Monday, December 15, 2014

Moving Toward the Light, By Rev Steven R Mitchell. 12/14/2014

Moving Toward the Light

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United Church, Aurora, Co 12/14/2014

Based on Isaiah 61:1-4 & John 1:19-28


        We are starting the third week in Advent, which means we are half way to the time when we will celebrate the birth of Jesus, or more importantly for some of us, we have only a couple of more weeks till we get to open presents!  In just seven days we will once again experience the Winter Solstices, the longest night of the year.  For those of us who prefer longer days and shorter nights, this time of the year can become very depressing for us. 

        For twenty-five years I lived in the Pacific Northwest, and was amazed at the length of the days in the summer, where bright twilight was common up to 10:30 p.m.  The flip side to that is a realization that by mid August you could actually notice the days shortening on a daily basis.  In fact, come mid-October, you rarely see the sun until mid February.  That is one reason since moving here, I do not feel like I have experienced a winter – because of so much day time light.

        Darkness often times is accompanied by a kind of sadness.  For many it is a time of uneasiness, a time of possible danger, at the very least, a time of uncertainty.  We equate darkness as a playground for misfortune, evil deeds, and vulnerability.  In the movies, it is a time filled with vampires, zombies, and creatures that live beneath the ground. 

Scripture also uses the contrast between darkness and light to describe moral situations.  Theologian Barbara Brown Taylor writes in The Christian Century, “Biblically speaking, darkness is the pits.  In the first testament, light stands for life and darkness for death.  When God is angry with people, they are plunged into darkness.

In the second testament, light stands for knowledge and darkness for ignorance.  When the true light comes into the world, the world does not know him.  Jesus has come so that everyone who believes in him should not remain in the darkness….  The Gospel of John sums it up: ‘In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.’” 

Metaphorically, Advent is that sort of darkness that we live in until the birth of Jesus.  During this season, we often use Isaiah as the primary book of reflection because of its understanding of being held captive (Israel living in bondage in Babylon), then the joy of freedom.  As a book, Isaiah is split up into three major sections.  The first speaks to the despair, the hopelessness of being held in captivity.  The second part of the book, speaks about the hope, the joy of returning home, back to that place that God had given to them.  In the last part of the book, there comes a realization that in the home coming, there has to be a rebuilding, for what had once been, no longer exists.  Often times despair accompanies that realization; yet, Isaiah gives a message of “hope” as Israel looks to a time when all will be restored.  This restoration has come to be understood through a little baby born in Bethlehem, whose name is Jesus.

        Barbara Taylor, says, “As Christians, we measure time differently from the dominant culture in which we live.  We begin our year when the days are getting darker, not lighter.  We trust that the seeds of light are planted in darkness, where they sprout and grow we know not how.  This darkness is necessary to new life, even when it is uncomfortable and goes on too long. The Christian Century, Nov 29, 2011, pg 37

        Today’s reading of Isaiah 61: 1-4 is most appropriate for me, because it was what I used at my ordination service.  It is the basis of my understanding of what being a minister is about.  It is the foundation that I see as the church’s purpose, as it works to share the Good News of God to a creation that is walking around in a dark haze; in a kind of Matrix that tries to hid the love and light that God has for all of creation.

        We live in a society where people are less connected to a church than two generations ago.  Today, Christians and churches are looked upon in wonderment by most of the un-churched world wonder what is wrong with us, wonderign why we seem to hide in a world that isn’t real?  They look at us and ask, “What is your purpose?”  I find many churches cannot answer that question with clarity. 

        This week has been another amazing week for me.  It started off with a very deep conversation with Sandi Ghaffari as we talked about various aspects of gun violence in our country.  Although we had more questions than solutions, one thing that we both realized is how much fear there is in our world today, and out of this fear, comes anger and harmful actions.  The underlying question that I came away with from that deeply meaningful conversation was, “How do we navigate in a world of darkness?”  How do we keep hope when the predominate message is “no hope?”  The follow-up to that conversation came on Thursday when six of us from Mountain View  attended a prayer vigil starting at First Baptist of Denver and ending on the steps of the Capital, encouraging our elected officials to hold fast to the laws that were pasted last year to help prevent further gun violence.

        Over the life of the church, the church has developed what I call “the Messiah syndrome.”  The church thinks that its job is to save the world.  If you were to read ten mission statements from varying churches, you will find that at least 80% will say their mission is to safe the world.  It sounds like a reasonable goal since we are carrying on the work of Jesus.  But the reality is, saving the world is  is God’s job.

