02 August, 2018

Sinful or just Incomplete?

The following article is a salute to John Shelby Spong's work, The Sins of Scripture.

Peace to you and grace, from Carly, called to be a bearer of the Good News to the saints and sinners of La Grange and beyond.

“Sin” was a word that was thrown around and thrown at people regularly in the fundamentalist church in which I dabbled in college.  Everyone was considered a sinner in need of being saved from the clutches of evil – or “Satan.”  The leaders were fast to call anyone who did not agree with their theology or ideology a “Sinner.”  The sweet joy of being saved was the drawing card of that congregation.  

Jonathan Edwards
Congregational Preacher
1703-1758
At one time in history of Congregationalism, “Sin” had prominent role.  In 1741, Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon published under the name, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” where he used over 20 metaphors to illustrate God’s wrath toward sinners and the torment of hell.  The sermon, while preached to the Congregationalists in Enfield Mass (now Enfield CT), was in the style of that preached to a person about to be executed.  Edwards used fear as persuasion to “be saved.”

The thesaurus lists a long list of ugly words as synonyms for sin:  Wickedness, iniquity, immorality, debauchery, evil, turpitude, peccadillo, offense, indulgence, crime, transgression, wrong, felony, fault, misdemeanor.  While these fit the English language definition of sin, the Biblical definition of the word is more nuanced.

American Civil Religion, the English language, and the church I mentioned above have each taken the Deuteronomic cycle, the model of humanity’s inadequacy in the book of Judges, as the definition of human life and it’s basically “sinful.”  In this cycle, Israel turns away from God (sin), an enemy oppresses Israel (punishment), Israel cries out for help (repentance), God sends a redeemer (deliverance), and there is peace under the redeemer’s leadership (new relationship).  This approach assigns an innate inadequacy to humanity: we can never get it and keep it right. 

We have taken these texts from the bible and we have used them to denigrate our humanity and to cause human beings to be plastered with guilt and a sense of inadequacy. Maybe, if we can make people feel bad enough about themselves, that will immediately translate into their thinking how great God is, that God can love/save a wretch like you and me.

Perhaps it’s time to take a look at human life from another perspective: one that does not view people as corrupted, but rather as emerging and becoming. 
     
Perhaps the role of the church is not to rescue fallen sinners, where, in order to make them understand the great gift of God, we’ve got to constantly beat them up by telling them how awful and wretched they are.  Rather, perhaps the role of the church is to recognize that all people are incomplete and need something in order to be empowered to become so fully human that we no longer have to build ourselves up by tearing somebody else down.  Perhaps that something is the extravagant and unconditional love of God and not the wrath of an angry god.

Sin isn’t a word we like to use because it is loaded with denigration and inadequacy.  This isn’t to say that we are always perfect, that we never hurt others, or that we are always in the right.  Rather, I’m suggesting that we begin to think of each person as incomplete and seeking wholeness.  From this perspective, we approach one another with compassion and empathy. 

03 July, 2018

From the Cutting Room Floor

Grace and peace to the hands and feet of Christ in LaGrange and beyond, from Carly, called to be a servant leader amongst and beside you.

The lectionary texts offer more than can be shared in a 12 minute, 1000 word “moment” on Sunday morning. Each week, I read and study, sift and distill what the scriptures offer and assemble a large amount of verbiage and mental images that are relevant to the text.  Then, when I construct the sermon, most of what I have assembled in preparation lands on the cutting room floor.  

