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6-2-19 - Make My Joy Complete

Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

June 2, 2019

 

 

Philippians 2:1-5

 

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…

 

 

As those of you who were with us last Sunday already know, we had a beautiful gathered experience around the Big Oval in Fellowship Hall.  I have reflected back on our gathering several times throughout this week. Many of you have shared with me your positive experiences and the many take-aways. I thank Dan Rains once again for being willing to give testimony to our meeting and for so many of you sharing out of the silence. I am grateful for the experience and for the continued joy that has come out of our time together.

 

It seemed only appropriate that the scripture for this week be almost a recap of what we experienced last week.  If anything, we were encouraged, united, and comforted by a common sharing in the Spirit – there was tenderness and compassion, no selfish ambition or vain conceit, because what happened last week was grounded in our relationships with one another.  I know that my joy was made complete last week because of the unity and genuine compassion and joy that First Friends exudes for our community.  Honestly, being the shepherd of this community, is a blessing and true joy and I feel honored to minister alongside each of you. 

 

For me to be able to say those words means a lot more to me than most people would know.  At my last meeting in Oregon, there were many times when I did not feel being a pastor was a blessing and joy. I struggled with my own identity and especially seeing that of God in all people.  And let’s be honest, there are STILL moments when I struggle, I have personal and internal work to do, and yes, even sometimes when I have to admit that my perspective simply has to change.  

 

One of the voices that spoke deeply to my condition as I was going through those difficult days in Oregon was author Rachel Held Evans. Sadly, Rachel was laid to rest yesterday. She died at the age of 37 of complications from brain seizures occurring after a bought with the flu.

 

It was the words of her first book, Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions (which ironically she retitled a few years ago, Faith Unraveled (an even better title for my condition) that inspired me – I know it did so because I painted a painting which illustrated one of the chapters, and when Rachel came to speak at George Fox, I presented it to her. 

 

The chapter I was inspired by was the chapter called, “John the Revelator.” Where Rachel had been led to read the Book of Revelation very late one night.  Here is what she wrote in her bathroom the night of her experience that had a profound impact on me,

 

“As I sat staring at the mustard-yellow tiles around our shower, I wondered what exactly John saw and heard to convince him that the kingdom of God includes people from every nation, tribe, people, and language, people from the north and the south and the east and the west. I imagined that he must have seen women wearing glorious red, green, and gold saris beneath their white robes. He must have seen voluminous African headdresses of every shape and color. He must have seen the turquoise jewelry of the Navajo, the rich wool of the Peruvians, the prayer shawls of the Jews. He must have seen faces of every shade and eyes of every shape. He must have seen orange freckles and coal-colored hair and moonlike complexions and the lovely flash of brilliant white teeth against black skin. He must have heard instruments of all kinds—bagpipes and lutes and dulcimers and banjos and gongs. He must have heard languages of every sound and cadence, melodies of every strain, and rhythms of every tempo. He must have heard shouts of praise to Elohim, Allah, and Papa God, shouts in Farsi and Hindi, Tagalog and Cantonese, Gaelic and Swahili, and in tongues long forgotten by history. And he must have seen the tears of every sadness—hunger and loneliness, sickness and loss, injustice and fear, tsunami and drought, rape and war—acknowledged and cherished and wiped away. In one loud and colorful moment, he must have witnessed all that makes us different and all that makes us the same…

 

With this in mind, (she says) I returned to John’s vision often, sometimes daily. Even on days when I wasn’t sure that God exists, when I wasn’t sure I loved him or even liked him much, I knew that I cherished this image of him. I don’t know anyone, believer or skeptic, who doesn’t long for a day when God wipes every tear from every eye, when “there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain” (Rev. 21:4 NASB). Even the faintest inkling that this might be true can keep you going for one more day.”

 

And that vision kept me going.  It taught me that seeing with eyes of compassion those around me could make my joy fuller or even more complete – or maybe I should say, “make OUR joy fuller and more complete.” 

 

This seeing though, was my work.  I needed to open my eyes to see those around me, to see those that were my enemies, those I was neglecting, those that I did not have God’s eyes to see. 

 

Just before I came to First Friends, I took a personal retreat at a local monastery.  While on the retreat I read Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness The Dalai Lama’s, “The Book of Joy.” Much like Rachel Held Evans’ writing, it too had a profound impact on me. But it was a meditation in the back of the book that helped me process how I see those around me. How wishing those around me blessings and joy brings blessings and joy and hope to me.  This is what makes our joy complete – when we are like-minded with Christ.  

 

This morning, as a guided time of waiting worship in this beautiful setting, I would like to lead us through that meditation.  It is simply titled…

 

 

Compassion Meditation

Let us begin with a time of settling…

Please settle into a comfortable position and allow yourself to relax.

Take a deep breath and release. For a few moments, just focus on your breath and clear your mind of worries. Notice when you are breathing in … and breathing out. Let yourself experience and be aware of the sensations of breathing.

Loving-kindness & Compassion for a Loved One

Picture someone who is close to you, someone toward whom you feel a great amount of love. Notice how this love feels in your heart.

Notice the sensations around your heart. Perhaps you feel a sensation of warmth, openness, and tenderness.

Continue breathing, and focus on these feelings as you visualize your loved one. As you breathe out, imagine that you are extending a golden light that holds your warm feelings from the center of your heart. Imagine that the golden light reaches out to your loved one, bringing him or her peace and happiness. At the same time, silently recite these phrases. 

May you have happiness.

May you be free from suffering.

May you experience joy and ease.

 

As you silently repeat these phrases, remember to extend the golden light to your loved one from your heart. Feel with all your heart that you wish your loved one happiness and freedom from suffering.

Compassion for a Loved One

Now think of a time when this person was suffering. Maybe they experienced an illness, an injury, or a difficult time in a relationship.

Notice how you feel when you think of his or her suffering. How does your heart feel? Do the sensations change? Do you continue to feel warmth, openness and tenderness? Are there other sensations, perhaps an aching sensation?

Continue to visualize your loved one as you breathe.  Imagine that you are extending the golden light from your heart to your loved one, and that the golden light is easing his or her suffering. Extend this light out to them during your exhalation, with the strong heartfelt wish that they be free from his or her suffering. Recite silently to him or her:

May you be free from this suffering.

May you have joy and happiness.

 

Notice how this feels in your heart. What happened to your heart? Did the sensations change? Did you continue to feel warmth, openness and tenderness? Were there other sensations, an aching sensation perhaps? Did you have a wish to take away the other’s suffering? 

Compassion for Self

Contemplate a time when you have suffered yourself. Perhaps you experienced a conflict with someone you care about, or did not succeed in something you wanted, or were physically ill.

Notice how you feel when you think of your suffering. How does your heart feel? Do you continue to feel warmth, openness, and tenderness? Are there other sensations, perhaps an aching sensation?

Just as we wish for our loved one’s suffering to end, we wish that our own suffering would end. We may also envision our own pain and suffering leaving us so that we may experience happiness and joy.

Continue to visualize yourself as you breathe. Imagine that the golden light emanating from your heart is easing your suffering. With each exhalation, feel the light emanating within you, with the strong heartfelt wish that you be free from your suffering. Silently recite to yourself:

May I be free from this suffering.

May I have joy and happiness.

 

Again, notice how this feels in your heart. What kind of sensations did you feel? Did they change from when you were envisioning your own suffering? How is this feeling different from when you wished your loved one’s suffering to be relieved? Did you feel warmth, openness and tenderness? Were there other sensations such as pressure? Did you have a wish to take away your own suffering?

Compassion for a Neutral Person

Now visualize someone you neither like nor dislike—someone you may see in your everyday life, such as a classmate with whom you are not familiar, a bus driver, or a stranger you pass on the street.

Although you are not familiar with this person, think of how this person may suffer in his or her own life. This person may also have conflicts with loved ones, or struggled with an addiction, or may have suffered illness. Imagine a situation in which this person may have suffered.

Notice your heart center. Does it feel different? Do you feel more warmth, openness and tenderness? Are there other sensations, perhaps an aching sensation? How does your heart feel different from when you were envisioning your own or a loved one’s suffering? 

Continue to visualize this person as you breathe. Imagine that you are extending the golden light from your heart to them, and that the golden light is easing his or her suffering. Extend this light out to them during your exhalation, with the strong heartfelt wish that he or she be free from suffering. See if this wish can be as strong as the wish for your own or a loved one’s suffering to be relieved.  Silently recite to him or her:

May you be free from this suffering.

May you have joy and happiness.

 

Again, notice how this feels in your heart. Did the sensations change from when you were envisioning this person’s suffering? Did you continue to feel warmth, openness and tenderness? Were there other sensations? Did you have a wish to take away this person’s suffering? How were these feelings different from when you were wishing to take away your own or a loved one’s suffering?

Compassion for an Enemy

Now visualize someone with whom you have difficulty in your life. This may be a parent or child with whom you disagree, an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend, a roommate with whom you had an argument, or a co-worker with whom you do not get along.

Although you may have negative feelings towards this person, think of how this person has suffered in his or her own life. This person has also had conflicts with loved ones, or has dealt with failures, or may have suffered illness. Think of a situation in which this person may have suffered.

Notice your heart center. Does it feel different? Do you feel more warmth, openness and tenderness? Are there other sensations, perhaps an aching sensation? How does your heart feel different from when you were envisioning your own or a loved one’s suffering?

Continue to visualize this person as you breathe. Imagine that you are extending the golden light from your heart to him or her, and that the golden light is easing his or her suffering. Extend this light out to him or her during your exhalation, with the strong heartfelt wish that he or she be free from suffering. See if this wish can be as strong as the wish for your own or a loved one’s suffering to be relieved. Silently recite to him or her:

May you be free from this suffering.

May you have joy and happiness

 

If you have difficulty in wishing for this person’s suffering to be relieved, you may think of a positive interaction you have had with this person that can help you in wishing them joy and happiness. Perhaps there were times when you got along, laughed together, or worked well together on an assignment. Continue to silently recite:

May you be free from this suffering.

May you have joy and happiness.

 

Again, notice how this feels in your heart. Did the sensations change? Did you feel warmth, openness and tenderness? How were these feelings different from when you were wishing for your own or a loved one’s suffering to end? Were there other sensations, perhaps a tightness in the chest? Did you have a wish to take away this person’s suffering?

Compassion for All Beings

Now that we are almost at the end of this meditation, let’s end with wish for all other beings’ suffering to be relieved. Just as I wish to have peace, happiness, and to be free from suffering, so do all beings.

Now bask in the joy of this open-hearted wish to ease the suffering of all people and how this attempt brings joy, happiness, and compassion in your heart at this very moment.

 

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5-26-19 - Race Sunday with Dan Rains

Last Sunday during Meeting for Worship as we were heading into our time of silence and meditation and centering down, I shared a moment from Sam and my experience last Saturday at the time trials for the Indy 500.

 

For those who were not here, Sam and I were sitting in the stands across from pit row and the famous Pagoda. It was a full day of racer after racer vying for position. The sun had heated up the track to 130 degrees at one point, but some cloud formations were bringing the track temps down and drivers were starting to go faster.

 

James Hinchcliffe who drives for Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports was the next up. Earlier, Sam and I had spent time watching Hinchcliffe’s pit crew work on his car in the garages. Ironically, his car was the only car I snapped a photo of while over in the garage area.

