Tag: wisdom

Wisdom is Known by Her Deeds

nadia-bolz-weber---civil-unions-2
Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

I recently read a sermon by Rev. Darrel Lakey called “Christian, you are upset about the wrong things.” To make his point, he uses a cuss word: ‘last night, 30,000 children died of starvation and most of you don’t give a …” And if your first response is: a pastor shouldn’t say such words…

… and here I am, not saying it…

… then his point is made: you and I are upset about the wrong things. Upset a pastor is cussing instead of how many children died.

He goes on to show, powerfully, how what we get upset about and argue about so often is the wrong thing – the wrong part of the problem. He doesn’t say cussing is good- but rather, we are spending our energy in inefficient, wasteful ways.

Correcting a person for a cuss word isn’t going to make much of a difference in the world.

Giving someone a meal is going to make some difference.

Changing the world so that food is more fairly distributed will make a world of difference.

Why get in a ruffle over the word, and instead, focus on the message? And then do something!

In our reading, Jesus, too, points out how people are upset with the wrong things and wasting their energy on appearances rather than on real issues.

He recalls to us John.

John ate honey and bugs. People were upset with him – anyone who eats such things must be demon possessed! They were upset with his appearances. When they should have been upset with the fact John had to preach his message in the desert and it couldn’t be received in the city. In fact, when he came to the city, he was murdered for his message.

So Jesus now points to himself, and says – after John, people became upset with me and my appearance. Not because I’m eating honey and bugs, but regular bread and wine like everyone else. But they say say I’m a drunkard and a glutton. And they’re upset I spend time with sinners.

People, then and now, are upset about the wrong things. People should have been upset that their religious institutions didn’t have space for sinners and thought sinners shouldn’t have access to a rabbi. They should have been upset that there isn’t enough food and drink for all to have in abundance. They should have been paying attention not to the inside of the vessels, as Jesus later says, instead of the outside. They should, and we should, know wisdom – know people – not by how they look, but by their deeds.

Wisdom is known by her deeds.

Not her appearance.

The deeds of John. The deeds of Jesus. The deeds that speak of God’s radical acceptance, generous hospitality, and abiding forgiveness. The deeds that speak Love.

Giving John a bath wasn’t the fix. Fixing the institutions driving him into the desert was. Telling Jesus to avoid sinners wasn’t the fix. Offering acceptance and welcome and forgiveness to sinners is.

Are you upset about tattoos, piercings, or cussing? I know very faithful pastors with so many tattoos, their arms are covered in as if in a sleeve. Others have multiple piercings. Some, like the one I opened with, cuss in their sermons. Should we be upset about their looks, or upset that LOOKS can deny you a job? Or housing? Or even healthcare? Does a person immediately become a better or worse worker because of a tattoo? If so – sign me up for the tattoo to make me more organized!

… Ageism is a huge appearance struggle in our country. Rather than being welcomed as a person with experience, those who are aged are seen as incompetent. And a younger person is chosen for a job… even though both applicants are qualified.

There’s a reason hair dye for men and women sell and turn a profit.

So what do we get upset about? Tell people who look older to go away and leave us alone?

Some churches concerned about this have started day cares that primarily employ elderly  so that the very young and the very old share a day together. Yes, it’s chaotic. Yes, it’s messy. Yes, it’s hard work! But… the wizened are valued for their knowledge… and the next generation are taught that aging is a good thing.

This is how to change our world: through taking action. Changing relationships. Changing minds. Being upset about the same things that upset Jesus, and then, like Jesus, taking action.

I went to Washington DC once as a child, like many of us go. I was told to avoid the subway because it was full of “undesirables.” My mother and another mother were so offended by this word, they cut out of the official tour to take their daughters on the subway. And we saw workers, and peddlers. We saw people without homes and people in business suits. We saw Washington DC without the spit and shine of the tour company guiding us. And it was beautiful. A city of diversity.

It was also stunning and horrifying. A city with twice the average homelessness rate – 124 people – men, women, and their children – per 10,000 citizens. Homelessness so high that people can register cross roads as their mailing addresses. A city with four of the richest counties in the nation – averaging incomes of $70,000 a home. And a city where the rich live elsewhere and drive in, while the locals who are poor or middle income ride the subs. And the policy makers, the rich, never see them.

