Dr. John Judson
October 28, 2018
Deuteronomy 15:7-11; Romans 11:1-6, 17-18, 29-32
This is my family Bible. It was given to my great-grand parents by their son, my grandfather for Christmas in 1905. It is my family Bible for several reasons. The first is that it contains one of our family stories; the story of Elizabeth Fitchett who was captured in a raid by British and Iroquois in the town of Wyoming, Pennsylvania in 1778. It also tells how she later escaped. It is my family Bible secondly because it contains much of my family genealogy. Though the named records run from some of my cousins back to those married before the Revolutionary War, there is also a footnote about William Judson who arrived in the New World in 1632, twelve years after the Mayflower arrived. For most of the time I have had this Bible, this is where my sense of it being my family Bible ended. Beyond that it was merely a really, really heavy Bible, with some great pictures and a pretty good binding to have lasted more than a hundred years. But last night, it began to dawn on me that there was more to this Bible as a family Bible than that. And this is where I want you all to take a Bible and work with me, as I show you why the Bible is not only my family Bible, but it is yours as well...it is your family Bible.
First turn to page one of the New Testament. This begins the story of Jesus of Nazareth, the savior of the world. In this section we will read all the Jesus’ stories, letters from the early church leaders like Paul, Peter and John, and then we will find the final book of Revelation, which completes the Biblical story. This my friends, is my family story. This my friends, is your family story. This is your family Bible. It is our story because we are those who have been baptized into the community of Jesus Christ. This is what we did this morning when we baptized Connor. He was baptized into this family of Jesus Christ. He was baptized into the stories, into the power and into the work this family. And as I said earlier, you have become his family. His brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles. This is our family Bible.
Second, hold your finger in the first page of the New Testament and then turn to page 10 of the Old Testament. This section is also our family story. This is the second part of our family Bible. It is this part of our family Bible that reminds us that we are also children of Abraham. Across the centuries many Christians have wanted to chuck this portion of the Bible because it does not explicitly speak about Jesus. Across the centuries, Christians have assumed that this portion of the Bible is about the Hebrews or the Jews and thus has nothing to say to us. Across the centuries, many Christians have believed that because they believe in Jesus and Jews do not that Christians are superior to the Jewish people. This is what the people in Rome thought. This is what Paul tells them is wrong. Paul makes it clear that God’s promises to the Jewish people are irrevocable; that God’s people will always be God’s people. And in fact, we Christians are only God’s people because we have been grafted into the trunk of Judaism. They are the original family and we are the adopted children. Because we have been grafted in, then this part of the Bible is our family Bible.
Finally, take hold of the first ten chapters of Genesis, which by the way is all that is left. This section of the Bible is also part of our family Bible. It is part of our family Bible because it is the story of humankind. It is the story of God creating all people in God’s own image and breathing into them the breath of life. It is a reminder that not only are we Jesus people. Not only are we people grafted into the Jewish community, but that we are all part of the human family. It is a reminder that this means we are no better than anyone else but that we are simply different. This sense of the unity of all humanity can be seen in Jesus’ life. He met with non-Jews and considered them to be worthy of his love and grace. He met with Samaritans and Romans, he met with outcasts and tax collectors. Jesus had a profound sense that all of humanity was linked by God’s love and care.
What does this mean then on this day? It means two things.
First hate has no place in God’s family. Throughout history, hate has been one of the few constants. There has been Christian on Christian hate (my father-in-law spoke of his youth where Catholic and Orthodox Christians would fight each other). There has been hatred of the Jews, which was around even before Jesus. There has been hatred of Muslims from the moment they came into being. And once again we are seeing a manifold increase in hatred here in this country and in the world. We see it in the language used toward migrants fleeing violence and seeking a better life; with one commentator wondering if we might shoot them. We see it in the language and acts of intimidation used against Muslims, Siks, and other non-Christians. We see it in the abuse heaped on the LGBTQ community. We see it in the abuse of people of color. We saw it in its most evil form yesterday in Pittsburg, where a man driven by years of hate took the lives of innocent people at a Bris, a Jewish naming ceremony for a child. My friends, this hate is directed toward those people seen as the other. But these people are not the other. They are part of our family, whether that is our Christian, Abrahamic or human family. They are all in our family Bible.
The second thing that this means is that when you make your pledge to this church during the final hymn, you are giving to a community that knows who it is. We are a community of followers of Jesus the Christ, who commits itself to Christ’s ministry of love, peace and justice. We are a community of those who are linked with other Abrahamic faiths, striving to be faithful to God. We are a community of those who are linked by our common humanity with all people around the world. You are supporting a community that is hate free, where all are welcome, where all are loved. This is who we are as Everybody’s Church.
My challenge to you this morning is to ask yourself, how am I seeing every human being I encounter, that I see on the news, that I read about on-line, as part of my family and then treat them as such.