We are “the voice in the wilderness crying out”.  Our job is to come, “as a witness to testify concerning that light…We come only as a witness to the light.  So how do we do this?  What do we cry and how do we bare witness to this light?  The best example for us is to take to heart what Jesus proclaimed at the beginning of his ministry.  “… The LORD has anointed us to proclaim good news to the poor.  God has sent us to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  We will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of God’s splendor.  4 We will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; we will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.”

        On this Third Sunday of Advent, we live in darkness; there is no doubt of this.  There are many issues facing us as a country concerning world stability, many issues facing us as a body of faith, and there are many issues facing us as individuals.  As we approach the longest night of the year in just a week, it is symbolic to note the over powering feelings of fear, sadness, and non-direction that exists in our daily lives.  But it is equally important to know that through God and God’s love, there is light by which we can find our way.  As a family of faith, united through three denominations, we have a proud history in sharing the love of God.  We are a voice in the wilderness, that cry’s out the restoration that comes through Christ and His teachings.  Do we have all the answers? I hope not.  Do we struggle with the questions and the how’s? I hope so.  For it is in that struggle that God’s love is birthed; this struggle, this journey is the Advent that we celebrate.  Amen


Monday, December 1, 2014

Shine On Us, O God, by Rev Steven R Mitchell

Shine On Us, O God

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United Church, Aurora, CO 11/3-/2014

Based on Psalm 80: 1-7, 17-19

First Advent Sunday


        As you came to worship this First Sunday of Advent, you might have thought it a little peculiar listening to Native American pipe music, instead of traditional Advent music.  The reason for this is we have been asked to give 150 seconds of silence in remembering and honoring the 150th anniversary of the Massacre of more than 160 innocent children, women and elderly Native Americans by U.S. Soldiers at Sand Creek, CO.  We have been asked to remember this tragic event by our sister denomination The United Methodist, for the Captain leading  this attack was a United Methodist Minister and sanctioned by the Territorial Governor, also a United Methodist.   

As a part of this time of remembrance, I specifically chose to play a 9 minute video that Bishop Elaine, of the Rocky Mountain Conference,  put together sharing information about this event and the intentional healing process that was started during this summer’s annual conference with survivors of this Native American community, asking for forgiveness for this part of our heritage, not just as United Methodists, but as descendants of all who are of European immigrants, who gained control of the America’s through brute force.    

We refer to Advent as the beginning of the church year.  It is the beginning as it represents the season of expectation, hope, promise, and salvation.  From a theological standpoint, it is the start of the message of redemption that we look to God for.  I think it is very appropriate for us to begin this Advent Season with this focus on repentance as this act of terror took place two days after the beginning of Advent in 1864.

Each week we light the Advent Candles with the first candle representing “Hope." It symbolizes faith in God keeping her promises to humanity. The second is called the "Candle of Preparation," reminding Christians to "get ready" to receive God. The third candle, the "Candle of Love," reminds us that God loves us enough to send his only Son to Earth.  The fourth candle is the "Candle of Joy." It recalls the angels joyfully singing about the birth of Christ. The "Christ Candle," the white candle in the center, stands for the Messiah, Christ himself.

Our reading from the Psalms represents the hope of the psalmist that God will keep the promises made; promises of unity and peace, of right living and mercy, of reconciliation and of redemption.  But Psalm 80 also recognizes that there is much pain and suffering in the world and that God’s plans and timing are a mystery.  There is anger in this psalm toward God, as well as a call for help and ultimately a statement of assurance that God will come and correct what has gone so terribly wrong.

We live our lives in Advent, really.  We live waiting in hope for God’s coming to correct what has gone wrong.  It is during this season that we take time to ask those questions of “why”.  It can be a time to express our anger of those things that have gone wrong – sometimes attributing those accusations directly toward God.  

There are people who say that we should never blame God for something, but the Psalmist has no problem in doing so.  I can still recall my feeling when I first learned that I was an expectant father.  Honestly, at first I wasn’t sure I was ready to become a daddy, but once I got over the shock of the news, I embraced the future roll whole heartedly.  Then a few weeks later, we had a miscarriage.  Not necessarily so uncommon, I think, but I saw how devastating this event was to my wife, I became so angry with God.  All sorts of painful vile came out of my mouth against God.  But you know what I learned?  I learned that God’s shoulders must be pretty broad, because after I got over the pain of lose, I realized that God was still sticking by me and my wife. 

In the video, I was struck by the one woman’s comment about how she was raised to believe that tears were the highest honest of prayer to God.  I believe she shared such wisdom with us about how to deal with our pain.  The church says, it is a place where we can come to in our deepest needs, a place where we can be with others who know our pain and help us connect with God, giving hope that in the future, there is peace for us from the pain of life.  Yet not all churches are a place where one can go and honestly and openly share that pain.  The Christian song writer, Ken Medema, wrote a song titled, “If this is not a place”, verbalizing the accusations of a hurting world toward the church.  The chorus says, “If this is not a place where tears are understood, where can I go to cry?  If this is not a place where my spirit takes wings, where can I go to fly?  The church is this place of love and growth and acceptance, but if this is not a place where tears are understood, where can I go to cry?