Indeed, if the tourist papers warning us of “undesirables” is any evidence, then this is very purposeful. Purposefully avoiding the “lowers.”

This was a community service trip. If anything, we should have been right there on the streets learning from the common people the wrongs the people in charge are doing to them. Learning what would really make their lives better – like access to free showers, and safe places to sleep. We should have been upset that we live in the richest country in the world and there are plenty who still starve… because those with money and food CHOOSE to ignore their need and CHOOSE instead to focus on their looks.

Are we angry, upset, with what we ought to be? Are we identifying the root of problems and rooting them out?

This is about taking responsibility for our action, and our INACTION. Our action in choosing to fight silly battles and our inaction to act with God’s grace, hospitality, witness and love.

Our Old Testament reading is a strange one to pair with today’s gospel, isn’t it? Except for the AGENCY, the action, the people in this love story have.

The first is the servant of Abraham. He could easily have chosen the first girl he came across as Isaac’s wife. However, he goes and prepares. He stands near a well which is where, in the old world, all true love stories begin. It is a trope. A theme. Then, he begins to pray. He prays for a woman to come who is so generous, she not only pulls up one jug of water for himself, but water for each of his camels. That is – twenty gallons of water for each of the twenty camels. ((Remember, the story of Isaac is one of laughter and humor. So of course this girl is a super strong woman with unheard of generosity!)) And he doesn’t care about her looks, or the clothes she wears, or if she speaks perfectly. Instead – he cares about her wise deeds. Her generosity.

And back in her father’s home? Her father does the unheard of – he ASKS his daughter if she wants to go marry the man. He gives her agency. He sees his daughter as a PERSON instead of just property.

It doesn’t matter to him that the man has told him Abraham is rich, and seen the jewelry given. He still wants this to be his daughter’s choice. And she chooses to go. And the Bible calls the relationship between Isaac and Rebecka as one of ‘love.’  One of the few relationships of the Bible called such.

Agency. Seeing others as PEOPLE instead of numbers, or undesirables, or enemies.

It’s seeing our aching world, and instead of saying ‘but what can I do?’ doing your own small part – whatever it is. Giving to the food pantries. Supporting world wide organizations like the UCC Great Hour of Sharing or the ANERA refugee fund. Doing small parts – like reading and hearing the stories of those displaced by war. Not ignoring. Even when reading and hearing is hard.

And it is practicing love. If people cannot feel welcome and accepted, loved and encouraged, forgiven and wanted here – in our church – where, then, can they find respite?

Jesus says his YOKE is light. Remember, he is on a mission saying the religious folk are heaping on burdens on the poor instead of lightening the burdens. And it’s our jobs to lighten burdens.

But a yoke isn’t freedom – not act however you will – it is a guide. Yoke yourself to me, Jesus says, and know a lighter burden. Know that with me, you can lay down your heavy burdens of getting upset over the wrong things.

You can take up the yoke, the work, of assisting the in breaking of God’s kindom.

You can spend your life doing more than correcting someone’s cussing for five minutes… or criticizing their clothes. You can tackle the real work of loving others and changing the world one relationship, one deed, one olive branch at a time.

It’s still work – but it is light work. Joyous work. Because it sets judgment and hypocrisy aside, and welcomes and rejoices with others. If one is starving, one is homeless, one is not welcome – our beloved Jesus is starting, homeless, and not welcomed. It is also foolish work – the work that the wise and intelligent often miss, but which children often see and do immediately.

It is the foolish work of dancing with those who dance. And mourning with those who cry. And being a friend.

Come, says Christ, and share this yoke. Share your burdens. In the sharing, all becomes lighter.

And that is wisdom.

Amen.

Source: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/2017/06/christian-upset-wrong-things/

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Praise the Source of Faith and Learning

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
John 16:12-15trinity

The Emperor is in a bind. The Christians are fighting each other tooth and nail. Some love the Ecumenical Council that was held a few years ago, and some hate it. Christianity is becoming so diverse its not even one religion any more. If the Emperor can’t unite his people, how is he ever going to stand up against the outside invaders and other religions? How is he ever going to deal with Christians when they can’t agree who represents them? So the Emperor calls for another council – and says Christians — you need to come together.