 

We heard the roar of the engine and Hinchcliffe was off for his warm up lap. He clocked the fastest warm up lap of the day and was given the green flag to begin his qualifying lap. His car roared around turn one…and then it happened. There was a loud noise and then complete silence.  I asked Sam what just happened.  The silence lingered. Then the announcer said, “James Hinchcliffe went into the wall going into turn two.” You could hear a pin drop. 

 

The big television screens went black and we waited as Paramedics and Clean-up crews flew past us on the track.  For what seemed about 5 minutes we all waited in silent anticipation – hoping for good news. Looking for signs of life. While also wondering, thinking, reflecting weirdly on our own mortality. My thoughts went to my parent’s car accident a few years ago in which my mom almost died.

 

But what struck me, even more since that experience, has been how in this tragic moment every single person at the Speedway went silent. 

 

It was like what the early Quakers called a “holy silence” or as Quaker Rufus Jones described it, “an intensified pause, a vitalized hush, a creative quiet, an actual moment of mutual and reciprocal correspondence with God.”

 

Whether the crowd new it or not, in a real sense we had centered down and had entered a time of expectant waiting.  In that moment at the speedway, we were all “Quakers.”

 

That silence sat with me, it has even kind of haunted me. It also has made me wrestle with the fact that we are all internally wired for this. Silence is a part of every single one of us.

 

Finally, the screens came back on and James Hinchcliffe was seen emerging from his car.  The crowd cheered but that moment sat with me – it seemed different – actually it seemed sacred in a real and tangible way. 

 

That silence at the speedway spoke to me – it enlightened me.  It made me realize how much I needed more silence in my crazy busy life.  How in that brief silence at a very busy and noisy place, my mind asked deeper questions, and weirdly even gave me a glimpse of my own mortality.

 

Earlier this week, I was reading an article online about auto racing being a spiritual experience. Usually, I roll my eyes at this type of connection and can only think of Christian athletes wearing t-shirts with a scripture like Hebrews 12:1 – which reads, “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” 

 

But this article had a different angle.  It said that sports or auto-racing can increase spiritual awareness. That stopped me and had me pondering what that really meant. Usually, we are fighting the battle of sports being a replacement for religion or an idol that we should lay down. 

 

But this article was making the point that racing or sports in general can actually increase spiritual awareness as we watch the athletes or drivers embrace the tensions between renewal, failure, and risk-taking. 

 

I think I got a small but lasting glimpse of this during the time of silence as we awaited the results of Hinchcliffe’s accident.  In the silence, my spiritual awareness was heightened – I had a spiritual insight that transcended my normal way of thinking.  Not only was I concerned about James Hinchcliffe, I too was thinking of the tensions in my own life between renewal and failure, and risk-taking.  And I have to admit, I was faced with thinking about my own mortality. 

 

Well, on Monday as I entered my office, I continued to process all of this. I started to wonder where else God was wanting to increase my spiritual awareness.  And I realized that Jesus modeled this in the Garden of Gethsemene as he faced his mortality, as did Buddha when he embraced his suffering, and even Muhammad when he accepted himself for who he was.  And it doesn’t have to be athletes or prophets or diety, there are people all around me that are embracing the tensions between renewal, failure, risk-taking, and mortality that I can learn from all the time. 

 

And that is why this morning, I have asked Dan Rains to come up and share with us out of the silence. Dan may not know this fully, but he has been teaching us a lot about renewal, failure, risk-taking, and yes, our own mortality. 

 

As I have been intentional about spending time in silence this week, it has been Dan who I believe God has put on my mind.

 

Dan and I have spent a good amount of time together as he, in his own words says, “gets poisoned.” or receives his chemo treatments. I find, that like the time of silence at the speedway, my time with Dan transcends the present, often seems to be a sacred time, and always has me thinking deeper thoughts. Dan has a way, as his body battles cancer, to embrace the tensions between renewal, failure, risk-taking and mortality. So I have asked him to, as old Quakers would say, “Give Testimony” to what he is learning and would like to share with our meeting this morning.

 

Prior to Dan sharing his testimony, I would like us to spend an extended time in “holy silence.”  I am going to ask you to refrain from speaking out of the silence, so that we can fully embrace that intensified pause, that vitalized hush, that creative quiet, to allow it to be an actual moment of mutual and reciprocal correspondence with God.  When Dan feels led he will come forward to speak out of the silence.

 

Let us now quiet our minds and our lives.

 

To hear Dan Rain’s testimony, please visit https://www.indyfriends.org/sunday-morning-messages .

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5-19-19 - Learning from the Samaritan

Learning from the Samaritan

Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

May 19, 2019

 

Let us begin this morning by taking a moment to “center down” – to calm our hearts, our minds, our lives. I have a query for us to ponder that I hope will bring to mind some happy and joyful thoughts. 

 

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

 

 

Luke 17:11-19 (NRSV)

Jesus Cleanses Ten Lepers

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

 

 

 

I love the following story…

 

A pastor in Dallas, Texas was once teaching Sunday School with a group of children. They were reading this story of the ten lepers.  “What do you think about this story?” the pastor asked after she read it to them.  One little girl answered, “Jesus must have been so happy that somebody thanked him!”

 

What a great attitude that little girl had and what insight to realize that Jesus probably didn’t get thanked that much.  If you think about it, this story is often looked at from the other direction. We often ask, what happened to the other 9?  Why did only one come back grateful?

 

But let’s be honest…in many ways, this is reality. This is what we do. Our world today is often short on the thanks. We have become a world where expectations are high, privileges abound, and rights come first – and the thanks and gratitude are forgotten, turning to assumptions and critiques instead.

 

With this Sunday being about recognizing our volunteers, we had to swallow some humble pie and realize we too neglected in the past to thank all of you for what all you do.  Sadly, it is too easy to skip the thanks and just be satisfied with what was done. Maybe that is how the 9 others healed by Jesus felt.  They were satisfied. Happy with the results and simply caught up in the moment of their joy.   Thanks was not a priority, there were bigger things to celebrate.  

 

All this had me thinking about the role and point of gratitude in our own lives. 

 

How often am I satisfied with what is done, but never take the time to thank the individual(s) for what they have done?   

 

I try hard to send thank you notes or emails, or at least say thanks to those deserving it, but many times I too get caught up in the moment and miss the opportunity. 

 

Let’s be honest, I have to assume that we all like to be thanked, right?  I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t appreciate a thank you note or being acknowledged for what they do. It makes you feel good.  It makes you realize you are worth something - that the efforts and work you have put forth has been beneficial.  

 

This all had me thinking about why gratitude is so important. 

 

In the bible, thanksgiving is key or a natural response to our faith. 2 Corinthians 4:15 reads,

 

All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

 

Or again in 2 Corinthians 9:11.

 

You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

 

Thanksgiving seems to go hand-in-hand to God’s grace. But in our text for today, there is something even more going on.  Alyce McKenzie points this out in her commentary/reflection on our text. She says this about those 10 lepers,

 

The purpose of visiting a priest after a cure (Luke 5:14; Leviticus 13:49; 14:2) was so the cured person could officially resume his place in society. The nine lepers, presumably Jewish, had their minds on the future, on resuming the life they had left behind with the onset of illness. Their minds were full of scenes of reunion with wives, children, with reentry into market and synagogue.  There is no indication that their goals and future actions were anything but respectable and legal.

 

But they were lacking something. The one leper, the “foreigner,” who returned to thank God, was “made well,” (sozo- “to be healed of spiritual disease and death”)  whereas the nine were merely “cleansed” or “healed” (tharizo- “to be made clean or healed of a disease”).   Physical cure (tharizo), the verb used twice and translated in the NRSV “made clean” (14) and “healed” (15) is not the same as “made you well,” or “made you whole” (sozo), a condition often referred to as “salvation.” When Jesus says, “your faith has made you well,” sozo is the verb he uses.

 

In Luke’s account he points out the foreigner – and not just any foreigner, but a Samaritan. 

Now I have taught this before, but it is worth a review.  It is important to remember Jesus was a Jew from Galilee. So, this means, his family would have most likely raised him with a racist bias against Samaritans. 

Yet, it is Jesus, who wherever possible shows us a sensitivity toward racial justice as it relates to the Samaritans – which would have been unheard of and actually problematic for him.  Actually, this time, he differentiates between Jews being healed and a Samaritan being saved. Oh my, that is blasphemy! Every Jew in the room would have been up in arms that Jesus would highlight the Samaritan’s gratefulness. Folks, it is historically documented that by the time Jesus was on the face of the earth, the Jews and the Samaritans had hated each other for at least 200+ years.

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

But Jesus crossed the border, which he did on several occasions. Sometimes to the displeasure of the disciples and those watching him.

Yet, with all we know of this non-existent relationship between the groups, Jesus had the audacity to often mention Samaritans, talk to Samaritans, heal Samaritans, and now bring “salvation” to a Samaritan.  Oh, that rebel Jesus.    

It seems for this Samaritan, to be made fully well took being thankful or grateful to God. Usually, we thank someone else for what they have done for us, but what Jesus was noticing was the posture or attitude of gratitude and thanksgiving coming from the heart of the Samaritan.

When the Samaritan acknowledges this thankfulness, he experiences a salvation that goes beyond the merely physical cure of death we often think of as salvation.

In a true and Quakerly sense it could be considered a reorientation of his inner life.  What happened to this Samaritan was something more than proving he had good manners, or that he took the time to write a thank you note or simply say thank you.  It wasn’t something on the surface of his life, but rather something deep down – a real change.  He was transformed by the grace and healing of God and gratitude was the mark of his change.

His eyes were opened to a much bigger grace.  The Samaritan for the first time had been accepted, acknowledged, no longer a foreigner, no longer one of those outcasts and marginalized people.  He was not only healed by a Jew (Jesus), it was approved by a Jew (the priest). Think about it…this Samaritan was changed so dramatically that he risked it all as a Samaritan to go before a Jewish priest to get a blessing – a priest who would have thought just being in the presence of this man would make him unclean (whether a leper or not). 

He was changed. He had experienced salvation.

When we help the marginalized, when we extend grace, when we serve our neighbors, when we accept, acknowledge the foreigner, the outcast, we too are offering salvation to our world. 

And you and I know when that truly happens, you can see it on their face, in their eyes, in their posture – it radiates from them.  Thank you for accepting me.  Thank you for acknowledging me.  Thank you for healing me.  Thank you for extending undeserved grace to me.  I am so thankful.

John Pattison and Chris Smith, who were with us in the fall, have a chapter in their book, Slow Church, titled gratitude. They point out in this chapter that,

“Researchers have found that the happiest people also tend to be the most grateful.  But while this might seem obvious at first, there’s an interesting twist. These folks aren’t grateful for being happy, they are happy because they have been intentional about cultivating a life of gratitude. We have a hunch that something very similar might be true of our faith communities: the most joyful churches (meetings) are probably the ones that have been intentional about making space for gratitude.”      

So this morning, let us continue to learn about having a grateful heart from the Samaritan.  Let us also be like the girl in the story I shared at the beginning of this sermon, that saw how happy, thankfulness made Jesus.  And let us also be a meeting that continues to be intentional about making space as we have this morning for gratitude – because our thankfulness is changing us…or just maybe it is saving us. 