The narrative from Mark this past Sunday was a healing story wrapped inside another healing story.  The sermon focused on having the heart, the faith, the courage to persist in the midst of hopelessness.  But I’d like to share with you snippets of what landed on the cutting room floor.  These are snippets with no context or order.  They are the random thoughts and findings about the passage from Mark 5:21-43.
  • The Synagogue Leader’s name, Jarius, translates “Enlightened One.”  Is this really about the “healing of Jarius’ daughter” or is it about the Enlightening of the Synagogue Leader?  The leader of the synagogue is a man of privilege, but he has to learn to wait for the healing of a nobody, poor woman who has been bleeding for twelve years.  Jarius sees Jesus heal a woman in front of him – a miraculous thing – but that very healing means that his own daughter may well die before Jesus gets to her.  If you want your little daughter (or your spiritual community) to be healed, … then all the daughters have to be healed. Jesus does not give healing on the basis of status and income. Jesus heals the outsiders, too.  Trusting Jesus means living as though all people are equal— because they are.  A good deal of our "wellness" as a faith community comes from our attempts to include all of us— even though we struggle to do that as well as we'd like.
  • Who enlightens. It is the poor, ill woman, the least of the community, who enlightens the leader. It is the woman who has no hope at all, but who still trusts Jesus, who teaches and enlightens the rich man in his time of need.
  • Bearing Life is Polluted. The treatment of a woman’s bleeding – unclean and untouchable while bleeding.  The Talmud says she is “polluted” and everything she touches is polluted.  The bearing of new life causes a woman to be impure.  Angry people use parts of a woman’s reproductive system as swear words…  Why?  It blames the woman for her condition.  Yet all of us bleed.  More than that, we CAUSE people to bleed and then blame them for bleeding.
  • The number 12. The child is 12 years old.  The woman has been bleeding for 12 years.  For as long as this poor nobody has had her life draining from her, the daughter of a privileged one has been growing into life.  Twelve years old is the age of adulthood – BatMizvah. A “sale-able” daughter.
  • Crowds.  Everywhere in this section of Mark, there are crowds with which Jesus and the disciples are having to deal. Crowds are dangerous places. We never quite know when they will turn into a mob. In this story the crowds press in upon him. We are getting close to dangerous ground— to the truth of us— when we are in crowds.  Crowds are lost places; we lose ourselves in a crowd; we are made less of a person. Mark 6:34 says that "As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd…"  And crowds are a good place to be invisible. You don't want to stand out in a crowd, or it may pick on you, and vent all its fear on you.
  • Stepping Out of the Crowd. This un-named woman had to step out of the crowd to confess to Jesus her hopelessness, her unjust journey, her faith in his better way.  Jarius learns he, too, has to step out of the crowd to model for his faith community that all are equal in the eyes of God.  He is to model stepping away from the violence of exclusion, and the violence of labeling people, step away from depending upon his status, and to step into trusting and living the way of Jesus.
  • Feeding. “Give her something to eat.”  The daughter is healed – made well (the difference?); now nourish her, feed her, strengthen her so she will remain well. Connections to communion, community, strength, courage. 

The texts for Sunday, July 8, include a bit about the kid named Jesus who’s not allowed to grow up. Drop into worship this week and see what doesn’t land on the cutting room floor.

Blessings, 

Carly 

21 June, 2018

Ask the Question


We ran out of time for a number of questions asked in worship on April 15. Here is the next installment on responses to those questions.

You have been here almost 5 years. How much have we changed? What still surprises you about us?

As of today, June 21, I have been the pastor and teacher of FCCLG for 4 years, 2 months, and 2 weeks!  I jumped in with both feet running during the busiest week of the Christian year:  my first Sunday was Palm Sunday, April 7, 2014.  

I came with a specific call to lead the congregation into being a 21st Century church by following through with the Alban Plan the congregation had adopted in the previous pastorate before I arrived.  The plan involved a major change in the structure of the congregation’s leadership, increased lay leadership in each ministry area of the congregation, expanding the financial participation of the membership and financial transparency by the leadership, and expanding our non-member use of our building and space on both an occasional and exclusive use basis. This has been the planning basis for most of what I’ve been doing.

All of these changes are Cultural changes.  Cultural changes in any group generally take at least 10 years to actuate. So we have some way to go yet.

We have made significant progress. We have filled the building with organizations sharing space.  We have changed software and reporting systems so that information is available in understandable and comprehensive formats; we need to find methods to regularly get this information into the hands of members, however.  We have a significant number of new donors, but we need to increase the number of members who give -- as well as look for other sources of income.  We have many new volunteers in our ministries, but are challenged to “fill the slots” on our ministry teams and leadership committees.  And while we’ve learned that we can’t depend upon paid staff to do as much as it did 10 years ago (when there were many more paid staff!), volunteers are not always forthcoming to do the work formerly done by staff.

The culture of the congregation IS changing!  We are making progress in each of these areas. 

I believe the culture is also changing in how we view the role of our faith in our everyday lives.  I am hearing people talk about their struggles to live faith-based lives in a world that often seems to lean toward injustice and oppression.  I think we are more aware of our privilege and our prejudices and are trying to engage in ways to work for equality and compassion.  I hope that we are moving more toward being the church than “going to church.”

After over 30 years in ministry, I have found ministry with and beside each of you to be more engaging, challenging, joyful, and rewarding than any of the congregations I’ve served.  I believe that I have found a home in your our church home.

Have a question about faith, the Bible, the Church, our congregation?  Submit it here and look for a response in a future Tidings.

