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9-16-18 - Popping Bubbles and the Taste of Place

 Popping Bubbles and The Taste of Place

Indianapolis First Friends Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

September 16, 2018

Again this morning as we center down, I am going to ask Eric to read the scripture text at the beginning and have us ponder these three centering queries: 1) What word or phrase touched my heart? 2) Where does that word or phrase touch my life today? And 3) What is the text calling me to do or become?  Eric will read the text and then we will take time to center down.

Isaiah 58:9-12 (MSG)

9-12 “If you get rid of unfair practices,
    quit blaming victims,
    quit gossiping about other people’s sins,
If you are generous with the hungry
    and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
    your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will always show you where to go.
    I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
    firm muscles, strong bones.
You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
    a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
    rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
    restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
    make the community livable again.

 

Several years before I was introduced to the Slow Movements or Slow Church, I found myself traveling for a conference and in a Borders bookstore (remember them?). It was in the concourse of the airport in which I had been laid over.  I was hoping to find an engaging book that would keep me preoccupied on the four-hour flight across the country.  I began my search, as I always do, looking at the binding of the books. Colors, fonts, even patterns or artwork always draw me in.  And in just a few moments of looking my eye caught a book that had been smashed between two larger books and pushed to the back of the shelf.  I believe it was the yellow lettering (almost glowing) between the two much larger books that caught my eye. 

As I pulled it out I read the title: The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture. I had never heard of the author Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, but the forward was by Kathleen Norris who had written one of my favorite books, “The Cloister Walk”.  I was familiar with the New Monastic Movement that people like Shane Claiborne had made famous and Jonathan was part of, yet, what specifically attracted me to Jonathan, was how he spoke to my condition. 

See, at the time, our family had been moving a lot and we were feeling a bit displaced. We had just ended a year living with my parents as we awaited our house to sell in Michigan. Because we needed a place to live, Huntington University offered us a home on the campus. This had us in a very different environment for a young family of five. We were surrounded by the bustle of students and academic life for about 10 months out of the year. Our boys were young and Lewis (our youngest) was just starting Kindergarten. Sue commuted 30 minutes into Fort Wayne from Huntington with our boys to teach and for them to attend school each day.  And we were isolated from really knowing our neighbors, even the neighborhood around us – mainly because it was all transient students. 

We realized pretty quickly, we were part of what many people wrestle with on college campuses – what is labeled the “college bubble.”

A bubble made up of academic banter, idealism, little sleep, questioning and debating everything, seeking acceptance and grades, quickly producing output of all types, finding partners and spouses, experimenting, while always knowing this great experience would come to an end (after about four years – some more and some less).

Now, please understand, college is only one example.  We all find ourselves in bubbles:

Work Bubbles, Family Bubbles, Church Bubbles, Sports Bubbles, Race and Sexuality Bubbles, Political Bubbles, Socio-Economic Bubbles, and the list could go on.

These “bubbles” often take on a culture of their own. They have their own unique rules and regulations, and they definitely can cause us to think that everyone around us thinks similar thoughts, views things in similar ways, and even have similar likes and dislikes.  The bubble can be a shelter at times and a prison if the person acknowledges or figures out what they are within.  

I taught a capstone class at Huntington University for outgoing seniors. In our very first class, I would say, “My job over the coming weeks is to ‘pop’ the Huntington University Bubble you have lived in for the last four years, to remind you of the real world you are entering, and prepare you for seeing what the world around you really looks like.” 

Maybe we could see this sermon series asking First Friends to begin popping the bubbles we find ourselves in – so that we are able to see the world around us.

In reading about the Slow Church movement, I was introduced to a more business-like term for this “bubble” concept that has invaded our life and churches.  It is what George Ritzer labeled the McDonaldization of our World. Ritzer characterizes this in four ways:

·        Efficiency

·        Calculability

·        Predictability

·        Control

In explaining the Slow Church Movement John Pattison and Chris Smith have taken these four characteristics and shown how they have influenced what I will call our church “bubble” or what they simply refer to as the McDonaldization of the Church.  Chris says in the church…

Effeciency becomes a euphemism for predetermined. We see this in fast food joints, where employees are discouraged from finding new ways to do things, even if they might be more successful than the accepted methods.  But it’s just as evident in many books aimed at evangelical Christians – books that promise success, happiness, a deeper prayer life, intimacy with God, all in just “five easy steps.”

Or how about Calculability. The church is often obsessed with numerical results.  Actually, I know pastors who’s performance and salary evaluations are based on the number of people who come through the door. Even today, at the top of my pastor’s report for business meeting, I am expected to provide attendance numbers for our meeting (I am not completely sure what the reason for this is, but I have a feeling it is a throwback to some of this thinking).

To have Calculability is a way to measure “success” but often leads to churches implementing “One-size-fits-all” models – Willow Creek Model, Saddle Back Model, Seeker Friendly Model – even denominational models.  Just take a drive in my neighborhood up in Hamilton County and you will find church after church being built – almost all of them with the same model – satellite church – because many don’t have a pastor, but rather they “beam in” via-satellite a pastor on the big screen. It is consumer-based, franchised ministry.

I love what Chris Smith says is the opposite of this:

“Slow church is about taking the time with God, with one another, and with yourself – and not only taking the time, but taking time over time. That makes a big difference.”

And then there is Predictability – this is very much a “bubble” mentality.  Predictability is what keeps people coming back to franchises.  It creates an expectation of predictable results. 

Let’s be honest. You all came here this morning with expectations.  You expected some type of order, routine, consistency, but that too can leave us in our own “Quaker Bubble.”  When we don’t embrace our uniqueness, acknowledge our diversity, take time to get to know our neighborhood, understand the diversity of people and thought,  then we simply copy what others are doing, we “bubble” ourselves and begin not being able to see outside ourselves.

You have heard some say, “We need to get out of these four walls.” That is very similar, but the “bubble” is a bit more fluid and covers a lot more areas.  

And lastly, there is control. From the Crusades, to guilt-ridden alter calls, to ministries that target specific populations, to non-human technology…

If you were listening to or reading online this week, you may have heard a story about McDonalds (Yes McDonalds – go figure).  They have a new non-human ordering interface. I have been seeing these pop up in many locales.  Instead of ordering your meal from a human being.  Now, you enter and interact with a screen that controls you at every step of the process.  The interaction with a human, the relational aspect, has been replaced to provide McDonalds, and you, with supposedly more control.  So they can be more efficient, calculable, predictable, and well, in full control. 

Folks, this is what smart phones are doing to our world, this is what Social Media is doing, this is what soon your car will be doing (some already do but soon they will control where you go and drive themselves)…these are all bubbles that we are trapped in – being controlled within.  

It makes me think of the Pixar movie Wall-e.  And that first time you see all the people in their little electronic “bubbles” sustaining their lives on the space ship Axiom built by the Big & Large Corporation, being moved, entertained, and fed by technology. And what happened when Wall-e interrupted their “bubble” life? 

·        They began to experience new things and their surroundings.

·        They saw each other again and they even showed emotions and fell in love.

·        They remembered what they had been missing and to get back to truly living again.

·        They came together and built a new community.     

What I (and what I believe many others are struggling with in our American culture) is getting out of our “bubbles” and beginning to see the impact, that we (and even our meeting) has in the place where we are found. 

 

Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove gives some ways to begin popping the “Bubbles.”

He sees it happening…

 

·        By rooting ourselves more deliberately in the place where we live and worship.

·        By engaging the people we are with and among.

·        By slowing down and participating in simpler rhythms of life. And… 

·        By living in a way that speaks to the deeper meanings of the human heart.

 

This is the wisdom of stability.  This is what I would call the  “bubble free” adventure.  This is being willing to “taste and see” and experience things outside the bubbles we find ourselves.    

 

Take a moment to think about your neighborhood for a moment…

 

·        How committed to your neighborhood are you?

·        Do you know your neighbors? 

·        Do you know the history of your neighborhood?  

·        Why is it important that you live in the neighborhood you do?

·        What draws and detracts people to your neighborhood?

·        What are the “bubbles” in your neighborhood?

 

And then think about where First Friends is located.

 

·        How committed to the surrounding neighborhoods are we?

·        Do we know our neighbors? Businesses? Fellow faith communities? 

·        Do we know the history of our neighborhood?

·        Why is it important for us to be located in this neighborhood?

·        What draws and detracts people to our location/neighborhood? 

·        What are the “bubbles” in our meeting’s neighborhood?

 

I love our scripture for this morning, I sense it’s about being called to “Taste and See” outside of our bubbles and in the places we are found. It is a call to the “Taste of Place.” It is about, as it said, “glowing in the darkness,” “being generous,” “finding a full life,” and “making the community alive again!”  To not continue to buy into the McDonaldization and “bubbles” of our world, but as the Slow Church Movement and Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove encourage,

 

“to begin to identify the people, the places, the rhythms and shared beliefs that give our community its unique taste and texture.”  

 

Chris and John put it this way in their book Slow Church:

We are bound one to another, but a culture built on speed wants to fling us out from the center like a centrifuge.  Thus, to commit ourselves to cultivating goodness through practices of nearness and stability, and to conversationally develop shared traditions, is to take a stand against alienation. It is a way of crafting a new shared story for the community, while connecting us to the cosmic church across time and prefiguring the kingdom of God. It is also an acknowledgement that our fates are wrapped up with the fates of our neighbors. As the prophet Jeremiah wrote in his letter to the exiles, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jer. 29:7)(43-44)  

This week I challenge us to take a closer look at who we are and where we find ourselves. Take an afternoon drive around your neighborhood and really note what you see.  Ask yourself the queries on the back of the bulletin as your drive around. 

 

And then I challenge you to take one more step - open a conversation with someone else outside your “bubble” but in your neighborhood. Think about that – who might that be? 

 

Remember, conversations with other people are a great way to pop the bubbles that we find ourselves in.  Right now, in our world, with the political climate and current social climate, we need more than ever to stop creating more bubbles and create better lines of communication in the places we live.  We need to find the flavor of our place and actually see and get to know the people that we abide with. By slowing down, listening together, tasting/eating together, being willing to see and engage, we will cultivate a place where we can make a difference and change the world not simply feed the machine that drives us into isolation, alienation, and fear.  

 

Eric is going to come up now and help us enter into our time of waiting worship with a special song. 

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9-9-18 - A Slow Movement

A Slow Movement

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

September 9, 2018

 

 

As we center down this morning, I would like us to allow the scriptures to speak to our condition. I am going to have Nicole read the scripture at the beginning of our centering time so we can reflect on the words and see how they speak to us this morning.  To help us, I want to offer three queries: 1) What word or phase touched my heart in this text? 2) Where does that word or phase touch my life today? And 3) What is the text calling me to do or become?  I will have Nicole read the text and then we will take a moment to center around those queries.