Dr. John Judson
October 21, 2018
Deuteronomy 16:13-17; 2 Corinthians 8:1-15
I was sucking wind. This past summer Cindy and I had met our daughter Katie and the boyfriend, Brendan, in Colorado. The plan was not only to spend time with the boyfriend, but for Katie, Brendan and I to do some short hikes. So, for our first, and what would prove to be our last hike, we chose to hike to Nymph and Emerald Lakes. The trail is about 2 miles, beginning at about 9,500 ft and ending up around 10,000 ft. So, all in all an easy walk…or at least it would be if I were in shape and acclimated to the altitude. But half way into the hike, as I was being passed by six and seven-year-olds, I was sucking wind and was wondering if it was worth it to continue. At that moment I had a choice to make, either I gave up or I continued, hoping to catch my second wind or I told my companions, “Don’t worry about me, you go on.”
I offer this story because it was where the Corinthians were. They were sucking wind, not from hiking, but from giving and they had a choice to make, give up on the offering, or quit. Sometime before Paul wrote this letter, the Corinthians had begun a joyful quest to financially support the church in Jerusalem, but somewhere along the way they had quit. They had lost the joy they once had for this endeavor and were not sure they could find the joyous energy to continue. It would be easy enough for Paul to simply let them give up, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t first because the church in Jerusalem, the church from which all other churches had come, was in difficult financial straits. He couldn’t secondly because he knew that if they were allowed to stop and never restart, it would be the end of their giving careers. It may be that we can sympathize with the Corinthians. After all, at this time of the year, we are inundated with requests to give. I know this because I have with me this large stack of requests that has come in just this week. Sometimes I think we see these and begin not only to suck giving wind, but to become depressed rather than joyous because there is so much need and limited funds to give. Thus, giving feels like a burden or obligation, rather than a joy. So how do we turn this around and find our second joyful giving breath? Let’s see if Paul can help.
He begins by pointing them to others who have joy. In this case to the Macedonians. “We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints…” Macedonia was the poorest and most oppressed part of Asia Minor. By all accounts they ought to have been asking for, rather than giving, money. Yet there was a joy within them that overflowed such that they begged to give; they couldn’t help themselves. They were filled with the kind of joy that the Corinthians once had for giving. The Macedonians showed that joyful giving is possible. I have to say, for me, that anytime I lose a bit of the joy of giving, all I have to do is watch the children comes down front for the Young Disciples Time and drop their money in the trumpet (yes that is what we call the vessel in which they put their money. The name comes from the same sort of vessels in the Temple in Jerusalem where the widow puts her mite). There seems to be within them an enthusiasm and joy for giving. Joy is out there. All we have to do is look.
Paul continues, by pointing them to Jesus. “I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” This was a reminder that what they had was not their own. It had been given to them as a gift; a freely given gift by God through Jesus. That the faith they now owned was joyously offered to them by the one who sacrificed all so that they could have enough and more. I say joyously because the word used by Paul for generous is “charis” which means joyous grace. For me, I find this at the table and the cross. Every time I walk into this sanctuary and see them, I am reminded that who I am and what I have, have come to me not only through Jesus, but through countless generations who have told and retold the story of God’s love, who have broken the bread and poured the cup, and who have given joyfully that this church might be here to nurture us and future generations, in Jesus’ love and tender mercies. Joy is in here. All we have to do is look.
Finally, Paul points them to themselves. He reminds them that less than a year earlier they were filled with the joy of giving. They had the eagerness to give to this needed offering. “And in this matter, I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means.” Paul reminds them that they had not been coerced into making a pledge to the church in Jerusalem but had been eager to do so. There had been this intense joy that had taken hold of them. He is saying, you had this joy once, you can have it again. Take a deep breath, find your joy and keep on going. I want to be clear about something at this point, and that is that Paul does not expect them to impoverish themselves. They are to give according to what they have and not what they do not have. Their giving is to be out of eagerness and joy, not fear or compulsion. My guess is that there is a time in your lives when you felt joy at giving. Maybe it was to the life and work of this church. Maybe it was to hurricane relief. Maybe it was to food baskets or Shop and Drop. Regardless of where that may have been, Paul reminds us that we can have it again. Joy is back there. All we have to do is look.
Unfortunately we have no idea if the Corinthians got their second wind, rediscovered the joy of giving and finished the collection. We don’t know because this is the last of the correspondence we have between Paul and the church. What we can know, though is that we can find the joy of giving again. Just as I found my second wind in Colorado and reached both lakes, we can find our second-giving wind.
The challenge for each of us is to find the joy. It is to catch our breath, find our second wind and rediscover the joy of giving back to God through this church and other helping organizations, such that lives are changed, and the world made better. My challenge to you then for this week is this, to ask yourselves, where am I rediscovering the joy of giving, such that I can continue to be part of the life changing work of God in the world?
