Thursday, June 28, 2012

Summer Preaching Series "Love Wins"

Summer Series: Love Wins!
“God loves us.  God offers us everlasting life by grace, freely, through no merit on our part.  Unless you do not respond the right way.  Then God will torture you forever.  In hell. Huh?”  from Love Wins.
Starting July 1, we will begin exploring what the message of Jesus was and more importantly, how consistent is this message to current day understandings of “Heaven” and “Hell”, with the help of Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins.”.  Is “heaven” a real place?  Does a creating and loving God actually send people to “Hell?”  These are some of the question that we will explore in depth.  I hope that you will join me on Sunday mornings at 10 a.m. for this journey in finding out “who makes it to Heaven.”  Invite your friends for a challenging look at Jesus’ message to humanity!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Life as a Passenger

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 6/24/2012

Based on Mark 4:35-41 & I Samuel 17

Mark 4: 40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” These were the words that Jesus spoke to his disciples after he had calmed the raging storm waters that had threatened to capsize the boat they were sailing in. These words seem almost harsh to me. If we were to place ourselves on this boat, as experienced fishermen, who would have been knowledgeable in handling a boat, especially in a storm, it would have been a natural human response to become fearful for our lives, when we realize that this storm has the capability to capsize our craft. Yet Jesus was down in the interior sound asleep, unshaken by the tossing of the boat and the amount of water that the boat must have been taking on.

When some of the men had gone down to where Jesus was sleeping and wakened him, I suspect Jesus had that unhappy look that comes when rudely interrupted from a deep sleep. In a cry of fear the disciples say to Jesus: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” This is a perfectly natural reaction on the part of the disciples, after all, the boat is caught up in this massive storm, taking on water as enormous wave’s crash over the boat, and here is their teacher, seemingly totally unaware of the danger they were in.

To understand Jesus’ response, it would help to go back one chapter and recall the events of the day. In chapter 3, Jesus had gone into the synagogue, and while there healed a man with a shriveled hand, that’s right, Jesus actually broke the law of ‘working on the Sabbath’. Next we read that he goes into a private home and is doing healing and teaching, creating a huge disturbance, so much so that his mother and family comes trying to take him home, because Jesus is emotionally disturbed. Jesus ignoring his mother’s request, then goes out of town near the Sea of Galilee, telling his friends to have a boat ready just in case the crowds become too large. It is at this point when Jesus, pulls a group of twelve men aside and chooses them to become his disciples. By evening Jesus is totally exhausted from all of the healing and teaching that he had done and tells his disciples to put out to sea, for he was going to cross over to the other side.

To Jesus’ amazement, after all of the day’s events of healing and teaching, the disciples seemed to not understand who Jesus was, and I think more importantly, their lack of understanding of his concern for them. For if what had been happening that day showed anything, it showed the love and the outreach that Jesus has for even those that were strangers to him. So as disciples, with all that they had seen, why wouldn’t they have understood that Jesus would also have concern about their safety; where was their faith?

Compare the Gospel story to that of the Hebrew story of young David as he is appalled by what he sees on the battle field, of the disrespect by Goliath and the Philistines toward the God of Israel, and of the fear the Israelite army seemed to have of this mighty giant.

This is the beauty of youth, of how in their innocence, youth can see the injustice and from outrage impulsively act to correct that injustice. This is something that maturity often seems to lose. The older we become, the less likely we are to speak out about injustices that we see. Is it because we are afraid to rock the boat, or maybe we feel we have too much to lose, or we just don’t have the energy to deal with it, or possibly it is just apathy; or maybe, just maybe we don’t believe, no faith, that by doing something it would truly make a difference.

King Saul was so overwhelmed by the threats of Goliath that he wouldn’t take up the challenge of sending out one man to fight Goliath, because he believed that no one could defeat this seasoned giant. In comes David, just a boy, asking permission to stand up to Goliath. Saul, sizes David up as inexperienced and too small to beat Goliath. We read in this story, a young man who in his years of tending sheep sees how God has been by his side in times of grave danger. We see a young man who has faith that God not only has the capacity to help him when in need, but wants to help when needed.

