Monday, December 14, 2009

3rd Sunday of Advent, First Cong.UCC, Rock Springs, WY

What Is Salvation?
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
3rd Sunday of Advent
First Cong UCC, Rock Springs, WY 12/13/09
Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18

This past Tuesday was one of those rare occasions where my whole day literally spanned the whole spectrum of what a minister does. My first meeting was with a group of colleagues, a meeting designed to give support to one another as professionals; my next meeting was with a couple wanting to get married; then I met with a family who had lost their family member with a sudden death and we discussed what the memorial service would entail as well as doing some grief counseling; my last meeting of the day centered around the excitement of a baptism.
In general, most of those meetings were dealing with exciting and joyous events within one’s life. But there was also the reminder that life is not always exciting and fun, but at times filled with pain, loss, grief and feelings of aloneness. Even though these people’s lives ran the full range of life’s experiences, the one basic theme that connected all four meetings centered on the “spiritual” needs of each person I visited with that day.
Today we are in the third week of Advent, a time that we focus on preparation and of anticipation of the coming of Christ. The first Sunday of Advent tended to focus on the return of Christ, and depending on whether your belief structure lends itself to a physical return of Jesus or if your belief system leads you to think in terms of a more metaphorical meaning of “His second coming”, we spent that Sunday taking a look at what that might mean to us. Last week we started to focus on preparation of our Spirit with the coming of Christ. This week we continue more fully on the discussion of ‘where’ we are at in our Spiritual journey.
In recent weeks I have begun to develop a working relationship with the local funeral homes. Vase in particular is starting to ask me to help with services for families that do not have an active relationship with any of the local churches and the reason comes not just from my skill and sensitivity but because of my believe of what is and isn’t appropriate conduct at a memorial service; and this code of conduct comes from my theological understanding; or through my interpretation of what Jesus was teaching during his life.
The short version of my theology is that going to church does not speak to “Ones Salvation”. If you haven’t already figured it out from previous sermons, I do not believe that going to Worship services means you are or are not a religious person. I grew up hearing every Sunday morning, “Steven, just because you go to church doesn’t mean you have any more faith than the person who doesn’t go.” And that is so very, very true. Now I have very definite reason’s on why “we should come to Worship” on a regular basis, but it has nothing to do with whether I am a good person verses being a bad person, or whether my faith in God is stronger because I attend church over the person who doesn’t attend church. For far too many centuries the Christian community has been presenting the idea of “what salvation” is in nothing more than a “Fire Insurance Policy”.
One of Jesus’ starting assumptions, as I understand his teachings, is that every person is a spiritual being. As a spiritual being, we have a natural desire to connect with others on a spiritual level. So what does that mean? Well, that is where the issue of language and the short coming of language can come into play. For when we deal with language we tend to deal on the level of “intellectualism” and that isn’t where “Spirituality” lives. Spirituality lives in the home of “feelings”, or another way of saying it, spirituality lives in the heart. When we deal with our spiritual nature we do not want to use the “I think” type of language, but rather we would use “I feel” type of phrases as a way of expressing what we wish to convey. This in itself becomes very scary for those of us who do not like to dwell in the world of “feelings” as this opens us to being vulnerable, which for the most part we are taught from an early age, to be on guard so that we are not injured emotionally. Men more so than women have a more difficult time in expressing emotions; men are suppose to be the warriors, the protectors and so at an early age they are taught to put their “feelings” safely into a box somewhere deep within us as part of the process to being strong. Jesus would say “Hog wash” to this type of training of our young people! For it is in our heart that we find our “humanity”.
So, how do I then as a minister, approach a family who does not have religious ties, in their time of deep grief over the loss of their family member? How do I approach developing a service when the family tells me that the deceased was not a religious person and they too are not particularly interested in dealing with a “religiously” based service? For one of the purposes of a funeral is to provide comfort for the survivors in knowing that the person who has died, spirit, will live on in peace. One of the basic Christian premises is that of life after death, and that one’s spirit will either exist in peace, which we call Heaven or will not exist in peace but rather eternal torment, which we have labeled “hell.”
I suppose when we ask that question, what we are really asking is, “How as a religious leader, do you stay true to this premise?” As I mentioned earlier, it is based on how you understand the teachings of Jesus. If your understanding of “Salvation” is based on some grouping of words that basically boil down to something like this: “I believe in Jesus Christ as my personal savior and that he is the son of God and I believe that through his death and resurrection I will have life everlasting only if I believe in his saving grace.” Then as a minister, you might have a very difficult time in dealing with a funeral of a non-religious person.
Being a staunch believer in the teachings of Jesus, I find that I can approach these families with deep compassion and love because they are a part of the family of God. When I visit with a family in their time of grieving from the death of their beloved family member, I speak to them in terms of not a funeral or even a memorial service, but rather as a time where we will “celebrate” this loved ones life. The reason I call it a celebration is, because as children of God, we as “spiritual” beings, experience the love of God on a variety of levels. What I hear when I am told that someone isn’t a religious person doesn’t mean that they are not devoid of this spiritual relationship, nor doesn’t mean that that individual hasn’t developed a strong spiritual believe system. It doesn’t mean that the person how has died, hasn’t experienced “salvation.” What it is telling me is that they did not engage, at the level church goers would recognize, as having a practicing religious belief system.
When someone tells me that they are “spiritual” but not religious, what I am hearing is not something lacking in this persons spiritual development, but rather an indictment toward the church. It means that the church has failed to speak in a language of that individual; a language that would encourage that person to come and feel a part of a faith community. For those of us who were raised in the church, we understand the language, we love the hymns that we sing, the prayers that we pray; but for someone who has not grown up in the church or was raised in the church but left; our language is foreign to them, and our hymns make no emotional connections either rhythmically or with their words. In other words, the way in which we conduct a Worship Service generally doesn’t connect or engage people who have little to no church memory. It’s not that people do not turn away from the church, but rather, it is the church that is not reaching out to those not here and communicate in a way that they hear what we wish to share with them.
In today’s Gospel, we read where John is accusing those who were coming out to be baptized of being vipers! Eugene Peterson puts it this way, “You brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snake skins is going to deflect God’s judgment? It’s your life that must change, not your skin. And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as ‘father’. Being a child of Abraham is neither here nor there. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.”
The reader’s digest of what John is say is this. It’s not the words that we speak that is where our salvation comes from. We are not saved by calling ourselves Christian; we are not saved because we go to church; we are not saved because we have been baptized. John is telling us that we are saved because of what is in our heart! There we go again talking about that place where “feelings” live at! Our salvation doesn’t come from “religious” activities; it comes through “relationships”; relationship with God and relationship with others.
For those of us who only deal with life on the “intellectual” level, I am not sure if we will really understand the concept of “salvation”. The relationship with God is no different that our relationships with those that we love, be it our partner, our children, our friends. These relationships can only exist and deepen with ongoing contact. That is one of the reason’s I give for coming to church. It is in coming together that we build these relationships; it is by coming into community that we foster and deepen our “feelings”, of finding a sacred space where we can open our heart and become vulnerable so we can feel the Holy Spirit within us and among us.
To John, as with Jesus, salvation is experienced by what we do with our lives. It is found in how we enter act with others, not just our friends and families but with strangers. Do we give to those in need, not just in food or in money, but do we give of ourselves? The battle cry of “Social Justice” just isn’t in providing equality or giving voice to those who cannot speak for themselves. Social justice extends to how much of ourselves do we give to those in need. Martin Luther King had it so very right in his vision of equality. For it went far beyond equality of blacks being equal with whites, it is the vision that God has for his children; for we shall find our salvation when we all understand and live in true community, where there is no thought of do you “belong” because of your skin color, or because of your educational level, or because of your family connections, or of your religious beliefs; but because we all understand that every human being is one of God’s children, that we are all truly brothers and sisters and we are all equal in the love of God. This is the massage that Christ came to deliver to us; this is the message that Christ was killed for speaking. This is the message that I want us to hear as we prepare for Christmas: The message is that of Love, of community, of being open to growing into God’s understanding; that we all belong and all are welcomed. Or as this weeks fortune cookie said: Don’t judge a work of Art by it’s flaws!” Amen

2nd Sunday of Advent, First Cong. UCC, Rock Springs, WY

Responding to God’s Promise
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
2nd Sunday of Advent
Malachi 3:1-4; Luke 3:1-6; Philippians 1:3-11

