Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Friendship on Facebook

I have some friends who see the world very differently than I do ... we've been friends long enough to know that we've learned from one another just about all there is to learn. In that respect, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have nothing in which I'm interested - that was determined a long time ago. For my fb friends who find Limbaugh and Beck of value, so be it. You can read my stuff and simply say, "I don't agree!" and that'll be fine. But don't post the usual conservative jibber-jabber rebuttals - I'll delete most of them, and maybe all of them. 

If I want to hear what a disgrace the President is, how wonderful Gingrich and Reagan and Bush are, how terrible Nancy Pelosi is and how wonderful is Sarah Palin, I'll go to Fox News. But when it shows up in my threads, it'll be gone when I see it.

A lot of other friends are more than willing to raise good questions and challenge things I say, often adding substance to what I've written. And when I've learned greater things, that's added to my world. If I've lacked accuracy, then I'll remove it, or rewrite. Heck, as a preacher, I've done that all of my life.

From good friends, comments and interests are constructive, coming from a compassionate heart, and a mind seeking the larger truths that have shaped this nation at its best and shaped humankind's aspirations for justice, from the beginning. 

I've got some wonderful friends, and we stand together for a better world. And those are the friends I listen to, carefully!

Friday, July 25, 2014

"How's Your Soil?" - Matthew 13


(A personal reflection on  Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 by Robert C. Orr, July 2014)

Here’s the way the first book of the Bible, Genesis, speaks of our beginning . . .

 the Lord God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life.  Genesis 2:7  CEB

While not to be understood literally, still we are to see the profound connection of human life and the earth on which it was born.  We, you and I, are living, breathing animated topsoil! 

And a bit later in the story of our beginning in God we learn of how we’ll live and how our end will be. 

    by the sweat of your face you will eat bread—
 until you return to the fertile land,
 since from it you were taken;
 you are soil,
  to the soil you will return.” 
Genesis 3:19 CEB

Then in the New Testament, the apostle Paul is teaching about who we are in God and how we are to live. 

19 Or don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you? Don’t you know that you have the Holy Spirit from God, and you don’t belong to yourselves? 20 You have been bought and paid for, so honor God with your body.      1 Corinthians 6:19-20 CEB

Before Paul, there was his Lord, the Messiah. It’s to him we look now. 
Jesus tells a story.
There’s a sower, 
And there’s soil.
God’s the sower.
God’s word is the seed.
We are the soil. 
We’re receivers (that’s another way of defining grace).
We’ve always been the receivers,
And we are today.
We may have many questions about this parable/story Jesus tells.
His first listeners did for sure.
Some of their questions may be ours also.
Here’s the bottom line -
    Because of God’s extravagant grace, and profound generosity, we are given in the 
course of our life, dozens, maybe hundreds of chances to hear, respond to and 
share what God gives us.  What do we do with those moments?  

How’s your soil Adam?
How’s your soil Eve?
There’s hard soil,
There’s rocky soil.
There’s soil where there are so many weeds and choking vines that we can hardly see the soil underfoot.
Then there’s the rich soil with all the right nutrients and minerals, with sunshine and shade, with rain and gentle breezes - in short, perfect growing conditions.  

I was on the coast of Maine once and had a conversation with a local man about garden fertilizer.  I had heard that old-timers gathered seaweed.  I asked about it.  He said that he did a little gardening and after a big storm, he’d go down to the shore with his wheelbarrow and gather  seaweed the storm had broken loose and thrown up on the beach.  I asked him if it helped his vegetables grow.  He bent low then gestured with both hands and arms in an upwards manner, and said it nearly made the plants jump out of the soil!

How’s your soil Eve?
How’s your soil Adam?
Anything growing?

I want you to think of a time, a person, an experience when you were be able to say “God gave me something in that moment, through that person, when that happened and look where I am now . .  because I listened, I responded, I took it and ran with it!”

 When I was in my last year in college I didn’t know what I wanted to do.  Going to graduate school or seminary or the Peace Corps were three options.  
I learned of a weekend program at a nearby Presbyterian seminary for college students like me. The invitation was to come and meet some faculty, share some time with men and women my age who were preparing for ministry, listen to panel discussions, ask questions.  I went.  I listened. I questioned.   One of things I heard was a professor tell of going on personal retreats at a nearby Catholic Trappist monastery.  I heard the name Thomas Merton mentioned,   He came to be know as the 20th century’s most celebrated American monk.  The Abbey of Gethsemani  in Kentucky was where he lived his life in community with other monks embracing a vow of silence but writing many books, carrying on a correspondence with hundreds of people around the world and keeping a  voluminous journal. 

