Sunday Message

9/29/2019: Ubuntu

Posted by on Oct 5, 2019 in Sunday Message | Comments Off on 9/29/2019: Ubuntu

Season  17th Sunday after Pentecost Date    09292019 Scripture    1Timothy 6:6-19                                        Luke 16:19-31 Prayer:   Loving One, make us a welcoming, affirming community that celebrates difference and strives to learn and grow.  May my words and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you, our rock and our redeemer. AMEN “Ubuntu” Who among you has heard the word Ubuntu? Ubuntu (Zulu pronunciation: [ùɓúntʼù])[1] is a Nguni Bantu term meaning “humanity.” It is often translated as “I am because we are,” or “humanity towards others,” but is often used in a more philosophical sense to mean “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity.”[2] Since the transition to democracy in South Africa with the Nelson Mandela presidency in 1994, the term has become more widely known outside of Southern Africa, notably popularised to English-language readers through the ubuntu theology of Desmond Tutu.[3] Tutu was the chairman of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and many have argued that ubuntu was a formative influence on the TRC. Desmond Tutu uses descriptive words to speak about Ubuntu intimately binding it within Christian principles of goodness. He describes the person true to Ubuntu as one who is “generous, hospitable, friendly, caring and compassionate.” He says it as a state in which one’s “humanity is caught up and inextricably bound up” in others. Tutu says of Ubuntu “I am human because I belong, I participate, I share.” In this form, Tutu’s use of Ubuntu is an “I am because we are” concept that encourages the person to the responsibilities of communal good and makes one find one’s good only in the communal good.[5] The theology of Ubuntu is deeply embedded in African spirituality – a spirituality that is central to life and transforms all human relations. As Suzanne Membe-Metale affirms, Ubuntu is a spirituality that enables mutual sharing and satisfaction and is illustrated in the biblical account of the disciples sharing all they had with one another so that no one lacked anything (Acts 4:32–35).[6] Ubuntu theology affirms the interaction and relationship among persons in which everyone’s humanness is recognized and affirmed. It is the philosophy of reconciliation and forgiveness that expresses “respect for a person’s dignity irrespective of what that person has done.”[7] In this theology and ideology, Tutu seeks restorative justice over against retributive justice to give opportunity for the healing of both the oppressed and the oppressor as children of God. Theological basis[edit] Ubuntu theology is based on inherent value for individuals and their relationships within communities, thus mixing African culture and biblical teaching.[8] Faustin Ntamushobora holds that this sense of community is supported by Paul’s explanation in 1 Corinthians 12:12–31, in which the apostle discusses unity in diversity.[9] Ubuntu promotes the idea that people are truly human only in communities in the full expression of the koinonia and finds the best manifestation of this in the church, which is the space in which life in relation to God and to one’s neighbour is nourished by worship and fellowship.[1] Ubuntu recognizes the humanity of all as created in the image of God, thus making the imago Dei the essence of humanity’s identity. The imago Dei foundation of Ubuntu determines humanity and denies any one or any institution the right to decide the superiority or inferiority of the other.[10] “I want to give a special message to a group of people sitting in that corner — it is families who have lost sons to the gun violence that is so rampant,” Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, motioning toward a table at the far end of the ballroom. Among those seated there was Ron Holt, father of Blair Holt, the 16-year-old who died shielding another friend from gunfire on...

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9/22/2019: Why So Somber?