 

2 Corinthians 5:14-21 (MSG)

 

11-14 That keeps us vigilant, you can be sure. It’s no light thing to know that we’ll all one day stand in that place of Judgment. That’s why we work urgently with everyone we meet to get them ready to face God. God alone knows how well we do this, but I hope you realize how much and deeply we care. We’re not saying this to make ourselves look good to you. We just thought it would make you feel good, proud even, that we’re on your side and not just nice to your face as so many people are. If I acted crazy, I did it for God; if I acted overly serious, I did it for you. Christ’s love has moved me to such extremes. His love has the first and last word in everything we do.

 

14-15 Our firm decision is to work from this focused center: One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own.

16-20 Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.

 

21 How? you ask. In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.

 

 

 

It seems like the authors I have been reading lately all have been wrestling with the busyness of the world.  Quaker Parker Palmer in his most recent book “On the Brink of Everything” shares the wisdom of aging where in his prelude says,

 

“I am done with big and complex projects, but more aware of the loveliness of simple things: a talk with a friend, a walk in the woods, sunsets and sunrises, a night of good sleep.”

 

About 10 years ago, I started saying something similar in regard to the church.  I was done with the complex over programming, the need for performance quality music, lighting, and ambiance, the almost “drive-up” style ministry offerings that were more about my choices than my needs. 

 

At the time, I had been in ministry for nearly fifteen years and felt worn out, tired, aging, and not seeing this fast-paced-church-world ever slowing down.  It was about attending every conference, offering every new program, and becoming a full-service church that provided opportunities while meeting very few needs – including my own needs. 

 

I saw while in academia the church looking not much different than franchise and retail sales.  We had our product, I was a seller, and the church’s job had become about retaining customers.  Keep them coming and giving money was the way of survival.  During this time, as I started to grasp what was going on, I wrote what I titled, “A Pastor’s Lament.”  Here is what I said, (remember: this is not where I am now, but several years ago.)

 

I often find myself reflecting on ministry and wondering, “What the heck am I doing?

 

They call me a pastor. Some would say I am a “shepherd of the flock,” others “the mouthpiece of God,” “His instrument,” or “His hands and feet.”  While yet others (like the church I grew up in) would say I am a, “called, ordained, servant of the Word.” Oh, all their words have such a nice ring to them and we say them in such grandiose ways. Yet, to be honest, most of the time I feel more like a used car salesman than anything grandiose.

 

“Sunday….Sunday…Sunday, join me, the pastor, for one BIG...” well, you get my point. This may seem harsh and maybe even a bit tongue and cheek or cynical, but it is all too often true. I remember a friend telling me once I was simply a professional Christian —meaning I was paid to sell Christianity. That hurt, yet more and more lately, I feel like I resemble that remark.

 

From the seeming reality of inspired preaching equaling the amount of cash coming into the church and the number of butts in the seats, to finding myself lingering in the parking lot often with false pretenses simply enticing “would-be shoppers” to see my views on issues, it all seems rather absurd and unreal. 

 

It’s about as unreal as the bad comb-over, leisure suits, big stinky cigars, tinted glasses, and amazingly white teeth (that would make any dentist proud) used to make a used car salesman look the part.

    

One could say as the pastor, I have been reduced to making “the sale.” It’s my job to be everything to every customer, to manipulate them into staying and shopping a while longer. For many of us pastors, manipulation means keeping people comfortable and inspired. “Inspire me!” they ask as we sit there with our stinky cigar in their faces, questioning white-teeth-filled smiles, and wide ties trying to prove we have just what they are looking for. In reality it is just part of the advertisement lifestyle that pastors too often represent.

 

Sadly, the pulpit has become the “car lot” at which I live out this existence. Putting on the show with my obnoxious presence, never-ending smile, wacky facial expressions, and commercial spots for the big sale this weekend all begin to look no different than the videos, PowerPoint presentations, dramatic lighting, well-crafted soliloquies, and stage presence on Sunday…Sunday…Sunday! I begin to pretend that I am everyone’s friend and act different for each customer who walks through the church doors. They are shopping for entertainment, feelings, fixed problems and I have just what they want…or do I?

 

There is a sad reality in “used-car sales” of this nature. And it has me asking some personal queries:

·         Where have all the real relationships gone, not the superficial pats-on-the-back to make us seem like friends?

·         Does anyone really see me as a person, or am I just a character selling “church”?  

·         When do I get to receive, maybe even get the opportunity to “shop” myself?  

·          Who sees me off the TV screen, when there is no smile or tinted glasses to cover my pain?

And thus, I am found alone, used – much like the cars I sell. Late at night sitting in the light of my computer screen reading the giving records of the church, realizing I am obsessed with “sales” for my own survival.

 

So, in a final attempt at hope, I lean back in my office chair, extinguish my cigar, and open my “black book” (the Bible) instead of my faithful blue book and begin to read.

 

There I find a savior who didn’t need an advertisement agency to accomplish his goals. 

·         Who stands between me and my customers and offers a way better deal.  

·         Who allows me to drop the false pretense and find true success.

·         Who says in a still small voice that I am somebody. 

·         Who says to stop trying to sell religion and let the Holy Spirit do His job.  

·         Who sees past my used-car sales persona and asks me to be His friend. 

I finally realize I am worn out trying to sell this God-life. In my office, I begin to cry. I shut down my computer, shelve the blue book, take off my plaid jacket, and loosen my wide tie. On the way out, I turn off the “show room” lights and turn on the closed sign and head out the front door into the evening air. With my “black book” in my hand, I make my way back home.

 

Tonight is different, because tonight I am more than a used car salesman — more than a pastor. Tonight I am called —not to manipulate, pretend, act or even make a sale.  But I am called to be who God made me to be —His success!

 

It was just about that time I wrote this Pastor’s Lament that I was introduced to what is called the “Slow Movement.” 

 

You may have heard about this movement with Slow Food, Slow Money, Slow Parenting, Slow Cities, and many others.  They each have in common an opposition to what Canadian journalist, Carl Honoré describes as the “cult of speed” or what Charles Hummel labeled the “Tyranny of the Urgent”: a philosophy of life that is controlling, aggressive, and impatient.   

 

Take for instance in the Slow Food Manifesto, it begins by stating:

Our century, which began and has developed under the insignia of industrial civilization, first invented the machine and then took it as its life model. We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life, which disrupts our habits, pervades the privacy of our homes and forces us to eat Fast Foods. To be worthy of the name, Homo Sapiens should rid ourselves of speed before it reduces us to a species in danger of extinction.  A firm defense of quiet material pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life.

Just think about your own life…how has our fast-paced world threatened to short-circuit real and meaningful experiences.  I can’t tell you how often I meet with people who are overwhelmed by life. Who have lost opportunities to enjoy family, friends, even spending time with nature. All because life is just too busy – too full – and too like a machine.  And sadly, too often the church has gone in this same direction.  We are seeing it in our news today.  Churches that have become all about programming, performance, controlling their people, aggressive in their preaching and ministry style and impatient with the world around them – mainly because they have lost touch with the real world.  Instead of becoming a faithful and meaningful presence within their neighborhoods and communities in which they live, they instead  become franchises pedaling a fast-paced faith and reducing it to a commodity that can be packaged, marketed, and sold.

 

Just before the release of their book, Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus, I began having conversations with one of the authors, John Pattison (who attended my meeting in Silverton, OR) about breaking this cycle in the church.  He had been thinking about this for a bit longer than I had, and was wanting to try some things at our meeting. I was ready and willing. Our goal was to work at moving people from simply being “church consumers” to being co-producers or co-authors of God’s Story in Silverton, OR.  If anything we wanted to make visible God’s Kingdom in the city of Silverton in a real and tangible way. 

 

And that is what I want again to do here at First Friends in our own community and neighborhood of Indianapolis.  And that is why we are going to be exploring what a “Slow Movement” would look like for us here in Indianapolis and its surrounding communities. 

 

Where this all begins is reflected in the signs that Dan Mitchel has made for us as we entered here this morning.  If you read them, they state:

 

Becoming a Faithful Presence in Indianapolis.

 

Slowing down begins with acknowledging that we are a called community. That we are a called and gathered expression of the Body of Christ in our particular place. 

 

As a commuter church we have moved to the burbs and surrounding neighborhoods, but it is time we started to see our location here in Extended Broadripple as a new opportunity. It is time we engaged this community where we are placed.  I believe we are here for a purpose as a demonstration plot for what God intends for all humanity.  As more and more new people begin the journey of faith with First Friends, it is clear from what they are saying that they are not wanting a “franchised faith” but a faith that not only can change you and me – but ultimately will help to change our world.  

 

So I ask that you join me over the next 11 weeks as we explore what it looks to like to become a faithful presence in Indianapolis and slow ourselves down to make a difference, and be a unique expression of the Kingdom of God.  And as Quakers to be part of a Slow Movement – seems very appropriate – almost nature. 

 

Let me close with this final thought by Gerhard Lohfink from “Does God need the Church?” He says,

 

“It can only be that God begins in a small way, at one single place in the world.  There must be a place, visible, tangible, where the salvation of the world can begin: that is, where the world becomes what it is supposed to be according to God’s plan.  Beginning at that place, the new thing can spread abroad, but not through persuasion, not through indoctrination, not through violence. Everyone must have the opportunity to come and see.  All must have the chance to behold and test this new thing. Then, if they want to, they can allow themselves to be drawn into the history of salvation that God is creating.  Only in that way can their freedom be preserved.  What drives them to the new thing cannot be force, not even moral pressure, but only the fascination of a world that is changed.”

 

That is my hope for First Friends and our exploration over the coming months. 

 

Let us now enter into Waiting Worship.  Take a moment to ponder the queries in your bulletins.

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9-2-18 - The Christian's Privilege: Love and Service - Jesse Brown, Labor of Love Service

“The Christian’s Privilege: Love and Service”

By Jesse Brown

9-2-18 Labor of Love service at First Friends Meeting

 

Notes, scripture and queries from the service

 

Philippians 2:1-11

Imitating Christ’s Humility

1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,

2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.

3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,

4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,

10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

Luke 19:1-10

Zacchaeus the Tax Collector

1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.

2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.

3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd.

4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”

6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.

10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

 

In the fall of 1999, I discovered that I lived a privileged life.

 

From that point forward, I felt compelled to explore and discuss race and privilege as often as I experienced it.

 

Zacchaeus had privilege.

·      The importance of Jericho and its situation would make it an important center for the collection of the Roman tribute. At the head of the publicans engaged in this business was Zacchæus. He seems to have had supervision of the district.

·      He was rich. A very suspicious fact in a member of a class noted for their extortion.

·      His privileges were approved by his context. He was permitted to accumulate wealth by taking advantage of his brothers and sisters.

 

Jesus went to his house- seek and save the lost.

 

Zacchaeus welcomed him gladly-

·      He did not expect such an honor as the Great Teacher would stop with one of a class so despised by the Jews as his own.

