Tuesday, September 26, 2017

"Just Enough" - Sermon, September 24, 2017

Community UMC, Quincy
“Just Enough”
Pastor Andrew Davis
September 24, 2017
Exodus 16: 2-23
           
            Last Sunday, one of my friends who pastors another church had a rather catchy title for his sermon on the sign of his church.  Since we were talking about forgiveness last Sunday, his sermon title on the sign was ‘The Joy of the F Word.’ Definitely grabs your attention, doesn’t it?  Or might make others, groan, wince, or facepalm.  I admit that I got a pretty good laugh out of it, though.  In some ways this morning, and in several of our texts this next month, we could easily create a miniseries called ‘The Joy of the S Word’…Stewardship, since our texts in the Fall tend to lean towards stewardship and being good stewards of what we have in our homes, our church, and here on Planet Earth. 
Unlike forgiveness last week which was quite a heavy topic, stewardship is one of the buzzwords around the church that people will oftentimes roll their eyes at because all too often they associate stewardship with giving our money to the church, but I don’t necessarily see it that way.  There is a lot more to stewardship than what meets the eye.  Stewardship can be joyful because it is the way that we use the many gifts that God gives us.  It reminds me of the song from Godspell, ‘all good gifts around us, are sent from heaven above.’
God does give us many gifts, while also giving us a responsibility in how we use those gifts that are given to us.  In a class on stewardship for the local church that I took a few years ago with Dr. Ann Michel of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley, a steward is defined as “a person who has been entrusted with an owner’s property and to act on the owner’s best interests.”[i] As we are given a beautiful world by God, we are called to be stewards of our world and all of the gifts that are entrusted to us by God, something we can sit on a little bit here.  So, starting today and the next several weeks, we will be planting some seeds about what it means to be stewards of what God gives to us.  Over the next few weeks, we will be thinking about what it means to keep just enough, think about how God provides for us, and what it means to give to God what is God’s.  And ultimately, I hope that we can see that stewardship is something that can be life-giving for both us as individuals and as a congregation, as well as something joyful and not just something we think about when Fall rolls around, but all throughout the year. 
As we engage with our text from Exodus this morning, we can also see how taking only what we need functions as a form of stewardship in its own right.  Our story from Exodus is right after Moses leads the Israelites out of slavery and oppression in Egypt, leading them across the Red Sea, and into the wilderness where they will be wandering for the next forty years before reaching Canaan.  After crossing the Red Sea and coming to Marah, the Israelites were thirsty and grumbled a lot, which God commanded Moses to take a piece of wood and throw it into the water which turned the water sweet and drinkable (Ex. 15: 22-25).  After coming to Elim and camping there awhile by the springs and palm trees, the Israelites are now in the wilderness where they find themselves hungry and a little hangry.  We’ve been in that position before where we get a little grumpy when we haven’t eaten, which is a natural reaction.   Instead, the Israelites were hungry enough that they began longing to be back in Egypt because in the heat of that moment in their eyes,  as they thought that they ate well there amidst the awful treatment and having to do backbreaking work for their food (Ex. 15: 27, Ex. 16: 1-3).  Although we also know Egypt was not a kind place to them.  Poor Moses just can’t catch a break, although God hears the people and their cries in which God tells Moses that God will provide bread for the people, which in this case will be the thin, flakey bread called manna (Ex. 16: 4-5).  Throughout the journey in the wilderness, Dr. Anathea Portier-Young at Duke Divinity School points out that when God provides each time the Israelites complain, “this responsive gift of provision [from God] requires human participation in a labor economy of sufficiency and equality, rather than accumulation and disparity, and establishes a rhythm of life that mirrors creation.”[ii] This system of equality will be seen when the people are told by Moses they can only take what they need; just enough to satisfy their hunger each day; not like going to one of the buffets at the resorts in Reno where you can eat until you feel like you could wind up like Mr. Creosote when he explodes in the movie ‘Monty Python and the Meaning of Life.’ 
          Now of course bread alone isn’t exactly enough, as we also need protein to survive, so God sends the Israelites quail in the evening and like the manna, the people can take only enough quail they will need to roast or boil at their camps.   Anything kept in excess will only spoil and disappear quickly (Ex. 16: 13-16).  It’s like going fishing, as anytime I catch fish at any of the lakes up here, I usually keep one or two for dinner and let the rest go, or just stop fishing and just the scenery.  However, there’s always going be those out there who will test the system, and sure enough there were some of the Israelites who gathered more of the manna and quail than they needed and were in for a rude awakening when it was spoiled, because they did not listen to what Moses said that came from God (Ex. 16: 17-20).  The only exception when to gather more was before the sabbath day, in which the manna and quail would not be available that day (Ex. 16: 22-23).  In this case, the Israelites needed to stretch their food supply out to the next day, as they learned to trust God in being able to keep only what they needed.  By providing for Israel during this time in the wilderness, “the provision for the bread becomes a model for the right distribution of food and a paradigm for a covenant community that is trustfully organized around God’s unfailing generosity.”[iii] We’ve also seen similar happen in the Gospel, in fact not too long ago when Jesus fed the five thousand with the loaves and fishes, as God provided then too. 