24 May, 2018

Ask the Question


Why are the ages of some people in the Old Testament much older than “normal” life spans?

I don’t know about you, but I would NOT want to live to be 900 years old!  Come to think of it, if every human lived that long, we would have had a major overpopulation problem!

In the Old Testament, particularly in the Pentateuch and historical books, genealogies list men’s ages 600-900 years.  Of course, it’s best not to reveal a woman’s age – and so the only woman whose age is listed is Sarah who was a mere supercentenarian at 127 years.  There are many possible explanations of this extended age thing.

We need to remember that these are faith narratives; they are not historical or scientific accounts.  I find it difficult to take these narratives literally; I believe they were never intended to be read as such. They are narratives intended to express truths about God and God’s people.  From a literary perspective, these narratives do that.  They tell us that these men lived long and fruitful lives walking with God.

The ages may be a literary tool to exemplify God’s power in the Children of God. These long ages mirror the long reigns of Sumerian and Babylonian kings.  These kings were considered God-like.  Those who put these narratives down on paper and ink were living in exile in those regions. By using hyperbole about the ages of the Hebrew men, the narrators were emphasizing that the Hebrews were God’s children and not less-than the rulers of the land in which they lived.

Finally, this may be seen as a translation issue.  The Hebrew word that translates as “year” is ambiguous. It may also mean “month,” “season,” or “era”. Or there may be a different method of measuring time, say as lunar months instead of solar years.  However, this still relies upon the narratives as historical or scientific accounts and not faith narratives. 

Have a question about faith, the Bible, the Church, our congregation?  Submit it here and look for a response in a future Tidings.  

18 January, 2018

An Ordinary Agent of God

Grace and peace to each and all the saints from Carly, called to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable in La Grange and beyond.

When I was a junior in high school, an elderly woman in the congregation changed my life.  What Ruth Brown did was simple, ordinary, and even mundane: she asked me to sit beside her in worship.  Then she did the same thing the following week.  This became a regular event in the following months.  

During the quiet time before the prelude, she inquired about me and how my week had been.  She affirmed me and encouraged me to be helpful.  She, who could not carry a tune in a bucket, asked me  to sing in the choir, and to share my musical talents.  She also shared with me things about herself: she told me about her gardens and her writing projects.   She wrote me notes and cards when I went off to college.  But that first request to join her in "her pew" meant to me that I belonged and what I had to offer was needed. 

Many people join hate groups, gangs or just disappear into the obscurity of society primarily because they don't feel connected with something or someone that made them feel valued or simply affirmed to them that they belonged.  Relationships are vital to who we become, how we see the world around us, and whether or not we feel we belong.  It is through relationships that each of us has the means to change the world one person at a time.

Ruth Brown saw her role as an agent of God who got the privilege to tell me that I was loved and needed by God. She made sure I was involved in worship and in the music of the church.  She encouraged me to serve on committees, work in the kitchen, and provide music for the rest of the congregation.  

The church matters more than ever in today's world. Be an agent of God and ask a youth to sit with you in worship, show an interest in their lives, and help them to know that sense of belonging that makes us the church that is Accepting All, Reaching Out, and Touching Lives.

Be the Church!

Carly

17 December, 2017

Light and Warmth -- Danger and Destruction

The mystery of the story, the familiar lyrics, the stillness of the night made all the more magical by falling snow, the fading canned lights giving way to flickering candles, the simple melody sung by young and old together:
Silent Night, Holy Night
All is calm.
All is bright

Each of us has a different favorite part of the Christmas Eve service.  Each of our souls is drawn to worship on that special night by that element that makes our heart sing. 
  
For me it is the flame on the end of the candle.  Light emanates from the flame;  heat radiates from it.  There is both comfort and danger in this light and heat:  comfort for the lost and the cold; danger for those who misuse and abuse.  

Isaiah called it.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.

John affirmed it:
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

On this day of the longest night, let us be the light and warmth for those who are held captive to the yolk of oppression.  Let us be the witnesses to God’s coming light and hope for the world in the face of those who would misuse and abuse others.  May the Christmas Narrative shine brightly in our lives so that others might know the Light of the world.

Peace to each and all,

Carly

09 November, 2017

What Happened to Thanks Giving?

The first frost to hit our backyard garden struck just this week. The Halloween pumpkins sit in the leaf piles on the sides of the streets, the Christmas decorations are up in the stores, and today I heard holiday music as I sat in a waiting room. 

But what happened to Thanksgiving?  Why have we leapt over the only secular holiday that is based upon a biblical mandate? 