·      A shared meal meant equality, intimacy.

 

The crowds murmured that Jesus would go to Zacc’s house

·      How often these complaints of Jesus stooping down at the company of sinners are recorded! Now, however, the crowd expected that at Jerusalem his kingdom would be proclaimed, but here he is the guest of the chief agent of the oppressive Roman tribute! Had Christ sought popularity he would never have gone with Zacchæus.

 

Zacchaeus stood, and said.

The record is silent as what had wrought so great a change. No doubt the Lord had preached to him.

 

Half of my goods, I give to the poor. What greater proof of a change of heart! His heart had been on riches; now at once he consecrates one-half to the relief of suffering.

 

If I have cheated anyone. He no doubt had, if half that is stated of the publicans was true.

 

I will pay back four times the amount. Not only what he has taken, but four times as much. No repentance that does not lead to restitution is genuine. "If what thou hast taken wrongfully cannot be restored to those who were wronged, give it to God; the poor are God's receivers."

 

 

What is privilege?

Credibility with strangers.

Privilege is the freedom to contextualize yourself for maximum benefit.

 

We all have privileges.

 

The organizations that we are a part of have contextual privileges or ways of being.

Like seams on a piece of pottery.

 

Characteristics of whiteness:

·      Colorblindness- framing racial realities in anything but race

·      Epistemologies of ignorance- willful aversion to the human suffering caused by systemic racism.

·      Ontological expansiveness- tendency to view all spaces as available to white people as they wish.

·      Property- property rights protected and enshrined by law. The holders of whiteness have the same benefits as other types of property.

·      Assumed racial comfort- prioritizing white comfort over the discomfort of minoritized people.

·      Fragility- quick defensiveness in racial conversations, a minimal amount of racial stress quickens defensiveness.

·      Privilege- special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks that increase and maintain access

 

Jesus gave up his privilege in becoming human.

 

We are to imitate Jesus’ emptying himself.

 

3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,

4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

 

Organizations have privileges.

 

White people committed to racial justice must figure out ways to become race- and power-conscious race traitors… what we know about Zacchaeus is that when he encountered Jesus he did so as someone who had been utterly complicit with the powers that be. Just like many people in positions of authority, he was seduced by the allegiance with power structures. He massively enriched his life through dealing with power structures. When Jesus approached him, Zacchaeus did not remain determined to his oppressive location. Zacchaeus chose a radical conversion. Evidence of his conversion was not merely verbal declaration of Jesus’ belief or social vision. Evidence of Zacchaeus’ conversion came when he determined to return half of his wealth and repay people that he defrauded.

 

How can you use your privilege on behalf of someone else?

1.     Become critically conscious of your privilege. Critical consciousness requires reflection and action.

a.  Beverly Tatum’s moving walkway.

2.  Use your voice for the marginalized.

3.  Use your power for the marginalized.

a.  How many times have I encouraged women who were in harassing or assaulted situations.

4.  Give up your seat.

5.  Give up your privilege.

 

 

1.       How can you use your privilege on behalf of someone else?

2.      Where do you see collective privilege at work?

 

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8-26-18 - Stimulating Creative Survival: The Resurrection Life

Stimulating Creative Survival

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

August 26, 2018

 

Luke 16:1-13 (The Voice)

 

16 Here’s a parable He told the disciples:

 

Jesus: Once there was a rich and powerful man who had an asset manager. One day, the man received word that his asset manager was squandering his assets.

2 The rich man brought in the asset manager and said, “You’ve been accused of wrongdoing. I want a full and accurate accounting of all your financial transactions because you are really close to being fired.”

 

3 The manager said to himself, “Oh, no! Now what am I going to do? I’m going to lose my job here, and I’m too weak to dig ditches and too proud to beg. 4 I have an idea. This plan will mean that I have a lot of hospitable friends when I get fired.”

 

5 So the asset manager set up appointments with each person who owed his master money. He said to the first debtor, “How much do you owe my boss?” 6 The debtor replied, “A hundred barrels[a] of oil.” The manager said, “I’m discounting your bill by half. Just write 50 on this contract.” 7 Then he said to the second debtor, “How much do you owe?” This fellow said, “A hundred bales[b] of wheat.” The manager said, “I’m discounting your debt by 20 percent. Just write down 80 bales on this contract.”

 

8 When the manager’s boss realized what he had done, he congratulated him for at least being clever. That’s how it is: those attuned to this evil age are more clever in dealing with their affairs than the enlightened are in dealing with their affairs!

 

9 Learn some lessons from this crooked but clever asset manager. Realize that the purpose of money is to strengthen friendships, to provide opportunities for being generous and kind. Eventually money will be useless to you—but if you use it generously to serve others, you will be welcomed joyfully into your eternal destination.

 

10 If you’re faithful in small-scale matters, you’ll be faithful with far bigger responsibilities. If you’re crooked in small responsibilities, you’ll be no different in bigger things. 11 If you can’t even handle a small thing like money, who’s going to entrust you with spiritual riches that really matter? 12 If you don’t manage well someone else’s assets that are entrusted to you, who’s going to give over to you important spiritual and personal relationships to manage?

 

13 Imagine you’re a servant and you have two masters giving you orders. What are you going to do when they have conflicting demands? You can’t serve both, so you’ll either hate the first and love the second, or you’ll faithfully serve the first and despise the second. One master is God and the other is money. You can’t serve them both.

 

 

 

So, today we have what is considered possibly the most notorious – “widely and unfamously” – known parable of Jesus.  Jesus chooses to use a dishonest, conniving crooked person for an example for us today. [It is hard to believe sometimes what texts arises for a specific Sunday. Sometimes, like today, it almost seems ironic with all that is going on in our world.]  

 

I personally still have a hard time when Paul uses slavery or war to make his point or illustrate the faith-life, but folks, this is Jesus actually choosing a man of “doubtful reputation” for an example. 

 

If you remember last week’s text – Eric read that Jesus was surrounding himself with people of “doubtful reputation” and the Pharisees were not pleased – utilizing one of these people as an example could not have made things any better for Jesus.

 

Folks, we need to admit it – Jesus was much more of a radical than we are willing to give him credit for.

 

So Jesus chooses to use a dishonest assets manager, why?

 

First, we must acknowledge that Jesus was doing something that is hard for our religious world today.

 

Too often we are quick to pick out the issue or the behavior that we are not comfortable with in others, but Jesus looks for things that are worth acknowledging – even praising in ALL people. I find the fact that Jesus was willing to use a dishonest, even crooked, person as an example gives you and I hope. This is the Quaker Jesus – seeing that of God in all people. Seeing worth in who we may consider worthless. 

 

Jesus points out that the dishonest manager…

 

1.     Knew that he would be called to account someday and took his job seriously.

2.     Creatively found a way to survive – and possibly work out his future.

 

 

In the Message translation, Eugene Peterson expounds on this behavior and describes in greater detail just what people like this dishonest assets manager are really up to.

 

From the Message (Luke 16:9):

 

“They are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits.”

 

And then the Message goes on to say…

 

“I want you to be smart in the same way – but for what is right – using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essential, so you’ll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior.”   

 

Just ponder what Jesus is getting at – what if we took seriously the way of Jesus – and when asked to give an account by another person or by God – we would articulate the ways that our neighbors, our relatives, our friends, have experienced the hope and life through their daily lives?

 

Ask yourself this morning…

 

How creative have I been at living out the Jesus Way to the hurting world around me?

 

Have I utilized my own adversity – pain – struggles - failures – even abuses – to stimulate a creative way for me and those around me to survive this world and to truly live?

 

[Pause]

 

Also, many people like to talk about this parable in eternal words.  That is because of how verse 9 ends.  Let me read it again from the Voice,

 

9 Learn some lessons from this crooked but clever asset manager. Realize that the purpose of money is to strengthen friendships, to provide opportunities for being generous and kind. Eventually money will be useless to you—but if you use it generously to serve others, you will be welcomed joyfully into your eternal destination.

 

Too often, people today are living solely for the afterlife – or what we often translate eternity. That great hope someday.  Don’t get me wrong – we need to have an eternal perspective, but let’s be honest, aren’t we desperately in need of a little bit of eternity in the present? 

 

I think we could all handle a little heaven on earth right now.  That reminds me of the 80’s song by Belinda Carlisle – two lines seem to speak to our condition in that song, “Heaven is a Place on Earth”:

 

They say in heaven love comes first
We'll make heaven a place on earth

  

In this world we're just beginning
To understand the miracle of living
Baby I was afraid before
But I'm not afraid anymore

 

We need to really live in this world – otherwise this life becomes meaningless or useless – and all we become are people looking for an escape route.

 

Maybe the way we could see this is not in terms of simply heaven, but in terms of Resurrection.  We often wrap heaven and eternity with a nice bow called “resurrection.”

 

Yet, I think we often miss the importance of resurrection in our daily and present life. I consider each of us in this room “resurrection people.” We are people who should be working to bring LIFE back into our world.  Life where death has occurred and hope has been lost. 

 

For the sake of our world, we need desperately to expand our understanding of resurrection. It is more than an Easter topic or something we talk about with physical death.  Resurrection is and always has been for NOW – in the present moment.  It is the elixir to our ailments. It is the harbinger of hope. It is the way to LIFE.   

 

Resurrection can be a part of everything we do, everything we own, everything we say, everything that makes up this world. Every asset we have can be used for bringing about resurrection in our world for us and our neighbor.  Why? Because…

 

To be resurrection people means we are living a life that “stimulates creative survival.”

 

Stimulating Creative Survival happens when

 

·        We use our assets (money, time, possessions, talents) for strengthening relationships.

·        We are generous and kind to our neighbors.

·        And when we serve others.

 

This literally is bringing “resurrection” into the world.

 

When we work to create this in our daily lives…

When we work for what is right and just…

When we are willing to utilize our own adversities (like the dishonest, crooked assets manager) to stimulate us to creative survival, to concentrate our attention on the bare essentials…we then experience true resurrection in the present moment.

 

The text says it this way,

 

“You’ll live, really live, and not complacently just getting by on good behavior”

 

Really living – that’s the definition of resurrection.

 

If you and I want to make a difference in this world…

If you and I want this world to make a difference in our lives…

If you and I want to experience LIFE instead of death, pain, sadness, then just maybe we are going to need to be like that dishonest crooked assets manager only for the good or should I say for resurrection sake. 

 

Rumi said it so well,

 

Every object and being in the universe is a jar overflowing with wisdom and beauty, a drop of the Tigris that cannot be contained by any skin. Every jarful spills and makes the earth more shining, as though covered in satin... Make peace with the universe. Take joy in it. It will turn to gold. Resurrection will be now. Every moment, a new beauty.

 

It’s time for us to stimulate creative survival in this world.   It is time for us to live as resurrection people. Embrace your adversities, embrace the resurrection life, and lets really live!  