Bishop Elaine of the Rocky Mountain Conference of the UMC, with the move to reach out to the survivors of the Sand Creek tribe understands the church to be the place where we can come and shed our tears of pain, where we can come and ask God to ‘restore us’, where healing of wrongs can begin.  I cannot help but look at Sand Creek as something that happened because of the evils of racism. 

Over the past few years, several young African American boys deaths have come to National attention, focusing on racism.  In Ferguson, MO, the community is being torn apart because of racism.  As the psalmist cries out, “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.”  It is this type of leadership that Bishop Elaine has demonstrated saying, the church needs to take the lead in the healing process that must come in order to rid our nation of the sin of racism.

Advent is a season that asks us to look to the future salvation through God by making confession of those things that separate us from one another as well as separating us from God.  We experience separation from God in many forms and levels.  We suffer pain as a nation because of our separation from God.  We suffer personal pain because of our separation from God.  This separation ultimately comes because we hold onto the hurt that comes from simply experiencing life.  But when we let go of that hurt, we can then sing with the psalmist when he says: “then I will never turn back from you;… and I will call on your name.

We find that healing power in the birth of a little baby boy born so long ago, named Jesus.  Today is the beginning of a journey of hope.  “For everything there is a season…a time to weep…a time to mourn”  “See, the home of God is among mortals.  He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples.  And God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.”  Someone once said, “The tears of life belong to its interlude, not its finale.”  Advent is our interlude, life with God is our finale.  Amen

The Ten Words from God series pt 3, "Who has time to Rest?" by Rev Steven R Mitchell

The Ten Words from God pt3

“Who has time to Rest?”

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United Church, Aurora, CO

Based on Exodus 20:9-11 and Mark 2:23-27


        Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it Holy” vs. 8

I would like to start out this morning’s reflection by asking a couple of questions.  First question is: Who knows what a “Blue Law” is?  Second question which is harder:  Who admits having lived with “Blue Laws?”  Third question: “What did you and your families do on those days that were protected by these laws?”  Forth question: “How does community life differ today in comparison to those day’s with the ‘Blue Laws’?”  Blue laws were a part of social behavior and norms which carried over the earlier interpretations of what Scripture meant to “keep the Sabbath Day Holy.”   So my last question is this: “What does it mean to you to keep the Sabbath Holy?

This morning’s focus is on the fourth word from God which says, “Remember to keep the Sabbath Day Holy.  Does it mean not working on a particular day?  Does it mean doing specific activities while not doing other specific activities?  Are we allowed to ride our donkeys to worship, or are we expected to walk to worship?  Are we suppose to stay at home and twiddle our thumbs, or is it a day where we “catch up” on what we’ve neglected to do around the house during the other six days?  Is the idea of having a “Sabbath day” still necessary or is it something that we can discard?  These are the questions that this fourth commandment brings up. 

Shortly after moving to Seattle, WA, I developed some strong friendships with a group of Canadians who lived three hours north in Vancouver, B.C.  One of the things that I noticed was their work schedules.  It seemed to me that they had an enormous amount of time away from their jobs.  Not just a few, but everyone that I knew.  The reason for this being, they alternated working between a 5 day work week and a 4 day work week, which was mandated by their employment laws.  Time study research tells us that Americans work 350 more hours or nine work weeks more than the average European per year.  The same studies tell us that Americans suffer more from stress, cardiac arrest, hardening of the arteries, and cancer than Europeans do. Pg 46 of The Ten Commandments, Laws of the Heart by Joan Chittister 

We have built-in vacation requirements in America because of the recognition that people need to take some time away from their work, otherwise you end up with employees that perform less efficiently and develop stress related illnesses.  I remember when I was graduating from seminary, a conversation I had with my mother-in-law.  It was over the amount of time that a pastor should have away from his work.  I read to her a piece from a book that indicated that the minimal time frame for a pastor to take away from the parish work (vacation time) should be four weeks no matter how long the pastor has been employed.  Her comment was, “you see, that’s what’s wrong with the church today, creating all these new expectations, making it difficult for the pastor to do his/her job.”  I then read her the publication date of this book, 1906.

So, “what is Sabbath?”  Is it a day off?  Is it a day when businesses are supposed to be closed?  Is that even realistic these days?  What are we suppose to do on that Sabbath day?  For those of us who are concerned, “how do we make ‘Sabbath’ holy”; which is probably the greater question of any these. 

