Saturday, May 2, 2015

Daughters of God

I'm preaching today in St. Geroge, Utah. I think I will preach the sermon titled "Daughters of God." It is the same sermon I preached at Green Lake on March 20 of this year.

Reading through, I find myself cheering. Cheering the beautiful daughters of God who work at Aurora Commons. Cheering God who sees in every woman a precious daughter.

May you, too, come to see yourself with the eyes of God. May you have some sense of how precious you are to him. And may you in turn learn to see one another with the eyes of God.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

What Does It Mean to be Christian?

Sermon manuscript for Sabbath, April 18, 2015 at Green Lake Church
Text: Luke 9

Herod, the ruler appointed by the Roman emperor to govern Judea, had a problem. He had ordered the execution of an immensely popular preacher named John the Baptist. It could have caused significant unrest, but after the execution things seemed to go along smoothly. Then Herod began hearing tales again of a preacher with dazzling charisma.

According to the reports Herod was receiving this new preacher not only preached spell-binding sermons, he also worked miracles, astonishing miracles, unbelievable miracles. Even taking into the account the tendency of peasants to exaggerate the powers of holy men, even if Herod regarded the general populace as hopelessly gullible, the reports commanded attention.

Herod queried his counselors. “What did you make of all these reports? What's going on? I beheaded John the Baptist,” Herod said. “So who is this guy?

Some said they had heard John the Baptist had been raised from the dead. There were rumors that this new preacher was the ancient prophet Elijah risen from the dead as a harbinger of the last days. Other rumors claimed the preacher was some other ancient prophet resurrected.

One really weird thing was that it seemed like this preacher was all over the place. It was like he was showing up in multiple places at once. They would get reports on the same day from places several days to the north and several days to the south. How as this possible? (Remember, in those days top speed of movement was a horse. And as far as we know Jesus didn't have a horse. So his top speed would have been walking.)

The story in the Gospel of Luke (that's one of the short biographies of Jesus in the Bible) leaves Herod wondering, wishing he could actually see this amazing preacher.

It's a fascinating little snap shot. All three of the principle stories of Jesus in the Bible—Matthew, Mark, and Luke mention Herod's perplexity. Did someone in Herod's household become a Christian and pass this story along? Did one of Herod's government ministers? We don't know. But we know the story was widely circulated in the church.

Some of Herod's perplexity was understandable. He was, indeed, getting reports of simultaneous appearances and miracles at places that were many miles apart. And the reason he was getting those reports is that miracles and preaching was, indeed, happening simultaneously at places miles apart.

To make sense of these appearances, we have to back a bit in the story.

The lead up to this scene in the royal palace where Herod is trying to figure out the who and what of this sudden new outbreak of preaching fervor begins a week or two earlier.

We can begin with the story of Jesus out in a boat with his disciples. They were crossing the Sea of Galilee at night. A huge storm came up and threatened to swamp the boat. The disciples were terrified they are going to drown. While all this went on Jesus was sound asleep in the back of the boat. The disciples shook him awake. “Master! Wake up! We're going to sink.”

Jesus stood up in the boat and spoke directly to the storm. “Be still. Be calm.” The winds quieted. The waves relaxed. The disciples stared at Jesus with drop-jawed amazement. Hours later, they came ashore in a wild area and were met on the beach by a raving maniac, a man screaming and gesticulating, clearly possessed by demons. Jesus ordered the demons out of the man. The demons left and the man who had been banished from society became suddenly calm and responsive.

Again, the disciples were astonished. Of course. Who wouldn't be?

A day or two later Jesus was back in Capernaum. In an afternoon, Jesus healed a woman of a bleeding problem that had persisted for 12 years despite every possible medical intervention. Then Jesus raised a 12-year old daughter back to life.

Miracle after wonder after astonishing demonstration. So of course reports of Jesus' ministry had reached the royal palace. But it was not this series of wonders and miracles performed personally by Jesus that got the attention of King Herod. What created the stir that rippled even into the royal palace was what happened next.

Jesus called twelve of his helpers to a meeting and commissioned them to head out into the countryside and replicate what they had seen him do.

They were to preach the gospel, heal the sick and rescue people from demons.

And they departed, and went through the towns, preaching the gospel, and healing every where. Luke 9:6

Jesus had been drawing crowds of thousands. Now Jesus—in the person of his disciples—was drawing many times that many people. Miracles were happening all over the region of Galilee. It was this explosion of “Jesuses” all over Galilee that provoked the conversation in the royal palace.

What does it mean to be a Christian?

In the sixties and seventies, conservative Protestants decided that the label Christian applied only to people who held certain specific interpretations of the Bible. They wrote books and articles insisting that Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses were not Christians because those groups had some different ideas about the nature of Christ and the meaning of the crucifixion among other things. Adventists got caught up in this debate and we worked really hard to prove that we were really Christian. And by “Christian” we meant the philosophical/theological definition of conservative Protestantism.

More recently, there has been intense argument in some circles about perspectives called “The Emerging Church.” Again, conservative Protestants and conservative Adventists have tried to argue those people are not really Christian because they have some ideas that contradict traditional Christian theories.

I am a bit amused by all this emphasis on theological definitions. In our Scripture reading this morning we see what being Christian means. A Christian is someone who does what Jesus did.

