Words from Our Pastor

Monday, July 1, 2019

SERMON NOTES: Righteous Anger


Luke 9:51-62

ANGER AS OVERREACTIVE
Road rage is unquestionably a complete overreaction to anger 
Sometimes anger makes us lose our minds 
But we often feel at least justified 
Anger is a complicated emotion

Passage- James and John- fire from heaven? 
A touch overboard don’t you think?
Jesus rebukes them
Jesus is not necessarily upset about the emotion , but its expression
Violence and aggression are often the default option for anger
We disagree? We belittle
Challenged?  We lash out
Entirely unproductive 
No one wins.

ANGER AS PRODUCTIVE 
Anger in and of itself isn't bad-- Jesus expresses anger.  Remember the tables?
But it is a different kind of anger
Not just anger for anger's sake  
It’s righteous anger
It's anger against injustice
Jesus seems to be ok with this type of anger to a point.
When used properly, anger can be a productive emotion.

What do you get angry about?

ANGER AS INDICATOR OF PASSION
Often, the things that trigger our anger belie something we are passionate about.
At Campfirmation this past week, we discussed anger in our small groups.  Most kids shared an anger about bullying.
When unpacked, it revealed passion about the equality and dignity of all
When someone is bullied, their dignity is compromised, and that evokes anger.

Glennon Doyle, a famous blogger, noted,
"anger is like compassion--
It can point us directly toward to the place in the world
we were born to help heal"

So Where do you get angry?

CALL TO ERADICATE INJUSTICE 
As Christians, we are called to seek to eradicate injustice in the world.
In fact, our sole purpose is not to be happy, comfortable, and accumulate things--of course,  those are nice
but our purpose
is to collaborate with God to usher in the kingdom
to continue the transformative work of Jesus
A kingdom of JUSTICE
Jesus himself told us what this means:
  • good news to the poor
  • release to the captives
  • freedom to the oppressed

If you notice in Scripture, the folks Jesus gets angry at are the RELIGIOUS! Because they are - we are- often working against these efforts  
And they—
We—
should know better!
As people of faith, our task is to work toward justice.

JEWISH UNDERSTANDING OF JUSTICE
The Jewish understanding of justice is very rich--
The Hebrew word often used for justice is tzedakah which is usually translated as "Charity"
But it’s nuanced 
 tzedakah is a mitzvah, a commandment, so it is seen as an obligatory act of justice,  not a voluntary act of caritas, love, as the Latin root of charity suggests.
**In other words, giving to the poor isn't an optional offering out of the goodness of one's heart, but a claim that the poor have on general resources to live a life of dignity. 
It is the legal duty for all to share the wealth and abundance with which they have been blessed.

we are to be people of justice.

CHANNEL ANGER 
As people of Justice, We are to channel anger into fighting for justice
dismantling systems that perpetuate injustice
promoting a life of liberation for all.
Just getting angry?  
Lashing out?
Frankly, that's just lazy.

Jesus calls us to work to fix the problems.
But it won't be easy
We are warned of that!

It will be difficult
It won't be comfortable
You must be willing to give up our self-interest

But it's not only worth it, but it's expected

JUSTICE TODAY 
So what does this look like today?
What is justice?

What is GOOD NEWS TO THE POOR?
WHO are those in captivity?  How can we offer release?
WHO are the oppressed?  And HOW can we grant them freedom?

SOCIAL JUSTICE 
At least in my circles, this work is often referred to broadly as "social justice"
By definition, this makes sense- JUSTICE for SOCIETY.  Right?
Sadly, it's been co-opted.
Many have used it to substantiate their own political agenda.
In doing so, its been lost to the world of divisive politics.
Don't get me wrong- government and the political sphere are often important arenas for enacting social justice
But it's not the only way
As the church, we have a responsibility to participate as well
We can't simply cede our responsibilities to the government.
Because as the body of Christ, we, too can channel our anger to eradicate justice.
  • We can channel our anger about racism by
    • intentional accompaniment; teaching what it means for ALL to be in the image of God
  • We can channel our anger about child abuse by
    • providing support to struggling individuals and families; support local nonprofits working with those in need
  • We can channel our anger about food insecurity by
    • support our local food banks, perhaps creating our own garden
There are so many ways we as the church can work toward justice in the world

CLOSE
It's ok to be angry.  In fact, it's often helpful.
But God wants us to channel that anger for productive good
God wants us to channel our anger to enact justice in the world-
NOT lash out, yell, and argue
But do the work.

