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2-18-18 - The Humble Learner

The Humble Learner

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

February 18, 2018

Romans 14:5-12 (MSG)

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

 

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

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

 

Read it for yourself in Scripture:

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

I think it is important to hear what our text said for this morning:

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

●     Worship styles

●     Social, political, and theological views and change.

●     The end times.

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

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

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

●     And the list could go on…

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

●     Not just Sunday!

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

●     Not just when things are going good.

●     Not just when I get my way.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Folks, we are not the master of others.

●     We may want to be at times.

●     We may think we are at times.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

So back to our text - Paul says,

 

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

 

“As I live and breathe,” God says,

    “every knee will bow before me;

Every tongue will tell the honest truth

    that I and only I am God.””

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

So Paul wraps this up rather simply. 

 

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

 

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

 

So ask yourself this morning…

 

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

 

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

 

 

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2-4-18 - Be The Shepherd

Be The Shepherd

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

February 4, 2018

 

 John 10:11-16 (NRSV)

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“The Lord is my shepherd.” 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

   

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The Lord is my constant companion.

There is no need that He cannot fulfill.

Whether His course for me points

          to the mountaintops of glorious ecstacy

or to the valley of human suffering,

He is by my side,

He is ever present with me.

He is close beside me.

          when I tread the dark streets of danger,

          and when I flirt with death itself,

          He will not leave me.

When the pain is severe,

          He is near to comfort.

When the burden heavy,

          He is there to lean upon.

When depression darkens my soul,

          He touches me with eternal joy.

When I feel empty and alone,

          He fills the aching vacuum with His power.

My security is in His promise

          to be near to me always,

          and in the knowledge

          that He will never let me go. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

“Yes, Master, you know I love you.”

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

 

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

“Yes, Master, you know I love you.”

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

●     Shepherds in our families [Feed my children]

●     Shepherds in our neighborhoods [Feed my neighbors]

●     Shepherds in our workplaces [Feed my workers]

●     Shepherds in our schools [Feed my students]

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

●     Shepherds in our Scout Troops [Feed my scouts]

●     Shepherds in our Meeting [Feed ONE ANOTHER]

 

BE THE SHEPHERD!

 

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

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

The Gravity of God’s Love

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

January 28, 2018

 

Romans 8:31-39

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

 

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

    we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The Satellite by Anthony DeMello

 

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

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

 

Because of it the bird flies in the sky,

Mountains are held in place,

Leaves flutter to the ground,

Planets are kept in orbit.

 

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

 

Scenes of suffering flash though my mind:

Torture chambers;

Concentration camps;

The ravages of famine;

Scenes of war;

Of hospitals;

And of accidents;

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

 

I conjure up a thousand painful scenes

From the history of my life:

Of boredom and frustration;

Of pain, anxiety, rejection;

Of meaninglessness and despair;

And in every scene I sense his silent presence.

 

I see his power like gravity.

In every nook and corner of the world:

No place in space,

No point in time

Escapes, for it is all pervasive.

 

Then I see his love to be like gravity:

I hear Paul’s cry that nothing in creation

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

 

I remember with emotion

The times I fought his love

-- in vain, for love is irresistible!

 

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

The pull, like gravity, could not be felt.

But at some blessed moments

That I now recall with joy

The tug could not be missed.

 

When was the pull last felt?

 

Not yesterday? Why not?

 

I end by letting go,

Succumbing to this power of divinity,

As my body does to gravity.

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Romans 8:31-39

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

 

They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

●     Our troubles

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

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

●     Our famines (physically or spiritually or mentally)

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

DO I BELIEVE I AM LOVED BY GOD? 

 

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

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

Remember That You Are An Original

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

January 21, 2018

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

●     Who am I?

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

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

 

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

 

Galatians 5:25-26 (The Message) 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Does this sound familiar to you?  [Pause]

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

●     If only I had her/his good looks.

●     If only I had their money.

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

●     If only I had her/his knowledge.

●     If only I had _____________fill in the blank.

 

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

 

●     Are we willing to experience that as well? 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

We are…

●     Holy

●     Chosen

●     Treasured possession

●     Royal priesthood

●     Called out of darkness to Light

●     Faithful

●     Needed

●     Indispensable

●     Gifted

●     Dispensers of God’s grace.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What is our calling?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

●     Who am I?

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

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

 

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1-14-18 Is Your Heart Right?

Is Your Heart Right?

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

January 14, 2018

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

If I can help somebody as I pass along,

If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,

If I can show somebody he's traveling wrong,

Then my living will not be in vain.