We see in these two stories, the difference in how people respond to dangerous situations depending on the level of faith they have. This faith may be in God’s power, or this faith may be in something else. People react to correct an issue whether they call themselves Christians or not. For those who label themselves as having faith in God, their faith comes out of past experiences of seeing God’s hand at work. If a person doesn’t believe in God, this faith might be in pure justice, knowing that justice ultimately wins out. Either way, it is ‘faith’ that prompts a person to act or react.

I consider myself most lucky to know a woman who is a refugee from the 1930-40’s Nazi Germany, whose family was able to escape arrest and make it safely to this country. The family lived in Germany and faced with the rise in fascism, the father sent his two daughters out of the country to Holland, to a town where the father’s college friend lived. While Liesel’s family eventually was able to immigrate to the USA, the family who was her father’s college friend were unable to gain visa’s and were eventually discovered and sent off to concentration camps, with only a diary remaining to let the world know of their existence, the diary of Anne Frank. I want to share with you a short clip that was sent to me on Thurs by another friend that puts meat to this morning’s scripture lessons.

There are many giants in our world. They may be labeled with corporate names such as Enron, Exxon, or general labels such as Wall Street. These giants might be labeled as various dictators, terrorist leaders, governments that support such groups, or even our own government when it acts in the name of special interest groups, which harm our environment, our poor or citizens of other countries. Another one of these giants comes with losing independence through aging or failing health, or when we are faced with loneliness because of the death of a significant person in our lives or through separation or divorce, or of our children growing up and leaving home. There are many giants that make us fearful.

When I hear Christians tell me that they don’t think it is right to hear about political issues from the pulpit, such as: immigration reform, universal health care for all, when our government calls for war, or standing up to Wall Street, I have to respond by asking them what they think Jesus was involved in. Jesus was very political. That is the reason why he upset so many people. He was involved in civil disobedience when he broke the Sabbath law of healing those who asked for help. He broke the temple laws that allowed for merchants in the temple. He challenged the religious system that took advantage of the poor and sick.

As people who call themselves disciples of Christ, we are obligated by Jesus’ teachings and by his actions to speak up for social justice and to speak out against injustices, giving voice to those with no voice. We need to work at changing our laws that penalize the poor; we need to speak out when financial institutions and our elected representatives put their greed ahead of their fiduciary responsibilities.

I find the last sentence in today’s Gospel most intriguing. 41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? You would think that after Jesus had calmed the wind that they would be at peace, but no, now they went from fear of dying in the storm, to being “terrified” by Jesus’ power to command even nature. Who is it that we have been following? Is this the reason why the church that labels itself “progressive” seems to be afraid to involve itself in activities that we call “activism” because, like the disciples we are terrified of what Jesus might ask of us? What if we allow the “truth” of Jesus to enter into the depths of our hearts? Will we too find ourselves having to act as did the young shepherd boy David and actually have to put ourselves out in harm’s way to stand up for injustices that we see in our community? Today’s stories speak to us about fear and faith. Both are non-tangible and unquantifiable words, both are emotional and feeling terms that deal with the heart, not the brain.

As we come together at our August retreat to discuss in depth who we are and discern what we as Mountain View want to focus on in our long range ministries, today’s story’s of David and Goliath, and the disciples terror of who they are following, will be very much at the heart of our discussions and how we envision our future ministries and outreach, will depend on our relationship with Jesus and the depth of our faith in God. Amen

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Who Told You That?, by Rev Steven R Mitchell, Mountain View United, Aurora, CO