Because if we are truly committed to a world of PEACE, JOY, LOVE, & EQUALITY...

THIS IS OUR PART
THIS IS OUR TASK
THIS IS OUR CALL.

Let's get to work.

Amen.





Tuesday, June 11, 2019

It's Not About You!


This morning I awoke early and could not fall back asleep.  So I got up, poured myself a cup of coffee, and went into the kitchen for some quiet, devotional time.  (With 5 kids, it goes without saying that “quiet” isn’t something I get a lot, so I cherish it.)

For personal devotion, I often use the “The Message Devotional Bible”, which is a terrific resource developed by the late Biblical scholar, theologian, and pastor Eugene Peterson.  This Bible uses his translation, which is the Bible in contemporary language, as well as his personal insights and devotional prompts based on years of scholarship and ministry. And this is what I opened this morning.

While reading, I stumbled on a quote that grabbed me.  In explaining the importance of seeing God at work in the Biblical narrative Peterson wrote, “For it is, after all, His story; none of us is the leading character in the story of our life.”

Boom!  That hit me like a ton of bricks.

This understanding might be self-evident for many, but for most it is aspirational.  At least for me, it was a reminder of who I am serving with this life.

Far too often, we place an enormous amount of pressure on ourselves to construct picture-perfect lives, full of accomplishment and meaning.  We beat ourselves up for looking or not looking a certain way, for having the “right” job, the “right” house, and the “right” social circle.  We might even make a point to attend the “right” church, even impressing everyone with our participation and piety.

When this is our emphasis, we miss the vital point that it is not about us at all!

Our lives are not about satisfying our own desires, making ourselves look good. 
To God be the glory. 
To God be the gratitude. 

Our lives are in service to God, not some external version of ourselves. 

Enjoying accolades is not bad in and of itself, but we must always remind ourselves that our true purpose is to glorify God. 

So when you feel yourself putting a little too much pressure on yourself, or if you awkwardly experience being a little too proud of yourself, gently remind yourself who is the star of this production.  We are a supporting cast.

God is the star.
But it’s the greatest production of all time.

See you in church,
Pastor Brook

Monday, May 20, 2019

Change


Graduation season is among us.  If we aren’t attending the ceremonies ourselves, your Facebook feeds are most likely filled with pictures of smiling faces of families surrounding young adults donned in caps and gowns. It is an exciting time for many. 

Most are graduating from high school and moving on to college, trade school, or the military.  Some are graduating from college or professional training and moving on to either their first job or the next step in their journey.  But all, in one way or another, are experiencing change.

Change is not easy for everyone.  To some, change is exciting.  To others, it’s scary.  There is something about the unknown that understandably gives us pause.
But change is an inevitable part of life.

The good news about a life of faith is that we are never alone in these journeys. God promises to be with us through all of life’s changes- the ups and downs, the peaks and valleys; the fresh starts and the reluctant ends. Hopefully, the assurance of being accompanied in these transitions make facing them a little more manageable. 

One of my favorite verses from the Bible is from Deuteronomy 31 and speaks to this promise: “Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the LORD your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.” (NRSV)

Maybe you are a graduate moving on to adulthood; maybe you are the parent of a graduate adjusting to an empty nest; maybe you are moving on from an old relationship or beginning a new one.  Maybe you are changing careers, starting a new one, or retiring from one.  However you are experiencing change, trust that God is with you though it all and will accompany you the whole way.
You’re never alone.   Isn’t that good news?

