Saturday, September 26, 2015

In Jesus’ name

Mark 9: 38-50

What do you say when you stub your toe? When the potatoes boil over? When your phone is out of battery or there’s no 4G signal? … In these situations, many people shout, “Jesus!” or “Jesus Christ!” When I hear someone use Jesus’ name this way, I think to myself, “He’s not going to help you with that!”
How do you use Jesus’ name? Do you use his name in frustration? … Do you use it in prayer and praise? … Do you ever use Jesus’ name to make good things happen? …
In the Gospel story, there was a man who was using Jesus’ name to bring healing to people. He is not named, so let’s call him Joseph – Joe. The disciples learn that Joe is healing and casting out demons in Jesus’ name. The disciples are disturbed by this. This Joe is not a member of the group – “he is not one of us,” they complain.
Jesus replies that they should not worry about Joe and people like him. The disciples will soon see that no one can use his name for any evil; only good will come from using his name. Even if they mean something different than Jesus intends, those who are not against Jesus are for him. Those who offer as little as a cup of water to another in Jesus’ name is blessed.
From here, Jesus goes into a little sermon about stumbling blocks, millstones, and body parts which can lead us or others astray from Jesus’ message. Jesus wants nothing to come between us and our faith in him.
If something we do, or someplace where we go, or something we look at leads us away from Jesus, we are to get rid of those body parts – perhaps not literally, but certainly figuratively.
If something we do or say puts stumbling blocks in the way of those who would believe in Jesus,

it is like putting a millstone around our necks and jumping into the ocean with it. It would be deadly for us.

Instead of placing stumbling blocks in front of people, reserving God’s gifts for only certain people, we are to be salty, sprinkling the love of God everywhere we go. This is the reason everyone is welcome at the table here. We don’t use Jesus’ name to tell people that we will not share the bread and wine with them.
So, let’s imagine some ways in which we should use Jesus’ name.
I have watched a lot of the coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to the US. I was struck by the way he addressed the crowd at the Capitol building after his address to Congress. He said, “Please pray for me. And if you don’t believe, or if you don’t pray, please send me your best wishes.” Francis is sharing Jesus’ love by sprinkling it liberally on all, whether they believe or not.
For over fifteen years, New Start ministry of Bethlehem Lutheran Church near Pittsburgh, PA, has collected furniture, bedding, kitchen supplies, and other items. They are given to folks leaving homeless shelters and moving into their own homes.
In January, they hit the jackpot. A nearby hotel was remodeling and had hundreds of items to give away. There were shower curtains, hair dryers, ice buckets, coffee makers and more.
New Start arranged to receive and then distribute the items to 25 organizations in the area. A homeless ministry received bed pads, pillows and blankets for people living in tents on the streets. Poor families with homes were able to enhance their homes with beds, sofas, table lamps, and small appliances. Countless people were blessed in Jesus’ name by this hotel’s actions and the cooperation of New Start ministry.
We often decide what we can or can’t do in the congregation based on available funds. Yes, weekly income is always a challenge. It’s a challenge because we don’t really trust Jesus with our money, either our own money or the money God has given to the congregation through the gifts of those who have died. We believe that money is finite. What come in is all that can go out, and we must save for rainy days. We forget that Jesus can and does multiply what we have so we can use it in Jesus’ name.
We already know we can fill close to 200 shoeboxes;
we already know we can give about a dozen children a nice Christmas;
we already know we can make dozens of quilts for the homeless;
we already know we can give away food and personal products;
we already know we can maintain and improve the grounds and buildings;
we already know we can fix the roof and get a new sign, and TVs and improve the sound system.

We have done and continue to do a lot in Jesus’ name. If we weren’t worried about money, what else could we be doing in Citrus Springs?
Start a meal program? Open a food pantry?
Start a mission with the Latino/Latina community?
Open a clothes closet for job seekers? Start a community garden?
Tutor children in reading and math? Teach sewing and needle work?
Teach wood working and painting? Teach cooking and nutrition?
Host soccer or chess tournaments? Wash feet and trim toenails?
Host a program for those suffering with Alzheimer’s and their families?
Have a band to lead some of our music with guitar and drums?
Lay a labyrinth on the grounds so our neighbors can come and walk and pray whenever they wish?

As I mentioned during announcements last week, the Citrus Springs Civic Association has determined that they are unable to pay for a company to hang and then take down the Christmas decorations we so enjoy on the Boulevard. I thought about that for a while, and on Monday made calls to the nearby churches asking for their help in raising funds to hang the decorations. So far, I have heard from three pastors, assuring me of their congregation’s support. I am assuming Hope will also participate, though I haven’t yet officially asked the council about this.

Whatever we decide to do in Jesus’ name, we will be able to do it. We will pray about it, and we will allow the Spirit to guide us, and we will be able to do even more ministry in Jesus’ name.
This week, pay attention to how you use Jesus’ name. What can you do as an individual if you pray for his power to help you? What can we as a congregation do if we pray together in Jesus’ name?  

