Oct 21 2014

John Meunier: Walk in the light child of the dark

Some thoughts on 1 John 1:5-10. This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. I read earlier this week an essay by … Continue reading

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Oct 21 2014

bethquick.com: Lectionary Notes for Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A (Proper 25, Ordinary 30)

Readings for 20th Sunday after Pentecost, 10/26/14: Deuteronomy 34:1-12, Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17, 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8, Matthew 22:34-46Deuteronomy 34:1-12:This is where I feel most sorry for Moses, who, though making many mistakes, has more or less …

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Oct 21 2014

Encourage One Another Daily: Tough Week, Day Two

I’m having one of those weeks. It’s not that things are going terribly wrong. It’s that things are terribly busy. I have a lot to do! My regular hectic schedule plus two special classes plus picking up the duties of a colleague who’s at a conference. I’m not complaining. I am happy to be where […]

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Oct 21 2014

bethquick.com: Sermon for Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A, “Promised Land: Are You With Us?” Exodus 33:12-23

Sermon 10/19/14

Exodus 33:12-23

Promised Land: Are You with Us?

            By the time we reach today’s text in Exodus 33, the Israelites have been through most of the worst and bulk of wandering through the desert, seeking after a new homeland. As we’ve talked about, we’ve seen God meet need after need expressed by the hesitant, scared Israelites. And then they started to transition, to think more about where they were headed to instead of what they were running from, and God started to help them shape an identity as a people, carving out a law that would guide them as they entered a new place and a new way of being together with each other and with God. And finally, they’re on the brink of reaching their destination.

            And so it seems strange to me, after all they’ve been through, that now Moses would be so plaintively asking if God will be with them, go with them, when they enter into the Promised Land. He’s pleading, practically begging, whining, beseeching God to go with them into the Promised Land. Moses is talking with God, and he says to God, “So, you haven’t said who you’re going to send with us into the Promised Land. I mean, you’ve said you know me by name, and I’ve found favor in your sight. If that’s true, show me your ways, so that I can know you better and continue finding favor in your sight. Oh, and also, consider that all these people are yours.”

            God responds, “My presences will go with you, and I will give you rest.” But that’s not convincing enough for Moses apparently. He says, “if you aren’t really going with us, don’t send us out of here to that unknown land. Nobody will believe we’ve found favor in your sight if you won’t even go with us. If we are really your people, you have to be with us.” And God says, “I’ll do just what you’ve asked, because I know you by name, and you’ve found favor with me.”

            So Moses boldly asks to see God’s glory. And God says, I’m still in charge of my own mercy and grace, but yes, “I will make all my goodness pass before you.” The Israelites believed no one could look at the face of God, and so Moses stands on a cleft in the rock, and God covers Moses until God has passed by, when Moses is then able to see God’s back. Actually, the Hebrew here is a bit ambiguous. It’s like: Moses can see the residue glory of the place where God just was. Moses can see: wow, God was just right there.  

So what’s with all the need for affirmations, for proofs, on Moses’ part all of a sudden? Well, last week, a select group of us talked about what was happening down on the ground while Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments that we talked about two weeks ago. While Moses was up there, the people were down on the ground, out-of-sight-out-of-mind convinced that God had abandoned them, begging Moses’ brother Aaron to make a replacement God for them. Aaron complies, and they fashion a golden calf, which the people then worship. When Moses sees it, he smashes the tablets with the commandments, and God is mad. Really, really, mad. So the people are full of guilt and regret. And they wonder, as even Moses does, if they can possibly have the same relationship with God going forward now that they’ve screwed up so badly. Indeed, God tells them to head to the Promised Land – they’re still going to the land of milk and honey. But God says, “I’m sending my angel to guide you, because right now, I’m so mad at you I can’t even look at you.” (That’s a Pastor Beth paraphrase.) That’s why Moses seems so unsure if God will go with them – he is unsure! Have they crossed the line at last? Is God done with them? Have the screwed up too badly? Does God still love them? Are they still God’s people?