If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,

If I can bring salvation to a world once wrought,

If I can spread the message as the master taught,

Then my living will not be in vain.


 

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

 

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


 

Psalm 139

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

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

   you discern my thoughts from far away.

3 You search out my path and my lying down,

   and are acquainted with all my ways.

4 Even before a word is on my tongue,

   O Lord, you know it completely.

5 You hem me in, behind and before,

   and lay your hand upon me.

6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

   it is so high that I cannot attain it.

7 Where can I go from your spirit?

   Or where can I flee from your presence?

8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;

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

9 If I take the wings of the morning

   and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,

10 even there your hand shall lead me,

   and your right hand shall hold me fast.

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

   and the light around me become night,”

12 even the darkness is not dark to you;

   the night is as bright as the day,

   for darkness is as light to you.

13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;

   you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

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

   Wonderful are your works;

that I know very well.

15     My frame was not hidden from you,

when I was being made in secret,

   intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.

In your book were written

   all the days that were formed for me,

   when none of them as yet existed.

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

   How vast is the sum of them!

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

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

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

   and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—

20 those who speak of you maliciously,

   and lift themselves up against you for evil![

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

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

22 I hate them with perfect hatred;

   I count them my enemies.

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

   test me and know my thoughts.

24 See if there is any wicked way in me,

   and lead me in the way everlasting.

 

           

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

A Fire that Lights, Kindles, and Burns

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

January 7, 2018

 

Matthew 3:10-17 (VOICE)

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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





 

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

 

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

  • cutting down and tossing into the fire

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

  • burning the chaff with a fire

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And finally…

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

A fire in our souls           

  • that lights and guides our journey.

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

  • that burns away the false and leaves the true

 

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

  • To be thrust, plunged, or thrown into

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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


 

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12-31-17 Life That is Truly Life in 2018

Life That is Truly Life in 2018

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

December 31, 2017

 

1 Timothy 6:6-19 (MSG)

6-8 A devout life does bring wealth, but it’s the rich simplicity of being yourself before God. Since we entered the world penniless and will leave it penniless, if we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, that’s enough.

 

9-10 But if it’s only money these leaders are after, they’ll self-destruct in no time. Lust for money brings trouble and nothing but trouble. Going down that path, some lose their footing in the faith completely and live to regret it bitterly ever after.

 

11-12 But you, Timothy, man of God: Run for your life from all this. Pursue a righteous life—a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy. Run hard and fast in the faith. Seize the eternal life, the life you were called to, the life you so fervently embraced in the presence of so many witnesses.

 

13-16 I’m charging you before the life-giving God and before Christ, who took his stand before Pontius Pilate and didn’t give an inch: Keep this command to the letter, and don’t slack off. Our Master, Jesus Christ, is on his way. He’ll show up right on time, his arrival guaranteed by the Blessed and Undisputed Ruler, High King, High God. He’s the only one death can’t touch, his light so bright no one can get close. He’s never been seen by human eyes—human eyes can’t take him in! Honor to him, and eternal rule! Oh, yes.

 

17-19 Tell those rich in this world’s wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they’ll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life.

 

________________________

 

With all that is happening in our world and in the news on the cusp of a New Year, I continue to ask myself some difficult questions.  Some are “why?” - others I am unable to even vocalize or develop as the atrocities of our world continue to unfold.  As I continue to try and ponder this, I ask myself, “What can I do? What can we do? What can Quakers do?”  This may be the same for you as well – and I am beginning to realize that this is a global issue.

Leadership and Organizational expert, Margaret Wheatley in the beginning of her book, “Turning to One Another” says the following…

 

“As I listen to many people, in many countries, I’m convinced we are disturbed by similar things, I’ve listened carefully to many comments, and included some of them here.  Taken as a whole, they paint a picture of people everywhere troubled by these times, questioning, what the future holds. Here are some of the comments and feelings I’ve heard expressed:”

 

See if what she has heard resonates with your own feelings deep down…

●     Problems keep getting bigger; they’re never solved. We solve one and it only creates more.

●     I never learn why something happened.  Maybe nobody knows, maybe it’s a conspiracy to keep us from knowing.

●     There’s more violence now, and it’s affecting people I love.

●     Who can I believe? Who will tell me what’s really going on?

●     Things are out of control and only getting worse.

●     I have no time for my family anymore. I’m living a life I don’t like.

●     I worry about my children. What will the world be like for them?

 

“Confronted with so much uncertainty and irrationality, how can we feel hopeful about the future? And this degree of uncertainty is affecting us personally.  It’s changing how we act and feel.  I notice in myself and others. We’re more cynical, impatient, fearful, angry, defensive, anxious; more likely to hurt those we love.”