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5-12-19 - Born Again or Transformed for What Ought to Be

Born Again or Transformed for What Ought to Be

Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

May 12, 2019

 

This morning as we center down, I would like us to reflect on a verse from Rumi.  I have come back to this verse on multiple occasions this week and in many of my conversations I found myself afterwards reflecting on these words.  So, I will give some time for silence to calm our hearts, bodies and minds, and then I will read the verse and allow us to reflect.

 

[Pause]

“You were born with potential. You were born with goodness and trust. You were born with ideals and dreams. You were born with greatness. You were born with wings. You are not meant for crawling, so don’t. You have wings. Learn to use them and fly.”

 

“You sit here for days saying, this is strange business. You’re the strange business. You have the energy of the sun in you, but you keep knotting it up at the base of your spine. You’re some weird kind of gold that wants to stay melted in the furnace, so you won’t have to become coins.”

 

“Why should I stay at the bottom of a well when a strong rope is in my hand?”

 

“Become the sky. Take an axe to the prison wall. Escape.”

 

“Do you know what you are? You are a manuscript of a divine letter. You are a mirror reflecting a noble face. This universe is not outside of you. Look inside yourself; everything that you want, you are already that.”

                                                                                    Rumi

 

 

This morning, we are going to look at what some people consider one of the most important conversations in scripture – a conversation between Jesus and the Pharisee leader, Nicodemus.   Also, it may seem a bit ironic that on Mothers Days, of all days, we would be looking at the theological concept of being “born again.” Literally, that may be a nightmare for some mothers. 

 

Our scriptures for this morning will include some of the most quoted scriptures and concepts in Christianity.  Not only does it talk about one of the most controversial terms in Christianity – the concept of being “born again” it also closes with the most quoted verse from the New or Second Testament – John 3:16. 

 

To lay a foundation, I would like to read our familiar text this morning from the Message translation.  Eugene Peterson titled this section of John 3 “Born from Above.” That title is more than simply a title.  It is actually a correction. Most modern texts translate the words “born again” but the reality is that John actually said something more in line with being “born from above” or “born of the Spirit from above.”  This is key to our understanding and helps us manage these verses in light of the whole of scripture.  Let me read the text from John 3:1-18 this morning.

 

John 3:1-18 (MSG) Born from Above

 

3 1-2 There was a man of the Pharisee sect, Nicodemus, a prominent leader among the Jews. Late one night he visited Jesus and said, “Rabbi, we all know you’re a teacher straight from God. No one could do all the God-pointing, God-revealing acts you do if God weren’t in on it.”

3 Jesus said, “You’re absolutely right. Take it from me: Unless a person is born from above, it’s not possible to see what I’m pointing to—to God’s kingdom.”

 

4 “How can anyone,” said Nicodemus, “be born who has already been born and grown up? You can’t re-enter your mother’s womb and be born again. What are you saying with this ‘born-from-above’ talk?”

 

5-6 Jesus said, “You’re not listening. Let me say it again. Unless a person submits to this original creation—the ‘wind-hovering-over-the-water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. When you look at a baby, it’s just that: a body you can look at and touch. But the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can’t see and touch—the Spirit—and becomes a living spirit.

 

7-8 “So don’t be so surprised when I tell you that you have to be ‘born from above’—out of this world, so to speak. You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.”

 

9 Nicodemus asked, “What do you mean by this? How does this happen?”

 

10-12 Jesus said, “You’re a respected teacher of Israel and you don’t know these basics? Listen carefully. I’m speaking sober truth to you. I speak only of what I know by experience; I give witness only to what I have seen with my own eyes. There is nothing secondhand here, no hearsay. Yet instead of facing the evidence and accepting it, you procrastinate with questions. If I tell you things that are plain as the hand before your face and you don’t believe me, what use is there in telling you of things you can’t see, the things of God?

 

13-15 “No one has ever gone up into the presence of God except the One who came down from that Presence, the Son of Man. In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life.

 

16-18 “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.

  

Now, I don’t know if you have noticed how the term “born again” has evolved over the last 20 or so years, but when I was young, everything seemed to be about being “born again.”  People used the term to describe an event or process in which they “gave themselves to Jesus,” which caused a change in their lives and even gave them a sense of meaning.  Many of you in this room, may have this part of your spiritual journey.  For some it may be comforting and for others it could hold a lot of baggage.

 

Today, in the world we live in, being “born again” or using that tern is primarily negative.  Actually, I have dropped it from my vernacular as a pastor – especially with people in the public sector.  The term is often associated with an extreme Christian perspective.  It also carries with it a specific set of beliefs or theologies, a political stance, even a legality that gives us a way to divide people, groups, beliefs, and thoughts.

 

I believe this is also one of the dividing lines among church denominations and Yearly Meetings, and I am pretty sure if we took time to diagnose, it would be among our Yearly Meeting as well.  It may not be called being “born again” or not, but it could be labeled conservative or progressive.

 

Being “born again” has always been linked with a “Conservative Christianity.” Yet that might be a bit misleading. Let me explain:

 

In “Speaking Christian,” Marcus Borg says,

 

“A conservative is one who seeks to conserve the wisdom of the past.  But much of “conservative” Christianity in our time is a modern creation, not a conservation of the riches of the Christian past.”

 

By this definition, Quakers by their very nature are “conservative” in their desire to return to the way and teachings of Christ. What I find interesting is that there are “progressive Quakers” that could be described in this way as well.

 

I would say that one of the aspects that has confused or convoluted this way is our obsession with heaven and the afterlife, and its connection to escaping this place.  For many people being “born again” has been linked simply to going to heaven, (what some label) “fire insurance”, or a way out of this messed-up world’s hurt and pain.

 

But this leads to another problem.  In the text for today, many people throughout history have turned the phrase or even translated the “kingdom of God” into simply heaven and then claim that unless one has a new birth experience, which they usually associate with believing the right doctrines, one cannot enter heaven or sometimes even know God in a personal way.

 

Chuck Queen shed some light on this in his reflection on this text.  He says,

 

“Actually, to “see the kingdom of God” is just another way of talking about experiencing and participating in the dynamic reality of God’s life and will.  John also calls this “eternal life,” which he contends is the present possession of disciples of Christ. (3:15-16). Scholars of John call this “realized eschatology,” which is just a fancy way of saying that John puts the emphasis on interacting and engaging in God’s life and work right now – in this world – rather than in the afterlife. John by no means denies the afterlife, but the emphasis is on being in relationship and partnership with God in the present.”

 

Like many Christians today, Nicodemus is a literalist.  He evens struggles with ACTUAL RE-ENTRY into his mother’s womb (that is about as literal as you can get.) He doesn’t get the symbolic nature of the language Jesus uses – and I would say many of us struggle with this as well. 

 

Remember Jesus’ response to Nicodemus, though?

 

“You’re a respected teacher of Israel and you don’t know these basics?”

 

I may be a bit bold in saying this, but I wonder if God is asking us this morning and maybe even our Yearly Meeting something similar.  As Quakers we are all about being “born of the Spirit” or being born from above.” Have we forgotten our basics?

 

Being “born of the Spirit” is obviously the work and revelation of the Holy Spirit or the Inner Light in our life.  Here is what we actually say in our Western Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice about this working:  

 

“It…inspires him or her to live, struggle, and suffer for the achievement of what ought to be…It is the spiritual endowment that enables one to advance beyond the narrow bounds of self toward the Christian ideals of goodness and love, and to respond to the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  George Fox often called this principle the “Seed of God,” “That of God in you,” or “the Light Within.”  William Penn called it “The Great principle of God in man, the root and spring of divine substance.”  Robert Barclay described it as “a real, spiritual substance,” or “a divine bestowal.” It is “that something we cannot call less than divine and universal, for it links us with the eternal realities, and with our fellow women and men of whatever race or creed. It may be hidden or warped by ignorance or pride or self-will or prejudice, but it cannot be wholly lost, for it is part of that which makes us essentially women and men, made in the divine image, and having within us boundless possibilities of life in God.”

 

Being “born of the Spirit” is about being inspired to live, struggle, and suffer for the achievement of what ought to be…it links us to the eternal and to our neighbor…and even though at times we may get in the way…with God there are boundless possibilities of life.

 

Or as Chuck Queen articulated,

 

“One can think of being born again as a clearing away of all the debris and obstacles so that the dynamic energy, love, compassion, and nonviolent power of God (the Spirit) can flow unhindered in us and through us into the world.”

 

 I don’t know about you, but I think we need to reclaim this language and teach it in the right way. Instead of spending so much time trying to figure out who is in or out in this world or the next, what if we actually worked on being personally or corporately “transformed”?  

 

Isn’t that the message Jesus is giving to the “rule-obsessed Pharisee, Nicodemus?

 

Being “born of the Spirit” implies that we are transformed from the inside by the work of our Inner Light or Spirit of God – so that we will be able to in turn transform the world around us – to demonstrate the Jesus life – to share in the work of our creator…unhindered, with dynamic energy, love, compassion, nonviolent and transforming power.

 

I love Eugene Peterson’s translations of Jesus’ words to Nicodemus after he shared John 3:16…just listen once again…

 

“God’s didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.”

 

And that is exactly what God is calling us to this morning. 

 

You and I are to be transformed. Born from above. Born of the Spirit. Transformed to help put the world right again. Not with accusing fingers or by telling others how bad they are – but by joining God in living, struggling, and suffering for the achievement of what ought to be!

 

And living, struggling, and suffering is going to take…as Chuck Queen says,

 

“…getting rid of the clutter that dams up the flow of living water.  So, if we want to know and share in the aliveness of God then our pride, prejudice, resentment, hate, and lack of forgiveness will have to go.  We can’t keep replaying our painful grievance stories over and over.  We will need to turn from our selfish preoccupations and interests because the Kingdom (read as kin-dom) of God, as we use to sing in Sunday School, is deep and wide.”

 

 

Queries to Ponder:

  1. How am I demonstrating the Jesus-life and sharing in the world of the creator?

  2. What is getting in my way of experiencing the deepness and wideness of God in this world? (pride, prejudice, resentment, hate, lack of forgiveness, etc.)

  3. How do I/First Friends/WYM need to be “born from above” or transformed anew?

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5-5-19 - The Stewardship and Inspiration of the Earth

The Stewardship and Inspiration of the Earth

Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

May 5, 2019

 

Job 12:7-8 (NRSV)

7 “But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
    the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
8 ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;
    and the fish of the sea will declare to you.

 

Some of you may be a bit confused about why we are celebrating Earth Sunday on Cinco de Mayo instead of April 22 as it usually is celebrated. Well, April 22 landed on the day after Easter this year, so we moved it to a later date not to miss it.  As Quakers and Christians, the stewardship of the Earth is or should be very important to us.  It is actually covered in one of our distinctives or what we like to call our S.P.I.C.E.S. (actually the last “S” of SPICES is referenced to as both “stewardship” and “sustainability” depending on who you are talking with.) I think both are important.

Sadly, too often we only think of stewardship in relation to issues of money and forget that biblical stewardship originally was the conducting, supervising, and management of the Earth. 

Remember in the beginning of the Bible (Genesis 1:28) where it says,

“And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion [a better translation would read - be stewards] over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Many scholars call Genesis 1:28 the cultural mandate. It’s the original call to stewardship. It’s where God first calls humanity to cultivate and care for her creation using the unique gifts and talents she has endowed to every person.  As Friends, we uphold and even promote this mandate in our own statements. On the back of the bulletin is the Statement on Earth Care that is shared among Friends.) 