In the Books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, God commands the ancient Israelites to observe the Feast of Booths — in Hebrew, Sukkot, "to rejoice before the Lord your God" at the time of the fall harvest [Lev. 23:40]. In Jewish tradition, the Festival of Sukkot is a joyous occasion to give thanks and praise to the Source of Creation for all the blessings, bounty, and abundance.  Joy is at the center:  scripture says that during Sukkot, "you shall have nothing but joy." [Deut. 16:15]
When they fled England, our New England predecessors saw themselves as fulfilling the biblical Exodus from Egypt.  Thanks to the indigenous people of Cape Cod, they survived their first winter and had a successful harvest of native produce and learned to hunt and fish.  Copying the three day festival of Sukkot, they celebrated for three days and gave thanks for their blessings, bounty, and abundance.

All over social media, people are posting their daily “thanksgivings” as part of a month of thankfulness.  I’m approaching this a bit differently: I think I should find something in everyday for which to be thankful; and to make up for the rest of the year of NOT doing it, I’m listing 12 things each day this month. 

Here’s today’s list of the experiences, people, and things that have made my heart sing by bringing unexpected blessings to me. There are, of course, too little room to fit more than one day here, and so I give thanks for the grace, forgiveness, and understanding of those who don’t find yourself in this list. Be assured you are not forgotten or overlooked.  Likely you are on another days list on the pad on my desk.
  • I give thanks on this 27* morning for a warm place to live and work.
  • I am thankful for abundance of our still-producing garden along the church walls.
  • I am grateful for the opportunity to work alongside creative, thinking, and joyful sojourners.
  • I give thanks for the quiet evenings my soul mate, Dan, and I spend cooking and sharing dinner.
  • I am grateful for the opportunity to raise two sons who have blessed me with lovely daughters, a brilliant grandchild, and a cuddly grand-pug.
  • I am thankful for my furry feline lap fungi who intuitively find me when I need to be cuddled.
  • I am thankful to the person who prepared my lunch at a local restaurant today; it’s hard to adapt Italian food recipes to avoid milk products!
  • I give thanks for the many yes responses when I was sure there would be only no’s. 
  • I lift my voice in thanksgiving for music that warms my heart and lifts my soul.
  • I am thankful for a mother who did not put limits on the dreams of her daughters or sons.
  • I am grateful for books that expand my mind, challenge my preconceptions, and take me to new places.
  • I give thanks for medical care that makes my life so much easier than that of my ancestors.


We have a blessing board in the foyer outside our sanctuary; There you are invited to list those things and people for which you are thankful.

Blessings
Carly

12 October, 2017

Magic Pennies

The gifts of God are greatest when they are shared.  


That's what I was taught as a teen.  I'm a logical person, so the idea of sharing something in order to increase it is nonsensical.  And yet, experience has taught me that logic is not applicable to the working of God.  

Early in our marriage, Dan and I were were confident that we could not afford to give anything but our time and talent to the church or to any other charity.  So we volunteered often and wrote checks to pay off our education debts and quarterly taxes. It seemed we always teetered on the edge of bouncing checks. We ate a lot of 10 cent ramen noodles from Aldi's.  And we were dependent upon food stamps and WIC supplements while our children were young.  

I'm not sure what it was that led us to budget differently.  Once we did, we did not look back.  We made two decisions that changed how we dealt with money. First, we changed the order of priorities in finances: rather than starting by paying the bills, we paid ourselves first by putting a set percentage of each paycheck into an "emergency fund";  and we made our offering to the church the second priority as a tithe that increased over time.  Once these were out of the bank, we paid bills and lived on whatever was left over.  Second, we learned to be choosy in what we purchased; we asked if we really needed something -- and if we would still need it in 2 months -- and then waited the 60 days before we purchased it -- and always paid for it with cash.

The habits we formed made a world of difference for how we live, for our health, and for our marriage.  Money (or rather the lack of money) stopped controlling us.  We learned to appreciate and prefer the things that don't require a purchase.  And, we became addicted to generosity.  There is no logic to this, but the more we give away, the richer our lives have become.  When we practice generosity, we depend more upon God and less upon ourselves; generosity builds and strengthens our faith.

Just as prayer, worship, daily devotional practices, and studying the Bible can enhance our spiritual lives, giving is one of the most significant spiritual exercises Jesus taught.  Well over half of the parables of Jesus deal with possessions and money.  Over 10% of the verses in the gospels are related to money and possissions.  In the New Testament, there are 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 on faith, but over 2000 verses on money an dpossessions.  In other words, Jesus taught that our relationship to money and material wealth determined whether we were at a roadblock or on the path toward faith.  