Jesus does not invite his disciples to sit in a circle around him and endlessly watch and wonder. Jesus has them watch and wonder for awhile. Then Jesus sends them off. Go, do what you have seen me do.

This is what it means to be a Christian. Do what Jesus did.

Now, some of you will make the obvious protest: We can't do what Jesus did. We cannot heal the sick with a word or touch. We cannot banish demons with simple commands. We have never been able to raise the dead.

My question is what are we doing with what we have?

This week Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments made headlines with his announcement that he was going to do something about the crazy disparity between the wages received by workers and the CEOs who profit from their work. Price announced that over the next three years he was going to raise the pay of his employees until everyone in the firm made at least 70,000 a year.

Mr. Price has not cured AIDS. He has not eliminated cancer from the world. But he has taken concrete action to increase human happiness and well-being. He's making it possible for his employees to afford to live in Seattle.

It seems to me that is in line with what Jesus called his disciples to do.

People who are working to raise the pay received by the little people, the hidden people, people who clean bathrooms, make our burritos, care for little children—these people are moving in the direction Jesus called his disciples to go.

When people devote themselves to care-giving, to the care of children, the disabled, elderly and feeble spouses—they are moving in the direction mapped out by Jesus for his disciples.

We are called to preach the gospel. What does that mean? The gospel is the good news that God is for us, not against us. God's aim is reconciliation not obliteration. God's plan is restoration not shame and condemnation.

We preach this. We live this. This is our calling as disciples of Jesus.

When we deeply appreciate that this is God's desire, this is God's ambition for the world, then our calling becomes clear. We are to use the tools available to us—brains, citizenship, culture, education, talent, good looks, family connections—to cooperate with God in spreading healing and hope.

The story ends with the disciples returning from their mission of preaching and healing and sitting with Jesus to share their stories. The meeting gets interrupted by people needing continued help, still it is a bight picture. Jesus invites us to be heroes of goodness, then come together ad celebrate the good stuff that happened.

In the Book of Revelation, the grand finale of human history is pictured as people gathered around the heavenly table, telling stories of the adventures of goodness. What does it mean to be Christian? At least one meaning is our deliberate preparation to share stories of our adventures cooperating with God in fixing the world.



Friday, April 3, 2015

He Is Risen

Sermon manuscript for Sabbath, April 4, 2015
at Green Lake Church, Seattle.
Texts:  Isaiah 11:1-9, Luke 23:50-24:11



Thursday morning, before dawn, I was at my usual spot on the west side of Green Lake watching for the dawn. The sky dark because the sun was still below the horizon. Further darkening the gloom were thick clouds and a pouring rain. Not the standard Seattle mist and drizzle. This was real rain. Great drops dimpling the surface of the lake in front of me. I could feel water running down my rain pants into my shoes. I was tempted to bail, get back on my bicycle and finish my morning prayers in the warm comfort of my office. But I knew I was going to preach today about waiting and hope, so I had to stick it out.

One of the many privileges I enjoy as a pastor is being paid to watch for the dawn. Every morning you pay me to take my seat in the darkness and watch the sunrise. Some mornings, all that happens is the black-gray sky becomes a little less dark. Night time becomes day time, sort of. Thursday, sitting there in the rain under a lead-gray sky, I wondered, will the sun really rise? Will it break through?

I rehearsed the words of blessing: Grace and peace. I prayed grace and peace for the people who came to my mind, friends dealing with cancer, job loss, loneliness, unfulfilled desires for their children, grief. I recalled people I met at Aurora Commons facing homelessness because their Taco Bell wages don't equal rent. People dealing with various forms of mental illness.

I sat in the darkness with my friends and God, praying grace and peace.

Then it happened. The sun pierced the clouds. Spangles of light rippled across the lake. Blue sky spread. The darkness was gone.

I pulled out my phone and took a few pictures, climbed on my bike and headed into my day.

It's my job to watch for the dawn.

Yes, darkness happens. Sometimes, here in the Northwest, the gloom is so oppressive that there is a clinical term for its effect: Seasonal affective disorder. But the light is coming.

Most people are too cumbered with obligations to give their full attention to the sunrise. Getting the kids ready for school, getting yourself to the office on time, those are inescapable duties. Perhaps by the time the sun wakes up, you're already behind the pharmacy counter at the back of Safeway or deep in a Boeing plant miles from the nearest window. And even if there were a window nearby, you are not paid to gaze out the window. So, every morning, I watch and bear witness to the light.

In a larger sense, this is the calling of the church. We watch for the dawning of the light. We are called to be celebrants of the light. Our annual celebrations of Christmas and Easter are celebrations of the light.

Yes, darkness happens. There is drought in California and ISIS in the Middle East. Our friends are dealing with cancer and we are mourning the loss of loved ones. So, we come to church and remind ourselves and the world: He is risen. The last word is not death but resurrection. Not defeat but the triumph of goodness.

He is risen. He is risen, indeed.

The heart of our religion is not a tomb. It is not a crucifix or the crucifixion. Those things are reminders that good life, even the best life, includes heart break and disappointment, injustice and failure. Darkness happens. Evil happens. Murders and mayhem, war and disaster wreak havoc. But the final word of our faith, the ultimate word, is resurrection. New life.

He is risen. He is risen, indeed.

In the Gospel of Luke we read that late Friday after Jesus had died, a rich man named Joseph went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.

