Thursday, July 24, 2008

Further Down The Samaritan's Road

This week's scripture is Luke 10:25-37.

You'll notice that once again this week's New Testament scripture is the parable of the Good Samaritan that Jesus told in answer to the question, "Who is my neighbor?"

All week long our Music and Arts Camp has been exploring just that question. The kids have been looking at areas around the world: Zimbabwe, El Salvador, and China; and learning something about each culture.

This Sunday they will be leading our worship and sharing music and drama with us. Watching this unfold as Eloise, Jolly, Jeremy, Joann and Susan pulled all of this together with music and crafts, drama and food has been a real treat. Sunday you'll also meet some older kids who came to help the younger ones have a good that's what I call 'growing your program.'

I hope that you'll take the opportunity to join them as they share what's been going on. And I also hope that the ongoing question of "who is bleeding beside our road?" has been moving you toward some thought about how we as a congregation can reach out in new ways in the community around the church.

Carole and I will be on vacation this Sunday and all of next week. I'll be back on August 3rd for worship. I'm looking forward to some kayaking on Cape Cod and the chance to spend time with some old friends. But I look forward to seeing you again when I get back.

Take care.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Neighbor By Side Of The Road

This week's scriptures are Deuteronomy 10:12-22 and Luke 10:25-37.

A couple of things before I start to blog about this week's scriptures.

First, I've been invited/challenged to preach a series of sermons that will help us sharpen our vision of who we are at Broadneck Baptist in terms of our life and mission moving forward into this next phase of our life together. This coming Sunday will be the first sermon in that series.

The scripture that we're using this Sunday is the Good Samaritan parable that Jesus told in answer to the question "who is my neighbor?" And, throughout the following week at Music and Arts Camp, the kids will be using this same story to frame their work and play around international neighbors. I think this is an interesting way to explore the passage. At the beginning of the work the kids will be doing we as grown ups will be doing some grown up 'theological reflection' on the passage. My hope is that our reflection will trickle down in some ways in the work done with the kids; that the things we discover about our identity on Sunday will be reflected as the Church's (as in universal Church) identity is expressed to kids.

In Mark 12:28-31 Jesus is asked, "what is the greatest commandment?" In his answer, Jesus doesn't settle for one commandment. He responds, "you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind" but he doesn't stop there. Jesus isn't content with leaving the most important thing about our lives being our attitude toward God; he goes on to say, "and the second is 'you shall love your neighbor as yourself' there is no more important commandment than these two." Matthew has Jesus follow up by saying that all the Law of Moses rests on these two commandments. Luke, on the other hand, has Jesus telling the parable that we call the Good Samaritan.

There are a number of lessons that can be learned from this parable. There's the judgement lesson about letting 'religious' laws and rules interfere with compassion-it shines a light on the Priest and the Levite. There's the 'anti-discrimination' lesson about recognizing and valuing couragous compassion where ever it comes from-it shines the light on the Samaritan. But in terms of our exploration of our ministry as Broadneck Baptist Church, I'd like to point us in a different direction. I'd like to shine a light on the man on the side of the road.

We don't know much about this man. Though it is often assumed that he is Jewish, we don't know for sure. Many people traveled the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. He could be any one of them. We know nothing about his economic or social status. He'd been stripped of all his clothes. All we know is that he had been robbed, beaten, and lay bleeding by the side of the road. Jesus defines him only by his need. There is no discussion about "the deserving poor" or about his history or family or his religion-or lack thereof. There's not even much discussion about the kind of need he has (is he brain injured, or just cut up?)Nor (as Jeremy pointed out in our Bible study on Monday night) is there any discussion about the wounded man's response to the Samaritan's kindness. He's there; he's wounded and needy.....what will the passers by do? It is in this response that their "identity" for future generations is defined.

For Jesus...and he makes this point in a multitude of ways and places in scripture...there is no seperating our love of God from our love of neighbor. He goes so far as to say "if you did it to the least of these (the most pitiful, the most powerless, the most despised) you did it to me." If we want to wake up every morning and see Jesus; if we want to encounter God every day; we're told to open our eyes and look at our neighbor.

For us as a congregation in the midst of exploring, examining, struggling with what our ministry to the Cape and surrounding area should look like this is an important lesson. Let's put it in stark terms: Who is bleeding on the side of our road? Where is the need? How do we equip ourselves to respond to it? Maybe we've already got some gifts and tools (the Samaritan had oil and wine), but not having the tools isn't an excuse for inaction. Our action has to be determined by the need.

You might ask, "well what if we don't know a lot about this issue/need?" My answer is that we educate ourselves. We've just been given a tremendous gift by 20+ years of giving at Broadneck...our morgage is paid off. That frees us financially, should we need to, to put money into education ourselves about the need, to develop an intelligent response, to live out our call.

