Sermon: June 26, 2016 – Learning to Go With the Flow

Learning to Go With the Flow

Text: Luke 18: 15-24 

15 People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. 16 But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 17 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

 

18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.’” 21 He replied, “I have kept all these since my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money[a] to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!

 

Recently Heidi and I had the chance to get out in the woods for a day and we found ourselves near the little town of Elk River. If you have been there you will be familiar with how beautiful it is and you may be familiar with the Elk Creek Falls trail. This hike, which is a little over 4 miles by the time you complete the loop, takes you past three fairly spectacular waterfalls. The direction that we took had us come by the lower falls overlook first, and it was pretty great. Then we moved on to the middle falls. You have the view this falls from a distance, that is if you are going to stay on the main trail, but the surrounding setting for this waterfall looks like some kind of painting. If you were to imagine the most beautiful setting and artistic waterfall your imagination could produce, I think it would look something like the middle falls of Elk Creek Falls.

Every once in awhile I run across an article somewhere that outlines all the dire predictions about the limited water supply we have here in the west. They talk about the tremendous growth in areas like Arizona and California and the front range of Colorado. According to their calculations, we are using water faster than it is being replaced and we stand the risk of complete depletion of the aquifers that service this part of the country. They say we are running out of water! It is a little hard to believe after seeing the lush green forests around Elk River and the raging falls of Elk Creek Falls, and yet I know there is some truth in what they are reporting.

I understand what they are saying, and for the most part I normally agree that we need to pay attention and take steps now to eliminate that possibility for the future. But I’m always left with a sense of frustration, because I seldom hear the idea that there is the same amount of water that we have always had, and what we suffer from isn’t the amount of water, what we suffer from is a distribution problem. It may seem like a small point, and it may seem like I’m splitting hairs, but this is an important concept for us to that flows through us. We receive it while it is here, and then it moves on and becomes a part of the water cycle all over again.

Another important part of the water debate is always about storage. Some say we need more water storage; and that may be. But what I want you to imagine in your minds is a reservoir that is completely full. There isn’t any more room for any additional water. Obviously, some water would have to be let out of the reservoir to make room for the new, right? I believe that is something like what the text I read a few minutes ago is trying to say as

If we go through our lives completely full all the time, there isn’t room for anything left to enter. We need to find ways to distribute more evenly that which we have, and in so doing, we make room for new things to enter. This is, in part, the function of a community. A community is in charge of distribution.

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. I wanted to give you some background on the text I have chosen before we relate it to community. There are a couple of interesting things about this particular section of scripture that I believe are important enough that we take a look at them.

The first item of importance is the fact that these two stories, the story of the children and the story of the rich young ruler both appear in all three of the synoptic gospels, that is Matthew, Mark and Luke. They also appear in the same order, in other words, the story of the children first, and then the story of the rich young ruler.

Another interesting point is that very often the second story is referred to as the parable of the rich young ruler, and yet there is not a single gospel that refers to him in that way. If I remember correctly, it is the story in Luke that describes him as a ruler, and the gospel of Matthew calls him young. Of course at the end of the story we are told he had many possessions in all three accounts, so we can make the assumption he was rich. But the terminology of the rich young ruler is really a compilation of all three stories.

OK, I have a few blank stares out there and you are wondering where I’m going with all this and how it relates to our previous discussion about water. Let me try to tie this all together where it makes some sense.

I believe the story of the children is related to the story of the rich young ruler. They have the same basic message. That is one of the reasons why in all three gospels, these two stories appear in the same order and with very similar language. They are a matched set, a pair; and the authors recognized this and kept them as a duo for us to

Remember the statement Jesus makes about children; he says that unless we can receive the kingdom of God like a little child, we will never really experience it. Some will tell you this means we need to have child-like faith, and whatever the question is, we just accept it and go on. Sort of like how children accept the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus. But I resist that interpretation. We have minds, we have an intellect and they are gifts from God intended for us to use.