Ordinarily, the bodies of people who were condemned to crucifixion were discarded in the garbage dump. But Joseph requested the Roman governor to allow him to provide a proper burial for Jesus. If we were watching the movie, we would feel the tension accompanying the request. We would be hoping with Joseph that Pilate would grant the request. We would have already watched Pilate cave in to the demands of the mob and condemn Jesus to death even though he knew Jesus' accusers were lying through their teeth.

Knowing that Pilate is a weak man and maybe an evil man, we expect him to say no. But we also see Joseph's obvious status. Joseph is used to hearing yes.

So how is it going to play out? Yes or no? Is Pilate going to bend to the blood thirst of the high priest or the goodness and political clout of Joseph. Will Pilate grant Joseph Jesus' body?

Joseph wins. Pilate says yes.

A large group of women was present at the cross. They watched men wrap Jesus in a burial shroud provided by Joseph. They followed the men as they carried Jesus to the tomb. They saw Jesus placed in the new tomb, a room carved into a limestone outcrop. Then, since it was about sundown, they headed home.

The darkness was complete. Goodness had been smashed. Evil had triumphed.

Early Sunday morning the women headed back to the tomb. One way we cope with death is to say a proper farewell. Grief is the inescapable cost of love, and expressing our grief is part of continuing to love the one who is gone. The women were heartbroken at Jesus' death. Unlike the men who were still hiding in their upper room worried about whether they would be next in line to be arrested, the woman cared only about saying a proper farewell.

Part of Jewish custom was to pack the body with spices. There had been no time to accomplish this on Friday, so at first light on Sunday, the women headed out with their spices to show final honor to the man who had been their hero.

When they arrived at the tomb, to their astonishment, the tomb was open. The great stone which had closed the entry was rolled to the side.

Cautiously, they peeked inside. Nothing. They stepped inside for a closer look. No, Jesus was not there. They clustered together, jabbering, questioning each other, wondering, when suddenly two men in dazzling garments were standing there with them. Angels or gods? Magicians?

Startled, terrified, the women fell on their faces to pay obeisance to these supernatural beings.

Then the men spoke. “Why are you looking for Jesus here?” they asked. “This is a cemetery.”

Which reveals a certain divine sense of humor. Why were the women looking for Jesus HERE? Because this is where they last saw him. They had watched Joseph and the other men place Jesus in this very tomb late Friday afternoon. So, of course, they looked for him here.

“Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” the angels asked. Again, a bit of divine humor until we realize it's a rhetorical question. Then just in case the women did not understand, the angel said, “He is not here. He is risen.

“Don't you remember?” the angel continued. “Remember what he told you while he was still up north in Galilee? Remember how he said he was going to be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise again. Don't you remember?”

As the reality of the empty tomb and the angel's words sank in, the women did remember. They jumped to their feet jabbering, laughing, hugging each other. “He's not dead. He's alive! Let's go tell the guys.”

They ran back to the city, to the room where Peter and John and the other guys were hanging out.

“Jesus is alive!” the women shouted. “We were at the tomb. It's open and empty. We saw angels. They told us Jesus is alive. Don't you remember what he said when we were still in Galilee? That he was going to be arrested and crucified and would rise again on the third day? Don't you remember?”
The men did not remember. They did not believe. Though I will give them this: Peter and John did not dismiss what the women said. It was unbelievable, of course. Who ever heard of the dead rising from the grave? Still, Peter and John raced off for the tomb to check it out. That's something.

It turned out the women were correct. The tomb was empty. Jesus was gone. And not just gone. Jesus was risen. The last word was not crucifixion. The last word was not burial. The final word was not grief but celebration. He's alive.

He is risen. He is risen, indeed.

This is heart of our religion. God's last word is resurrection. God's loudest word is resurrection.

It's easy to obsess over the darkness. When you're sitting in the dark and the rain is pouring down, dawn seems impossible or at least improbably remote.

Our calling as devotees of Jesus is to keep watching for the dawn. Don't study the darkness. Let's not become experts in human failure. Let's make sure our greatest expertise is the cultivation of hope. Let's master the skills of healing and creating, making and building, soothing and feeding. That's the call of the resurrection.

One of the deepest truths that flow from the resurrection, maybe the most challenging of all the teachings of Jesus, is this: God's final word is not death, but resurrection, restoration, reconciliation, mending the world, making things new.

When we become aware of human evil, human brokenness, human failure, where does our imagination take us? Do we imagine that the remedy is death.

When we hear of a murder, we want someone killed. We hear about the chaos, heart-break, injustice, cruelty in Syria, we are tempted to imagine the wise response is bombs and drones and missiles and Special Forces. Some of us are tempted to imagine the remedy for deadly ideologies is more death—death administered by the United States instead of by President Assad or ISIS or one of the dozens of local militias? It's tempting to imagine that killing is the path to peace.

What is God's imagination in response to the deadly chaos of the Middle East? Resurrection. New life. People healed and made righteous. God does not dream of obliterating the people in the Middle East. God dreams of healing.

As devotees of Jesus we are called back again and again to the resurrection. We are invited to meditate on God's response to deadliness and death—resurrection.

Let me apply this closer home. Have you ever hurt someone else? Have you blundered in ways that left you crippled with guilt and shame? Do you find yourself wondering if God wishes you would go away? Do think God's response to your failure is eradication? Annihilation? Do you imagine God is as scornful of your failure as you are or your ex-wife is or you children are or your parents are?