The summer after I graduated college, seminary was not my choice.  I took a different path, but even that changed and by the end of August I was enrolled in seminary in Chicago.  As I look back on it,  was that a monastic “seed” God planted in my life?  Maybe.  I didn’t think of it that way at the time, however I can report to you today,  forty-seven years later that I went off to seminary, was ordained as a teaching elder and practiced ministry for thirty five years.  I can’t count the times I’ve been back to that monastery,  mostly for silent,  solitary retreats but sometimes taking a friend along to introduce them to monastic life. That “seed” has grown in my life in ways I never expected.

I speak of my own life only to invite you to think today about seeds you have received, people who have guided you in the way of Christ, times you have been shaped in God’s way.  

To be honest, there  were  other  “seeds”  which came into my life.  Did I respond?  Sometimes,  but sometimes not at all.  There were times I didn’t even recognize a seed.  Other times I recognized a  seed, watered it, tended it for a while but it withered.   

Robert Frost (1874–1963).  Mountain Interval.  1920.
1. The Road Not Taken
TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

What kind of soil are you Adam?  Eve?

Being prepared, being fertile, being receptive is what this story is all about. 
What makes your soil hard as stone?
What makes the path that is you full of rocks?
What chokes the life out of you?
What can we do to prepare our soil, ourselves for God’s grace?

God’s plan is still sowing. . .  hundreds of seeds,
Thousands of seeds. 
Blowing in the wind . . . of the Spirit. 
Don’t allow the stones, the weeds, the boiling sun, the torrential rain,
and the distractions of modern life to take your eyes off the prize. 

“All the way to heaven is heaven, because Jesus said, ‘I am the way.’ “
Catherine of Siena and John 14:6

The pathway you’re on today, if it’s the path Jesus invites you to travel is one filled with hope, opportunity, life, and heaven on earth.  

How’s your soil Eve?
How’s your soil Adam?
Never forget God made you, and God is the Master Gardner.
What’s growing in your life today?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Living in Fear - Christian Reflections

Been having a "chat" via Text Messaging ... he's expressed a lot of fearfulness about the times. I'm uneasy with such fearfulness because it distorts the way we see our world.

So, I sent this note off today ...

Living in fear is a choice we make ... and history makes it clear that our times are no different than ever - what we have is the news, the constant play and replay of world disorder. But WW1 was hideous and millions died across the world ... and WW2 ... the Boer War in S. Africa ... the Colonial Wars ... British in Afghanistan (1839-42) - horrible and hideous ... tens of thousands dying ... nothing different ... so to choose the Christian Way for me  is what counts - to tell the fear-peddlers to take a hike - they're not telling the truth; they're playing upon our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and they want us to be afraid - fearful people are not likely to think too well. 

Americans are the safest people in the world - war, famine and disease are rampant, but not here; not even close. 

Nothing new under the sun - Ecclesiastes 1.9 - what's new is us; we've never been here before, but our situation, the human condition, is what it has always been - war and rumors of war. So, the angels say, "Fear not!" because fear is the enemy of love ... and a perfect, complete, love casts out all fear - 1 John 4.18. 

Like God said to Elijah - (my translation): "Get outta your cave and get work! There is no room for fear in my Kingdom and those whom I call." - i Kings 19.15. 

Like Elijah in the cave, it's fun to shake our heads and talk about how bad things are - makes for great pulpit chowder, but it's hardly the Word of the LORD. Yes, things can be bad - as they were for Judah in Jeremiah's time, but fear is never the right response. 

And the times, well, they're neither worse nor better than any other time ... so, we get up in the morning with a smile on our face, and hope - because in Christ, all is becoming new, love prevails, and whether we're at the Table with the LORD or carrying our own cross to a sure and certain death, we do so in faith, listening to the LORD with all our heart, and not the fear-mongers in our midsts.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"Jesus Died for Our Sins" - Misleading

To simply say, "Jesus died for our sins" removes the offense of the gospel.

If "dying for our sins" is the whole sum of the matter, then Jesus might have done well to let the hometown folks throw him off the cliff - "Here, we have some stones we'd like to introduce you to."

Or, better yes, follow Satan's advice and jump off the temple pinnacle, because he knew full well that, in spite of what Satan said, no angels would come to his defense, and he would die.

Or why not simply join up with John's denunciation of Herod and gone to prison to lose his head with John.

If "dying for our sins" is the sum of the matter.

But, if we say, accurately, that he died "because of our sins," then we might well have to ask: "What were the sins that killed him?"

