Sunday Message

8/11/2019 Half-Truths: Cleanliness Is Next To Godliness

Posted by on Oct 5, 2019 in Sunday Message | 0 comments

Season      Ninth Sunday of Pentecost Date          08/11/19 Scripture: Leviticus 10: 8-11                                                Matthew  15: 1-20 Prayer: Loving One who cleanses our hearts and our minds, who encourages us to think on all things good, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you, our rock and our salvation. Today we are considering the sixth and the penultimate in a series of 7, “Half Truths of the Bible.”  The series was inspired by Adam Hamilton, pastor of Church of the Resurrection, a now famously successful United Methodist Church in Kansas City, Kansas.  However, we are now venturing beyond Hamilton’s 5 “half-truths,” and entertaining a few of our own. This Sunday, we will be talking about a phrase that, like most of these, you have probably heard, and maybe even said.  As a child, I think my mother said this more than any other cliché.  “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”  That sounds like Scripture, doesn’t it?  But actually, the phrase is first written in English in 1605, in “Advancement of Learning” by British writer Francis Bacon. In his ‘Advancement of Learning’ he wrote: ‘Cleanness of body was ever deemed to proceed from a due reverence to God.’ Almost two centuries later, in 1791, John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, referred to the phrase in one of his sermons called “On Dress”.  He said,  Slovenliness is not part of religion; that neither this, not any text of Scripture, condemns neatness of apparel.  Certainly, this is a duty, not a sin. “Cleanliness is indeed next to godliness.”  He goes on to quote the poet George Herbert, who wrote: “ “Let they mind’s sweetness have its operation. /Upon thy person, clothes and habitation.” I’d like to spend just a moment on this sermon, since I admit I find it a bit…well…amusing. What John Wesley was espousing against was not people who show up for worship without taking a shower, or who wear the clothes they wore yesterday today.  His primary concern was just the opposite. It was about people wearing “gold or pearls or costly array”. He said it breeds vanity, anger, lust, and is directly opposite to being adorned with good works. So, let me summarize, John didn’t want you to where excessive jewel or expensive clothes to church or anywhere else, but he sure wanted you to be clean.   Having said all of that, at least John was clear that his proclamation that “cleanliness is next to godliness is found NOWHERE….WHERE?  NO WHERE in scripture. Instead he tells us that the Bible doesn’t forbid it. The Hebrew scriptures do contain several laws that had to do with civil issues like waste disposal, quarantining the sick and contagious, and proper washings.  The Israelites were certainly concerned about the concepts of “clean” and “unclean” eating and behavior because a major portion of the Mosaic Law outlines the principles of each. Among the unclean things that God’s people were to avoid are dead bodies and carcasses, eating certain animals, leprosy, and bodily discharges. Elaborate washing rituals were prescribed to render an unclean person clean again so that he could re-enter the community and the sanctuary of the Lord (Numbers 19). However, God is more concerned with cleanliness on the inside than the outside. Jesus said that “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person” (Matt 15:11). It’s good to be clean, but it’s essential that we are clean inside (2 Cor 5:21). what...

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8/4/2019 Half-Truths: Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin