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8-19-18 - Discovering What We Care About

Discovering What We Care About

First Friends Quaker Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

August 19, 2018

 

 

Luke 15:1-10 (MSG)

15 1-3 By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” Their grumbling triggered this story.

4-7 “Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’ Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.

8-10 “Or imagine a woman who has ten coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and scour the house, looking in every nook and cranny until she finds it? And when she finds it you can be sure she’ll call her friends and neighbors: ‘Celebrate with me! I found my lost coin!’ Count on it—that’s the kind of party God’s angels throw every time one lost soul turns to God.”

 

I have heard our text for this morning since I was a young child.  It seems every time I lose something (which seems to be more often these days) I have these parables running through my mind.  So simplistic…so relatable…turning over one’s entire house to find those lost keys, that thumb drive, the gift card from Christmas, the glasses (that often are on the top of your head)…you name it – the house becomes a whirlwind of clutter and mess as the item is sought.  I think we all can relate to this. 

 

But folks, let’s be honest, being “really lost” or really loosing something can be rather terrifying. 

 

Most of us can remember an experience from our childhood when getting lost left us terrified.  One of my earliest memories was getting lost at Walgreens when I was probably 3 years old.  My dad was the pharmacist and my mom had taken me to the toy isle.  She walked to the end of the isle and turned just out of the isle – I looked around and completely freaked out because I did not see her. And all the while my dad was filling prescriptions behind the window at the end of the isle. 

 

But that is only one type of “getting lost”.  We get lost in many ways and there is not always a quick find or a quick fix.  It’s not always simple.  And as I have become older, I have realized being lost might even mean one’s livelihood or having the life sucked out of you. Leaving you feeling helpless, alone, and even defeated.

 

Maybe this is because when I was doing my typical research for my sermon, I learned that the online dictionary says the word “lost” means:

 

·        Unable to find one’s way

·        Denoting something that has been taken away or cannot be recovered. 

 

Throughout history, many people have viewed our text as focusing on the people who many more fundamental Christians have been accustomed to labeling “unbelievers.” 

 

But there seems to be something even more important in this that we may still be missing – a “lost” piece of seeing this text for all Jesus was talking about.  

 

This is where the original text can shed some light. The word that is translated “lost” by many (the Greek word apollymi) is really the word for “destroy.”

 

So it means a person who has been…

·        Put out of the way entirely – abolished.

·        Rendered useless.

·        Given a death sentence

·        Ruined

·        Lost

 

Our own definition of lost implies that the person was unable to find their way and that at one time they may have had the necessary things but no longer have a capacity to recover them.

 

Did you notice the progression of the text for this morning?

 

1.     The religious leaders were out to “destroy” Jesus because he treated sinners like old friends. 

 

I like Eugene Peterson’s translation because he gets to the crux of why Jesus begins telling the following parables. 

 

Jesus is treating those “destroyed” by the religion and religious leaders like old friends. 

 

These were as our text read “men and women of doubtful reputation.” And obviously Jesus knew the religious leaders had wanted them “destroyed” as well.  These men and women were put out of the way entirely – abolished from religious life, rendered useless, some like the woman caught in adultery were given a death sentence by stoning, their lives were ruined, they were what we may label “lost.”  Lost from religion. Lost from God’s ways. Lost from a better life.

 

In the beginning of the introductory book, “Finding Our Way Again” from The Ancient Practices Series, Brian McLaren tells a story of an interview (done via satellite) with the famous lecturer and thinker, Dr. Peter Senge for a group of Christian ministers.  Brian says,

 

[Dr. Senge said,] “…I thought I’d begin by asking you all a question: why are books on Buddhism so popular, and not books on Christianity?

 

[Brians says, ] Great.  Not only did I have to pose questions to a face on a screen, but now I had to field one from him as well.  I managed to recover enough to punt the question back to him.  “Well, Dr. Senge,” I said, trying not to sound as clumsy as I felt, “how would you answer that questions?”

 

He replied, “I think it’s because Buddhism presents itself as a way of life, and Christianity presents itself as a system of belief.  So I would want to get Christian ministers thinking about how to discover their own faith as a way of life, because that’s what people are searching for today.  That’s what they need most.

 

[Brian continues…] I don’t remember a single thing about the rest of the interview, but I will always remember Dr. Senge’s statement.  In fact, a number of the attendees told me how that one statement was worth the price of the entire event for them.  In the days and weeks after the event, I couldn’t stop thinking about the relative proportions we in our religious communities had assigned to “system of belief” and to “way of life.”  And I couldn’t help but agree with Dr. Senge: we must rediscover our faith as way of life, not simply a system of belief. 

 

The issue, of course, is not either/or, but both/and; it’s hard to deny that too many of us have lost the “way” of our faith.  Without a coherent and compelling way of life, formed in community and expressed in mission, some of us begin losing interest in the system of belief, or we begin holding it grimly, even meanly, driving more and more people away from our faith rather than attracting them toward it.

 

Those who reject religion are often rejecting a certain arid system of belief, or if not that, a set of trivial taboos or rules or rituals that have a lost meaning for them – each the thin residue of a lost way of life. 

 

Just think about it…

 

How much of people being “lost” or even “destroyed” is the church’s own fault?

How many of us in this room have left the church of our youth? Have been willing to be considered lost by family and friends?  Who have ventured out on a new path because it became a lost way of life.

 

This is something we must continue to be concerned and aware of at First Friends.

 

2.     So the religious leader’s grumblings lead to Jesus going into story-mode.  He tries to get them to understand from a different perspective, by using something very simple that they could understand.      

 

“Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it?”

 

“Or imagine a woman who has ten coins and loses one.  Won’t she light a lamp and scour the house, looking in every nook and cranny until she finds it?”

 

Notice that the lost item in both scenarios is…

·        Important to the person

·        And is part of a greater grouping (100 sheep, 10 coins)

 

That says to me, Jesus is concerned for the lost and destroyed person – they are as important as a sheep or coin (which in his day were extremely important and valuable) …

 

…and that they were at one time part of a greater group – possibly like a community of faith or the church.

 

Folks, might Jesus have been warning us of the possible destructive nature of the church or specific communities we are part of?

 

Might He have been telling us that when we have destroyed people – put them out of the way entirely -  abolished them, rendered them useless, told them they are worthless or going to hell, that from our perspective they are ruined and lost…just maybe we need to drop everything and go give them a reason and way to live again?

 

So many communities that we are surrounded by such as academic, governmental, social groups and media, and yes our religious and cultural communities have destroyed and lost people.  We have done this to Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, women, LGBTQ folks, people with Aids, the homeless, the addicted, those needing healthcare, the challenged and special, the disabled, the elderly, and even other Quakers groups, other denominations, other faiths…and the list could go on. 

 

The parables of Jesus (I believe) are about restoring more than just faith.  They are about restoring community (bringing the one sheep back with the 99 and the one coin back with the 10) As Quakers this is one of our SPICES – the C is for Community. 

 

Friend Phil Gulley points this out in his book Living the Quaker Way by saying,

 

“To be a Quaker is to always understand yourself and actions in terms of the world…[and]…to always see oneself in relation with the world, answerable not only to God but also to humanity and to history…I can think of no nobler and more vital work for the church to undertake than the building of healthy communities in which differences are appreciated and not feared, where past truths are honored and emerging wisdom encouraged.”

 

Personally, if there is one thing, I have learned about my faith, it is that at times I have wandered and become “lost” (which I have on many occasions) or sadly when I have been “destroyed” by the church or by the people who say they represent God that more than anything, that is when I need a community that sees my life as important, that appreciates me, that understands that I may see things a little different than they do, who wants to draw me back into the fold of relationships and friendships because together we are all working to restore life and find the way to live out our faith in the world.

 

It is in these moments that we connect with the Jesus’ Way in a profound way.  We see the impact the way of Jesus has on community and in the lives of those who come together in community.  In these moments we realize we need each other…I need you…because there is that of God in you that I need.

 

One of my all-time favorite poems is from a book from my doctoral program. The poem is called Turning to One Another by Margaret Wheatley from a book by the same title. It is on the back of our bulletin for this morning.  I am continually drawn to the opening line.  It reads…

 

There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about.

 

·        We must care for the destroyed and lost.

·        WE must become aware not to destroy any more and work to bring those who we have destroyed back into community.

 

Then the party can begin!  Then we can enjoy each other fully.  We can crank up the music and celebrate for what has been lost has been found. 

 

To close, I would like to read the rest of that poem from Margaret Wheatley.

 

Turn to One Another

There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about.
Ask: “What’s possible?” not “What’s wrong?” Keep asking.
Notice what you care about.
Assume that many others share your dreams.
Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.
Talk to people you know.
Talk to people you don’t know.
Talk to people you never talk to.
Be intrigued by the differences you hear. Expect to be surprised.
Treasure curiosity more than certainty.
Invite in everybody who cares to work on what’s possible.
Acknowledge that everyone is an expert about something.
Know that creative solutions come from new connections.
Remember, you don’t fear people whose story you know.
Real listening always brings people closer together.
Trust that meaningful conversations can change your world.
Rely on human goodness.

Stay together.

 

Let these thoughts help you enter our time of open worship.

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8-12-18 - Love and Intimacy Outside Eden

Scripture

Genesis 3:20-24 and 4:1-2

 

“The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them. Then the Lord God said, ‘See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever’ – therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he place the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.”

 

That ends chapter three. Chapter 4 starts with Adam and Eve’s new life outside the Garden of Eden:

 

“Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have produced a man with the help of the Lord.” Next she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground.”

 

Love and Intimacy Outside Eden

By Daniel Lee

 

Last Tuesday, Jennifer and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. We were married in a Methodist Church in Bloomington, Indiana. The local newspaper didn’t quite get our marriage notice right. They wrote that we were “marred”—M-A-R-R-E-D—on Aug. 7th.

 

We still laugh about that!

 

Jennifer was 23 and I was 24 when we were married. We were both starting new jobs after spending our entire year-long engagement living in different states. After getting married, we moved into a small apartment in Shelbyville, Indiana. I added up; in our 25 years of marriage, we’ve lived in eight different apartments or houses, in five cities, in two different states.

 

We’ve had three kids, two born 7 minutes apart. We’ve bought three homes. We’ve had two dogs. We’ve each had seven different jobs. Before we became Quakers, we were Baptized by immersion together. Here at First Friends, we became Quakers together.

 

And, oh, yeah, we’ve recently taken three dance lessons together.

 

On the evening of our anniversary last week, we walked to a little restaurant by our house and just enjoyed talking. So much has changed since our first conversation as two college kids on a January evening in 1991 outside of the Cooper Science building at Ball State University.

 

Who knew that evening would forever merge and define our lives?

 

In short, we’ve had one love, one life with each other….

 

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak this morning about the topic of marriage. It’s an important and complex topic.