 

If this is true and resonates with how the world is feeling, our text may get down to the fundamentals of how to begin making a shift.  Something I want us to consider as we head into 2018.

 

In our text…we find Paul writing to Timothy to advise and counsel him on ministry.  Most of Paul's epistles were written to churches (thus the names Corinthians Ephesians, Philippians, etc..), but 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon were written to individuals.

In this first letter to Timothy, Paul focuses his attention on several main subjects.

●     Law

●     Prayer

●     Bishops and Deacons

●     Advice to young pastors

●     And finally…Faithful Living.

 

Paul was often more radical than we allow him to be.  And often his writing has been more studied and even followed than the actual life and ministry of Jesus.  I think for this morning, we need to take a look at what Paul is presenting us from three different vantage points.

 

  1. What is Paul telling Timothy about how he should live?
  2. What is Paul telling Timothy about God/Jesus?
  3. What are we to glean from this last part of Paul’s letter for our questioning condition?

 

Before we break this down, I want to share something with you that may help put this in perspective.  About a year ago, Sue and I had the opportunity to hear author and speaker, Brian McLaren at Trinity Cathedral in Portland where he was  talking about his latest book, “The Great Spiritual Migration.”  In one part of his talk he shared the following…

 

“Founders are typically generous, visionary, bold, and creative, but the religions that ostensibly carry on their work often become the opposite: constricted, change-averse, nostalgic, fearful, obsessed with boundary maintenance, turf battles, and money. Instead of greeting the world with open arms as their founders did, their successors stand guard with clenched fists.  Instead of empowering others as their founder did, they hoard power. Instead of defying tradition and unleashing moral imagination as their founders did, they impose tradition and refuse to think outside the lines.  A religion that cuts itself off from the example of its founder while still bearing the founder’s name often becomes little more than a chaplaincy for other ideologies, offering its services to the highest bidder. No wonder so many religious folks today wear down, burn out, and opt out.“

 

As Brian shared those words, I was immediately taken to our text for this morning.  Much like Jesus and the disciples, Paul (also considered a founder of our faith) was bestowing on his apprentice, Timothy, the fundamentals of pastoral ministry, but even more a warning on how one is to live the faithful  life with integrity and impact.

 

Paul told Timothy…

 

Remember to be yourself (who God created you to be!)  – something we all have a problem with in our world.  Too often we want to be anyone but ourselves.  And when we are not living our life out of the Imago Dei or the image of God inside us – we live a life that creates anything but what Paul describes as a “Righteous life.”

 

Instead we become what Brian described, “constricted, change-averse, nostalgic, fearful, obsessed with boundary maintenance, turf battles, and [yes] money.”  Paul warned Timothy of this and many pastors and followers of Christ in general need to head his warning…

 

“Lust for money brings trouble and nothing but trouble. Going down that path, some lose their footing in the faith completely and live to regret it bitterly ever after.”

Money as well as its partners…power and control are far from the life that Jesus modeled…and Paul wants Timothy to know that going down that path leads to destruction.

 

Instead, Paul encourages Timothy to “Run for your life from all of this.”

This is coming from a man who was a living example of this very phrase.  Paul himself had to turn from the money, power, control, manipulation and law-oriented nature of being a leader in the Sanhedrin.  Paul understood the sacrificial nature of becoming a leader in the birthing church. And his example was Jesus Christ himself.  And so he gives a charge to Timothy…

 

13-16 I’m charging you before the life-giving God and before Christ, who took his stand before Pontius Pilate and didn’t give an inch: Keep this command to the letter, and don’t slack off. Our Master, Jesus Christ, is on his way. He’ll show up right on time, his arrival guaranteed by the Blessed and Undisputed Ruler, High King, High God. He’s the only one death can’t touch, his light so bright no one can get close. He’s never been seen by human eyes—human eyes can’t take him in! Honor to him, and eternal rule! Oh, yes. Only a man who has stood his ground on what he believes.  A man who embraced the wonder, was faithful, who loved beyond explanation, who set a steady course and did it all with honor and courtesy – this was a Righteous and Holy Man – this was Jesus folks! 

 

And what Paul is saying is that when we live like Jesus - what Paul calls the eternal life, it brings the eternal into the NOW.

 

Paul’s warning seems rather simple.

●     Don’t be full of yourself.

●     Don’t be obsessed with money or __________ (fill in the blank).