What was the purpose in Exodus for God providing the Ten Commandments and then later having it restated in the book of Deuteronomy?  As I pointed last year as we took a deeper look into the Beatitudes, these commandments are not “stand alone” statements, rather each of these commandments build upon those stated previously.  The First was to have no other gods before God, this addressing those systems who present themselves as gods.  The second was to have no engraved images, this prevents the worshipping of an object instead of worshiping the source – the bible could be seen as an engraved image of God.  The third was not to miss use the name of God, which goes beyond having a potty mouth.  These first three speak about the temptations of trying to manipulate God for our own purposes.  Today’s forth commandment again provides another hazard that can separate us from our roots, from God and from community – it is not taking time out to “remember.”  Rituals help us remember, such as the ritual we partook a few weeks ago on All Saints Sunday, by lighting a candle in honor of a loved one who has died.  It is in this remembering that helps keep us connected to our past and reminds us in small ways of who we are.

These commandments help us to address the issue of distributive justice.  While under the hand of Pharaoh, the Israelites were slaves to the god of scarcity, the god who restricts rather than provides, a god who begat injustice instead of providing justice.  The reason why we are taking a longer look at these Ten Commandments is because, each generation has to deal with a system that tries to prohibit the God of justice. 

So how does the Fourth Commandment provide for distributive justice?  Hear who is affected by this commandment: On (the day of Sabbath) you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.  Not only are you not supposed to work, but neither can your children, or your servants (possibly employees in modern understanding), not even your animals, nor those who are foreigners.  Nobody is supposed to work!  What does this do?  It makes on that one day, everybody equal.  There are no bosses to satisfy.  It brings into balance the whole of the animal kingdom.  I suppose in one respect, we could see this day as being able to allow humanity and the world to re-enter into the Garden of Eden for that 24hr period.  What does that mean?  It means being in relationship with creation prior to what we call the “fall.”

Sister Joan Chittister provides three reasons for the Sabbath.  Firstly, it provides for the creation of equality for that one day – the rich and the slave are equal since there is no work happening.  Secondly, it gives time to reflect on the meaning of our lives – it allows time to think about those bigger questions in life.  Thirdly, it gives us time to reflect on the goodness of our work as God did on creation when God rested on the Seventh Day – in other words it allows us to enjoy what we have worked for. 

When we work so hard to get the things that we think will give us pleasure, but we continue to work to keep it or get more of it, then we have missed the opportunity to enjoy it.  We forget to “remember” most frequently those that we love the most.  We work hard to provide a good life for them, but do we take the time just being with them and enjoying them, or are we guilty of what Kat Stevens so brutally say’s in his song “The Cats in the Craddle”, depicting how the father was always too busy to spend time with his son, in his old age wishing to spend time with his son who is now to busy for his dad, “One day it occurred to me, my son has turned out just like me.”

In the simplest of forms, Sabbath is about taking time out to remember, to reflect, to enjoy the life that we work so hard to build.  It is a time to remember what is most important in life – relationships!  Relationship with ourselves, relationship with our family and larger community, and our relationship with God, the one who makes all things possible. 

It isn’t about having to go to church for an hour or two.  In fact, church too often is seen like the restrictions of the earlier Israelites, of having to do this in order to achieve a requirement.  Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath.”  What going to church should be is an opportunity to “worship”, for worship provide a time for us to come and “remember” who we are, and reflect on our relationships with God, creation, and with one another.  Worship should not be a “blue law” but rather something that we look forward to doing, for it is an act of remembering who we truly are.  We are a people of freedom, freed by the hand of God.  Amen.


Monday, October 20, 2014

The Ten Words from God pt 2 Misusing God's Name by Rev Steven R Mitchell based on Exodus 20:1-2,7

The Ten Words from God (series)

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 10/19/2014

Based on Exodus 20: 1-2, 7


        There’s an old childhood saying that all of us are taught, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”   This verse is taught to us as a way to shield us from the pain that can come after someone has thrown verbal stones at us.  Yet what parent hasn’t had to deal with the aftermath of a verbal attack on their child.  Wiping away the tears from their little one’s face and trying to find words of comfort that will help heal the pain and hurt that comes with those words spoken with the intension of demeaning it’s victim.  The truth is, words are harmful.  Words are in reality much more devastating and longer lasting in their impact of injury than physical attacks could ever be.  So why do we tell your children this untruth?

        This morning we are going to look at the third Word from the Decalogue, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses God’s name.”  So the obvious question is: What is meant by misusing the name of God?  When I was growing up, I was taught not to use God’s name as part of profanity.  This was using God’s name in vain. 

