Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Difficulty Of Loving Our Neighbor

This weeks scriptures are Deuteronomy 6:1-9 and Mark 12:28-34.

The big temptation with these scriptures for many of us, and especially for me as a therapist, is to focus on the 'love your neighber as you love yourself' in a way that stresses learning to love ourselves. For the truth is that many of us have great difficulty loving ourselves. Some of us were told from the time we were very small, in a multitude of ways, that we were either unlovable-or that we had to earn the love of others by bending our lives into something that others would like and accept. A great deal of my work as a therapist is helping folks escape from self hatred. A sermon focused on this would surely be an appropriate approach to these passages. And you might well hear that sermon sometime from me....but not this Sunday.

Jeremy's presentation last week on his visit to Georgia touched me in some powerful ways. His focus on the Inclusion/Exclusion that goes on within the church there was a painful reminder of what happens here in our country, in our churches, in our lives. I was so moved that my benediction was a charge that we reach out during this week to someone we have excluded. Have you got any idea how hard it was for me to respond to my own charge?

Jesus told the scribe that he was "not far from the kingdom." I was reminded of what that means while preparing for Sunday's sermon and reading an article by Maria Teresa Palmer describing a visit she made back to her native Peru. Her article reminded me how difficult it is to get past the 'not far from' into being where the Kingdom is...into being in the place where God's will is truly being done.

Being where the Kingdom is means struggling with the social and political impact of our choices. Being where the Kingdom is means thinking about how our actions and attitudes are experienced by our loved ones, our neighbors, the check out clerk, the woman with AIDS, the immigrant struggling to learn english, and the man returning from prison.

My problem with the "What Would Jesus Do?" stuff that was so popular a while back was that we too often don't take the question seriously enough. What does Jesus' love command us to do: about health care, about prison ministries, about our relationship with our relatives, about ........? How would taking this commandment seriously...and Jesus is crystal clear that these two commandments combine into one which is the greatest, the most important; that everything else is would my life change if I really, truly took this seriously. How would the life of our church change if that was our primary question: "How will this action/decision be an expression of our love for God with our whole being (heart, soul, mind and strength) and our neighbor as ourself?"

I don't have an answer. I have some thoughts. And those thoughts come from what happens when I take this passage and join it to Jesus' statement that "as you do it to the least of these, you do it unto Me." The imperative to love neighbor as an expression of loving God, as the primary expression of love for God, is not ambigious at all. It is a frighteningly clear command. Those thoughts challenge and judge me. I trust that God will also use those thoughts to guide me (and perhaps us as a congregation) as we struggle with how to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and our neighbor as ourself.

Hope to see you Sunday.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Daddy Time

First of all, I want to thank Mary Andreolli for filling the pulpit last Sunday; as well as for the wonderful things she said about Broadneck Baptist in the October Connections.

Next, I want to say how much I'm looking forward to hearing Jeremy talk about his trip to Georgia and what it taught him. I am eager to hear how God is going to speak to us through him this Sunday. (I had to come back and edit here...because I think Jeremy is preaching Sunday and Joann the next. I get confused when I'm gone. What is going to happen is one Sunday Jeremy will talk about Georgia; the next Joann will speak about her experiences in Zimbabwe. In both cases I expect that God will have something important to say to us).

Even though I'm not preaching this week, I wanted to share with you some thoughts I've been having lately. These thoughts were triggered by the new addition at our house. Hannah is a 12 week old black lab puppy. Bert Taylor brought her up from N.C. last weekend with her sister (who quickly won Donna Farthings heart and now lives with Donna and Paul).

This morning, while playing with Hannah before work, I was thinking about how important this "Daddy Time" was. My mind moved pretty quickly to the new babies coming into our congregation....and their needs. Then, pretty quickly actually, I got to thinking about my own need for "Daddy Time" with God.

Though I'm a little chagrined to say it, I had this moment when I was rubbing Hannah's soft fur when I thought, "I just want to be God's puppy; and to feel this kind of love and care and joy coming from God toward me that I'm trying to give this puppy.

Now I know that God is neither male nor female. And I know that "Father" "Abba" "Daddy" (the word that Jesus used was 'Abba' and translates closer to 'Daddy') aren't the only way to look at God as a Parent. But because I am a father; and because (for reasons some of you know) it is easier for me to see God as a Heavenly Father than a Heavenly Mother, I'll ask you to bear with me here. If the idea of 'God the Mother' works better for you, feel free to make the shift in what I'm going to say below.