 

Rather be like Jesus…live with

●     Wonder

●     Faith

●     Love

●     Steadiness

●     Courtesy

 

And as Paul finishes his first letter to Timothy, he says…

 

“Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they’ll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life.”

 

Margaret Wheatley realized that life comes from us making a change in how we act and feel and how we respond to those around us.  After she asked “What can we do now to restore hope to the future?” she said this…

 

“I’ve found that I can only change how I act if I stay aware of my beliefs and assumptions. Thoughts always reveal themselves in behavior.  As humans, we often contradict ourselves – we say one thing and do another.  We state who we are, but then act contrary to that.  We say we’re open minded, but then judge someone for their appearance. We say we’re a team, but then gossip about a colleague. If we want to change our behavior, we need to notice our actions, and see if we can uncover the belief that led to that response.”

 

I think as Quakers in our world today, we need to get honest and ask ourselves some tough queries:

 

●     Are we contradicting ourselves? Do we act contrary to that in which we are called by God?

●     Are we truly being ourselves?

●     Are we trying to do good?

●     Are we being rich in helping others?

●     Are we extravagantly generous?

 

These are the queries I want us to ponder as we head into 2018.

 

Just maybe if we were doing those things well, we would not have so much worry in our lives.  Maybe those problems wouldn’t seem so difficult.  Maybe there would be less violence and more love and people would be valued above the color of their skin, their political power, or marketable influence in our world. Maybe there would be less conspiracy and more trust among us.  And just maybe we would find more time for what really matters – like our family, friends, and community.

 

Or better yet, as Paul (through the eyes of Eugene Peterson) put it,

 

Just maybe we will gain a “life that is truly life.” 

 

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12-10-17 The Love We Are Made For

The Love We Are Made For

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

December 5, 2017

Luke 1:39-55  (p. 831 in the pew Bibles)

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be[e] a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

 

46 And Mary[f] said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

    and holy is his name.

50 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 powerful from their thrones,

    and lifted up the lowly;

53 he has filled the hungry with good things,

    and sent the rich away empty.

54 He has helped his servant Israel,

    in remembrance of his mercy,

55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,

    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

56 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

 

 

Our text for this morning includes this beautiful song, or what I consider more of a “spoken word” thrown down (as they say) by Mary as she declares a subversive and revolutionary message.

 

I think too often we “nice-it-over” and soften the edges of this rather gritty message from Mary.  Over the years we have put Mary’s words to classical music or a specific tune and kind of taken the bite away from the message.

 

Rev. Carolyn Sharp put it so well when she said,

 

“Don’t envision Mary as the radiant woman peacefully composing the Magnificat.”  Instead see her as “a girl who sings defiantly to her God through her tears, fists clenched against an unknown future… Mary’s courageous song of praise [becomes] a radical resource for those seeking to honor the holy amid the suffering and conflicts of real life.”

 

Over the years, I have come to hear Mary’s Magnificat not in classical tunes or peaceful soft voices, but rather in the voice and soul of my black sisters of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the inner city of Chicago where I used to teach the Bible.

 

In my mind, I envision Mary as a young black woman declaring justice, freedom, and hope for her world, instead of the pale white Mary wrapped in baby blue quietly singing in the corner that we are used to seeing depicted on Christmas cards. I see a strong woman with arms flaring, fists raised, wild bodily movements, beads of sweat forming on her brow, and a strong voice throwing down those magnificent words from Luke 1:46-55.

 

The main reason I hear Mary in this way, is because these words are rather loaded words from Mary.  Actually, these words have had a rather big impact on the church and even our modern world. Did you know that:

 

 

●     Mary’s Song (The Magnificat) has been part of the Church’s liturgy or program since its earliest days of Christianity.  [It was that important.]

 

●     For centuries, members of religious orders have recited or sung these words on a daily basis. Along with the Song of Creation, The Song of Praise, The Song of Zechariah, the Song of Simeon, the Glory in Excelsis, and the Te Deum – the Magnificat is the only song used by the universal church which was written by a women.

 

●     It is the longest set of words spoken by a woman in the New Testament.

 

●     It is also the first Christmas carol ever composed.

 

●     Parts of Mary’s Magnificat echo the song of Hannah (found in 1 Samuel 2:1-10) and are also reminiscent of the anguish of the prophets of the Old Testament.

 

●     And get this - are you listening...In the past century, there were at least three separate instances of governments banning the public recitation of the Magnificat.  Its message, they feared, was too subversive.