Posted by on Oct 5, 2019 in Sunday Message | 0 comments

Season       8th Sunday of Pentecost Date        08/04/19 Scripture     Acts 9: 1-19                                        Matthew 7: 1-5 Prayer:  God of us all, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you, our Love and our Life.  AMEN. The other day, a clergy colleague of mine was lamenting that a Christian singing group he was particularly fond of was singing a lot of songs that reflected a poor understanding of God to which I replied, “Sometime you just have to love the singer and hate the song.” Of course today’s sermon is not about singers and songs, it’s about sinners and sins.  In fact it is about yet another Half Truth, love the sinner, hate the sin.    Oh, it sounds nice, doesn’t it.  Just like something Jesus might say. The trouble is Jesus never said this one either.  In fact, it doesn’t appear in the Bible at all.   The earliest known use of this phrase comes from St. Augustine who used it when he was writing to a commune of nuns around 424 CE.  In that letter he encourages then to act with love for the persons and hatred of sins.  More recently, the 1929 autobiography by Mahatma Gandhi says something close, but we must listen carefully.  He writes: “hate the sin and not the sinner is a precept which, though easy enough to understand, is rarely practiced, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the world.” Gandhi goes on to argue that using this phrase is an excuse to judge another person because it cannot be effectively practiced. So let’s begin with the first part of our half truth, “Love the sinner.”  Chances are good that the people you love are sinners, in fact, it’s almost guaranteed.  We all say and do things we shouldn’t, sins of commission, and we even fail to say and do things that we should, sins of omission.  However, that is not what Jesus commanded us to do.   Jesus said love your neighbor.   Jesus did not say, “Judge your neighbor.” This morning I chose the story of Saul’s conversion because it tells the story of a man who confessed to being among the least of the disciples and not deserving  of being a disciple because he persecuted the church.” 1 Corinthians 15:9.   Saul was threatening the lives of the Disciples.  He had been given permission to take followers of the Way of Jesus out of the synagogues where they were worshipping and bring them to Jerusalem as prisoners.  However, God loved this man who was persecuting the church of Christ. So what did God do? (Pause) When Saul was struck by a light from heaven on the road to Damascus, and Jesus spoke to Paul, it was God who called Ananias to minister to Saul.  Of course Saul later uses the name Paul to preach and write many of the New Testament Letters.   Did Jesus see Saul as a sinner?  If he did he didn’t say that. He asked why Saul was persecuting him.  Then he gave Saul instructions so that he would find Ananias. Jesus saw Saul, also known as Paul, as a neighbor. This passage should give us comfort to know that, if God can use a person like Saul, God can certainly use us. This is not to say that we should not stand against the sin in our world.  In the places we see it, we are called to name and address it. Human trafficking, starving children, poor stewardship of the...

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7/28/2019 Half-Truths: God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It

Posted by on Oct 5, 2019 in Sunday Message | 0 comments

Season    7th Sunday of Pentecost Date        07282019 Scripture:    Colossians 2:6-15                                    Luke 11: 1-13 Prayer:     Loving Spirit, Wondrous Creator, may we be people of your             Word in the world.  May the word I utter and the disposition of             our hearts please you.  In Jesus’ most precious name. God said it, I believe it, that settles it.  This is the topic of today’s sermon in the series we have dubbed, “Half Truths of the Bible.”  So, what could possibly be wrong with this statement? If God said it, then we should certainly follow it.  I have no quarrel with that.   When people say God said it, the presumption is that they read it in the Bible.  And the assumption that goes along with this idea is that the Bible is the word of God.  So, let’s consider that for a moment. What, indeed is the Bible?  From a purely practical perspective, the Bible is a collection of 66 books, most of them written by different authors, and edited by even more authors.  For example, the book of Genesis is written by at least three groups of authors, and this is illustrated perhaps most clearly in the two creation stories.  The one that appears first is the story of 7 days and 7 nights, and that is the youngest of the stories, written after the Adam and Eve story. Or the four gospel writers who tell the same story, but differently to different audiences.   Then we must ask ourselves what is the purpose of the Bible?  Is it a book of history told chronologically to tell a story of humanity?  Is it a book of fables told to relate moral lessons? Is it a book of science to teach us how to light a fire on a bull doused in water, or a book of health teaching us how to live as long as Methuselah?   What is the Bible to you?   For me the Bible is a spiritual book that attempts to tell us about the nature of God seen through the eyes, the often flawed eyes, of humanity. For United Methodists, John Wesley taught that we should keep scripture primary but also rely on three other elements of our human experience: tradition, reason, and Christian experience.  All of these come together to illuminate God’s message in this world. I recently had a friend tell me that he tries to live his life as closely to what the Bible tells him as he can.  Now, I love this friend, but REALLY? Are you willing to  Give up eating pork and shrimp, even if you aren’t a vegetarian or allergic to shell fish Give up wearing blended fabrics Men, you mustn’t ever trim the edges of your beard.  (Some of you will be grateful for this one!)Women, if you are not a virgin when you marry, the men of your town are ordered to stone you to death.If your children curse or strike you, or are rebellious, parents, it is your duty to put them to death.Be sure you don’t mow your lawn, clean your house, cook, wash the dishes, or do much of anything except read on Saturday. There are lots of other things I can mention, but we would be here all morning, and there are other things I imagine you want to do on your, ugh, Sabbath!   What I would suggest is a book by a wonderful author, Rachel Held Evans, A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on her Roof,...