My point is that I need....really need....'Daddy Time' with God. I need to feel that unconditional love, that 'touch', that presence. And while I get a lot of that from the community that is the Church; I also need it in one-to-one time with just me and God. As I've gotten older, and struggled with various issues in my life, I've realized even more that this time is not a luxury-but a necessity-if I am going to be able move toward wholeness and health in my faith...not to mention be able to do the work as a pastoring person and therapist that I feel called to do.

But the catch is that I have to make time for this to happen. God won't swoop down, pin me to the floor and say, "we need time together and this is it." I have to make time to pray, to meditate, to sit and be still and let God be present to and with me. I have a responsibility in this relationship too.

It's an old story, but it reminds me of my own situation so often:

The old couple was coming back from town in the wagon; and the wife looks at her husband saying, "how come we never sit all cuddled up on the seat on the way back from town? When we first got married we always did that. It was so wonderful. Why don't we do it anymore?" Her husband looked over at her from his seat behind the horse and said, "I ain't moved none."

God's love is constant. God doesn't move in this regard. If anyone has moved to the end of the seat, it's me. I need to remind myself of this, not to flog myself with it...but to motivate myself to make the time, expend the energy, to grow in this relationship with the God who created me, loves me, and calls me to partner with God and God's church in deeds of mercy, love, and justice. All these things are rooted in, and grow out of, the personal relationship that we have with God in Jesus. We need to cultivate that relationship.

I'm looking forward to Sunday and hope to see you at church as we listen to Jeremy and Joann.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Where Do We Focus?

This week's scriptures are Psalm 26 and Mark 10:2-16.

The passage from Mark this week is very difficult for me. First of all, as a divorced person (and happily re-married) it is a judgement passage. It holds the failures of both my ex-wife and I up against the light of God's standard and desire for human relationships.

Second, it is a difficult passage because it is one of the most abused passages in scripture. For centuries it has been used to keep (particularly) women in abusive, harmful relationships. It isn't enough that they were being battered at home; when they brought their plight to other christians (particularly pastors) they were battered spiritually there as well.

So let me say this a man, as a pastor, as a christian: if you are in an abusive relationship, if you are being consistantly harmed, physically or emotionally....LEAVE. LEAVE NOW. If you are a woman, man, straight, gay, doesn't matter....LEAVE. Find a safe friend, or a shelter (your local crisis hot line can direct you to one). All those promises...the ones that keep getting broken over and over...DON'T BELIEVE THEM....LEAVE.

Can people change? Absolutely! But let your abusive partner change while you're in a safe place. Let them do the work on themselves that they need to do while you're doing your work on you. Then you can do some work together. But Please, don't stay on that merry-go-round where you're walking on eggshells around your partner as the tension builds til they blow up, only to come back later and 'make up' with promises that it'll never happen again; only to start the cycle all over again.

We're talking serious stuff here folks. In the United States approximately 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually. If you're one of're one of the "little ones" Jesus was so concerned about. Jesus wants you safe, healthy, alive. Jesus wants you to have the kind of relationship that he talks about marriage being truly created for in this passage. If your marriage can be healed, there are people who can help...if it can't, Jesus will stand next to you while you pack your bags.

If you're reading this and you're one of the women or men being abused; my prayer is that you will hear God speaking to you through this to get the help you need.

If you're reading this and you're one of the abusive partners...let God speak to you as well. There is help for you. You can change your behavior. You can give up the rage and pain you've been carrying so long and become the loving, caring partner you were meant to be....but you have to STOP THE ABUSE NOW and get the help you need.

And finally, for those of us blessed to be in non-abusive relationships....we need to open our eyes; stop ignoring the signs; and reach out to those locked in this cycle of violence.

We can focus, like the Pharisees on rules and excuses and arguments; or we can focus like Jesus on the God given meaning of intimate relationships and the protection of the 'little ones'....whether they are the children of the violence ridden couple or the couple themselves. We can be true agents of "Shalom"-"God's Peace"....this isn't an easy task....but then, Jesus never said it would be.

Hope to see you Sunday.