1.   During the British rule of India, the Magnificat was prohibited from being sung in church.

2.   In the 1980s, Guatemala’s government discovered Mary’s words about God’s preferential love for the poor to be too dangerous and revolutionary. The song had been creating quite the stirring amongst Guatemala’s impoverished masses.  Mary’s words were inspiring the Guatemalan poor to believe that change was indeed possible.  Thus their government banned any public recitation of Mary’s words.

3.    Similarly, after the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo—whose children all disappeared during the Dirty War—placed the Magnificat’s words on posters throughout the capital plaza, the military junta of Argentina outlawed any public display of Mary’s song.

 

Even the German theologian Dietrich Bonheoffer recognized the revolutionary nature of Mary’s song.  Before being executed by the Nazis, Bonheoffer spoke the following words in a sermon during Advent 1933:

 

“The song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings.…This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind.”

From “The Subversive Magnificat: What Mary Expected

The Messiah To Be Like” on the Website EnemyLove.com

 

Now, it is important for us to understand the context of Mary’s song.  We heard in our scripture reading that Mary was visiting her relative Elizabeth. Yet the reality was she was escaping the ridicule and possible retribution of her neighbors, family, and community for being an unwed pregnant teenage girl.

 

Scripture even tells us that the situation was grim enough that Joseph had planned to call the wedding off quietly. He did not want Mary humiliated or become a social outcast.

 

And to take the story up a serious notch, the reality was that according to Jewish Law Mary could have actually been stoned for adultery.

 

Mary is humbled by the realization that the God of the Universe is up to something and that she has been chosen to be his vessel. She senses things changing, literally being turned upside down. Her difficult life of growing up as a vulnerable woman, economically poor, and living in an oppressive world under Herod and the Roman Empire was being turned around. 

 

I believe her Magnificat was a cry of freedom and hope for a new world.   This was the cry of…

 

●     Mary who grew up economically poor.

●     Mary who was a teenage bride-to-be that was pregnant making her a social outcast.

●     Mary who gave birth to Jesus in a homeless situation.

●     Mary who fled with her family as refugees to a strange land because a religious and military power were threatening them.

 

And this is about a God who knows her condition. Who wants to meet her in her humanity.  Who wants her to identity with Him.

 

And the same is true for us. God wants us to listen to Mary’s Song – and proclaim it today.

 

As Reverend Anne Emry wrote in on her blog, Sacred Story,

 

“Mary’s song rings in our ears, and calls us to disrupt the hold violence has on our world. She sings of a future where all children are safe from violence. She sings of a future where people have homes and food and jobs. Her words are in solidarity with us. She sees to the far horizon and sings of the coming reign of God. We will be fed, and we will feed others. We will be blessed and we will bless others. We will receive justice, and we will do justice to others. All things are possible with God.”

Mary’s Song is timely for us in our day and age – as much as it was in her day.  The beauty of Mary’s Magnificat is that it is our song as well.  Her passion and words, should flow from us as a hopeful message to our world, today.  The queries I continue to ponder are…

 

Are we bold enough to proclaim Mary’s Song today?

…in our political climate?

…with the troubles in our world with race, gender, and economic inequalities?

…with a religious fervor that is focused on being right and creating “us vs. them” mentalities?  

 

If so, it is going to have to be done in Love. 

 

This week as I was researching the text, I came across a modern rendition of the Magnificat by Joy Cowley.  I would like to close our time with sharing this version (it is actually part of the art on the front of our bulletins this morning).  There is one line in it that I believe sums up Mary’s intent and ours… Joy Cowley writes...

"It’s the Love that we are made for…"

 

Mary knew this truth and so must we as we proclaim this important message again to our world. It’s being the Love of God to our world that we are made for this Season of Awakening.  Listen to this beautiful modernized version of the Magnificat.

 

 

 

Modern Magnificat  by Joy Cowley

 

My soul sings in gratitude.

I’m dancing in the mystery of God.

The light of the Holy One is within me

and I am blessed, so truly blessed.

 

This goes deeper than human thinking.

I am filled with awe

at Love whose only condition

is to be received.

 

The gift is not for the proud,

for they have no room for it.

The strong and self-sufficient ones

don’t have this awareness.

 

But those who know their emptiness

can rejoice in Love’s fullness.

It’s the Love that we are made for,

the reason for our being.

 

It fills our inmost heart space

and brings to birth in us, the Holy One.

 

 

Ask yourself, this morning:

 

How will I share the important message of Mary’s Song this Advent?

Who needs to hear it, today?

 

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12-3-17 A Season of Awakening

A Season of Awakening

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

December 3, 2017

Ephesians 5:14-16 (VOICE)

13-14 When the light shines, it exposes even the dark and shadowy things and turns them into pure reflections of light. This is why they sing,

 

Awake, you sleeper!