I think we have to learn about what unconditional love is. I don’t think we’re born knowing it innately. It’s something so good we have to experience it, glimpse it at least, before we start believing in the possibility. Or maybe we start to believe that others might love us unconditionally when we realize we love them unconditionally. I’m not sure of the order. But I do think it is something we grow into. I think especially of my 7 year old nephew Sam. My mom, Sam’s grandma, loves Sam with the unmitigated love that grandparents have for grandchildren. I saw this cartoon on facebook recently and it captured the essence of unconditional grandparent love. My mother has in particular a problem with not giving Sam absolutely everything, and this cartoon is only a slight exaggeration of times she wants to give Sam “a small gift.” But Sam is a 7 year old boy, and sometimes he’s mischievous. Perhaps even naughty. Occasionally, while at Grandma’s, Sam will get into trouble, and need to cool down in his room. Sometimes she needs to let him know that his behavior is unacceptable, and she doesn’t want to be around him if he’s going to be hurtful, or if he won’t listen, or if he has to be told for the 1000thtime that he can’t jump on the couches. Since Grandma is pretty easy on him, Sam can be pretty surprised if she tells him “no” and sets a firm limit. In fact, sometimes, knowing that his Grandma is upset with him will cause Sam to burst into tears. Or he’ll approach her hesitantly, after a timeout, not sure how he’ll be received. As if he’s wondering, “Have I been so bad that you really don’t want me around anymore? Do you still like me?” Indeed, for an elementary school kid, in that tumultuous world were kids are best friends one day and worst enemies the next, it’s easy to believe someone might stop liking you. And so I think part of the way Sam responds is because he has to learn over time about saying sorry and getting forgiveness and the astonishing truth that there is absolutely nothing that he could do – nothing – that would make my mother love him any less. And no wonder it’s hard to take in, because that’s pretty amazing stuff. To be loved no matter how much you’ve screwed up, even when you’ve hurt the very person who loves you so much. I think Sam is slowly learning though, because recently, he said to my Mom, “Grandma, you love me way too much!” Unconditional love is powerful.    

            Thinking about Sam and my mom helps me understand Moses’s chat with God a little better. In the aftermath of the Israelites making idols, worshiping something other than the very God who rescued them from Egypt, promised to prosper them, and guided them carefully through the wilderness, providing for their every need, God is not thrilled with the Israelites. In fact, God says: right now, I’m mad enough that maybe I better not be around you. Let me send a messenger with you to guide you into the Promised Land. Not: I’m going back on the promise I made. Not: I’m leaving you with no help. But: I need a little space. But the people mourn, hearing, “I don’t love you anymore.” And that’s what I think Moses is asking, really: “Do you still love us? And if you still love us, will you please come with us? Because I want to know you even better than I have before.”

            Of course God says yes. Of course God loves them still. Always. Because there is nothing they can do that will separate them from God’s love. Nothing. Even when God doesn’t really want to be around them for a bit, God loves them. In the very next scene, we find that the tablets of the law, broken in the aftermath of the golden calf, are made new. A symbol of healing.

            I think we can say: God loves us unconditionally. But knowing it, deep in our hearts, is a bit harder. Because we, too, live in a tumultuous world where our brokenness makes it hard to believe in unconditional love some days. And we wonder, perhaps, if we even deserve it. Thankfully, love operate in an entirely different system than what we deserve or not. And thankfully, we catch glimpses of unconditional love, even in our faulty, human version of it. Enough to be learning, over time, as we mature in faith, that God loves us even when we’ve made a big mess of things. God loves so much a bystander might observe that God in fact gets a little extravagant in loving us so much. And there’s nothing we can do that will change it. So let’s keep journeying. We’re almost to the Promised Land. And God will go with us. Thanks be to God. Amen.   

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Oct 21 2014

bethquick.com: Sermon for Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A, “Promised Land: Commandments,” Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20

Sermon 10/5/2014

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20

Promised Land: Commandments

            For the next four weeks we’re continuing our journey in the book of Exodus, but we’re shifting our focus a little bit. We’ve been journeying out of Egypt, but now we’re heading to the Promised Land. The different might not sound like much, but I think with study we’ll find that while initially, the Israelites can only think about where they’ve come from, and can only demand sign after sign from God that they haven’t been led into the wilderness simply to die, now God is pushing them, encouraging them to look forward, to the life that will become theirs. They are no longer going to be simply people who are on the run from slavery in Egypt. No, now they are going to be the Israelites who are seeking the Promised Land. A nation unto themselves. And they need a more compelling identity than “formerly slaves in Egypt.” Instead of knowing who they aren’t, they really need to start worrying about who they are now.