 

Marriage is so central, in faith and in society, that this meeting, Indianapolis First Friends, decided that is should be made available to all people, regardless of sexual orientation. This was a matter of love and equality.

 

In our world, we have strong marriages and struggling marriages. Some people are widowed. Some are divorced. Some separated. For some, being single is central to their life of service to others. Some who aren’t married, want to be. For some, marriage is damaging or physically dangerous.

 

But I want to emphasize right from the start today, that my comments today – while they are about marriage – related to something even deeper than marriage.

 

I hope today to uphold marriage as a metaphor and a model for us also to seek greater intimacy with God and within our community. This, I believe, is a very Quaker message – the power of Quakerism is an insistence that each person can experience direct communion with the Divine, and that we then seek to build community with one another. Quakerism’s founder, George Fox, in his greatest revelation, declared that there is one, Christ Jesus, who can speak to your condition. This goes to the heart of the Scriptures comparing the marriage union to Christ and the Church. We are the church, and Christ desires us just as we desire Him. Nothing else is needed.

 

In human relations, a spouse is in a unique and intimate position to speak to their partner’s condition.

 

The most moving words I’ve personally ever heard about marriage were spoken not at a wedding but at a funeral. One of my personal heroes is our family friend Dr. Ora Pescovitz. She’s an accomplished pediatrician, academic, and executive. For many years, she was the CEO of Riley Hospital for Children here in Indianapolis. In 2010, she lost her husband, IU transplant surgeon Dr. Mark Pescovitz, in a tragic automobile accident.

 

Ora, remembering her husband before the hundreds gathered at Congregation Beth-El Zedeck, talked about the makings of a strong marriage, and about her beloved husband. 

 

“I once read that you could tell that a marriage would last a long time if a couple saw eye-to-eye on four things:
Religion, Money, Children and Sex. In our 31 year marriage, we never once argued about those things, although we certainly had pretty healthy 'debates' on just about everything else!”

And then, later, Ora said this:

 

“Mark died a happy man. And, our last day together was Mark's version of a perfect day. In fact, we managed to cover all four things that ensure a perfect marriage: Religion, Money, Children and Sex.”

 

With that comment, the crowd of mourners audibly gasped. This was the love and intimacy, laid bare.

 

She told of sharing a cup of coffee together, of spending time together, of paying bills, of deciding to increase donations to their favorite Jewish charities, of talking about how proud they were of their three children.

 

The single thing I remember most about the service was Ora looking directly at each of her three children and telling them each what their father loved about them, affirming them in front of their community. I still get emotional thinking about that!

 

She spoke her husband’s most cherished thoughts when he could not.

 

I want now to briefly look at three short passages in Scriptures, all involving Christ. I believe each can teach us much about developing a close marriage, a closer relationship with God, and with one another:

 

John 2:7-10

“Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.”  So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’”

 

The Wedding at Cana is Jesus’ first miracle. Consider this Jesus’ way of saying life should be lived joyously in community and with our spouse! Jesus didn’t just make wine, he made fine wine.

 

This is the date night. This is the fellowship we enjoy after meeting for worship. This is when we forget a troubles and anxieties when we’re enjoying life with our friends, or when we’re expanding our community by making new friends.

 

Matthew 27:32

“As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross.”

 

This short verse is incredibly powerful. Jesus, in my mind, needed the rest at this point. Simon helped Christ when He desperately needed help. It does not matter that Simon was compelled to help. Christ himself, praying in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest, asked his Father, ‘if you are willing, remove this cup from me.’”

 

Within marriage and in life, we do not ask for hardship. Yet time and again in I’ve seen people carrying one another’s burdens. I’ve seen spouses and parents do this. I’ve seen people dedicate their lives and careers for the service of others.

 

I’ve seen that sacrificial love beautifully on display right here in this meeting. Care giving is hard. But please know that others around you are deeply impacted by your selfless examples of love.

 

Revelation 21:5

“And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’”

 

These words come in the final book of the Bible, at the opposite of the book from Adam and Eve. Within marriage, in our lives, and in our communities, there is always a new beginning.

 

People find new meaning and fulfillment after divorce, after infertility, after the death of a loved one.

 

In our personal lives, in our relationships, and in our community and society, we can walk a new path after hurt, anger, and injustice.

 

Our closing hymn today, “Morning has Broken,” states this potential of renewal beautifully.

 

Mine is the sunlight
Mine is the morning
Born of the one light Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise ev'ry morning
God's recreation of the new day

 

Think back to today’s opening Scripture, to the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve have the worst day possible…. It’s such a bad day it’s simply called “The Fall.” They are cast out of Eden, and what’s the first thing they do?

 

They look to each other to start anew. We see from the Scripture, with the birth of Cain and Abel, that their heartbreak is not over.

Yet they carried on in a new way.

 

In his writings, George Fox made stirring references to “the Fall.” From his writings you can see why marriage has been used as a metaphor for Christ and the Church.

 

In one passage, Fox wrote of marriage as “an Immortal powerful Bond, above and beyond that state which is in the Fall….”

 

Fox believed perfect love and intimacy with God was possible, even if for a brief period of time in this life. In stating this, he made specific reference to the Fall, to Adam, and to the flaming sword placed at the east end of Eden:

“Now I was come up in spirit through the flaming sword, into the paradise of God. All things were new; and all the creation gave unto me another smell than before, beyond what words can utter. I knew nothing but pureness, and innocency, and righteousness; being renewed into the image of God by Christ Jesus, to the state of Adam, which he was in before he fell.”

So… What does all of this mean?

 

And what of Adam and Eve after the Fall?

They were hurt and imperfect people, just as we are. Outside the Garden of Eden they had new clothes. They had new hardships. Perhaps they even had a new smell.

To put it bluntly, they were MARRED. M-A-R-R-E-D.

Life here on Earth, outside Eden, will mar us, all of us.

Yet Adam and Eve retained at least two things from their time in the Garden of Eden—they had the love of God, and they had each other.

They knew they were not alone.

We too have God’s Love, and we have each other.

We know we are not alone.

Queries

What does marriage mean to me, to our faith community, to our society? What can marriage teach us about God’s love? Have there been marriages in my life—my own or another’s, from people living or who have passed—that have modeled divine love?

 

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8-5-18 - When Death Becomes the Seeds of Life

When Death Becomes the Seeds of Life

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

August 5, 2018

 

 

John 12:24-25 MSG

 

24-25 “Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.

 

 

There has been a lot of death in our community over the last couple of weeks giving us a lot to process and think about.  It seems ironic that our Vacation Bible School this year dealt with loneliness, worry, struggle, and feelings of powerlessness – all issues that are involved in the grieving process. Mourning and grief can take the wind out of us, but often it is in learning to live within the grief and pain , where we are allowed to see the hope!

 

This week, Nancy Scott spoke of this in the Friend to Friend section on the community garden regarding our friend, Ann Panah.  She said,

Many plants die after harvest. Some, like chives, return in the spring (Some of the chives in the Community Garden are part of what Ann started in her plot). Others begin anew from seeds left behind. Some come up on their own as volunteers. Others need a helping hand to collect and sow their seeds when the conditions are right. Most need pollinators. People, like plants, have relationships and life cycles.

Ann’s work on her garden showcased persistence, commitment and endurance. She gave her energy to the earth and that lowly dirt reared up with life as a blessing to Ann. In this process Ann herself embodied hope. She became a living presence of hope through her example. We hoped with her and learned from her. She was a gift living among us.

 

 

Rob Bell in his widely read book, “Love Wins” also addresses this idea in a chapter titled “Dying to Live.”  He says,

 

“In the fall in many parts of the world, the leaves drop from the trees and the plants die. They turn brown, wither, and lose their life.  They remain this way for the winter – dormant, dead, lifeless.  And then spring comes, and they burst into life again.  Growing sprouting, producing new leaves and buds.  For there to be Spring, there has to be a fall and then a winter.  For nature to spring to life, it first has to die.  Death, then resurrection. This is true for ecosystems, food chains, the seasons, -- it’s true all across the environment.  Death gives way to life.”

 

That is what we heard in our text for this morning.  Seeds have to be buried in the ground before they can rise up from out of the earth as new life.  Think about that for a moment…when we see death around us, when people are being buried in the ground, when we are ending an era, when jobs, ministries, administrations, even buildings or businesses are closing – each are making way for life.  The “seed” is the metaphor for potential life to break forth!

 

But in our grief, in our pain, in our wanting to hold on to the past, or our idea of what we thought something should be – we cling to death – we hinder the needed change – we miss the opportunities around us to embrace the life that is around us now!

 

I am not saying grief, mourning, remembering, are wrong (they are essential, needed, and part of each of our lives) – but if they begin to strangle out the life around us they diminish life.

 

·        The death of a loved one can be devastating.

·        The ending of an era can be full of anxiety of what is next.

·        The loss of a job can seem like the end – but often these are only the beginning of something new.

 

When death comes it forces us to see life in new ways. It changes things.  It also gives birth to new possibilities.

 

Rob challenges his reader to “Think of what you’ve had to eat today.” He says,

 

“Dead. All of it. If you ate plants, they were at some point harvested, uprooted, disconnected from a stalk or vine, yanked from the ground so that they could make their way to your plate, where you ate them so that you can…live. The death of one living thing for the life of another.”

 

What he is saying is that this “Dying to Live” is built into the core of our being as humans.  It is part of how God created us.  Take for example how…

 

·        Scientifically – the cells in our bodies are dying at a rate of millions a second, only to be replaced at a similar rate of millions a second.  Our skin is constantly shedding and replacing itself with new cells – we have an entirely new skin every week or so

·        Relationally – when someone sacrifices their life to save another – policeman, fireman, soldiers, a heroic neighbor, etc…we are inspired by the giving of life to save life.

 

These are only two examples, but I bet if we thought for a while we would begin to see death giving way to life all around us.

 

Just pause for a moment and ponder where in your life death has given way to life?  (and again…where may it be wanting to, but not able to?)

 

Or how about First Friends – where in the life of our meeting has death given way to life?  (and where may it be wanting to, but not able to?)

 

I have been pondering this for quite some time…I believe many of us in this room are facing this very thought process – some on a daily basis.

 

Because death is giving way to life all around us…we must be aware of what this may mean in our day-to-day lives, ministries, careers, families, etc…

 

In his book, “The Holy Longing,” Ronald Rolhieser, speaks of the various deaths in our lives, I don’t have enough time to go into great detail about each of them, but I do want to give you his list and briefly explain each.  Rolhieser says that these deaths are the “bread and butter of our lives.” – that unless we die in infancy we will be experiencing many deaths in our lifetime – and more importantly that means we will also be given new life through that death.  Here are the deaths Rolhieser emphasizes…

 

1.     Death of our Youth…

Each day we are getting older, but that doesn’t mean we are dead.  Our choices in life are happening now – not back when… Many people refuse to give up their youth – always trying to live in the past.  Our bodies are changing, our minds are changing, and the world around us is changing.  We cannot live or even be like we were in our teens, 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s,…etc… We must admit that our youth has died and given birth to new seasons, eras, and most importantly who we are in the present moment.