          How many of you have bought produce, bread, or perishable goods at the store with the best of intentions, only to find it spoiled and is no longer suitable to eat a few days or a week later?  I often find myself in that situation more times than I care to admit.  However, food waste is a real thing that we have to contend with and one way of being better stewards of what we eat is to take just enough with the intention of eating the food well before it spoils.  I know that as I keep trying to eat better and healthier, I really have to be mindful when I shop for produce at Safeway, SavMor, or the weekly farmer’s market from June-early September.  However, I did create a compost bin in my yard for organic waste, which makes me feel a little less guilty when I can’t eat all the packages of vegetables that don’t come in bulk and have to throw them out.  Plus, it’s better environmental stewardship by returning the fruits and vegetables that came out of the ground back into the ground.  However, in our text, the Israelites only have manna and quail to eat, carbs and protein, plus they don’t have refrigerators, ice chests, or other means of preserving what they take, hence why it’s necessary to take only what they need.  They more or less have to eat it right then and there of what God has provided for them.  
I also love going to the buffets in Reno, especially at the Atlantis, and sometimes feel that because of the high cost to eat there (which I only do once a year or so), I have to eat my money’s worth.  Although I do have a big appetite and sometimes my eyes are bigger than my stomach, in which I find myself leaving a plate of uneaten food and feeling bad about it.  When watching the Las Vegas episode of ‘Bizzare Foods America’ by Andrew Zimmern on Travel Channel, a number of the buffets and restaurants in ‘Vegas do have means of turning food waste into feed for pigs at a couple of farms, which brings the food full circle since pigs can provide food for us today.  Food waste can also be repurposed into valuable fertilizer for produce that will then feed us.  However, I still feel bad when I waste food, as it means that I failed to take just enough, just like the Israelites who took more than what they needed found their food spoiled.  Being better stewards of our food is one of the ways that we can become better stewards of what God gives each of us every day.  
          On the other hand, I believe the problem we face today is fear of whether, or not, we are going to have enough in the way of food.  As observed in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, the people who take more than they need “want to establish a surplus, to develop a zone of self-sufficiency” and “immediately try to replicate the ways of Egypt by storing up and hoarding out of anxiety and greed.” [iv] Of course, we know things are a lot more complex in today’s world and there are still plenty of problems just like Israel had to face.  For instance, world hunger and not having enough to eat or not having clean water is very real.  There are circumstances that happen such as drought, fire, natural disaster, famine, or money having to go towards bills and other expenses.  And it can happen to even the people who do all they can to make sure their bills are paid and that there’s a roof over their head, or food on the table.  At the same time, this is definitely where we as the community of faith are the extension of what God provides when it comes to food, as many of us step up and provide when someone may face not having enough to eat.  We do so  in our work with the community supper on Wednesdays, donating and volunteering at Community Assistance Network (C.A.N.), and providing emergency food bags that we have in the church office in case anyone comes by needing food.  Yet, such aid might provide just enough for a day or two.  Even in another sermon, if any of us have excess goods from our gardens, or around our house, don’t hesitate to give it away.  In fact, I’ll be offering to give tomatoes away since my plant is loaded, since I can only eat so much being single and living by myself (although the recent cold snap has done a number on my garden too).  Such examples are ways we become better stewards of what we have and keep just enough for what we need.  However, given where we live here in the mountains, that doesn’t mean we can’t keep some non-perishable or canned food on hand for emergencies, such as when the snow falls or the rains come down like they did last winter, or in case the power went out during the Minerva Fire last month.
          As we go into the new week, what does having just enough look like to you?  How might thinking of having just enough help you consider your own personal stewardship?  While we are not on the same exact journey that the Israelites were on by being in the wilderness for forty years, we have this good example of having just enough of what we need that plants an essential seed of how to be good stewards of what God gives us.  Next week, we will be thinking of the ways that God provides for us, just like God provided the manna and quail for Israel during their time in the wilderness, or when God provided the wood for Moses to throw into the water to make it drinkable for the Israelites.  I look forward to thinking about the many ways we can become better stewards in our homes, in our church, and on Earth. 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say AMEN!! 