Today is the Second Sunday of Advent; it is also the Sunday that we celebrate the Eucharist. Once a month we celebrate communion which is not only in remembering the work and sacrifice of the Christ Jesus but it is also a remembering that He will be coming again. It is very fitting that we celebrate communion on the 2nd Sunday of Advent, for it is the 2nd Sunday of Advent that we think in terms of “Preparing”. Advent in itself speaks to a time of preparation for the coming of the Messiah; the celebration of the Eucharist is also a time of preparing for the return of Christ. The celebration of communion makes no sense without this concept of Christ’s return and the season of Advent is lessened without the act of celebration of the Holy Sacrament of Communion.
“…the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, The voice of one crying out in the wilderness; ‘Prepare the way of the lord…’”
As we think about the idea of preparation, I have an idea that most of us think in terms of time lines, especially time lines that we ourselves will personally be able to complete. For example: when a person receives what we recognize as “a call into ministry” there again is a time of preparation before this person starts officially to fulfill the duties of a minister. Within the denomination of the United Church of Christ, one is required to attend and graduate from an accredited seminary; while in seminary, usually you are required to do an internship under the direction of an Ordained Minister; after graduation one has to then write and defend their Theological perspective, demonstrating that they have basic concepts of Christian Theology and that they have sufficiently thought through their own personal beliefs and can defend them; then once you receive a call to serve a congregation, you go through the actual Ordination in which your receive a blessing and official recognition of your call.
In Luke we read where John, who is the son of a priest, Zechariah, and cousin to Jesus, receives a call while he is out in the wilderness. Luke references this call back to Isaiah, which gives us a time frame to which God has been working on the birth of Jesus. From the point of Isaiah calling for Preparation of the coming Messiah to the point of John, there were many generations; it didn’t happen within one persons live time. Even John, wasn’t really sure that the certainty of the Messiah’s coming upon the scene was going to be happening within his life time, which can be witnessed when he while in prison, sent several of his disciples to go and ask Jesus if he was indeed the Messiah.
So, how is this scene that we are reading in Luke actually able to relate to our present day lives since we are reading it as history? Well, there is one idea that pop’s out to me that I think is very relevant to us in our modern times. This point comes in the phrase, “…in the wilderness.” In the book of Lamentations, we read: there is a time for everything under the sun: a time to live and a time to die, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for joy and a time for sorrow, a time to prosper and a time of famine; I think in each one of our lives, our Spiritual life goes through these same types of seasons.
Our Spirituality is just like a field, it begins with very fertile soil, full of all the nutrients that are needed to grow and sustain life. When this soil is cultivated, planted with seeds, watered and cared for, it will automatically produce an abundant harvest. During the growing cycle of this field, not only are there the seeds that we intentionally plant within this fertile soil, life has a way of planting unwanted seeds to grow as well. We call any unwanted seeds, weeds (which doesn’t necessarily make the seeds they come from good or bad, it just means they are unwanted in that place.)
There are times when our field goes through droughts, a period of time when we are missing elements that are needed for our fields to grow and produce the harvest that we are intending. This drought can be a lack of water, or a lack of nutrients. A field after producing its crop, needs to be amended, it needs to have the nutrients that it used for the previous crop replenished so that it has the energy to produce the next crop.
When I graduated from seminary my Spiritual life was like this field that was ready to produce bumper crops. Then through lives events, through my work in the church, through going through a divorce, of losing my family, of needing time to learn who I was as a single person, I found myself spiritually depleted. I needed time to rejuvenate, so I took a sabbatical from parish ministry. After about six years, I was ready to go back into ministry feeling that I was spiritually renewed. Yet, it wasn’t until I found myself back in the class room preparing for my entry into the United Church of Christ and volunteering in a church that loved and accepted me for who I was as a creation of God’s love, that I actually could feel my Spirit coming back to life. It was as if I were watching a dormant tree that had been denied life giving water for a long time, starting to sprout out new shoots. This is what I am speaking about with regard to our Spirituality as being like a field.
The Spirituality of a church is a reflection upon the spiritual health of its members. If the members of any church body are busy in feeding their spiritual lives, then the activities of the church reflect that energy and excitement that comes with an active spiritual life. There are basic nutrients that we need to keep our spirituality thriving. Note I say, thriving, for we will always have our spirituality, but just as a dormant field, we can become spiritually dormant. Studying God’s word is the most single important nutrient that our Spirit needs. Not just studying it in private, but in a group setting, to where you take the word of God and discuss it with others, listening to the understanding of others as they read and study God’s word. This is one of the opportunities that happen every Sunday evening, at 6:30 p.m. during Vespers, we hear the word and then we discuss what we have heard, of how it relates to what is going on in our daily life and giving support to one another. I would invite all of you to come and join in the enriching power that this study group provides and it is Lay lead. It is one of the ways that I am feed spiritually.
As we come to Christ’s table during this advent season, let us open our heart and prepare. As John was crying out in the wilderness, let us examine the wilderness within our heart that needs to prepare for the coming of the Messiah; the one who can truly reign within our hearts; the one who provides peace, justice and love for all of God’s creation, when we allow him to. For in our examination of our heart, we may find that we need to do some personal repenting and opening of our live to God’s call of accepting the forgiveness that is offered to us through Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross. Amen

1st Sunday of Advent, First Cong. UCC, Rock Springs, WY

Keep the Watch
By Rev Steven R. Mitchell
First Sunday of Advent
Jeremiah 33:14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.” What apocalyptic language to be given to us on this First Advent Sunday! This idea of apocalyptic discussion seems so different from what I grew up with in terms of what we are “suppose” to be thinking about during Advent.
Last year, I had the opportunity to preach the First Advent Lesson at my home church in Seattle and it was there that I realized, I must have been asleep in class on the day the professor at seminary talked about Advent! For it was during my studying last year’s lectionary readings that I discovered that Advent Lectionary readings were filled with apocalyptic language and imagery.
I had grown up thinking that Advent was solely looking toward the nativity scene, where we get that warm, cuddly feeling of being at the manger with Joseph, Mary and the new born baby Jesus; a scene that speaks of love and joy; of promise and peace. Advent is a season where we listen to Christmas songs (sometimes more than we wish) on the radio; it is a time where we go shopping, being serenaded by MusSac with songs like Frosty the Snowman and Santa Baby.
Advent is the season where we see the winter landscapes become lit up over night with bright colors and outdoor displays of sleighs and reindeer; of angels and Santa Clauses, again giving a sense of warmth and comfort and safety from the frigid temperatures of the winter night. It’s a time where we are to prepare for Christmas Day! Well, you get the picture.
Advent is a season of preparation, but not just of the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Advent becomes a time when we reflect on Jesus’ coming in its many dimensions: his historical coming in his birth, his eschatological coming at the end of time, his existential coming into our own present.(common lectionary yr C) In the Epistle of 1 Thessalonians, we are being exposed by the existential coming of God, where in the Gospel of Luke the language is much more apocalyptic in nature, speaking to the end of all things and the coming of the kingdom of God. Even in the Hebrew text of Jeremiah, we are exposed to the idea of God’s completion of unconditional promises of restoration!(common lectionary yr C)
I would like for us to look just a little more closely to what Paul has written to the Thessalonian church: “Now may our God…and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”
I would like to share an exegesis of this passage as presented in Preaching the New Common Lectionary yr C: “When Paul wrote these words, he had just a few months earlier established the Thessalonian church. As one reads this epistle, it becomes clear that this young, fledgling church still occupies Paul’s thoughts and prayers. He recalls the success of the gospel among them, speaking of them as his “glory and joy”. His anxiety is that of the minister who frets over new converts who have been left behind in a struggling mission church, knowing that their faith is fragile at best.
Here we are at the very center of the Lord’s coming as it is understood existentially: the minister praying for the members of the church – thankful, joyful, triumphant, yet anxious to see them, concerned about their welfare, eager to teach them more and supply what is lacking, hoping that their love for one another will hold them together and that they will be presentable on the Day of the Lord. In another sense as well, this passage illustrates the existential dimension of the Lord’s coming. Here we see faith taking root – and taking shape. The Thessalonians have received the word of God not as a preacher’s oral report, but that which is at work within them as believers.
Paul’s hope is that their love for one another will increase even as his does for them, but their form of community is not to be narcissistic, turning in on itself and its own needs exclusively. Their love is to abound to “the whole human race”. The church that genuinely experiences the coming of Christ into its own midst most fully embodies this presence when it extends its love beyond itself and lives for others. The church thus becomes a reenactment of the Christ story – love for others.”
Today’s Epistle is very near to my heart as it seems to resonate the relationship that we here at First Congregational have with each other. “May our God and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you” This was a pray that I had been praying since October of 2003 after I had completed my Privilege of Call with the United Church of Christ and started to actively look for a congregation in which I could serve. With the receipt of each church profile that was searching for their next settled pastor I would pray that God would direct me to a faith community that He had in mind for me. Over the next four years I was the focus of four very differing search committees, always as one of the finalists being considered. Four times I was looked over as the other finalist was chosen.
My mother has extraordinary faith. She has a very simple believe that God provides and it will be in God’s on time. When I would discuss with her each of the four differing possibilities to serve and then the disappointment that I would be dealing with when I wasn’t called, she would just remind me that it is God’s timing and to trust in that. You would think that as a minister I would understand and resign myself to this truth, yet having a highly developed competitive nature, to which Sharon Pribly can attest, and having a slight tendency to want to be in control of my environment it is very difficult for me to accept God’s timing when it doesn’t coincide with my own.
Then while on vacation this summer, bing, bang, boom, First Congregational of Rock Springs comes onto the radar as an opportunity for me to serve as your Transitional Minister. At the same time I was working on setting a date with a search committee in Connecticut for a time and place for a neutral pulpit, which means that we were coming to a final stage of interviewing for a “settled” pastorate position. I was feeling pretty convinced that Connecticut was going to be my new home. Then within a week’s time of learning about Rock Springs, I was given the opportunity to become your Transitional Minister. I could hear my mother’s voice saying, “you see, what did I tell you Steven, in God’s timing.” I could hear my mother’s voice because I was at my mother’s house when I said, “yes” to your offering.
If you look at the time line of my beginning my search through the UCC it seems to corresponds with the time when you were last looking for a settled pastor. One of several discussions I had as I was preparing to move to Rock Springs from some members dealt with the feeling that they thought, “it was the right calling to have Harvey Joyner” come as your pastor and the confusion of the stress that seemed to accompany his time with you. The confusion coming from, “if Harvey was the right person, when why would there have been so much stress?”. One could argue: “ why didn’t we see Steven’s name as one of the potential candidates when we were looking at Harvey?” After all you had called Harvey and now you have called me. My mother would counseled you, “God provides and in His timing.”
It is my belief that “God” was providing you the right person when you hired Rev Joyner. Only time will tell what God was providing for you, as well, as wanting to teach you as a congregation when he sent you Harvey. If you look to the apocalyptic writing in Luke, you will see that even as believers, we will not be spared the trials and tribulations that come in life, but as believers, we will know the comfort that God’s will is being worked out. So, just because there was strife and turmoil over the last few years, it doesn’t negate the fact that Rev Joyner’s calling wasn’t what God wanted for this church at that time.
I believe that there is great correlation with the annual season of Advent and where we are at here within this faith community at this season of Advent. We as a church are in an advent season within the life of this congregation. With this “interim” time that I am with you, we are in a time of the churches life of anticipation for the unconditional promise of God’s restoration! What is that restoration? Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all…And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God….”
As we begin this season of Advent, we are in anticipation to what the next chapter of ministry will look like. Let us look into our hearts and continually pray to God that our love will increase and our relationship, that personal experience with God will grow, so that when we come on December 25th to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we will be counted among those who help bring justice and mercy to a world that forgets to do so. For as Jeremiah wrote:”The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” Let us be expectant of that day to come and let us be a part of that branch that springs up for David. Let our hearts continue this season to deepen in love for another and of all peoples.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Eve Ecumenical Service, Rock Springs, WY