“The earth we share is limited in its capacity to support life and to provide resources for our survival.  The environment that has provided sustenance for generations must be protected for generations to come.  We have an obligation, therefore, to be responsible stewards of the earth, to restore its natural habitat where it has been damaged, and to maintain its vitality.  Friends’ historic testimonies on simplicity have long stressed that the quality of life does not depend upon immodest consumption.  The urgency of the threat to the environment cannot be overstated.”

That statement I just read is on the back of your bulletins this morning and comes from Friends Committee on National Legislation policy statement (from 1987), it is also cited in the Friends Committee on Unity with Nature statement.

We are mandated by God and our Quaker Faith to be good stewards, people responsible for the care of the Earth. 

I remember one of my first times hearing Quaker Richard Foster speak at a Renovaré Conference he shared with us the three great “books” that guide our lives. He spoke of…

·        the book of scripture,

·        the book of experience,

·        and the book of nature.

I personally have found my faith deepened and my life altered or changed by spending time in the stewardship of the earth. Making time to take in the book of nature has not only been therapy for me, it has given me insights to my own spiritual path, and at times has calmed my soul and given me peace.

From doing the hard work of tending to the weeds in my life, to learning about parenting from watching birds, to sensing hope in a sunrise or thankfulness that the day is done when watching the sun set.

The list could go on and on.  But if there is one thing, I have learned it is that to be a citizen of this Earth means we have a responsibility to take care of it, to learn from it, and allow it to be a bearer of peace in our lives.

A book that I quote from often and has had a profound voice in my life is Quaker Catherine Whitmire’s book, Practicing Peace.  It was in her book that I was first introduced to a Quaker that I have come to highly respect and learn from. This person is Jim Corbett. (Has anyone heard that name before?)

Some consider Jim a philosopher, spiritual warrior, and even some consider him a modern Quaker prophet.  Catherine Whitmire introduced me to Jim in her chapter titled Practicing Peace in our Everyday Lives with the Earth.

As I have further explored Jim and his life, I have been amazed not only by his story, but the role that nature, the animals and the earth had in helping him see his higher calling. Much like Job in our scripture text from today, Jim was about asking the animals (specifically the goats and the bees), the plants of the earth, and the fish of the sea to teach him and inspire him. I consider Jim’s connection to the Earth both prophetic and a call to the importance of allowing nature to inspire us and helping us find ways to respond. 

Since most people have not heard of Jim Corbett, I want to share some of his story with you this morning. It is important that we have contemporary Quakers as well as historic figures to be inspired by, especially for our younger generations who will continue the Quaker faith.

Arden Buck has beautifully shared some of Jim’s story in a Friends Journal article. This morning, I want to highlight some it so we too may be inspired by Jim’s life.    

Jim Corbett was a brilliant and original thinker and writer; he was a fearless activist, who insisted on putting his Quaker principles into action rather than just talking about them. He was also a rancher, a goatherder, and an expert at living simply and close to the Earth.

Corbett grew up in Wyoming, a descendent of Blackfoot Native Americans, Kentucky pioneers, and Ozark Mountain mule traders. As a child he taught himself to be comfortable with discomfort – at ease with hunger, cold, pain – and to detach himself from social expectations. A convinced Quaker, Corbett was a quiet, soft-spoken, unassuming person. For much of their life he and his wife Pat lived very simply in an old salvaged house trailer.

As a student, Corbett breezed through Colgate University in three years and then went on to earn a master’s in philosophy at Harvard in only one year. (WOW!)  Throughout his life, he held a variety of jobs including philosophy professor, librarian, park ranger, cowboy, anti-war organizer, and Quaker activist. But he was always a rancher at heart. For a while, he lived with a group of semi-nomadic goatherders in Mexico. 

Catharine Whitmire pointed out that “Corbett spent years listening to the earth and its innumerable creatures as he rambled through the arid but beautiful Sonoran Desert in Arizona, herding goats. Of his time following the flock through barren wilderness he wrote:

“Leisure, solitude, dependence on uncontrolled natural rhythms, alert, concentration on present events, long nights devoted to quiet watching – little wonder that so many religions originated among herders and so many religious metaphors are pastoral.”

Jim Corbett was known for what he called, “Goatwalking.” Arden Buck says he developed it into an art.

He would wander the desert with goats for weeks at a time.  The goats would forage as they went, and Jim would drink their milk and forage as well. It was a way for him to go on solitary meditative retreats without having to carry any food or water.  He pointed out that this way of living was pastoral nomadism. It is how the Plains Indians lived, and it’s how we are told that Moses led his people in the desert for 40 years. Many Bedouin and Mongolian herders still live this way today.

Corbett saw goatwalking as a form of errantry, which he defined as “going outside of society to live according to one’s inner leadings.”

Corbett even invited people to join him on his goatwalking journeys utilizing the same rules. No food or water, except the occasional oats and raisins. He taught people how to live off the earth, to understand goats, and become companions with both. Even though people were drawn to this extreme experience, Corbett knew that it was almost impossible for most modern urban humans (like you and me) to understand the idea of living in communion with our natural world.

One thing that I found interesting is that Jim said not to bring reading or writing materials when experiencing nature. He said, “Just be there and soak in your experience of the wilderness. 

I don’t know about you, but I think one of the biggest reasons we cannot connect to the earth and nature anymore is because of technology.  Jim didn’t mention that, but if reading and writing were out, so was technology.    

A couple years ago, our son, Alex, was sent as the youth representative for the Northwest Yearly Meeting on a spiritual formation retreat with another Yearly Meeting. He flew to Colorado, and then joined a llama pack and several other youth and adults on a journey into the Medicine Bow Range and up to the top of Medicine Bow Peak. Much like Corbett’s goatwalking, Alex became the friend of a herd of llama.  They ate very simply, did some scavenging, and slept out in the wild. Listening to him explain the conversations he had with the participants was amazing. As someone that is going into Digital Media Arts and will spend his life behind a screen, this really had a profound impact on Alex. He learned things about himself, about others, about nature, about struggle, about accomplishment, and about God.

Similarly, Jim Corbett also learned a lot about himself and others in nature. Actually, nature brought him face-to-face with a new calling.  After moving to Tucson, Arizona Jim developed his bee hive and goat husbandry techniques for use in poor countries. He saw his connection with nature helpful to other cultures but didn’t fully realize what he was learning about community and relationships and helping people in his current place. 

 

At the edge of his property was built a fence to deter illegal border crossings. Something Jim never really thought about. This was the early 80’s and sadly we were backing violent governments in Central America who were killing and torturing labor leaders, students, church activists, and their relatives.  Individuals and even entire families were fleeing across Jim’s property.  He stayed out of the politics and really wasn’t interested in refugee work.    

 

But it wasn’t long until Jim heard of a Salvadoran refugee being caught by Border Patrol on his property. This caused things to hit closer to home.  Jim felt compelled to inquire about the refugee and follow him to an immigration detention center in California. Jim’s eyes were opened when he found hundreds of detained Central Americans in this detention facility who had fled war and persecution in their home countries.  

 

Jim had learned from goatwalking and bee keeping, and living close to the earth, a deeper understanding of humans and the need to help each other and take care of meeting our neighbor’s basic of needs.  Goats and bees had inspired the need for a greater community of love and peace.  

 

Soon Jim teamed up with John M. Fife III, a Presbyterian Pastor in Tucson who helped him begin to harbor refugees. They organized a system for passing, or maybe we should say “herding” and “keeping,” illegal immigrants from church to church across the country.  Corbett mailed 500 Quaker Meetings and groups seeking their help in the creation of an underground railroad to Canada. Jim Corbett is considered by many today a modern-day Levi Coffin. Hundreds of Quaker meetings and other churches joined the effort. During the 1980’s Corbett and his sanctuary helped free thousands of Central American refugees and helped them build communities of safety. 

 

Arden Buck speaking of Jim’s writing said, he…

 

“developed a philosophy that embraced not only humans, but all life on Earth. He extended Quaker principles to apply to all of Earth’s creatures and ultimately to all of creation – there is that of God in all nature.  Regarding environmental preservation, he followed a third way between the two extremes of exploiter and environmentalist by advocating that humans and nature can coexist respectfully.”

 

As I have been processing all that I have learned from Jim (and there is so much more to glean from his life and work). I return now to my own experience. I have consistently taken walks every day for about a year through my neighborhood, through parks, through the gardens at Newfields.  I have watched and learned the patterns of ducks and geese, and the great blue heron.  I have watched the death and resurrection of the plants, the changing of the trees, the invasiveness of weeds that take over, and the rhythm and beauty of the sun’s rising and setting.  It was Dan Rains last year, who challenged me (and many of you) to look up at the clouds and the patterns and see to see the change they represent.   I learned that I prefer a natural path over cement walkways and roads.  That the sound of moving water can be healing, and that squirrels are hard workers, but still have fun.  I watch out my back window at the beauty of the birds on my bird feeders, how finches consider thistle seed the crack of their world – always coming back for another hit until it is completely gone.  How the sound of the birds chirping becomes a song of praise to my soul. 

 

I guess what I am saying is that God is still using the Creation to teach and inspire. We just need to be willing to get out of our homes, out of our cars, off our devices, and spend some quality time in nature.  It will change you.  It will inspire you.  It will give you hope. 

 

As for Jim Corbett, sadly he died on August 2, 2001 at the age of 67 from a rare brain disease.  His legacy still lives on today with the Saguaro-Juniper Corporation, a group of shareholders who bought land in Hot Springs Canyon, Arizona working with disadvantaged and disenfranchised people. They characterize themselves as stewards or even servants of the land, the plants, and the animals.  Jim has two books, Goatwalking: A Guide to Wildland Living and A Sanctuary for All Life which document his learnings and life. 

 

Now, on the back of your bulletins are some queries to ponder.  Let us sit in the silence (maybe listen for the creation outside the window speaking its praise for this day).    

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4-28-19 - In the Proximity of Hope

In the Proximity of Hope

Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

April 28, 2019

 

I Corinthians 15:1-7 (The Message)

15 1-2 Friends, let me go over the Message with you one final time— this Message that I proclaimed and that you made your own; this Message on which you took your stand and by which your life has been saved. (I’m assuming, now, that your belief was the real thing and not a passing fancy, that you’re in this for good and holding fast.)

3-7 The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me: that the Messiah died for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it; that he was buried; that he was raised from death on the third day, again exactly as Scripture says; that he presented himself alive to Peter, then to his closest followers, and later to more than five hundred of his followers all at the same time, most of them still around (although a few have since died); that he then spent time with James and the rest of those he commissioned to represent him; and that he finally presented himself alive to me.

 

 

There are several different appearances of Jesus after the resurrection event that are both interesting and have had me reflecting this week on the hope that they convey. 

 

Scholars often discuss the 10 different accounts that are recorded in the Bible of Jesus’ appearances.  I am sure there were others, but the ones that were written down, must hold some weight since they were recorded for the world to read 2000+ years later.  Now, just to remind you of these appearances and to give you a sense of the order in which scripture recorded them happening, I just want to read the list.  