Jesus teaches that giving is first and foremost a spiritual act and only secondarily a financial act.  In the spiritual practice of giving, our faith informs our giving.  Giving is something we do because of God's goodness to us.  The more we know and trust God, the more freely and graciously we give in every area of our lives.  
The topics of money and giving are often shunned in churches.  I believe, however, that if we are following the lead of Jesus, giving is our most important spiritual exercise.  What we give, why we give, and to whom we give speak volumes about our relationship with God.  

In this stewardship season, I encourage you to look at what your budget says about your relationship with God.  Then make a decision about what you want your relationship with God to look like in your budget.  

May God's peace and joy fill your heart.  

Carly


09 October, 2017

An Offensive Gospel.

The script that follows is from the sermon I preached on Sunday, October 8 -- a week after the massacre in Las Vegas.  It is based largely upon the conversation between two colleagues in the PRCL-L listserve, an international group of clergy who preach from the Revised Common Lectionary.  

This particular sermon upset a number of people.  Others found it an "interesting challenge to how [they] think about forgiveness."  

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is offensive because it is so inclusive, so extravagant in love, and so broad in its grace.  

Matthew 21:33-46 ..... The Parable of the Absentee Landlord


I’m struggling with what God will do, will say to the man who fired hundreds of rounds into a crowd at a concert in Las Vegas, killing some 60? people and wounding nearly 600 more.

Just before he killed himself, did he regret what he had just done? If so, perhaps, just barely, we might be able to accept that God forgave him.
But what if he didn’t? And, of course, we will never know.

So what if he didn’t? Did God … could God … would God, looking down on the devastation, on the bloodied bodies scattered on the crowd, the terrified survivors huddling behind whatever protection they could find, what would God feel? 
Certainly, the pain of the people below. Certainly, a great sorrow at such loss of life and ability and future. Certainly, the tragedy of the moment must overwhelm even God. Certainly, God’s tears mingled with those below.

According to the news, he was not a religious man. No ties to any particular religion. In our scenario, we’ve already determined that he is not repentant. Standing before God, he shows no remorse, even though showing some such feeling might make his sentence lighter. He simply stands there, no pleading for mercy, no phony tears of regret. He just stands there, waiting for the verdict. Does God extract revenge?

In the parable of the tenants in the vineyard, the landowner exacts revenge for the mistreatment of his servants and the death of his son. Such a response would be appropriate here.

But what if, instead of comparing the landowner to God, the intent of the parable was to contrast the two?* This is what the landowner would do, the human landowner, the landowner who lives by the ways of the world. Landowners in Jesus day were often, as in this parable, absentee landlords, people who might plant a vineyard, prepare it carefully, and then leave it in charge of someone else. The only contact he would have with the farm after that would be to send his servants to collect the rent.

People in Jesus’ day had plenty of experience with absentee landlords. Many of them farmed for them, not managing, but doing the actual farm labor, perhaps even working what had been their own land before they couldn’t pay back the mortgage. And the mortgage interest was always high, deliberately so, intended to make it impossible to repay the loan, allowing the wealthy to expand their land holdings.

Jesus was not telling a parable about God. He was telling a parable about the way the world works, about the way humans treat each other. “This is what you folks do,” he was saying. “This is NOT the way God works.” The tenants who beat the servants and killed the son deserved justice. Any court in the land would consider that to be a capital crime, deserving of equal retribution, with the death penalty the appropriate response.

But John 3:16 tells us something different for God’s response. God loved the world so much … the only begotten Son …

God’s response to the crucifixion? Not the death of the religious leaders who pushed him to Pilate. Not the destruction of Pilate’s palace. Not raining hellfire on Jerusalem.

God’s response was two-fold: the tearing of the curtain in the Temple, the curtain that separated the public part of the Temple from the Holy of Holies, entered only once a year by the very high priest, the dwelling place of God. The curtain torn in two. Torn in grief, as they might have torn their own clothing upon learning of the death of a love one? Torn to let the people in, to remove the veil of separation from the people? Whichever, the tearing of the curtain was not a violent act, not a punishment, not retribution. No violence. No one was harmed.We Christians don’t focus on the tearing of the curtain, because what was more important to us is what happened three days later, the opening of the tomb, the resurrection. Where humans would respond with death, God responded with life. Life everlasting.