        John C Holbert, in his book The Ten Commandments interprets verse 7 this way: You must not raise up the name of YHWH your God for nothing, because YHWH will not acquit anyone who raises up his name for nothing.  Professor Holbert writes: This third commandment has been so trivialized in our own time that it may prove difficult to recapture something of its profound significance.  How many jokes about people playing golf on Sunday, and uttering vile language, suggesting that God’s last name is really “damn,” have you heard or said?  To take the name of God “in vain” as the older translations had it was simply to utter swear words.  This view only places the focus on the human behavior demanded by the commandment.  There is a deeper focus: that of speaking to the matters of the heart.  To employ the name of God “for nothing” is to assume that God is in reality nothing, and possesses no power or authority in life.  The Ten Commandments, by John C Holbert Chapter 3.   What this means is that by invoking God’s name “for nothing” says that God is in reality “nothing” and we in effect are denying the first statement of the Ten Commandments where God is telling us who God is: The God who brings us up out of our slavery

        So what is “the nothing” that professor Holbert is speaking about?  Martin Luther said, “It is a misuse of God’s name if we call upon the name of the Lord God in any way whatsoever to support falsehood or wrong of any kind.” Retired Professor of Old Testament at Yale University, Brevard Childs says, “The heart of the commandment lies in preventing the dishonoring of God…God, as the source of truth, cannot be linked to falsehood and deception.”  The Ten Commandments, by John C Holbert Chapter 3   

        This is where we leave the focus on human behaviors, the do’s and don’ts that keep us from looking at the deeper issue of matters of the heart, where we weigh our behavior by the  true source of truth.  Sister Joan Chittister suggests that the second commandment: … may be more the sin of the pious than the sin of the sinner; it also tells us not to play God with God’s name, with God’s being, with God’s power.”  She concludes by saying, “It is useless, as well, to use God’s name to do what God would never do.” The Ten Commandments: laws of the Heart by Sister Joan Chittister, chapter 2 pg 29

Religion (organized or personal) is a structure that is supposed to help a person move beyond themselves.  Religion is to be used to challenge the narrow focus that each of us by nature has.  Yet growing up in the church I often observed religion being used as a shield to hide behind.  Instead of allowing the vulnerability that is needed to self-examine, it too often is used as a wall to protect our fears, our wounds, and our prejudices.  The problem with using religion in this fashion is we too often start to speak for God and in God’s name instead of listen to God and asking in God’s name.  This is when the pious start using God’s name in vain.

I have heard prayer after prayer invoking God’s name that is truly taking God’s name in vain.  Dear God, as we play against the opposing team, we claim this game in your name.  Or, remembering the Pharisee that Jesus pointed out who prayed: Thank you God that I a righteous man am not like those sinners.  I have read on my facebook , prayers like this: God we thank you today for the death of the Doctor who has been performing abortions, for he has received his due punishment.  All of these are examples of using God’s name in vain because it presume that we know the mind of God and that these requests have placed restrictions upon God as what God is suppose to do. 

When we make statements like: love the sinner, hate the sin, again we are using the intensions of God profanely.  Sister Joan says it best: We use God’s name to prove our piety.  We quote scripture at people and expect that the discussion is over, that when we have spoken, God has spoken. We use God’s name to manipulate God.  We ask God to be on our side, to do our will, to harm the people we ourselves would like to harm.  “Dear God, punish these people for their sins so the world will know how great you are.”  I remember when Oral Roberts pleaded on T.V. for $8 million, because God told him if he didn’t raise it, he was going to take Orals life.  I remember thinking to myself – who cool it would be if God did zap him on national T.V. – that this would be a message that would bring millions of people back to believing in God!  That was taking God’s name in vain.  We pray over and over for the conversion of some Muslim country but never pray for our own countries conversion.  We use God’s name to exert power over others.  We threaten them with hell.  We name them bad and incorrigible.  We use God as a kind of club over groups, over people, and over ideas of which we disapprove.  We use God’s name to satisfy ourselves of our own piety and righteousness, all the while avoiding the hard questions of life around us.  We pray our prayers requiring God to “hear the cries of the poor: and tell ourselves that we have done enough.  Indeed, we have learned to “take God’s name in vain” with great facility.

Sister Joan continues: It’s not so much using God’s name that is wrong as it is that we invoke the name of God to justify ungodly things.  There are simply some things we say about God that are useless, fruitless, futile, ineffectual, and worthless.  To attribute things to God that God has nothing to do with is to make a mockery of God.  Those who invoke God to justify prejudice – to tell us who God accepts and who God doesn’t; to explain oppression – to say that God wills servitude for some kinds of people but not for others; to enthrone absolutism – to say that this country, these rules, this institution is the only one beloved by God. When you hear things like these, you are hearing God’s name being taken in vain.