 

It is recorded that Jesus appeared to:

 

1.     Mary Magdalene (where she mistakes Jesus as the gardener)

2.     The other Mary, Salome, Joanna, and at least one other unnamed woman.

(On a side note, I find it fascinating and a huge statement to Jesus’ day and culture that the first 5 people to encounter Jesus recorded in scripture were woman.)  

3.     Simone Peter (one of Jesus’ inner circle)

4.     Cleopas and a companion on the road to Emmaus. (Most likely the companion was not named because it was very likely a woman as well.)

5.     The Eleven Disciples without Thomas (to discuss doubting...)

6.     The Eleven with Thomas (to discuss believing…)

7.     Seven Disciplines at the Sea of Tiberias (This is the famous Breakfast on the Beach scene)

8.     Disciples and a large gathering at a mountain in Galilee. (This is the one Jesus most often reminds the disciples about – meeting on the mountain to receive the charge or next steps – this ends up being almost a month after the resurrection.  

9.     James (private meeting with Jesus’ brother about the church)

10.Disciples (probably in Jerusalem before he led them out of the Mt. of Olives to give the Great Commission and his departure.)  

 

Ten different situations, all with very different interactions.  As well, Jesus appears sometimes miraculously and at other times in normal situations.  We have Jesus coming through walls, disappearing, not being able to be touched, asking to be touched, and often the gatherings are accompanied by eating. But to understand the importance of all of these appearances to us today, I think we need to look a little deeper at what Jesus was addressing in the individual appearances and with whom he was addressing them. 

 

After a death (or any loss for that matter), most people not only go through the stages of grief, they also face the deeper need of seeking and finding hope amidst the loss and pain.  Each of the people that Jesus appears to is both in shock and grieving. As a pastor, I am familiar with the reactions of people in that first week after the loss of a close friend or loved one.  Its often a very difficult time and hard to have clarity or peace.

 

Over half of the recorded appearances of Jesus happen in the first 8 days after his execution (literally in front of them – talk about a difficult thing to work through. I cannot even imagine having to watch a good friend executed in front of me – especially by crucifixion.)  And the bigger gatherings happened over the next few weeks up to 40 days later.  For those who have experienced loss and grief…these 40 days can be a rollercoaster of emotion. 

 

C.S. Lewis put it this way in his classic, “A Grief Observed.” 

 

In grief, nothing “stays put.” One keeps emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round.  Everything repeats.  Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I’m on a spiral? But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?

 

This was the situation for the disciples and followers of Jesus – they were in the “spin cycle” of grief and loss.  But each of them was dealing with other things as well, and I have a hunch that Jesus’ appearances may be speaking about more than we know.  I think it has to do with what I am going to call “the proximity of hope.”  

 

Let’s start with Mary Magdalene. She was so caught up in the loss – that she missed the proximity of hope before her eyes – just assuming he was the gardener.

 

Losses can do this to us – and not just loss through death.  Losing our keys or glasses can have a tremendous impact on how we see (even literally see) the world around us in that moment.  Or take the loss of a computer file or a record.  On Thursday, I stopped at Starbucks for a coffee during morning rush hour.  When I approached the drive-up window, two women stared out at me in a funk.  Their computer had just completely gone out. They were at a loss for words at the moment – just hoping it would come back on.

 

Loss often takes us away from the moment and has us missing what is actually going on. Those who go through divorce often can no longer see their former spouse in the same light – or even themselves.  Jesus appearing to Mary and her thinking he is the Gardner shows us how easy our loss and grief control how we see.

 

The appearance of Jesus to the other Mary, Salome, Joanna and the other unnamed woman, continues these thoughts.  Here the thing that happens when we are dealing with loss and grief is that we forget what has already been said or done.  In each of the scriptures telling of this appearance, it has the figure of light saying, “Remember how he told you…”.

 

Loss often has us forgetting or at least neglecting to remember all the details of our lives.  The loss of a friendship has us forgetting the good times and focusing often on only what tore us apart.  The loss of our own memory has us searching and searching for answers. Sometimes I need to take a day and look back through photos, thank you notes, and even highlights in books to remember what I have done and learned.  I think this is why at most memorials we have slide shows and photo boards.  We need to remember the bigger story of life

 

It says that Jesus presented himself directly to Peter (before the others).  Sometimes loss needs direct intervention. We need someone in our life to directly interact with us.  I don’t know about you, but I have always related to Peter. 

 

On many occasions, Jesus had to interact with Peter – one-on-one – and often Jesus had to convey a difficult message.  When I am struggling with loss or grieving, sometimes I need someone to come to me and be direct.  Often, we need a sponsor or a mentor, to keep us on track, to invest in us, to believe in us.  I think Jesus did that with each person he encountered.  Again, this was being put in the proximity of hope.

 

On the road to Emmaus, Cleopas and the other disciple encounter Jesus.  Jesus actually walked with them it says. He had them remember, he engaged them directly….and then he did one more thing…he ate with them. 

 

When we are dealing with loss and grief, food is a huge part of the process.  Some people eat, some do not.  Some find it comforting.  But there is more to this.  Conversations and interactions happen around the table.  The table is a harbinger of the proximity of hope.  The church is good about making meals when people are experiencing loss and grief.  We are good about having meals after memorials, inviting hurting people out to eat with us to allow them to talk…I know for me having a cup of good coffee with someone opens up conversations and has us dealing with and processing our losses and grieving. Sometimes we find answers, insights, and at other times, just like Cleopas and the other disciple – our eyes are simply opened to hope!

 

When Jesus meets the eleven disciples without Thomas, he begins to lay a foundation for peace in their lives.  In The Message, Eugene Peterson translated the scene this way, “Don’t be upset, and don’t let all these doubting questions take over.” 

 

Sometimes we are so upset and doubting ourselves, others, and even our experiences that losses and grief can be intensified.  I am sure the disciples were upset, but often we become irrational when we are upset. We can easily let our anger get the best of us. Our misunderstandings about the losses in our lives can have us going down bunny trails that lead us into unhealthy thinking about ourselves and others.

 

At times, it would be good to find a place for silence and solitude, to calm our hearts and minds.  Loss often creates doubts that can consume our minds and we begin to say things like:   

·        “I don’t think I can do this without...”

·        “I don’t know what I am going to do.”

·        “I don’t think I can go on.”

·        And I am sure you can think of others that run through your minds…  

 

These are the kind of doubting questions Jesus is talking about not letting take over.

 

When Thomas (who gets a bad rap for all of church history) arrives in the upper room eight days later, Jesus again takes a similar approach by bringing a word of peace, but then gets more to the point about dealing with this doubt getting out of control.  He says specifically to Thomas, “…you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.” 

 

Boy, I can’t tell you how important that has been to me.  I have been gripped in wondering how things were going to turn out, sometimes after experiencing loss, and I have worked myself up so much that only my way of “seeing” will do.  But my impatience and my lack of will to see from a different perspective has caused me to think I needed to see the entire picture to believe it would come out ok.  Often, I just need to believe without seeing for it to work out just fine.

 

When Jesus meets the disciples on the beach – a scene I absolutely love – he realizes that the disciples had gone back to their old ways (that sounds so familiar – I can relate).  We go to our defaults when we are dealing with loss and grief because they often bring comfort or normalcy.  There they were all fishing again.  And again, they were struggling with the catch.  But what is interesting is Jesus doesn’t walk on the water or do anything really out of the ordinary, no this time he takes care of the ordinary.  He takes care of starting a fire and making breakfast.  Sometimes we need others around us when we are dealing with loss and grief to simply keep up the normalcy and ordinary in our life.  They don’t need to do anything spectacular, because often it is simply us who needs to try throwing our nets out on the other side of the boats of our lives. 

 

And sometimes when we are in a funk and have gone back into our default mode, sometimes we need someone to give us a new charge on life.  Scripture points out that some of Jesus’ followers held back, not sure about risking themselves totally. Loss and grief can have us not sure, not wanting to step out, not wanting to do anything, but that is when we often need a nudge or a charge.  Jesus’ charge was to go! And it was followed up by those beautiful words I ended the service with last week, “I’ll never leave you nor forsake you.”

 

Actually, Jesus took several disciples aside including his brother James and did more than just charge them – he commissioned them to represent him.  He gave them a purpose and job.  James would go on to be a founder and developer of the Early Church.  James would later write in his own epistle,

 

“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides.  You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors.  So, don’t try to get out of anything prematurely.”   

 

I got a feeling James would have rather continued in his loss and grief, embracing his default, but Jesus’ charge had him listening and feeling the call to go and truly live. 

 

And in the very last appearance Jesus makes before his departure, he commissions all of his followers.  He gives them all a purpose to move on and to live.  He says that it will come from within as the Spirit equips them.   And then he does what many needs as they work through their loss and grief – Jesus blesses them.  He raised his hands and blessed them before leaving. 

 

Back when I was in Silverton, people often requested that I share the blessing that I ended our Meetings for Worship with almost every Sunday.  I said it last week to end our Easter service. Every time I shared that blessing, I would find people who would tell me that they were changed by hearing those words.

 

As I would say, God loves you.  God is not made at you. I would see tear forming in people’s eyes.  That blessing was healing to their losses and their grief that they endured in the church.  God loves you. God is not mad at you.  And as he said in that last appearance, “and God will never leave you nor forsake you.” 

 

Folks, I sense what Jesus did in those final appearances was give us some guidance on how to handle our loss and grief by interacting with those he loved.  Jesus became the proximity of hope to those suffering the loss and grieving his death.  And now Jesus is charging us to go and be the proximity of hope to a hurting world. 

 

Let’s remember the insights we have learned this morning from Jesus’ appearances:

 

1.     Check your sight – Ask: What do I really see?

2.     Always remember the bigger story – Ask: What have I forgotten? 

3.     Be open to needing direct intervention – Ask: Can I do it alone?

4.     Take time to eat together for the benefit of the soul – Ask: Who do I need to have coffee or lunch with? 

5.     Don’t let your doubts get the best of you – Ask: Can I believe without having to see? 

6.     Stop reverting to your “defaults” – Ask: What are my possibilities?

7.     Doing the ordinary is just as important as the extraordinary – Ask: What am I about in the daily?

8.     Remember you are not alone – God, are you mad at me? Do you love me? Help me remember that you will never leave me nor forsake me – or just help me remember the proximity of hope!

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4-21-19 - Easter Sunday - Resurrection Life, NOW!

Resurrection Life, NOW!

Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

April 2, 2019

 

On July 5, 2009 – nearly a decade ago already (I can’t believe how time flies) – I attended a one-of-a-kind conference for pastors in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was strangely unique in several ways.  First, it had an interesting title, “Poets, Prophets, and Preachers.” The main speakers were three up-and-coming thinkers, authors, and pastors of our day - Shane Hipps, Peter Rollins, and Rob Bell – who have each become voices for change in the way we do pastoral ministry today. The focus of the conference was to help pastors take an in depth look at “the art of reclaiming the sermon.”

 

At the time, I don’t think I knew how important this conference would be for my life and ministry. To this day, I still remember many of the teachings and experiences I had – almost as if they happened yesterday – and to my surprise much of what I learned is still applicable today.

 

This conference not only shook many of my ministry paradigms, it also had me questioning many aspects of ministry that I had never even explored. 