Please hear the message of the resurrection: God's response to human failure—your failure, your parents' failure, your spouse's failure—God's response to failure, no matter how grievous, is resurrection.

To echo the words of our OT reading, when God looks at the problem of lions eating lambs, his remedy is the transformation of lions, not a program of eradication. When God sees the problem of cobras biting children, God does not get rid of the snakes, he transforms them into friends of children. When God sees your capacity for doing harm, when God reviews your actual track record of doing harm, God does not imagine a future without you. God imagines a future where you are restored to the full glory God intended in creation. God dreams of resurrection for you.

This is the message of the Gospel of Luke: He is risen. And with him, we are risen.

He is risen.


He is risen, indeed.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Free Loaders

Yesterday, while I was at Aurora Commons, one of the staff there introduced me to Dianne, a mother who needed assistance. Dianne and her eldest daughter both work at Taco Bell. Two people, working at Taco Bell, cannot earn enough money to pay rent, buy food and clothes, and otherwise fund the American dream for a family of five. Could Green Lake Church help?

I said we could help with a couple of nights stay at a neighborhood motel, but we were unable to help with the real need which was permanent, affordable housing. So we did what we could. We paid for a couple of nights off the street.

Dianne is a typical free loader. Instead of working as a nurse or doctor and earning a decent income, she chooses to work at Taco Bell which pays peanuts. Instead of staying thoroughly single, she chose to encumber herself with four children. (Of course, she had these kids all by herself through the miracle of the virgin birth,)

I, on the other hand, am the perfect example of someone who has earned everything I enjoy, like the view from my office window, pictured above. I've worked hard for 35 years as a minister and my reward is a very nice job at a very nice church in a very nice neighborhood.

I began my hard work with the selection of my parents. I carefully picked a dad and mom who could give me maximum advantages of DNA and culture--intelligence and physical vigor and math and language aptitude, early and intense exposure to a huge vocabulary and books, easy access to graduate education, a model of disciplined pursuit of goals and high moral standards. If I had not so smart in picking my parents who knows where I would have ended up. But since I was that smart and careful, I figure I've earned all the benefits that come from having smart, moral, wealthy parents.

It is also speaks highly of my capacity to manage my life that I chose to be born into a denomination that reinforced my family of origin values of education, curiosity and suspicion of authority.

It was, of course, my perspicacity that brought into my life a woman who has been a superlative minister's wife, admirable mother, and perfect role model of compassion. I get full credit for all the benefits she brings into my life.

Then there is the neighborhood I constructed around the Green Lake Church. I dug that lake you see in the background in the picture. I built the houses and created the wealth that suffuses the surrounding neighborhood with the easy charm of old houses, mature landscaping and streets strewn with fallen petals. I planted the flowering trees you see in the picture above and have pruned them every year for the last 40 years. (Just in case someone misses the joke, I've been in Seattle for 2 years.) Then, to top it all off, I created the big light in the sky to properly light my creation.

So when I look out my office window or walk around the Green Lake neighborhood, I congratulate myself on the Great Babylon I have built. I thank God I am not like Dianne and those other freeloaders who need the help of the church or the government.



[Not everyone who reads my blog knows me personally. And for some, English is a second or third language. So, just in case it is not obvious: This entire post is satire. The actually meaning is the opposite of the apparent meaning. My entire life is a gift from God and from other people.]

Friday, March 20, 2015

Daughters

Sermon manuscript for Green Lake Church of Seventh-day Adventists (Final draft)
For March 21, 2015

Luke 8:40-56



Last Tuesdays I got to hang out with a couple of God's favorite daughters, Jackie and Lisa, at a place called Aurora Commons. Aurora Commons is like a family room for people on Aurora Avenue who have no family. It's a living room for people who have no house. (Aurora Commons was the organization that received the offering at this past season's Candlelight Christmas Concert.)

Jackie and Lisa are pretty. Their attractiveness is all the more striking when they are at Aurora Commons. On Tuesdays, most of the people who come in are men. They're a rough crowd. Drug addicts, lost souls, people with mental illness. They are not clean. Some people come in just to hang out. If they're tired they may fall asleep on the couch, knowing that for a couple of hours they are in a safe place. If someone needs need help filling out an application or finding information on the internet, the women help them. If you need a clean shirt or new socks, you can find that, too. Jackie and Lisa are skilled at helping people connect with resources that make their lives a little more bearable. But what strikes me most forcefully, dazzles me even, every Tuesday is the welcome these daughters of God extend to everyone who who comes through the door. These beautiful women touch every person. The prostitutes, the men who look like lost puppies, the tough guys with tattoos and swagger. Lisa and Jackie are very deliberate. They work the crowd, stopping to visit with every person. They look them in the eye and touch them. Touch their shoulders, hug the women. They are like angels of God. I think God must be very proud of them.

Watching them challenges me. Am I taking time to really see people? Do I extend the welcome of God to everyone? Do I give this kind of rich attention to the people I live with? When you see your kids first thing in the morning, do you greet them before you mention how late it is and the school bus will be here soon? At work, are the people there first persons to you and then employees or coworkers or bosses?

The daughters of God at Aurora Commons set a very high bar for seeing the face of God in every human being.