So they come to chat — all the different bishops and priests and representatives of the different churches. And they ARE super diverse. They speak different languages, they follow different religious leaders, and they come from different cultures.

But they come, and they come with their big questions:

Was Jesus divine?
Was Jesus human?
Was Joseph Jesus’ biological father?
Was Mary a young maid or a virgin?
Was Jesus God?

Picture the room of five hundred plus people!

So over here, there are followers of Arius or Ebious, and they argue Jesus was all human, and not divine. He was either adopted by God at his baptism, or at his incarnation, or after his death, and given the powers of God through the Spirit. They state Jesus was definitely NOT God. I mean, if Jesus was God – why then did it seem Jesus didn’t always know everything? And who was controlling the world while Jesus was on Earth?

Some in this group concede Jesus became divine from the Spirit — and others say he did not. He was always mortal, like us, but so pure God favored him.

Now a days, some of this thinking is still found in some Asian churches and in Islam.

Across from those who said Jesus was all human, there sat the Docetists, and Marcions. They believe the complete opposite and say Jesus was all divine, not human. They argue God cannot suffer, cannot change, and cannot be corrupted. Therefore, Jesus – as God – could not suffer, change, be tempted by sin, be corrupted with human flesh, or even die. What we witnessed was just an illusion meant to teach us.

Similar to them are the Monophysites who argue what was human in Jesus was absorbed by divinity, leaving just a shell of humanity on the outside but all divinity on the inside.

Marcion went so far as to say the greatest God didn’t make this world, because this world is fallen and flesh is so bad. There were intermediaries… such as the Word… lesser gods who did the work.

The Gnostics nodded, and agreed with Marcion. This world is fallen and needs to be escaped. We need to become purer and escape to the heavenly world. Jesus, who only appeared to be human, was from this heavenly world to teach us the secret knowledge of how to ascend.

Sitting near the Docetists was the Apollianarist. They agree Jesus was divine. Yet they said for Jesus to be divine, he couldn’t be corrupted with sin. Sin is the opposite of God. What is sinful? For the Apollinarist it wasn’t human flesh that makes a person sinful, but a human soul. All souls are born with Sin. Therefore, they think that although Jesus was a mortal with a human body, his soul was the Word. His soul was divine and not a human soul.

Nestor wasn’t happy with this all divine or all human arguments. He said Jesus was BOTH human AND divine. He said Jesus was clearly the Word made flesh, but also a human. These two natures — divine Word and common human — were together in Jesus but not mingled. You see, it takes the power of God to forgive Sin, and Jesus forgave Sin. But also it takes God meeting humanity on our terms – as human – because we can’t meet God as gods. So Jesus had to be both all human and all divine.

Of course, then others began to say ‘Nestor! You’re arguing Jesus was divided within himself!’

So along came some who argued these natures comingled into something new: like how red and blue make purple. Divine and human comingled into a new being called Christ.

And along came Modalist. Why do we have to define what part of Jesus was God and what part wasn’t? There is only one God, but we experience this one God in different aspects or modes. It appears God is made of three people: Father, Son and Spirit, but in actuality, this is just an appearance, not a reality. Much like a person can put on a new hat for a new job, but is still the same person. God can act as Creator, or as Sustainer, or as Redeemer, but God doesn’t actually have three persons who make up one.

Trinitarians shake her head at the Modalists and say, no no – you’ve got it close but wrong. God doesn’t put on new hats and stop being the old hat. God is three persons, but unified as one God. God is Father/Mother/Parent who creates, Son/Jesus/Christ who redeems, and Spirit/Ghost who sustains. All of these simultaneously. Word-God was incarnate, while Spirit-God remained active in the world and Father-God is who Word-God prayed to. Otherwise, wouldn’t have Jesus just prayed to himself?

Therefore, God the Father is not God the Son nor God the Spirit. But any of the three and all three together are God the Godhead.

If that, or anything I just said, is incredibly hard to get your head around… you’re SO not alone. Not at all.