 

On the final night the writer, philosopher, storyteller and public speaker, Peter Rollins was speaking, I will never forget how he concluded the evening by talking about practicing the resurrection.  He concluded by sharing a parable his friend wrote as he left church one day...it went like this…

 

“I dreamt that I died and I went to heaven and St. Peter was there. He opened the gates to welcome me in.  “How great to see you!”

 

He said, “I was just about to step into heaven, then I noticed some of my friends were there. Some of them Atheists, some of them Buddhists, and some of them “God-knows-what.” He said, “St. Peter, what about my friends?”

 

St. Peter says, “Well, you know the rules. You know the rules”

 

And then his friend said, “I thought of my reference point. Jesus the outsider…Jesus the drunkard…Jesus the bastard…the friend of sinners…Jesus the one who would always stay with those who were oppressed.” 

 

And he said, “You know what…I’ll just stay out here with them.

 

And the parable ends with St. Peter breaking a smile and saying “AT LAST, AT LAST, YOU UNDERSTAND!”    

 

Even though this was a powerful parable, Rollins concluded this story with a more personal story. At a speaking engagement, he was asked a question about if he denied the resurrection of Jesus. This is how Peter Rollins responded,

 

Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think.  [And then he paused.]

He held the pause long enough for some people in the room to literally gasp and concerned whispers to be heard. Honestly, I was a bit in shock myself (thinking did he just say that) and readying for people to begin leaving. Then without missing a beat Peter Rollins continued by saying...

I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system.

However, there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.

The emotion in that auditorium was overwhelming. Some people gave Peter Rollins a standing ovation, while others sighed in relief.  I remember myself beginning to physically shake (or maybe I was Quaking – even though it was before I became a convinced Quaker) and the tears rolled down my face. My friend sitting next to me was weeping as well. The power of those words along with what I believe is the power of the resurrection transformed that auditorium and not a single one of us left the same as we had entered. 

I believe I can say that I experienced the transformational power of Christ’s Resurrection with the people in that room in a special way. About five or six years later, I ran into one of the guys that I sat with that night and we reminisced about hearing those words of Peter Rollins and how it had such a huge impact on our lives. He agreed it was life giving and life altering.   

This experience reminds me of what Clarence Jordan, farmer and New Testament Greek scholar, and founder of Koinonia Farm in Georgia where Habitat for Humanity was birthed, said…

 

The proof that God raised Jesus from the dead is not the empty tomb, but the full hearts of his transformed disciples. The crowning evidence that he lives is not a vacant grave, but a spirit-filled fellowship. Not a rolled-away stone, but a carried-away church

 

[Read it again]

That is exactly how I felt that night in Grand Rapids – I was a transformed disciple, part of a spirit-filled fellowship and a carried-away church. I was armed and ready to bring resurrection life to my world.

 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that the resurrection story isn’t important in the Bible, nor am I saying that there aren’t other ways to look at the Biblical story of Jesus’ Resurrection that are not important as well, what I am saying is like Peter Rollins and Clarence Jordan, we need to see the Resurrection of Jesus in ways that pertain to us bringing NEW LIFE and HOPE into our world, TODAY.  I don’t think Jesus intended it for just his day nor for simply when we die.   

Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan in their book, “The Last Week” (which I have referenced on several occasions this past “Holy Week”) make a good point about going one step further with what you believe about Jesus’ resurrection. They say,

If you believe the tomb to be empty, fine, now what does this story mean? If you believe that Jesus’ appearances could have been videotaped, fine, now, what do these stories mean? And if you are not quite sure about that, or even if you are quite sure it didn’t happen this way, fine, now what do these stories mean?

This reminds me of my upbringing in the Lutheran Church where I was taught to ask the question “What does this mean?” at every juncture. If you read Luther’s Small or Large Catechism you will see why…because after every belief statement made it is followed up by the question “What does this mean?” 

And let’s be honest, that may be one of the most important queries for us as Quakers to be asking of our faith and understanding, today. What does this all mean?

“What does this resurrection of Jesus mean to me?”  “What does the resurrection of Jesus mean to the world around us?  What does the resurrection mean to people who need a new take on life?  

If the Resurrection of Jesus doesn’t have some type of continued impact on us today and we are not seeking out its meaning in our daily lives, I think we miss the full impact of the resurrection in our life.

I believe the Resurrection of Jesus is more than an event 2000+ years ago, it is more than a simple transaction creating a ticket to heaven when we die, or the possibility of living again someday after we die.  Rather it is about the ongoing resurrection all around us and what I consider the daily resurrection life. Resurrection changes everything.

The early Christians talked all the time about the Resurrection Life and its importance.  Like in Romans 5:10-22 where it states…

"If, when we were at our worst, we were put on friendly terms with God by the sacrificial death of His Son. Now that we're at our best, just think of how our lives will expand and deepen by means of His resurrection life! Now that we have actually received this amazing friendship with God, we are no longer content to simply say it in plodding prose. We sing and shout our praises to God through Jesus, the Messiah!"

Or Romans 8:14

"God's Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go! This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It's adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike 'What's next, Papa?'"

Or as Paul emphatically explaining the importance of this to the people in Corinth,

Do you think I was just trying to act heroic when I fought the wild beasts at Ephesus, hoping it wouldn't be the end of me? Not on your life! It's resurrection, resurrection, always resurrection, that undergirds what I do and say, the way I live." 1 Corinthians 15: 32.

Ponder for a moment… (on back of your bulletin)

What does the Resurrection of Jesus Christ mean to you, today?

 Are you only holding on to what it meant 2000+ years ago, or what it meant in the Bible?

How is Christ’s resurrection still transforming you and the lives around you? How is Christ filling us with the Spirit and carrying us together away to action?  

My answer to those queries co-mingle the thoughts of Rollins, Jordan, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus. Folks, it is about living out the resurrection in our daily lives – in the present moment, as much as it is a future hope. And maybe that is because resurrection is about transformation from death to life – not just after we physically die, but after each death we face on this planet. We are surrounded by death all the time – failures, struggles, losses, you name it…they create death all around us.   

Marcus Borg says it this way,

[For Jesus] God was the central reality of his life and the kingdom of God was the center of his message. The kingdom of God was not about heaven, not about life after death, but about the transformation of life on earth, as the Lord’s Prayer affirms. It is not about “Take us to heaven when we die,” but about “Your kingdom come on earth” – as already in heaven. The kingdom of God on earth was about God’s passion – and Jesus’s passion – for the transformation of “this world”: the humanly created world of injustice and violence into a world of justice and nonviolence.

That sounds like a charge for us Quakers.  As we respond to the resurrection life, as we expand and deepen our understanding, as we are beckoned by God to go, as we sense the adventure in bringing freedom, hope, peace, and life to a world filled with violence and injustice.  May our response be as St. Paul’s…

It's resurrection, resurrection, always resurrection, that undergirds what I do and say, the way I live! Amen!

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4-14-19 - What Really Happened on Palm Sunday?

What Really Happened On Palm Sunday?

Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

April 14, 2019

 

Luke 19:29-40 (NRSV)

               

29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying,

“Blessed is the king
    who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
    and glory in the highest heaven!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

 

 

Palm Sunday has always been a special day for me.  It actually was the day as an infant that my parents took me to church to be baptized.  Something that today as a Quaker has a completely different meaning for me than it did while growing up.  And in many ways, my understanding and view of Palm Sunday has dramatically changed as well.  As a child, Palm Sunday seemed a celebration.  Much like we did this morning with our children, there were Palm Branches waved, people sang songs of “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is he comes in the name of the Lord.” At my childhood church, it was always like going to a parade.    

 

As a child I loved going to parades, not just because of the candy they threw out from the floats, but because of all the joy and happiness it brought to our town.  Like my oldest son, I was not fond of sirens and loud honking trucks, but for that one day, I put up with it. 

 

As a child, I don’t remember being taught about parades being about patriotism or showing our military might or honoring our veterans, or even reminding us that we are part of the “best country on the planet.” Maybe because my growing up years were right after we ended the Vietnam War and that was not the focus then.  

 

But while living in Oregon, just a few years ago, I came across some unexpected tension while at a parade. In our local parade in our little town of Silverton, we had all the usual police officers on their bikes and in their cars, fire engines, military from each branch of service, flags and lots of pomp and circumstance.  But at this parade just before the veterans passed us, were a group carrying a banner that read, Silverton People for Peace. They also carried signs much like the Friends Committee on National Legislation one’s that read “War is not the Answer” as well they had crafted a large peace dove made of white fabric that several people helped guide and fly over them as they walked.  Ironically, several people around us, including people that attended our meeting sitting with us, spoke negatively about their presence – almost as though they had no right being part of the parade. 

 

That day, I realized that even fun things from my childhood have deeper meanings.  That what we celebrate and believe may be different from what others celebrate and believe.  And why we have parades in our towns or country may be for reasons that I may differ on or may simply be ignorant of.  

 

Well, I remember that year thinking about all of this when Palm Sunday came around.  It had me taking a deeper look at what all was going on and just what was really happening.  Like my view of parades as a child, I had a happy, celebratory, even fun view of Palm Sunday, but as I began to study what was really going on it was much more than that. 

 

Now, I don’t want to pop anyone’s bubble, but I do want to give you a better picture of what all was going on and what Jesus was trying to do. 

 

Several theologians, scholars and writers, like Debie Thomas, Marcus Borg, and Dominic Crossan, who I will be sharing some of their thoughts this morning, have helped me see that Palm Sunday was really a subversive act – or what we might call a protest more than a parade, or celebration.

 

Here is what we may not know about the story that will give us some insight.  In the book, “The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teaches about Jesus’ Last Days in Jerusalem” by Borg and Crossan, they talk of two processions that entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday.

 

“Every Year, the Roman governor of Judea would ride up to Jerusalem from his coastal residence in the west, specifically to be present in the city for Passover – the Jewish festival that swelled Jerusalem’s population from its usual 50,000 to at least 200,000.

 

The governor would come in all of his imperial majesty to remind the Jewish pilgrims that Rome was in charge.  They could commemorate an ancient victory against Egypt if they wanted to, but real, present-day resistance (if anyone was daring to consider it) was futile; Rome was watching.

 

Borg and Crossan’s describe the procession this way,

 

“A visual panoply of imperial power, cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold.  Sounds: the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinks of bridles, the beating of drums.  The swirling of dust. The eyes of the silent onlookers, some curious, some awed, some resentful.”

 

 Debie Thomas (Parade or Protest? 03/18/18) goes on to say,

 

“According to Roman Imperial belief, the emperor was not simply the ruler of Rome; he was the Son of God.  So for the empire’s Jewish subjects, Pilate’s procession was both a potent military threat and the embodiment of a rival theology.  Armed heresy on horseback.”

 

So to get a better picture of what was going on, from the West came Pontius Pilate entering with all the pomp and circumstance, the military adornment, and in the typical Roman imperial way.  It reminds me of the pictures of Hitler’s army being paraded in Germany, or for that matter Darth Vader’s stormtroopers all lined up awaiting the Emperor’s arrival in Return of the Jedi.

 

While across town at the East gate came Jesus in one of the most anti-imperial, anti-triumphant ways.  Jesus had planned out this entire counter-procession.  He made the arrangements for what Crossan notes was, “the most unthreatening, most un-military mount imaginable: a female nursing donkey with her little colt trotting alongside beside her” (the opposite of a military horse in every way). Jesus knew exactly what he was doing.  This was political theater at its best and it was intended as a mockery of the pomp and circumstance of the Romans. Jesus was taking his plan from the Prophet Zechariah who predicted the entering of the king “on a colt, the foal of a donkey” and this king would be a non-violent king who would “command peace to the nations.”

