In the 2012 film, Marvel’s The Avengers, Loki is standing outside before a crowd. Soon he tells the crowd to kneel, saying that is their natural state. It is a rather startling portrayal of a suddenly fearful people doing what they are told; doing something they otherwise would not have done.
Then just as suddenly, from within the crowd an older man stands up. Loki points him out to the bowing crowd, who must sense the man is about to die. A split second before the “Elder” would have died, Captain America arrives and redirects the deadly force back to Loki. Snapped out of their compliant state by the ensuing battle between Loki and Captain America, the crowd disperses.
In our tradition, Easter arrives this Sunday, April 21st. The significance of Easter is that it is the culmination of Holy Week. Holy Week takes us from Passion/Palm Sunday through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday until the day of Resurrection. Holy Week takes us from Jesus’ celebrated and oppositional entry into Jerusalem through his last evening with his disciples, his crucifixion, death, and burial to his being raised from the dead.
The Easter Celebration is of one who stood against the ways of empire and its most horrific use of force. Easter celebrates the one who in life and death showed others how to live into the reign of God which is the vision of a reality difficult to discern, but very present.
Jesus was not saved from death. Yet afterward, he was raised by God. No one else could have done it. While some people were cowering in fear, Jesus was visible above them, innocent, and alone but for two others being crucified beside him. No Captain intervened. Jesus died. Christ was raised.
May all of us be raised to witness life anew.
What is a prophet? What is a false prophet? Who are the false prophets today? Who are today’s prophets? What are the criteria which distinguish false prophets and prophets? Relevant clues are in the Bible. Jesus, in Matthew 25.31-46 is one place to look. Isaiah and Jeremiah are good places to start.
Here, Micah gives us clues in 2.1-2, 7c-9, and 6.6-8.
“Alas for those who devise wickedness and evil deeds on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in their power. They covet fields and seize them; houses and take them away; they oppress the householder and the house, people and their inheritance. … Do not my words do good to one who walks uprightly? But you rise up against my people as an enemy; you strip the robe from the peaceful, from those who pass by trustingly with no thought of war. The women of my people you drive out from their pleasant houses; from their young children you take away my glory forever. … ‘With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before my God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be please with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
I wonder how each of us would answer these questions and fill in these blanks. What would I write if I were to put Micah’s message in my own words?
What is not good? What is good?
Doing justice is not ___________. Doing justice is ___________.
Kindness is not _________. Kindness is ______.
Walking humbly with your God is not _____ Walking humbly with your God is ________
Faith in action and faith inaction. Faith in what? Action in which direction? Examining our faith will uncover differences between the faith we hold and the faith we express. What is our theology, and what is our theology in practice?
Dubious and dangerous religious, social, and political beliefs are receiving a lot of attention these days. Several of them create an unhealthy atmosphere and promote values that are anathema to the Christian faith. Since Christians are called to be peacemakers and advocates of justice and equality, it is imperative that we examine our theology and our theology in practice. Healthy and helpful responses to the harsh realities of life can be found through sacred conversations.
Among those harsh realities are: economic and social injustice, the persistent impacts of slavery, and problematic Scripture passages. These factors have been and are being used to justify violence toward vast swaths of innocent people based on their sexual orientation, gender, skin color, faith, nationality, and religion, the ideologies promoted by people trapped in their own hate, such as those of white supremacists, and how to counter them, and not knowing who or what to believe.
It can be risky to examine the relationship between our theology and our theology in practice. We will discover positive and negative inconsistencies along the way. It is not easy to discover we have been wrong. It is harder still to come to grips with the pain we caused because we were wrong. Furthermore, we might wonder if we will alienate people or lose a friend if we explore these tough questions too much. Yes, these things might happen.
However, and here is some great news, if we live by the courage of our convictions, and approach others with calm respect, we might not lose anything, nor lose as much as we gain! Friendships and trust will be forged and deepened. Insights will be gained. The thought that, “I can do only so much” will turn into, “Look at much we can do!”
It is my hope that we will be able to dedicate some time to an examination of our faiths and our faith; that we will have the courage in numbers to ask, “What do I believe? Why do I believe it? Are my beliefs consistent with my values? Are my values consistent with the teachings of Jesus? Is my understanding of Scripture more or less on target? How do I live my values and my faith?
If you are interested in asking these questions, please let me know. A study group to talk about these things would, I believe, help many of us rework our beliefs and act more in line with them. We will never reach complete synchronization of our theology and theology in practice. However, we will learn from each other, the Scriptures, and people who study the issues.
To give us some “food for thought” here are three websites for your perusal.