 

Just think about it – many of us cause more death in our lives because we have what we label a mid-life crisis – where for some reason we feel we can go back.  The reality is that our past lives have died and given birth to who we are now.

 

2.     Death of our Wholeness…

This Rolhieser explains is the death that results when part of us is fractured and dies.  Maybe it was an abusive relationship, a lack of care or love, a divorce, a bad childhood, a degrading work situation, having been diagnosed with cancer or sickness, the loss of mobility, or even our minds…each of us endure things in life that cause us to be incomplete.

 

Acknowledging these deaths make us aware that we are not whole – that part of us has died along life’s path.  Each of us has something that makes us incomplete.  The death of our wholeness does not mean that we are not living – that God isn’t bringing newness to our pain.  Instead, we are admitting that we are not whole – that there are places that need newness of life!

 

3.     Death of our Dreams…

Karl Rahner put it well, in the torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable we begin to realize that here, in this life, all symphonies remain unfinished.

 

Rolhieser says, “When we fail to mourn properly our incomplete lives then this incompleteness becomes a gnawing restlessness, a bitter center, that robs our lives of all delight.”

 

Part of us, on this earthly journey, will never be fulfilled, we will experience times of loneliness, restlessness, and incompleteness.  As we become more aware of who we are, we may realize we are trying to live someone else’s dream or a dream that has died a long time ago, instead of the dreams that you and I are being made for in the present.

 

I believe that God wants us to dream dreams that are for now! That ideal dream, the American dream, the dream that someone else has for you – whatever it is may need to die – so that you can allow yourself to really dream with God for the future.

 

4.     Death of our Honeymoon…

I have heard people say…well, the honeymoon is over. The passion of a relationship has died. We have changed. This could be for married partners as well as friendships.  All relationships must go through times of death.

 

That big argument, that time of separation, that disagreement, may actually be the beginning of a death – but if we can see it as the beginning of something new – a new season in our relationship – it will give life!

 

The honeymoon is much like the “mountain top experience” – when we let it die – we begin to find new adventures that fit more into the daily aspects of life and allow us to sense renewal and hope on a more regular and ordinary basis.

 

And that leads us to the last death…

 

5.     The Death of a Certain Idea of God and Church...

Where ever we are on life’s journey with God, we too often cling to a specific era in our walk with God.  Many of us spend our lives trying to find the meeting or church of our youth – or the meeting or church that provides that one experience that we encountered back when.

 

The reality is that we are constantly changing…and we are always spiritually forming – whether we are attempting to or not. We are learning, experiencing, and feeling our way through life and our walk with God.

 

I don’t see church or God the way I did when I was in fourth grade – or high school – or in college – or for that matter last week!

 

Too often you and I are so stuck in the image of God or of church from a previous time or experience, that we cannot recognize God’s presence within our current reality.  God wants to meet and work with you and I in the present moment.

 

We are in a critical time as part of the church in America – I think it is becoming clear that we are going to have to put to death some of our ideas from the past so that God can do new things with and through us currently.

 

[Pause]

 

These five deaths that Rolhieser points out are what I would call “seeds,”  They need to be buried and die – so new life can arise!  What might that look for you and I?

 

I return to Rob’s words from “Love Wins” – he says,

 

“Jesus talks about death and rebirth constantly, his and ours. He calls us to let go, turn away, renounce, confess, repent, and leave behind the old ways.  He talks about life that will come from his own death, and he promises that life will flow to us in thousands of small ways as we die to our egos, our pride, our need to be right, our self-sufficiency, our rebellion, and our stubborn insistence that we deserve to get our way. When we cling with white knuckles to our sins and our hostility, we’re like a tree that won’t let its leaves go. There can’t be spring if we’re stuck in the fall.

 

Lose your life and find it, he says.

That’s how the world works.

That’s how the soul works.

That’s how life works – when you’re dying to live.”

 

So ask yourself this morning…

 

·        What do I need to die to, so that I can really live?

·        What do we need to die to as a meeting, so we can really live?

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7-22-18 - Called To Come Alive and Help Rescue

Called To Come Alive and Help Rescue

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

July 22, 2018

 

Psalm 27:7-14 The Message (MSG)

 

7-9 Listen, God, I’m calling at the top of my lungs:
    “Be good to me! Answer me!”
When my heart whispered, “Seek God,”
    my whole being replied,
“I’m seeking him!”
    Don’t hide from me now!

9-10 You’ve always been right there for me;
    don’t turn your back on me now.
Don’t throw me out, don’t abandon me;
    you’ve always kept the door open.
My father and mother walked out and left me,
    but God took me in.

11-12 Point me down your highway, God;
    direct me along a well-lighted street;
    show my enemies whose side you’re on.
Don’t throw me to the dogs,
    those liars who are out to get me,
    filling the air with their threats.

13-14 I’m sure now I’ll see God’s goodness
    in the exuberant earth.
Stay with God!
    Take heart. Don’t quit.
I’ll say it again:
    Stay with God.

 

 

Following our service this morning, we will be gathering in the fellowship hall for a lite lunch and then the kick off to this year’s Vacation Bible School.  The theme for this year is “Shipwrecked: Rescued by Jesus.”  

 

As I have been preparing for my part in VBS, I have also been pondering the concept of being “rescued.”  There is much in our world today that is crying out for a rescue.  The Bible itself is full of imagery of God’s rescuing, liberating, or saving people - from literal storms at sea to one’s own struggles and hardships that get in the way of truly living. 

 

For most of us, we remember a time (or several times) when we needed to be rescued.  Times when we literally cried out that God would come miraculously and save us from some horrific situation. 

 

My earliest remembrance of needing to be rescued was my first time at camp when I was in 5th grade. One afternoon at free time, my childhood friend and I went swimming.  It was popular back then to play “Chicken” where one person gets up on the shoulders of another and then tries to stay up while two other friends try and knock them down. 

 

It is really “King of the Hill” in the water.  Well, I was a little bigger than my friend, so I quickly put him on my shoulders and we headed out in the water.  We were doing rather well, we had won a couple battles and lost only one. I noticed as we wrestled people down we were heading further and further in to deeper water.  Soon just the tops of my shoulders and head were sticking out of the water with my friend weighing me down. 

 

In a flash, another team of larger boys gave my friend a huge blow to the chest and down we started to go.  Now, we had been warned to stay away from the floating dock, but as we fell my friend locked his legs firmly around my neck.  He went below the water with me and ended up caught under the floating dock. Everything seemed to be in slow motion.  I quickly opened my eyes to see the sunlight above me and about 6 inches of water in between. I tried hard to push my friends legs up and over my head, but he continued to push me down.  I wanted to cry out for help, but I couldn’t.  I immediately became scared and started to flap my arms.  And then suddenly in one fell swoop, the lifeguard blew her whistle, jumped in the water and pulled us out. I had taken in a lot of lake water, but I had been rescued.  The lifeguard had saved my life.

 

This incident was burned into my memory.  I can almost remember it as if it happened yesterday.  It still gives me an uneasy feeling.  But even more, as I recall that experience, I realize it is much like many of the other times I have needed rescued in my life. Some of the same basic things I wrestled with when I was at camp needing saved continue to be similar, still today.

 

Like, those times when I thought things were under control – when I seemed to be “winning in life,” yet didn’t notice that in reality things were actually spinning out of control.

 

or

 

Those times when the weight of my friendships or relationships had such a deep impact on my life that I did not understand their complexity and found myself needing to be saved from them.

 

or

 

Those times I sensed the warnings – sometime recognizing them and at other times completely ignoring or missing them – only to find myself crying out for help.

 

or

 

Those times when I seemed to experience life in slow motion – life passing before me, having me wonder what am I to do and how do I get out of this.

 

or

 

Those times I have tried hard to cry out for help, but find myself reluctant or unable because of pride or fear – and then life seems to take me down.   

 

Needing “saved” can take on a lot of different faces. 

 

And I know when all of those elements come together they often form the perfect storm – and its then that I have been found in deep despair needing rescued. Crying out to God or anyone who would save me.

 

I think it is safe to say, we all at times need to be saved.  We need rescued.  We need liberated from those things that oppress and keep us from truly living. 

 

One of the themes that seem to reoccur throughout human and biblical history is the need to be rescued.  For some people of faith, that is all religion is about – being rescued from this planet and the suffering here.  But if we go back to the very beginning of the Bible to what scholars believe as where the story of “salvation” or being rescued began – we find the book of Exodus and the rescue from Egypt. 

 

It was Rob Bell in his book, “Jesus Wants To Save Christians” where I first began to wrestle with what it actually meant to be rescued, liberated, saved.  Rob says,

 

“Egypt, the superpower of its day, was ruled by Pharaoh, who responded to the threat of the growing number of Israelites in his country by forcing them into slavery.  They had to work every day without a break making bricks, building storehouses for Pharaoh. 

 

Egypt is an empire, built on the backs of Israelite slave labor, brick, by brick, by brick.

 

But right away in the book of Exodus, there is a disruption.  Things change. And the change begins with God saying…

 

‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people…’

‘I have heard them crying out…’

‘I have come down to rescue them…’”  

 

Now, this is a familiar story that continues to play out throughout our history.  The children of Israel under the oppression of the Egyptian regime, is the story of of the African Americans in our country during slavery and Jim Crow, it is the story of women suffragettes who fought for rights, or the Me Too women of today who have been abused and treated as less than equal, it is the story of the Native Americans from the founding of our country, , the Asian Americans during World War II.  It’s the story of refugees fleeing oppressive regimes. It is story of the LGBTQ community’s fight for equality and acknowledgement. And it is the story of the South Africans during apartheid, the Jewish people in Nazi Germany, the people of Rawanda and Darfur during genocide, the Syrians, and the people of Gaza…oh…and the list seems never to end…

 

Each have cried out to be rescued, from the drowning bondage, the slavery, the abuse, the oppression that kept them from truly living… Each wanted to be saved, liberated, rescued, and free.

 

And just like that original story from Exodus…God did not simply intervene and change the course of history with a wave of his hand (yes, at times, I believe there were miracles that took place). But most of the time, God sent a human (one of us) to intervene.  Just like I believe that lifeguard was sent to rescue me in 5th grade God sent a deliverer named Moses to the people in Egypt.  And if we look carefully at history, God has been sending humans to intervene throughout time.

 

People like:

Nelson Mandela (100th birthday)                     

Elizabeth Fry                                                Gandhi

Galileo                                                           John Woolman

Leonardo da Vinci                                      Harvey Milk

Mother Theresa                                          Billy Jean King

Abraham Lincoln                                        Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Rosa Parks                                                    Albert Einstein

Martin Luther King Jr.                               Cesar Chavez

Susan B. Anthony                                       Sitting Bull

 

And the list could go on and on...God has been raising up ordinary people to intervene, recue, liberate, and help save our neighbors all along. 