See you in church,
Pastor Brook


Monday, May 13, 2019

Sabbath: The Antidote for Productivity Martyrdom



It doesn’t take a psychologist to realize many of us are frazzled.  These days, we are all dashing back and forth with our harried schedules, convinced it shows we are productive and “getting things done.”  In fact, our busyness has almost become this strange badge of honor.  We have somehow convinced ourselves that being busy demonstrates our worthiness.  But the reality is, we are not accomplishing as much as we think; studies consistently show our multi-tasking is actually compromising the quality of our work.  We might be “doing” more, but we are not really doing any of it well.   And what’s worse, we are passing this illusion on to our kids.

Scripture consistently lifts up the understanding of the Sabbath.  In the Ten Commandments, God explicitly states that we are to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath day to the Lord God.” (Exodus 20). Our Creator has an intimate understanding of our needs; rest is an essential part of daily living.  It is through rest that we are able to recharge and maintain our health.  Even the land requires a Sabbath; in Leviticus God institutes the understanding of the seventh year being a time when a field is to lie fallow.  It is during this time that the soil is able to restore its nutrients and recover from the previous six years.  Any farmer will tell you this is sound agricultural practice.

So why is it that we resist the understanding of Sabbath?  Why are we so convinced that we are resistant to the need for rest?  

I’m afraid our culture is slipping into dangerous territory by ignoring the vital understanding of Sabbath.  Our technology is only exacerbating this situation.  At one point we left work at “quitting time” (whatever time that might be) and came home to our family and friends.  We resumed whatever challenges or issues or tasks awaited us once we returned to our place of work the next day.  But now, thanks to “productivity” tools as texts, emails, cell phones, and computers, it is possible for our work day to never end.  While the initial goal of these advances was to allow for more flexibility and work/life balance, the results have been quite the opposite.  We are often present, but absent.  We are on the phone at our kids’ soccer games, texting during family dinner, or emailing late at night when we need to be relaxing with a good book, or chatting with our spouse.

Look, I’m as guilty as anyone else.  If not more so.  But we don’t have to live this way.  Together, we can heed the instructions our Lord gave us and resist the temptation to be productivity martyrs.  Let’s stop fooling ourselves that being busy, working at all hours, multi-tasking, crossing things off our to-do lists, and racing around from appointment to appointment somehow boosts our significance or increases our value.  We can:

Set clear expectations with colleagues and customers that, at a certain time, our availability is limited.
We can limit our use of electronic communication tools such as texting and emailing, establishing clear boundaries for their use.  If needed, you can enlist the help of an accountability partner to keep you on track.
We can challenge ourselves to be intentional about carving out a set amount of time each day and each week for rest; to take a nap, meditate, watch a movie, go for a walk, or have a nice meal.

These are just a few examples.  I challenge you (and myself!) to try a few of these, or maybe create your own.  But together we can revisit the power of the Sabbath.  The late theologian and pastor Eugene Peterson once said, “If you don’t take a Sabbath, something is wrong. You’re doing too much, you’re being too much in charge.  You’ve got to quit, one day a week, and just watch what God is doing when you’re not doing anything.”

I think that about sums it up.


See you in church,
Pastor Brook

Monday, May 6, 2019

The Illusion of Control



This past weekend was a big one at Cross & Crown.  Not only did we have our annual Yard Sale, which is our largest fundraiser for the year, but we also had our Youth Car Wash.  On top of all of that, it was Youth Sunday, where the youth of our church plan worship for both of our services at 8:15 and 10:45.

So much planning and hard work goes into events.  Anyone who has planned a wedding or even a kid’s birthday party (especially these days) understands this deeply.  We can prepare for every possible scenario and we can still be surprised.  Weather can complicate plans, personal conflicts can surface, and the list goes on. 

But we quickly learn (or should learn) that control is an illusion.  Do not misunderstand me; I don’t intend to diminish the importance of preparation.  But we should always remind ourselves that it’s not only us at work, but God is as work as well.

I have to admit, it was not easy to turn over the important decisions involving worship to folks who weren’t even legally allowed to drive.   But one of the key goals of that service is to trust them with the decisions so they feel ownership with the service and have “skin” in the game.  I cannot tell you how many times I wanted to step in or intervene, but I had to remind myself that it was THEIR service!