What I do believe to be true about children is the fact that their minds are spacious, they are empty, to a large degree and there is lots of room for new things to enter. Have you ever heard the analogy of a child’s mind being like a sponge that just absorbs everything? I believe that to be pretty accurate. And children are in that state

But when we become adults, we begin to hang on to things, we begin to hang on to ideas and it become more and more difficult for us to entertain a new thought, because we are so full of the old thoughts; and in that way, we need to become like children. This was the problem with the rich young ruler. He was full of his possessions, he was full of his wealth, and he didn’t have any more room in his life for anything else. Obviously, he was searching for something more, obviously he felt like his life was lacking or he would not have sought Jesus out in the first place. As a matter of fact, there are some translations that have the man ask Jesus what he must do to really live, rather than inherit eternal life. Here is a man that is very full in a worldly sense, and yet very empty spiritually.

This is very important. Listen carefully. I believe the spirit of God is very much like our water example. There is lots of Spirit around, but sometimes we suffer from a distribution problem. Remember when I said that we don’t really use up the water as much as it is something that flows through us? We have it for a time, use it, and then we give it up to re-enter the water cycle and be used again. The Spirit of God, the Kingdom of God is the very same. We use it, the Spirit flows through us, and then we give it up to be used again somewhere else in another way. But we have to have room. We have to have some storage capacity left; our sponges cannot be full. Our minds, like the minds of children, must have room for the Spirit to enter. Our lives must have room for the Spirit to

What did Jesus tell the young ruler? He said you lack just one thing; you are too full. Go and sell all your fullness and give away the money to the poor, distribute the wealth, and then you will experience new life. We need to serve, we need to give, we need to distribute, and in so doing we make room for more Spirit to enter. If we clog up our beings with possessions, with unchangeable ideas, with stress, with too many commitments, too many places to be at the same time – there isn’t any way for us to make room for the Spirit to enter. In order for the Spirit of God to really work, it needs to flow into us and out of us. It just passes 

I believe that is one of the functions of the church. It provides the opportunity for people to give so they can receive. It is a distribution mechanism. We have a means by which people can serve and be served. That is community, that is the church and that is what we need to do. Amen.

 

 

Sermon: June 19, 2016 – “Bible Reading 101”

“Bible Reading 101”

Text: 2 Timothy 3:16

All scripture is inspired by God and is[a] useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.

 

I want to introduce you to a member of our family that a few of you have met, but most of you have not. This is Nugget, and he is a Chihuahua-Dachshund mix and he is now about 12 years old. One of the things we like to do with Nugget is to take a walk through Modie Park. It is close to where we live, sometimes we see some interesting wildlife, we all get some exercise and Nugget seems to really enjoy it.

While we are walking, however, sometimes it gets a little annoying because you never know when Nugget is going to want to stop and sniff something. It seems like any vertical surface, a fence post, a fire hydrant, a tall weed, even a piece of lawn edging that has been clipped by the lawn mower and is now torn and lifted up above the rest of the grass qualifies as a point of interest for Nugget. He will want to at least stop and sniff, and then if it is really interesting, he leaves a little evidence of his visit and then he is ready to move on.

What I find interesting is that it isn’t consistent. Not every tall weed or every sign post is necessarily a candidate. Sometimes he walks by and seems to not even notice. What is really a surprise is that sometimes Nugget has been walking along, pretty much ignoring everything, and you forget that he likes to stop, until he does. When he doesn’t want to move, his impression of a concrete block is pretty good. If you don’t notice and you are walking along at a pretty good pace, it can pull your arm right out of the socket. You wouldn’t think such a little dog could put on the brakes so effectively, but he does and it gets your attention!

Of course this behavior is not unique to Nugget; if you have ever walked a dog of almost any kind, you know what I’m talking about. Dogs like to sniff and check things out as they walk; it is just what they do.

I bring this up for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that I want to make sure everyone understands that this is absolutely normal. A dog is walking along and not everything along the path is compelling, but then there comes a special smell. The dog stops and checks it out. Sniffing carefully they are able to determine who was there last, how long ago and whether they may recognize the scent or not. Sometimes the sniff is so compelling that it warrants a response!