 

Without the other processional, we are left a little confused by what Jesus was actually up to.  It seemed out of character for Jesus.  Actually, the Bible never says if the people knew what he was up to.  

 

Yet Debie Thomas says,

 

“I suspect they did not.  After all, they were not interested in theater, they were ripe for revolution.  They wanted – and expected – something world-altering.  An ending-to-the-story worthy of their worship, their favor, and their dusty cloaks-on-the-road. But what they got was a parade of misfits. A comic donkey-ride.  As New Testament scholar N.T. Wright puts it, what they got was a mismatch between their outsized expectations and God’s small answer.”

 

 

There is also one other thing we may miss or don’t understand at the end of this story and our text form this morning that is very important to the impact of this unique entry of Jesus.  Not only was he making a mockery of the Roman government, from our text, he had also caught the attention of the religious leaders.  It says, “Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

 

I have seen all kinds of Christian paraphernalia in my days with “Let the rocks cry out!” Or “If you don’t speak up then rocks will have to do the job.” My boys even had a cartoon series called “God Rocks” with characters that sang “rock songs” along with bad digital animation. 

 

But again, there is so much more in this phrase of Jesus.  Unlike this event being aimed at the Romans, at this point Jesus is speaking to his people, the Jews. The Pharisees would have know exactly what he was talking about because of their location. 

 

Now, I first came to understand why Jesus spoke of the stones while watching the movie Schindler’s List.  If you have ever seen the movie, at the end after the credits, a steam of Jewish people, that Schindler saved from the atrocities of the Holocaust, are seen in the year the film was made, walking single file and passing Schindler’s grave and putting a stone on his grave marker (so many stones that the entire grave marker is covered).  It is such a sacred and moving moment at the end of the movie. Yet in my ignorance, I simply thought it was a beautiful gesture.  I didn’t realize its deeper meaning until one day, back when we were living in Michigan, I pulled into a Jewish cemetery by our home.  As I drove through, I saw that each of the markers were covered with stones, not flowers like in typical Christian cemeteries. 

 

You may remember in the Old Testament, people took rocks and made altars, and that has become what is called “Placing an Ebenezer” to remember a location or place where God had done something special.  But as I began to research more about Jewish rituals, I found that placing stones on graves specifically goes all the way back to the Temple days in Jerusalem. I read on a Jewish education site the following, 

During the times of the Temple in Jerusalem, Jewish priests became ritually impure if they came within four feet of a corpse. As a result, Jews began marking graves with piles of rocks in order to indicate to passing priests that they should stay back.

The Talmud mentions that after a person dies her soul con­tinues to dwell for a while in the grave where she was buried. Putting stones on a grave keeps the soul down in this world, which some people find comforting. Another related interpretation suggests that the stones keep demons and golems from getting into the graves.

Flowers, though beautiful, will eventually die. A stone will not die, and can symbolize the permanence of memory and legacy.

Because of what Oscar Schindler did, his family was given special permission to be buried in the Catholic cemetery at the base of Mt. Zion outside of Jerusalem’s wall. Just North of his grave is one of the largest and oldest Jewish burial sites in Jerusalem. It sits outside the East Gate and lines both sides of the road to the Mount of Olives. 

Now, if you were paying attention to our scripture reading for today, Jesus’s triumphal entry began with a descent from the Mount of Olives. And his path to the East or “Golden” Gate would lead directly through (in his day and still today) one of the largest Jewish cemeteries. 

The scene would have had Jesus saying, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out” while completely surrounded by piles of stones on graves.  And not just those graves, but layers and layers of graves that go back to what some consider the beginning of time. 

Can you imagine what all those layers of stones had witnessed, what stories they could tell, what truths that went to the grave with Jewish and non-Jewish people alike could be revealed.  He was saying to the Pharisees, these stones could tell the truth about who I am and why I am here.

So why was Jesus jabbing at the Roman Government and the Religious Leaders in such stunning and theatrical ways?  And what was Jesus’ trying to accomplish with all of this.

I return to Debie Thomas who gives us an explanation worthy to ponder, she says…

I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that Jesus' political joke hastened his crucifixion.  He was no fool; he knew exactly what it would cost him to spit in Rome's face.  Like all good comedians, he understood that real humor is in fact a serious business; at its best, it points unflinchingly to truths we'd rather not see. 

For those of us who struggle to reconcile the role of God's will in the death of Jesus, this story offers a helpful but troubling clue: it was the will of God that Jesus declare the coming of God's kingdom.  A kingdom of peace, a kingdom of justice, a kingdom of radical and universal freedom.  A kingdom dramatically unlike the oppressive and violent empire Jesus challenged on Palm Sunday.

So why did Jesus die?  He died because he unflinchingly fulfilled the will of God.  He died because he exposed the ungracious sham at the heart of all human kingdoms, holding up a mirror that shocked his contemporaries at the deepest levels of their imaginations.  Even when he knew that his vocation would cost him his life, he set his face "like flint" towards Jerusalem.  Even when he knew who'd get the last laugh at Calvary, he mounted a donkey and took Rome for a ride.

                                                            From Parade or Protest? By Debie Thomas

Today, you and I are called to declare the coming of God’s Kingdom by how we live. Since our beginnings as Quakers, and as George Fox himself taught, the kingdom of the Son of God, the kingdom of justice, mercy, peace, and freedom — is within us as a seed, a living potential, because Christ the Logos, the light that enlightens everyone; that which can be known of God is within us in just that way. 

And that means we too are being called like Jesus to expose the ungracious sham at the heart of the human kingdoms surrounding us.  We too are called to hold up a mirror to ourselves first, and then the governments, authorities, and religious organizations of this world.  That is what it means to follow in the footsteps of Jesus….and that is what Palm Sunday was and is all about.

 

Are you living your potential as one who is called to bring forth the Kingdom of justice, mercy, peace, and freedom?

How might you help to expose the human kingdoms surrounding you? 

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4-7-19 - Life That is Truly Life

 Life that is Truly Life

Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

April 7, 2019

 

I Timothy 6:6-19 (MSG)

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

For those unfamiliar with Paul’s first letter to Timothy which was just read, it took place during what we call Paul’s fourth missionary journey.  He had instructed Timothy to care for the church at Ephesus while he went on to Macedonia.  When Paul realized that he might not return to Ephesus in the near future, he wrote this letter to Timothy as a charge to his young assistant.  The charge was a resistance to false leaders and teachers as well as a directive to live by example the true life (what I like to call “the resurrected life) amongst the growing Ephesian church and ultimately the world.

 

I believe Paul’s charge to true life is a perfect place to begin our transition to the Easter season, which is all about LIFE! Next Sunday is Palm Sunday and what many Christians recognize as the beginning of Holy Week.  Even though many pause to remember Jesus’ death and all the activities that led up to his execution, as people of hope, we continue to seek life and resurrected living.  I imagine if Paul was here with us today, he would have some queries for us – and I am sure Paul would have a charge for us as well.  So, let me begin by asking some queries that I think Paul might have wanted to explore (I have put these on the back of your bulletin for this morning).

 

Regarding contentment   

 

·        How many of you are content with yourself and your life?  How content are you?

·        Are you being yourself before God and before others?

·        Are you one person here this morning and another as you walk out the doors?

 

Regarding your beliefs:

 

·        Do you believe things that others don’t even know you believe?

·        Do you withhold your beliefs because of what others may think of you?

·        Inside are you greedy? ...lusting? ...jealous? …materialistic? …simply wanting more?


Take a moment to sit with those and mind the Light… [Pause]

 

Those are not queries we often ponder, nor are they easy queries to contemplate.  Rarely do we take the time for this type of reflection, but I think more and more it is needed if we are going to be effective in in making a difference in our lives and world. 

 

William Barclay picked up on this in his commentary on the text for this morning. He says,

 

“The word here used for contentment is autarkeia… By it they meant a complete self-sufficiency.  They meant a frame of mind which was completely independent of all outward things, and which carried the secret of happiness within itself. Contentment never comes from the possession of external things.” – William Barclay

 

But doesn’t our world tell us that happiness comes from having the most toys? Or the best job? Or the best education? Or the newest car, house, tv, computer, etc.?  the best __________ fill in the blank?

 

The commercials we watch or hear are all about outward things fulfilling us and making us content.  The reality is – none of these things fully bring true contentment or life.

 

I have become aware over my years in ministry and especially working in a college setting that people today connect contentment with being successful.  If I am successful, then I am content.  Or that is some way success creates contentment – but does it really?

 

My friend and fellow Quaker minister, Philip Gulley says,

“We have become so accustomed to defining success in material terms that we have failed to appreciate the other facets of life that enrich and sustain us.  Think for a moment how we venerate material wealth and those who hold it.  Why is a person who accumulates pets considered mentally ill, while a person who accumulates money is seen as a role model? The first person is diagnosed with compulsive hoarding syndrome and treated with therapy and drugs, while the wealthy person is lauded for his or her skills in investing and viewed as a success.”   (Living the Quaker Way)

 

This is exactly what I believe Paul was trying to engrain in Timothy’s heart and mind in the text for today. 

 

Now, taking this one step further and specifically looking at this through our Quaker faith, I have come to realize that our contentment in life is directly related to our “integrity.” Integrity is one of our Quaker SPICES (Simplicity, Peace, INTEGRITY, Community, Equality, and Stewardship).

 

In the book, “Living the Quaker Way” which I have used often to help teach Quaker principles to those seeking a new way, Phil Gulley points this out about integrity…

 

“Integrity does not present one face in public and another in private. 

It delights in transparency, having nothing to hide.”

 

Take a moment and ask yourself: Am I being my true self before God? Or am I hiding my true self from God…from my neighbor?...even myself?

 

[Pause]

 

Why we often hide is because of the lusts of our heart.  As our scripture text read, lust for these other things (money, material things, successes, etc.) “bring trouble and nothing but trouble.”

 

Those who desire these things: significantly, the desire for money is far more dangerous than the money itself – and it isn’t only the poor who desire to have money or be rich, it is also the rich who want more riches.

 

Desires stem from the inner life – from what is brewing inside our minds and hearts. Thus, the reason, we need to continually be reflecting on and being aware of what is going on inside ourselves – because soon it could become action, or words, or literally part of our outward life.  It almost can’t be containing.  It begins bringing trouble and often does not stop.  We can become obsessed, gripped, consumed by our inner desires and lusts – and that is before we ever act outwardly on them.

 

Our text goes on to say that this could lead to “losing your footing in the faith completely and living to regret it bitterly ever after.”  It can eat us alive – stealing life and leaving us regretting our life.  Why is that?

 

Because the desire within us – changes us.  It causes us to hide from who we really are.  It splits our life in two and slowly sucks the happiness right out of us.  No longer ca you be satisfied, instead you need something more…and more…and more…just like an addict who needs another hit, and alcoholic who needs another drink, a hoarder who needs another material thing…

 

 

Now, Paul knew that Timothy (as well as you and me) needed some reassurance and help.  Thankfully he had more to say to young Timothy (and us) in our text:

 

First, he warned about lustful leaders desiring money…and then he turns quickly to give us the opposite perspective. Paul tells Timothy to turn 180 degrees and flee the proud arguments of those who misuse scripture and who suppose that we should follow God just for what we can get out of it.