I want to close these thoughts this morning with a Sufi story about a teacher and his disciples.  The teacher sent his disciples to a tailor to have a new shirt made for the upcoming feast day.  “This is a very busy time and so the shirt is still in process.  But come back in a week.” The tailor said, “And God willing, your shirt will be ready.”  But it was not.  “Come back next week,” the tailor said the second time, “and if God shines on us, your new shirt will be finished.”  But it was not.  “Come back again tomorrow, “ the tailor said, “and if God blesses us, your new shirt will be waiting for you.”  When the disciples explained to their master the tale of the unfinished shirt, the master said, “God back to the tailor and ask him how long it will take to finish the shirt if he leaves God out of it.”

The second commandment tells us to leave God out of it when God has nothing to do with it. The Ten Commandments: laws of the Heart by Sister Joan Chittister, chapter 2 pg 30-31 When we invoke God’s name either for or against something or someone, when in reality we are actually just voicing our own feelings and opinions, we are taking God’s name in vain.  When we invoke God’s name toward social justice but do not follow through with action, we again are using God’s name in vain.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.  I don’t know if you came this morning thinking you rarely use God’s name in vain.  But I do hope you leave here today thinking about the words you do say and of how you say them.  Our hymn of the day, “The Summons” was sung just a few weeks ago at the ordination of John Fiscus.  I have chosen it today as it is a song that calls into action the using of God’s name not in vain but examples of using God’s name as blessing.  Amen

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Ten Words from God (series) Pt 1: An Adventure in Human Growth, by Rev Steven R Mitchell, bassed on Exodus 20:1-7

The Ten Words from God (Series)

Pt 1: An Adventure In Human Growth

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United Church, Aurora, CO 10/12/2014

Based on Exodus 20: 1-7


        I have always been fascinated by the words of the song, “Is That All There Is”.  To me it captures a sorrowful sense if isolation, of placing trust in things that will not hold up with time, and of turning to escapism in order to bear the pain and sorrow that comes with disappointments, losses, and loneliness.  The song goes through differing events of the singer’s life.  As a little girl she watches her whole world go up in flames, and after the fire is over wonders if that’s all there is to a fire.  Then at the age of 12 yrs old, while at a circus and watching all the glitz and glitter of the show, begins to realize that something is missing, but just can’t quite put her finger on it.  Then she feels the warmth and thrill of love, only to lose it, again wondering if that’s all there is to love.  The end of the song is the most haunting, I think, as she says, “she’s not ready for that final disappointment in life.”    Is that all there is?  If that’s all there is my friend, then let’s keep dancing, let’s break out the booze, and have a ball, if that’s all there is.

        This is not an isolated story to many people, and I would say, possibly even felt more acutely here in a society where there are thousands of options available that we are told will take away the feeling of loneliness, the pain of failed relationships, even the sense of futility that comes with living life.  The old commercial that asked, “How do you spell relief?”  R O L A I D S!
We live in a land that has so many distractions that promise relief, but at the end of the day, we often have not found what we are looking for.  Many of us, like the song say’s, sense that there is more to living life, but we just can’t quite grasp what it might be.  Some of us even go to church in hopes that we will find what is missing from our lives, and yet still find that the answer eludes us.   

        Last week’s lectionary reading focused on what we now call The Ten Commandments.  What I would like to do over the next few weeks is take some time to look more in-depth at these laws that we all think we know and see if there are some undiscovered tidbits that might help us better understand who we presently are and how we might be able to tap into the future possibilities of who we can be.

        The first commandment is “You shall have no other gods before God!  That seems like a given, but the first question should be: How do we know that there is a God?  How can we embrace someone who doesn’t directly speak to us, or embrace something that isn’t tangible?   I hear time to time from people who say they are going through a “faith” crisis; that they just don’t feel God in their lives any more.  There are folks, and surveys suggest that the numbers are growing, who say that they just don’t believe in the idea of God.  What do you say to statements like that?  You can’t dismiss what they are expressing, for this is a reality to them.

        I think much of modern day confusion comes from centuries of miss understanding who God really is, there by throwing people off track, so to speak, when their experiences in life do not relate with what they have been told God is and is about.  There have been volumes of theological writings about God and the essence of God.  But ultimately, the majority of images of God boil down to a spirit of sorts who depending on which side of the fence you prefer to look from, see either God as someone who has created the universe that we know and has long since gone off to do other things, leaving us to ourselves to figure life out, or God is present and actively manipulating events within our world in order to bring about the ultimate design that God wishes.