    Rise from your grave,

And the Anointed One will shine on you.

 

15 So be careful how you live; be mindful of your steps. Don’t run around like idiots as the rest of the world does. Instead, walk as the wise! 16 Make the most of every living and breathing moment because these are evil times.

 

 

If you grew up in a different faith tradition than among Friends or Quakers, you may have been introduced to the season of Advent. The actual word, “Advent,” comes from the Latin and means “coming.” I grew up in liturgical churches which all celebrated these four weeks leading up to Christmas day as a season of preparation for the coming of Jesus and his birth - with churches arrayed in royal purples or blue for the Coming King and an Advent Wreath with four candles to count down the Sundays until the big celebration. 

 

If you did not know, Advent is observed by many Christian churches including some Quakers. I personally have considered it one of the most Quakerly seasons in the more formal church year because it is known to focus on expectant waiting and preparation - two things that Quakers consider very important to their faith.

 

As I have been pondering this time of expectant waiting and preparation this year, I have had a different word that begins with the letter “A” on my mind. 

 

That word is “awakening.” 

 

A word that has become popular in several circles over the last couple of years. If you are a Star Wars fan like me, you will obviously remember it’s use in the title of the 7th installment of the franchise, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” and then all the subsequent trailers stating that “There has been an awakening.”   

 

Yet, if you take some time and look into the definition of “awakening” you will come across this important definition, which I believe may describe this time leading up to Christmas even more appropriately.

 

The definition says that awakening is coming into existence or awareness.”

 

What if we looked at the next couple weeks as a Season of Awakening?  While others celebrate Advent - First Friends will celebrate a Season of Awakening.

 

Doesn’t it seem appropriate when thinking about Jesus being born into this world? And wasn’t Jesus coming into existence and bringing a new awareness to our world? 

 

The incarnation of Jesus was awaking the world to a new way of seeing. It says in scripture that he was reconciling the people to God and to their neighbors and making them aware of the importance of unconditional love.

 

As well, this coming of Jesus was shedding a new light on things. We often refer to Jesus as the Light of the World. Jesus was born into this world to shed light on our dark places and to awaken the light within each of us.

 

What if each Christmas Light that we decorate our homes and trees with and each candle that is lit was a reminder of Jesus’ life and ministry and how we too are called to live that awakened life in this world. It just might have us seeing our lives, and especially, our neighbors in a different light (pun intended).   

 

This was exactly what Jesus spoke of in his first sermon in his hometown synagogue.  Listen to his words as he quoted from Isaiah.

 

God’s Spirit is on me;

    he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,

Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and

    recovery of sight to the blind,

To set the burdened and battered free,

    to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”

 

Jesus was announcing an awakening!

 

He awoke the people of his day not only to see just the prisoners, the blind, the burdened and battered (no, that was only the beginning). Jesus would go on to awaken us to the poor, the widows, the orphans, the women, the outcasts, the neglected, and the people from other cultures and races - even the despised Samaritans or what soon he would categorize as all the gentiles (non-Jews).  

 

Folks, Jesus was awakening a world to God’s Kingdom where ALL people were included and respected, and loved. The veil would be torn and the table set for us to commune together.  This would have been amazingly good news to a world that was suffering from oppressive militant governments, who thought women were possessions, who swept the sick, the diseased, the crippled, and the unclean outside the city gates.

 

Hmmm...sadly that sounds an awful lot like our world, still today.

 

Yet, I am optimistic. I sense an awakening happening in our world. God is shedding again his light on our darkness. His ways are coming into existence again and we are becoming aware of the hurt we have caused by not being able to see our neighbors as ourselves. God is awakening our inner lights, he is fanning our flames, and calling us to be his ambassadors to a hurting world. 

 

This morning as we head into waiting worship, ask yourselves,     

 

How am I preparing for the awakening that is happening in this world? Who around me is being neglected or treated poorly? Who is in need of a little respect or a blessing of love this Christmas? Who needs an awakening?  

 

May these be our gifts this Awakening Season and throughout this year!    

 

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11-19-17 Becoming the One Who Was Grateful

Becoming the One Who Was Grateful

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

November 19, 2017

 

Let us begin this morning by taking a moment to “Center Down” – to calm our hearts, our minds, our lives.  To help you focus on more “happy thoughts” – what I would like for you to do is think about the following query.

Who are you the most grateful/thankful for, today? Why?

So take some time to allow your mind and life to settle, then ask yourself this query.  We will close this centering time by having Dan Rains read our scripture for this morning.