This was a great service with people representing the Ba Hai' faith, the Jewish faith, and mainline Christian churches of ELCA Lutheran, United Methodist, Episcopal and United Church of Christ.

Thanksgiving Eve Service
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Presented at Mt of Olive Lutheran, Rock Springs, WY 11/25/2009

What a marvelous thing it is when so many of us from varying faiths and denominations are able to come together and spend time in celebrating the Love of God and to give Thanks for this love!
Because we are a collection of varying faith traditions, I feel very inadequate to be addressing all of you. Inadequate as I have to admit that I do not have the knowledge that I feel I need of each of the faiths represented here this evening as not to say something that would unknowingly be offensive to you. So let me apologize upfront for not being able to speak in a language that would be universal enough to bring a non-offensive message to you. But if the truth be known, I probably am guilty of offending someone within my own faith community with things that I say on a weekly basis. To this end I am going to have to speak from my faith tradition, which is Christianity, and hope that the universal idea of Love comes through my thoughts so that every person here this evening will feel represented.
When I was talking to pastor Martha about what she was hoping for, from me, I heard her tell me that it would be nice to hear about “ways of thanks giving” that have come down to those of us who identify with the Hebrew and Christian texts. So in thinking through the idea of “how has Thanksgiving” come through these books, I started to come up with general idea’s that a few stories have to give us.
The first idea that comes to my mind is that of “Faith, Promise and Direction”. As a people of God we often ask for help in decision making and asking to be directed down the best path especially when we come to a “Y” in the road and don’t know which way we should go. The stories that come by way of a man and his wife, Abram and Sarai who later change their names to Abraham and Sarah are perfect examples of Faith, Promise and Direction. We really don’t know much about the early years of Abram and his family other than at some point in Abram’s life, God spoke to him and said, “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you….and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” When I read the stories about Abraham and Sarah, what I most get out of them is the understanding that Abraham was a man of great faith and did not accept blindly the traditional idea’s that he had been raised to believe in, but rather struggled with each new experience in life, examining his faith structure and seeking direction from the one who had giving him great promise if he only would follow the leading of God. It is in the following of God’s direction that not only was Abraham blessed, but all of us have been blessed. Thank God that there are people in this world who like Abraham, stop and listen and in listening, discern and in their discernment help promote the love that God promises.
Another story that came to me in the idea of “Blessings” is the story of a man who tried to run away from God and of God’s request to speak to a people that were called “gentiles”. Even though Jonah is most remembered as the man who ran away from God and ended up for 3 days in the belly of a large fish, the real focus of this text speaks with great power of the affirmation of God’s love and forgiveness for all peoples.
For those who need refreshing about the story, it goes something like this: Jonah, a Jew was asked by God to go to the Gentile city of Nineveh and tell them that if they do not change their ways, their city would be destroyed. Jonah being the thoughtful and diplomatic man that he was, ran in the other direction, thinking that he could just disappear from God’s sight and not have to deal with this potentially dangerous assignment. And disappear he did, as lunch for a rather large fish; a fish that God had directed to swallow Jonah and transport him to the outskirts of Nineveh. With little choice, Jonah did speak to those in the city about the upcoming destruction that they would receive if they chose not to repent and turn to the ways of God. As it so happens the city did repent from their way of life and did turn to God and was spared. We can celebrate in “thanksgiving” that God is truly a God of everyone, not just a select group.
I do find it interesting that when God did not destroy the city of Nineveh, because of the words that Jonah had delivered to them, that he became angry with God for not destroying the city, even once it’s citizens had turned to God. How often do we feel that we are the only ones who are to be blessed by God and become angry when we see others who do not appear to have a relationship with God are being blessed. Let me I restate this: how often do we become angry when people do not live up to our own personal expectations??
One of the most beautiful stories within the Hebrew bible is the story of steadfast love as portrayed between two women, that of Naomi and Ruth. In this story where these women find themselves destitute through the death’s of their husbands, decide to stick together where the younger, Ruth, declares her loyalty to her mother-in-law Naomi. As the story unfolds, Ruth finds favor of a certain wealthy man and not just because of her beauty, but because of her devotion to Naomi and of the integrity of her own life. Boaz who is the wealthy man eventually marries Ruth and it is through their son Obed that the line of King David is established and eventually produces the person known as Jesus of Nazareth, who we as Christians look to as the final sacrifice for the sins of humanity.
Martha, told me that she was going to unplug the microphone if I spoke past 10 minutes, so I want to wrap my thoughts up. In 1 Corinthians chapter 13, the Apostle Paul spoke about Spiritual gifts. After speaking at length about what “love” was and was not, he concluded by saying: And now these three remain, faith, hope, love; but the greatest of these is love. There are many things within our daily life’s that we can point to and give thanks for, but I hope by sharing the three stories on Abraham and Sarah, of Jonah and of Naomi and Ruth that you will see where true “Thanksgiving” comes by way of our faith and of the hope we bring each day of our lives and most of all, through the love that we can give not only to those we call friends and family, but also to those who are strangers; for if we share out love to the stranger, then they no longer are a stranger but a part of us. Let your Thanksgiving be that of faith, hope and love, and out of these three, let Love triumph! Amen

Monday, November 23, 2009

Christ the King Sunday, 1st Congregational UCC, Rock Springs,WY

Illusion of Power
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
2 Samuel 23:1-7; Rev 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37
Nov 22, 2009