        But I think Sister Joan Chittister, says it most simply, “God is an experience, not a thing and not an idea. Sister Joan writes: The Koran teaches, “God is the East and the West, and wherever you turn, there is God’s face.”  (have congregation look around the room and then ask what they see.)  If only we could see beyond what God is in ourselves, we could begin to see the wonders of God around us.  The shortest distance to God is not an excursion through all the experiences of life.  It is the journey we take to the center of the self where God waits for us within.

        Whatever it is that you give your life to, that is the shrine at which you adore.  The question is, Is this a big enough god for anyone to spend a life on?  God is always just beyond what we think is god. 

        “God will be present,” a Latin proverb teaches, “whether asked or not.”  God does not “find” me.  God is with me already.  It is a matter of my becoming conscious of the God who has already found me. Pg 22 of The Ten Commandments: Laws of the Heart by Sister Joan Chittister

        For the ancient Hebrews which received these Ten Words from God, the opening line tells them who this God is:  I am your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  As I spoke last week, slavery is something that we all live with whether we recognize it or not.  We may think that we are not a slave to our careers, or to the things that we buy, thinking they will serve our needs, but often times these material possessions become the masters of our time, thought, and money.  These are exterior things that impose their power upon us. 

        When we see ourselves as the center of our lives, we lose a sense of vision of the whole.  So even if someone calls themselves an atheist, there is still a god that will be demanding of them, be it work, or relationships, or even ideals.  For those who recognize a power greater than themselves, in other words, the God of Creation, there is still a danger of serving a god that isn’t the god who brings you out of your own slavery.  As I mentioned just a few moments ago there tend to be two ways in which the average person who recognizes God, thinks of God.  God as “out there” or God as “being beside others”, meaning a separate entity; a view that presents God as Paul Tillich puts it, “as a supernatural God.”  Paul Tillich, who is considered as one of the Twentieth Century’s most important theologians says, “God is not a part of reality, but is “ultimate reality.”

        We often look at The Ten Commandments as laws in which we are to obey.  Yet these are not really laws as there was never any mention as to the remedy for breaking one of these laws.  Rather, these laws were meant to be more principles to live by than minutely defined proscriptions to be followed.  Much like we refer to the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law.  These laws were clearly meant to shape a way of living, a lifestyle, an attitude of mind, for a spirit of human community. Pg 9 The Ten Commandments: Laws of The Heart. By Joan Chittister

        So, the first commandment is truly asking us, “Who is your god?”  What this first commandment actually represents is the basic building block as to how we can structure our life.  I’m not going to start naming ways in which we do put other gods before God.  What I will say is that the First commandment prods us to examine again and again what it is that we have put before God in our lives.  There is no scientific proof that there is a God or that there is not a God.  But what we do have is a low, clear voice within saying always, “There must be more to this than this.”  This is the answer to the question of the song, “Is that all there is?”  God is not found externally.   God is found internally.  God is the experience!  Amen

Monday, October 6, 2014

Only Ten? basked on Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, by Rev Steven R Mitchell

Only Ten?

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 10/5/2014

Based on Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-2


       Last evening I was reminded by a very nice young Jewish couple that it was Yom Kippur, the most sacred day of the Jewish faith, as it is the Day of Atonement.  Adding this past Monday’s massive hail storm – I think it appropriate to reflect on the Ten Commandments.  In recent polls of the American public," Gene Tucker observes, "…only a small percentage of Christians can name more than four of the Ten Commandments". Preaching through the Christian   If we see the Ten Commandments as important guild lines to live by, the question should be asked: If we don't even know what they are, how can we obey them?  So, I thought we should have a little quiz to see how we as a group can name all Ten of the Commandments. 

        In the progression of the story of the Hebrew people, we can recall how they are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  It was Joseph, the son of Jacob, the one sold off into slavery by his brothers who actually was able to provide a place of refuge and safety for his family as a great famine occurred.  So, the descendants of Abraham found themselves in the land of Egypt, living in security with a loose understanding that this was blessed by the hand of God.   Then a few generations down the road, once there was no more memory of Joseph by the Pharaoh, the Hebrews became enslaved by the Egyptians.

        Through a man named Moses, God rescued these slaves and guided them through unknown territory, providing protection and food.  Eventually they found themselves at the foot of Mt Sinai.  It was there that Moses went up to meet with God and received these Ten Commandments.  It must have been something to behold for scripture says, “When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance....”

        We as a society really dislike the idea of having rules and regulations.  We often look to rules, contracts, and covenants as being restrictive, rather than being a freeing agent.  When we talk about the concept of “discipline”, our first thoughts are generally in terms of punitive actions; something that takes place when we step outside of a set boundary.  Yet discipline is needed in order to active a given goal.  For example, if we wish to be able to read we have to become disciplined in the alphabet and in the learning of words in order to be able to read.  The same is true in our career choices.  We need to become disciplined in the skills that are needed in order to perform in the field we have chosen.

