Wednesday, October 28, 2015

New Lives for Old!

Resurrection---for now or later?  Kind of like when a server asks you, "Sweet or unsweet?" in reference to iced tea...Would you prefer your resurrection now or later?  Or maybe you would like it both now and later on.  You really can have resurrection now, in this life, today....and later, when you die.  For, you see, resurrection happens continuously throughout life and we just do not recognize it for what it is.

Like the time I had the flu, years ago before flu shots were so popular.  I remember I was a school teacher and stayed home an entire week with it, something I never did when I was a teacher.  I may have called in sick now and then because I needed a mental health day but when I was ill I tried to get better and get back to work.  So, I had the flu and suffered through a week of chills, fever, coughing, sore throat, general malaise, and in the middle of it thinking...."I could get well or I could die, and right now I really do not care which happens."  It was that severe and I was just staying at home, alone during the day because my wife worked too and we needed both of our incomes to survive, and spending much of the day on my back in bed, moaning with pain when I was not asleep.

Then....I got well.  That gnarly old flu germ finally gave up on me and I began to feel as normal and I could feel.  (What is normal, after all?)  I was resurrected from my bed of death and brought back to life, just like in the story of Lazarus that we will read this week in worship as we observe All Saints Day (or Totenfest, as we call it in German).  Lazarus was Jesus' best friend in the world, along with his two sisters, Mary and Martha.  In fact, some Bible scholars think it refers to Lazarus in John's Gospel when it mentions "the disciple whom Jesus loved".  So, Jesus was very close to Lazarus and hated it when he got the news that he had died.  In fact, he hated it so much that "Jesus wept."  Jesus wept when he encountered others weeping over the death of his good friend.  He saw their pain and knew he would work a miracle to end the reason for their pain but at the time he knew how much they were hurting because he hurt too.

Jesus had told Lazarus' sister Mary when he was talking to her after he arrived at Bethany, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live."  (John 11:25)  Now, the resurrection was standing with them in their time of grief and weeping with them.  Soon, he would work a miracle that would end their time of weeping but for the moment he sympathized with them and was with them in their pain.  Sure enough, Jesus called Lazarus out of his tomb and, all mummy-like, he hobbled out and was unwrapped and was back in the land of the living.

On All Saints Day we remember those whom we said goodbye to during the past year and think about them again.  In the church setting, we remember their lives in relation to the church and how they were involved in their church.  We also remember the good and kind things they did and how their lives reflected the love of God in the world around them.  We remember and we in the promise of Jesus being the resurrection and the life and that he promised to all who believed in him that they would live.  So, the saints whose names we call aloud are alive even as we say their names.  That is true and sure and a promise based upon the goodness of God and the love of Christ that lives in our hearts.

So, know that resurrection is a part of daily living.  We experience it each morning when we wake up and have our coffee and come back to life.   We experience it each time we are ill and recover and find life to be meaningful again.  We experience it each time we see a sunset, a butterfly, a singing bird, a jumping whale, or anything else that is alive and reflecting something about the goodness of life and living to us.  Resurrection is not just an Easter event.  It is a daily event and we saw it in the lives of those whom we remember who are not gone on to have it as their reality in a world we can only imagine.  We know it now, though, because it is also part of our world.  We just need to recognize it as we open our eyes and ears to life around us.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Free, At Last!

I was driving to a church meeting last Tuesday when I saw the sign that has been erected by Washington County welcoming travelers to the county.  It is a large white stone monument that says "Welcome to Washington County" but also adds, "Birthplace of Texas."  I know what that last part means but to travelers from outside of Texas or even to foreign visitors perhaps they shake their heads and wonder what it means for Washington County to call itself the Birthplace or Texas.  If they venture a bit farther then the sign, perhaps to Brenham, and go to the Visitor Information Center, they may find a brochure or other information about the hamlet of Washington, Texas, just up Hwy. 105 from Brenham.  There is where they will find the official "Birthplace of Texas" with the historic building where they could learn about why this place bears this name.

We learned in school when we took Texas History that early Texan pioneers settled in Texas when it was still a part of Mexico and, as the Colonies did in the century prior, soon they became disgruntled with the policies of the Mexican government that greatly affected their lives.  Rather than move back to the United States and give up the land that the Mexican government had given them, they decided to have a rebellion and soon the Texas Revolution began.  Those who were bent on revolution met at Washington on the Brazos in 1836 and declared themselves free from the Mexican government and soon the armed forces of Mexico led by General Santa Anna were racing across Texas to quell the rebellion and restore order.  Unfortunately for him, the Texans were led by the tough soldier Sam Houston who led the forces of Texas to conquer the Mexicans at the Battle of San Jacinto and took Santa Anna captive as part of it all, bringing independence and freedom to the Texans there.

From 1836 to 1845, Texas was a country of its own with its own government, President, and money.  For nine years it functioned as a country of its own until finally its leaders decided they would be better off as a state in the United States rather than a country, a decision that some Texans today still hate happened.  Texas gave up the right to be independent when it joined the Union and today is one of 50 parts of one whole unit.  Despite what some secessionists say, Texas does not have the right to be an independent nation again.  It became part of a nation in 1845 and its future is bound up in that nation and its welfare.

Jesus was talking to the religious leaders of his day in John 8 and one of the most quoted verses in the Bible is found in that chapter.  "You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:32)  His point to his listeners was that he would bring them the truth and they would be free from sin.  They took him literally and got upset that he would imply that they were not already free because they were not slaves (except to the Roman government).  His point was that freedom from sin is even more important than freedom as individuals.