“Are you the King of the Jews?”; “Are you the King of the Jews?”; “Are You the King of the Jews?”; then, “Are you a King?”; this is the question being asked of Jesus, by Pilot, as He was standing before the highest court in the country to determine whether or not he was, as accused by the Religious Leaders, a man who was a criminal against the people or was he a man who’s only crime was challenging the inward focus of “self greed” that had developed within the religious organizations of his day? The judge was Pilate, the man with the final word on the subject; or was he?
Quoting from material on the UCC study site: “Fear and belonging: these two words seem to run underneath all the talk of kingdoms and trials, glory and power, in the readings for this Christ the King Sunday. Words like king, kingdom, and kingship may sound far away in both time and place from the democratic societies in which we live today. Perhaps they sound patriarchal, and classist, and uncomfortably reminiscent of a time when the church was closely allied to the secular powers of the world, entwined with systems that produced horrors like slavery, or violence fueled by anti-Semitism, or the execution of heretics and of women who were perceived to be “witches.”
“But first we have to deal with the fear, and with fear-less-ness as well. It seems that Jesus would have more reason to be fearful than Pilate, who appears to be in ultimate control, backed as he is by the mighty empire of Rome. However, if we read the longer narrative of Jesus’ trial before Pilate, we get a sense of the governor’s nervousness, as he agitatedly goes back and forth, in and out of his headquarters, summoning Jesus to be brought in for one more try at an interrogation that also goes back and forth. Isn’t the trial itself grounded in fear?”
Fear by the Religious Leaders of losing control of their power over the people; fear that if Jesus’ revolution takes hold, that Rome might very well come in and take away what power they do have? Fear by Pilate who has his own insecurities; does he really have power over the people that he is place in charge of or is the real power held by the Religious Leaders? “Pilate seems worried about what to do with Jesus.”
Quoting from Dr. Roger Fredrickson, a former mentor of mine, from his work in The Bible Commentary, The Gospel of John, he writes: “In spite of his authority, Pilate seemed to be a troubled man, trying to make the best of a difficult and very insecure position. Over the years his status had been undermined by these stubborn Jews in a number of incidents. And he had to contend with the wealth and power in the house of Annas and deal with the Sanhedrin which was a well-organized, exclusive group. For a number of his decisions had been reversed by Caesar through the influence of the Annas family. There was also the constant challenge of radical groups, particularly the Zealots and the Essenes.
So when this strange man Jesus is brought to his quarters in the wee hours of the morning by these Jews, he must have been suspicious. As the lowly Galilean and the Powerful and proud Roman face each other, we have one of the most intense and provocative encounters in all Scripture. As the certainty of Jesus’ innocence becomes increasingly clear to Pilate, the struggle in his own soul intensifies. One can feel the vacillation and uncertainty in Pilate as he moves back and forth, in and out, from the quiet, probing conversation with Jesus in the Praetorium to the angry political pressure of the Jews outside who were demanding the death of Jesus.” How many parties in this scene are operating with the “Illusion of Power?”
What is the definition of Power? Mr. Webster defines Power in this way: ability to do; capacity to act; Great ability to do or force; the ability to control others through authority or influence; a person or thing having great influence, force or authority.
Let me share some quotes of people and their idea’s of “Power”: Of the gods we believe, and of men we know, that by a necessary law of their nature they rule wherever they can. And it is not as if we were the first to make this law, or to act upon it; we found it existing before, and shall leave it to exist forever after us; all we do is to make use of it, knowing that you and everybody else, having the same power as we have, would do the same as we do. (Athenian envoys, upon the destruction of Melos); There are never wanting some persons of violent and undertaking natures, who so they may have power and business, will take it at any cost.(Sir Francis Bacon); Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad. (Mandell Crighton); I believe that…if a people wish to live they should develop a will to power, otherwise they vegetate, live miserably and become prey to a stronger people, in whom this will to power is developed to a higher degree.(Mussolini) and lastly, What do I care about the law: Haven’t I got the power?(Cornelius Vanderbilt)
The Illusion of Power, is it something that we in the church still deal with today? As we come as families this week to a table that we call “Thanksgiving” which originally started with the pilgrims being rescued by the indigenous peoples of this continent, we need to think about not just being thankful for what we have received but call into question, “how have we received it?”
How did we as people who call themselves “Followers of Christ”, repay the original Americans of their kindness toward us, as we moved westward and settled it? I fear that as Christians we acted in the philosophy spoken by Mussolini, “by being stronger we can take from the weaker.” In the world of Corporations do we still not hear the battle cry of Cornelius Vanderbilt, “What do I care about the law; haven’t I got the power?” Again, with the Bible as our standard, was not this country built on the backs of imported slaves nothing less than the accusation of Sir Francis Bacon’s, ”so they who will have power and business, will take it at any cost?” Do we not have an ongoing struggle within our political system with Mandell Crightons observation that, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely?”
And yet the church has had some shining moments within the history of this country with examples of a Congregational group coming to the rescue of a slave ship that was known as the Amistad, in defending their rights to be “free men” and not slaves. There were multiple Christian groups who helped with the African American Underground, helping slaves in the South escape to the North. And more recently in the 1980’s with the Sanctuary movement, where churches in this country defied the U.S. Government in their work of helping South American Refugees escape the plight of tyranny of a government that our President at the time supported.
The readings today as we end this Liturgical year speaks to Power and who has the Power and how is that power used? Did Pilate have “the power” or was it only an illusion of power? Did the Religious leaders have “the power” or was it only an illusion of power? Do any of us have “the power” or is it only an illusion? Does Jesus have “the power” within our faith community, or are we only deluding ourselves?
Albert Nolan, a Dominican priest from South Africa who played a significant role in the church struggle against apartheid has some interesting observations of Jesus, in his current book, “Jesus Today, A spirituality of Radical Freedom”. He writes: Jesus lived at a time when the Jewish people were on “high alert” awaiting the imminent arrival of a Messiah who would restore the long-awaited kingdom or reign of God. Would there be some miraculous divine intervention? Would the Romans be defeated? Would the Messiah-king march triumphantly into Jerusalem with an army? John the Baptist was expecting God’s judgment to descend upon Israel itself. Ordinary, simple people were waiting and praying for the liberation of Jerusalem from the Romans.
Jesus turned these expectations upside down. He had a quite different idea of what the reign of God on earth might mean, and the fundamental reason for this was that he saw God differently. God was not like some great emperor, or even like some benevolent dictator. Jesus had come to experience God as a loving Father, his Abba. Consequently, Jesus saw God’s reign as more like the “reign” of the loving parent.
The community or society Jesus hoped for was more like a family of brothers and sisters with God as their loving parent. His image of God’s kingdom or domain was of a happy, loving household rather than a conquering, oppressive empire. The reign of God would thus not come down from above; it would rise up from below, from the poor, the little ones, the sinners, the outcasts, the lost.
He discouraged his disciples from saying, Jesus is Messiah to people, because he was not a Messiah in the sense in which most of them understood that word. He had no intention of being served by the people, nor did he want his disciples to be like rulers who are served by others. He wanted to be the servant.
Jesus was not going to be the triumphant conquering Messiah who would crush and kill Israel’s oppressors, humiliating them and making them into victims in order to liberate his people. He would triumph by being conquered, by being arrested, beaten, humiliated, and nailed to a cross like a rebellious slave or common criminal. He was not the victor; he was the victim. And, paradoxically, this would turn out to be his greatest achievement. Truth and justice were on the side of the victim. In fact, that is where God is to be found – on the side of the world’s victims. This is what Jesus had been saying all along. Jesus’ willingness to die for others meant that he was alive and his executioners were dead. Nothing contradicts the conventional attitude with regard to ego more thoroughly than this. When we are unwilling to give up our lives for others, we are already dead. When we are willing to die for others, we are truly alive. Or, when we are unwilling to let go of our egos, we are dead. When we are willing to let go, we begin to live with an abundance of life.”
The illusion of power is based in our ego. I ask this question this morning, “where are you in your walk with Christ? Have you let go of your ego’s enough to let Jesus’ teachings, his love, his saving grace enter into your heart; or are you still under the illusion that you are in power of your own life? Ultimately we will either hang onto our ego and die, or we will work on dying to our ego and live life more abundantly. Today is Christ the King Sunday. Where is Christ’s kingdom in your life? Amen

Sunday, November 15, 2009

9th Sunday at Rock Springs, WY First Congregatioal UCC

For the Love of Christ!
By Rev Steven R. Mitchell
First Congregational UCC, Rock Springs, WY
Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25; Mark 13:1-8
Based on UCC Litany, “The New and Living Way of Christ” confessional Litany 11/15/2009

