Sunday, December 30, 2012

What Child Is this?, for Mountain View United Church, Aurora, CO 12/30/2012

What Child Is This?

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 12/30/2012

Based on Luke 2: 22-40

(This sermon is actually being incorporated within the children’s time as part of a multi-generational worship experience.)


        What a great passage this morning’s scripture is, as it speaks about two people who are very faithful believers of God.  They have spent their whole lives praying and waiting for God to answer one specific prayer and promise of sending to the world a man who will provide salvation for all.  This last Monday evening at a candle light service we celebrated the birth of that little baby, whose name is Jesus.  In this morning’s story, we continue reading about the life of this little baby as we will do throughout the rest of the church year. 

        I would like to begin by showing you some pictures that some people have brought to this morning’s worship.  Can anyone guess who this person is?  What about that person?

        So, when you grow up what would you like to be?  I would like to ask some of you out in the congregation the same question, “When you were little, what did you want to become?”  And as a second part of that question, “When you grew up, what did you actually become?”  For myself, I discovered that “what I wanted to become” changed for me at differant ages.  For example:  when I was very small I wanted to be a fireman, like my dad who was a volunteer fireman, when I got older I wanted to become a world famous surgeon.  In Junior High I discovered I loved designing houses, but when I learned I had to take calculus to become an architect that killed that idea.  In high school I wanted to become a professional singer.  Then I realized that if I were going to support a family, being a professional singer wasn’t the best choice, so I studied and became an accountant.  Guess what – I had to take calculus anyway!  Well, that wasn’t necessarily the best choice for me, as I was too easily bored and I hated doing bookkeeping.  Eventually, I started hearing more clearly a call by God to become a minister, which was the one thing I really didn’t want to do.

        So there are a couple of very important points that we can think about with this morning’s story as it relates with Simeon and Anna.  I find it amazing at how both Simeon and Anna were able to recognize who Jesus was going to become when he was just a little baby.  Scripture gives us a clue to how they were able to recognize who this little baby was.  We read that both were being lead by the Holy Spirit, because they prayed a lot. 

        Simeon, when he saw Jesus, praised God, thanking God for answering the promise that had been given to him many years earlier, that he would not die before seeing the messiah not just of Israel but of the whole world.  Have any of you ever been called a “blessing to your parents or to someone else?”  What do you think that means?  A blessing in its simplest meaning means approval or hopefulness.  So when Simeon and Anna saw the baby that Joseph and Mary were bringing into the temple to receive the general blessing that a child would receive when presented by his or her parents, Jesus actually received a special blessing from Simeon and Anna went out sharing the news that God’s most favored one had finally come, and that this baby Jesus was a blessing upon Israel. 

        We do a similar action when parents bring their baby to be baptized.  Baptism is an act of Blessing.  If you are an infant, what we do when we are applying the water on your forehead, is making the sign of the cross, which Christians use as the greatest symbol of blessing.  Baptism is not an individual act.  It is an action of the community of believers.  When you are being baptized, the community of faith is committing to help support you in your faith journey and give support as you develop your potential as a child of God.

        When a baby is born, one of the things that everyone see’s in the birth of a new baby, is potential.  Because of our being human’s and too often caught up in our own interests, we often times project onto the newborn baby our own dreams for that child.  My mother for years dreamed that I would become a doctor.  Even though I was interested in watching T.V. shows that showed childhood diseases and how Doctors helped cure children, I never really saw myself as a Dr. 

        When Mountain View was started in 1970, as a new church, it was in effect a baby as well.  A group of people who were Presbyterian’s, United Methodis’ts, and United Church of Christ came and in worship gave a blessing upon this new infant congregation.  Within that blessing, we were given all the hopes for bringing God’s promise to Aurora and in that blessing was given the power of the Holy Spirit to help us become what God has in store for Mountain View. 

So the question that we could ask ourselves this morning would be, “What did we want to be when we grow up?” and now that we are 42 yrs old, “What have we become?”  Have we come what we thought we wanted to become or are we something different?  I suspect that we are different in many respects to what the original founders had envisioned for us.  So maybe the better question would be, “Are we developing into the potential that we possess?”

The reality about life is that it is always in motion.  Nothing stays the same.  Just like I changed my ideas about what I wanted to be as I grew older, discovering my talents and interests, in listening to the advice of people who saw special gifts in me continue to grow into the best that I can be, so does Mountain View.   As a family of faith, we constantly need to be asking:”Are we living up to our potential?”  We have been giving the blessing of God to work toward our potential and we have been given the power to achieve our potential, through that original blessing, just as Simeon blessed Jesus as a baby.  If we feel that we are not achieving our potential, maybe we are not dreaming “big” enough.

I think whether as young people growing up or as adults, the best practice that one could have is to continually pray that God will guide us to develop the potential that each of us is born with and then listen to how God speaks to us through people like our parents, through our friends, through what we learn in school, by exploring any interests or talents that we have to help us recognize where our potentials lead us, so we can have the most  satisfaction about who we are and also contribute the best of who we are to the larger communities that we live in.  You are all very special people, God’s blessing and gift to our world.  Let God help you learn what your gifts are and help you to share them with everyone that you meet.  Amen

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Making Room for Jesus, by Rev Steven R Mitchell, Mountain View United Church of Aurora, CO

Making Room for Jesus

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 12-23-2012

Based on Luke 1:50-55

As we come to the fourth and final week in Advent, we have been exploring the ideas of walking in darkness toward a promised light. This morning, as an act of worship, we have walked a portion of the Las Posadas (seeking refuge, a physical shelter). Through this symbolic action, we are placing ourselves into the lives of Joseph and Mary, as they were seeking shelter in a land (that even though Joseph has roots in as a descendant of King David) as strangers.

As we re-tell this story year after year, decade after decade, century after century, and millennia after millennia, we have grown to Romanize the story of this couple who journeys from the Northern Kingdom down to the Kingdom of Judea. We have sanitized this story so much that we think of their journey as if we were loading up our car with those things that we would need for a week’s holiday. Possibly going to a ski resort in the mountains, or a trip to Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

When we leave on a road trip, we rarely think about the perils that can happen while on the road. We have the capability to reserve accommodations prior to our leaving. For those of us who tend to be seasoned travelers, through the use of modern communications, have the ability to find out what events are going on in the community that we are going to travel to, allowing us plenty of time to secure adequate accommodation. If our car breaks down, we can call AAA for help. But this wasn’t possible for Joseph and Mary. Yes they knew that Bethlehem would be full of visitors because of the world-wide census, but they had no way of pre-registering for a room at one of the local hotels or at one of the bed and breakfasts. There was no inter-state banking systems set up, or credit card companies to borrow from while on their trip. As strangers in Bethlehem, they were truly strangers.

This story goes deeper than just a man and a pregnant girl traveling. This is a story about sojourning! This story is about all of us, for we are all sojourners. This morning we touched on just three aspects of sojourning. We started off with our “spiritual” journey, moving next to that of being an “immigrant”, and finishing with being “different” than what society and/or the church says we should be.

We all have had our moments of being a “refugee”, whether it’s been through the simple act of moving out of mom and dad’s home or moving to a new state or a new country. Many of us have experienced being a “refugee” as we have lost position in the community because of losing our job, changes with our health, maybe in losing our jobs and homes in economic downturns, or through the loss of a significant relationship. Some of us are “refugees” from our homes and churches because of sexual orientation differences.