 

Luke 17:11-19 (VOICE)

11 Jesus was still pressing toward Jerusalem, taking a road that went along the border between Samaria (considered undesirable territory) and Galilee. 12 On the outskirts of a border town along this road, He was greeted from a distance by a group of 10 people who were under quarantine because of an ugly and disgusting skin disease known as leprosy.

Lepers (shouting across the distance): 13 Jesus, Master, show mercy to us!

Jesus: 14 Go now and present yourselves to the priests for inspection of your disease.

They went, and before they reached the priests, their skin disease was healed, leaving no trace of the disease that scarred them and separated them from the community.

15 One of them, the instant he realized he had been healed, turned and ran back to Jesus, shouting praises to God. 16 He prostrated himself facedown at Jesus’ feet.

Leper: Thank You! Thank You!

Now this fellow happened to be, not a Jew, but a Samaritan.

Jesus: 17 Didn’t all ten receive the same healing this fellow did? Where are the other nine? 18 Was the only one who came back to give God praise an outsider? 19 (to the Samaritan man) Get up, and go your way. Your faith has made you healthy again.

 

 

 

Our text for this morning is a familiar story from the Gospels. It is often considered the “Healing of the Lepers” but this morning – I would like to focus less on the miraculous healing and more on the gratitude/thankfulness of the one leper – as I believe it has a great lesson for us today – and our world.

 

First, let me give us some background. Lepers were known to congregate together outside the city gates. They were considered social and religious outcasts because of their disease. Their only company and help was from each other. Thus, they created what we still call “Leper Colonies.” This is important to place Jesus geographically.

 

When speaking of lepers and the outcast meant immediately that Jesus was probably on a border. Actually, our text says that Jesus was on the border of Galilee and Samaria. This is very important to this story.

 

Dick Harfield on his blog “Answers” explains this, he says,

The Samaritans, or Samarians, came from the province of Samaria, formerly the Hebrew kingdom of Israel before its destruction in 722 BCE. The Samaritans would have been of mixed race, descendants of the original Israelites and the immigrants whom the Assyrians brought in to replace the Israelites who had been deported. They shared a common Hebrew heritage with the Jews.

Samaritans were related to the Jewish bloodlines. You could call them "cousins," as it were, of the Jews. Geographically, they were neighbors of the Jews. However, they did not follow the Jewish teachings, so they were viewed by the Jews as apostates. That is why the Jews did not associate with Samaritans.

 

Remember Jesus was a Jew from Galilee. So his family would have raised him with a racist bias against the Samaritans. Just ponder that a moment.

Yet, it is Jesus, who wherever possible, shows us a sensitivity toward racial justice as it relates to the Samaritans – which would have been unheard of and actually problematic for him.

 

The Jews and the Samaritans were involved in an internal family war – violence, hatred, horrific discrimination, had been dividing factors among these two people groups for quite some time.

 

And then comes Jesus across the borders from Galilee to Samaria.  Which it says in the Bible he did on several occasions, sometimes to the displeasure of the disciples and those watching him. Folks, it is historically documented that by the time Jesus was on the face of the earth, the Jews and the Samaritans had hated each other for at least 200 years. 

 

With all we know of this non-existent relationship between the groups, Jesus has the audacity to often mention Samaritans, talk to Samaritans, and even heal Samaritans.

 

This would be unacceptable by the Jewish leaders of his time.  This might have actually caused Jesus more trouble than blasphemy or healing on the Sabbath.  Because to associate with a Samaritan – was beyond ok – it would mean you too were unclean.

 

Yet Jesus would tell a parable where the Samaritan was the hero (we title it “The Good Samaratin”) – and the Samaritan is received as a man of good faith. Completely unacceptable to the Religious Leaders.

 

Jesus would go out of his way to spend time with a Samaritan woman at the city well.  Completely unacceptable on many accounts to the Religious Leaders (a Samaritan, and a woman, and in PUBLIC).

 

And in our text today, we find out that Jesus heals the lepers – all of those gathered – but it is a Samaritan who would come back overwhelmed with gratitude. Oh no!  What would the Religious Leaders think?

 

That is what makes this entire story so fascinating.  So much more is going on than just a miraculous healing.

 

First, the Lepers were desperate.  Most likely they had heard of Jesus and his healing powers.  So when they cry out, “Jesus, Master, show mercy to us.”  I am sure they were hoping for a miracle.

 

But instead, Jesus had them following the law. He had heard them and already had begun the healing process.  But to re-enter community…they had some rules to follow. Chuck Smith in his Commentary on Luke 11points out that...