Who Told You That? By Rev Steven R Mitchell Mountain View United, Aurora 6/10/2012 Based on Genesis 3:8-13 This morning’s texts is a discussion on “relationships”, relationship between man and his helpmate, relationship between the man and his environment, and relationship between humanity and God. The first two chapters of Genesis has been dealing with the creation of all things, of the universe, of the sky, the moon, the stars, and the sun, of the land and the water, of life as it starts in the sea, then in the air and finally upon the land. Eventually we see God ending this creative activity with the creation of the human. It is here in chapter three that we start to understand the relational side of God with this creation and more specifically between humanity and its creator. To be truthful, this is the only perspective that as humans we can look at, because we can only look at our relationship with God through the lens of being human. We cannot look at how other mammals or reptiles or plant life relates to creation because we do not have the capacity to relate on any of those levels. I am positive that all things created by God, do in fact relate to God, but I will never know how that looks, because I am only capable of doing my processing through the lens of being human. In this morning’s story we have four characters: the man and woman, the serpent, and God. The overview of this story is this: After God has finished creating all the earth and all that lives upon the earth, a man and woman are given the assignment to care for God’s creation. They have full freedom to do anything that they want, except for one thing. “See those two trees in the middle of this garden?” “Stay away from those two trees, you are not allowed to eat any of its fruit. You have all that you need or could ever possibly be able to use with all these other plants and trees, but just don’t eat from those two trees in the center of the garden.” So the man and woman listen to God and go about their business of tending to the garden. Enters the “serpent”, he and the woman strike up a conversation in which the serpent suggests to the woman a possibility as to why God doesn’t want her to eat from this tree. It was suggested that if she were to eat from the tree, she then would be just as wise as the Creator, knowing good from evil. She eventually eats the fruit and also shares it with the man, and indeed, they begin to view life differently, at which point our texts picks up. This story has been used throughout time in a total spectrum of ways to explain every human condition possible, but too often it has been used as a weapon of shame and blame and as a way to control, instead of being used as another example of God’s love. I have a movie that is currently loaned out which deals with another way of looking at human sexuality that I would have loved to share a clip from titled Adam and Steve, just the way God made them. In this story, it shows the traditional story of Adam and Eve, and how Eve dukes the slow witted Adam into eating the fruit. Of course they get expelled from the garden. God is pretty bummed out about how his experiment with humans ended in failure, when a chorus line of male angels do a song and dance routine that encourages God to try again, which God does, but this time God decided to create Adam and Steve. As the story goes, Adam and Steve are happily being innovative and artistic, such as learning how to make fruit into alcoholic beverages and creating decorative glasses in which to drink from. Now there is a fence that separates the garden from the wilderness and while Adam and Steve are blissfully living in the garden, you see a contentious relationship between Adam and Eve. Eve looks enviously on the lavish gifts that God seems to continuously bestowing on Adam and Steve, as she looks around the barren environment that they were presently living in, always feeling that she is lacking and not receiving all that she deserves or needs from God. This is the story that the theological concept of “original” sin is grounded in, this is the story that gives the reason for God sending his son as a sacrifice, this is the story that sets the boundaries of human sexuality, to name just a few. Some or maybe all of these concepts that I’ve just mentioned may ring some truth to you or