The second reason I bring this up is I think it is a great analogy to how I read the Bible. You see, I can casually stroll through the scriptures and just every once in awhile something will jump out at me that warrants a little further investigation. Sometimes it is so compelling that it even warrants a response, or a sermon! This is what I do.

Not everyone thinks this is a good idea. I have been criticized for only taking the parts of the Bible seriously that I happen to agree with or those parts of the Bible that I find interesting or those parts of the Bible that I think are relevant to life today. When I protest and say that some things in the Bible just are no longer appropriate, one response that comes up quite frequently is the text I read a few minutes ago; All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.

Really? All scripture?

It seems to me those who complain about how I read and interpret the Bible, are also choosing their favorite parts, it is just that their favorite parts are different than my favorite parts. And it’s crazy to think we should all have the same favorite parts.

Imagine two dogs walking through Modie Park. Do you think that each dog will stop at exactly the same place every time? Probably not. There will be some agreement; as a matter of fact I have witnessed this. One dog will stop and sniff, perhaps even leave a response, and then the second dog will follow right behind and leave a response of his own. There is always some agreement; but not exact duplication by any means.

The fact that everyone is not in lock step and exact agreement as to what is important or interesting in the Bible is not what bothers me. What bothers me is when a portion of the scripture is seized upon as being the most important thing ever written and it must be upheld, even at great personal cost. The human carnage that is a result of this practice is almost incalculable. If we look to history as a teacher, there are plenty of examples of this practice.

The human carnage of the Inquisition and the Crusades were both based on a scriptural interpretation that allowed a mindset to prevail that it was God’s will that these people who thought differently should die.

The human carnage of the Salem witch trials is the same story.

The human carnage of the Civil War in this country, not that long ago, was in part, based on a scriptural belief that it was within the acceptable parameters of Christianity to own slaves and that those slaves should obey their masters without question.

For centuries women have been excluded and ostracized from the church because someone decided that a portion of scripture was more important than some other part.

If you think we have moved past this practice; think again. In the wake of the Orlando massacre last week, I have heard more than one comment from so-called Christian ministers that expressed a certain level of joy that those killed were mostly gay or lesbian. One minister even quoted Leviticus that stated God’s perfect law demanded that homosexuals be put to death.

When we read the Bible, we absolutely must read carefully. There is not anything wrong with ignoring one part and finding hope or enlightenment in another part. This is normal and I think also healthy-it means you are thinking and analyzing and paying attention. As for our text this morning, I’m sorry, but it simply is not true. All scripture is not appropriate; only some of it is. History has taught us this and it cannot be argued otherwise. The only question that remains is what portion of scripture will some consider being more important than anything else?

I am currently reading a book called “Things I Wish Jesus Said”. The first chapter is titled “Don’t Believe Everything You Read”. The author laments the fact that Jesus didn’t say anything about this problem; the author wishes Jesus had said “don’t believe everything you read”.

Well, I’ve been thinking about that, and actually, I think that Jesus did say that. By my count, in the four Gospels, Jesus is reported to have said something very close to that very thing a total of 14 times. 14 times Jesus repeated these words; “it is written…” “but I say to you…” In other words, Jesus challenged what had been written before, he said “don’t believe everything you read, because it can be misleading, it can be misinterpreted, sometimes it is just wrong.” Then Jesus would offer a new interpretation – things like loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you instead of violence and revenge. Jesus did say “don’t believe everything you read.” And I think it is still good advice.

We must be willing to let go of certain elements of scripture that no longer serve the common good. We have let go of slavery. We have let go women being silent in our churches. We have let go of first born sacrifice and the mixing of two crops in the same field. We have let go of ceremonious cleansing of food and body. We have let go of a prohibition against eating certain meats or wearing two types of fabric. We have let go a lot of things that were once considered central and important and were perhaps relevant in their day. But they are relevant and appropriate no longer.

Picking and choosing what we are interested in and what makes sense for us when we read the Bible is the only logical way to work your way through. To pretend that you are not picking and choosing simply makes a mockery of the rational thought process. All scripture is not suitable for teaching or correction and I’m certain that all scripture is not inspired by God.

And that is food for thought.

Amen.

