Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Sharing in the Rhythm of God's Own Life, for Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 6/15/2014 by Rev Steven R Mitchell based on Psalm 8

Sharing in the Rhythm of God’s Own Life

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United Church, Aurora, CO 6/15/2014

Based on Psalm 8


        Sixteen years ago this summer, I took a five week holiday with the goals of connecting and reconnecting with family, nature, and myself; it was in reality a mini-sabbatical.   My first grandchild had just come into this world a few months before and it was time for me to travel from the Pacific Northwest to “deep into the heart of Texas” to meet baby Brendan.  I took advantage of Brendan’s location to extend my travels through Kansas and spend time with my other two children, my mother, and my sister.  Since Texas was the most distant point south and east, I routed my travel back to Seattle via the southern route so that I might have the opportunity to see the Grand Canyon.

        This five week adventure was filled with a number of “awe” filled moments; the first was in meeting my new grandchild who was two months old.  Not only is there a sense of awe in seeing a new born child, but I had the privilege to attend his baptism during that visit.  Coming from a perspective as a man of faith, there seemed to add to the wonder of this new life the privilege to witness his parents bringing my grandchild into the family of God through baptism, recognizing that this child is a gift from God, and that all who were present as well as the larger church has a responsibility to care for the well being of that child.

        After a glorious week in the Dallas area, it was time for me to head toward the Grand Canyon.  Interstate 40 was the most direct route to travel, taking me through the upper part of New Mexico.  I have to admit that my image of New Mexico was less than favorable at the time.  When I was a child my maternal grandmother had moved from Kansas, a state filled with green grasses and trees, down to Hobbs, N.M...  I do not know how many of you are familiar with Hobbs, but it is located in an area that has literally only flat lands and sand.  It truly felt like this was the one spot on earth that God forgot to come and visit.  With these childhood memories of N.M., I always assumed that artists were super imposing visions of color in their paintings of the Southwest landscape.  That is until I was nearing the mountain range near Albuquerque as the sun was setting behind the mountain range and I was able to behold a vista filled with magenta, oranges, and turquoise.   My breath was taken away to see such beautiful colors in a dessert setting.

        Finally by the third week, I was able to fulfill a childhood dream of visiting the Grand Canyon.  Up to that point I had only read books about the canyon, seen numerous photographs, and watch a number of geographic type documentaries on T.V. about this amazing canyon, yet none of these medians could prepare me for the actual experience I was about to have.  Up to that point in my life the Royal Gorge was the closest I had come to seeing something like the canyon.  I had the luxury of being totally alone for the first five minutes or so of my first view of the canyon, before the noise of a tour group interrupted this communion with nature.   As I stood at the edge of this look out point, looking to the east and looking to the west, looking north across the canyon, I was in such awe, I could hardly breath and tears started to form as I started to recall the lines of a hymn that says, “Oh Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds thy hands have made.”  I will not say that seeing the Grandeur of this canyon was more awe inspiring than seeing my first grandchild, but it was right next to that experience. 

        I don’t often reflect on Psalms as a text of the day, but I chose this morning’s read for the questions that it explores and how we can choose to respond.  A Psalm by nature is actually a hymn and therefore often given second class status compared to other types of scripture.  Yet very often songs explore the human condition and speak more deeply to us than prose.  The Psalmist asks: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for?”  To personalize this question is to say, “When I look at places like the Grand Canyon, or the multi pallet of colors in the landscape, or the new born child, what am I to you, oh God?  In our architecture, in our art, in our machines that we create, nothing holds up to what you have done, so why would you be so concerned about we humans who in relationship to your creation are about the size of an ant? 

        Yet the psalmist understands humans to be at the top of the food chain when he states, “Yet you have made us a little lower than God.  This type of thought has lead us to view humans as being above all other creatures within God’s creation.  This understanding has developed into a belief that we are the only animals that have a soul, thus giving us the right to do to and with all that we see as below us.  As we start to explore the world of quantum theory we are realizing a much deeper inter-relationship between all matter and all creatures, which is opening up the possibility of broadening our understanding beyond what we have traditionally believed to be true; our superiority, our being at the top of the food chain has come into question. 