possibly not. But how we approach many of today’s turmoil’s come from some of the early arguments of such men as Augustine, who articulated the concept of original sin - this idea that we were created with an inerrant sinful behavior. It has been so engrained into society ever since that it seems to have a ring of truth to it. Yet, if we compare that theology to the creation story itself, it goes against what God said about what God created. After each and every day, God pronounced what had been created as good. In fact after God had finished creating man and woman, God pronounced us very good. So for this theologian, I have had to re-examine much of Christian theology and ask the question, is this consistent with God’s pronouncement. As I mentioned at the opening of this reflection, this story is about relationships: relationships specifically between humanity and God. It is the quintessential love story between God and creation. The basic idea that this story deals with is the basic story that each of us face every day in our own life’s, that of buying into a lie. The lie is, we are created less than who we are. Quoting some basic ideas from the book Genesis: The Book of Beginnings, by David Leach who was the person who helped guide me through my ordination process, a thousand years ago presents this view: If Adam and Eve eat of the fruit, they will become “like God.” If they succumb to the temptation, the difference between God and humanity could be eliminated. Pg 18 We have man/woman (who have been pronounced as being very good, which implies “complete”) being presented by a third party, the serpent, that just possibly God didn’t give them all that they needed, that by eating the fruit from this one particular tree, they will somehow become truly complete and be just like God. The lie is that somehow we are not “whole” in the eyes of God, that if we only had this, or were only this way, we would then be who God intends us to be. The lie is that for some reason, God did not provide us with everything that we need to be complete. Every day, we are confronted with the idea that we are lacking in something. Not one of us hasn’t had to deal with self-esteem issues, “Gee if I could only look like Susan, then I could have any man that I wanted”, or “If I were taller I could be a better basketball player”, “if only this” or “if only that”, if only…you fill in the words. Then we have the lies that society as a whole tell us: you have to be straight to be loved and acceptable to God, you have to be white or at least act “white” in order to have the privilege to gain access in American culture, you have to be Christian to have a relationship with God! All of these speak to what happens when culturally we buy into the lie that - somehow we are less than what God intended for us. In our text it says, “God was walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and God said, ‘Where are you?’” This section doesn’t say God knew they had eaten from the tree that was forbidden, it doesn’t say God came walking in the garden looking to scold the man and woman. It say’s, God came looking for the man and woman, the implication being, God was looking to spend time with them. They are the ones who ran away out of “embarrassment”, hiding themselves, not only from God, but also from one another in the act of covering themselves. When God asked them “why did you run and hid from me”, they responded saying, “we hid because we were naked.” God asked, “Who told you this”. The question really was, “what makes you believe you didn’t have everything that you needed?” For all of us there is this struggle with self-worth and personal significance, the “Who am I” that is represented as the serpent in today’s story. It is in this question that positions us to be vulnerable to multiple lies that if accepted, separate us from relationship and community. But when we approach the question as “Who am I in God?” then we are positioning ourselves to hearing the truths that God has for us, which deepen our relationship with God and community. For God so loved the world that through his Son, none should parish but have “life anew”. Jesus’ whole message was telling us that God is love, love exists only in relationship and community to him. It’s not the question of “who am I” but rather, “who am I in God?” Amen