In last week’s school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, or at the shopping mall outside of Portland, Oregon a week before, families have been torn apart through the acts of violence. I hear multiple comments about how hard it must be for these families with this type of tragedy at Christmas. The truth is, it doesn’t matter what time of the season tragedy occurs, it is always going to be hard. We feel it more acutely at Christmas, because this has become a season where we as a society have put “hope”, “love”, and “peace” up on a very high pedestal, where anything that doesn’t fit those images becomes hyper-tragic, a deeper loss some how.

Yet these terrible acts of violence are a physical manifestation of what the season of Advent too often is experienced in a metaphorical way. Advent is the season of walking in darkness, moving toward the light, moving toward the promise of peace, of reconciliation, of re-uniting with our creator, with God. A light that will bring peace, love, and renewed hope.

If we can hold within our hearts what the original meaning of Christmas is about, that moving from darkness into light, I think as we are affected by all violence, of all losses, of all separations, we can look to these acts as only temporary actions of darkness.

I was sent this story yesterday by a friend that supposedly took place here in Metro Denver and I’d like to share it with you. It starts off saying:

"Friends are God's way of taking care of us."

This was written by a Metro Denver Hospice Physician:

I was driving home from a meeting this evening about 5, stuck in traffic on Colorado Blvd., and the car started to choke and splutter and die - I barely managed to coast, cursing, into a gas station, glad only that I would not be blocking traffic and would have a somewhat warm spot to wait for the tow truck. It wouldn't even turn over. Before I could make the call, I saw a woman walking out of the "quickie mart " building, and it looked like she slipped on some ice and fell into a Gas pump, so I got out to see if she was okay

When I got there, it looked more like she had been overcome by sobs than that she had fallen; she was a young woman who looked really haggard with dark circles under her eyes. She dropped something as I helped her up, and I picked it up to give it to her. It was a nickel.

At that moment, everything came into focus for me: the crying woman, the ancient Suburban crammed full of stuff with 3 kids in the back (1 in a car seat), and the gas pump reading $4.95.

I asked her if she was okay and if she needed help, and she just kept saying " don't want my kids to see me crying," so we stood on the other side of the pump from her car. She said she was driving to California and that things were very hard for her right now. So I asked, "And you were praying?" That made her back a away from me a little, but I assured her I was not a crazy person and said, "He heard you, and He sent me."

I took out my card and swiped it through the card reader on the pump so she could fill up her car completely, and while it was fuelling, walked to the next door McDonald's and bought 2 big bags of food, some gift certificates for more, and a big cup of coffee. She gave the food to the kids in the car, who attacked it like wolves, and we stood by the pump eating fries and talking a little.

She told me her name, and that she lived in Kansas City Her boyfriend left 2 months ago and she had not been able to make ends meet. She knew she wouldn't have money to pay rent Jan 1, and finally in desperation had finally called her parents, with whom she had not spoken in about 5 years. They lived in California and said she could come live with them and try to get on her feet there.

So she packed up everything she owned in the car. She told the kids they were going to California for Christmas, but not that they were going to live there.

I gave her my gloves, a little hug and said a quick prayer with her for safety on the road. As I was walking over to my car, she said, "So, are you like an angel or something?"

This definitely made me cry. I said, "Sweetie, at this time of year angels are really busy, so sometimes God uses regular people."

It was so incredible to be a part of someone else's miracle. And of course, you guessed it, when I got in my car it started right away and got me home with no problem. I'll put it in the shop tomorrow to check, but I suspect the mechanic won't find anything wrong.

Sometimes the angels fly close enough to you that you can hear the flutter of their wings...

Psalms 55:22 "Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee. He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved."

Like Joseph and Mary, who became sojourners in the town of Bethlehem, looking for a place to rest and being met with rejection after rejection, maybe we can see in a new way, maybe we can hear during this Advent season the fluttering wings of God’s angels which will help us open our hearts and receive and give the gift of light, the gift of peace, the gift of love, the gift of hospitality, the gift of extravagant welcome that comes in the birth of one little baby – Jesus, the son of our Creator – God. For we are all sojourners in this world. We are all “refugees” in this land. Maybe this Advent we can “make room for Jesus.” Amen

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Hope Is the Perfect Gift, by Rev Steven R Mitchell

Hope is the Perfect Gift

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 12/9/2012

Based on Luke 1: 68-79


        As the days continue to grow shorter and the nights longer, we have entered into what that most people call the “Christmas season”, I call it the season of “excessive behavior”.  We spend more time shopping for gifts, buying more than what we probably need to, and generally more gifts that not needed or desired.  We spend more money than what we generally have available during this season, racking up higher credit card bills.  We give more generously to charities, attend more parties and spend more hours decorating our homes than any other time of the year.   And we do this because of a strangely strong tugging at our hearts that we seem not to listen to during the rest of the year!

        Our radio and television stations are filled with songs and movies that deal with the topic of giving, of reconciliations, of re-uniting.  The secular world refers to this as the Spirit of Christmas and is generally portrayed through the individual known as Santa Clause.  Yet even secular society, when pressed, contribute the values we have assigned to this round white bearded jolly fellow, to a story of long, long ago, told by the church of the birth of a little boy; to a young unwed mother, in a stable, whose name is Jesus.

        Yet the birth story about Jesus also includes the birth of another boy named John.  He was the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth.  Zechariah was a Priest and Elizabeth was a cousin to Jesus’ mother.  As the story tells of Mary’s purity of heart, so is her cousins Elizabeth and Zechariah.  Most bible scholars conclude that the telling of John’s birth is a way of explaining to the early church the importance of John the Baptist’s roll in the larger story of Jesus’ life and ministry.

        It is through these birth stories that are found in three of the four Gospels that we in this country have come to view the period of time between Thanksgiving and the celebration of the birth of Jesus as the “Christmas Season.”  Yet these four weeks before Christmas is not really the Christmas season.  The season of Christmas actually doesn’t start until Christmas Day.  We are in fact in the Season of Advent.  That period, which is characterized as the time of darkness as we move toward the day of light, the birth of Jesus, which for us falls on December 25th.

        This second week of Advent is called “Hope”.  As I was thinking about the title for this week’s reflection, I cannot shake the reality of how much energy we put into the “gift” giving aspect of this season.  We spend hours wondering through the mall, looking at all of the “stuff” that is on the shelves, weighing each item of its worthiness for each person on our gift giving list.  “Will this scarf be the best gift for Aunt Martha?”  “Is this MP3 player, going to get a lot of use for my daughter, Bobbie?”  “Will these diamond earrings sparkle on my wife’s ears, as much as they do under the display lights?”  What we try to achieve through our gifts is to give the best gift that we can.

        When the church is involved in various ministries, we really are trying to give our best as well.  When we give our money, the programs that we support, we support because we want to give the “best” to those who are receiving it.  Yet we often struggle with “what is the best” that we as a church, as a person of God, can give to someone, give to our community, and give to the world?  As your minister, I struggle each week with “what will be the best” message, what will make the “best worship” experience, what will be the “best thoughts” that you can take home with you after church? 

        The answer I think is “Hope”.  Hope is the perfect gift.  Hope is the best that we as children of God can give to one another.  Hope should be the largest present found under our Christmas trees.  You see, it is in the birth of Jesus that God gave the world “Hope”.   For Elizabeth and Zechariah, John’s birth was a fulfillment of ancient promises, in Jesus’ birth it was a physical fulfillment of God’s promise.

        Zechariah say’s in his prophecy of his son John, “And you, my child, “Prophet of the Highest,” will go ahead of the Master to prepare his ways, Present the offer of salvation to his people, the forgiveness of their sins.”  The hope that we can provide for people is that of “salvation.”  Most people equate the gift of salvation with Heaven.  Most people think that salvation means getting into heaven.  I don’t think that’s what salvation is. I think that salvation comes through the “forgiveness” of sin.  When Jesus was dying on the cross, he said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”  Jesus didn’t say, “You get to heaven because of what it is I do.”  That is a message that the church has developed over its life.  Rather Jesus in his dying breath was forgiving sinful actions.  Salvation comes through “forgiving”, period.