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Season    15th Sunday after Pentecost/Holy Humor Sunday Date        09/22/2019 Scripture    Luke 7: 29 – 35         Matthew 7: 1 – 12  Prayer    Loving One, you create us for praise and worship.  May we be             part of your joyful creation, and see the joy in each day. May the words of my mouth and meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you, our Love and our Life.  AMEN “Why So Somber?  Lift Up Your Hearts! My calling to ordained ministry comes, in part, from my love of the sacraments.  Baptism and Holy Communion are the two greatest privileges and joys of being ordained in The United Methodist Church.   So, you can imagine my surprise when a gentleman came up to me one Sunday to tell me that the sacrament of holy communion was a somber time in the life of the church.  There was no room for my joy in sharing the sacrament. Yet, even as I read the liturgy that we say at the very beginning of the Lord’s Supper, one of the first things we say is “Lift up your hearts,” to which the community responds, “We lift them up to the Lord.” There is much room for laughter and joy in our Sunday morning worship.  We even call our funerals “A Celebration of Life.” In no way does that deny the significant loss that death entails, the pain and even despair at losing someone too young, too soon, and forever.  However, it does emphasize the truth that life is meant for joy.   Jesus was joyful.  Even on his last day on earth, he celebrated by having a community meal and bringing his closest friends together.  However, we seem to have lost most of Jesus’ humor and joy in the way Jesus was portrayed in scripture, through movies like “King of Kings” or “The Passion of the Christ,” in which Jesus is very pious and not funny at all.  It seems movie makers project their personalities on Jesus, rather than a careful reading of the gospels. In Elton Trueblood’s The Humor of Christ, he writes There are numerous passages . . . which are practically incomprehensible when regarded as sober prose, but which are luminous once we become liberated from the gratuitous assumption that Christ never joked. . .. Once we realize that Christ was not always engaged in pious talk, we have made an enormous step on the road to understanding.” Trueblood goes on to say, “Christ laughed, and . . . He expected others to laugh.” So why did the church become this somber place where we are afraid to engage in Jesus’ humor? First, two millennia of interpretation have convinced us that we understand the meaning of Biblical texts that are frequently used in worship.  We have become so convinced that we already understand the texts, that we struggle to hear them in a manner that is new and fresh. We forget the context into which Jesus speaks, or the world in which he lived. In some cases, we have even mistranslated a word or two.  Instead, we rely upon the same interpretations that have caused us to believe at various times in history, that slavery is okay, and women shouldn’t speak in church.   Perhaps his most hilarious funny is Matthew 19:24: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” In trying to figure out what Jesus was talking about, more than a few Bible scholars have twisted themselves into all types of...

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9/15/2019: Lost and Found

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Season    14th Sunday after Pentecost Date        09152019s Scripture    Luke 15: 1-10         1 Timothy 1: 12-17 Prayer: Loving God, have mercy upon us.  For although we are sinners, we find the sin of others more abhorrent.  For although we are powerful, we rarely reach out to the weak. For although we have wealth beyond the imagination of many, we withhold our gifts from the poor.  May the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you, our love and our life. AMEN “LOST and FOUND” So, I want to begin today’s sermon with a question for you to answer.  Why did Jesus welcome sinners and eat with them? (Because Jesus didn’t want to eat alone) This morning, we are presented with things that are becoming rarer and rarer in our society.  The first is sheep. I know a few of you know sheep farmers, some of you even have a family member who raises sheep.  However, I’m doubtful that any of you actually have sheep on your property today. We see fewer and fewer people raising their own sheep. The second are coins.  While more of you have coins than sheep, the fact is that fewer and fewer of us actually carry cash with us any longer.  We may have a few dollars tucked in the back of our wallet for an emergency. We may even have some coins floating around in the bottom of our pockets or purses, but fewer people have cash.  My husband recently paid for something with cash, and the cashier said, “Okay, I have respect for someone who does things the old way.” More and more we depend upon credit and debit cards. Why, you can even make donations to your church using a credit card.   This is interesting only because, as millennia go by, it can become more and more difficult to relate to the stories Jesus told.  Even if you do use cash on a regular basis, how many of you would search your home for a coin until you found it? Numismatists excluded.   Yet, these are the human concerns that Jesus uses to help us understand God’s love and concern for us.  The very nature of these two parables help us to see two aspects of life that are slipping through our fingers: our agrarian lifestyle and our relationship with currency. If you grew up as a Roman Catholic, you might have heard this ditty: “Tony, Tony, turn around, something’s lost that must be found.”  I’ve always been some form of Methodist, but I’ve had lots of Catholic friends who have encouraged me to ask for the help of St. Anthony when I’ve lost my car keys, my phone, you name it.  Anthony of Padua was the patron saint of lost things. He left a wealthy family and lifestyle to become a poor priest. According to the story, Anthony had a book of psalms that to him was priceless.  There was no printing press yet, so all books were valuable, but Anthony had also written notes and prayers in the margins. It seems that a novice in Anthony’s order had grown tired of living the life of a religious, so he left the community and took Anthony’s psalter with him! Anthony prayed and prayed for the return of his beloved book.  After he prayed, the thief was confronted by some sort of spirit that convinced him to return to the Franciscan Order, and to return the book to Brother Anthony.  The novice did and was accepted back. Of course, Anthony got his book back as well. “Tony, Tony, turn around,...