            I think this is a transition we all need to make at times in our lives, and sometimes, like the Israelites, we need continual reminders and encouragements that we aren’t in the same place we started anymore. I remember during my first years of ministry, it was hard for me to stop thinking of myself as someone just out of seminary. For a long time when I started in my first parish, I would explain my ignorance about a particular situation by saying, “well, I’m pretty new at this.” But now I’m in my twelfth year of ministry. I’m no longer just out of seminary. In fact, the last time I visited Drew, where I attended school, I realized that perhaps more than 50% of the faculty I studied with at Drew are now retired or moved on to new places. The Drew I attended isn’t there anymore, even if I wanted to go back and make that my context again. I’m sure you’ve had similar experiences in your own lives, and I know this congregation has had that experience. You’ve been through the process of creating a new congregation where once there were four different communities. And no doubt for a while in that transition, you were defined mostly by where you came from. How you did things at Cardiff or Navarino or South Onondaga or Cedarvale. But now, these many years in, even though you still cherish the memories of where you’ve come from, you are Apple Valley United Methodist Church. A new family, forged by your new shared experiences.

            And so now, our scripture texts focus not so much on what is being left behind, but on what kind of future the Israelites want in the land to which they’re headed. So today we find ourselves with a familiar text – the giving of the ten commandments. Sometimes I think familiar bible passages are the trickiest for us, because we assume we already know what the text says. Oh, the ten commandments – I know what those are already. Just don’t ask me to recite them on the spot, right? The first four commandments, as I mentioned with the children, talk about our relationship with God. I am God, no one else, and no other gods are before me. Make no idols of any kind. Don’t wrongfully use my name. And remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, a day of rest. And then the other six commandments are reaching outward, emphasizing how we are to live as neighbors, a community, a people. Honor your parents. Do not murder, or commit adultery, or steal, or lie, or covet what belongs to another. Eventually, the laws that will govern the Israelites are much expanded, but these are the building blocks, caring for the relationship with God and neighbor.

            David Lose writes that biologists would tell you that we’re hard-wired to look out for our own wants and needs over all others, and that this is where the concept of the strongest – and presumably most selfish – surviving comes from. Theologians, he said, would tell you that this is what human sin is: selfishness that puts our needs above the needs of others, but actually limits “human flourishing” and contradicts God’s desire for us to love one another. The law, then, at its most basic level, is something that God gives us to curb us from our tendency to put ourselves first. The law creates boundaries that enable us to flourish as a whole, that “create room in which we can live with each other.”  Lose concludes, “That’s the law, in its first use, functioning as a gift from God to tell us – children and adults alike – “no” so that we can then say “yes” to a richer and more abundant life together.” (1) For the Israelites, the ten commandments are a starting point of the new community that they’re building. A way that they will agree to live together, so that all people in the community have the chance to flourish. Of course, as we’ll see in the weeks ahead, their journey to the promised land is not all smooth sailing. But now they have a framework for their lives together.

            Last week, I met with the Staff Parish Relations Committee to do some of our work in preparation for Charge Conference in November. One of the tasks that we must complete is creating a covenant between the pastors and the congregation. The covenant, especially when you have new pastors leading you, can be pretty simple. But the basic purpose is something like the purpose of the commandments: it’s setting out some priorities and a way of living together as a church that will create the space for God to help us flourish. That’s what we want, right? For this community of faith to flourish. And if we want that, what do we need to decide about how we will live together? What things are most important to us? What are the core values at the center or what we do, and how we treat each other, and how we reach out in love and service? We’re working on that, and I encourage you all to think about that, whether you are part of SPRC or not. What principles do you think should guide our life and work together? Love? Forgiveness? Hope? Joy? What ways of being together will help us create space so that here at Apple Valley, we can, together, seek to follow Jesus?

            Today is World Communion Sunday. It’s a day when Christians from many traditions make the effort to celebrate communion to remind ourselves of our common purpose and identity as members of the body of Christ. The table is a space Christ creates where all are invited. There’s room for everyone. And there’s one bread, one body, so that everyone can take part, and everyone can flourish. As Christ invites us, makes space for us at the table, let us strive to live in a way that we are always making room for others, so that together, we might live into all that God hopes and dreams for us. Amen.

(1) Lose, David. “Law, the First Use.” http://www.davidlose.net/2013/10/law-the-first-use/


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Oct 21 2014

Mustard Seeds: Amy Simpson’s Anxious: Tackling Worry, Anxiety, & Fear (Book Review)

Amy Simpson, author of Troubled Minds, tackles the layers of worry, anxiety, and fear in her latest book, Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry. From the get go, she’s clear that a faithful focus doesn’t replace counseling or medicine as … Continue reading

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