 

He says instead of this life of lustful desires, instead…

 

Pursue a righteous life—a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy. Run hard and fast in the faith. Seize the eternal life, the life you were called to, the life you so fervently embraced in the presence of so many witnesses. (vs. 11-12)

 

Paul was presenting Timothy (and us) – another way…a better way.

 

This life is not about personal gain, success, accruing material products, or even money…no this life is about so much more. 

 

Its about becoming fully human and fully alive!  I love the words Eugene Peterson uses to express this…

 

Wonder         awe inspiring, astounding, or surprising.

Faith               confident or unquestioning belief in the Truth

Love               affection and concern toward another person.

Steadiness    direct and unfaltering; sure.

Courtesy       willingness or generosity in providing something needed.

 

These are the traits of people who are becoming fully human and fully alive! – but it doesn’t stop there.

 

Paul says to “seize the eternal life” – what I call the resurrected life – NOW!  The life we are called to in this present moment. A way of living that brings people and situations back to life – that resurrects, that eternally changes, and breathes life back into the world around us. 

 

And Paul emphasizes that Timothy will not do this alone.  This life he embraced was surrounded by other “witnesses” to this same life. 

 

We too are witnesses of this life – and that means we too must seize this resurrected life.  We too are being changed as Timothy.  Paul said,

 

“I charge you before the life-giving God….keep the command…don’t slack off...” Live like Jesus!  This is why Paul wants us to know our inner life – it is where we meet the present Christ who has shown up in our lives, who gives us the LIGHT to share, who might not be physically seen, but is dwelling within each of us. 

 

And Jesus’ life was the example for how to live this life.  He stood up to leaders and false teachers of this world, he resisted the lustful desires for wealth, power, and success and sacrificed his own life to show us a better way, a resurrected life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, and courtesy.

 

After laying this foundation Paul says,

 

“Tell those rich in the world’s wealth to quit being so full of themselves

and so, obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow.”

 

Paul is reminding Timothy that if he wants to live this life that he has been called to, he must RESIST and “to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage.” And how does that happen?  Paul again says the riches from God come when we…

 

·        Do Good

·        Be rich in helping others.

·        Be extravagantly generous.

 

If we do these things, Paul says, “they’ll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life.” 

 

One of the greatest things I have learned since becoming a Quaker is the importance of our connectedness and responsibility to others – or as Paul put it – doing good to others, helping others, and being extravagantly generous to others.  It is more than me, myself, and I.  This is part of our ongoing inner reflection and personal awareness.  When we go inward to become aware it should affect our outward actions. 

 

I like the definition in Living the Quaker Way:

 

“To be a Quaker is to always see oneself in relation with the world,

answerable not only to God but also to humanity and to history.”

 

May that be so for us this morning.   Let us now join together in a time of waiting worship.

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3-31-19 - The Importance of Women Ministers to the Apostle Paul and the Spread of the Early Church

The importance of women ministers to the Apostle Paul and the spread of the early church.

 

Beth Henricks

 

March 31st, 2019

 

 

Bob, Sue, Lewis and Sam are in Chicago this weekend viewing potential colleges for Sam.  Being that its March 31st and the ending of Women’s History Month, Bob asked if I would share a message with you today.  First off , I was never aware that March was women’s history month so I did a little research and found out that it has its origins as a national celebration in 1981 when Congress passed and the President authorized  the week of March 7th 1982 as Women’s History Week.   Five years later in 1987 Congress passed the resolution authorizing the President to proclaim March of each year as Women’s History Month and every President has done this since.

 

This got me thinking about the many women in my life that  have been so important to me in my development and particularly my spiritual development.  Some of them have personally been in my life, some of them have passed away and many of them are from right here at First Friends.  There are also many women from our history as Quakers that have deeply impacted my relationship with God and how I try to live out my transformation in the world.  Jamie last week identified some of our important women in our Quaker history including Alice Paul and Margaret Fell.  For me, Lucretia Mott was the most significant influence in my embrace of Quakerism.  She was born in 1793 and grew up in Nantucket Maine in  a whaling town where all the men were gone out to sea for months at a time and the women ran the businesses, the churches and the town.  Lucretia saw  the effectiveness of women in many different roles when given the chance.  With this background she became a minister of the gospel and traveled widely in Quaker circles giving vocal messages and becoming a significant leader in the suffragette movement. 

 

Reading about these Quaker women in leadership and significant ministry roles drew me to the movement and I knew I wanted to be part of a faith community that recognized and supported women in developing all of their gifts.  The Quakers did this right from the start in the 1650’s.  It was incredibly radical back then (and still radical in some denominations and churches today).  But why?  Why have women not been recognized as leaders, teachers, ministers, administrators in the church for so long?

 

When I took a New Testament class at Earlham last year I did a lot of study on the apostle Paul and the important role women played in spreading the good news of Jesus and setting up new congregations. 

 

 

Paul included women in the work and worship of house assemblies and ministry and they seemed to be a part of his team of apostles.  He broke social and political ground by incorporating women into leadership and teaching roles in the early church and seemed to live out his bold statement that Carol read for us in Galatians 3:28, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

But there are a couple of troubling passages that are attributed to Paul that seem to take a giant step backward in understanding the role of women in the church and have been used as a weapon to diminish and silence women as teachers and leaders.  One of the most problematic passages is from I Corinthians 14: 34 – 36, “As in all the church of the saints, women should be silent in the churches.  For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says.  If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home.  For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.  Or did the word of God originate with you?  Or are you the only ones it has reached?”

 

How do we reconcile the actions of Paul in regards to women in the early church with these verses? 

 

In the book, The Role of Women in the Church, the Pauline Perspective,  author John Toews says that “The starting point for interpreting the Pauline texts regarding the role of women in the church is Paul’s over-arching theology of the church.  The purpose of God’s saving activity in Jesus is, for Paul, the creation of a renewed community of God’s people, the eschatological people of God.”   Paul declared this equality among all in Christ Jesus in several passages. (I Corinthians 12:4-26, II Corinthians 5:16-17, II Corinthians 8:13-14, Philemon 1:15-17).  Paul believed that faith in Jesus transcended race, sex and religion and it does seem that he tried to implement this theology in the life of the churches he established. 

 

It is very clear that Paul had female workers in his house churches as he referenced them in his writings.   Wendy Cotter in her book Women’s Authority Roles in Paul’s Churches says that  "It is “generally uncontested that certain women in Paul’s community exercised authority, and that this authority extended over men as well as women.”  He names six of them with some specificity in his writings in our New Testament and in the naming of these women, he does not identify them in terms of their relationship to any man but addressed them in their own right.  He offered encouragement and praise for their leadership in the assemblies that he is addressing with his letters.   

 

Prisca is named in I Corinthians 16:19 and Romans 16:3 as he sends greetings from Prisca and Aquila with their church in their home (I Corinthians 16:19).  This assembly of believers is likely a church in Ephesus since Paul indicates he is writing from that city (I Corinthians 16:8).  It is interesting that Prisca is named ahead of her husband.  She is mentioned again in Romans 16:3 with Aquila as Paul offers his thanks to them for risking their lives for Paul’s life.  Paul asks all of the churches of the Gentiles to offer their thanks to this couple.  

 

Apphia is mentioned in Philemon in Paul’s salutation calling Apphia his sister.  Philemon is named as a fellow worker and Archippus as a fellow soldier, yet it is Apphia that is named as sister giving her the equivalent of naming Timothy as his brother.   

Chloe is named in I Corinthians 1:11 by Paul indicting that Chloe’s people have reported to Paul that there were quarrels in the assembly between brothers and sisters.  Clearly if Paul is talking about “her people” she is a women that is well known, connected and of influence in the Corinthian community.  There had to  be some credibility to her name because why would Paul take care to identify his source as he does, and then proceed to address the difficulty with no hint of doubt about the accuracy of the report?

 

Euodia and Syntyche  are named in Philippians 4:2-3 with an urging for both of them to be of the same mind as the Lord.  He asked a loyal companion to help these women with whatever conflict was between them.  He identified both of them as individuals that have struggled beside Paul in the work of the gospel and he connects them with Clement as co-workers whose names are in the book of life. 

 

 Phoebe is introduced in Romans 16:1-2 as a sister and a deacon at the church in Cenchreae (centrea).  Paul also described her as a benefactor to many including him.  Wendy Cotter in her book states that “Since Paul knows no one in Rome and there is not a sizeable Jewish community to which he could attach himself, he relies on the wealthy and influential Phoebe to pave the way in Rome and stimulate their desire to finance his Spanish mission once he arrives.”    Paul asked the Roman community to help Phoebe in whatever she may require from them.

 

 

All of these writings of Paul give us evidence of his appreciation of women in ministry and his understanding of their value as leaders, teachers, and hosts and welcomed their contributions to spreading the gospel.  Paul’s goal was to share the gospel to as many people as possible and he saw women contributing to this goal. 

 

So how do we now connect Paul’s message in I Corinthians 14: 33-36 concerning women?

 

There is much debate among Biblical scholars  about this text.  Many scholars offer  the possibility that this passage was not part of Paul’s original letter and was added later by an editor to address church order and the desire of the more established church to reduce and diminish the influence of women.  Because why would Paul write these words when his actions were so different? 

 

In I Corinthians 11, Paul addressed the issue of head coverings for women while praying or prophesizing.  Paul indicated that it would be a disgrace for a woman to pray or give a prophecy without a head covering.  So how could Paul three chapters later in his letter prohibit women from speaking in the service?  Doesn’t this completely contradict his prior statement?

 

Craig Keener in his book Paul, Woman and Wives proposes that “Paul’s solution, like the Corinthians’ problem, is appropriate to a specific cultural context, and that it thus does not apply to every conceivable situation we face today.”    There was disorder in the service and Paul is addressing this specific concern related to proper order for the service in Corinth.  Keener argues that Paul does have a general principle in mind which is that people should not disrupt the worship service and that these two verses are not transculturally binding.  Keener advocates that these verses remain specific to the Corinthian situation and should not be taken as instruction for the church today.

 

There are clearly many questions about the authority these three verses should have on the institution of the church today.  Paul’s actions in the early days of the Christian movement cannot be dismissed by clutching to these few verses that have questionable authorship as a way to silence and diminish the important role that women play in the ministries of the church.  However, it is clear that after Paul’s death, the order and structure of the church became dominated by the social mores and culture of the times and the Christian movement that was radical and new in its beginnings changed significantly as time went on. 

 

So the catholic church has kept women in a diminished role.  Many fundamentalist churches have kept women in supporting only roles or allowing them to be teachers of children.  Even denominations  that allow women to be ordained as ministers  lag behind in actually hiring the women to lead a church.  I am so thankful to be part of a faith community and denomination that has accepted and encouraged women to be ministers and leaders right from the start.  I affirm the belief that women  can have the same fervor for the  gospel of Christ as men.  And that our churches need women in leadership roles today to help make the church vibrant, relevant and alive to a hurting world where the message of God’s love is so needed.

 

As we enter our time of waiting worship, I encourage you to reflect on the women that have touched us in our walk with Christ.  What have you learned from these women and what do we still have to learn?   

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