Many pastors, Christians, and theologians simply say “God is a mystery.” This isn’t a cop out. This isn’t being lazy. This is admitting that after thousands of years and tankers of ink and forests of trees… no one is able to wholly explain God. We’ve tried. We’re still trying. But in the end… God is a Holy Mystery.

In this church, we use Trinitarian formula. We sing the Gloria Patri of “Glory be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.” But, when we get down to thinking hard about our theology, and studying what we say and do, often we are Modalists. And sometimes, we’re Gnostic. And sometimes, we’re other of these groups.

Officially – Trinitarians was decided as the true way of understanding God at this Emperor’s council of Chalcedon… however, not every church agreed. And some churches that agreed moved towards other teachings.

You see, for two thousand years we’ve been arguing over these, trying to understand, and trying to explain how we experience God. Each time someone begins to get their finger on it, someone else comes along with a different experience of God.

So, when we can say God is a Mystery, even after we’ve tried and tried and tried to figure God out, we affirm that God is greater, more awesome, more complex than we creations are able to fathom. We praise God by saying: we’ve learned all we can, we’re still learning, and yet you still give us more.

Today’s scripture reminds us that Jesus told us there’s way more to this world and reality and Jesus and the Spirit and God than we can bear. But generation by generation, we are being led in our walk with our Mysterious God and coming to know the Truths God has woven into God’s beautiful creation.

Those Truths are often hard to explain and describe. The Ancient Israelites tried to preserve some of the Truths of their understand of who God is with the Wisdom Literature: Proverbs, Psalms, Ecclesiastics, Song of Songs, and so forth.

The ancient Israelites imagine wisdom as a lady. She stands at the center of downtown, where first and main meet; she is on every channel and newspaper; she stands on the street corners and she rings you up; she is said to be speaking and crying out everything to EVERY person.

Wisdom cannot be silenced, contained, or locked away. She must cry out.

And what does wisdom say?

“Holy God created me. Holy God used me in setting up the earth. God used wisdom in making the heavens and the soils. God used wisdom in making the mountains and the seas. When God used wisdom to set the order of the world, I was there – dancing with joy – and God danced with delight too – what delight is this creation and the human race!”

The ancient Israelites didn’t know God as hating this world and thinking that creation and flesh are fallen and bad. They wouldn’t agree with the later Gnostics. They knew God to take great delight in Creation.

This was in direct contradiction to some of the other creation stories from the people around the ancient Israelites. Some of those stories included gods battling and dying, the world being the destroyed body of an evil god, or gods not really liking, sometimes hating, humans.

The ancient Israelites experienced God differently. We can experience God who loves us through their recorded wisdom.

Our Scriptural creation story says from the very first spark that ignited our sun, to the barren rocks that pulled towards each other to form our earth, a wise and loving hand has been present. A wise and loving hand guided the formation of water, and a wise mind set to motion the systems of rain and evaporation. God danced with delight – the Proverbs say – danced with delightful wisdom when God moved atom to atom, cell to cell, and started the processes of LIFE itself. In the creativity among us, in the wealth of life, in the species that continue to evolve and change, out God delights and loves and wisely intercedes.

My Scriptural understanding of God says that those theologies, those understandings of God as remote, not involved, or even hating us, are shortsighted. God is not far away. God is not inaccessible. God is not pretending to be among us. God doesn’t pretend to love or pretend to know what it’s like to be human.

God IS love. God BECAME human. God’s new world is among us closer every day.

… but yet… other people, other good Christians and wise theologians, experience God differently.

That is a marvel for me: religion, the journey, the walk and education with God is NEVER over. Each time I read a page, understand a single bit of God, I turn the page and find a whole new story.

Every moment, every day, every person is carrying a unique story of God.

Wisdom is embracing these stories, and laughing with joy at the diversity of God – the Mystery of God – who invites us on this walk, teaches us along the way, and always, always has more to offer.

So it’s sort of like God gives us insight, and Truth, and wisdom… but yet God is always more. God also gives us faith, and mystery, and encourages us to be curious and to be humble in our knowledge. We need other people’s perspectives!

So… this Trinity Sunday… let us Praise God! The source of both our faith and learning! Amen.