[i] Ann Michel, “What is Stewardship?” in Stewardship for the Local Church (Washington, DC: Wesley Theological Seminary/The Lewis Center for Church Leadership, August 27, 2014), class notes. 

[ii] "Commentary On Exodus 16:2-15 By Anathea Portier-Young". 2017. Workingpreacher.Org. Accessed September 23 2017. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3433.

[iii] The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. I (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 813. 
[iv] Ibid., 814

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

"Forgiveness is a Necessity" - Sermon, September 17, 2017

Community UMC, Quincy
“Forgiveness is a Necessity”
Pastor Andrew Davis
September 17, 2017
Genesis 50: 15-21
Matthew 18: 21-35

Forgiveness is such a challenging, sometimes heavy, yet always necessary word that we hear on a regular basis around the church.  Each week during the prayers of the people when we pray together “The Lord’s Prayer” that Jesus taught us, we say the line “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” or when we prepare to take Holy Communion, we seek forgiveness from God for the ways we have fallen short.  Or when we say our individual prayers at whatever time of day we pray, whether it is morning or night, we ask God to forgive us for any shortcomings and any harm we have done to others.  Forgiveness is a necessity, whether we like it or not and no matter how easy or hard it is to forgive others, as God always offers us forgiveness.
            Back in the fourth grade 27 years ago, my teacher, Mrs. Bingham was another teacher who was formational in my life, who I recently had a good conversation with her after getting back in touch on social media.  One of the things I remember most from fourth grade is that whenever we did something to upset one of our classmates or her, Mrs. Bingham would have us say “I’m sorry; will you please forgive me?” Asking for forgiveness was not an option in her class.  Kind of hearkens back to last week’s lesson about listening to and working things out between each other whenever a conflict would arise.  Mrs. Bingham’s faith played a big role in how she taught our class and looking back, she definitely followed the example that Jesus taught the disciples in our lesson last week and this week, where if someone does you wrong, you take them aside and work it out, and if it doesn’t work, take it higher up the chain.  Then you offer them forgiveness.  Come to think, I don’t really recall anyone being sent to the principal’s office very often, nor do I recall our class having too many disciplinary problems. 
Nevertheless, the elementary, middle school, and high school years were often challenging for me as they were or are for many of us, and in retrospect, will also force me to think about what forgiveness means in forgiving the people who did not treat me very well.  While I did endure my share of teasing and some bullying, in retrospect, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been based on hearing or reading stories from others who had it much worse in their school years.  Unfortunately, I was an easy target because I was overweight (well, I still am), socially awkward, shy, and reserved, in which I was oftentimes easy prey.  Yet, as we get older, sometimes we would learn to see things in another light. 
Later in high school, one person I had an occasionally adversarial relationship with from 7th – 10th grade ended up becoming a good friend later in high school and still is someone I consider a good friend today, and through conversations online many years later, I feel like we forgave each other by talking things out and sharing our perspectives.  A few others who gave me trouble in elementary, junior high, and high school have also become good friends through the years because we have forgiven each other and learned to see each other in a different light, even though it took awhile for me to let that guard down.  It makes me reflect back to the end of the story of Joseph that we just heard Marty read a few minutes ago, as Joseph endured some pretty crappy treatment by his brothers early on before being sold by them, then over time, became an important figure in Potiphar’s court.  Amidst the horrible treatment he received from his brothers, Joseph is able to reconcile with and forgive his brothers in the end.  Except it took time, as forgiveness does not necessarily happen overnight.  
Now, there are some instances where I have questioned whether forgiveness is necessary or not, as holding grudges felt much easier than forgiving, or I have struggled with forgiveness because of being hurt or taken advantage of, as there have been times I wasn't always sure if I would have been able to forgive like Joseph forgave his brothers after they had thrown him to a pit and sold him.  However, there are times when I find it hard to say “I’m sorry” and ask for forgiveness; some of it is probably out my own stubbornness and perhaps,  pride.  Except I know if I don’t forgive at some point, it will come back to haunt me or continue to haunt me, which results in me having to swallow my pride.  Plus, here’s something to think on when we allow pride to get in our way; pride is the deadliest of the seven deadly sins, or as C.S. Lewis calls it in his book, Mere Christianty, “The Great Sin.”[i] So why is forgiveness oftentimes such a challenge, even though it is a necessity?  Why is forgiveness something we wrestle with so much? 
            Even today, whenever we say something to someone else, post something on social media that ticks someone or a group of people off, or even if we have accidentally or intentionally hurt someone, our Gospel lesson this morning says that we need to ask for forgiveness in addition to saying I’m sorry, challenging as it may be, but also extend our forgiveness as well.  However, Jesus doing what he does best, likes to take things a little bit further when it comes to forgiveness.  In a dialogue between Jesus and Peter, Peter thinks that forgiving someone seven times is sufficient, yet Jesus says “seventy times seven” (Matt. 18: 22, NRSV).  Although there is a little comic I saw that comes to mind here; not only does Peter have to learn to forgive seventy times seven, he also has to do math as well.  Perhaps that’s why forgiveness is so challenging, as it is like having to do math sometimes.
  In his book, Unconditional: The Call of Jesus to Radical forgiveness, scholar and author Brian Zahnd explains that when it comes to forgiving seventy times seven,
it should be clear that seventy times seven is related to atonement, forgiveness, and the establishment of everlasting righteousness.  Seventy times seven becomes an equation connected with how humanity moves beyond transgression and retribution into the new world of forgiveness and restoration.[ii]