I wish I had some humorous antidote to start this morning’s thoughts off, but I don’t. I’m not even sure where I want to start in the things that I wish to share with you this morning. Usually when this happens, I can start off by quoting some piece of the mornings Gospel reading, but the lectionary selection of Mark ends in such a downer that it only seems to feed into the very emotional week that I have just finished dealing with. To be honest with you all, this is the first week of my being in Rock Springs that has been extremely emotionally draining on me and today’s Gospel reading just doesn’t really cheer me up.
Today is the day that we finish with the annual Stewardship drive by bringing up to the altar a piece of paper that states what each of us is willing to commit in financial support for the next year for the ministry that will take place here at First Congregational. I often wonder what motivates us when we sit down at the kitchen table and think about that magic figure that we put down on our pledge cards (this is assuming that we give much thought to this process.) Do we sit with our spouse or partner and discuss with one another what we are willing to give based on what our household budget is; or do we sit with each other and direct our discussions through our heart and ask questions like: How has God blessed us in the past? How much have we been blessed by attending this church? Or, if I give this much money to the church, what can I expect in return or more subtly, what will the return on my investment in this ministry be?
If you have been listening, the way that I have directed the questions you will note they all stem toward, “self” or “what’s in it for me”. I don’t think we intentionally think this way, but it is a result of living in a consumer based society. Just think of yesterday’s bazaar; I walked out of this building with 3 sacks of “stuff”. Yes, most of what I purchased are gifts that will be going to people that are very dear and near to me, like my grandchildren, but still it speaks to our culture of consumerism. If the purpose of the bazaar is to bring in money to help finance this churches ministry, then why wouldn’t we just write a check and give directly to the church and not fund the ministry by purchasing “product”? Because we are a product of our culture that states over and over, we need to receive something for what we give, even when we are giving to charity. I’m not sure that Christ would really sanction this type of rationalization.
And yet there are benefits of the Bazaar that goes beyond finances. There is the building of community; community among the ladies who work putting together and operating the Bazaar; there is community building with those who attend the Bazaar. Is this then one form of ministry that occurs here at First Congregational? Yes I believe it is.
As I grew up in the American Baptist denomination, there was a large emphasis on tithing to the church. It was just “give what you feel you can give” type of teaching, but a strict 10% of your income needs to go first to God and then you live off the other 90%, where you pay for your housing, food, clothing, entertainment and savings and investments; and you are suppose to give joyfully! So you would think that as a man of God, as a minister no less, I have always giving my tithe not only at the 10% mark but was happy to just hand over my money to the church treasurer. WRONG! ! !
Let me share a confession with all of you. For years when I would write out my check to the church, I did it not as a “happy camper”! In fact, I believe the word “begrudgingly” would actually be a more accurate description of my mental state when I would either fill out my pledge card or my check. In the early years of my marriage, on top of all the financial obligations that I had with a young family, I was also focused on building my own financial empire. When I was writing out those checks I only saw potential investment funds going out the window. Then to top it off, my wife would tell me that God would not bless us unless we gave 10% to the church. Again this particular concept of “Tithing” or “giving” is based on “what will I receive back from giving”, I will receive “blessings” from God.
It wasn’t until just about seven years ago that my attitude changed in my contributions to the church. It wasn’t until I started going to St Paul’s UCC in Seattle, that I really felt good about writing out my check to support the ministry of that church. One day I realized that not only was I happy when I was writing out my check to St. Paul’s, but I looked forward to the opportunity to give my monies, even when I had lost my job and was only living on 1/3rd of the income I had been use to making. What changed in me? What had changed was my heart. For the first time, I began to understand and view the impact that a local church could have within a community. I had finally realized that, this money wasn’t mine, really, but more importantly, I was no longer looking at “what can I get out of my giving or how much will come back to me?” I was finally able to look beyond physical pay offs for me and started to invest (if you will) into the non-tangible aspects that ministry can offer and not caring if I personally receive any benefit through the use of my money. See the change here. No longer was I looking at the benefits that “I” can receive but rather how can others benefit through my gift?
This past Thursday we had a Celebration of Life for Becky Moeller at this church and I was once again reminded about the outreach that any church can have throughout the larger community. I started thinking about the ministry that this church provided to the Moeller family and all of Becky’s friends and what has been the impact in their lives because of First Congregational being open to them?
Through the monies that are given to First Congregational, you hire a minister to hold Sunday morning Worship, to help oversee various operations of the building, to go on hospital and in home visitation, as well as officiating at weddings and funerals, mostly of the membership of this church and on occasion to some who are not members. I happened to officiate at Becky’s memorial and do what we would call ministry to those involved with the Moeller family, but you know what, I wasn’t the only one involved in the interaction this week. Every person who contributes to the life and activity of this church was involved in ministering to this family as well to the 300 or more friends and family members who attended her memorial service. This is the type of non-tangibles’ I am speaking about. The ministry that happened this week to a family that has been devastated by a tragedy can never be measure and it is the type of ministry that happens not with the idea of “what can we receive back” but a ministry that is given solely for the benefit and comfort of people who are experience great loss.
I started thinking about the ministry that we have here at First Congregational and what does that ministry look like; how do we want our ministry to be; do we try to measure our impact in the community of Rock Springs by the number of people who attend worship or that we count as members? What type of vision do we have for ourselves as a faith community? Are we here just to serve ourselves or is there some greater good that we expect out of ourselves through this church?
We read a rather long confessional this morning and I believe there are a number of questions that we ought to be asking ourselves. We confessed: “While we have not willfully disobeyed your commandments, our own short-sightedness and impatience have led us to make choices based upon our immediate needs over your desires.” Questions that come to my mind with this statement are: What are our long term goals? What is our church to Rock Springs? Why do people come to First Congregational? Why would they come? What do we offer them? What can we offer them?
Another piece of today’s confession is:”Many of the challenges we have faced have evoked fear in us. We have let these fears at times overwhelm our faith and trust in you.” Some more questions that come to my mind are: How has the ministry changed at First Congregational with a shrinking budget? What are the reasons for a shrinking budget? Is it a result of “fear”? Fear of what? Fear of change; fear of losing leadership position within the organization; fear of letting go of the past glories of the ministry? Fear of current financial uncertainty? President Franklyn D. Roosevelt in his first Inaugural Address stated: We have nothing to fear but fear itself! The Apostle Paul wrote, “In Christ, we are no longer slaves to fear.”
Another part of our confession is: “We don’t always recognize or acknowledge that our reticence to embrace the stranger comes from our own biases.” What biases do we have that keeps potential visitors from coming to our church? And the last part of our confession was: “We know you created this world with enough for everyone. Yet, in this land of plenty people know deprivation.” How do we use our money, not the money that we give to the church, but that portion that we don’t give to the church, how do we use it?
Ministry is what we call the thing that we do here at First Congregational. My challenge to you this morning, after we give our pledge cards, is to take home this order of worship and deeply examine each piece of the confession that we read today and honestly examine your heart and see how this affects how you envision the minister of this church, and to what extent you are willing to support that vision, and I don’t mean financially. Ultimately – I hope the answers that you start to come up with will be based through your relationship with Christ. For no ministry truly exists without the Love of Christ at its heart. Amen

Sunday, November 1, 2009

8th Sunday at First Congregational UCC in Rock Springs, WY

If you note there is no 7th week sermon. This is because Paul and I went to a retreat last week dealing with GLBT issues in Salt Lake City. So here is this weeks sermon as it deals with All Saint's Day!
We had the first All Hallows Party last evening at the church designed to take place for children after they were done Trick or Treating. We had 11 adults working the party and 20 children aranging from 1yr old thru Juniors in High School! It was fun.
One of the aspects for today's service was having people bring a photo of someone that has passed away and who they wanted to specifically remember during todays service. It was a very meaningful service for those who attended.

Connections Between One Another
By Rev. Steven R Mitchell
Ruth 1:1-18; Hebrews 9:11-14; Mark 12:28-34
All Saints Day Homily

This past week, my mind has been focused on the joys and pains that come from one’s family. Most of you have heard the news that I am once again blessed with the addition to my family with the births of my latest grandson’s, Boaz and Mamush. Boaz was born to my son and daughter-in-law, and Mamush has come to my youngest daughter and son-in-law by way of adoption. For those grandparents who like to keep up with the Jones, most of you are going to be challenged as this now makes 13 grandchildren for me. It’s kind of fun you know, I get all the congratulations while the new parents get all the hard work and expense of raising their families.
Now the 13 count only applies to just my three children. Once you add in the 7 grandchildren that Paul has through his 3 children, which makes 20 grandchildren that I have the joy of watching grow up coming from a total of 6 children. But wait there’s more! What if you count the children that are apart of my family of choice? There are 4 more children with this honor, and they bring into the mix an additional 5 grandchildren. So this puts me up to a total of 11 children and 25 grandchildren. You know, I don’t look too bad for having such a large family, do I!
Since the election of Ronald Regan to the office of President, in each election campaign, the Republican Party has voiced a battle cry of “Family Values” as a way of presenting an image of what the American Family is suppose to look like along with a narrowly defined value system. I don’t know what brings to mind for most of you when I use the term “Family Values”, but the first reaction that I have when I hear that term is a chill that runs up the back of my spine. I have a knee jerk reaction that makes me want to run away from whoever is making that statement.
Now why would I have such a violently negative reaction to the concept of “Family Values” after all, I believe in “family values”; I believe in the sanctity of the family; I believe in such values as: love, honor, respect, forgiveness, honesty and integrity that are develop through family and how those values can strengthen our value structure as a nation. One of my favorite movies is titled, The Addam’s Family, Family Values. This movie presents a family that is extremely off beat and about as far from “family values” as one can get, at least in the definition of what the GOP would like you to believe are “true values”. The reason why I have such a negative reaction when I hear that phrase, is because of the narrow definition that the conservative Christian political movement has given to what should be a beautiful rallying point for families.
My understanding of the definition of “Family Values” as presented by our fundelmentalist bretheran is what T.V. portrayed as the “prefect” American family in the 1950 sitcoms. The model families of that era were Ozzie and Harriet Nelson with sons Ricky and David; Father Knows Best and let’s not forget Leave it to Beaver. All these shows portray the father as white collar professionals; the wife’s staying at home and the children although a bit mischievous always learned a valuable moral and always ended up doing the correct thing.
Waving the American flag, mom’s home baked apple pie and going to church on Sunday’s is also a corner stone of “family values”, at least this is the image that politicians would have us want to believe. If you listen to Christian radio programs, you will hear groups like ‘Focus In the Family” that would have you believe that we only need to go back to the way of life that was portrayed in those 1950 programs and all of America’s ills would disappear and harmony within our society would once again be restored. There is a cry to go back and embrace the True Jesus of the Bible, which if you listen to most of those radio evangelists, Jesus spoke King James English with a Southern Drawl. But would Jesus really be accepted by these evangelists if they held Him to their definition and standards of “Family Values”?
Jesus was born to an unmarried woman; when you examine his ancestry, he was related to a woman who seduces a wealthy relative as a way to secure her and her mother-in-law a life beyond poverty. Not only was this woman having sex outside of marriage, she was also a Moabite, which was about as low on the social chain as you can get; a tribe that was forsaken by the average Hebrew because the Moabites were created by incestuous relationships of a father named Lot and his two daughters after they had escaped from Sodom. Then another female relative was not only a prostitute but also gave protection to some invaders and basically sold out her ancestrial city we know as Jericho. Then of course there is David King of the Jews, who while married to King Sauls daughter was having an affair with Sauls son Jonathan; then later as king had an affair with a married woman and even had her husband killed. These are some of Jesus’ relatives. Would He really be accepted by someone who proclaims “Family Values”?
Yet there are very few stories that hold such beauty and power than what we read in the book of Ruth. Here is a young woman who out of love chooses to leave her biological family and follow her mother-in-law into a land that is foreign to her and with little promise of being able to make a living. Ruth declares her family of choice when she say to Naomie, “where you go, I go; and where you live, I’ll live; Your people are my people, your God is my god.”
Today is All Saint’s Day. Today we have placed pictures and names of those we love on the boards. In just a few minutes we will be partaking in the Lord’s Supper, which is sometimes referred to as communion among the saints. We are taking time to remember and to reflect about our relationships, not just of those who we have loved and who have passed on ahead of us but also of our connections between one another.
Last night we had an All Hallows Party, where 20 youth ranging from 1yr through high school and 12 adults participated in games, art work, refreshments and conversation! Some of those attending were members, others were visitors, some who just dropped in because they saw the lights on at the church while they were out trick or treating. We were connection with one another. In a society that so encourages isolation, the church is on beacon of light that still says, “In the love of Christ, you are welcome” “In the love of Christ, no matter who you are, or where you are at in life’s journey, you are welcome!” “Here at Christ’s table, you are welcome.” On this All Saints Day, let us search our heart and look deep inside and find the strength that it takes to be able to “Connect with one another” and live out the Family Values that Jesus desires his church to express to all of God’s creation. Amen