Now a Gospel story about two daughters:

Jairus was the synagogue ruler, which in a small town in Galilee in the time of Jesus was probably the most prestigious position a person could hold. I'm guessing it was like being the mayor and the doctor in a small town in Nebraska.

The light of his life was his twelve-year-old daughter. And he thought she was the sweetest, prettiest, smartest girl in the world. Part of that magic, of course, was that she adored her daddy. He could come home from difficult meetings to the smiles and hugs of his little girl and life was perfect.

Then she got sick. The first day or two he didn't worry. His wife made chicken soup and applied other customary remedies. Surely, this was a passing thing. But it wasn't a day or two later, Jairus' daughter was deathly ill. Jairus' was frantic. He watched her in terror as the disease wracked her body.

Then he heard Jesus was back in town. He hurried out of the house. When he arrived where Jesus was he pushed through the crowd. He was an important person, people gave way. Reaching Jesus, Jairus fell on his face. “Sir, please, I beg you. Come heal my daughter. She is about to die.”

The crowd is astonished. Jewish people do not bow to each other. They do not even kneel in worship. Kneeling is a rare thing. When this important man knelt in front of Jesus, a murmur rippled through the crowd. Did you see? He's kneeling. Those who were close could hear the catch in Jairus' voice. Please, sir. Please. Please. Come. Come now. Please hurry. I don't think she has much time. Please, will you come?”

Every dad in the crowd got caught up in the drama. They imagined their own darling daughters. They remembered the times they had stood by their own girls when they were sick in bed, had stood there helpless, angry at God for taking their beautiful girl.

Every dad in the crowd who has heard Jairus' words becomes his ally. Hurry Jesus. Hurry. Don't let her die. Jesus and Jairus begin moving toward Jairus' house. But the crowd is thick. Their movement is slow. Even with the help of his new allies, the dads who heard his request, who now share his urgency, it is impossible to move quickly through the crowd.

Then about the time they manage to get Jesus out of the very center of the crowd and begin making good progress, Jesus stopped.

He looked around him in the crowd. “Who touched me?” he asked

Apparently, Jesus said this fairly strongly, maybe even sternly. It was not a rhetorical question. And people answer him, all denying that had violated his space. After a minute, Peter gets a bit impatient with Jesus. “Master, we're in the middle of a mob. It's like a Japanese subway at rush hour. What do you mean, 'Who touched me?' All kinds of people have touched you and each other. Why are you asking 'Who touched me?'

“Somebody touched me.” Jesus said. “I felt healing power leave me.” Jesus searched the faces around him again.

At that point, a woman comes out of the crowd. Like Jairus, she kneels—or more accurately, she falls on her face. “I touched you.”

Jesus draws out her story. She had been bleeding for twelve years. She had endured physical pain and weakness. Far worse, for twelve years she had been untouchable to her husband. She had been excluded from all social events—weddings, funerals, religious events, parties, dances.

She had been a pariah. She had spent all her money on doctors, chasing a cure without success.

Then she had heard about Jesus. He could cure anything. Leprosy, blindness, epilepsy, lameness. He had even raised the dead. Surely he could cure her. But, her problem was unmentionable in public.

I remember in the early days of AIDS, a young man in our congregation was diagnosed. When the disease became debilitating, he went back to his parents' home in another state. They urged us to never mention the real diagnosis. If their friends knew their son had AIDS they would be completely cut off. As far as I know the silence was never broken, not even after he died.

This woman's bleeding problem would have been something like that. Maybe in the small town everyone knew, but no one, certainly no man could admit they knew it.

She was imprisoned in an unbreakable pit of isolation.

But Jesus could help her. That much she knew. If only she could get to him. Then she had the brilliant idea. If she could just touch the edge of his garment, that would be enough. She wouldn't embarrass herself or the Master. She would just sneak through the crowd and touch him.

Probably she knew the story of the centurion's servant who was healed just by Jesus speaking the word, even at a distance. Surely a touch would be enough.

So she threaded her way through the crowd, imagining that everyone knew her secret, imagining that everyone was watching her. She tried to make herself smaller and smaller.

Then she was there. She reached between Peter and John and managed to brush his robe with her fingers. She pulled her hand back. Already there were two or three people between her and Jesus. But she could feel it. Something inside was fixed. She was healed.

As she was telling her story, the men in the crowd are growing disgusted. How could this loathsome woman dare contaminate this public space with her disgusting presence? The dads in the crowd who had become the allies of Jairus and were trying to help rush Jesus along to heal the beautiful twelve-year-old girl were angry. This loathsome woman was putting that beautiful girl's life at risk. Jesus needed to hurry. He did not have time to waste on a repulsive woman.

The woman was completely vulnerable. It was all out there now. She had broken powerful taboos by wading through this crowd—a crowd comprised mostly of men. She in all her ugliness had interrupted a mission to save a beautiful daughter. There on the ground in front of Jesus perhaps she already imagined stones landing on her back.

Then Jesus says the most astonishing word, “Daughter.” Or as the one translation puts it, “My daughter.”

“My precious one, my beautiful one, my dear one, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

Before she began telling her story, this woman was invisible to the men in the crowd. She was a nobody. Then Jesus causes her to become visible. As she tells her story, the men see a loathsome, sick woman. They saw ugliness, disease, impurity. They see an interruption in their plans to act as heroes and help save a beautiful girl.

Then Jesus speaks. “My daughter. My precious one. My dear, God is very pleased with you. You are, indeed, healed. How could you not be, with such a magnificent faith.”