A search for “Public Issues” on abc-usa.org leads to numerous articles including: “Taskforce on Race and Race-based Violence Issues a Letter for Action”; “International Ministries Issues Resolutions on Anti-Semitism and Anti-Muslim Prejudice”; “ABCUSA Board of General Ministries Endorses National Call for Reflection, Prayer, and Reconciliation”.
The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, makes available “Issue Monographs” under “Mobilize” at bpfna.org. These Issue Monographs are onGang Violence, Gun Violence, Climate Change, Human Trafficking, Moral Injury of War, Migrant Justice, Racial Justice, and Justice for Indigenous Peoples. In addition to these Monographs, there is a link to “The Bible Speaks About Peace.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center (splcenter.org) has information on Fighting Hate, Teaching Tolerance, Seeking Justice, and the Civil Rights Memorial.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear . . .” (1 John 4.18a).
Every Sunday morning, beginning at 10:00 a.m., people come together to worship here at FUBC. I invite you to worship with us this Sunday and every Sunday. Each worship service is unique. True, by and large we follow the same format – although that is subject to change now and then – yet the Spirit never moves among us the same way. New and deeper friendships are forged. New understandings are gained. Some ideas are affirmed, others are challenged.
In worship we discover that our being is not identical to our body, yet our body is wrapped up in our being and Being itself. We awaken. We discover the difference between going through life on auto-pilot and going through life fully aware. We begin to merge our rote actions and routines with our deeper longings and passion for being whole. We discover the Being we worship is not external to us and our experiences. Jesus is integral with Being, and so are we.
In worship, we are reminded that the God in whom Jesus walked this earth, and in whom he is alive, is the same God in whom we are walking this earth, and in whom we do and shall live.
~~ Pastor Jim
Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler quote Psalm 119.97, “O how I love your teaching! It is my study all day long.” Then they write, “These two themes—the love for Torah (teaching) and dedication to the study of it—have characterized Jewish reading and interpretation of the Bible ever since. The love is the impetus for the study; the study is the expression of the love.”1
The same is true for Christian study of that same Bible, the Scriptures of the New Testament, and of course, the person and spirit of Jesus. The ideas within Psalm 119.97 remind me of the Four Fragile Freedomsas laid out by Walter Shurden in The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms.2
I understand these ideas to mean that devout study does not lead people to the same conclusions, that a belief once strongly held might turn out to be wrong, and a belief thought to be wrong might turn out to be right.
I understand that FREEDOM is the key word. Without it, intellectual inquiry would be limited, debate would be muted, righting wrongs would be hampered, faith would lose its meaning, and a personal relationship with Christ would be hindered.
Without FREEDOM there would be two choices: accept or reject the dogma. Such a forced choice limits options, and unless a person agrees with the dogma right down the line or does not want to be free, the only choice is to reject the dogma so as to find a better path.
Let’s keep learning together. See you soon!
As we move further into 2019, what message would you want to share with your loved ones, friends, and, if you had the chance, the world? What message would remind people that love is the answer? What message could inspire people to double-check their attitudes toward people they perceive not as different, for being different neutral, but rather as people they perceive as mooches, hangers-on, not qualified to receive the same level of help (or more help) than they? What message could inspire people to think of no one as “other” and everyone as “us” and “we”? What message could mute the negative aspects of the use of “them” and “us”?
One such message is found in 1 John 4.7-21. Copied from www.biblegateway.com, it is included below. Although 1 John was written for a Christian audience, its message that God is love is a universal one.
I look forward to seeing you soon! Perhaps this passage will lead to some great conversations.
“1 John 4:7-21 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
God Is Love
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love[a] because he first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters,[b] are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister[c] whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters[d] also.”
I hope all of you are enjoying this Advent season as we anticipate the birth of Christ anew. Imagine this coming Christmas was the first celebration of the birth of Jesus. We would not know it as Christmas. Would we know, this soon, that anything special had happened? We would not be together as a body of Christ. We might not know each other at all. There would be no historic Christianity to help us through this time of the church year because there would be no church year.
Imagining this Christmas as the first one is an impossible task. There are too many variables, too many “if-thens”, and too many “what-ifs”. There is too much unwinding of history. The exercise boggles the mind.
Now imagine how the Church, which will take many years to develop, will grow. It will grow because of its promise. It will grow because of the rich faith history in which Jesus will be rooted and raised, in which he firmly stands, albeit with his own views. It will grow because it focuses on the needs of the poor and infirm, the rejected and cast out, and because it calls out the baser instincts of people and calls forth the best in people. It will grow because it recognizes the power of love, joy, peace, and hope. One might hope it will not “grow” through coercion nor through the exercise of pain in the name of love and everlasting life.