And wouldn’t you know it- they all showed up.  Each kid had worked hard and it showed.  It was clear God was working through them in powerful ways.  In fact, the service was said to be one of the best youth services in years. 

God is always at work.  I suppose it's part of the human condition to try to exert control in our lives.  And we try to control everything, don’t we?  Our relationships, our work, other’s work, our families.  But the result is usually just unneeded worry, anxiety, and stress.  When we “let go and let God” the results are often far greater than we ever could have produced on our own.

So this week, when you find yourself slipping into “control mode” take a deep breath, whisper a prayer, and give it to God.  And enjoy the blessings that result.

See you in church,
Pastor Brook


Monday, April 29, 2019

Grief, Accompanied.


I recently started leading a grief support group at the Brace YMCA.  At the moment it’s just a few folks, but the hope is that it will grow.  Creating a sacred space to safely explore our emotions—whether it’s our pain, our anger, or our sadness is vital for the health of our communities.  People grieve a number of things — sometimes it’s the loss of a spouse or loved one; sometimes it’s the loss of a job or relationship; sometimes it’s “simply” a significant change in our lives.  We grieve what was, what could have been, or what will never be.  And people grieve in different ways.  Some people withdraw and  try to avoid it by busying themselves.  Some people experience grief through sadness, anger, or numbness.  But regardless, the pain of grief is very real, and it varies from person to person.
As people of faith we are tasked with accompanying one another through whatever grief is being experienced.  Offering a loved one the space to be “real” and fully step into that pain  can be one of the greatest gifts you ever offer someone.  
The tendency to avoid grief is a cultural reality for many.  But we should avoid the tendency to try simply to “cheer someone up” (my biggest weakness) or to distract them from their grief.  These strategies might have a place at some point in the process, but overall it's usually more helpful to offer that listening ear and a loving presence over trying to “fix” the situation.
Accompanying  someone in their grief can be uncomfortable, but I encourage you to resist the temptation to avoid it or try to fix it.  Our loving presence is far more impactful than you can ever imagine.  And when we offer this to others, we are truly becoming Christ to that person, which is a powerful witness. 

See you in church,
Pastor Brook

Monday, April 8, 2019

Lent 5, 4/7/19: Losers-Keepers

Sermon for Lent 5, 4/7/19            John 12: 1-8           Losers-Keepers         
 
 My mother was a keeper. She kept every pair of shoes she’d ever bought. She kept every wallet she’d ever carried and every purse she’d ever tucked it into. She kept plastic bags and towels and hats she’d never wear again. Cleaning out her closets after her death, I found a couple of old gift boxes of silky pajamas with their price tags still attached—she had kept them, for what I don’t know. Maybe to look “well put-together” when she had to be in the hospital—she never got the chance.  
Now I’m not knocking keepers. If it weren’t for keepers who try to reform, the Miriam Circle wouldn’t have a chance at collecting all the stuff they get for the yard sale.

This morning we meet some keepers. Mary was a keeper of a fragrant ointment (in our story, called perfume) used in preparing a lifeless body for burial. Judas rightly pointed out that it could have brought 300 denarii in the marketplace. A full year’s wage for the average worker in that time—quite a prize.
And yet, Mary poured it out. Jesus said she was keeping it for the day of his burial. So why use it up now, on his feet? The custom was to wash the feet, as an act of hospitality. What you anointed was the head, the head of a king. And that night, when her brother Lazarus sat at the table with Jesus (who had just days before raised him from the dead), Mary could have pulled off such an anointing, to honor the power of Jesus! But instead of his head, she anointed his feet, an act reserved for the dead. Clearly she knew what was coming for him.
Mary was a keeper all right, but she knew the right moment to let it all go. And the house was filled with the fragrance of her gift.  

There was another keeper in this story, Judas. He guarded the disciples’ collective wealth, the common. He did it in a way that made him brittle and angry, aloof and judgmental. That money was what gave him value, and he wasn’t letting it go. Watching Mary so freely doing what he would never have done—lavishly pouring out that valuable, fragrant spice, with abandon—disgusted him.