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9/8/2019: Tell Me You’re Kidding

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Season:      Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost Date:        09082019 Scripture:    Philemon 1 – 21         Luke 14: 25 – 33 Prayer: Christ, you call us to put you first, to make your ways our ways.  May the words I am about to speak and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you.  AMEN “Tell Me You’re Kidding” Many years ago, I was teaching confirmation. One of the dozen kids in the class simply had no interest in the church, confirmation, Jesus, the Bible.  Nothing. Nada. I spoke with colleagues, tried to find a way to engage her. Finally, I decided it was time to speak to her mother, so I did. Her mother told me she knew that her daughter wanted nothing to do with the church, but it was her belief that I could change her mind. To which I thought to myself, “Please tell me that you’re kidding.”   It’s not that I wasn’t willing to do everything in my power to help educate this young woman.  It was simply that she in no way was interested. It takes a village to create a disciple of Jesus Christ.  No one person can make that happen. Dedicated parents, grandparents, friends, a church full of supportive people are all required.  As the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught, discipleship is costly. It requires giving up ideas and values that we might have previously held so that we give our full allegiance to Christ.  It is not a cheap grace.   Paul is trying to communicate this in his letter to Philemon about the slave who is returning to Philemon named Onesimus.  Paul is clear that both the slave, Onesimus, and the master, Philemon, are “dear to him.” So, Paul finds himself in the sticky situation of asking Philemon to give up his claim as “master” and welcome the slave back as an equal, a brother.   While Paul won’t act on the matter without Philemon’s consent, he certainly has put Philemon in a corner.  The letter is copied to two church leaders, as well as the church. Paul also intends to visit his friend Philemon.  There is no question that Paul, and his friends are all waiting and wondering what Philemon might do. Our call, our mission, our identity as children of God, is not defined so much by who we are as by what we do in the face of choices like these.  I can imagine a very perplexed Philemon receiving this letter and thinking, “Tell me that you’re kidding.”    Today is the beginning of our program year.  Vacations are behind us and the life of the church takes on its usual rhythm.  Youth programs start, we have a new study beginning on Sunday mornings called “This I Believe” at 8 AM.  Handbells will be starting again.   And all of this is happening while the basement is being built out to accommodate a new community group that will be using it.  There is a lot happening in our little church.   All of these activities are helping us to live out the mission of Faith United Methodist Church.   So, it is a good time to spend just a moment reviewing who we are as Faith United Methodist Church.  What commitments we have made… Who knows that our church has a mission statement? Who knows what it is? Our mission statement guides everything we do in the church.  It is the ruler, the measure against which we make decisions. So, at least once a year, it is probably a good thing to review it so, like Philemon, we don’t end up in the...

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8/25/2019: Remembering Our Creation