For the disciples huddled behind locked doors, no condemnation for abandoning their teacher. Instead, “Peace be with you.” For Peter, who had denied even knowing Jesus, no condemnation. Instead, an assignment, “Feed my sheep.” For Saul, who persecuted the early Followers of the Way, no condemnation. Instead, a name change to Paul and a new vision of the world, a world in which both Jews and Gentiles would work together to bring about the Kingdom.

The human response to the death of the landlord’s son in the vineyard? Death to the tenants. God’s response to the death of the Son? Resurrection and life.So where does this leave the shooter standing in the judgment hall? Certainly he deserves justice. From God, what might he receive?

The man will receive from God what all of us have always received: mercy, forgiveness, and love.

This is the gospel: all have sinned. Christ died for all. All are loved.  ALL.

The question is not so much what God will do, but what I will do. Because the love of God shown in Jesus' death tells me that I am that man.  Yes, quantitatively, his sin is much more obvious. But qualitatively, he and I are the same, cut from the same cloth, stained with the same self-serving rivalry, envy, violence, and fear.

He is no worse than me. He is me— sad, lost, filled with anger and hatred.The cross says that he and I are no different. God loves us equally.

And that's the scandal of the cross. It's why we don't listen to Jesus. Because we want, we need, for that man to be so much worse than us. Because then… we can live with ourselves… because at least we are not that bad.

So how will I respond?

If I— even a little… even if I would just accept in principle, and with reservations… that I am equally loved and equally fall short, like that man… then I am free. I can get over myself. I can just be me …   instead of having to try to be good…     instead of having always to categorize other people as worse than me…   instead of having to worry because I am not as good as other people…   instead of having to fear being rejected…I am just me. God loves me. God gives me life. God will not let me go. God never lets go of anyone.

Or,I can double down on the hate I have for myself.He deserves to die.He must be punished.No one can be forgiven that…

Whenever we say those things, what we are really saying is that, deep in ourselves, buried under the blinders, that this is what we fear—  what we know— to be true about us. And we will never be free. Because we are no different. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. If God cannot forgive him, God cannot forgive us…

But what's the point of it all if God lets him off scot-free?

First, God doesn't. There is a great cost. Jesus died, and countless other thousands have died, for and from our sin.

But here's the point:You see, that initial scenario I described might not be quite true. In the presence of God, I think no one will just "stand there waiting" for their verdict. We will meet God and know either great joy— know that we are home at last in the presence of utter goodness, or we will know utter fear. The great danger for us is that we may— still!— even in the presence of God— know only fear and condemnation. 

The longer and harder we fence God out the longer and harder we double down on our self-hatred the longer and harder we make it for us to simply accept the gift of love which has been given to us.

Love God.

Pray for the people killed in Las Vegas, and the many times more killed elsewhere last Sunday.

Pray for that sad, lost man.

And pray that you may know in every fiber of your being that God loves even that man…   so of course God loves you!

13 September, 2017

Friend or Follower?

One of differences between Facebook and Twitter is how one’s “associates” are labeled.  On Facebook, one has “friends.”  According to how one sets their privacy settings, friends can see most of what I post on my Facebook page, can write things on my “wall,” read my responses to other friends, and interact with me through private messaging.  On Twitter, one has “followers.”  These people can read what I post on Twitter, but the level of interaction is limited to hashtags (#), “retweets” (RT), mentions (@), and direct messages (DM). 
I recognize that to anyone outside of the world of social media, the paragraph I’ve just written makes absolutely no sense.  Such is the digital gap in technology use.  I would liken this difference to the difference between a church member a disciple.  In Jesus time, followers were more important than friends.  Despite what the popular song says, Jesus never wanted friends.  He said, “Follow me.” 
Membership usually means to be a part of something such as a family, a group or a club. membership carries with it expectations of participation and rules by which to maintain one’s membership in good standing.  These differ from group to group; the country club requires a stiff membership fee while the Kiwanis require regular attendance and fees. Some organizations regulate the expected behavior of members.
What does membership mean for the church?  This proverbial question has caused great conversation within congregations. In the United Church of Christ, each congregation makes this determination for themselves.  Some churches require pledges, participation, and receiving communion on a prescribed level.  Others are more lax and request only that the person let the church office know when they no longer wish to be a member.  Membership is an administrative box into which a person is placed for the sake of maintaining an institution.
More important to the Christian faith is being a disciple -- a follower or student of a teacher, leader or philosopher. Jesus asked that we follow him, not join him.  The most important part of being a disciple is having a desire to learn and grow in the knowledge and discipline of the Teacher. Rev. Carrie Call nicely worded it:  “The disciple listens, studies, practices, questions and follows. …. Instead, it is an attitude or orientation toward the teacher, one that includes devotion and openness.”
She goes on to say,
What I have come to believe is that not every church member is a disciple, and not every disciple is a church member. That seems odd to say. After all, if people are members of a church, doesn't that mean they are disciples of Jesus? Not necessarily. …. Discipleship has costs and it is a process - sometimes a very painful one. Making disciples is one of our tasks as followers of Jesus: to share an invitation to a way of life, not just membership in a particular group[1].
No one can force another to be a disciple.  It is a response to an invitation.  It develops and gains strength only through invitation and example. And it is recognized by its fruits - compassion, forbearance, forgiveness, kindness of spirit, generosity, gratitude and humility.
I encourage you to ask yourself what the difference might mean for your life. When we invite others to join us, is it so they can become good church members? Or, is it an invitation to a life of discipleship?
Blessings 
Carly