Please pray with me. Most powerful Jesus, guide us to act in your name. Remind us to call on you when we are struggling or suffering, and when we see others in distress. Respond with your power to make amazing things happen, so we may give you the glory. In your holy name, Amen 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Rolling out the red carpet

Mark 9: 30-37

On Monday night two men made history. First, Isaac Caldiero was the first person to successfully complete the third stage of the American Ninja Warrior course. In case you have never seen it, it is an extreme obstacle course. Many thousands compete, but few finish. The course tests the strength, agility, stamina, balance, and determination of every athlete who competes.
The final course is so tough, many contestants dropped into the water before the final element. No one before Monday had ever finished. But that changed this year. Early in the evening, Isaac Caldiero finished the course. The last competitor, Geoff Britten, also finished.
 Stage four is a 75-foot rope climb. As the first to finish, Isaac had the option of going first or second.  By this time, Isaac had had an hour to regain his strength, but Geoff had only a few minutes between finishing stage three and the final challenge. Isaac chose to go last.
Geoff managed to climb the rope and hit the buzzer with less than a second remaining. Isaac’s time was 3 seconds faster. Because of his faster time, Isaac Caldiero was named the winner, with a $1,000,000 prize. But, because he completed stage 4 first, Geoff Britten will always be known as the one who did it first.
I don’t know why Isaac let Geoff go first. I like to think it was to give Geoff the chance to be first, while knowing in his heart that he was going to win the money. But, first, he rolled out the red carpet for Geoff.
 We aren’t always so hospitable. We want to be the first, the best, the most important. In the Gospel text, the disciples are beginning to wrestle with what it will mean for them if Jesus does die, as he has told them he will. Who will lead the group of followers? They decide it should be the greatest disciple, however that is defined. The first; the most faithful; the one Jesus talks to the most; the one Jesus trusts with the money; the one who has done the most healings; the one with the most converts; and so forth.
Jesus is frustrated. Over and over he has explained that the greatest one is the one who serves the most. They still don’t get it, obviously. So he takes a child and tells them that those who welcome children welcome him, and therefore they welcome the one who sent him.
This puzzles us today. We have to know about the culture of the day in order to understand it. Women and children were objects to be used. They had no real value as individuals. We might compare the way African people were treated by slave traders and plantation owners. African slaves in America’s history, and women and children in ancient times, were commodities, like money to be traded among men.
Jesus is saying that when we roll out the red carpet for the least important person in our midst, we are rolling out the red carpet for him, and for God, the One who sent him.
Today, the least valued people, the commodity people in the US, are the illegal immigrants, the addicts, the homeless, those who are different in some imagined way. Jesus spent his time with the poor, oppressed, rejected people of his time and place.
So, when we roll out the red carpet for the poor and outcast of our time, we are welcoming Jesus and the One who sent him.
But we need to be careful. When we think of ourselves as the hospitable ones, the ones doing all the welcoming, we are putting ourselves first. We are in control. When we see outcasts as God’s children, as real people, then we have a better chance of welcoming them as we would welcome Jesus. When we open ourselves to the outcasts and say, “Teach me about your life, your wants and dreams,” and we listen with open hearts, then we are truly welcoming.
Beyond welcoming, we can take a stand against the people and systems that work hard to keep them as outcasts in our midst. We can object when someone ridicules a group of people. We can stop bullying by identifying it and reporting it. We can support laws that create a more just world.
We can point out that a certain type of joke is not funny. I did that just this week with an email that was sent to me and a few others.
We can remember that we are not always right. This week, I watched the movie Heaven is for real. Pastor Todd’s five-year-old son Colton almost died on the operating table and visited heaven. Colton began to tell his father about the event, and Pastor Todd began to talk in church about heaven as a welcoming place of love. Parishioners were stunned. They objected to what Pastor Todd was saying, and came to an agreement that Pastor Todd had to go. They had to be right – even though they were wrong.
We can say thank you. And we can do little things that say you have done a good job. The Kiwanis year ends in September, and this week Dick, the current president handed out awards to the Kiwanian of the year. He said, “I tried to narrow it down to one person, but I couldn’t. This year, the Kiwanian of the year award goes to Barbara, … and Lynn.” I was not expecting it at all. Dick made me feel valued, while I thought I was just doing what needed to be done. He rolled out the red carpet for me. 
This week, pay attention to how hospitable you are. And notice if you are giving the hospitality, or sharing it with others. Are you rolling out the red carpet and walking down it alone, or are you inviting others to join you? Would you walk down the red carpet when an “Outcast” rolls it out for you?
Please pray with me. Gracious God, you roll out the red carpet for us every day. Teach us to share it with others so they, too, will know your love and grace. Amen