination in our world - we must start by looking at ourselves and also our own meeting. This will take some I will simply leave us with two queries to ponder this morning:


●     Explore what ways you discriminate in our daily lives, families, workplaces, schools, neighborhoods.

●     In what ways do we at First Friends’ (spoken or unspoken) discriminate to keep ourselves comfortable as a meeting? 



8-13-17 The Storms They Are a Brewin'

The Storms They Are A Brewin’

Bob Henry

Indianapolis First Friends

August 13, 2017

Matthew 14:22-33 (NRSV)

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land,[a] for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”


28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind,[b] he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”



As a kid, I always loved this story of Jesus walking on the water. I often hoped that one day I too would step into a pool, lake, or ocean and somehow be able to walk on water, sadly it hasn’t happened yet, and honestly, I am no longer trying.  Probably because if I only focus on that part of this story, I am most likely missing the importance of it all together. 


I had a professor who once said that we too easily get wrapped up in the miracles and divine instances of Jesus and skip right over the human aspects. Yet, it is often those human aspects that give us something to understand, relate to, and ultimately learn from. 


So this morning, I want to focus on what I think this text has been teaching us for quite some time about our daily lives. 


First, getting in a boat for the disciples was as ordinary as us getting in our cars to drive to work.  They knew the seas like we know the roads around our homes.  I am sure their boats often seemed to travel in the direction they wanted to go without a thought - much like the way we talk about our cars knowing how to get us home. 


The disciples...

●     were comfortable. 

●     knew the weather patterns. 

●     knew the warning signs.

●     were prepared, because...

●     were skilled fishermen.    


Yet, at the same time, Jesus was finishing the night’s lecture on the side of the hill and dismissing the crowds. I visualize an author’s book talk at Barnes and Noble where people are still mingling and wanting to get their book signed, yet Jesus has been on tour for some time and he is tired.  He just needs his space and some down time. I can relate to this Jesus.  He just wanted to put his feet up on a big rock, lean up on a tree and meditate to the sound of the evening bugs.  


Do you have this picture? 


Jesus is up on the mountain, most likely looking over the sea in which the disciples have just ventured out on. He most likely was aware of the storm that was a brewin’ because from his vantage point he could literally see it coming.  


I kind of assume that Jesus, as many of us, laid back, watched the storm come in, but in his exhaustion fell asleep.  Like I said, this is the Jesus I can relate to.


Yet, throughout the night as Jesus rested his eyes, the disciples fought for their lives.  This was not the usual storm.  Different texts scribe the storm’s impact in different ways.  Some say it battered the boat, others say it tossed the boat, one even says it buffeted the boat.  Stephen Tinkner says those aren’t strong enough words. He says,


“Actually, the original Greek goes further. The word used in the Matthean text is actually basinizo, meaning to torture. It conveys a sense of human suffering because it is used in some ancient Greek texts to express the application of torture to someone. So it is the middle of the night, the disciples are surrounded by a darkness we modern day light polluted people can’t understand, they are likely on a small boat, and a violent storm has surrounded and engulfed them. We can only imagine the fear pulsing through these disciple’s veins as the storm engulfs their lives.”


This was intense, folks.  


So maybe it was thunder or a bolt of lightening that jolted Jesus from his much deserved rest and meditation.  But the text says that Jesus went to them early in the morning. Many people immediately think it is dawn or as the sun is coming up, but I sense it was probably more like two or three in the morning and still pitch black (remember there were no lights on the boat, or lighthouses on land).


When people are under such stress and torture with very little sleep.  Well, you know...they don’t see things right. They had probably been fighting for their lives for hours in complete darkness, their internal clocks, their internal navigation, their nerves all had left them.  They had been battered, tossed, buffeted, and tortured - this was not what they were used to.  


Actually, it was custom that fisherman crossed a sea by staying in sight of land and traveling around the perimeter of the sea - instead of going straight across.  The text says that by the time Jesus realizes what is going on their boat was far from the land.  They were probably a bit discombobulated, but from Jesus’ vantage point, he could have seen their exact location through the lightening strikes or possible moonlight. 


Did Jesus walk on water to get to them - or did he appear to walk on water? Maybe he was on the shore and to them he appeared to walk on the water.  This is beside the point. 


The important thing is that he knew where they were and met them in their distress and urged them through their fear.


Let’s just pause at this point and turn this story on ourselves.  


Have you ever encountered a storm in your life that you were not expecting?  Not the ones that arise on occasion that we know how to get through or maybe even have taken precautions or made preparations for, but that unexpected storm that batters, and tosses, and buffets our lives leaving us feeling tortured and helpless?


The storm that…

●     knocks you off your feet. 

●     distorts your vision and abilities. 

●     has you crying out, SAVE ME!


❏    Maybe it was a marriage or relationship that took a bad turn.

❏    Maybe it was a deep depression or even suicidal thoughts that took over your mind.

❏    Maybe it was trouble or a struggle with a child or parent that was out of your control.

❏    Maybe it was a work situation that turned people against you.


And not all of these unexpected storms have to be personal.  


Societal storms surround us as well.

❏    Like the storm of impending nuclear war which has arisen in our world just recently.

❏    Or how about more recently - just yesterday - the storms of racism in Charlotteville,

❏    Or how about misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, that are gripping our world.

❏    Or storms of financial collapse, police brutality, economic inequality, human trafficking, lack of educational opportunities, impending pipelines on sacred ground…


And the list of storms could go on. 


We seem surrounded all the time by impending new storms that we are not expecting. Storms that when they arise debilitate us, consume us, and have us and our neighborhoods, and even faith communities incapacitated and crying out to be saved!


What Jesus asked of the disciples was rather risky.  He asked the disciples in this moment of utter unraveling to be bold, to step out, to not doubt their potential?


Fear often grips us, leaving us paralized. We default to survival. But God wants more of us than mere survival.  He wants us to step out and be bold and believe that we can make a difference in the midst of the storm.


I like how Stephen Tickner in a blog post described this boldness, he said,


“You see boldness isn’t arrogance, boldness isn’t bravado, boldness is what Dr. [Martin Luther] King [Jr.] called “creative maladjustment.” It’s having the courage to say and do the unbelievable, the counter-cultural, because we are strengthened in the fact that we are following in the path of, and trying to live like, Jesus.”


Peter was having a moment of creative maladjustment on and outside that boat.


Maybe Jesus is asking of us the same.  Maybe we need a “creative malajustment” to overcome the storms of our lives. 


❏    We need to say, we can make a difference in our marriages or family situations.

❏    We need to say, we are going to get help for our depression or suicidal thoughts.

❏    We need to say, we will make our workplaces better. 


And just maybe we as Quakers need some creative maladjustments.


It has been far too long…


❏    We need to say NO to racism in this country - that white supremacy is NOT accepted and hate is not the way to a better world.

❏      We need to say, we will stand against nuclear weapons and war and fight for peace.

❏    We need to say, we will speak up against misogyny, homophobia, and Islamophobia, police brutality, economic inequality, human trafficking, the lack of educational opportunities, impending pipelines on sacred ground…and the list could go on.


And just maybe we need to say, we believe we can take all this hatred in the world and transform it with love.


This is what Spiritual Guide Wayne Dyer often speaks about. He says,


“Transformation literally means going beyond your form.” 


This is what Jesus was asking of Peter and the rest of the disciples, and what God is asking of us.  Through the storms we must boldly go beyond our form to be transformed and to help transform this world.


One who went beyond his form and through many unexpected storms to transform this world was Martin Luther King Jr. and I would like to conclude this morning with his words:


“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality...I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”