        If we go back to the creation stories in the first couple of chapters of Genesis and do a careful reading about the creation of humanity, we can learn two things about us: the first is that humanity is made in the image of God, and the second is we were made to have dominion over all that God created.  Somehow the idea of dominion has become perverted by humanity to mean domination, which is an entirely different concept.  Dominion means to be a caretaker, a protector, a steward.  Kings have dominion over their kingdoms, which meant that it was the king’s job to care and protect those in his or her kingdom.  Generally speaking because of an exaggerated sense of self-importance, the role of king’s tended to become one of domination instead of dominion.  This perversion of understanding the role of dominion has even affected the view between male and female, leading to unspeakable violence and abuses toward female’s from almost the beginning of human history.

        With this type of misunderstanding, we actually have usurped the role of God and in doing so have lost our sense of who we are which leads to our asking, “Why we exist.”   We have forgotten what “being made in the image” of God” means.  Rev Nibs Stroupe, Pastor of Oakhurst Presbyterian Church, Decatur, Georgia reminds us that, we a humans have been given God-like characteristics: transcendence, individual consciousness, and awareness of ourselves and others. Feasting on the Word, Yr A, Vol 3, pg 36

        So here is the point I wish to leave with you today: I believe that our mis-understanding of our role of having dominion over things of this world has also perverted our understanding of God.  If we are made in the image of God and have been given the responsibility of dominion-ship, reason should point out that God as creator also has dominion over all that God creates.  So if we understand dominion as domination, then we can understand God as a dominator, one who imposes the needs of self upon all others.  If we have the understanding of dominion as one who cares for, then we can see God as one who nurtures, protects, and provides for that which God has created.  It is on how we view God and how God relates to that which God created that we understand and act out our roles as humans in this creation. 

As human beings, we share in the rhythm of God’s life.  Depending on how we view God, a God who is dominator, or a God who has dominion (meaning caregiver, protector, and nurture) we will answer that question of “Why am I here” differently.  Christ referred to himself as a child of God and to us as his brothers and sisters, giving us the same status as he.  If that is true then as creatures who are god-like, are we not also called to be care giving, protectors of, and nurtures of our Parent’s creation?  Is our job to abuse and destroy the wondrous works of God for our own self interests, or is it to honor and magnify the creator who is in each of us, to give glory, and honor each piece of God’s creation?  On this Father’s Day, let us strive to develop more deeply our god-like nature and become “awed” by our sharing in the rhythm of God’s life.  Amen

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Being A Part of the Family Business, By Rev Steven R Mitchell, based on John 17:1-11, for Mountain View United Church, Aurora, CO 6/1/2014

Being A Part of the Family Business

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United Church, Aurora, CO 6/1/2014

Based on John 17: 1-11


This morning’s text comes on the evening of Jesus’ arrest.  It is the end of four chapters of a farewell speech that Jesus gave to his disciples over their Passover meal.  The evening highlights are reported by John as unfolding in this manor, “It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.   He poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.  The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus.  And Jesus told them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me. 

You know the way to the place where I am going.”  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.   If you really know me, you will know[b] my Father as well.  From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”  “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  “I am the vine; you are the branches.  “All this I have told you so that you will not fall away.

They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.  Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”  “I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”  “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Then in Chapter 17, after all these instructions, John writes: After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed.  Jesus then begins to pray a public prayer much in the same way that we as a congregation lift up our prayers to God, so that all might be able to hear our petitions.  Jesus’ prayer was not for the world and all of its troubles, but rather was a prayer for his disciples and for those who knew and followed him.

The title for this morning’s reflection came out of an earlier discussion this week with Meredith Ryan.  Meredith mentioned something about Billy Graham, which lead me to think about Robert Schuller.  We both commented on how their ministries were carried on by their sons, and in Robert Schuller’s case, even his daughter stepped in to try and save the financially troubled Crystal Cathedral.  Growing up in the Midwest, I had ample opportunity to watch and listen to Billy Graham on T.V..  Although I was rarely on the same page theologically with Dr Graham, I have to say that I have always respected him and his message, for it was one of honesty and I have always felt it came out of a commitment to God.