If Rome killed him, for what reason?

For being a nice guy?

Saying nice things about love?

No, for raising serious questions about Rome itself, and how some in Israel had simply become a client state of Rome, enjoying Rome's largesse, settling for the god of mammon and adopting a cruel life style - like the forgiven servant who refused to forgive a fellow servant ... or the disciples who wanted to send the hungry away to fend for themselves.

It was the sins of Empire that killed him ... the power of the Empire to show who's boss, and the sins of those who signed on with the Empire to enjoy its benefits.

To say, "Jesus died for our sins" retains the offense of the gospel and opens up doorways of understanding that can only service to both humble us before Jesus and compel us to think serious before we say, "I'm a follower of Jesus."

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Cauldron of Little Places

A dear friend of mine wrote a poem about a small church wherein it just kept bubbling a way ...

So I wrote the following as prose ... he suggested I put it into a poetic form ... which I did:

sometimes the cauldron of little places, 
with little people fussing around 
with little things becomes an impossible soup … 
best to push the bowl of soup away 
and let it cool, 
or maybe just congeal …

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Psalm 37 - A Gift for My Heart and Mind

Psalm 37 - from Common English Bible

Of David.

1 Don’t get upset over evildoers;
    don’t be jealous of those who do wrong,
    because they will fade fast, like grass;
    they will wither like green vegetables.
Trust the Lord and do good;
    live in the land, and farm faithfulness.
Enjoy the Lord,
    and he will give what your heart asks.
Commit your way to the Lord!
    Trust him! He will act
    and will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
    your justice like high noon.
Be still before the Lord,
    and wait for him.
Don’t get upset when someone gets ahead—
    someone who invents evil schemes.
Let go of anger and leave rage behind!
    Don’t get upset—it will only lead to evil.
Because evildoers will be eliminated,
    but those who hope in the Lord
    they will possess the land.
10 In just a little while the wicked won’t exist!
    If you go looking around their place,
    they won’t be there.
11 But the weak will inherit the land;
    they will enjoy a surplus of peace.
12 The wicked plot against the righteous,
    grinding their teeth at them.
13 But my Lord just laughs at them
    because he knows that their day is coming.
14 The wicked draw their swords and bend their bows
    to bring down the weak and the needy,
    to slaughter those whose way is right.
15 But the sword of the wicked will enter their own hearts!
    Their bows will be broken!
16 Better is the little that the righteous have
    than the overabundant wealth of the wicked.
17 The arms of the wicked will be broken,
    but the Lord supports the righteous.
18 The Lord is intimately acquainted
    with the lives of the blameless;
    their heritage will last forever.
19 They won’t be ashamed in troubling times,
    and in a period of famine they will eat their fill.
20 But the wicked will die,
    the Lord’s enemies will disappear—
    disappear like the beauty of a meadow—in smoke.
21 The wicked borrow and don’t pay it back, but the righteous are generous and giving.
22 Those blessed by God will possess the land,
    but those cursed by God will be cut off.
23 A person’s steps are made secure by the Lord
    when they delight in his way.
24 Though they trip up, they won’t be thrown down,
    because the Lord holds their hand.
25 I was young and now I’m old,
    but I have never seen the righteous left all alone,
    have never seen their children begging for bread.
26 They are always gracious and generous.
    Their children are a blessing.
27 Turn away from evil! Do good!
    Then you will live in the land forever.
28 The Lord loves justice.
    He will never leave his faithful all alone.
    They are guarded forever,
        but the children of the wicked are eliminated.
29 The righteous will possess the land;
    they will live on it forever.
30 The mouths of the righteous recite wisdom;
    their tongues discuss justice.
31 The Instruction of their God is in their hearts;
    they don’t miss a step.
32 The wicked, on the other hand, target the righteous,
    seeking to kill them.
33 But the Lord won’t leave the righteous
    to the power of the wicked,
    and won’t let the righteous
    be found guilty when they are judged.
34 Hope in the Lord and keep his way!
    He will lift you up so you can possess the land.
        When the wicked are eliminated,
        you will see it for yourself!
35 I myself have seen wicked powerful people,
    exalting themselves like a stately cedar.
36 But when I came back, they were gone!
    I looked all over for them,
    but they couldn’t be found!
37 Observe those who have integrity
    and watch those whose heart is right
    because the future belongs to persons of peace.
38 But wrongdoers will be destroyed all together;
    the future of the wicked will be cut short.
39 The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;
    he is their refuge in times of trouble.
40 The Lord will help themand rescue them—
    rescue them from the wicked—and he will save them
    because they have taken refuge in him.