Sermon: June 5, 2016 – “The Fjords of Life”

The Fjords of Life

Text: Romans 8: 31,35,37-39

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I think it is interesting that even 2000 years ago the rhetorical question was a useful literary device. At least that is how I perceive the opening question that Paul poses in this text; if God is for us, who is against us? This is a rhetorical question. To define a rhetorical question moves you into a gray area, but most people agree the definition is a question that everyone already knows the answer to, or there is no answer to. The rhetorical question is a device that is generally used to help make a point; seldom is it to be taken at face value or taken as an actual question. I believe that Paul’s question in this text is certainly rhetorical in nature. Obviously, if God is for us, then anything that is against us will not prevail.

But that answer often surfaces a conundrum of sorts, because it is obvious that bad things still happen and at times it feels like what is against us is winning. How do you explain that? Paul even lists some of those things in the text, he talks about hardship and distress, persecution or famine-Paul lists all these things and more and yet maintains that in all these things the love of God is still present. This position seems oxymoronic at best or perhaps completely delusional in a worst case scenario. What are we to think?

This is perhaps one of the most profound and important theological questions of all the questions. Where is God when bad things happen? We all know that bad things happen, personally they take place and globally they take place. Where was the love of God during the holocaust or where is it during times of child abuse, or rape or incest or murder or violence or war? Where is the love of God at these times? It can leave you wondering.

One place for me to begin is to challenge some of our assumptions about the love of God. Is it possible we cling to a number of misconceptions about what it means to have the love of God present in our lives? What does it mean to have the love of God present? Does it mean that things will always be good? I don’t think most of us believe that, although if we are completely honest with ourselves we might be closer to that thought than we realize.

Does having the love of God present in our lives protect us from grief or harm or suffering? Paul admits in his letter to the Romans that all these things can be present in our lives and the love of God is still there. Paul maintains that no matter what takes place, nothing can separate us from the love of God.

For me, that raises another obvious and perhaps rhetorical question. If the love of God is present in the midst of horrible circumstances or violence or unimaginable suffering, then what good is it? What does it do for me? Why should I care if I am going to suffer anyway? Another way of asking the same question is if the love of God is present in the midst of suffering, where is the evidence of that love? What does it look like? How do I know it is present when the whole world is falling down around me?

I believe most of us have felt this way one time or another. Perhaps we have had similar thoughts or asked similar questions. I think many of us have the questions run through our minds, but we simply are afraid to ask. It isn’t nice to challenge God. It isn’t nice to get angry or to wrestle with God about these things; it is better to just be a good Christian and keep your smile in place and keep telling yourself that God is in control.

How many of us just simply pretend that everything is OK? How many of us just pretend that our faith sustains us when we are ravaged on the inside? How many of us just pretend that these questions which have tough answers don’t really matter? How many of us just pretend that we might understand if we were smarter or had more education or perhaps we were a better Christian? Pretending doesn’t do anyone any good; and yet I feel like that is really what we do. We pretend. We pretend because we don’t understand. We simply cannot reconcile the love of God being present in the midst of pain and anguish; we cannot reconcile the love of God being present during horrible acts of violence and cruelty. So we pretend.

I believe these kinds of questions have plagued humanity for centuries. I believe Paul tried to answer them, I believe people still struggle to answer them in their own minds. So often the answers found in church or in a sermon or even in the Bible are thin and shallow and gloss over the pain and suffering we are experiencing. Simply put, many of the answers are not that helpful.

There is a song that was written by Paul Simon that I think identifies this dichotomy in a beautiful and mysterious way. For me, the lyrics are hauntingly familiar, they relate to things I have felt and experienced all my life. The lyrics directly confront some of these questions. I want us to take a look at these lyrics and then listen to the song; the name of the song is “Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall”.

Through the corridors of sleep
Past the shadows dark and deep
My mind dances and leaps in confusion.
I don’t know what is real,
I can’t touch what I feel
And I hide behind the shield of my illusion.

So I’ll continue to continue to pretend
My life will never end,
And Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall.