(Watch the clip on forgiveness in the movie, “Madea Goes to Jail.)

        Tyler Perry, through this scene shows us how holding onto sinful actions, whether they are things that we have done to others, or what others have done to us, does not allow for the working of life that comes through “Hope”.  Hope can only be cultivated in the garden of “forgiveness.”

        Zechariah concludes with, “Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God’s Sunrise will break in upon us, shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death, then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace.  The greatest gift that the church can give today is “forgiveness”.  The hope of salvation comes through forgiveness; of our forgiving ourselves, and of our forgiving others.  As we walk through these dark days we call “advent”, let us reflect upon the greatest gift that we can give to ourselves and to others.  Let us strive to give the gift of salvation through the act of forgiving!  Let us become the “Sunrise that will shine “hope” to those who exist in darkness and sitting in the shadow of death.”   Amen

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Do You Believe In the Message of Jesus?, by Rev Steven Mitchell, Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 11/18/2012

Do You Believe In the Message of Jesus?
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Mountain View United Church, Aurora, CO 11/18/2012
Based on Hebrews 10
 This coming Thursday most of us will be gathering with our families and friends to celebrate one of several feasts that we recognize in this country.  The feast of Thanksgiving!  For those who are helping in the preparations of this great day of feasting, there will be special attention given to creating the menu, the gathering of the ingredients, and of the presentation of home and table as we gather around the table.  For some, the feast will be extravagant, for others it will be simple; for some it will be a time of joyful gathering, for others a time of anxiety, but for all it will be a time of memories to be recalled and memories in the making.   This is a week of preparation and of anticipation. 
 Today as a faith community we are kicking off this week of celebrating Thanksgiving in several different ways.   It is fitting for us to recognize those many blessing that God has given us this year in a corporate celebration.  Today we are thanking God for many of the ways in which we recognize Gods promise to care for us.  One of those ways is going to be in our giving back to God by bringing offerings of gloves, scarves, rubber boots that will be given to those men who we call “day laborers”.  Most of these men are living in this country without the proper documentation which would allow them to secure jobs that would be steady.  In this small way we are helping God to care for a few people who are in a very vulnerable life existence.
 A second way that we will be giving thanksgiving is in the opportunity to give monetarily a portion of our income to this mission of God’s which we call Mountain View United.  Just as one prepares for a Thanksgiving Dinner, we have been spent six weeks preparing for this celebration, though recognizing the many ways we as individuals experience the promise of God’s love toward us.  We started our journey of preparation with the celebration of personal talents that we have and how when we share those talents, others are blessed.  We were reminded through one of our conference leaders, how our giving to the larger families of faith, the Presbyterian, Methodist, and UCC, we receive help in times of disaster such as what we experienced this summer with devastating forest fires and the Aurora theater shootings, or how we extend help to those who have been impacted by hurricane Sandy.  We recognized the care and love that God gives through the companionship of our pets, as we blessed our pets.  We reflected on the value of our gifts with the story of the widow whose offering of two copper coins showed her response to her faith and relationship to God.
 I have titled this morning’s reflection, “Do You Believe in the Message of Jesus”, because it reflects both, “why” we give money to Mountain View United and “where” this giving originates from.  In Hebrews, we are told that before Christ, it was the job of the priest to accept the “sin offering” from the giver, so that God would not remember what is being asked to be forgiven.  Hebrews then goes on to tell us that through the death, the offer of Jesus himself for sin, that a “sin offering” is no longer necessary. 
 The writer of Hebrews is telling us that there is a new game in town.  We no longer need to give with the mindset of “sin offering”; we no longer have to give to have our sins erased.  The other evening on T.V., the movie “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” was on.  Molly in her unbridled enthusiasm crashes the party of her neighbor Mrs. McGraw in order to meet those society members to which she so much wished to belong with.  In front of everyone she and her husband, as the story is told, gave to the churches building fund for children, gave $15,000 to the priest.  A side comment was made, “that should see them into heaven”, to which Molly responded, “it might grease the gates a little.”  That is a mindset that we need to give as a way of helping God forget those things that we think might keep us out of heaven.
 Hebrews tells us, “Where there is forgiveness [meaning Jesus’ offering] there is no longer any offering for sin.”  The game changer is that we no longer should give out of our sin, but that we should offer our gifts to God out of the recognition of the gift of life that comes through Christ.  We are also assured by God that it is through the Holy Spirit that ”God will put Gods law in our hearts and write them on our mind.”  That law is what Jesus confessed as the basic commandments, “That there is only one God, and to love God with all our mind, heart, and soul.  And the second is to love our neighbor as ourselves.”
 This past summer, a group of members and friends of this church met for a weekend retreat where we restarted the conversations about the “vision” of this congregation.  It reads:”… Our Vision is to educate and support a spiritual, Christian, ecumenical body that reaches out {in hope}to the community and to those in need throughout the world.”  In our discussion we realized that we were missing the piece that reads in this morning’s scripture, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering…”   “Our hope”, hope is an emotion, it is the energy, the desire, that one needs to move forward through the unknown.  Hope is what the founding members had as it formed this faith community.  I think “hope” comes in many differing dreams that are in each of us, but ultimately I believe that the “hope” is that which we pray each week through the Lord’s Prayer, that of God’s kin-dom continues to be developed here on earth.
 Let me ask you, “What do you like about Mountain View?”   “What keeps you coming back?”  “What do you hope to see Mountain View as having become in 5 years?” 
As we bring our pledge cards up to the alter this morning, I would like you to think about all these “hopes” that have been expressed this morning and through this heart shaped piece of paper offer your commitment of “hope” to the possibilities through this ministry of Mountain View to extend the love and ministries on behave of God.  Let us pray: God like little children we toddle to you, offering you a tiny gift we have brought with your money – and expecting a perfect world in return.  Help us to grow up in the faith of the widow, who gave out of her lack, knowing that letting go of all she had would challenge you to rain down blessing on her in abundance. 
God, we tithe not just our money and goods to you today, but long to tithe the more intangible things we hold on to that you demand of us.
You demand that we give up our worry and anxiety.  Help us to release the fear we constantly live in.  You demand that we give up our anger and our prejudice, so that you can defuse it and beat the swords of our minds and actions into plowshares of peaceful living, reaching out in love and acceptance to all your children: of every color, sexual orientation, age, religion – the stranger in our land and the homeless person, even to the criminal, who deserves our love and compassion.  You demand that we give up our insecurities, so that we may become people of courage and confidence who don’t sell ourselves or others short.  Help us to see ourselves as you have made us, so that we are challenged to do great things for the good news of Jesus Christ – ordinary people made extraordinary by our faith and conviction.  Let us place all of these at your alter this morning, loving God.  Amen  Before the Amen by Molly Phinney Baskette pg 195
Prayer Dedication of our pledges:  Gracious God, You call us, your church, to share all that we have and all that we are with one another and the world.  We remember the story of the widow who gave two small coins and know that you are more concerned with how we give than how much.  Bless each pledge that together they may bring your kin-dom into being in the broken places here and beyond.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen  Before the Amen, by Sue Henley pg 196

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Giving Out of Our Poverty, by Rev Steven R Mitchell, for Mountain View United, Aurora, CO