Instead of retribution like we see in some of the laws in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Jesus is taking a whole new way over the Law of Moses which often called for retribution such as ‘an eye for an eye.’  Instead, Jesus commands the crowds back in the “Sermon on the Mount” earlier on in Matthew towards ‘turning the other cheek’ and forgiving someone seventy times seven instead of getting even.[iii] At the same time, we also know the idea of ‘turning the other cheek’ is still a challenge all these years later. Brian Zahnd further explains that
turning the other cheek, though perhaps heard as a cliché today, is still a very difficult demand that forces us to push the boundaries on the possibilities of forgiveness.  But the Christ follower does not have the option to choose Moses’s reciprocal response over Jesus’s radical forgiveness.  Jesus calls his disciples to a different way, a better way, a higher way, and ultimately, a necessary way.[iv]

            As I have said before, I always hope that whenever any of us find ourselves in the midst of conflict with one another here in the church, in our workplaces, our schools, or our households, whether the conflict stems from a simple disagreement or much more, to take the higher road and not get down to petty name calling, insults, and the like.  The same goes for how we as a people of faith conduct ourselves in society too, as we need to take a higher way, a better way, and a different way than the rest of society wants us to take at times because we in the church are the ones who should be setting the example.  Yet, despite our best efforts, we will still screw up, we will still fall short at times.  And, we will still need to ask for forgiveness and extend our forgiveness to others too.  In looking at the original Greek, forgiveness stems from the words apolyō and aphiēmi, which essentially means to “send away” or “let go.”[v] We send away the bad feelings we harbor towards those who harmed us and let the feeelings go and even let the people who harmed us go. 
            On the other hand, do we want to be like the unforgiving servant that Jesus uses as the example of unforgiveness?  It seems like a double standard that here, this servant gets his debt forgiven by his manager only to go and accost the servants who owed him money, refusing to forgive the other servants their debts to him.  Well, his manager was not too happy and quickly rescinded that forgiveness and had him endure torture until his debt was paid to the manager.  We don’t want to think that it’ll be torture if we ourselves don’t forgive, but what happens when we don’t forgive?  As Jesus does points out rather bluntly, “so my heavenly father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matt. 18: 35).  This is Jesus using the convention called hyperbole, when he uses exaggerated statements to make his point clear, as Jesus equates not forgiving to being tortured, which it does feel like when we don't let go.  The bad feelings and resentment towards the person who harmed us and vice versa can swirl around for a long time, which is not all that healthy either because it brings us down and controls our minds if we let it.  On the other hand, Forgiveness doesn’t mean that everyone’s going to join their hands together and sing “Kum ba Yah” either.
          As I asked on Facebook this week about what forgiveness means and looks like, one answer is that forgiveness helps us cleanse our heart and mind, as ‘hate and anger take up too much space’ and can ‘prevent our souls from growing.’ Likewise, forgiveness is letting go of that hate and anger, even though forgiveness doesn’t mean you’ll ever forget or necessarily condone another’s actions.  Like one meme I saw not too long ago on Facebook and Instagram, forgiveness is the equivalent of not allowing someone or something to live rent-free in your head.  Furthermore, in God’s kingdom, our God is a forgiving God, even when we constantly mess up in life.  As Brian Blount puts it inhe commentary True to Our Native Land, we need to remember that “it is not enough that God has forgiven us; we must live and act out of that forgiveness in ways that make it meaningful,” not like the servant who was forgiven by his manager, yet failed to forgive the others around him.[vi]
Forgiveness is another instance where it often feels easier said than done, especially if we have been hurt really badly by someone else, whether it was verbal or physical.  Hence why forgiveness is such a heavy topic and not always very comfortable topic to talk about because some of the things that the mere mention of forgiveness can bring to the surface, or the flashbacks it could cause.  Even though I sometimes wrestle with his writings a little bit, C.S. Lewis explains in Mere Christianity that “every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive, as we had to deal with during the war.  And then, to mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger.  It is not that people think this too high and difficult a virtue: it is that they think it hateful and contemptible.”[vii] C.S. Lewis lived through both World Wars, fought and was injured in WWI, and had such perspectives that are found in his many writings, as forgiveness was a very touchy area in the days, years, and even decades following both wars and even in some of the present conflicts we are in today.  