The mirror on my wall
Casts an image dark and small
But I’m not sure at all it’s my reflection.
I am blinded by the light
Of God and truth and right
And I wander in the night without direction.

So I’ll continue to continue to pretend
My life will never end,
And Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall.

It’s no matter if you’re born
To play the King or pawn
For the line is thinly drawn ‘tween joy and sorrow,
So my fantasy
Becomes reality,
And I must be what I must be and face tomorrow.

So I’ll continue to continue to pretend
My life will never end,
And Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall.

Let’s have a listen to the artistry of Paul Simon and Arthur Garfunkel – play song

Buried in these lyrics is the answer to our questions; buried in these lyrics is the solution to the theological conundrum presented in the text in Romans where I began. Buried in these lyrics is the key to ending our suffering, the key to overcoming our pain and the key to a fulfilling and meaningful life. Did you hear it? Did you get it?

For me, the answer to all of our questions lies in the phrase, I must be what I must be and face tomorrow.

Acceptance of who you are, where you are and what is happening around you is the key to ending suffering. As the song says, the line in thinly drawn between joy and sorrow. Perhaps what defines that line is our own thoughts and our own ability to accept the present moment.

I’m going to ask you to really think about a couple of things. Knowing that there is a risk that a heavy rain or a hail storm might destroy the flowers, we plant them anyway. We know that the sun will always rise, even in the midst of a storm. We may not see the sun, but we know it is there because it slowly gets light, even when it is cloudy or stormy. I think this is what Paul was saying as well.

When we were in Norway, we cruised among the fjords of Norway. A fjord is a remarkable product of geography. It is also the product of unimaginable force and destruction and violence. At the hands of glaciers that ripped open great wounds on the countryside, pushing rock and debris that would create a pile 13 miles high, and with such relentless pressure and longevity, this fjord was created. What is now beautiful once was the scene of mass destruction and violence. This fjord is over two miles deep, that is more than 10,000 feet. This fjord was carved to a depth equal to many of our highest mountain peaks. And look at the results.

Simply put, the fjords of Norway remind me of what can happen as a result of struggle and conflict and resistance. The depth of beauty is almost beyond comprehension, but it didn’t happen without a struggle. A fjord doesn’t form without conflict.

I’m not suggesting that God causes bad things. I’m not even suggesting that God allows bad things to happen. What I am suggesting is that the line between joy and sorrow is thinly drawn and we don’t always understand or appreciate our circumstances. What I am suggesting is that even in the midst of our anxiety and anguish, we can find a strength that allows us to be what we must be and face tomorrow. Often with that tomorrow, with the promise of the rising sun, we will witness a new dawn, a new beginning and a depth of character that was not present before.

When we encounter the fjords of life, and all of us will, let’s not succumb to the temptation to just pretend. Embrace the struggle, embrace the pain and be what you must be with full acceptance and full participation, knowing that tomorrow will come. Hold on to the assurance granted us in the depth of beauty of the fjords of Norway and in the words of Paul; if God is for us, who can be against us?

Food for thought. Amen.

 

 

 

 

Sermon: October 4, 2015 – “Too Much of a Good Thing”

Text: Mark 9: 43-47

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell -Mark 9:43-47

Don’t you just love an impossible text? There are parts of the Bible that I have struggled with for years and to be honest, this is one of those parts. What are we to think? That God wants us to hurt ourselves? Are we to think this is the real cost of discipleship? I’m sorry, but I just can’t go there; this is not the God I have come into relationship with and this in no way is reflective of Jesus as I understand him. So what are we to think?

The other day I was in a conversation I probably had no business being in. Ever been in one of those? I was conversing with someone who was just having a fit about genetically modified foods and the labeling and nutrition and a whole host of other things that seem to go along with this ongoing controversy. Is it a controversy? I’m not even sure; like I said, I had no business being in this conversation because I have zero information about the topic. I literally know nothing about it. As a matter of fact, I know that sometimes it is referred to as GMO foods, but I don’t even know what the “O” stands for – genetically modified I can figure out, but the “O” – I actually don’t have any idea.