Giving Out of Our Poverty
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 11/11/2012
Based on Ruth 3:1-5; 4: 13-17 and Mark 12:38-44
 This morning’s two scripture readings contain two differing stories of the same theme.  In the book of Ruth, we see life through the eyes of two widows, in the Gospel of Mark, we again read about the actions of a widow.  In both stories the overall theme is the importance of acceptability of one’s gift.  All three widows would be classified as financially destitute.  Yet we see through the commitment of Ruth to her mother-in-law Naomi, a child was produced, which was referred to as “a restorer of life.”  In Marks story, Jesus speaks about the giving of “all she had” of a widow.
 Through the story of Ruth, we learn how the commitment between two women did not just secure their personal futures, but that the child born to Ruth and Boaz was destined to be the grandfather of Israel’s greatest king, King David.  This is no ordinary story, for this story was challenging a lot of tradition that contained bigotry and social ostracizing. Ruth was not just a woman from another country, but a Moabites, the lowest of races by Hebrew standards.   It is through the story of this despised alien that God chooses to start the family line in which Jesus the Christ comes from.
 As we read this story, it becomes most apparent that we do not always understand the contributions to the world that any one person will be making.  One of the best arguments in avoiding war, is in the destruction of people who if not killed, will benefit humanity, if not directly, possibly through their descendants, as was the case with Ruth, for she became the Great Grandmother of King David. 
 This story also challenges us as we struggle with the migration of peoples from one country to another.  Ruth was willing to take a chance and give all that she had, to stay at Naomi’s side.  It was Ruth who went out into the fields by day to work and bring home food.  It was Ruth who ended up marrying Boaz, thus providing for the security of Naomi and the ability to regain their family properties which had been lost at the beginning of the story.  It was Ruth who was able to produce an heir, thus giving new life back into a family line that had died with the death of Naomi’s two son’s.  This not only brought back to Naomi, social standing and financial security but a new purpose in her life, the caring of her grandson Obed.  The question then arises for us in this country by denying or persecuting immigrants, who wish to come to live in our country or have entered without proper documentation, “what blessings, what benefits are we not accepting when they are denied status?”   I wonder how much poorer our faith family would be if we didn’t have non-U.S. American born members in our community?
 What about the story of the widow in Marks Gospel, what can we glean from her giving her two copper coins?  As we are finishing up what has turned into a six week series on “stewardship”, if I were a good Baptist preacher I could construe this story to mean that you need to give more sacrificially, just like this widow that Jesus speaks of.  Yet that isn’t really what this story is speaking about, although much of the time it has been abused in that direction.
 As Wayne Laws and I were discussing this text at the Sacred Grounds study this past Tuesday evening, I was wondering how this example of the poor widow can actually speak to us in a society that is truly obscenely affluent.  The last line of this story reads, “They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”   For me the question is, “How do we give out of our poverty?”  Most of us do not go to bed hungry.  Most of us have a house with a bed in which to sleep each night, sheltered from the elements.   Most of us have jobs, in which we achieve our goals and dreams through.  We do not live in a country where we are told how to think, although there is plenty of subliminal messaging being feed to us as to what we should and should not value.  So out of all this plenty, can we actually give out of our poverty?  Do most of us really understand poverty?
 As Wayne and I were discussing this, my memories kicked into when I was a child.  Much of my childhood was by governmental standards lived at or below poverty level.  I remember one particular winter where the only meat that we had on the table was that which dad was able to hunt in the fields.  (To this day the only way I can appreciate rabbit is to watch them eating my grass in the yard.)
 There was one particularly Christmas time, I recall where we were so poor that there was to be no Christmas presents.  It had been carefully explained to me and my sister and brother that financially, there just wasn’t going to be any presents.  They also made it very clear that Santa would not be forgetting us, but mom and dad wouldn’t be able to buy us any gifts.  This also meant that the usual moneys that we would receive to purchase presents for everyone in our family had also dried up.
 A few days before Christmas, as we three children looked at a Christmas tree which had no presents underneath its branches, made a decision not to be defeated by the lack of money.  After all, who says that you need money in order to give presents!  After a very long and thoughtful discussion between us three, we concluded that we could hunt around the house and find things that already existed in which we could wrap up, some in actual Christmas paper, other presents in news paper or grocery sacks.  It took only one afternoon of imaginative thinking to fill that empty space under the tree.  When mom and dad got home from work, they were much surprised at all the presents that magically appeared under a once lonely tree.
 On the morning of Christmas, we found that Santa had indeed not forgotten us.  There were a few extra gifts under the tree which contained new clothes that our mother had made, sewing late into the night after spent a full day at her job.  Today can’t recall what Santa had brought that year or the gifts that mom had worked so hard on.  What I can remember are all the things that my sister, brother, and I had given to each other.  Gifts such as: whiskey bottles filled with colored water, old hats found deep within mom’s closet, cooking tinsels, odd bowls, and bath soaps from the hall closet.  One gift in particular was a box of rocks that my brother had given my sisters.  This particular gift became the annual gift given between my sister and brother, with the one receiving the box of rock the previous year, giving it to the giver.  This became the most cherished gift of all, to the point that a few Christmases ago, when I was able to join my sister for Christmas and my brother was not, I purchased some polished rocks and a vase, and gave them to my sister in my brother’s name.
 What that Christmas showed us as a family, was that Christmas wasn’t about the ability to buy gifts for those we loved, but that it was in the act of “giving” in itself.  That year, the giving of those rocks and whiskey bottoms really was giving out of our poverty.  They were worth very little by the worlds standards, but they were the most precious gifts that we both gave and received by our standards. 
 It shaped the value for us three, that giving of ourselves is the most precious gift.  It is in the effort of sticking together, working through tough times, and most importantly to “just be together”, for me and my sister and brother, this is what brings the most priceless gift one can give, and it came out of our giving out of our poverty.
Today, many families spend outrageous amounts of money on presents that are quickly forgotten.  Many children once they open their presents, spend the rest of the day, isolated from their families, focused on what they received.  I wonder if we have lost our ability to come and celebrate the gift of each other, because of our giving out of our abundance.  It’s like the song of the little drummer boy, in his question, “what can I bring to the baby Jesus?”  For him a poor drummer boy, it was the talent that he possessed, that of drumming a tune. 
 As we prepare to bringing our pledge cards this coming Sunday, I would ask you to think about the question, “Do I give out of my abundance, which has the danger of un-engagement, or do I give out of my poverty, which has the potential of making me more engaged within this faith community?”  Amen

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Walking the Talk, by Rev Steven R Mitchell, 11/4/2012 for Mountain View United, Aurora, CO