Go in peace. Walk out through this crowd knowing you are safe and clean and whole and beautiful.

Daughter.

As the woman turns to move back through the crowd, messengers arrive from Jairus' house. It's too late. Your girl is dead. No point in bothering Jesus further.

Jesus overhears the messengers and says to Jairus, “Don't worry. Just believe. Your girl, too, will be made whole.”

The mob finally arrives at Jairus' house. Already the place is full of people mourning. Jesus chases them all out. He asks Peter, James and John and the parents to be with him in the bedroom.

He takes the young girl's hand and says, “Young lady, get up.”

The parents and the disciples watched the heart-breaking corpse become again a beautiful daughter. Joy rippled outward from the bedroom. The beautiful girl was alive! Mom and Dad were happy. The crowd was happy. Jesus was happy. The daughter lived.


Go with me back to Aurora Commons. I told you about two beautiful daughters of God, Lisa and Jackie. I didn't tell you about Patricia.

Patricia graduated for University of Oregon, moved to Seattle and got a job. Life was good. Then mental illness began to warp her life. She had a psychotic break and was hospitalized.

Her story wandered. One of her best jobs involved travel to exotic places. Places she still dreamed of visiting again, not that she thought she actually had much chance of doing so, but it was nice to remember and to dream.

The clientele of Aurora Commons is a pretty rough crowd. Patricia was different. Her body language agreed with her story of education and successful work. Her face hinted, but just barely, at the truthfulness of her story of mental illness.

After she learned that I was a pastor, she mentioned that she had been filled with the Holy Spirit. I asked her to tell me about that. Her telling took her back to mental illness. It had wrecked her life. She could no longer work. She had been in and out of psychiatric hospitals. She had even been to jail. Life was hard.

The first time she had been hospitalized, she had been devastated. Sitting in her room at the hospital, staring out the window, she realized life as she had known it was over. She was insane. The future was completely black.

Then completely out of the blue she was enveloped in an ocean of warmth and light. She sensed God assuring her it would be all right. She would make it through. For a little while the fear and dread, the grief over her lost life, was all gone. She was perfectly at peace.

This divine visitation did not heal her, but it has sustained her through 12 years of craziness, in and out of psyche hospitals. Even in and out of jail.

Through all this chaotic darkness she has hung onto the assurance God gave her in that sweet vision. It's going to be all right. You're going to make it. For these twelve years she has been able to come back again to this assurance: God is with her. God will be with her. The disease is not the last word, the ultimate word. God will not condemn her for her disease. God will heal her.

Patricia is an only child. An only daughter.

As I listened and watched her face, I began to see a daughter. I felt the ache of her mother's heart.

If you just walked into Aurora Commons and just took a quick glance around you would see a lot of ugly people. People with addictions. People who cannot hold jobs. People who have problems. People who ARE problems.

But if you had the privilege of sitting and hearing their stories, these misshapen, loathsome forms would slowly morph into beloved sons and daughters. To your astonishment you would find yourselves looking with the eyes of God and you would find yourself in the presence of radiant beauty.


May God give all of us the gift of seeing with the eyes of God. May we see every woman—even ourselves—as a precious, beloved daughter.


Friday, March 13, 2015

How to Get Help from God

Preliminary manuscript for the sermon at Green Lake Church on Sabbath, March 14, 2015. I'll revise the sermon at least once more.
Bible passage: Luke 7:1-17)
(Special guests for the day: students from Cypress Adventist School)


Monday morning, I was lying in bed, thinking about getting up. Monday is my day off. I actually had an option to sleep a little longer, but as usual the instant I wasn't actually sleeping, Rexie was her feet right beside the bed wiggling herself. (Some dogs wag their tails. Rexie's tail wags her whole body.) Sure enough, it worked. She wiggled herself, and I got out of bed, got dressed and headed outside to feed her.

Rexie loves to eat. So every morning she does her breakfast dance. And every morning it works. She wiggles herself and I get out of bed, get dressed and head outside to feed her. It is entirely predictable. If you asked Rexie, what do you have to do to get breakfast at the McLarty house, she would answer without hesitation, “Wiggle yourself.”

As I was filling my thermos in the kitchen, another breakfast expert began her routine. Mama Cat sleeps in the broom closet (with the door closed to prevent unhappy events in the night). As soon as she heard Rexie and me in the kitchen, she started meowing. And just like Rexie's dance it worked. I opened the door of the broom closet. She stepped out and circled me meowing. She jumped up on the laundry room counter and stood beside her bowl, whipping her tail. I filled her dish and she started scarfing her food while Rexie and I headed outside.

Mama Cat loves to eat. If you asked her what you have to do to get breakfast at the McLarty house, she would tell you, meow and flick your tail about and rub your head on things while staring at Farmer John. It works every morning when I'm home.

When I open the back door a living roadblock forms at the foot of the steps. From all over the yard twenty chickens race toward the steps. They make really weird noises, they cluck and squawk and squeal. They make sounds I didn't even know chickens were capable of. And they cock their heads sideways and stare at me with beady eyes. They pack so closely together I can hardly walk without stepping on them.

I carefully shuffle my feet through the mob and follow, some of the repeatedly getting right in front of me, practically getting under my feet. Finally, I break into a run to get ahead of them and out to the barn where the feed bin is.