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

6th Sunday at First Congregational, Rock Springs, WY

Commitment to Justice
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Amos 5:6-7, 10-15; Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31
October 11, 2009

In many ways I am a product of my generation. We have come to be known as the Baby Boomers, yet I recall another name that we carried for many years, “The Silver Spooned” generation. And it was descriptive of those between 1946 and 1964 in general; especially when compared to the economic climate that our parents had come through.
My parents generation is referred to by sociologists as “Depression Babies”; meaning that they were born during the time of this nation’s Great Depression. They grew up in a time when a new pair of shoes from the store, often hinged on the sale of a farm animal at the beginning of the school year and those shoes were to last you a whole year! It was a time when you rarely had “ready to wear” cloths, but rather hand sown at home. There was no such thing as eating out at the restaurant two or three times a week, just because you didn’t feel like cooking.
My parent’s generation also grew up during the Second World War and experienced daily life with ration booklets. There was no longer the lack of money to buy things that you needed, let alone wanted, rather there was nothing available to purchase, because all the natural resources were going toward the war effort, leaving only limited items that were necessary to survive on.
With the close of the war, America emerged a world power. With the dawn of the 1950”, America was entering into her zenith. A nation who had lived for several decades with very little was now poised to give its children all the things that they were denied. Unprecedented housing development erupted with the return of our young men and women from the war; freeways were built to expedite commerce and travel; the government worked at providing electricity to rural areas, where once chargers were hooked to windmills providing power so families could listen to their favorite radio programs by lantern; With plenty of electricity to every home, two or more T.V. replaced the single radio; families grew into a two car household; Children were told to chose the job that made them happy, instead of having to work at one that paid the bills but didn’t provide self-gratification. Consumerism became the new religion and the phrase “conspicuous consumption” was coined to describe the mindset and lifestyle of where we, as a society have arrived.
The story of the Rich Young Ruler is often associated with Stewardship drives. We generally think about stewardship in terms of Dollars and cents, but stewardship is so much broader than just the “church budget”. There are areas that we all need to be looking at, such as our talents and gifts that can be utilized not just here at church but in our community; there is stewardship of our natural resources, not just here in the United States, but world wild; There is stewardship of our environment; There is stewardship of human rights and dignity which we call Social Justice.
You are probably thinking right now, that this is the first sermon of many to come on stewardship, and just how much money does the church want from me this year, but you would be wrong, at least from the perspective of money and the church. The story we read about where the young man comes to Jesus and is asking what more must he do to be insured “eternal life” is about stewardship, but not about the “externals” but rather about the “internal” wealth of this person.
From time to time, I get asked the question of, “How did I receive my call to ministry?” It’s an honest question and usually asked by search committee’s. My story goes something like this: “Even though I grew up as apart of the ‘Silver Spooned’ generation, my family was pretty poor. However, because of the general affluence within our society, I was able to utilize many of the advantages that were available with respect to educational opportunities. I had vowed to work hard and accumulate the wealth that I didn’t get to experience as a child. It just so happened that I married into a family that was very secure financially and not wanting to be referred to by my peers as a person who received his wealth the “old fashioned way” meaning I inherited it, I worked hard at creating my own financial security.
While in my twenties, I worked hard, went to college, saved, invested in real estate successfully, and by age 27 had accumulated a very handsome looking portfolio. I was well on my way in achieving my goal of financial independence. Yet, I found myself suffering from insomnia. I had been pledge by this condition from the start of college. I assumed this was a condition that comes with being a student, but after graduation with my accounting degree, it seemed to worsen. Being the “goal” oriented individual that I am, I had realized that I had accomplished my entire short, medium and long-term goals by age 27 and for the next three years floundered in trying to gain some new meaningful goals.
By this time, I had discovered that I really didn’t like working in the accounting field and found my way into management with a convenience store chain. I also had become the chairperson of “the No-longer Strangers Task Force” at church. This task force was responsible in working with World Church Services and helping resettle Southeast Asians who were trying to immigrate into the United States. I was finding satisfaction in helping these people resettle in this country.
At the same time, I became aware that many of my customers through the convenience store seemed to be discussing unidentified yearnings for something greater in their lives; something that would give them a deeper satisfaction and a sense of greater self-worth. Over time I grew to understand these to be “Spiritual” issues and I recognized that my own lack of goal setting came from “Spiritual” longings that were inconsistent with my previous mindset of finding “wholeness and security” through the amassing of wealth. Once I connected all the dots and realized that going into parish ministry was where I needed to go, my insomnia stopped immediately. Then came the wrestling over personal wealth and the desire to accumulate more, because we all know that being a minister is not the road one takes to get on the list of the Fortune 500.”
Today’s questioning by the rich young man is really very similar to many of us. Here is a man who has it all. He was secure financially and was by all rights a very moral man; he followed and never strayed from the commandments – he hadn’t committed murder, he hadn’t committed adultery, nor did he steal, lie or cheat and he honored his father and mother; yet there was something missing in his life. If he had been satisfied, he would have never been asking Jesus the question, “what must I do to get eternal life?”
The answer of: sell everything and give it to the poor, was not just devastating to the young man, but also to the disciples of Jesus. “What do you mean give up your wealth and that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into the kingdom of God? What type of nonsense is that Jesus?” “After all Jesus, we all know that it is those with the most wealth that are most blessed by God; for our riches come from God through right living. So if this man who has held up all the laws and is obviously greatly blessed, if he can’t get into heaven then what hope is there for the rest of us?”
One of my favorite authors from the 80’s and 90’s is Tony Campolo, who was a Baptist preacher and professor of social sciences at Eastern University as well as an adjunct professor at Eastern Baptist Seminary. In his book, “Seven Deadly Sins”, Dr Campolo addresses the chapter on Greed this way: “Our society has built its economy on the production of things that people are conditioned to want, but do not really7 need. Many of the consumer goods we spend so much to buy did not even exist a generation ago. We buy these things because we have been manipulated into wanting them through advertising and peer pressure.
We are willing to work two jobs in order to satisfy these artificially created wants. We are willing to take time from our families so that we can buy those things which we are assured will express our love to our loved ones more than our mere presence ever could. We are willing to reject biblical principles of living in order to buy the consumer goods which the media prescribes as essential for the “good life.” And when there are threats to the affluent lifestyle that has become synonymous with America, we stand ready to fight and if need be, to die to protect it.
If our greedy consumption of oil is challenged by the OPEC nations, we do whatever is necessary in order to keep the oil flowing into our tanks. If totalitarian dictatorships or oppressive racist regimes promote policies which help us sustain our overly consumptive way of life, we support those dictatorships and tolerate those oppressive racist regimes. Our greedy materialistic way of life drives us to compromise principles of justice, yield on the canons of morality, and even to lose our souls.”
The rich young man went off saddened because he could not release the reliance of security and follow Jesus. This person, who knew that there was something missing in his life, was unwilling to let go, so he might live life more fully.
When St. Francis of Assisi, challenged the church of his day with the same issues as the rich young man who came to Jesus had; and as do we as Christians face today; that of reliance on possessions; of money; even on traditions, and sensing that there was more to life than just these, he was seen as insane. St Francis was a man of great wealth in a time when the church valued great wealth. When he gave all his wealth to the poor and lived as a beggar, rebuilding a church and providing a meaningful existence with very little, those in religious leadership couldn’t understand Francis actions. I want to share a scene when with you from “Father Sun, Sister Moon”, where Francis comes to the talk with the Pope about what he might have done wrong to have had the local Bishop close the church that Francis had rebuilt and where peasants were going to worship.
It isn’t the matter of giving our wealth away and living like beggars that is the lesson here. The lesson is stripping away the baggage that keeps us from reaching out to God, in the innocence of children to live by God’s call for justice. The lesson for us is not to rely on external possession to make us happy, but rather to rely on the inner piece that comes through our relationship with God, with Christ’s teachings as a model. For it is in our true poverty that we gain our true wealth; that of the love of God and our ability to share that love with others. It is in our poverty that we are able to free ourselves from the sin of consumerism and greed. Come, let’s follow God! Amen.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

5th Sunday at First Congregational, Rock Springs

Enfolding Love
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Psalm 8; Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16