Walking the Talk
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 11/4/2012
Based on Ruth 1:1-18
 In my first parish out of seminary, it was expected of me to lead a mid-week bible study.  Feeling rather intimidated by the prospect of being the teaching authority, and knowing that many of scholarly things that I had learned about the books of the bible would not go over very well with the congregation that I was called to, and also knowing how delicate the relationship between pastor and congregation was with this group who had had a major upset with the previous pastor, I decided to do a study on a book that would have very little controversy within its pages, or so I thought.  I choose for our first book of study the book of Ruth.
 After all, here is a book that speaks about unconditional love.  What better topic for a congregation that had been split apart and alienated from the larger community for its perceived “unchristian” behavior toward members and pastor.  This is a love story of how two women brought together by marriage become one family, caring for one another, and triumphantly over came all the difficulties and hardships that being two widows of the time would have encounter. 
Easy book study, right.  Wrong!  I stepped right into the frying pan without even realizing it.  Do you know that when it says that Ruth laid at the feet of Boaz there on the thrashing floor, most of those folks in the bible study envisioned Ruth literally laying at Boaz’s feet, like an obedient dog might do!  Maybe some of you have that same image, if so, know now that I see that phrase as a metaphor about intimate relationships.  I can safely tell you that the way I now understand the book of Ruth is not the same understanding that I came out of seminary with.  Do I still step into the frying pan today when I talk on this seemingly simple story?  You bet I do.  But the difference from the first time I taught on Ruth and now is I know that I most likely will be walking into the frying pan.
Over the years, I have grown to appreciate the depth of what seems to be a simple love story.  And it is a love story, a love story that speaks of unconditional love, a love story that speaks to the relationship of God to humanity, a love story that screams of extravagant giving and acceptance.  It is a story that challenges many principles that a society who trusts in Capitalism should take a closer look at, instead of being the monkey who holds his hands to his ears so he “hears no evil”, or being the monkey who holds his hands over his eyes so he “sees no evil”, or even the monkey who holds his hands over his mouth, so he will “speak no evil.”
When my eldest daughter was 18 or 19 years old, she and her boyfriend decided to spend a weekend visiting my sister.  Now I thought this was great, because my children didn’t get to spend a lot of time with my side of the family after their mother and I divorced.  Several weeks later, as I was discussing how wonderful I thought it was that my daughter had paid her a visit, my sister brought a little bit of reality into my world.  “You do realize Steve, that both of the kids stayed in the same bedroom, don’t you?”  This is not the type of information that a father wishes to hear about his adult daughter, of who still thinks of his daughter as “daddy’s little girl” and I immediately found myself telling my sister, “I don’t want to hear about this.”  I did the hands on my ear thing and sang, “La, la, la, la, la…”
The story that Ruth tells the church is very much like the information that my sister was trying to share with me, and I think the church very much reacts like I did with the “La, la, la, la, la”, hands over the ears, maybe even over the eyes and most certainly with hands over our mouths, so we don’t have to speak about the truths that scripture challenges us with.
So here is the scoop about Ruth.  The most obvious use today in the book of Ruth is to speak about the alien, the foreigner within our midst.  I suspect, many a minister this morning will focus on the shambles that our countries immigration laws are in.  This year’s Presidential elections will very much have a say in what the future holds for those people who are living productive lives in our country that are undocumented. 
This focus would not be unwarranted, for the church in this country is far too silent on this issue, but the understanding of alien or foreigner is what is open for interpretation.  Just as in Mark 12, when a scribe asked Jesus what was the greatest law or commandment, Jesus answered, saying: “30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[f] But then Jesus compounded this commandment by adding,”31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[g] There is no commandment greater than these.” 
I am sure that the scribe was very satisfied, for there was no stretch to what was already understood.  Love God, that’s the one who is the provider of all things.  Love our neighbor, that’s easy as well, for that means anyone who is like me.  You see in the Hebrew mind, the neighbor was another way of saying your countryman, or since you were a Jew, your neighbor was anyone who would be a Jew as well.  Your neighbor was certainly not a gentile.  
Jesus understood this limited interpretation of “neighbor” and addressed it with the story about the good Samaritan.  In that story, the two Jews who crossed the road so as to not having to help the man who had been brutalized and left to die, represented the governmental and religious sections of Hebrew society, the two institutions that were charged with the care and well being of its people.  It was an outsider, a none Jew who stopped and helped the man in need.  This broadened the interpretation to mean any person is our neighbor.
If Ruth is challenging the listener in how one should be inter-acting with the alien or foreigner, we need to then understand who is this individual?  Is it just the person who is being forced from their homeland and moving to another country in order to be able to survive?  Have you thought about yourselves as being the alien or foreigner?  How many people have directly moved from their birth city and have lived in a different city or state?  What was the reason for moving?  Ultimately it was seeking a better life.
But who is the alien or foreigner within our midst, if we broaden our definition?  If we classify “alien” as: one who has little or no voice in how laws affect them, would that not broaden our understanding?  What if the alien or foreigner was also characterized by being “outcast” “not seen?”  Maybe the person who is standing at the intersection with their hat out asking for help, food, or shelter?  What about if that person who is not “seen” is the person walking down the street who is talking to themselves in non-sensical jabber or has tourettes, could they not be the alien or foreigner in our midst?
My point is, there are many ways in which to understand who the “foreigner” or “alien” among us is.  The easiest way to recognize that person is asking the question: is this person an outsider, is this person being used as a social scapegoat?  Or is this person mistrusted out of fear because we are not familiar with their cultural background, or religious practices, or the color of their skin. 
Where are we on our “Walking the talk” as a church?  Knowing that a church is a collection of individuals who calls themselves followers of Jesus’ teachings?  When we are confronted with issues surrounding immigration reform, or topics around prison reform or the conversation about the death penalty, or on mental health care, or on health care for everyone, on homelessness, basic quality of life issues, are we actively being the “good Samaritan” stopping to do something about these problems?  Spending time in conversation in order to better understand and reconcile these issues?  Or are we of a mind that “it's not my problem” and react like the three monkeys who hide their eyes, their ears, and their mouths, mostly because we don’t want to put out the energy that Jesus calls us to put out, because it’s too much trouble to speak out, because if we speak out, we might be seen as unpatriotic, queer, or aa trouble makers?  Or possibly we think that we have resolved within our hearts and minds that change is necessary, and we don’t have to supply the voice for those who have no voice.
 What does “walking the talk” mean to you?  Better yet, what does walking the talk in light of what scripture says, mean to you?  Does it mean just offering up our sacrifices or does it mean scarifying, going the second mile like Ruth did for Naomi when she said,  “Your people shall be my people; your God shall be my God.”?  Amen

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Bone of My Bones, by Rev Steven R Mitchell, Mountain View United, Aurora, CO

Bone of My Bones

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United Church, Aurora, CO 10/7/2012

Based on Genesis 2:18-23

Last week, I took a study week away from the office. Paul and I drove up into the mountains near the Allens Park area and stayed at the Presbyterian Highlands Camp and Retreat Center. As we were coming back home at the end of the week we were enjoying the beautiful colors of the Aspen trees, chatting in light conversation as we wound our way out of the mountains. Once we were on the flats I noted a decrease in the speed limit to 40 miles per hour. I slowed down to about 36 MPH, still in light conversation with Paul. As I looked into my rear view mirror, I noticed a patrol car speeding up behind me with his emergency lights flashing. I rounded the corner thinking he was going straight, but to my surprise he was stopping me.

His first question to me was, “Do you know why I have stopped you, sir?” I responded with, “No officer I haven’t a clue as to why you have stopped me.” “Sir, do you know what the speed limit was back on the road you just turned off of?” “Well officer, I thought it was 40 MPH.” I responded. “So you didn’t see the lighted sign on the road that flashed ‘25’ MPH as you entered the city limits? I clocked you at 36 MPH.” He continued with, “You were slowing down, but then you held steady at 36 MPH.”

I share this story as an example of being “engaged” and of being “not-engaged.” I was being “engaged” in conversation with Paul and with the beautiful scenery that the drive was providing. I was however, “not-engaged” with driving, even though I was behind the wheel and staying on my side of the road. If I had been engaged in my driving at that time, I would have seen that lighted speed sign, as I did this past Tuesday as I was again on that same stretch of road.

Now what does this story that speaks about “engaged” or “not” have to do with this morning’s scripture reading of God creating a helper for the “human?” Actually, the topic of “engaged or not-engaged” has everything to do with today’s scriptural text. One of the definitions of “engaged” that fits today’s reflection is, “Partly embedded in, built into, or attached to another part.” This affects us individually in how we go throughout our daily routine, this affects us as a family of faith in how we function as a people of God, and it affects us at the level of all humanity and all of creation and how we respond to it.