At the barn I'm greeted by Jack the Cat. He croaks at me then waddles rapidly toward the shelf in the back of the barn where I feed the barn cats. Rexie bounces around the feed room eagerly anticipating breakfast. The mob of chickens also invades the feed room.

I get a scoop of chicken food and head outside to the place where I feed the chickens. The birds follow on my heels. If I don't walk fast enough some of them will get in front of me and trip me. I walk out back behind the barn and spread their food.

If you asked the chickens what you have to do to get breakfast at the McLarty's they would tell you that you have to mob the first person who comes out the back door in the morning. Make crazy chicken noises and follow that person everywhere he goes until he scatters food for you behind the barn. It works every morning. It's a sure thing.

Back in the feed room, I encounter Jack Cat again, croaking. Yes, I know cats are supposed to meow. I need one of you kids to come to our house and teach Jack how to do it. He sounds more like a big frog with laryngitis than a cat.

I pick Jack Cat up and lift him onto his shelf above easy reach of the dogs and feed him.

Then, FINALLY!!!!!!, I feed Rexie. And the McLarty universe is filled with happiness.

Rexie did her morning dance, and finally got her food.

Mama Cat did her morning routine of meowing and flicking her tail and rubbing her head. And it worked she got food almost immediately.

The chickens mobbed the back door and continued to mob me every step I took until I spread their food behind the barn.

Each animal has a technique and it works.

But those of you who know our household well, may have noticed some gaps in my listing of animals.

I told you about feeding Rexie, but we have two dogs, and I didn't mention Gypsy, the old mama dog.

I described feeding Mama Cat in the laundry room and Jack Cat in the barn, but what about Schmanner Cat?

And then there is George. George is Bonnie's favorite rooster. He is old and a bit decrepit. He does not run around in the yard. He lives in a special pen behind the barn. He does not crow. He does not make funny noises and he does not follow me around.

What about breakfast for Gypsy, Schmanner Cat and George? What do they have to do to get breakfast?

Kids, listen carefully. This is the point of the whole sermon.

Gypsy is old. She sleeps more than she used to. She has gone deaf so she does not hear me get up in the morning and cannot hear me if I call her. She does understand sign language, so if I wake her up and signal to her to come, she will go with me to get breakfast. Or I can bring her food inside. Last Monday, I let her sleep and I brought her breakfast inside.

If you ask Gypsy what you have to do to get breakfast at the McLarty's house, she will look at you without understanding. You don't have to do anything. You can go with John when he signals you to come or you can sleep until John brings breakfast inside. And if you're still not hungry, John will put your food up where Rexie can't get it, and you can eat breakfast at 11:30 or whenever you happen to get hungry.

Schmanner Cat gets fed in the barn. When she is in the barn, she meows very loudly—actually it's more like yowling because she is Siamese. She jumps up in the rafters, then back onto her shelf. She sticks her face out toward you then turns and checks her dish. On days she is in the barn, Schmanner Cat has her own breakfast dance. But on Monday, Schmanner Cat was not in the barn.

I could have fed Jack Cat and then gone out to sit on my stool and enjoy the sunrise in peace and quiet. No loud cat making noise and demanding to be petted. I couldn't have argued, if Schmanner Cat does not do her dance, I'm not going to give her breakfast.

But, of course, I didn't think that. Instead, I went and checked the garage. Sure enough, she had gotten shut in the night before when Karin came home from work. When I open the garage door and called, she answered. She walked across the rafters, jumped down onto the refrigerator, then onto my shoulders for a ride to the barn.

She climbed off my shoulders onto her shelf and I fed her.

If you asked Schmanner Cat what you have to do to get breakfast at the McLarty house, her answer would have been similar to Gypsy's. It's the wrong question. Breakfast for animals at the McLarty house is not something animals do. It's what the people do. You can meow like Schmanner Cat or croak like Jack Cat, you can haunt the feed room day and night like Jack or get locked in the garage like Schamanner cat does regularly. No worries either way, you'll get breakfast because that's what the people do there. You can be chunky and fat like Jack or lithe and athletic like Schmanners. Either way, you'll get breakfast.

Then, there's George. At breakfast time, he just stands at the edge of his pen, waiting. He doesn't make noise. He doesn't dance around. He doesn't go to breakfast. Breakfast comes to him. Because that's what people do in the McLarty universe.

Our New Testament Scripture this morning is Luke 7.

After traveling around Galilee, Jesus came back to the town of Capernaum. A centurion in town had a servant who had been part of his household for a long time and was very close to him. The servant was sick and about to die. When the centurion learned that Jesus was back in town he asked the elders of the local synagogue to ask Jesus to come and heal the man's servant. The elders were happy to oblige. They found Jesus and urged him to come with them and heal the servant. “This centurion deserves your help,” they said. “He is a good man. He loves our nation. He has even provided the funds to build our synagogue.”

Jesus headed out with the elders. When they were nearly to the centurion's house, the centurion sent friends with another message: Don't trouble yourself to actually come to my house. I am not worthy to have you actually come under my roof. That's why I didn't come and make my request directly to you. If you simply say the word, my servant will be healed. I know how authority works. I am an officer under orders. I have soldiers under me who follow my orders. I tell one, Go, and he goes. I tell another, Come, and he comes. I give orders to my servants and they do what I say.