Dr Schuller on the other hand, I had a great deal of issues with when I would watch his program, The Hour of Power.  I appreciated the fact that he would have people up at the pulpit sharing their testimonies of how God had and continued to work in their lives.  What bothered me about this was it was always someone who had millions of dollars associated with their name – I often felt this was a subtle message about “prosperity” Christianity.  Then there was Dr Schuller’s messages of grace and mercy, which generally sounded a lot like cheap grace to me.  Then one day I found a book about his life and discovered that Dr Schuller originally preached a very strong Hell, Fire, and Damned Nation message as he was developing his congregation in Orange County, CA.  It wasn’t until he had his colleague from New York City, Norman Vincent Peale come and speak to his congregation did Dr Schuller become challenged to think about the message of Jesus in a differing light.  After hearing Dr Peale share with hundreds of people who were attending worship at that drive-in theater that morning, that Jesus never condemned anyone, Dr Schuller was compelled to show Dr Peale the error of his statement.  After much re-reading of scripture, Dr Schuller realized that there was no record of Jesus condemning anyone, which was the seed of what became known as positive thinking.  What he came to realized is that throughout the week people were consistently confronted with negativity and being emotionally beat up.  Dr Schuller began to realize it was then the job of the church to provide an environment that encouraged and uplifted people on Sunday morning.

For many years now, both Dr Graham and Dr Schuller have been retired, yet the organizations that they build still went on with the son’s stepping in and preaching the word that their father’s had proclaimed.  Yet, we don’t hear much about the Graham crusades these days and the Crystal Cathedral has been sold with the “Hour of Power” no longer being presented.  These are two examples of religious dynasties that no longer exist.  In my opinion the reason for this is simply, the sons were carrying on their father’s work as an obligation to the family business, not out of a call from God.

This morning the Presbyterian Church of Bennett has held its final worship service after 60 years of serving that community.  Last Fall the Calvary Presbyterian church moved out of its building and has redirected its resources toward community action projects.  What is the difference between these two congregations?  In part, I believe it is vision.  One congregation had difficulty in redefining their minister in their community, while the other took bold steps to redefine how they are to use their resources for ministry. 

Have you ever thought of yourself as a member of this congregation as being a part of God’s family business?  You are you know.  Jesus too was a part of the family business.  The scriptures are full of stories about members of the family business and of their struggles in carrying on the business.  Throughout Jesus’ farewell speech, Jesus is giving his disciples direction and encouragement to carry on his work.  In his prayer, we learn that his work was not for himself, but for the one who sent him, God.   And what is the product of the family business?  Jesus says it is “eternal life.”  Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God…”

        Many a church sermon has limited the understanding of “eternal life” to mean life after this world.  Yet Jesus is using this phrase as another way of thinking about God’s earthly kingdom as it includes life in the present.  Eternal life comes in knowing God.  Ultimately, as we read the bible from beginning to end, the overall description of God is that of “love.”   The kingdom of God is based on love and out of love comes justice for all of creation.  Justice in the understanding of God is equality, is respect, and inter-relationship of all creation.  In last week’s reflection, Pastor Wayne spoke about each act of goodness, each act of justice, each act of compassion is representative of Jesus’ return. 

        Mountain View is a part of the family business.  We might be small, but we are a very busy people, with our hands involved in many aspects of ministry.  Yet I think it is important for us to stop from time to time and ask ourselves, “why are we doing these things?”  Are we doing these activities because it is out of a commitment to carry on a dynasty?  Or are we doing these things because it comes out of a call to continue to bring “eternal life”, to bring knowledge of God to a world that much of the time has forgotten who God is?

        Jesus was praying not for his continuation, but rather for the continuation of the disciples and of the continuation of all those who have eternal life, so that they may help show this gift to all who are willing to listen.  As we come to this table this morning, we hear the words of comfort, the words of encouragement, the words of love that Jesus has for all who know God and for those who will come to know God.  This table is an ongoing symbol of God’s eternal life for those who are a part of the family business.   Amen