Today is World Communion Sunday. A day that as people of faith, we have set aside to intentionally be aware of our brothers and sisters around the world as we all celebrate the teachings of Christ and remember his engagement within this physical world; an engagement that calls for justice for all and the ability to live in “grace and mercy” with one another and in harmony with our planet.

Today we have the opportunity to give through a special offering a “love gift” to our respective denominations that will put our monies to work in helping fight those injustices such as poverty, human trafficking, and lack of adequate resources for daily living.

Today’s scripture is also a spring board for us as we start our annual stewardship discussions. You might be thinking that all we are going to talk about over the next month is how to separate you from your money. Wrong. Sorry to disappoint you, we are going to talk very little about money, but rather we are going to talk about engagement. We are going to continue on a journey that was started at the “Vision 2012” retreat, a journey that is asking us to look at not only the “mission” of this church, but to look at where we are at on a personal level in our relationships with God, the church, and to ourselves.

As we think about today’s lesson that we call the creation story, we see how God is engaged in what has been created. God has created all that is and now desires it to be experienced not by just God, but by a creature that is described in Psalms 8 as “beings that are just a little lower than God but greater than the angels.” Within this process, we have this beautiful description of how we should look at all of humanity, when the human says, and “This one is bone of my bones…” God is described as being concerned about the human who was placed on this earth and was showing signs of “loneliness”. So as a way of helping complete the human, an equal as created.

Over time, humanity once again became “not-engaged” with relationship to God, but rather “engaged” in self. This type of engagement brings about the acts of injustice that we see played out worldwide. It is through the teachings and lifestyle of a man we call Jesus that God once again tries to engage humanity. We see within Jesus, God becoming, “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.”

Have you ever noticed in the stories about Jesus, how he generally refers to those he is ministering to as “brothers and sisters?” He doesn’t refer to us as children, which would place us subordinate to him. The implications are then that just as Jesus, the one we say is the son of God is, “bone of my bone”, we too are God’s “bone of my bone.” In the same respect, all humanity is equal, as we all are “bone of my bone.”

In the same respect, the church also is “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” with God. Yet the church is only as “engaged” as its members. As individuals, how engaged in our relationship with God are we? In Albert Winseman’s book, “Growing an Engaged Church”, he states that through Gallup polls only 29% of individuals who attend Protestant and Catholic churches are engaged, and that 54% of those who go to church are “not-engaged.”

What does this mean? Well, I think it describes my opening story about driving and not being aware of the change in the speed limit. 54% of us who attend a church are not really engaged in what we call our spiritual health or growth. We can attend worship, give our money for worthy causes that the church is engaged in, even attend some of the extra events that are provided, but internally we are really not receiving the benefits that are available.

What is the most personal impact within our life that benefit from being engaged in a faith community? Life satisfaction. Gallup polls found that 43% of the general population feels satisfied with their lives, which means that nearly 6 out of 10 people are not happy with the way their lives are going, while those who are engaged in their faith families poll at 61% of being satisfied with their lives.

Winseman goes on to say, “If engagement drives everything, it should have an impact on spiritual commitment. Indeed, Gallup research confirms that the two have a powerful relationship. The conventional wisdom is, “believing leads to belonging: - that is, the deeper one’s faith (spiritual commitment) is, the more likely it is that he/she will desire to belong to a congregation (engagement). The reality is just the opposite: It is belonging (engagement) that leads to believing (commitment). So parents, if you want your children to have an active spiritually developing life, don’t let them make the decision about whether they want to go to church or not. Because the reality is, the depth of their spiritual grow comes through being engaged with congregational life.

As we come to this communion table this morning, we are aware that we are connected to all of humanity. We have multiple types of bread to remind us of the connectedness, the “bone of my bones”, that we are all equal in the eyes of God. This table affirms through our faith communities, we have the ability to be engaged and develop more deeply our humanity and not feel alone, but walk our journey with others who will support us along the way with a sense of satisfaction. The question today is, “How engaged do you wish to be?” Amen

Sunday, September 16, 2012

So What? by Rev Steven R Mitchell, Mountain View United

So What?
Rev Steven R Mitchell
Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 9/16/2012
Based on Mark 8:27-28
 One of my favorite “classic” T.V. shows from the 80’s is the “Golden Girls”.  Sophia Petrillo, the oldest member of that household, is my most favorite character, because she seems to hold the true wisdom when it is most needed.  So I have developed an adaptation of how she might look at this morning’s reading out of Mark.
 Scene: Dorothy is having a discussion with her mother Sophia over Dorothy’s identity crisis.  To which Sophia shares one of her typical motherly stories which are filled with great wisdom and comfort.  Sophia begins her story with: Picture it, Caesarea Philippi, 0030 AD.  A band of men wondering around the countryside trying to hide from Herod, the King of Israel, who had just murdered John the Baptizer for identifying the King’s sinful marriage to his brother’s wife Herodias, but I digress; finding themselves in the middle of a Roman colony.  Roman soldiers walking around at every turn, just looking for an excuse to arrest any Hebrew that seemed suspicious. 
As these guys are marveling at the great white marble temple that was built to honor Caesar, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples answer back with, “Some say you are John the Baptizer; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”  Then Jesus asked them, “But who do you say that I am?”    “You are the Messiah,” they responded.
 Sophie with a seemingly blank look on her face, stops with a very long pause in her story.  After a number of seconds of silence, Dorothy anxiously asks, “What happened next?”  Sophia replies with, “He turned to the crowd and told them to deny themselves, pick up their cross, and follow him.”  With a puzzled look on her face, Dorothy asks her mother, “What does this have to do with me?”  Sophia again with a blank look on her face says, “absolutely nothing, I just liked the story.”  Dorothy not being satisfied with her mother’s response and a waste of her time in listening to her mother ramble on about a story that had no obvious point continues to bemoan about her identity crisis.  Sophia says, “Look pussycat, “So what”, who cares how people identify you?  The important thing is “who do you think you are?  How do you identify yourself?”  Because, when you know who you are, then everyone else will know also.”  End of scene.
 Was Jesus having an “identity crisis” and needing to have the support through opinion polls as a way of helping him identify “who” he was and “how” his mission would be shaped?  Possibly, but I think the story is asking us to think in a more personal direction.  Caesarea Philippi was a Roman colony, the “evil empire” so to speak.  This discussion might very well have happened right in front of the temple for Caesar, again, symbolizing the human kingdom, with all that it brings, which for the Hebrews meant enslavement.  With Peter declaring his view of Jesus as the “Messiah”, Jesus was able to understand how at least Peter was viewing who he was and what the expectations would be.  The Hebrew image of “Messiah” was solely one of a “political” image.  In Peter’s announcement, Jesus now understood that Peter saw Jesus as a political figure, one who would re-establish the earthly kingdom of Israel.  Because of this image, Jesus then in front, out in the open crowd tries to correct this understanding that he, Jesus, was not interested in an earthly kingdom, but rather was trying to teach people about God’s kingdom.  A kingdom not built on exploiting people in which to gain power, but rather a “kindom”, a community that is strong because of the giving of self for others.
 So the real question is, “what does Jesus mean to you?”  “Why do you or would you follow Jesus?”  Peter, in seeing Jesus as “Messiah”, implies that Peter was expecting some sort of political appointment, some position of power and authority in the new kingdom.  What is the “pay-off” in following Jesus?  This is the question that society is asking the church.  “What will I receive if I follow Jesus?” 
 In our own personal lives, we might say that we “follow” Jesus, but we all live in an empire that is physical and not based on the teachings that Jesus presented.  How do we live our lives in the shadow of this physical empire?  We are faced with this reality every second of our day.  It doesn’t just happen once a week, when we wake up and realize it’s Sunday, and then struggle with “do I get up and go to church today or do I stay in bed and just relax for a change.”  The historical reason for coming to church on Sunday is to celebrate and rejoice in our relationship with God.  It is that space in our week when we intentionally take some time out to hopefully have an experience where the veil that separates us from God can be thinner than usual, so that we can feel more connected with our creator.  It is in our daily living that we confront the ideas of Jesus with that reality of the earthly empire.
For several generations now, the church has not done a good job in sharing with people, “What it means to believe in Jesus.”  As a result we have less folks celebrating on Sunday mornings and huge portions of our population saying, “So What?  Why should I look at this Jesus person?  What am I going to get out of it?  How is my life going to be richer for following Jesus?
 Part of the problem is many of us have been taught a Jesus that focuses on doctrines and set statements about who he is, which isn’t who Jesus was.  Jesus was relational, interested in how each of us treat the other.  Jesus was about helping, expanding, including all of humanity, not about restricting, punishing, or excluding some.  We have two generations that have very little knowledge about Jesus and the church and what knowledge they do have is filled with negative behavior, so why should they be interested in learning about “who” Jesus is? 
 These two generations are very keen on friendships, and honoring those relationships over financial gain.  They are more interested in making sure everyone is receiving a fair shake and are less concerned with “rules” and “requirements”, and are more concerned with “equality.”  They see those who say they “follow” Jesus as being more of the empire of exclusion, exploitation, and of being punitive, because this is what they have watched on T.V. Christian programming, personally experienced from many churches, and in the political arena when Jesus is quoted when passing laws that re-enforce the attitudes of “as long as I have mine, the rest of you can suffer.” 
 Most of us sitting here this morning are pre-boomers and boomers.  Our generation thrived on self-achievement, self-actualization, and self-satisfaction.  Hear the difference?  Our children and grandchildren are of a generation that thrives on friendships, community as a support system (I would rather hang out with my friends this weekend instead of work overtime), and are more prone to group processing to achieve a goal.  In reality, I see Gen X and Gen Y values aliened more closely with how I understand the teachings of Jesus than the generation that I am a part of.
 I also see that Mountain View United, as a community of faith has in its core values most of what is attractive to these two generations.  Our quest is “how” are we going to let people know about Jesus?  Again, I think the answer comes back to each of us in being able to answer the question, “What does it mean to me, to believe in Jesus?” and “How do we pick up our cross and follow Him?”  Amen