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7/21/2019 Half-Truths: God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle

Posted by on Oct 5, 2019 in Sunday Message | 0 comments

Season     6th Sunday after Pentecost Date        07212019 Scripture     Romans 8:35-39                                        Luke 10:38-42 Prayer    Loving and gracious One, may the words of my mouth and the             meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you, our love and our             life. “Half Truths of the Bible: God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle” If you haven’t been with us for the last two Sundays, we are halfway through a sermon series called “Half Truths of the Bible.”  These are things that you may have heard people say as if they actually are in the Bible. You may have searched for them from time to time, wondered about them, even offered them up on occasion when you couldn’t think of anything else to say.  While these sayings are not in scripture, they sure sound good from time to time.   The problems with these sayings are threefold: They are not anywhere in the BibleThey are theologically problematic, in other words, they lead us to a false understanding of who God isThey can be very harmful to individuals. The inspiration for this series came from a little book by Adam Hamilton called “Half Truths of the Bible.”  While the series finds its inspiration in this book, I have not used Hamilton’s illustrations or his text. In fact, I have not even used the same scriptures he uses.  In fact, Hamilton only names 5 half-truths, while we will be engaging this series into August, and currently we will be considering 2 more than the book includes. So, if this topic interests you, you may very well wish to read the book yourselves.     Today, we are going to talk to about a comment you may have heard when you were feeling anxious or overwhelmed.  Maybe you were mourning the loss of a loved one. Perhaps you have used the statement to comfort someone. The statement is “God never gives you more than you can handle.” Let’s begin with the simple fact that nowhere in the Bible are these words used.  Nowhere. Let’s begin by looking at the first four words of the statement: “God never gives you…”  These four words, right from the beginning imply that whatever struggle you are having, whatever is going wrong, or overwhelming you, causing you anxiety or grief, God gave you.  If we understand that God is a God of love, then we know that God doesn’t give us painful things to handle.  God doesn’t cause your headache, give you cancer, cause your spouse to beat you, or cause your best friend to commit suicide.  God doesn’t do that.   The second problem with this statement is that we all struggle with difficulty in our lives.  If you haven’t, you undoubtedly will.   When I was selecting pictures for our PowerPoint this morning, I was looking for photos depicting people who were overwhelmed.  Overwhelmed with work, with family, with school, with commitments. Many of the pictures were humorous. Photos of people with sticky notes all over their office, computer, forehead, you name it.  However, if you have ever been truly overwhelmed, you know that there is absolutely nothing humorous about it. In fact, for some of us, it can be paralyzing.   I love the story of Mary and Martha for just this reason.  Martha, I believe, is completely overwhelmed. She is trying to fulfill what she believes are the requirements of hospitality in her culture.  She is trying to meet expectations that she has put on herself, not Jesus, not God. Meanwhile, Mary is...

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7/14/2019 Half-Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves

Posted by on Oct 5, 2019 in Sunday Message | 0 comments

Season     5th Sunday after Pentecost Date        07142019 Scripture    Ephesians 2: 4-9         Luke 10:25-37 Prayer    Loving One, grant us the grace to hear your message this morning             with ears that are open and ears that are eager.  May the words of             my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing to you, our             Creator.  AMEN Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli put the problem squarely: “Americans revere the Bible–but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.” Research by the Barna Institute bears this out.  Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels. Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples. According to data from the Barna Research Group, 60 percent of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments. “No wonder people break the Ten Commandments all the time. They don’t know what they are,” said George Barna, president of the firm. The bottom line? “Increasingly, America is biblically illiterate.” A Barna poll indicated that at least 12 percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. Another survey of graduating high school seniors revealed that over 50 percent thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife. A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham. So, it’s not surprising that, according to 82 percent of Americans, “God helps those who help themselves,” is a Bible verse. Those identified as born-again Christians did better–by one percent. Just to be perfectly clear, particularly to those who might doze off during this sermon, “God helps those who help themselves” appears nowhere in the Bible. Where?   No where. It has its origins about 400 years prior to Jesus in Aesop’s Fables, in the story of Hercules and the Wagoner. The wagoner’s heavy load leads him to distress because he gets stuck in the mud.If you’ve ever been stuck in the mud (don’t read ‘stick in the mud’ although maybe this is true at times too for some of us :-)), you know that things can get really bad really fast. So, the wagoner cries out to Hercules for help. The demigod Hercules (Heracles to the Greeks) replies: “Get up and put your shoulder to the wheel. The gods help them that help themselves.” It comes from Greco-Roman myth. But after Benjamin Franklin used this slogan in his publication of Poor Richard’s Almanac, it has become part of the American ethos ever since. Thus, many people believe it to be in the Bible or based on something from the Bible. While the phrase is not in the Bible, it is a half-truth.  What I mean by that is there are several verses that suggest that work is a good thing.   Colossians 3:23 – Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. Proverbs 12:11 – He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment. Proverbs 12:24 – Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labor. Proverbs 13:4 – The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied. 2 Thessalonians 3:10For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. However, if you read any of these, there are none that actually say “God helps them who help themselves.”  What they...

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7/7/2019 Half-Truths: Everything Happens For A Reason

Posted by on Oct 5, 2019 in Sunday Message | 0 comments

4th Sunday of Pentecost 07072019 Galatians 6:7-10 Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20 Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you.  May our baptism give us the Spirit and freedom to resist evil in whatever forms we may find it.  AMEN. For the next several weeks, we are going to explore “Half Truths” of the Bible.  These are thoughts or sayings that you have heard from people you believed to be extraordinarily devout.  Perhaps it was something your mother or grandfather said in passing after hearing about a bad diagnosis, or the story of a wayward child.  You may have accepted the sentiment and believed it was a quote from the Bible. It might still be part of your theology.    However, this series of sermons might disrupt some of your thinking.  At worst it will irritate and annoy you, but I don’t think your faith will crumble or cripple.  At best, it might cause you to question some long-held beliefs and consider them one more time.   I’m not engaging in this series to annoy you, or even unsettle you.  It is not to create debate or dissonance. The real reason I want to talk about some of these sayings is that I think they can be very harmful to people.  I think they are the human muck that we sometimes make of the Bible, and theology, without considering some of life’s realities and truths, without considering who we believe God to be.   And our understanding of who God is lies at the very foundation of our belief system.   So, before I begin, let me be totally transparent.  My theological foundation lies in my personal truth that God is love.   Today, we are beginning this series with the statement, “Everything happens for a reason.”  You’ve heard it said when a loved one dies. “Well he or she won’t have to suffer any longer.  Everything happens for a reason. “You break your leg, miss your flight, get a flat, buy the wrong laundry detergent, forget to inspect your vehicle, you forget your husband’s birthday, you lose your glasses, the Red Sox win, the Yankees lose, Tom Brady is injured, the Steelers win…  “Everything happens for a reason.” This idea comes from the writing of John Calvin, a brilliant lawyer, theologian and pastor of the 16th century.  His writing is foundational to Protestant theology, so it’s not surprising that this thought that God causes absolutely everything to happen is still woven into our Christian faith.   However, it can lead to some very unsettling questions… Why did God allow airplanes to crash into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, or a Pennsylvania field? Why does God allow suffering and violence so horrendous that millions of people seek asylum in the United States or Europe? Why does God allow little children to be killed and traumatized in school shootings? If God makes everything happen for a reason, if God picks winners and losers, if God determines who goes to heaven and hell even before we are born, then this idea certainly merits some examination.  So here are the two key problems with fatalism, or predestination. If God has already determined that everything happens for a reason, then there is nothing I can do about making my life better.  Getting an education is pointless, kicking my addiction to drinking or drugs is useless, or trying to make the world a better place is hopeless.  In fact, there is no hope. If I drink and drive, have an accident and someone is killed, I am not to blame because...

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