[1] Rev. Dr. Carrie Call, Conference E-Pistle (Indianapolis: Indiana Kentucky Conference UCC) October 27, 2014.

14 August, 2017

What is tithing?

Ask the Question, Part 5 

We ran out of time for a number of questions asked in worship on May 14th. Here is the final installment on responses to those questions. 


 What is tithing? 

Tithing is giving a set portion of your possessions away before any of it is spent, and living on what is left. 

Raising $2 Million   According to the US Census Bureau, the median household income for the community of La Grange is $102,500. Biblically, a tithe is 10% of your assets given away each year. Assuming that our congregation is a mirror image of the community, if every household in the congregation tithed 10% of their income to FCCLG, the member giving would be $1,927,000 (188 X $10,250). Can you imagine the ministry we could do with nearly $2 million each year?  Tithing is a practical means by which to fund the ministry of the body of Christ! 

Why Tithe?  Biblically, nothing on earth belongs to those who occupy the earth; it all belongs to God and humanity has been place here as a caretaker and steward of this resource (Genesis 1-2). So, tithing a practice that is required by the Old Testament Law in which the people are commanded to give a portion of the crops they grow and the livestock they raise back to God through the temple (Leviticus 27:30; Numbers 18:26; Deuteronomy 14:24; 2 Chronicles 31:5). 

There are several different tithes in the bible: a 10% tithe given to the temple to support the priests and the work of the temple (Lev 27:30); a 10% “festival tithe” for the celebration of the required feasts (Deut. 12:17–19); and a 10% “charity tithe,” given every third year to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow (Deut. 14:28–29). The total of these required tithes would be 23.3 % of your income each year! Those who didn’t tithe were threatened with a curse, while those who did tithe were promised blessing (Mal. 3:8–10). 

Why Tithe?   For me, tithing is a discipline: It is a practice that helps us to live within our means by living with less than we have rather than living on credit. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:34) While there is no New Testament command to tithe, it is clear that our gifts to charity should be “in keeping with income” (1 Corinthians 16:2). 

The New Testament talks about the importance and benefits of giving. We are to give as we are able. Sometimes that means giving more than 10 percent; sometimes that may mean giving less. It depends on the ability of the individual to live on what they have and on the needs of the community around us. “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded” (Luke 12:48).

03 August, 2017

Ask The Question, Part 4


We ran out of time for a number of questions asked in worship on May 14th. Here is the fourth installment on responses to those questions. 

Why is the Number 40 found so often in the Bible?

The number “forty” is used over 100 times in the Old and New Testaments.  It is the traditional Hebrew number used to represent or stylize the completion of a time of difficulty and trial, during which faith is tested. 

  • There were 40 days and nights of rain that led to the flood and Noah use of the Ark (Genesis 6 – 8)
  • Joseph spent 40 days in mourning over the death of Jacob, his father (Genesis 50:1-2)
  • The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. (Exodus 16)
  • Moses was on the mountain at Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights after the golden calf incident and before returning with the “Law 2.0”. (Exodus 24)
  • Later in the narrative, Elijah spends 40 days and nights on the same mountain.
  • Jonah announces that Nineveh will be destroyed in 40 days unless they clean up their act  (Jonah 3). 
  • Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights in the wilderness before being tempted (the Synoptic Gospels)
  • There were 40 days between the Easter event and the Ascension (Acts 1:3).

  • In each of these examples, the period of 40 days or years was a time portrayed in the narrative as difficult and filled with challenge, pain, or trial.