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks, By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 9/9/2012
Based on Mark 7:24-37
 Let me ask you a question before we get into this morning’s discussion:  Is Jesus capable of using “racist” language?
Too often, the church has portrayed Jesus as this incredibly generous person, endlessly giving of himself and always open and approachable to anyone who is requesting help, yet today’s readings do not hold up to these high exaltations.  Here we have two negative revelations about Jesus.  The first is the racist language that he uses toward the Syrophoenician woman, who approaches him asking for a healing of her daughter, the other, is Jesus’ apparent reluctance of healing a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment.  Both of these situations took place in a foreign land, outside of the Hebrew culture.
Today’s lection reading tells us that Jesus set out from the region of Bethsaida to the coastal city of Tyre.  He had just finished teaching and ministering to a large crowd of five thousand men and additional women and children and was needing some alone time.  This was all occurring about the same time of King Herod having John the Baptizer beheaded and I suspect that Jesus was trying to put as much distance between him and Herod as possible.  By going to the city state of Tyre, he would be out of the legal jurisdiction of Herod.  Jesus discovers his reputation had preceded his arrival and he was not able to be lost in the crowd in Tyre.
Let’s look at the first of these two stories.  What did Jesus mean when he responded to the Syrophoenician woman’s request that he heal her daughter with, “It is not right to take the children's bread and give it to the dogs.  First let the children eat all they want.”  In this past week’s lection bible study, I was reminded that not everyone understands this response to be a “tongue and cheek” response of the lowest types.  The “bread” that Jesus is referring to is the “gift” from God that is provided to the Hebrew people.  The reference to “dogs” is that of gentiles, which from a Hebrew cultural perspective, the use of the word “dogs” is a metaphor for being the lowest of creatures.  Jesus was in effect telling this woman that because of her being a non Hebrew, she wasn’t good enough to receive any of the gifts that God has to offer.
When I was in seminary, Billy Graham was coming to Kansas City, where I was living at the time, to do one of his famous revivals.  When discussing this upcoming event with a student who was older than I by fifteen years or more, I was shocked that she was in no way going to give any support to Rev Graham and the reason was, back in his early days of preaching revivals in the 1950’s in the deep South, the African American person was relegated to having to sit in the balcony.  This discussion was happening in the 1980’s and African Americans no longer had to sit in a designated part of the auditorium because of the success of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s.  Yet in her eyes, Rev Graham was a spokesman for God and God would not have condoned that type of cultural behavior.  The truth was, Rev Graham whether or not he agreed with the double standard, operated within those standards, thereby effectively condoning that racist behavior.
Jesus, I believe was just as influenced by the cultural standards of his day as was Rev Billy Graham in the 1950’s.  The Phoenicians were of the Canaanite culture, which was deeply hated by the Hebrew culture.  Queen Jezebel was a Canaanite, who not only brought her god Baal to Israel, but influenced her husband to turn away from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 
Jesus was also a student of John the Baptizer.  John believed that the Messiah was coming to carry on the message of “turn and repent”, a “hell, fire, and brimstone” type of message.  So in the early part of Jesus’ ministry, his teachings and healings were for the people of God – meaning the Hebrew people.  It is in this encounter, as I read and understand this story, that Jesus is encountered with his own message and exactly who is this message available to.  Up to this point, all those that Jesus encountered were Hebrews, but after this point we can read in scripture where Jesus expanded his ministry to include the Gentiles. 
The second story, again has Jesus encountering a gentile man who has some friends (we really do not know who the “they” were; it could be the disciples, friends of this man, or possibly the towns folk) who bring him to Jesus requesting that Jesus heal him.  Almost all of Jesus’ miracles are done in the presence of people; sometimes a small group, and other times in front of a large crowd.  Yet Jesus takes this man away from everyone and performs this healing in private.  “Why?”
One of the obvious behaviors of Jesus that was commented on in this past week’s lectionary study was the seeming reluctance on the part of Jesus to do these healings, as well as his insistence that people not talk about these healings.  One would think that His ability to heal people would be a great calling card to increase the awareness of his ministry.  When you read through most of Jesus’ ministry, we can read that Jesus almost always seemed reluctant to perform acts of healing.  On the other hand, you never read in any of the stories about Jesus being reluctant when it came to his speaking about God and the relationship that we are encouraged to have with God.  It is my believe that the reluctance toward the healing acts that Jesus performed, actually distracted from the message that Jesus was trying to express to his audience.
I believe we have this tension today, as the church in general struggles with the question of, “how do we make worship relevant to the larger non-churched audience without it becoming distracting as to the true reasons for being in worship?”   In the movie “Sister Act”, these two view points are discussed between Sister Mary Clarence and The Mother Superior.  Mother Superior was focused on making sure people were attending church for the “right” reasons – which in reality meant very few people were attending worship, while Sister Mary Clarence believed in updating the message through music and how it was performed in order to get the people out in the streets into the pew where they would then have the opportunity to hear the word of God.
Our mainline denominations today, struggle like Jesus with issues of “who is included” and “who is not included” in the community of believers.  During the 1960 – 1970’s, the debate was over the color of a person’s skin, and where were they allowed to sit during worship, as well as discussion as to ethnic marriages.  In the 1980- to present, the discussions of inclusion have been focused on sexual orientation and gender identification, as well as what constitutes a legally recognized marriage.  We have over lapped this conversation in the 2000’s through the next ten years or so on discussing who is allowed to enter and live within our boarders as we struggle with the topic of immigration.  Almost all these topics boil down to the fear of losing something, of not having enough to go around, of scarcity thinking.  We call it racism, we call it bigotry, or we call it Nationalism. 
We at Mountain View, as we search for the future of this ministry, have to be open enough to look at what it is that we have been doing and truthfully examine our culture, the DNA of this body of believers and see if we like Jesus need to make some changes in order to broaden the audience, so we may better share the word of God.  Are we willing to only keep the message, the bread for those who are like us, or are we going to share this bread with the larger community?  Jesus changed his focus once he got out of the Hebrew culture and was touring the land where the gentiles lived.  Old dogs can learn new tricks; we just need to be willing to walk outside in the land of the gentiles.  Amen