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Season    Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost  Date        August 25, 2019 Scripture    Genesis 2: 15 – 20         Matthew 25: 34 – 40         Rev. 21: 1-8 Prayer: Creating and Giving God, we are your children, and you give us all good things.  A glorious world full of vegetation and animals, clean air and water, predictable seasons.  May we show reverence for those seasons and your creation. May we work to keep them pristine and pure.  May the words I speak remind us of the responsibility you have given us. In Jesus’ name, AMEN. “Remembering our Creation” Since I have been back in the pulpit, a little over a year now, I have not preached very much on the environment.  In fact, I’m not that it has been a topic of any of my sermons. That is not to say it has never been. When I served in my last appointment I was quite outspoken about the Keystone Pipeline that was designed to pipe filthy tar sands oil from Canada through the heartland of the United States, endangering one of the nation’s largest underground aquifers.  Legal issues around that environmental issue still hold it up. However, for the last 12 months, I’ve not spent much time on the human behaviors that threaten our earth. However, I am grateful that someone in the congregation asked me to preach about global warming. So that is the topic of today’s sermon. Global warming is not the same thing as pollution.  While they overlap, global warming is the long-term rise in the average temperature of the Earth’s climate.  When we talk about global warming, we are usually talking about changes caused by human behavior. And although we are grateful to drivers of electric vehicles, and those who have given up plastic straws, recycle, and have stopped using Styrofoam, those steps are not going to be adequate to change the direction of the globe.   Most ecologists are telling us that we have 11 to 12 years to change the direction of global warming.  According to Bill McKibben, the damage that has already been done probably can’t be corrected, but we can stop the steady march toward higher temperatures and more destruction.   We have all heard about melting ice bergs.  Perhaps you have seen pictures like this one of  a dog sled team trying to cross a section of their trail that was     once covered with ice.  Now they are sloshing through freezing     cold water. Or this starving polar bear, unable to find fish to feed itself. Or an 85% increase in fires along the Amazon. There are plenty of examples of how the increase in temperature has affected the earth.  However, it might be more helpful to see how it has affected Vermont. Vermont ranks as the second cleanest state, right behind New Hampshire.  That stands in contrast to Louisiana which is the most polluted state. But as I said in the beginning, this morning we are talking about global warming, not pollution.  Since the beginning of the Industrial age, the earth’s temperature has been heating up. However, it has taken on greater acceleration since 1980.  The increases in global warming has drastically increased in the last 40 years. And while our state may be one of the cleanest with regard to cleanliness, Burlington VT is the 5th fastest warming city in the nation.   Amy Seidl is an environmental scientist who has taught at the University of Vermont and Middlebury College.  From her perspective in Huntington, VT, Amy tells the story of a warming Chittenden County, where trees blossom before the...

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8/18/2019 Half-Truths: When God Closes a Door, God Opens a Window

Posted by on Oct 5, 2019 in Sunday Message | Comments Off on 8/18/2019 Half-Truths: When God Closes a Door, God Opens a Window

Season:         Tenth Sunday after Pentecost Date:            081819 Scripture:     Isaiah 29:17-24                                        Luke 24:13-27 Prayer: Loving and gracious Spirit, give us hearts to see the blessings in our lives.  May the words I am about to speak be a blessing, may the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you.  AMEN. Here we are at the end of a seven sermon series on “Half Truths of the Bible.”  We have talked about several common things that people say so frequently and in such a disarming way that many times it sounds as if they are quoting the Bible.  However, the truth is that they are not. In fact, they are only half truths. These sayings are meant to be encouraging, but are sometimes more hurtful than helpful. Our final half-truth is this: When God closes a door, he or she opens a window.  The theologian Nadia Bolz Weber says this: “Whenever I am in a real mess of pain, when a relationship has ended or I am in some kind of emotional suffering, and some well-meaning Christian says “Well, when God closes a door, he opens a Window” I start immediately looking around for that open window so I can push them out of it. Which is to say, I don’t find ignoring the difficult reality of our lives in favor of some kind of blindly cheerful optimism to be hopeful. I find it to be delusional.” Of course, today’s Half Truth, When God Closes a door, she opens a window,” is not in the Bible. WHERE IS IT IN THE BIBLE?  NO WHERE! As we have learned from other Half Truths, we Christians sometimes find our understanding of God and the ways God works, commonly called theology, in the strangest places. It’s not as if we are looking for theology outside of the Bible, but it seems that when Christians hear a saying that sounds nice about God, it often becomes a theological sound bite.  If this series has taught us anything, it is to beware when we hear someone say something that sounds like a sound bite. These sayings are repeated so many times that it becomes a belief and steers us away from the real truths of the Bible.   What makes this morning’s half-truth even more shocking and embarrassing is its origin.  No, it didn’t start with one of Aesop’s fables or John Wesley. We cannot blame St. Augustine.  Yet all of those sound very noble when we hear the source of this morning’s cliché. It comes from none other than “The Sound of Music.” To be fair, Rodgers and Hammerstein should not bear all the blame for popularizing the notion that “when God closes a door, He opens a window.” While they may have been the first to phrase it this way, the general idea has been around for much longer.  Both Alexander Graham Bell and Helen Keller are credited with this statement: “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” However, it was Rogers and Hammerstein who credited God with the closing of doors and opening of windows, and placed that theological half-truth in the sweet mouth of the musical’s protagonist, Maria.  The statement has been used to give hope to many that God will always find a way to satisfy their hopes and fulfill their dreams.  And that can be very disappointing. At least on the surface. Of course, you have...

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