Bishop John Shelby Spong said this in a recent interview for ProgressiveChristianity.org:
“I think the Christian church has got to see itself in a different way. I think Jesus was a boundary breaker and I think every time there’s a boundary that sets one person off against another, I think the Christian faith has to break that boundary down. That’s the salvation of the church. If we can do that, we can keep relevant. I think we ought to break every boundary. You’ve got to break the boundary around the creed, the literalism of the creed. You’ve got to break the boundary around theology. You’ve got to break the boundary around practice: who’s in, who’s out class warfare. Christianity can’t live in a world that’s got boundaries that sets one person off against another person. So we’re always going to be controversial, we’ve got to be controversial. By our very nature we’re controversial. And if we ever cease to be controversial, we’ll cease to be Christian – and that’s not easy for people to embrace. But that’s where we are.”
Beloved of God, to get through life together, and to share abundant life, we need to break the boundaries that separate. We are not alone. We have each other. We have “I Am.”
Are you contagious? If so, then please come to worship this Sunday to spread your contagion and to catch the contagion brought by your friends here at FUBC. All of us will benefit from being contagious with the love of God as revealed in Jesus. Unlike other contagions, the love of God revealed in Jesus is not a disease. It does not make people sick. It makes people better.
Do you have a fever, a passion, for joy and sharing it? Are you warmed by a vision of the way the world could be if only everyone cared as deeply for others as for themselves? I hope so. A fever, a passion, for joy and sharing it, is a good thing, especially when it is rooted in and motivated by a love for God and a desire to love creation as God does.
I think that every person I know fairly well has known or is now knowing pain and sorrow; has battled through internal conflicts, has experienced loss and suffering. One of the lessons our faith teaches us is that joy can be found and felt and shared and given away even in heartache. It is a joy found through divine love and its human expressions.
Are you contagious with the love of God as revealed in Jesus? I hope so. Whether you are or not, I hope you will join us this Sunday.
Thank you all for a great day last Sunday. From worship through our gathering in Hospitality Hall and our Ministry Council meeting, Sunday was a wonderful day! Thank you for the gift of being your pastor, and for the delightful time we had in Hospitality Hall as we enjoyed delicious food and warm conversation. Thank you for participating in and helping to make possible the spirit of joy that filled our time together, and which regularly does so every time we gather.
Soon we will be in Advent. I am looking forward to traveling through it with you. Here are some incomplete thoughts about the approaching special season which begins the church year.
Advent is near.
Are expectations growing?
If so, for what?
If not, why not?
What are we doing to prepare for Advent?
What will we do in Advent to prepare for Christmas?
What is Advent?
What is Christmas?
In the little over a week before the start of Advent, I wonder if it would be a good idea to meditate on these questions and others, to pray, to reflect, to read the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke, as well as the Holy Week narratives in the Gospels. I wonder if it would be wise not to buy in to the buyin’ on Black Friday or, if that is too much to ask of ourselves, at least wait until noon to start our shopping and risk missing out on the best deals?
The best deal leading up to Advent is not in what we purchase for the best price, but in what the birth of Jesus gives us for free (forgive the pleonasm).
May your Thanksgiving be full of heartwarming experiences, love, and kindness. And may your run-up to Advent prepare you well for what to expect. ~Pastor Jim Sinclair
When I arrived at church recently, I was struck by how pretty the trees looked. They are Kwazan cherry trees that explode annually with pink blossoms for a few weeks in May. We proudly post photos of them on this web page. As those petals fall off the tree, it looks like pink snow across the grass. All too quickly the blossoms fade away and we say, "if only their beauty would last longer."
Thanks to the mild temperatures this fall, the grass is still green and some flowers still linger. But, look at those cherry trees! I don't ever remember looking at them in the fall and noticing the pretty shades of orange the leaves have turned. In this area it is usually the colors of the oaks and maples that garner attention. But, look at those cherry trees! See how gorgeous they look on this sunny fall day.
What story is God telling me with my discovery of the beauty of the cherry trees in fall? That I need to be more mindful of what I see because I have obviously missed the brilliant color in the past? That my expectation of cherry trees looking drab except in spring is wrong, so what other expectations do I have that should be reconsidered? That God might surprise me by having me look at something in a new way causing me to change my thinking?
What story is God telling you with these magnificent trees?
Rev Jim Sinclair
Pastor Jim is the minister for First United Baptist Church