Any way, I got sucked into this conversation (even though I know nothing about the topic) and I asked a question. I asked if it was genetic modifications that have given us things like seedless watermelons or drought resistant wheat and asked if those were not good things. The response was quick and curt; “well, you can always have too much of a good thing.”

I’m still not certain that answered my question, but it did get me thinking about this text.

With this particular text I think our natural tendency is to think of what is being described here is a prescription for following Jesus. In other words, you have to be so devoted, you have to be so committed, you have to be so blinded by your faith that you are willing to hack off limbs and gouge out eyes in order to stay true to Jesus. Really? That just doesn’t sound like Jesus to me.

But what if this isn’t a prescription for following Jesus at all; what if it is a description of what happens to us so many times in life. What happens to us in life is often too much of a good thing. And if we remember that the focus of Jesus’ ministry was to reform Judaism, that is also what had happened to that religion, too much of a good thing.

For example I think we could look at alcoholism this way. Many of us enjoy a little bit of alcohol every once in awhile. I’m personally not a big wine or beer drinker, but I have been known to enjoy a margarita on rare occasion. When we are celebrating or having a nice meal or at a wedding or anytime the situation is appropriate I think most of us would consider a little bit of alcohol a good thing. But you ramp that up to too much of a good thing and your problems grow exponentially. Not only that, but when confronted with the prospect of removing alcohol from the alcoholic, it seems to me, that it is just as traumatic and removing an actual part of that person. Alcohol has become such a part of the person that it is the same as a hand or a foot or even an eye. And that is what Jesus does, Jesus removes those things in our lives that have become stumbling blocks, even when we think they are as important to us as an actual limb.

Is this not also a description of what had happened to ancient Judaism? Perhaps the law began as a good thing. We can see historical evidence of why some of the laws were created or what the good intention was behind the idea. Not eating pork comes to mind. When pork is not cooked well enough or stored properly people get sick and die when they eat it; so they made a law to stay away from pork. Makes sense. But then they kept adding to the law, it became a reason for being, it began to be a stumbling block, the law became more important than the person. Yet, for the priests and the scribes and the Pharisees they would have much rather hacked off a hand or a foot than disturb the law. It was that much a part of them.

I think this is almost a universal danger; at times we can all become so attached to something that it blots out the light of Christ. We can become so attached to something that without even realizing what is happening, our allegiance switches from that of love, or that of following Jesus, to protecting the thing that is a part of us. It could be the law in ancient Judaism, it could be the alcohol for the alcoholic or it could be any number of other things on which each and every one of us place too much importance. It may have started as a good thing, but as we have all heard and know, you can have too much of a good thing.

Thing is, this isn’t a problem limited to just alcoholics or ancient Judaism. It is alive a well today. In my mind, we can translate this text to help our understanding in this way. When something causes us to stumble-I read that in this way: When we fail to love, when we fail to honor the person, when we fail to practice compassion or humility or tolerance, we stumble. So when that happens, we need to identify where in our lives something exists that is really too much of a good thing, and cut it out. Remove it from our being. It can feel like losing a limb, but it is descriptive of what the love of God does in our lives.

Modern Christianity in many settings isn’t all that different from ancient Judaism. We love to make rules and creeds and customs; we love to point out when others fail to tow the line or walk the walk. We relish the chance to be superior and more self-righteous than the next person. But in our exuberance to “serve the Lord” we forget the lost and lonely, we forget the least of those among us and we forget that all are children of God. And when we forget; we stumble; and when we stumble it is time for some surgery. If anything gets in the way of God working through us in the way that God intends, it is time to get it out of the way. There are times it may feel like we are losing a part of ourselves.

But as we lose, we also gain. We gain freedom from the bondage of too much of a good thing. We gain the Good News of the gospel and we gain the freedom to love and honor all. To be clear, God doesn’t hack and saw and remove our stumbling blocks to punish us. The removal process is the only way to begin the healing and the healing is the path to freedom and the freedom is the Good News which Jesus promises.

As I said in the beginning; don’t you just love impossible texts?

In a few moments we will be practicing the sacrament of Holy Communion. As you come forward to receive the elements or perhaps receive some special prayer, one question you may ask yourself is this: “what kind of surgery are we performing today?” Amen.