        My eldest grandson wants to be an aeronautical engineer.  According to his mother, he has yet to understand the need for the discipline of studying and the value of having at least a 3.9 GPA, so he can become accepted into the University of his Choosing.  In fact, he often resists the boundaries that his parents place on him.  Boundaries that will help him to succeed in his life’s goals.  God in many ways is like a parent.  We are made in God’s image; therefore, God knows that we operate best with boundaries.  In order for us to live life to its best, we need to understand what is best for us.  I believe that is what the Ten Commandments are intended to active.  We as Christians are lucky Moses only brought down ten from Mount Sinai.  By the time Jesus was ministering, there were 613 laws to live by; the majority of these laws centered around worship in the Temple.  With the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., there are only 271 laws that can be followed and acted upon for a devote Jew.

        I suspect that most of us feel that we follow the Ten Commandments or rather that we probably don’t really directly violate them.  This might be true.  But I wonder if we were to examine our heart’s and our actions more closely, would we truly find that we don’t violate these specific laws that God gave to us?

        For example: the first commandment tells us who God is.  It is God who brought us up out of Egypt.  What do you mean brought me up out of Egypt?  I’ve never stepped foot out of this country, let alone visited Egypt.”  Egypt has become a metaphor for the meaning of “enslavement.”  For folks who have gone through any kind of a recovery program, they will tell you what being a slave to alcohol, sexual abuse, or drug is all about, and how their “higher power” has helped bring them out of that slavery; bringing them up out of Egypt.

        The next commandment is to have no idols.  In our affluence as a nation, we are confronted daily with idols.  Walter Brueggemann writes powerfully of these temptations: “We have always lived in a world of options, alterative choices, and gods who make powerful, competing appeals.  It does us no good to pretend that there are no other offers of well-being, joy, and security.  In pursuit of joy, we may choose philosophy, in pursuit of security, we may choose military might; in pursuit of genuine love, we may choose sex.  Clearly these choices are not Yahweh’s.  These are not gods who have ever brought an Exodus or offered a covenant.” UCC Sermon Seeds, Oct 2, 2011 

We are told to remember the Sabbath day.  This is a word that has become lost in our culture.  How many of you tell friends, “I go to church on Sundays?”  How many of you say to friends, “On Sundays, I go to worship” instead of using the word “church”?  When was the last time you kept the Sabbath?  Or maybe more accurately, “what does keeping the Sabbath mean?”  Traditionally it goes back to God working hard for six days and then resting on the seventh day, reflecting on all that was created.  The Hebrew’s were delivered out of slavery which was a seven day work week.  Now God through the Ten Commandments was asking them to take one day out of the week and keep it holy, so that they could reflect on their relationship to the one who was not only their God, but the one who freed them from their oppression!  The word Sabbath goes much deeper in meaning than just “doing church.” 

        Now we come to an easy one – don’t commit murder!  Yet what happens if you are in the military and we as a country go to war?  Does the killing of the enemy fall under the definition of murder?  Mae West during a confrontation with the HAE’S commission on the topic of “immorality”, specifically about her innuendo’s, spoke a great truth when she told them, “Sending our boys off to kill one another is immorality!”  And yet there are many ways to kill a person without physically killing them.  We can kill a child’s spirit by demeaning them on a daily basis; we can kill someone’s character with slander or malicious intent, or even with idol gossip. 

Jesus when questioned on which commandment was the greatest, his response was twofold: “Love your God with all your heart, mind, and soul; the other is to love your neighbor as you would love yourself.”  That sounds pretty straight forward.  Jesus has taken these Ten Commandments and brought them into two basic groups.  Four of these commandments deal with our relationship toward God, the other six refer to our relationships with other people.  So, what happens if we don’t know how to treat ourselves with respect, or kindness, or with honor, but rather treat ourselves in negative ways that brings harm to ourselves.  Are we supposed to treat other people the same way?  The truth is we will treat people exactly the way in which we treat ourselves.

What the goal of these commandments is about is to help us focus on life outside of ourselves.  It provides disciplines for “best living” practices.  We are to remember, recognize, and then give over ourselves to the parent God.  Once we have done that, we are then able to relate to others in a healthier manor and look at the world through the lens of how God sees each of us.  If we can get these Ten Commandments under our belt, I don’t think we would have need of those 613 laws that the Hebrews came up with after the fact!  My challenge to you this week is to reread these Ten Commandments and take time to think about how we probably too often offend them simply because we haven’t taken the time to examine them.  Amen.