    19 July, 2017

    Ask The Question, Part 3

    We ran out of time for a number of questions asked in worship on May 14th. Here is the third installment on responses to those questions. 

    halalWhat is the purpose of the complicated dietary restrictions of Orthodox Jews and Muslims?   

    Kosher
    The dietary code of Judaism, Kashrut, is one of the pillars of Jewish religious life and virtually every aspect of eating and preparing food implicates some Jewish dietary law.  The dietary code of Islam distinguishes between  halāl, lawful, and harām, unlawful, foods; these laws have both similarities and differences from Kashrut, but is equally important to the followers of Islam.

    Why?  By following a specific dietary code, one is forced to remember to act out one’s faith every day. By following a specific dietary code – especially when interacting with others who are not of the same faith tradition – the believer makes a public statement about their faith and its importance to the believer. The dietary codes of a religion turn a mundane act of everyday existence into a holy and reverent act of worship.

    How these laws and codes came into existence is up for debate.  It may be that  these codes came into existence for health reasons; certainly the bottom feeders of the waters (shellfish, lobsters, scale-less fish), or the flesh of animals that eat carrion (pigs, vultures) – all forbidden by Kashrut – might pose a danger for the consumer, the allowed beef or goat can just as easily carry tapeworm or other parasites.  It may be that some of these codes were developed to promote ritual purity; the food eaten by the believer might bring the source-animal’s impure spirit into the consumer. 

    For those who follow these dietary restrictions, the reason the holy writings mandate these are less important.  The Quran and the Torah state that they are the ways of their respective faiths; law is law and is to be followed as faithfully as possible. And so they do.

    What constant reminder of your faith do you need to keep you seeing all of life through the eyes of God?  What discipline do you use to keep you ever mindful of the commandment to love God with all your heart, mind, and strength and your neighbor as yourself?  Do you have a daily discipline to prompt your faithfulness?

    22 June, 2017

    Ask the Question, Part 2

    We ran out of time for a number of questions asked in worship on May 14th. Here is the second installment on responses to those questions.
     
    Why do some people quote the Bible when it suits them but don't follow all the "rules" in the 
    Bible?
       I cannot answer for all people, but I can respond for myself.  Everyone who reads the Bible with regularity has their favorite scriptures; most of us interpret the whole of the Bible through the lenses of our preferred readings. This is called one's "Canon within the Canon."  It is the filter through which we understand the faith.

       In the constitution of FCCLG quotes Matthew 22:37-39 when it states our purpose and covenant to be:
    We acknowledge our belief in Jesus Christ as our Lord and savior, and we take for our rule of life his great commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." We believe it is our privilege and duty to forward this teaching by union with those of like mind. We covenant to unite in this great mission of faith and service. We agree to maintain the institutions of the gospel, to promote the orderly administration of the life of the church, and to walk together in Christian love. We shall endeavor to fulfill these sacred obligations, God being our helper.
    It is likely that many who were raised within this congregation use the quote from Matthew 22:37-39 as their "Canon within the Canon."

      My Canon within the Canon is Micah 6:8:
    God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
    I read the rest of scripture and form my beliefs and practices around this verse.  That does not mean that I ignore other verses; I read them in light of this tenant: that we first do justice, love kindness, and be humble in all walks of life.

       The Old Testament books of Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Leviticus contain extrapolations and interpretations of the 10 Commandments; these number 637 laws.  

       Jesus knew these laws and realized they had become the focus of determining who was "in" and who was "out."  What was a simple code of 10 rules had become a millstone around the neck of people who sought to live within God's community and a source of exclusion.  He told people he had not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.  His teachings emphasize God's extravagant love and inclusion.

       When asked which law is the greatest (of the 637 laws!), his reply in Matthew 22:37-39 encompasses the heart of the 10 commandments. 

       It is human nature to seek simple terms to understand complex ideas.  It is also a good debate technique to quote respected sources.  The problem with the Bible is that in it one can find justification for a lot of behavior - especially is one takes single sentences and short passages out of their context! 

       The best way that I know of to deal with individuals who choose to quote certain passages while ignoring the basic guidelines of faith is for each of us to know the Bible, to read it with regularity, to study it with others, and to learn as much about the social, literary, political and contextual contexts as possible.  Only then can we know for sure what is being appropriately quoted and what has been appropriated for reasons of ill.  And the added benefit is that we are more certain of what we believe and why we believe it.

    (Did you catch that subtle hint that everyone needs to be in Bible Study?)