When Paul and I first moved to Rock Springs, there were a number of people who were very active in giving us little vignettes about the history of Rock Springs. This was very helpful in helping us better understand our new environment. These stories came by way of mouth, books and pamphlets. We also have learned bits and pieces of the history of this church. The most talked about piece is where the church first worshiped; upstairs over a bar. Quite frankly that was one of the selling points to me by the search committee when we were discussing First Congregational.
This week I have been working on a short press release about my arrival and so the history of the church has been on my mind a good deal of the time. As I tried to learn a bit more about the churches history I finally found a couple of sources that had a brief history of our faith community. Let me share some of our history with you.
First Congregational Church began with a Sunday school meeting in a one-room school house in 1876, and in 1881 was organized as the first church in the city, under the name of “Union Congregational Church”. Financial difficulties in the early 1890’s resulted in the loss of the first building on “B” Street, but the church re-organized with a new name “First Congregational” in 1891, and began a new building on “B” Street, after meeting for a few months in a vacant saloon on North Front! With additions and remodeling, that building served the congregation until 1970, when the property was sold to Mountain Bell, and a new structure was completed at our present location and dedicated on October 4th, 1970. Today Ladies and Gentlemen, we are celebrating our 39th year in this location. I think that deserves a big applause of Rejoicing! The mortgage was burned in the Centennial Celebration in October of 1981.
Just a little more history about who we are: The Congregational church had its beginnings with the Puritans and Separatists in England in the 16th Century, and the Pilgrims of the Mayflower and the Massachusetts Bay Colony were the first Congregationalists in the “New World”. Congregationalists were called that because of their belief the individual congregation was the ultimate authority in terms of Christian faith and action as well as church governance.
The United Church of Christ was founded in 1957 as a merger of the Congregational Church with a “native” America “Christian Church” body and with two German language and history bodies, the Evangelical Synod of North America and the Reformed Church. The resultant denomination has become a Prophet voice among Protestant churches with a strong interest in education, missionary activity, health and welfare, and social justice as well as a determination to take the Bible “seriously rather than literally”. Let me say that again, we are a part of a denomination that takes the “Bible seriously rather than literally.”
I want to bring that to your attention because today’s lectionary readings can either be taken literally and cause a great many people much pain and heartache, or we can take the Bible readings, “seriously rather than literally”, which still might bring a good deal of discomfort and anguish for those whose view of what marriage is suppose to look like or who is and who isn’t allowed to be married.
Take my relationship with Paul as an example; there are people who think that I am single, which is not true, Paul and I are as much a couple as anyone that has a certificate of marriage from the courthouse. We are taking aquatic aerobics at the Family Rec. Center and one of the ladies who teaches when Sharon Pribyl isn’t there asked me the other day “if my friend” was coming to class that evening. At the front desk we had a discussion with the person who issues passes whether or not we were going to be able to purchase a “family” pass, since we were in fact a family. These are questions that we are having to ask and discuss because we are living in a state that does not recognize equal rights to all of its citizens. This is quite a challenge for Paul and I who moved away from a state that is very conscious about civil liberties and equality.
The Pharisees came to Jesus asking about not the morality of, but rather the legality of divorce. There was already a legal system set up that allowed for it, in fact, it was Moses who allowed men to divorce their wives. Jesus chose not to give voice to the matter of divorce. He did say however, “divorce is the by-product of a hardened heart.” Then in private Jesus goes on to say that “Anyone who remarries commits Adultery against their former spouse”.
I would like to share some of the thoughts that were shared this week on the UCC website about today’s text: Jesus is asked a legal question, a technical, down-to-earth, question about every day, lived reality, and he answers with an ideal that is, to be honest, almost impossible to achieve, at least for most of us. One can ask the question, “Has Jesus turned law-giver, seeking to impose an especially stringent law on his followers” Would he insist that a man who remarries after divorce be put to death, as the law prescribes for adultery (Lev 20:10)?” In our hearts, we sense that Jesus was not about ordering people to be put to death because they had disobeyed the Law, even if the Law seems to call for it. What is the lesson here? What do we hear in this passage?
At first, it might sound too easy just to say that Jesus was holding up the ideal of marriage in response to the Pharisees’ preoccupation with divorce. But isn’t that exactly what needs to happen in our own time: don’t we need strong voices that lift up the ideal, the intention of God from the very beginning, of two people joined together for life, faithfully loving each other? In the “defense to Marriage Act”, those who propose to keep marriage to be defined as one man and one woman, argue the fact that any legal recognition other than that, would in fact destroy the integrity of the “family”. My question to this is what is happening to the integrity of the family when the divorce rate is 50% and that it isn’t uncommon in today’s world to find people married up to three times before there seems to be any stability within that institution of marriage. These figures are of coursed based on the only system we have, one man, one woman marriages.
Are there ways for us in the church to focus more energy on the ideals of lasting, faithful, loving unions that are a sign of God’s love in the world? We could strengthen our support systems for married couples and our marriage preparation programs, and perhaps even consider a measure of holy hesitation before marrying every couple that asks. Are we spending too much time in the church thinking about other ways to “defend” marriage? Is it possible for pastors, in the pulpit and in other settings of the life of the congregation, to speak about marriage in encouraging and hopeful ways that also affirm those who have had to leave a marriage in order to seek wholeness and healing? And if salvation is about healing and wholeness, then the possibility of remarriage seems not only a matter of compassion but a question of justice.
James J. Thompson in the book , “feasting on the Word” wonders if we might “ask whether the human was created for marriage, or marriage for the human?” In the book “Provoking the Gospel of Mark” Richard Swanson writes: “This basic ritual of intimacy and support is figured as a field on which we encounter God. This is an important understanding, especially because it takes place at the heart of human life. Encounters with God are often imagined as taking place on the edges of existence, in retreat from ordinary life.” However, in marriage, “encounter with God takes place in the mist of the ordinary rituals of daily life”.
Its true then, that marriage is sacramental, a means of God’s grace in our lives. Of all people, then, faithful followers of Jesus should take marriage seriously, and should hesitate before denying anyone this means of encountering God.” It is this type of taking the Bible “seriously but not literally” that the UCC at the twenty-fifth Synod issued a statement in support of marriage for all people, whether it be between one man and one woman or between same-sex couples.
Today’s lectionary is speaking on primary human relationships and they do so by affirming God’s purpose in creation. God’s acts and God’s intent can never be negated or superseded by legal permission. As Hebrews stated, “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways, by the prophets, but in these days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the world.”
Yes, “ God is still speaking” to us today, through scripture and through the sciences and through thoughtful deliberation about social justice and equality. It is God who out of love created humanity and it is through basic relationships like the sacrament of marriage that we can live and celebrate that love. It is my hope that as we celebrate 39 yrs of worshipping in this building and as a faith community with history of over 133 years in Rock Springs, that we continue to wrestle with what the Bible has to say, taking its words “seriously but not literally”; and as Jesus told his disciples not to turn away or discourage the little children from receiving his blessing, we recognize that every human being is in truth a child and that we truly open our doors so those who wish to receive God’s blessing, can in truth and in safety find it here! Amen

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fourth Sermon at Rock Springs, WY

Just a short note about how things are coming along at First Congregational UCC in Rock Springs. My first Sunday as their Transitional Minister, there were 51 adults and 8 children in attendance. The second Sunday we had 57 adults and 11 children present. On the third Sunday, we were down in count on adults with 41 in attendance and 7 children. This week, my 4th week, we had a special event of both a Baptism (my first as a UCC Minister as well as it being an infant!) and a "goodbye" to a long standing and well loved member who arrived at this church with her husband who was the pastor, three pastors ago. We counted 61 adults and 14 children in attendance.
I have found each week very interesting as I work on sermons that are designed to help this congregation, examine who they are and the behaviors that lead them to where they are presently at. This Sunday's sermon was most stressful for me as I was dealing with the topic of Boundaries, and what can happen when one or more people violate boundaries. As I become better acquainted with this body of believers I grow more fondly of everyone that I meet. It has been a long number of years since I have been in a Parish setting and working as a minister and I find myself continually being renewed daily and am finding such excitement and fulfillment as I exercise my calling. God is truly good and most gracious and I thank Him for allowing me the privilege of working with this faith community.

Courage for Community
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Esther 7: 1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50
First Cong UCC, Rock Springs, WY Sept 27, 2009

How many of you enjoy going to a good party? What would be one of your favorite celebrations that happen on a yearly basis? One of my very favorite holiday celebrations is Halloween! Now there are a lot of Christians who would be highly offended by the fact that I as a minister enjoy celebrating the tradition of Halloween. In fact this October 31st, we are going to be hosting an after “trick or treat” party here at the church for children 6th grade and under. Now I have heard almost all the explanations as to why it isn’t a good idea for those of us who call ourselves Christian to celebrate this festive holiday; with the most severe reason being it is a way of celebrating Satan. What I have come to believe when I hear these explanations about why I shouldn’t dress up in costume and enjoy this celebration, is that those people who are telling me the reason “why not” really don’t understand what the origins of Halloween are.
Another name of Halloween is All Hallows Eve, or the day before All Saints day; which is a day that the church does celebrate. The idea of dressing up in scary costumes or wearing scary masks, such as Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton or Freddie from Friday the 13th movies or that of various demon, or witches, or anything else that we might perceive as representative of evil, was done by early Christians to help protect them from evil spirits that were believed to roam the earth that night looking for mischief. So, when I say that Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, I am really telling you that I enjoy celebrating the day prior to All Saints Day. Well actually, I just like dressing up into costumes and bobbing for apples and I just don’t understand why as a grown up, it is no longer acceptable to go trick or treating.
For those of us who label ourselves as Christians, we say our religious background is rooted in both the Hebrew and Christian tradition. Yet I would be safe in guessing that most Christians are not aware of many of the Hebrew Celebrations. So here is a test question to test my assumption. How many of you know of the Feast of Purim? What day was it celebrated on this year? Where did its origins come from? Well, we can find all this out in the Book of Esther. Let me try to give a Perry Mason summation of what today’s lectionary reading leaves out.
The joyous holiday of Purim celebrates the salvation of the Hebrews from the wicked Haman, through the leadership of Queen Esther and her cousin Mordecai. Purim takes place on the 14th day of Adar, the 12th month of the Jewish calendar (which corresponds with our season of Lent.) The carnival-like atmosphere of Purim, wearing of costumes, and bringing gifts of food door-to-door sometimes leads to it being referred to as the "Jewish Mardi Gras" or "Jewish Halloween".