As this time of year rolls around, many of us and myself still struggle 16 years after the atrocities of September 11, 2001 and repercussions that followed, which Brian Zahnd asks in the first chapter of Unconditional, “is there a limit to forgiveness?”[viii] Something we can wrestle with here. On the other hand, C.S. Lewis states that “it is made perfectly clear that if we do not forgive, we shall not be forgiven.  There are no two ways about it,” which also leaves us wrestling because I know in the past when I've been hurt or in an act of war, I would much rather obliterate the you-know-what out of the person who hurt me or the enemy.  Nevertheless, there are times when we will wrestle with the notion of forgiveness, even though it is a necessity towards creating a brighter future.  But, it does take time too.
There is so much that can be said about forgiveness, so much more than just one sermon can adequately address.  Yet, forgiveness is a necessity especially in light of conflict that has happened in our lives or in the world around us and in light of conflict that will inevitably happen.  I’m still on the journey too and I still have people to forgive in my own life and am making my way towards being able to forgive and hope they have forgiven me for things I may have done to them.  And there are things I need to forgive myself for too. It’s an ongoing journey, and a journey that will make us think, or a journey that will sometimes leave us feeling very uncomfortable at times.  It may make us more upset when we think of who we need to forgive, but can also lead us to a feeling of greater freedom and liberation and wholeness when we do forgive.  And, forgiveness can restore relationships or lead to some unlikely friendships. 
Earlier this week, one of my colleagues shared a devotion with several of us and would like to close with:
"And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against      anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses" (Mark 11:25, ESV).
Many relationships can get stuck in a downward spiral. Every step forward is quickly followed by two steps back. Bad times and lonely times overwhelmingly outnumber the times of true joy. It can feel like no matter how hard you try, the pain of past conflict is just too close to the surface for anything good to grow. It’s hard to feel hopeful when your mind is filled with vivid reminders of hurt and failure.
What can help you turn the corner in severed or strained relationships? What can break the cycle of neglect, confrontation, injury, and withdrawal? What can heal the past and start forward momentum?
One thing: forgiveness.
There are no enduring relationships without forgiveness. We humans hurt each other. Deeply. If you want to make it to your golden wedding anniversary, it will require several major forgivenesses and a truckload of minor ones. If you want to nurture close friendships that extend over decades, if you want your family to thrive—you will have to learn to dole out and thrive in forgiveness. You can forgive, and God wants to help you. Never are we more like Christ than when we choose to forgive.
Forgiveness is much easier to talk about than to do, yet it is a God-given mandate that brings incredible healing. Our Lord has commanded us to stay busy in this matter of forgiveness: “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
Jesus didn’t simply talk about forgiveness. He modeled it in His everyday life. From the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1–11) to His final words on the cross—“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34)—forgiveness is what Jesus was and is all about.
How about you? If you profess to be a follower of Jesus Christ, are you all about forgiveness? No doubt there are countless people who have injured you, said false things about you, betrayed you, or wounded you with their actions and reactions. The offender might be a co-worker, a neighbor or trusted friend, a parent or sibling, a spouse or child. So much of the strife in our relationships is rooted in our unwillingness to forgive.
Forgiveness is a decision to release a person from the obligation that resulted when he [or she] injured you. Once you forgive, you release [them] from what [they] owe you. You let go of getting even. You don’t want to see [them] suffer to repay you. You set [them] free.
Through forgiveness you also release healing into your own life—healing of your soul, followed by the potential for healing in your relationships.
It all starts with one simple yet difficult choice: to forgive.
Journal
·         Whom do you need to forgive? Who has the Holy Spirit brought to mind as you read about forgiveness?
·         From what specific obligation do you need to release him or her?
Pray
[Creator] God, please reveal those I need to forgive. Shine the bright light of Your truth into the dark corners of my heart, where I hide unforgiveness. I choose today to forgive. Because it’s something You commanded me, I know it’s possible. And because it’s something that pleases You, I beg You to help me. Please help me to forgive, deeply, from my heart, as You have forgiven me. Wherever possible, and as much as it depends on me, please heal my relationships. In the name of Jesus, who paid the highest price for my forgiveness, amen.[ix]