But let's be blunt. We're not talking about "issues" or "needs"....we're talking about people. Who's bleeding by the side of our road? Or better yet...where by the side of our road do we see Jesus wounded, bleeding, in need of help?

That's where we need to start.

Hope to see you Sunday.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Trusting the Process of God's Grace

This week's scriptures are Genesis 25: 1-18 and Matthew 13: 24-30.

In this section of Matthew, Jesus tells three parables back to back that he prefaces with the phrase "the Kingdom of heaven is like..." They are about tiny seeds that grow into large plants; yeast in bread dough; and weeds in the wheat field.

These parables are, in part, about the paradox of the Kingdom of God. About the fact that small things make great differences and that it is in the tinest of moments or actions that great things are held.

But the lead off to this is this pecular parable about the weeds and the wheat. Now most of you who garden weed on a regular basis. I hear folks talking about tending their flowers nearly every Sunday. So it seems a bit strange that the farmer in the story tells his workers NOT to weed for fear they will pull up some wheat by mistake. The farmer would rather risk the weeds (for now) than lose the wheat. Though the story ends with the idea that the weeds will finally be culled out, this is a story of patience and grace and trust. Of a desire to let the process of growth and life do their work and make sure that we can tell the difference between weeds and wheat before we go to yanking things out of the earth.

When followed by the two stories of small things...mustard seeds and yeast...I can't help but wonder if part of what Jesus was getting at was that little things can turn the tide; the power of the smallest act-"the cup of cold water" that we talked about a couple of weeks ago-to transform not only the moment, but the larger picture as well.

How many times in your own experience, or in your knowledge of history, has someone been written off as a "weed" only to be transformed by the process of life and grace-or by some "cup of cold water" into a life of "wheat"?

Have you ever felt written off yourself as a "weed" only to find renewal and hope in someone's "cup of cold water" held out to you?

Do you look at your own life and see lots of "weeds" and little "wheat"?

These parables tell us that our lives, and in fact, the universe, turn on small things. And that God is patient with the process. God is not so quick to go 'weeding', but rather seeks to 'draw straight with our crooked lines' by the use of the small things...the pebble that turns the stream.

Please don't mistake my faith for naivety. We make mistakes...huge mistakes. We sin. And there is evil in the world. Huge clouds of evil in which violence is done, humans are trafficed, and innocents tortured and killed. I know this and we have responsibilities to face and respond to it.

But we respond in faith. Faith that God will have the last word. That the final act does not belong to evil and that the small actions you and I take today can turn the stream, raise the loaf, or grow into a place where others may find shelter.

We'll explore some of this on Sunday in relation to Isaac and Ishmael and the Issac's and Ishmael's in our lives.

For now, I'm off to go camping. Car is packed; the dog is ready; and Carole is waiting.

Hope to see you Sunday.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Incredible Love

This week's scriptures are Song of Solomon 2:8-13 and Matthew 11:16-30.

God loves us. Now when I say that, most of you sort of go..."yeah, we know that"-right?

But I mean God LOVES us.

I think that sometimes we lose track of what that means; of the incredible depth and passion that is involved here. It may be because so many of us grow up singing "Jesus loves me this I know" that we think of that love as somehow childish. Or we hear John 3:16 "For God so loved the world..." so often that it quites having a real impact.

Then we look at stories like Hosea. Hosea who loves his wife so much that he goes and buys her back after she's sold herself into sexual slavery...and then tells us that this is what God's love is like. Hosea who, on God's behalf, describes God's love as like a mother remembering nursing her new-born and the time that she taught her toddler to walk.

And then, we have the pictures painted for us in the Song of Solomon (or the Song of Songs if you prefer). This is really hot, sweaty stuff. Much of it is graphic sexual love poetry. It is steamy account of two young lovers and their desire for one another. They can't keep their hands off each other and everything they see reminds them of their lover's body. So much so that the girl in the poetry goes wandering the streets at night in search of her lover.

We're told by the rabbis and other commentators that this book is included in the scripture because it's also description of the kind of love that God has for us. Think about it! There's God, like a young adolescent male, hanging outside his girlfriend's house....peeking through the windows to catch a glimpse of her, waiting for her to wave back at him...gazing through the latticework into the back yard.

What we're being told in no uncertain terms is that God has the hots for humanity. Think about the most powerful erotic loving feelings you've ever had for another person...they don't even begin to touch the passion God feels for you!

Roll together all the images that scripture gives us: Father, Mother, Brother...and now Erotic Lover-even in combination they only begin to scratch the surface of the quality of depth and passion coming to us from God. This is the Love that the hymn says will not let us go; this is the Love that Paul says nothing can seperate us from; this is the Love that not even death could conquer.

I find it a little bit scary, frankly.....but it's a good kind of scary. Think about falling in love. God's in love with you. Can we fall in love with God?

Hope to see you Sunday.