When Jesus heard this he was amazed. Listen, he told the crowd, I have never seen such great faith, not even among all the people of Israel. these things, he marvelled at him, and turned him about, and said unto the people that followed him, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.

When the friends returned to the centurion's house, they found the servant sitting up in bed, completely well.

If we used this story as a guide for how to get help from Jesus, there are several salient points:

First, it helps to be an important person—like the centurion. Notice that the servant was healed because the important person, the centurion liked him.

Second, it helps to get other people to support your request. The centurion enlisted the help of the leading religious figures in town.

Third, other people are more likely to support your request if you're a good person. The elders were very happy to present the centurion's request to Jesus because he was a good man. He had been generous to them. He had provided the major gift for the synagogue fund-raising campaign. He liked the Jewish religion.

Fourth, and most important, faith matters. Jesus declared that this centurion, a non-Jew, a foreigner, a “non-church member” to use language we might use today had given the most impressive demonstration of faith he had ever seen.

If we applied this in our world today: What do you have to do to get God to help you? Be a good person. Be an important person in the work of the church. Give lots of money or lots of time. Get other people to prayer with. Use the internet to get thousands of people praying in support of your prayer. And last, make sure you have absolutely confident faith. Don't harbor the least question or doubt.

Then comes story number two.

The next day Jesus visited the town of Nain. A huge crowd of discipels went with Jesus. As they were approaching the city gate, they met a funeral procession headed out of the town toward the cemetery.

The person who died was a young man, the only son of his mother. And his mother was a widow. Jesus stopped the funeral procession and spoke to the mother. Don't weep. Jesus said. Which seemed like a weird thing to say. Who wouldn't weep in her situation. She was now completely alone in the world. And in her world a woman alone was the most desperate of all persons. She had no rights. No income. No resources. Prostitution and begging were her only likely sources of money for food.

Besides the economic precariousness of her situation, she was utterly socially isolated. Her son had been her whole world, now he was gone.

So Jesus' words appeared to be a mockery, but Jesus did not mock people. After telling mom not to cry, Jesus stepped over to the funeral litter, laid his hand on the corpse and said, “Young man, get up.”

Just like that, the young man sat up and started talking! I wonder if the people carrying him dropped him? The funeral was over. It turned into a big party. I'm sure people started dancing. Hallelujah!

So kids, let's do a compare and contrast exercise. What is the same in both of these stories. What is different? First, let's look at what is different.

In the first story there was great faith. The centurion had great faith. The elders must have had some faith.
In the second story there was no faith at all.

In the first story, lots of people joined together in asking for help.
In the second story, no one asked for help.

In the first story, the main characters were important people.
In the second story, except for Jesus, the people were nobodies. The woman was a widow. In that society, widows were invisible, without rights and with resources. The young man was a widow's son. He was a nobody who was the son of a nobody. We don't know Mom's name or the son's name.

With all these differences, what is the same? In both stories, the person who needed help was precious. The servant to the centurion, the son to his mother. In both stories the person who needed help was precious to Jesus. In both stories, help was given.

If we had only the story of the centurion we might think the only way to get help from God is to have great faith, or have important people support you in your request. We might even think we would have to be good and generous people in order to expect help from heaven.

If we had only the story of the centurion, we might think about getting help from God like Rexie thinks about getting breakfast from the McLartys. If you are Rexie, you know the key to getting breakfast is wiggling yourself. If you are Mama Cat, you know the key to getting breakfast is to meow. If you are Jack Cat, you know that the key to getting breakfast is hanging out in the feed room 24/7 and croaking like a frog with laryngitis.

But since we have the second story, the story of the Widow of Nain, we know that getting help from God is like getting breakfast at the McLartys. Just as breakfast is not limited to animals that wiggle themselves and meow and haunt the feed room, so God's help is not limited to good people, to people of faith, to people who attend church or are connected with people of faith.

It is God's nature to help. That's what God does. That's how God rolls.

Life is better when we have faith. Life is better when we are connected with good people and important people. God delights in our confident prayers. But God is not made helpless by our weaknesses. God is not shut out of our lives by our inability to hope or trust. If we cannot make it to breakfast, God brings breakfast to us.

And we will find our greatest joy and deepest satisfaction when we practice this attitude toward one another.

Kids, this week, at school look around your classroom and ask yourself which kid in my class could I make happier? Parents, ask yourselves, how could I surprise my kids with mercy? Husbands and wives—maybe even ex-husbands and ex-wives—ask how could I act more like God in my interaction with that other person?

God delights in providing healing, in interrupting funerals and turning them into parties. Let's consider how we can cooperate with God in this divine scheme.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Ignore Prefectionism

When we read or listen to exhortations about perfection, our attention inevitably is drawn to our own imperfections. This is true whether the exhortations are based on passages in Ellen White or citations from Scripture. 

I refuse to read or listen to such exhortations. Instead I pay attention to those things that help me take one step in the right direction.

I pay special attention to evidences of God's generosity, graciousness, and compassion. The more attention I pay to this overflowing goodness, the easier it is for me to be generous and gracious in my attitudes toward others. I fret less about my failures and the failures of others. I am freed to devote my energy to planning another act of holiness. Which I think is the real goal of all that perfectionistic literature, anyway. 

I encourage people to simply ignore preachers who quote passages from the Bible and EGW that promise or require perfection. Instead, let us give our attention to the next step--the single next step--to which God invites us.