The story of Purim is found in the book of Esther. This is publically read in synagogues twice on Purim: when the holiday begins at nightfall, and the following morning. When the name of Haman is read, people stomp their feet, hiss, boo, or shake noisemakers to obliterate his name.

The story takes place in the Persian Empire, which extended to 127 provinces. In the third year of his reign, King Xerxes threw a lavish party, to which he summoned his wife, Queen Vashti, to display her beauty. When Vashti refused to obey his command, he had her killed for insubordination. Regretting this decision after sobering up, Xerxes began a kingdom-wide search for a new queen, adding a member to his harem every night, but not finding a suitable replacement until Esther—a beautiful Hebrew girl—was brought before him. He fell in love with her and made her the new queen. She had not wanted to be part of the search, and would not tell him anything about her background.
Soon after this, Haman became the chief advisor to Xerxes. He felt slighted by Mordecai, a Hebrew who refused to bow to him (and who, unknown to him or the king, was Esther's cousin). He obtained permission from the king to send out a decree to the entire kingdom calling for all the Hebrews to be wiped out on the 13th of Adar. He chose this date, by using lots (or rolling dice.) (The Persian word for lots was pur; the holiday of Purim gets its name from this event.)

Mordecai sent word to Esther about this decree, and called upon her to intercede with the king. This was a risky move for Esther; it was forbidden to see the king without first being summoned, and he had after all killed his previous wife for not obeying his orders. Nevertheless, she accepted that she needed to take action. She called for a three-day fast among the Hebrews in the city, after which she went to see the king. She found favor in the king's eyes, and he offered to give her anything she wanted.

After a couple of subplots involving Mordecai and Haman fell into place, Esther informed the king that Haman was, in fact, plotting to kill her and all of her people. Incensed, the king ordered Haman to be hanged, and installed Mordecai in his place. While the original decree could not be rescinded, Mordecai was able to send out a second decree calling upon the Jews to defend themselves and kill their enemies. This they did, routing all opposition on the 13th of Adar, and celebrating on the 14th. This celebration on the 14th is now observed annually, on Purim.

The traditional observances of Purim include public readings of the Book of Esther, feasting, gifts of charity to the poor, and gifts of food among friends. Other popular activities include staging comedic plays, expounding on the Torah in humorous ways, dressing up in costumes, holding beauty contests, and marching in parades. (Web based information on Feast of Purim)

So, now for those of you who have never really read the book of Esther all the way through, you now have a general idea of what the story is about. Let’s turn our attention for a moment to the Gospel reading for today. Here we continue on with Jesus’ teaching. Last week we left off where Jesus was holding the child in his lap and telling us basically we need to respect and include everyone, even the most vulnerable among us, in our fellowship.
This week, the texts starts off with John, speaking up about a person who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name, and how proud they were that they had chastised him and told him to stop it, simply because that person wasn’t a part of their merry band of disciples. Jesus was not pleased! “Don’t stop him. No one can use my name to do something good and powerful, and in the next breath cut me down. If he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally.”
Jesus then goes on to make this strange statement, “On the other hand, if you give one of these simple, childlike believers a hard time, bullying or taking advantage of their simple trust, you’ll soon wish you hadn’t. You’d be better off dropped in the middle of the lake with a millstone around your neck.” This is some pretty strong teaching to those who like to bully and lord over others.
But here is the hard part of the story that doesn’t seem to be consistent with Jesus’ general nature. At least to the way we tend to Romanticize Jesus’ loving behavior. “If your hand or your foot gets in God’s way, chop it off and throw it away. You’re better off maimed or lame and alive than the proud owner of two hands and two feet, godless in the furnace of eternal fire….”
In the time of Jesus, it was believed that the only way to God was to be a person without blemish. It was taken to the extreme, so if you were blind, or lame, or had leprosy, you were not welcomed into the temple to worship and give tithe to God. This is one reason why we read about so many healings in the four Gospels, as it was about restoring people back into the family of faith. It was about “reconciliation” of those excluded and marginalized back to God.
So here is Jesus telling his disciples that you can still be in community with God, you can still worship and be acceptable in God’s eyes, even if you are missing a leg or a hand or your tongue. For it is better to cut off that which is truly keeping you separated from the life that God is asking us to be apart of – that of love and acceptance, of being just and seeking justice for those who have no voice and are being brutalized by social systems.
So how does the story about a courageous woman, such as Esther and the reprimanding that the disciples got from Jesus come together? There are numerous themes running through both of these stories, but the one that jumps out at me the most is that of Boundaries! These are two differing stories as to what can happen to people when Boundaries are not observed and are over stepped and if not challenged the pain and grief that can be placed on a lot of innocent life’s.
We have had some very painful examples of “boundaries” being violated over the last decade. There is a current film series being presented at the White Mountain Library on “The Faces of Addiction”. The one I saw this past Thursday was dealing with “Enron” and the pain and suffering and devastation of livelihood, that it’s CEO’s and corporate culture has caused. With the efforts of its CEO, Kenneth Lay in getting Congress to deregulate the utility industry, the checks and balances of business practices were not in place, thereby giving rise to abuse and over-stepping of ethical boundaries, legally! They had the power without repercussions to literally cut off electrical power to millions of consumers, solely to raise the price of electricity. The boundary crossed was the need to feed the addiction of greed and ego!
Haman, the right hand man to Xerxes, out of resentment toward Modecai, maneuvered to pass a law that would eventually allow him, with the law on his side, to carry out genocide of the Hebrew people. He had overstepped the boundary of “morality” and, had Esther not placed herself in probable danger, standing up and exposing this evil, would have seen an entire race of people murdered.
The problem of maintaining boundaries exists within any given church. There are people who, for a number of reasons, but generally stemming to the basic fear of loss of power, over- step boundaries. This was the case of the disciples when they were telling the “non-disciple” that he needed to stop his healing in the name of Jesus. The disciples had crossed a boundary that ensured “exclusivity” where Jesus was working towards “inclusivity”.
In the church where I hold my membership, there was a violation of boundaries a few years ago, between a person who had at one time been the Church Moderator. This person perceived themself as a main power broker in the congregation. When the church had hired a new organist, this person was not on the committee that did the interviewing and had a personal ax to grind with the chairperson of the music committee. This individual transferred that grudge to the new organist/choir director and proceeded to make life very uncomfortable for him as well as the choir members and eventually the whole church.
Ultimately, there was a show-down between the choir director and this individual, with the choir director resigning. Now mind you, there was plenty of boundary breaking going on by both parties. When confronted by the church council, this church member who had violated these boundaries was unable to “own up” to their behavior and left the church with angry feelings.
In time this individual sought out mediation with the Conference chair person of the Committee on Ministry, trying to receive vindication toward their action and wanting the pastor to make a public apology. This person was informed that a public apology couldn’t be made by the pastor because they had indeed over-stepped boundaries and that by giving in to their demands would only reinforce continued behavior in the future and create future problems in the church.
Moving forward a couple of years later, This person came to St. Paul’s to visit during a special occasion and after introducing themselves to our present choir director/organist, promptly stated with great pride that they were responsible for getting rid of the previous organist. I use this example because it is very, very sad to realize that this person still doesn’t recognize their part within the issue nor does this person understand the concept of boundaries.
What Esther was doing when she stood up and told the King that Haman wanted to kill her and her people, Esther was being the voice of accountability. Haman had crossed boundaries and if not kept in check would have destroyed a whole race of people. Jesus was saying, it is better to cut off that part of the body that is going to ruin you or those around you. Anyone who has ever dealt with “addictions” knows that the only way the addict is going to grow beyond that addiction into a healthier life is to not enable the addict to continue that behavior.
In faith communities, there has to be accountability of one’s actions and behavior. If the faith community never stands up and intervenes on behalf of the person who is not honoring boundaries – that person will never realize their behavior as unacceptable and will continue to violate boundaries.
As a society, we must demand accountability of our government and of corporate behavior. We have seen what happens when rules are broken or legally dismantled; left to themselves, addiction to greed and ego move to stepping over boundaries and people get hurt and sometimes even destroyed.
James gives us some encouragement on such a tough topic:”Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.” There is salvation to ego, it is found through the love of Christ and the power of the resurrection. All we have to do is to have the courage to stand up, approach the King and state the truth; to love one another as Christ has shown us and to hold each other up in prayer and deed. Amen