Many religious persons throughout history struggled with this idea.  Some were even the founders of certain religious traditions found throughout the world.  Martin Luther believed that he was consumed with sin and tried to do all the works he could to bring about relief.  He beat himself, he crawled on his knees up the steps of St. Peters in Rome while on a pilgrimage there, he read the scriptures voraciously, he prayed over and over again for relief from the sins he believed plagued him.  Finally, he was reading from Romans and came across the idea that salvation was achieved through faith, not works, and the lightbulb came on over his head and he began to teach and preach that, much to the dismay of the religious hierarchy of his day who made their living selling the right to get out of hell for the right price.  His very life was at stake because of his decision to tell the good news of faith to those fearful for their eternal future.  All this happened while he was a priest serving as a monk.

John Wesley was an Anglican priest serving a parish in the Church of England.  He mourned his sins and also wondered how he would escape the fires of hell because of his wickedness.  He was attending a meeting on Aldersgate Street in London when he heard the book of Romans read and explained and he had what Methodists call his "Aldersgate Experience" where his "heart was strangely warmed."  He received good news from the Holy Spirit about the role of grace in his life and how he could have assurance for his sins being forgiven rather than have to be in despair.  That experience launched him into the work that became the forerunner of the Methodist movement both in England and abroad.

Both of these Reformers received news of freedom that they had longed to hear.  The Holy Spirit spoke to them of this good news that they shared with others and began the Reformation that brought about the Protestant churches we have today.  When you know the truth, it will set you free from worry, anxiety, despair, and sin.  You will be free to know God's love is true for you personally and that God loves you just the way you are.  Let the Spirit speak words of truth to you so you will find peace in this world of conflict and strife.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Right Priorities

When I meet with a couple to discuss their upcoming wedding, we usually discuss my list of things that I have decided cause the biggest problems in marriage for couples.  The list is one that I have formulated over the years as I have talked with couples and counseled with individuals concerning their relationships.  The list is not one that incorporates all the issues or problems that may evolve during a marriage but it is one that I think lays the groundwork for a good relationship if one considers what is involved in having a good relationship or marriage.  

I always tell the couple that at the foundation of a good relationship is communication.  If two people can talk about whatever is on their minds, then they can usually tackle just about any problem if both of them are willing to try to solve them.  Actually listening to the other person and hearing what their concerns are AND having a desire to find a resolution to a problem will help people to get past whatever the issues may be that divide them.  So, good communication is at the heart of every good relationship.  

Then, we go into discussion of issues that regularly cause division in a marriage--children, relatives, work, use of time, religion (church attendance), how to decide where to spend holidays, and finally to the big one, the problem that causes many marriages to, not that one, but the one I name is MONEY.  Yes, money, the use of money, overspending and overuse of credit is a huge problem for couples and if they do not talk about how they will spend their money, how they will arrange their banking and saving, these issues can divide a marriage and has even ended marriages.  

Money is a necessary part of living and all of us want it and need it in order to live comfortable lives.  Money allows us to buy possessions, both small and large.  Money is both real (such as cash or checks) and imaginary (such as is given to us by credit cards and loans of various sizes).  We can see the cash we use and the checks we write that represent cash but the use of charge cards and the acquisition of loans is an almost mysterious process.  It is very easy for people to be overextended in their use of credit cards and their handling of loans.  When people begin to feel the pressure and tension of living in an overextended state with little money to do anything except pay bills, then tension may develop between the persons involved in the use of money.  

Jesus talked about money many times in the Gospels.  Sometimes he told parables that ended with platitudes such as "You cannot serve God and money."  This week, we are reading from Mark's Gospel a familiar story commonly called, "The Rich Young Ruler".  Mark seems to only tell us that he is a man and that he is wealthy.  We do not know that he is young or rich but that has been the tradition told in regard to the story over the years.  

The man bows at the feet of Jesus and asks him to tell him what he needs to do to have eternal life.  Jesus tells him to obey the commandments and Jesus names some of them to which the man says that he has tried to obey them all from his youth.  Jesus then tells him to go sell what he has and to give the money to the poor and to come follow him.  At this command, the man goes away "grieving" because he "had many possessions" which in the ancient world would indicate that some was wealthy since most people had very few possessions.  

Jesus then does a teaching segment on how wealth can stop one from entering God's Kingdom, although he says it is not impossible, but just difficult.  He also says that those who give up things in order to follow him will be rewarded in the world to come.  The platitude that ends this story is: "Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first."  In other words, things are not always what they seem to be using worldly standards to try to negotiate the spiritual world.  Worldly things do not matter as much as spiritual things when it comes to following Jesus.  

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ involves having a relationship with him.  It is just like having a relationship with a spouse or other relative.  We can allow things in life to separate us from others, things such as the ones on my list, or we can not consider them as important as our relationship with Jesus and consider it to be of utmost importance to our lives.  Money may be one of those things for some people but it is not the only one.  Life is full of choices that may present options that stand between us and our devotion to Christ.  

Jesus was actually describing the greatest commandment when he commanded the man to sell his possessions and follow him.  He somehow perceived that this man's wealth stood between him and his relationship with God.  The first commandment says to love God with all our of being.  It is called the greatest commandment because of that duty.  Anything that comes between loving God with all of our being and us is something to be cleared away so as to have a right relationship with God.  

It may be money but in the modern world it may be one of a host of other things that keep us from truly knowing, loving, and serving God.  It may be something that we have to do, such as resolve a conflict with another person, or something we have to not do, such as turn off our television or computer now and then to allow time to seek God through prayer and study.  In either case, asking God to direct our lives so we can have a better relationship with God is a prayer that God will truly answer as we seek the truth and light that only God can bring.