Sermon: September 6, 2015 – “The Language of Truth”

Text: John 8: 31-32

Then Jesus said; “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

Language is such an interesting thing. A few years ago Heidi and I traveled to Italy and other parts of the UK and noticed again there is a bit of a language gap among many of the people in Europe and people here in the US. While we were there, we learned a few new words to add to our limited UK vocabulary. We already knew a few words that were different from having traveled in England before; for example we knew they called an elevator a lift and when you stand in line for something you que up. I also knew that if you had to use a rest room you went to the lieu and they called a flashlight a torch.  While we were visiting we learned a few more words that were fun; we learned that often they called a truck a lorry that I would call a semi. One day we were talking with some locals about traveling overseas and the subject of Japan came up; I said I had never been, but would maybe like to go someday. Then they asked if you had to have any special jabs to go to Japan; that was their word for shots – jabs; pretty descriptive, if you ask me. They also spoke of swimming in the hotel pools and how the chlorine was hard on their costumes – what we would call swim suits or bathing suits. Even though we all spoke English, at times there was still a communication gap.

Imagine then, how difficult it is to translate something from an ancient text into modern English and have the meaning of the text come through. I would suspect it is very difficult and not always very successful. I’m thinking this may be true for the text that I just read a few minutes ago. Jesus speaks of the truth – like it is an object or a physical item that can be held in your hand and studied. This word truth can be very slippery and I’m not certain what Jesus or John meant when they spoke or wrote about truth.

In almost every case, I think the word truth would be better when prefaced with a personal pronoun like my truth, or your truth, or even the collective our truth. Truth is very personal and depends entirely upon your experience and perception of the world. But even what our eyes tell us sometimes can be incorrect; at least from a certain point of view.

Consider this perspective of truth that comes from the best selling author, Neale Donald Walsch in his book “Home With God.” THE truth does not exist as an objective reality. Perspective creates perception, and perception creates experience. The experience that perception creates for you is what you call ‘truth.’

What this is saying, I think, is that our truth is what we experience it to be. In many cases the experience is collective, that is it is experienced by all of us all of the time and becomes what some would consider being an absolute truth. Gravity, for example, could be an absolute truth because we all experience it all the time. At least until we invented space travel; once we discovered areas in the universe where gravity is not, our perspective and understanding of this truth had to change.

Truth is also subject to what our brains can comprehend. Our brains are limited to what we have been exposed to or told about or things that make sense to us. If something happens that goes beyond what our brains can process, the truth will be altered to fit what we are able to perceive.

One example of this, which I experienced personally still doesn’t make sense to me today. But I know what my truth is, and the truth of those who were with me when it happened, so we have a collective truth, but our comprehension of what that truth actually was is limited. I believe we only have a partial truth and the balance of the truth is left for our brains to fill in.

So, here is what took place; this is my literal truth. When I was growing up in Iowa, one of the toys we had around the house for many years was an old 1946 Willys Jeep. This Jeep burned equal parts of oil and gasoline, but stayed functional for many years. One of our favorite pastimes when there was a raging snowstorm was to go cruising around town in the Jeep. This was an open air event, so you had to be bundled up, and the later in the night it was, the better it was.

On this particular evening, the snowstorm was a pretty good one and they had already called off school for the next day, so I was free to stay up as late as I wanted. Around midnight or perhaps a little later, a group of 4 of us decided to go cruising around town in the Jeep. I was there, my brother was there and two cousins that were about the same age as my older brother, Bruce – which made me the youngest of the group. I’m thinking I was in my early teens, probably 13 or 14, but not any older than that.

So we all piled into the Jeep and took off. When it is late in a small town and there is a raging blizzard going on, you generally have the streets to yourself-and of course, that is half the fun. We went in search of giant snowdrifts and steep hills and cruised around town for an hour or so. By then we were cold and wet and ready to come home. We parked the Jeep in the backyard and headed for our back door, but we paused for a minute to throw a few snowballs. It was now about 1:30 AM or close to that time.