 

The reality is, as Rob Bell points out,

 

“God needs a body.  God needs flesh and blood.  God needs bones and skin so that Pharaoh will know just who this God is he’s dealing with and how this God acts in the world.  And not just so Pharaoh will know but so that all of humanity will know.”     

 

There have been and currently are many Pharoah’s in our world, that God is needing a body to resist and begin the liberation process for those oppressed.  He is calling women and men to be raised up, to bring the Good News, the hope of liberation, and rescue to the people of our world.

 

People are slaves to many things today. Maybe someone in this room is being called to free someone from the oppression of technology, work schedules, busyness. Maybe someone is being called to rescue a friend who is a slave to over eating, or pornography, or an addiction that is destroying their life. Maybe someone is being called to save a friend from that unhealthy relationship, family member, or boss.  Again the list could go on and on… 

 

As Rob Bell states,

 

“It’s as if God is saying, “The thing that has happened to you – go make it happen for others. The freedom from oppression that you are now experiencing – help others experience that same freedom. The grace that has been extended to you when you were at your lowest – extend it to others.  In the same way that I heard your cry, go and hear the cry of others and act on their behalf.”

 

I think too often we pray or cry out expecting a miracle, or for God to “magically” intervene, and while we are fervently praying or crying out and waiting for a miracle, we are missing our call, our opportunity, our moment where we become the hands and feet of Jesus to our neighbor.  Like the life preserver, God wants to use us in his saving process.  

 

I remember once teaching a college class and a student challenged a classmate on her fervent prayers.  She said, “You say you continue to pray the same prayer each morning hoping for a change and looking for God to intervene…but have you ever thought that your prayer is a crutch not allowing you to be God’s instrument in the situation?  Just maybe God wants to answer that prayer through you.” 

 

The American Church is obsessed with the phrase “Jesus Saves” – but I think we need to go one step further and ask ourselves – how does Jesus save? How does Jesus rescue us? How do we experience the rescue?

 

It might take a life guard jumping in the water to physically save you.

It might take a teacher educating you.

It might take a friend willing to say “no” to you.

It might take someone reminding you that you are loved. 

It may take a welcome smile.

It might take a person to stand up for your rights. 

It might take a person willing to sacrifice their life to get our attention.    

 

Did you know that in the original Aramaic language of Jesus’ day, there was no word for salvation – or “being saved.” Salvation was understood as a bestowal of life, and to be saved was “to be made alive.”

 

Civil Rights leader, theologian, and philosopher, Howard Thurman, was a man who understood oppression, who understood what it meant to be rescued or saved in the truest sense – to be made alive.  He said,

 

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go and do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” 

 

This is what we mean by resurrection! They have come alive here and now! I am telling you – if we turned off the news and actually came alive and did what we love – the world would be a way better place – we would bring salvation to our neighbors (they too would come alive)! 

 

Also, I truly believe if there is ANY oppression in this world, there is work to do…and as Quakers who believe in equality, peace, integrity, community we must respond. We must join the rescue effort.  We must be liberators! We must find ways to lessen the oppression so all people can live in peace together. So all people can come alive to their full potential.

 

Quaker Rex Ambler put it this way in Rediscovering the Quaker way,

 

“When we open ourselves to the truth of our life, our self-deceptions and denials are revealed, including the false image we have of ourselves, and at the same time we discover the true self that lies behind these images.  We discover who we really are, not isolated and apart from others, but one with them, and with life itself.  This awareness awakens a great feeling for life, and for others, that we can only call love…We are able to act out of love, that is, out of warm respect for other people and other creatures, so that we want spontaneously to help them and not harm them.”

 

I am so glad that lifeguard jumped in the water and saved me and my friend.  I am so glad that God has called people throughout history to rise up and help our world come alive in the truest sense.  And I am happy for people in this room who are being raised up to help, save, rescue, liberate, and bring alive their neighbors, family and friends, because folks, God is wanting to use you in his great plan of salvation starting now!   

 

Ask  yourself this morning…

 

How am I coming alive in this world, today?

In what area do I need rescued, liberated, or saved? 

Who do I know who is living oppressed and needing rescued – that I am being called to join God in helping?

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7-8-18 - Encountering the Divine in Nature

Encountering the Divine in Nature

Worship in the Meditational Woods

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry (facilitator)

July 8, 2018

 

 

This morning we are going to do something slightly different from our normal routine for Meeting for Worship. Our setting itself is a welcomed change of pace from the Meetinghouse. I always find it a joy to be in these meditational woods – they are a very special place to commune with God within the city of Indianapolis.  I believe in our world today, we need to find time away from the news, the busyness, the clutter, and get back to our roots.  

 

A few years ago, a librarian friend of mine suggested I read the book “Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in the Everyday Life” by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussart. I picked up a copy of this just over 600-page book and found it a true joy.  One of the chapters in the book deals with nature.  It begins this way…

 

“Nature provides a theater for some of the most dramatic experiences of the sacred. Most people can tell you about a time when they were soothed, inspired, or awed while contemplating the natural world. 

            The settings may vary but the feelings are universal.  Communion with nature may take place while walking through the woods, watching a sunset, fishing in a mountain stream, looking at the waves of the ocean, observing the ripples on a lake, or sitting under a tree in a park.

            Often these occasions turn into mystical moments when we sense that the inhabitants of the world – the trees, flowers, fields, streams, hills, rocks, dolphins, bears, birds, and babies – are our relations, as Native Americans express it.  When this happens, we have started to read the book of nature.

            Both the historical and the primal religions emphasize the importance of the natural world as a reservoir of spiritual meaning.  For Jews, Christians, and Muslims, the Earth reflects the glories of God. Buddhists, Hindus, and Taoists look for the connections between nature and human nature.

             For the aboriginal peoples of the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Australia, the land and all the creatures upon it are spiritual teachers who must be listened to and taken seriously.  The shamans of these groups are those who understand the languages of stones, plants, trees, and animals.” 

 

From this point on our service this morning will be broken into three sections: Go Out, God’s Trademark, and Wrapped in the Ordinary.  

 

During each section you will have the opportunity to let God’s creation or nature sooth, inspire, and awe you. We will be taking longer moments of reflection to allow your senses and minds to fully engage.  Also, during each of the sections, I will be sharing a thought or story from someone who has been lead to a deeper appreciation for nature and its effects on our lives. Then I will give us a query to ponder and Eric will wrap each section up with a song. I am asking us to keep silent during these experiences instead of speaking out of the silence, let nature do that this morning, so we can fully experience the Divine in nature.

 

So, let me begin our time this morning with our first section.

 

Section One -- Go Out.

 

Our thought is from Bede Griffiths, a British-born Benedictine monk and priest who lived in ashrams in South India and became a noted yogi.  In his book, River of Compassion he writes…

    

In South India there is a pilgrimage to a place called Sabarimala.  It is a pilgrimage to the forest and hundreds of thousands of people go there every year. The deep meaning of this is that people need to go back from time to time to the forest, to the wilds, where they were before they belonged to a settled civilization with a home and a city.  We need to recall the freedom of the forest. Some time each year, at least, we should go out from our fixed abode, leaving our possessions and everything to which we are attached, and become free to wander or to settle in some very quiet place, to be free for some time like the sannyasi. 

 

Bede Griffiths in River of Compassion (from Spiritual Literacy)

 

 

Bede Griffiths challenges us today to “go out” from our fixed abode.  We have done that this morning.  He asks us to become free to wander or settle into a quiet place and to release everything from which we are attached.  For us Quakers this is centering down.

 

Let’s now take some time in this quiet place to center our hearts, to calm our minds, and re-connect to the wild, to creation, and to God.  Let us open our hearts and senses to this place.

 

 

Section Two – God’s Trademark

 

For our second section this morning, I would like to read from Nicaraguan poet and priest Ernesto Cardenal.  In his work, “Abide in Love”  he shares his observations of nature that give rise to the spiritual practice of wonder.

 

Everything in nature has a trademark, God’s trademark: the stripes on a shell and the stripes on a zebra; the grain of the wood and the veins of the dry leaf; the markings on the dragonfly’s wings and the pattern of stars on a photographic plate, the panther’s coat and the epidermal cells of the lily petal; the structure of atoms and galaxies. All bear God’s fingerprints.

            There is a style, a divine style in everything that exists, which shows that it was created by the same artist. Everything is multiplicity within unity. Everything is both like other things and unique. Every individual thing has its own manner of being; it is that thing and not anything else. At the same time there are millions and millions of others like it, both minute creatures and immense stars. Everything has its own stripes, speckles, spots, dapples, veins, or grain – the caterpillar, the clay pot, the chameleon, the Klee painting and the Persian carpet, sea spray, stalactites, white agate veins in pebbles, the carpet of autumn leaves, wood, marble, sea shells, and the skeleton of the reptile…

            In the image of God who created them, all beings are at once one and many, from the galaxy to the electron.

            No two caterpillars are alike, no two atoms, no two stars, even though they look the same in the sky at night. But all things also have something in common. The poet seeks to discover this pattern, this design running throughout creation, and tries to see how even the most different things have an underlying likeness. The mountains skip like rams and the hills like young lambs…Your hair is like a flock of goats winding through the mountains of Gilead.

 

Earnesto Cardenal in Abide in Love (from Spiritual Literacy)

 

Now, take a moment to look around you, look at both nature, the people, the space, where do you see "God’s trademark" in this place? What patterns, fractals, similarities do you see?  What is the underlying likeness running through everything?  Allow your eyes and mind to engage the wonder of creation.

 

Section Three – Wrapped in the Ordinary

 

In our third section, I will be sharing words from “A tree Full of Angels” by Marcina Wiederkehr, a member of Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and a catholic nun who has a facility for finding the sacred in the ordinary.

 

I must share with you a story about a particularly barren time in my life when I used a tree for a spiritual director. I learned so much that year because I listened in silence…

            Because it was small I couldn’t lean on it but could only sit beside it. That taught me a lot about what the role of spiritual guide should be.

            Even though it was small, it had the ability to give me a certain amount of shade. You don’t have to have a lot of leaves to give shade. Because it was silent I listened deeply. You don’t need a lot of words to connect with God.

            When it got thirsty I watered it.  The miracle of water is a little like the miracle of God’ love. That little sycamore taught me a lot about foot washing.  Watering it was a great joy. A soul-friend relationship never works only one way.  There is a mutual giving and receiving.

            I learned from my tree that being transplanted is possible. I can always put down roots again, connect with the Great Root, and grow on…

            I wouldn’t recommend using a tree for a spiritual guide all the days of one’s life, but that sycamore got me through a long stretch of barrenness.  It was only a little tree, and I didn’t know it was holy until I spent time with it.  Truly, holiness comes wrapped in the ordinary. 