Which of the two, do you think, the Gospel writer John wants us to praise?

We have yet another example this morning of a keeper who lets it all go. It’s Paul, who has found his value in his ancestry, his education and (he’s not shy about naming it) his righteousness. Paul is a rule-follower with a pedigree.

Reading through the list of credentials he gives in today’s reading from Philippians (a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Pharisee, blameless under the law) reminded me of a story George Moffat (in our congregation) told me about meeting his birth mother’s family for the first time.  
It happened in Pennsylvania, where much of her extended family lived close by. The day George was in her house, several of his 1st cousins came to meet this new relative. They were all from Sufada, a village near what is now Lebanon. Each cousin, in turn, put his hands on George’s shoulders, kissed each cheek, and proceeded to detail what George calls their ‘bona fides.’ “I am Michael, son of Josef, son of Roald, son of…. and so on. Each one had to show the newcomer he belonged in the family, with the right connections. That was their way, and it was Paul’s way as well. In our time, too, often your ‘bona fides’ matter.

But Paul, in his letter to the Philippians (in fact writing from a prison cell), called his bona fides ‘rubbish.’ Instead of his own worthiness, he claimed the worthiness of Christ. Paul made it his mission to bring others to that same faith—not in anything they owned, or in their ancestry or education, their status or track record, but in Christ alone.

How could Paul have thrown out his bona fides, just like that? And how could Mary have poured out a year’s worth of money on the feet of her friend? Did they know something we don’t? (about what gives us worth?)
What gives YOU worth? A prized possession that’s always made you feel special? Your upbringing and family status (bona fides)? Social routines that help you ‘fit in’? Maybe long-time friendships right here in this church? Or maybe the things that are insurance against hard times—like my mom’s brand new PJs with their tags still attached, for years in a box in her closet.

I’m reading a book with a small group of women—called New Clothes. The author contends that most of us find our worth in things that ‘cover us’ for a time and make us feel important or safe, but have no ultimate value. He calls them ‘loin cloths,’ like the fig leaf coverings Adam and Eve made once they had sinned and their eyes were open to their nakedness. Those coverings helped them feel confident again, no longer exposed. We, too, we wear loin cloths of all kinds, he says—like a bulging wallet, a jar of expensive perfume, a list of credentials, the badge of a busy calendar. The items change, but the problem is the same—those things are only temporary placeholders.   

The more of that stuff we can put aside, the more space we’ll have for the thing we really need.  The stronger the chance that more space will open for what’s already inside us, God’s Spirit. That Spirit is like a natural spring of living water. You might remember Jesus describing that water to the woman who met him at Jacob’s Well, the one who came from the wrong side of the tracks, carrying the heavy baggage of a ruined life. He said to her, “I’ll give you living water that will bubble up inside you to eternal life.”

I don’t know what it looks like for you to shed the loin cloths and the baggage and be naked and open before God. But I do believe with all my heart that losing that stuff is the key for keeping the important things, the things of God.
The best clue I can think of for how this works is to remember how it makes you feel to give yourself away. Can you remember how you feel after….
·      --Nailing up siding all day long at a Habitat house
·      --Helping a child you’re tutoring figure out a math problem
     --Standing beside someone who needs encouragement in building a strong resume for a job she needs to get
·      --Pouring out your best skills to fix a car or a roof or the porch steps—for someone else.
When you empty out yourself doing these things for others—do you feel filled up again? Do you get a sense of the fresh living water springing up in you, the living water that comes from God’s Holy Spirit? It’s hard to describe, but you know it when you feel it.

And as for running out (a constant worry for the Judases of the world and many of us), don’t give it a thought. You may lose some time or money or a chance for a round of golf. But in the Kingdom of God, ‘finders-keepers, losers-weepers’ doesn’t compute. Losers become keepers who hold onto something better—a strength from the Christ within, and a hope that lasts a lot longer than anything money could buy. It’s true!
           Ask any Mary who has poured out her valuable perfume for Jesus’ sake, and found her life filled with a holy fragrance. Better yet, try it yourself.   
Amen.