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Removing the Cataracts, Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 6-3-2012

Removing the Cataracts By Rev Steven R Mitchell Mountain View United, Aurora, Co 6/3/2012 Based on John 3:1-17 and Isaiah 6:1-8 One of the phrases that would describe this multi-faceted person called, Steven Mitchell, would be “a propensity to compartmentalize.” For instance, I like to have certain spaces to do specific tasks. I like my office to do administrative jobs, I like to read in my living room, I like to watch T.V. in the family room, and I use Star Bucks to write my sermons. I use specific types of music to accompany tasks, such as when I iron, I like to listen to Big Band music. When I am cleaning house I like to use 70’s Disco. When I write my sermons, I prefer the coffee shop type of music normally found at Star Bucks, because the eclectic style stimulates my thought process. Even with the wide variety of music one can hear at Star Bucks, the last thing that I would have expected to hear playing this past Friday was Hank Williams and Johnny Cash! For me, country western music is beer drinking music, and not generally conducive for the consumption of caffeine. You can imagine how disturbed my MoJo was that morning. Instead of using the music as white noise, I found myself singing along and day dreaming about how much fun it would be right then to be out on a dance floor cutting a rug! As we look this morning at the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus, we can see two differing types of individuals. Although we could say both men would consider themselves ‘men of God’, one was the type of man who experienced God in a more personal and in none traditional ways – always pushing the envelope, while the other man would experience God very traditionally, and following the perceived boundaries found within the book of Torah. I think it would be safe to say that Nicodemus’ tended to “compartmentalize”. Compartmentalization isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in fact for many of us it allows us to deal with the daily tasks of life smoothly and efficiently. As we grow and experience life, we learn what reactions or results to expect through certain behaviors. We are taught how to define objects, sounds, and odors. We are taught value systems of not only our family and community, but of other cultures (whether actual or perceived). So no matter what age we find ourselves, we approach life with a certain set of believes, and parameters, living with some degree of compartmentalization. Nicodemus, as a Pharisee, had a very developed understanding of the concept of God as defined by the Hebrew religious community, as well as how the coming Messiah would act. Most of us have a specific image of what God looks like when asked. (Please share some of those images with me.) This is one of the very first questions that confirmands are asked as they enter their confirmation studies. The reason for doing this is to them to start thinking about God in differing ways as an ongoing practice in their Spiritual journeys. When Jesus told Nicodemus that, “unless someone is born anew, it’s not possible to see God’s kingdom”, Jesus was trying to get Nicodemus out of his comfort zone, of his learned understanding about God and life in general, so he could become open enough to “who” Jesus truly was. Think of a person who starts life out with two good eyes. They see everything with such clarity, cataloging every image. Then as they grow older their eyes start to cloud over, making it harder to see objects that are in front of them. The brain then takes over and uses those images previously made to compensate for the increasing inability to see clearly. Eventually these clouds develop into cataracts, which in essence make it virtually impossible to see without a glare. But once those cataracts are removed, clear vision is once again restored and the world virtually looks new, allowing for the awe and wonder of what’s in front of you, there is freshness to life once again. Too often, many of us who have grown up in a faith community have developed cataracts and are experiencing our spiritual life through memory instead of a fresh experience. We have grown up learning doctrine which tells us what is the right way and wrong way to believe, the right way and the wrong way to live. As we grow older, we start trusting in our old experiences and close the doors to new opportunities that make us feel alive again, because we are afraid of those new feelings. This morning’s lection reading has one of the most memorized verses of scripture and has been one of the most grossly misused, John 3:16-17, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” One reason for the misuse comes from a misunderstanding of the concepts of “eternal life” and what it means to be “saved.” Last week I shared that Salvation in most Christian circles has come to mean, Eternal life. Yet the root word of salvation is, salvus: meaning “whole,” “sound”, “healed,” “safe,” “well,” or “unharmed”. Modern Christianity has thus intermingled the understanding of Salvation with eternal life as meaning life after this present physical existence, sometimes identified as “heaven.” Rev Rob Bell, in his book Love Wins says, “When Jesus used the word “heaven,” he was simply referring to God, using the word as a substitute for the name of God. Sometimes when Jesus talked about heaven, he was talking about our present eternal, intense, real experiences of joy, peace, and love in this life, this side of death and the age to come. Eternal life is less about a kind of time that starts when we die, and more about a quality and vitality of life lived now in connection to God. Pg 58 Love Wins, by Rob Bell In order to begin to understand who Jesus is, Nicodemus first has to see and experience Jesus from other than his comfortable place and preconceived notions. Feasting on the Word Yr B, Vol. 3 When the gospel is understood primarily in terms of entrance rather than joyous participation, it can actually serve to cut people off from the explosive, liberating experience of the God who is an endless giving circle of joy and creativity. Life has never been about just “getting in.” It’s about thriving in God’s good world. It’s stillness, peace, and that feeling of your soul being at rest. Pg 179, Love Wins, by Rob Bell. If we have grown to understand and to experience Jesus through what we were taught as children and are not having any new experiences, then we like Nicodemus need to have our cataracts removed and be “born anew,” so we to can live in the promise of what Christ gives to us, the promise of eternal life within Gods Kindom. “For God so loved the world, that through Jesus, none should exist as the living dead, like zombies, but have eternal life!” Life filled with liberating experiences of the God who is an endless giving circle of joy, peace, and love. Amen