 

Macrina Wiederkehr in A Tree Full of Angels (from Spiritual Literacy)

 

 

I have always been fascinated by trees.  They seem to call me.  I find myself painting and drawing trees. There is a spirituality among trees, a sense of community, a wonder and awe that only trees can possesses.  They also have unique personalities, shapes, colors.  Trees are their own eco system. They are life sustainers, life producers, and life shelters. 

 

Take a moment to hone in on a specific tree in these woods, what might it be teaching you this morning? (If you would like to get up and move, to experience a tree more up close and personal, please do. Getting the perspective from underneath the tree, even up in the branches, and from a distance is important. Touching a tree also creates a special bond and connectedness.  Take this time to connect to a part of creation we take for granted that is part of the ordinary.  Allow God to speak to you through the trees in which we commune today.)

 

Prayer for our Path Dedication:

O Creator,

May this path be a path to peace and love.

May it be a path to prayer and communion with You.

May it be a path to moments of silence, stillness, and solitude.

May it be a path to transformation and growth.

May it be a path to thanksgiving and gratitude.

May it be a path to wisdom and discernment.

May it be a path to hope.

May it be a path to courage and perseverance.

May it be a path to strength and encouragement.

May it be a path to rest and refreshment.

And may it be a path that connects us to your wonderful creation!

Creator, be our companion on the way, our guide at the crossroads, our strength in weariness, our defense in dangers, our shelter on the path, our shade in heat, our light in darkness, our comfort in discouragement, no matter what path you have set before us. Bless now this path and all who take it.  And all God’s people said, AMEN! 

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7-1-18 - Ignite the Light

Ignite the Light

Indianapolis First Friends Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

July 1, 2018

 

It was James Nayler, a seventeenth-century English Quaker/Friend and traveling minister, who is probably best known for his fall into the darkness and eventual emergence into the Light at the end of a painful imprisonment who said,

 

“Art thou in the darkness? Mind it not, for if thou dost thee will feed it more. Stand still, act not, and wait in patience till light arises out of darkness and leads thee.”

 

Now, in a little more plain English…

 

“Are you in darknesss? Don’t mind it, for if you do, you will feed it more. Just stand still, don’t act on it, but wait in patience until the light arises out of the darkness and leads you.”

 

This morning we are going to talk about letting our light shine out of the darkness as you will hear in our text that Eric is going to read.  Take some time in our silence and meditation time to center down on those areas of darkness surrounding you and where also the Light may be leading you.

 

2 Corinthians 4:6-12

6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

 

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

9 years ago, on our way back from our first family vacation to Florida, we stopped to experience Mammoth Cave, in Kentucky. How many have been there?

 

On our tour we went straight down deep into the bowels of one of the caves and then were to meander slowly up and out over the next couple of hours. 

It was in the largest opening - a huge cavern - that we stopped with our group.  In the cavern they had placed lights throughout to highlight the beauty of the rock formations and to give us a visual path to the exit. 

 

Our guide talked about the importance of light, but also talked about light pollution – especially for people who live in big cities or suburbs.  He said, we don’t know what living from “sun up to sun down” actually meant. 

 

Our guide then had us take our hand and put is right in front of our face.  He explained that even today because of light pollution we can still make out our hand in front of our face with the lights out.  But before the world had light pollution – this is what it was like. 

 

He then proceeded to turn off all the lights in the cave. Wow! It was a bit scary.  You could see nothing.  I could not even see the outline of my hand.  I could not see Sue or the boys.  I quickly realized I could not see or sense direction.  It was disturbing.  Light is so important to us.

 

But just as important is how dark the darkness really is.

 

During the summer months we have the sun much later at night.  So we stay up later around the camp fire or backyard fire pit.  We wait until the sun sets to watch fireworks – as we will this week.  It is at night that we see lightening bugs – something that we missed in Oregon because they did not have them. 

 

As we sat out in our back yard the other night the moon seemed more brilliant, and I could see the stars even with the light pollution of the city. 

 

Darkness at times can almost seem magical. 

But it is because of the darkness that the light is so important.

 

This week we celebrate the Fourth of July and fireworks will be a key part of that celebration. It seems fireworks have become main stream.  We experienced fireworks at Disney World, recently after a Major League baseball game, even our neighbors set off fireworks in their yard that lit up the sky.  They seem to bring so much joy to children and adults alike. I believe they represent a celebration.  They bring awe and wonder.  Some consider them patriotic, but this week I decided to do a little history on fireworks. 

 

Jeff Rice in a piece on the History of Fireworks says this...

 

The history of fireworks goes back thousands of years to China during the Han dynasty (~200 B.C.), even long before gunpowder was invented. It is believed that the first "firecrackers" were likely chunks of green bamboo, which someone may have thrown onto a fire when dry fuel ran short. The rods sizzled and blackened, and after a while, unexpectedly exploded. Bamboo grows so fast that pockets of air and sap get trapped inside of the plant's segments. When heated, the air inside of the hollow reeds expands, and eventually bursts through the side with a long bam!

 

The strange sound, which had never been heard before, frightened people and animals terribly (it still does). The Chinese figured that if it scared living creatures so much, it would probably scare away spirits - particularly an evil spirit called Nian, who they believed to eat crops and people. After that, it became customary for them to throw green bamboo onto a fire during the Lunar New Year in order to scare Nian and other spirits far way, thus ensuring happiness and prosperity to their people for the remainder of the year. Soon, the Chinese were using bursting bamboo for other special occasions, such as weddings, coronations, and births. The "bursting bamboo", or pao chuk as the Chinese called it, continued to be used for the next thousand or so years.

 

I found this fascinating.  To think that fireworks were used by the Chinese to scare away evil spirits seems a wonderful illustration for us today. This is as our text said, “light shining out of the darkness” Evil spirits have always been associated with darkness.

 

Just as children talk about being afraid of the dark, about monsters under their beds and things that go bump in the night.  Parents are quick to illuminate the darkness.  We give our children nightlights or leave lights on to make it less scary.  When we go camping we give them flashlights, and I know as a camp counselor those were not just to find the path to the bathhouse, no they helped with homesickness, when it was too dark and things were scary. 

 

I shared that story about Mammoth Cave earlier because I have to admit I was a little bit afraid in that darkness.  For a split second, I thought, “What if the power went out and the lights did not come on?” 

 

In Jesus’ day it was that dark at night.  We don’t understand the Biblical story of the 10 Virgins and how important keeping their wicks trimmed and the oil in the lamps was to simply getting home after sunset. It was dark and light was of utter importance.  

 

Now, darkness doensn’t have to be the absence of physical light.  Sometimes, we suffer from levels of darkness in our own hearts.  As our scriptures said this morning, sometimes we are hard pressed on every side, we feel crushed,  perplexed, maybe in despair, sometimes we are persecuted, feeling abandoned, even struck down, or destroyed.  Death – physical or mental is knocking at our doors. 

 

 

There are times we aren’t sure if the lights are ever going to come back on for us.

There are times when we think the bad person is going to win or get us.

There are times when we think the darkness is going to consume us.

 

But God has said to us,

 

“Let light shine out of darkness,”

 

God has made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

 

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

 

God wants us to remember our inner lights.

God wants us to look deep within our own souls. 

God has placed a special knowledge, an all-surpassing power within us. 

God wants us to be the light in this dark world.

 

Sometimes that is hard to believe.

Sometimes that light is hard to find.

Sometimes we wonder if the darkness of our world has consumed us and simply blown out our inner light.

Sometimes that means we need the shining light of our neighbors and friends surrounding us.

 

But scripture says that we are that treasure – in jars of clay.  Just think about this… we are really more like fireworks than we know.  Those big beautiful fireworks that we see on the 4th of July or at Disney World, or at the ball park – did you know those are clay shells.  They are fragile and need careful attention and care so they can really make an impact in the dark night sky.

 

The light, the color, the sparkle is found within those clay shells. And much like fireworks, God wants us to recognize the light within each of us and ignite it and come alive!  And when we do – it is actually out of the darkness that we are the most beautiful. That we radiate the Light of God into our world.   

 

A great modern theologian of our day, said it this way…

 

Do you ever feel like a plastic bag
Drifting though the wind
Wanting to start again

Do you ever feel, feel so paper thin
Like a house of cards
One blow from caving in

Do you ever feel already buried deep
Six feet under

Scream but no one seems to hear a thing

 

Do you know that there's still a chance for you
'Cause there's a spark in you

You just gotta ignite the light
And let it shine
Just own the night
Like the Fourth of July

 

'Cause baby you're a firework
Come on show 'em what your worth
Make 'em go "Oh, oh, oh!"
As you shoot across the sky-y-y

Baby you're a firework
Come on let your colors burst
Make 'em go "Oh, oh, oh!"
You're gonna leave 'em fallin' down down down

 

You don't have to feel like a waste of space
You're original, cannot be replaced
If you only knew what the future holds
After a hurricane comes a rainbow

 

Maybe a reason why all the doors are closed
So you can open one that leads you to the perfect road
Like a lightning bolt, your heart will glow
And when it's time, you'll know

You just gotta ignite the light
And let it shine
Just own the night
Like the Fourth of July

 

Firework by Katy Perry

Songwriters: Esther Dean / Mikkel Storleer Eriksen / Tor Erik Hermansen / Katy Perry / Sandy Julien Wilhelm

Firework lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Peermusic Publishing, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

 

You and I are fireworks.  We are to let our lights shine in the darkness of this world.

·        For some that will mean taking action.

·        For some that will mean being arrested and protesting.

·        For some that will mean volunteering and giving of themselves.

·        For some that will mean monetarily supporting.

·        For some that will mean physically moving or sacrificing.

·        For some that will mean dedicating their life to a call or passion.

·        For some that will mean becoming a faithful presence in their neighborhoods or community.

·        For some that will mean making food, writing letters, gardening, teaching, networking, smiling…you name it…

 

What is it for you? I look around this room and I could name so many ways that First Friends are “fireworks” in the darkness of our world already.  Yet how can we be even more brilliant, more impactful, more light in our dark world?  

 

I know often when my light seems rather dim or my firework seems to be fizzling that is when I need others to ignite my inner light.  One firework is beautiful, but a full night sky filled with fireworks -- now that is even better!  

 

When we recognize the light in us, when we let our light shine out of the darkness, then scripture says We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

 

Our “firework” life addresses the evil spirits in this world, and lights up our world to truly be a celebration of hope, and love and peace.  So when it gets dark this week and you sit out on the grass or in a lawn chair to watch the fireworks.  Watch them and let them be a reminder of how we are to live our lives brilliantly in the darkness of this world. 

 

As we enter into waiting worship this morning, ask yourself this query, How will I  let my light shine out of the darkness this week?  

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