[i] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperOne, 1952), 121. 
[ii] Brian Zahnd, Unconditional: The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2010), 25. 
[iii] Ibid., 28
[iv] Ibid. 28-29

[v] "Genesis 1:1 (KJV)". 2017. Blue Letter Bible. Accessed September 14 2017. https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g863.

[vi] Briak K. Blount, True to Our Native Land (Minneapolis: Fortress Pres, 2007), 109.
[vii] C.S. Lewis, 115. 
[viii] Zahnd, 2

[ix] 2017. Jamesmacdonald.Com. Accessed September 14 2017. https://jamesmacdonald.com/teaching/devotionals/2014-08-27/.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

"Are You Listening?" - Sermon, September 10, 2017

Community UMC, Quincy
“Are You Listening?”
Pastor Andrew Davis
September 10, 2017
Ezekiel 33: 7-11
Matthew 18: 15-20

A few weeks ago, after getting back from the East Coast and still being on vacation from my church activities, I was perusing DirecTV and all 200+ channels for something other than ESPN, Food Network, Travel Channel, or the news when I came across American Movie Classics (AMC).  I was kind of intrigued that the 1989 film, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation was on AMC, so decided, what the heck, even though it’s August, I can use a little Christmas in August.  After all, some of the big box stores are getting ready to start putting their Christmas stuff out, so may as well get my heart ready for Christmas a few months early.  Then again, I always get a good laugh at any of the Vacation series starring Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo as Clark and Ellen Griswold, as I needed a good laugh after all the stress of trying to get to and from the East Coast as I dealt with cancelled, delayed, and rescheduled flights both ways. 
Now Christmas Vacation is one of those movies that pokes a lot of fun at the high expectations that are placed on the holidays and how chaos and conflict can quickly happen because everything that can go wrong will go wrong, or because nothing goes to plan, or because family dynamics are, well, a little complex.  Plus, Clark commits a cardinal sin and doesn’t always listen to his wife or his mother, which oftentimes gets Clark into trouble and leads to one of his classic tirades in each film.  The complex nature and conflict among family is especially the case in Christmas Vacation when Clark decides to have both his and Ellen’s parents, as well as his Aunt Edna and Uncle Lewis over for a good, old-fashioned family Christmas.  What really could go wrong?  Just imagine having a houseful and all the conflict that can ensue with all the different personalities (with some of the relatives also being very abrasive), which is compounded further when unexpected guests show up, such as Cousin Eddie and his family in their run-down RV.
 Some of you may be saying, been there, done that when it comes to the holidays and conflicts during the holidays (heck, simply bring up politics and see what kind of fuse just got lit).  On the other hand, we don’t really see much in the way of resolution, or attentive listening in Christmas Vacation until the climax and end of the movie. 
          While Christmas Vacation is a parody and satire of life that shows how quickly conflict can happen, it does ask if we ever listen to our instincts and more important, are we listening to each other when we have a beef with someone or vice versa?  How many times have each of us been in a situation where we try to bring something to someone’s attention, only to see them just shrug it off or completely blow it off?  It happens more often-than-not, but there’s a solution for it!!  In our texts this morning, the prophet Ezekiel is telling us how God warns others through the voices of the prophets, especially when it comes to imploring people to turn from evil or wicked ways.  In other words, when the prophet speaks, it’s coming from God and you better listen!! Meanwhile, in our Gospel lesson, Jesus is teaching the disciples about conflict resolution with what will become the community of faith, since this morning’s Gospel lesson comes not too far after another instance where Jesus foretells his death in chapter 17, as the community of faith will carry on the work of Jesus after he is no longer physically on the earth.  Are we listening to what God tells us through the prophets, people, and are we listening to what Jesus is telling us through his teachings? 