As we were throwing our snowballs, the sky lit up from horizon to horizon; not just a bright light, but the whole sky lit up. It was red and then it went out, and then it was green and then it went out, and then it was blue and then it went out. It did that three times, in the same order-illuminating the sky from horizon to horizon and then it was gone. To this day, none of us know what it was that lit the sky up that night in that weird way.

Can you begin to appreciate how elusive this thing we call truth is? Neale Donald Walsch told us that truth depends on perception and experience.   So what was our truth? What was the source of the lights? Had we experienced something ordinary made special by the snowstorm, or had we experienced something extraordinary? These are the kinds of questions that will drive you crazy – and in my case it is a pretty short drive. The truth is there somewhere, but our experience and perceptions only yield a partial truth.

You see, our world is full of false positives. We experience things that are not true all the time and we learn to compensate through language, through understanding and through experience. Let me give you some examples of what I mean. We talk all the time about a sunrise and a sunset; even though we all know that is not true-the sun never moves-we experience the sun moving and so this false experience becomes a truth that everyone accepts and talks about. When you say sunrise or sunset everyone knows what you are talking about, even though it is not true. There are other examples where our perception and our experience deceive us. Consider a table for example; we all know that a table top surface is solid and will hold something up if we place it there. This table has no problem supporting my Bible, for example. That is our perception and our experience and it becomes truth.

Except that it isn’t true. This table is mostly empty space and if it were not for the alignment of the molecules and the opposite polarity of the charges of the electrons of the table and my Bible, the Bible would fall right through this table. But it doesn’t, and we can’t see the molecular structure, and our perception is that the table is solid so we accept the solid table as truth; even though it is not truth.

Consider the creation stories that are recorded in the first two chapters of Genesis. Yes, I said stories in the plural, there is more than one and they are quite different if you read them both and compare notes; something that Creationists don’t like to talk about. But I digress-in the creation stories you find reference to some things we now understand to be very different, but you can clearly see how the truth of the story was created from perception and experience, rather than from some higher absolute truth.

For example, the story tells us that God created a great dome and placed it over the earth. Well if you have ever been on the plains during a very clear day and have gazed from horizon to horizon, the idea of a dome is very evident – it is understandable-but it isn’t true. But for generations it was considered true or truth. The creation story also tells us that God placed two great lights in the sky, one to rule by day and the other to rule by night; this may be splitting hairs, but the moon is not a light, it only reflects light. We experience the moon as a light, people talk about moonlight all the time like it really exists, but it doesn’t. Moonlight is reflected sunlight. But it doesn’t matter what it is – when we poetically speak of the grandeur of the Snake River bathed in moonlight, everyone knows what we mean and can conjure up a mental image of what we are talking about. So is the truth of that description of the Snake River the mental image or the facts regarding the light? I prefer to think of the truth as being the mental image.

Which brings me back to our scripture this morning; far too often this scripture is lifted up as a reason to oppress and confine people to a particular set of beliefs. Truth is what I tell you it is and nothing more and nothing less – is how some approach this text. Consider your personal experience of God as truth; there was a time in your life, I’m quite certain that you felt close to or felt the presence of a creator or higher power; you felt close to God. That experience may have been at church camp, it may have been in church, it may have been fishing on the Snake River bathed in moonlight. Your experience of God is your truth about God and it is a mistake to pursue a truth that does not match your experience. It only leads to resentment, confusion and ultimately a loss of faith. And so when you discover the truth; when you discover your truth – that truth will set you free. There is great freedom in believing what matches your experience and your perception and allowing others to believe what matches their experience. That is the truth that will set you free.

This is our great asset as United Methodists, we offer each individual the opportunity to create a truth which matches their unique perspective and their unique experience. Some believe that a truth must be the same for everyone or else it isn’t true-but a truth that must be the same for everyone, at least in my mind, is not setting you free, it is confining you to only a single perspective. So from a certain perspective, in order for this scripture to be true, you must retain the ability to have individual truths and individual realities, if the truth is indeed going to set you free.

And that, I believe, is food for thought.

Go in peace, go with God and go find your truth. Amen.