Fast Food Diet

Numbers 11:4-29
Mark 9:38-50

Last week we spoke about cravings, and this week the theme continues. Now in the old testament, the Torah, some of the Israelites who left Egypt with Moses are strongly craving meat. They whine that in Egypt they had cucumbers and melons, leeks and onions, fish and garlic — and real meat. But out here, all they get is manna – the strange bread from heaven. Why did they ever leave Egypt?

Pretty soon more and more of the camp is complaining. So Moses goes and complains to God — why do you hate me so? Look at the people you make me care for, make me nurse along like I’m a mother breastfeeding children — these aren’t my kids! This burden is too heavy!”

So God says God will send so much meat that the people will literally have meat coming out of their noses and they will hate meat.

Moses points out there are over a half million men — plus their families — where is there enough meat to feed this many people meat for every meal for a month?

God answers — watch me. Gather elders and I will give them some of the spirit on them from you so you don’t lead alone. Moses does as God asks, and when the spirit settles on the elders, they begin to prophesize — proving their connection to the divine. Yet they kept their authority to speak and prophesize carefully only in the presence of Moses. Two other men, however, who also were leaders, didn’t go to the meeting. Yet they, too, began to know the word of God. In the camp — away from the authority of Moses — they began to prophesize.

Word got back to Moses real quick on the lips of a young man. Joshua tells Moses — “Moses, stop them!”

But Moses replies, “Are you jealous for my sake? I would that all of God’s people were prophets and that God would put the Spirit on them!”

Our reading ends here, today, to drive home the Christian message that Jesus gifted the Spirit to all people — just as Moses once wished.

But what of the promised meat? After today’s reading, the meat does come. Quail arrive in a windstorm. And they eat as much meat as they can handle. But while the meat was still in the teeth of those who gathered it, a plague struck and the people who had craved other food died.

In Numbers, the author says God did this. Science would say that eating meat that falls out of the sky from a hurricane is eating spoiled meat and listeria kills people. Scholars, however, say the entire story is a way of speaking of spirituality.

See, food in the Bible is often a sign, a reference, to spirituality. Jesus is the bread from heaven. Lamentations food for the soul is desired. In John, Jesus tells his disciples he has food they do not know of to eat – it is the food that is the will of God. We are told to labor for bread that doesn’t perish but abides into eternal life. We are reminded at each communion how the simple food of bread and pressed grapes are so, so much more than that which nourishes our bodies.

Food is a symbol. It represents life. Represents goodness. Represents spirituality. Represents God.

With that in mind, some scholars read this disturbing story in Numbers as a story about the people coming to terms with a new spirituality.

In Egypt, they had many religions. Lots of different kinds of food. Many different gods to pray to and to feed their souls. But out here, in the wilderness, they have only got YWHW – the strange God of Moses and of their great-forefathers. So while in Egypt they had specialty gods — out here they only have one universal god. And this is getting pretty bland.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone special to pray to for womens’ problems? Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone special just for children? Rather than saying evils — like plagues, listeria, deaths — come from the same God who gives births, medicine, and health — it would be easier to say an evil god sends evil. The people, in this interpretation, crave more variety in their gods.

If they can’t get more variety, they at least want more substance. This bread alone diet is boring. Give us something harder! Give us more spirituality! Give us more truths! Give us something to sink our teeth into! Give us the meat!

Moses goes and tells God he’s had it — he’s been nursing these babies that aren’t even his. He is giving them the most basic spirituality, the most basic nourishment, the most basic faith — and they aren’t happy. They want more. They say they want meat. No more of this simple religion stuff. Give them the plethora of gods in Egypt or give them more substance than what they have now.

And so the quail are hard spiritual meat, hard truths, scary realities, crazy paradoxes, the deep nuances of religion, the hard to comprehend wisdom of God — the power, and breadth, and immensity of God. As soon as the people try to get their mouths on all of this, they die. It’s too much. God is more than we can understand or know. Just a portion of God’s power diluted through Moses still makes the elders go crazy and speak prophesies. That diluted power makes even other elders who weren’t even present when God transferred the Spirit prophesy. So in this story, when scholars read it as a story of spirituality, the people balk and cannot handle meaty religion.