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Wonders of Implants, Rev Steven R Mitchell

The Wonders of Implants

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 9/2/2012

Based on James 1:17-27 & Mark 7:1-23


        When I was a child there was a commercial on T.V. that I thought rather cleaver, for it challenged our usual stereo types of what was being asked.  In this commercial you see this person walking up to his neighbor’s fence.  The neighbor seeing his visitor in a gesture of being a good host invites the neighbor over for a drink.  The neighbor declines by responding, “Thank you but no.  I don’t drink.”  The host say’s, “I was referring to a glass of water or some iced tea.”  The generic understanding that most people have of the word “drink” refers to some type of alcoholic beverage.  Yet the meaning is much broader than inferring alcohol.

Another word that gives a similar type of response is the word “implants.”  What comes to the mind when one first hears this word is “silicone.”  Yet there are all sorts of implants: there are dental implants, cornea implants, tissue implants.  There are implants for contraception and there are implants for fertilization.  When you place a fence post into the ground, that post has been implanted.  So there are implants that can leave us emotionally cool, warm, or even hot and bothered. 

But “implants” can also be wondrous and moving.  Medical implants generally give us a higher quality of life and many times is truly life giving.  In this morning” Epistle, James tells us of the implant that God has given each of us.  Welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your soul.James 1:21b   James tells us that,“ God gave us birth by the word of truth.”  We are told in the Hebrew Bible that we were wonderfully knitted together at God’s own hand.  A part of that thread God used in us is God’s word of truth, it has been implanted in each and every person.  All we have to do is recognize it, not with boosting, but with meekness.  For it is through this recognition, this welcoming the implanted word that gives us what we need to grow and mature into what God wishes for us.

Over the past couple of meetings of Sacred Grounds, one of the questions that Wayne Laws helped answer in a follow-up e-mail this week was the timing of various books written in the New Testament.  Most people when looking at the books as they are placed in the New Testament think this is the chronological order in which they were written.  But this is not the case.  Most scholars today believe that the Epistle of James was the first document written to the church, dating around 50 AD.  This may sound like a mute point, but it is important in understanding who the audience was that the author was writing to and what might have been going on at that time in history, which would then give us a clearer picture as to how to understand and interpret these writings. 

James is giving us some advice that still holds true with Christians of today.  Several of these pieces of advice by James focus around our conduct with others.  James tells us to be slow to speak, but quick to listen.  One of the largest issues in most church disputes centers around this principle.  When leaders of a conference come in and try to make heads and tails of a church dispute, more times than not, that person will hear in one form or another that the problem comes because people are not being heard.  When we are in a board meeting and someone is saying something, often it feels to that person as if they are not being listened to.  Now, letting someone say what is on their minds and heart is the first step in communicating, but there is no communication until the one listening actually opens their mind enough to truly hear what is being sad. 

There is a story I like to share and if you have heard this one already, I apologize but it makes the point very clearly.  When I was around 4 or 5 years old, my grandmother and I were shopping for groceries.  As we rounded the corner of one of the aisles, at the other end was a woman who was very pregnant.  Now mind you, this was in the late 1950’s when you never publicly spoke about such matters.  I tugged on my grandmother’s dress and quietly informed my grandmother about the lady who was pregnant.  There was no answer.  As we each approached each other, I once again tugged on grandmother’s dress hem thinking that she didn’t hear me the first time, stated in a little louder voice that the woman coming toward us was going to have a baby; still no response.  Once we had passed each other, I said in a voice that the clerk at the front of the store could hear, “Grandma, that lady is going to have a baby! Yes, Steven I can see that.” my grandmother acknowledged with a face as red as a radish.  The point was, I thought I wasn’t being heard, and persisted until not only did my grandmother hear, but most likely everyone in the store as well.  Too often, we don’t acknowledge what someone is trying to tell us, or we might give some flipped response that comes across as saying “their thoughts and ideas” are not valid. 

Another issue that James is speaking to the early church: is how our faith translates through our actions.  It was James’ understanding that you cannot call yourself a true person of the light, without it showing through your deeds.  The Apostle Paul, spoke about this when he said, “if he gave money to the poor but did not have love, he was an empty sounding gong.”  In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus say’s, “that it is what comes from the inside that shows if we are pure or not.

Yesterday I attended the official acceptance of the Kenyan Fellowship that worships once a month in our sanctuary become an official chapter of the National Kenyan Christian Fellowship of America organization.  What an amazing time of worship I experienced there.  Some of the songs were in English, others were in Swahili.  During those songs in Swahili, various people at my table would lean over and tell me the English hymn it was taken from, many times being a variation of something that was familiar to me.  During that worship, much time was spent praising God and Jesus.  These were words that could only be spoken from what was coming out of the heart.  Because of those praises I was feeling apart of the gathering, not just a white man being tolerated, but a person included in their special celebration.  At various times there were people who would let out a sound that can only be made by the vibrating of the tongue, but you could tell that this was a praise that was coming from joy coming from deep within the heart as they were worshiping God.

James directs us in these verses to be dutiful to the widow and orphans who are in need.  This is a mandate to care for those who are less fortunate, who are in need, who do not have a voice.  Last week as Jean Mott and I were bringing some things from the retreat on visioning back to the church, we came across a man who is home challenged and spends a certain amount of time utilizing the patio near the office door.  We had some left over sandwiches from the retreat and after chatting with him for awhile, we asked if he had eaten supper yet, and of course the answer was, “no.”  So we gave a couple of sandwiches to him, which then lead into some more conversation.  What bothers me, is that during council, just the week before, we had discussed as to whether we should ask this man to move on, without even checking out what his circumstances in life might be.  I think James or Jesus for that matter would have been very sad with that discussion.

If we call ourselves people who are receivers of the word of truth, I think we have a huge up hill road to travel before we can truly make that claim.  Yes, we make burritos once a month to pass out to “day” labors and those who hang out at the downtown Denver mission, but how are we doing with people who are literally sitting at our front steps?  I wonder if we more often than not are the people James says, “who look at themselves in the mirror and then after walking away, forget what they look like. In other words, we can hear the word of God on Sunday morning, leaving here feeling good, but come Monday have forgotten what we had experienced on Sunday.

There is wondrousness in the implant that God gives to us.  Our challenge is to “welcome in meekness this implanted word from God,  for it is through this welcoming that we will bring life and salvation to a world that is stained in forgetfulness, selfishness, and egocentric.  Amen