          Whether we like it or not, conflict is inevitable among our families, our workplaces, our schools, organizations, the church, and in life in general.  A little conflict is not necessarily a bad thing because there are many ways of doing things, except we also don’t want conflict to become toxic or destructive either.  In our Gospel lesson from Matthew, Jesus is prescribing ways for the community of faith to deal with conflict among each other in a healthy and loving manner, first with trying to work it out among each other.  As I shared a couple weeks ago, I had to learn that lesson in sixth grade when our teacher had us try to work out conflicts among our classmates first.  But then Jesus tells the disciples that if trying to work out conflict among one another isn’t effective, or if the other person won’t listen, to take the complaint to the next step up and have two or three people present among the conflicting parties as witnesses.  If that step isn’t effective, take the grievance and complaint to the entire community of faith, who can expel the offender if they don’t listen and won’t change, or if they keep blowing the complaint off.  However, that also doesn’t mean that the person who is expelled can’t ultimately repent and receive forgiveness, because that door will ALWAYS be open.  Jesus will continue to offer forgiveness, love, and give that person a chance of reconciliation within the community and with God, just as he is still able to offer us forgiveness and love today through the Holy Spirit.  Nevertheless, we have to listen carefully when someone brings a complaint against any of us or whenever we find ourselves in the midst of conflict.  Because not listening can escalate conflict, as well as cause deeper rifts and deeper hurts among the greater community, even though Jesus preaches the necessity of forgiveness among the disciples, a message that is still relevant today. 
          A couple years ago, I had the opportunity to take a summer intensive class at Wesley on conflict management and resolution, especially since I am someone who does not like conflict or confrontation even though it will come up at times.  While a little conflict is healthy because of our diverse backgrounds, ideologies, belief systems, family backgrounds, etc., we don’t necessarily want conflict to escalate and become toxic either.  This class provided a number tools to work through conflict in healthy and collaborative ways; while instead of focusing on resolving conflict, the class focused on how to transform conflict into collaboration, which this morning’s Gospel lesson is essentially trying to do.  The method that Jesus is prescribing in our lesson from Matthew is a collaborative method that takes confronting the offense head on, except in a loving and even prayerful way, while still offering the chance of reconciliation at each step of the journey.  In one of our books for the class, Never Call them Jerks, Arthur Paul Boers explains that such a method that Jesus is prescribing fosters careful listening around both sides of a conflict, while “the priority of restoration and reconciliation is the reason for so many attempts [to address the offending party].  This procedure has been used as a tool for punishing people, but its evident hope is restoration and reconciliation,” which we should always be working towards as a community of faith.[i]  We should never give up the hope towards reconciliation and forgiveness in a broken world, which will be a part of next week’s Gospel lesson.  However, we need to keep trying to resolve complaints among one another when they do happen, whether it’s one on one, with one or two witnesses, or before the whole community. 
          One idea one of my colleagues had before leaving her appointment several years ago was to work on conflict resolution by doing similar to what Jesus is saying in our lesson this morning.  Her suggestion is that when someone has a conflict with another person in the church or a staff member in the church, they go and pray together, much like Jesus saying to work it out one on one and hoping both sides will carefully listen to each other.  Then after praying together, take the conflict to the pastor or SPRC for resolution, as the SPRC is the committee in the church that can help in resolving conflicts among staff members and members of the congregation.  Thankfully from what I have been able to see in a little over a year, ours is a congregation that we don’t see too much in the way of major conflict, as we are good about finding ways to work things out and talk things through together, and even in times of minor disagreements, find ways to love each other and look beyond what might divide us.  However, when the inevitable will happen, Jesus has given us an example of how we can resolve any conflicts that may arise here and there because we are still human.  Listening to each other makes a world of difference!!!  
As we go into this new week, how are you going to resolve or transform any conflicts that happen here and there, whether it's in your workplace, school, family, etc.?  And are you listening when people point out things that you could do better, or is the other person listening to what you are saying when you point out things that can be done better?  Hopefully it doesn’t result in a tirade like Clark Griswold’s in all the Vacation movies, but instead, hopefully trying to work things out brings about a way to talk openly and honestly, leading to reconciliation, restoration and forgiveness that Jesus is ultimately pointing the disciples towards when it’s their time to lead the community of faith.  Besides, we never know whose voice the voice of God may be speaking through, so are we listening? 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the Church say, AMEN!!!