They need the milk-bread religion. They need the simple stuff. The people who kept to just the basics and trusted that is all they needed survived. The ones who craved more died.

… In this interpretation — which was really favored in the middle ages — a good faith doesn’t have to know everything, a good faith just has to trust what they have is enough.

… I think I would have been among those people who died.

I can’t stand not knowing something. So this interpretation, although it helps explain God doesn’t willy-nilly kill people for doing as God permitted them to do… this interpretation still discourages asking questions and wanting to know more.

I didn’t come to the UCC to remain silent. One of the UCC slogans about don’t check your brain in at the door of the church really appeals to me. I want to use my brain in church! And I believe God wants me to use my brain too!

So, I don’t like either way of thinking about this troubling story – either God as the source of misery and joy, nor as God wanting us to be stupid followers.

Instead, I like to hear this story as a reminder that our faith grows. It’s okay to start with a faith that’s made of milk and bread. That’s the faith the Israelites started off with. It’s okay to begin our faith journeys thinking Jesus surely was a blond haired, blue eyed, beautiful man… because a lot of us are blond haired, blued eyed, and we see images painted of Jesus when he looks like that.

But as we move into more solid food, more mature spirituality, we realize that Jesus– who was born in the Middle East as a Jewish man — likely didn’t look like a proper modern German.

Because our faith began with picturing Jesus looking the same as us ethnically is nothing to be embarrassed about. We all start with milk and bread. We slowly move towards meat.

I think this is what Jesus’ harsh words are about in Mark. When we see others who we think are still on beginning faith, we shouldn’t belittle them. We shouldn’t hurt their faith with questions theologians can’t answer with gallons of spilled ink. No, their faith will be tested in time — tested with fire, hardships — and they will become salted, full of salt, full of flavor, as God sees fit.

So that same lesson applies to us… there’s no need to be ashamed we don’t have answers to some of the hard questions… for instance, what does Jesus mean about Resurrection? Life eternal? Do people have bodies? Why does parts of the Bible contradict itself? Why do we have stories like the one today that says God does hurtful things?

These meaty questions are hard to digest. Giving fast answers — I don’t know and I don’t want to think about it — or “because the Bible says so” — work for awhile, when we’re on simple diets of bread and milk. But eventually, these lose their salt. Life gives us bigger challenges, greater fires, than what we’ve faced before. So we go back to our faith, and spend more time, grow into it, and take a more nuanced understanding of God back with us to face the world.

Fast food diets — full of quick easy food, lots of fat, lots of sugar and salt — are tasty. But they don’t nourish us. Faith that is fast, easy to follow, full of sweet sayings and salty good wisdom — is tasty and great… but it doesn’t nourish us for long.

Eventually, we have to go looking for more nutritious food to sustain our walk with the Lord. Eventually, we have to face harder questions. There’s no rhyme or reason, no particular age — whether child or adult — when this unsettling realization that we’ve outgrown the Happy Meal of our Faith and we’re not satisfied. It just happens… many, many times over the course of our lives. And that’s when we go for more food — and maybe even more nutritious food.

Maybe our prayers change from “Now I lay me down to sleep” to also knowing The Lord’s Prayer, or personal prayers.

Maybe our understanding of the Bible changes, or how we relate to God, or to one another.

Or maybe we learn new facts that make us think in new ways – such as today in the Younger Saint’s Moment we talked about how a popular story in Jesus’ time was the tale of Odepius and how he cut out his eye. So Jesus, when saying we should cut off our limbs, maybe was turning that popular story into a lesson that instead of maiming ourselves, we should just not do wrong in the first place.

However it is, our faith changes so that it is nourishing again. It is manna again. It is salt within us, so we can be at peace with one another.

It is okay where ever you are on your faith journey and where you have been. We’re all on this faith journey. We’re all traveling at different paces, starts and stops, going backwards, running forwards, and utterly veering off the road. But together, we’re all walking together — and none of us will lose the reward of a cup of ever-flowing, ever life-giving water because we travel this journey in the name of Christ.

Amen.

Given to Saint Michael’s United Church of Christ, Baltimore Ohio 9-27-15