 

1.   The priest had to inspect the skin to determine if the leprosy was truly gone.

2.   There were then certain prescribed sacrifices that had to be made.

3.   They had to perform certain rituals such as shaving off all their hair, and ceremonial bathings.

4.   After all of this, they could then return to their tent within the camp.

 

The only way the Religious Leaders would believe Jesus was for Jesus to follow their laws and do the healing within their world and beliefs.

 

The interesting thing about the story is that we don’t even know if the other 9 made it to the priests.  All that scripture decides to tell us is about the one who stopped in his tracks, and ran back to Jesus with gratitude and thanks.

 

●     No priest needed to tell him he was healed.

●     No religious body that had rejected him and made him an outcast needed to approve.

●     No ceremony was necessary, accept laying prostrate at Jesus’ feet and thanking Jesus profusely.

 

And then Luke tells us, “oh, and by the way, this man happened to not be a Jew, but a Samaritan.”

 

Yet again! The Samaritan!

Just listen again to the rest of what Jesus says…

 

17 Didn’t all ten receive the same healing this fellow did? Where are the other nine? 18 Was the only one who came back to give God praise an outsider? 19 (to the Samaritan man) Get up, and go your way. Your faith has made you healthy again.

 

It was the outsider…hmmm… Jesus points out once again the racial injustice of his own people toward the Samaritans.

 

Now, we could take away some great nuggets from this teaching already, but I want to take it one step further.  As I was preparing for this sermon, I came across the following on a blog called, “Nothing for Granted” – the post was titled, “Am I the Samaritan Leper or One of the Nine?” 

 

To close this sermon this morning, I would like to read the final part of this blog to you, I hope we will be able to identify with the Samaritan even more.

 

And so we hear this Gospel proclaimed and we sit back and complacently reflect upon the conviction that we are part of a relatively new and enlightened tradition that recognizes every single person as being a child of God. Apparently there is not much here of interest to us.

Perhaps but let's take a closer look. This is, after all, a story of God’s mercy but it is also about us, at our best and at our worst.

 

It is the story of nine people who failed to thank Jesus for his intercession and of one person who did thank him knowing that he had nowhere else to go but back to Jesus. He had nowhere else to go because the nine, in the name of God, of society and of propriety would have nothing further to do with him. Associating with him was o.k. for as long as they were all fellow outcasts but now things had changed.

 

Think about it. Jesus had cured them all...a cure that became very evident after they had set out, in accordance with his instructions to find a priest whose role was to attest to their lack of infection. The nine Jews continued on to complete the ritual...a ritual from which the Samaritan was automatically barred.

 

Did Jesus then set him up for this process of rejection? First by his former fellow sufferers and then by the priest?

 

I suppose you could say that he did. Jesus certainly knew that once re- integrated into society, the nine would reject the Samaritan simply because that is what society would demand...and he also knew that for the Samaritan to present himself to a Jewish priest would invite further rejection.

 

But, as always, Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. The Samaritan, in his humility, wanted to express his thanks but, at the same time, he knew that in returning to the Jewish holy man and identifying himself he was risking an even more painful rejection. He probably anticipated Jesus saying something like, "Hold it right there! I didn't know that you were one of those damned Samaritans...I'm not so sure that I want you to be healed!"

But what he said was, "You are welcome, I accept your thanks...it is your faith, a faith of which you are barely aware, that has saved you….continue on your way with my blessing."

 

And so the Samaritan and now former leper healed and filled with new hope continued to make his way in a society wherein the majority would still look upon him with disdain. He would go on living in a world where clean and unclean...liberal and conservative...cool and uncool...would continue to be operative distinctions.

 

Down through the centuries he would go, the son of many parents, loved by God and yet frequently dismissed or worse by proud, ungrateful people who had, in their complacency, forgotten that in the final analysis all they are, all that they have and all they can hope for is the undeserved gift of God.

 

He would become the patient victim of overly officious officials, condescending professionals, bigoted landlords, arrogant employers, contemptuous employees and woefully insecure neighbours.

 

Do you know him, this ex-leper, this Samaritan?

 

I do. Sometimes he is me...sometimes you or your child or the person next to you. But she is most often the marginal, the disenfranchised. The easiest of whom to take advantage and the least likely to fight back.

 

The Samaritan is the next person that you or I avoid in a crowded room...disregard at a meeting or ignore as we hurriedly leave this church.

 

Yes, thanks be to God, I am the Samaritan...but God forgive me, I am also one of the nine.

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