The Rev. Joanne Blair
October 14, 2018
We are spending September-November in Paul’s 1st and 2nd letters to the church in Corinth … except for today, where we visit his letter to the church in Rome. Paul did not found the church in Rome, nor had he visited it yet at the time of this letter. There is no one distinct issue or problem that Paul feels the need to address, and so this letter is the closest thing to Paul’s theological dissertation. He is also paving the way for financial support of the Church, which fits with our 3-week miniseries on “Giving.”
In the early Church, Jews, as well as Jewish and Gentile Christians lived together somewhat uncomfortably, as they struggled with various cultures, traditions and rituals. And our scripture today is from that section of Paul’s letter which deals with practical questions about life and living.
Listen for God speaking as we read Romans 12:1-5
Still in Second Temple time, the Jewish people came to the temple in Jerusalem to give offerings and make sacrifices as an act of worship. This involved bringing vegetables, money and other valuable items. Grains and incense were burned, and certain animals were killed. Some of this was to help with the cost of running the temple and support the needs of the priests and temple workers. And some of this served for purification, reparation, guilt and atonement. Offering sacrifices was an important part of the Jewish religion, as well as other religions of Paul’s day ... and these practices were still very prevalent in society.
If you look up the difference between offering and sacrifice in theological dictionaries, you get varied definitions, opinions, and applications. Most common is the concept that “offering” means the giving of something.
And “sacrifice” involves the killing of an animal. In today’s world, we attach a negative connotation to the word “sacrifice”, and we associate it with death, suffering, or depletion. Paul is challenging the church in Rome, and us today, with the concept of sacrifice. “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” Paul never forgets that we are embodied creatures. Everything we think, say, or do… we do in a body. And Paul is calling us to a commitment … a commitment of the whole of our selves … to be worked out by a new way of thinking and behaving. Paul’s words are a call to action ... enacted by absolutely everything we think, say and do.
Even more, Paul is calling us to be transformed. We often come up with plans to transform ourselves – diets and exercise … even meditation and prayer. Obviously, all of these can be good. The problem exists when we try to control and dictate them for our own purposes rather than God’s purpose.
Paul is not urging us to transform ourselves. Rather, he is appealing to us open ourselves up to be transformed by God. We live in a secular world, but we are not to be trapped and molded by it. “Do not be conformed to this world” … do not be pressed into a mold dictated by an external force. “But be transformed by the renewing of your minds” … allow God to change your inward reality.
We are to be Christ-centered, not self-centered. And we do this not just hoping for what God will do. We do this by giving the whole of ourselves to God in grateful response to what God has already done. If we truly recognize what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, then our only response is to give ourselves completely to God.
And we do it out of gratitude and are filled with joy.
Martin Luther once said that “we are little Christs. That people see in our lives a little piece of Christ.” Paul warns us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. Just last week John talked about Paul “de-puffing” the church in Corinth. Personally, I find Martin Luther’s calling us “little Christs” to be humbling indeed.
Some of us struggle to feel worthy of being called “the hands and feet of Christ in the world today.” Yet we are. But we can only be the authentic body of Christ if we have offered the whole of ourselves to God. And we can only be the Body of Christ if we come together. We do not just live as individuals in our individual bodies. Together we make up the Body of Christ … as a community …. and as the Church.
Although I’ve misplaced the source, a study found that the main reason people remain part of a Christian congregation is because of the quality of love that they experience in human relationships. The music, preaching, mission, or children’s and youth programs may be why they join … but the loving friendships and relationships is why they stay. It is not the ideals of love they long for … it is genuine love in human form- with Christ in the center.
I come to worship on Sunday and am involved in this community not just because I work here, but because centering myself in the act of worship and being in community with all of you helps me stay grounded. This community (you!) helps me to stay open to continually be transformed by God. And you help shield me from those ways of the world that do not matter. For worship is not just coming here on Sunday mornings … it’s offering our whole self to God … and we need the support of each other to do that.
An individual cannot do it all, and even a community cannot do it all. But I can do, and you can do, and this community can do what God calls us to do.
It’s no secret that we are in our season of stewardship. And I hope you will prayerfully and gratefully think about your pledge for the coming year. This community does so much inside and outside of these walls thanks to your generosity of time, talents and treasures. And I hope that whatever you pledge, you do it with joy. But even more than your pledges, I hope you will each offer yourself to God as a “living sacrifice”, so that you may continue to be transformed by God.
“What does it mean to be a living sacrifice?” asked a woman to her pastor. Holding out a blank sheet of paper, the pastor replied, “It is to sign your name at the bottom of this blank sheet, and let God fill it in as God will.” Every common thought, action and deed is an act of worship. Our entire way of life is meant to live in relationship with God and each other.