[i] Arthur Paul Boers, Never Call Them Jerks (The Alban Institute, 1999), 89.  

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Adventures from "The Quincy Quill" - September 2017

Where has this summer gone?  Even being still young-ish and now officially entering my late 30’s, I feel that time seems get faster and faster the older we get.  I remember back in my younger days how the last day of school would come around in June and looked forward to having the whole summer to relax, unwind from a busy school year, and play.  But as it always happened, the end of August came very quickly and before we knew it, another school year was once again upon us.  When this article is published, all of our schools here in Quincy and Plumas County will be back in session and we lift all of you who are back in school up in prayer, both students, teachers, and administrators. 

I have to be honest that the Fall has actually caught me off guard, as time does march on very quickly.  It feels like we started our summer programming a little early in May and just when I thought summer would be slower, it wasn’t.  Yet amidst how busy this summer has been for myself and many of us in the church, I hope that you have had a chance to play, rest, and renew.  I have been able to hike, fish, get out to the county fair, and made a trip or two out of the area.  In fact, as I write this month’s installment of “Adventures,” I’m preparing to leave for a weekend trip to Pennsylvania and Maryland for a good friend’s wedding and will be taking a vacation/study leave as I hope to get caught up and ready for the Fall. 

Of course, this summer has been quite eventful for us here in Quincy with the Minerva Fire that started on July 29.  It was a scary time for all of us in town and hearing stories from a number of longtime residents, heard that this fire was the first time that a fire has gotten this close to town.  However, our fire crews in town, from around the county, and state sprang into action and we cannot thank them enough!!  It was God showing up at the right time and working through the fire crews.  In fact, one of the late Rev. Fred Rogers sayings is to “look to the helpers,” as God showed up big time through our helpers on the ground and in the air. 

I want to thank all of you for the many ways you helped out in showing radical hospitality to the fire crews through town and in the church.  We made a quick decision to open our church office as a rest stop and provided snacks and drinks for the fire crews in the neighborhood and the crews that came in to rest, use the restroom, enjoy some cooler air, and snacks expressed their thanks to us.  One firefighter from Benicia I talked with was amazed at how this entire town has shown great hospitality to all of the crews, and we could see it in our local businesses and the interfaith community.  The radical hospitality our town showed these fire crews even caught the attention of The Los Angeles Times in an article that highlighted our town’s outreach and thanks to the crews who kept us safe.  That was God at work and our entire community being the hands and feet of Christ in the greater world!! 

Finally, I would like to take a few moments to clarify something in my sermon from August 13, as I made an exegetical error and I want to take responsibility for my mistake because I believe in being a transparent leader.  While I try to do a very thorough exegesis (interpretation/close reading/consulting scholarship/wrestling with) of a text, which was Matthew 14: 22-33 that Sunday, one of the Bible commentaries I regularly consult in my exegetical work talked about leaving Jesus on the beach and in history.   I received a little feedback and want to say thank you for bringing that to my attention and humbly apologize and ask your forgiveness that a few of you were a little miffed for the lack of clarification.  What I should have clarified and unpacked is that Jesus was not necessarily left behind, but lives within each of us through the Holy Spirit, which is why we are the hands and feet of Christ in the world today.  As I also pointed out in my sermon that morning, we clergy will occasionally make mistakes or overlook something in the text. 

Having said that, we are all here to learn from each other, and I want you to know that it’s okay to disagree with me and push back, because as two of my friends/colleagues in Reno say in their podcast, I want you to be able to think for yourselves about what you make of a text on any given Sunday and how your own core beliefs make the text come alive or challenging for you.  Unless I have a meeting or appointment, my office is always open from 10am-1pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and you can also join me for coffee and snacks on Thursdays from 10am-12pm (this month will be at Quincy Provisions) if you ever want to talk things out, ask questions, or even wrestle with a text that may be challenging.  I’m on this journey of faith with you and I still have a lot to learn along the way and don’t necessarily have everything together myself. 

So, here we go, jumping into the Fall season as our regularly scheduled programs return and life gets going into gear once again!!  I look forward to all new opportunities this Fall that are possible and I look forward to seeing you in church on Sunday!!

Peace & Blessings,

Pastor Andrew

"Mystery: Deserted" - Sermon, October 14, 2018

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