Who here remembers the Hokey Pokey? You put different parts of your body in, you shake it all about, and then you turn yourself around. In the last verse, you put your whole-self in. Well, I’d like to suggest that we all do the Hokey Pokey with God. That we put our whole-selves in, open ourselves up and shake it all about … and let God turn us around and transform us.
God doesn’t just want our hearts, or our minds, or our gifts, or our actions. God wants all of us.
And so the challenge for us this week is to ask ourselves:
Dr. John Judson
October 7, 2018
Isaiah 54:4-8; 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7
We knew we were better. It was in the water. It was in the air. Growing up in Texas we just knew that we were better than everyone else. We were the second largest state. We had four out of the top eleven cities in the nation. Our economy, if it were on its own, would be the tenth largest in the world, almost fifty-percent larger than Russia’s. We have nine of the ten largest high school football stadiums in the nation, with average seating capacity of around 19,000. Two years ago, the largest oil discovery in the United States was made in west Texas, holding almost twenty-billion barrels of oil adding to Texas reserves which were around a third of proven reserves in the nation. We were also the only state to have ever been an independent nation. Finally, and above all of these, we have Willie Nelson and Tex-Mex food. It was hard growing up in Texas and not believing that we were essentially better than everyone else.
I offer you that take on Texas, not because I think it’s better, but because it can give you some idea of how the Corinthians felt about being Corinthians. Corinth was just better. It was better because it was founded by Julius Caesar himself. It was better because it was wealthier and larger than any other community in Greece. It was better because it was a major link in the trade routes across the Roman Empire. It was better because its massive stadium, with seating capacity of almost 18,000 played host to numerous dramas and musical attractions. And the biennial Isthmian Games, which were second only to the Olympics themselves, were held there. The city also contained great temples including one to Aphrodite. Finally, they were cultured and a seat of great teaching and wisdom. This meant that they were better than people like Paul, a Jew from a dusty and distant land. This meant that they did not have to listen to him, because he was not their equal. They, and their local leaders, were simply better and everyone knew it.
It was against this backdrop that Paul wrote his letter, and in so doing, decided he needed to deflate their egos and given them a crash course in humility. He wanted to do so not only because they were refusing to listen to him but because it was tearing their church apart. This course had two lessons, the first of which was on equality.
The heart of pride is a sense that we are better than anyone else, very much like those of us who grew up in Texas, knew that we were better than any other state. What Paul tells them though is that every other Christian, including Paul, can have everything that they have. Here is how he puts it, in a rather Pauline, sarcastic manner. “So, let no one boast in human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future-all belong to you, (but here’s the twist) and you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God.” In other words, all those things that you think make you and your leaders great… may be and actually are possessed by everyone else who follows Jesus. They have the same leaders, the same new life, the same escape from death, the same present with Jesus and the same future with God. And above all of this, they do not belong to their charismatic leaders but to Jesus and to God. What Paul is telling them is that being in Christ is the great equalizer; that there is equality which does not allow for one group of believers to get all puffed up with pride. Instead they are to remember that humility is a virtue they were to cultivate.
Lesson two is a lesson in gratitude. One of the fascinating things about being from Texas is that we act as if we were the ones who won independence from Mexico, or secretly put all that oil in the ground or off-shore in the Gulf of Mexico, or that we invented high school football. There is this great myth that we did it all ourselves, forgetting that all we had been given in the land and what is under it, was a gift from God. This is essentially what Paul tells the Corinthians. “For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” All of those things that Paul told them they possessed, and other possessed as well…life, death, present and future are all given to them by God in Jesus Christ. They did not discover them. They did not build them. They did not earn them. They did not create them. They are all gift and the so the response ought not to be puffed up pride, but gratitude; a gratitude that gives thanks to God and connects them with Paul and one another. And thus, humility is a virtue they were to cultivate.
It would be easy to say that humility is a vanishing virtue, but as we can see from Paul it has never been a favorite virtue of the church or of society. Rather than being drawn to humility through equality and gratitude, human beings have been drawn to pride and power. Humility has been seen as weakness and surrender. Yet humility, is an essential quality for the life and work of the church. I say this because equality and gratitude make authentic Christian community possible. Without them, we are broken and divided. What I would like to do right now is to give you two challenges. First, turn and look around. As you do, remind yourself that each and every person you see is neither greater nor lesser than yourself. They are all a beloved child of God. Then when you leave here, see everyone you encounter in the same way, as one equal to you. Second, when the elements are passed, to fill your heart with gratitude for the gift of God’s love and grace in Christ, and let that gratitude drive all that you do and all that you are. And by these two actions, allow yourself to live in humility, thus making possible, authentic community, here and in the world.