Lectionary sermon 10/20/2019

Jeremiah 31:27-34
Psalm 119:97-104
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

There are many people, even people who proclaim to be Christians and pastors who are supposed to proclaim truth, who that believe the Bible is no more than a book, maybe a good book, but just a book nothing less.

Even though the church has believed in the authority and trustworthiness of the sacred Scripture since the time of Jesus up until the last century, more and more people no longer believe the Scripture is relevant for their lives.

These people obviously have a different perspective and faith than that of the Psalmist who proclaims, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to observe your righteous ordinances.” (Ps. 119:105-106 NRS)

Perhaps, just perhaps, the reason is that people do not like what the Bible has to say. In the Old Testament lesson for today, Jeremiah speaks to the concept of individual accountability. According to Jeremiah 31:27-34, we cannot blame others for our actions. Jeremiah lets us know that God is not a psychologist who says we are victims of our heredity or our environment. God is not lawyer who gives us loopholes and legal definitions to make behavior legal. God is not a philosopher who postulates the positions of what is good or bad. God defines what is good and what is not and reveals this in the Scripture. Maybe this is the reason so many are seeking ways to undermine Scriptural authority. They want to decide for themselves what is right and wrong. They want to make excuses for their behavior or failure. They want a loophole for themselves.

If Scripture is not the authority for Christian life and faith, what is? Our feelings? Our reasoning? Our traditions? Without the authority of Scripture, without its guidance, our foundation for faith is relative and open to deception and delusion.

The history of faith is filled with misinterpretations of the Scripture that have been destructive to the faith. Image how much more destructive such mistakes and fallacious concepts would mislead the faithful without the foundational authority of the orthodox trust of Scripture. I believe we are seeing this in our western culture.

Paul understood this and gives this exhortation and warning to Timothy. First, Paul tells Timothy (and us), “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17 NRS)

Then, Paul tells Timothy, “For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.” (2 Tim. 4:3-4 NRS)

It is hard enough in this life to struggle against all we human beings face. However, when a person chooses to ignore the foundation of Scripture that God has lovingly given us, they open themselves to myths that will leave them empty and alone in times of crisis. They will leave themselves open to deceptions they cannot even imagine with a destiny no human being would ever desire if they understood the consequences Scripture clearly spells out.

Those who discover the purpose of the Scripture relish in the understanding it gives and the perspective it offers. Only embracing the presence of God exceeds its presence in the life of those who love God. Scripture communicates God’s love. It communicates God’s care and compassion. It also reveals the mistakes we human being make. It warns us against foes we cannot even see. It describes the pitfalls of ignoring its teaching. It makes us aware of how wonderful and how fragile how life can be. It is the Word, a written revelation which points to the incarnation of God as one us, what this means and what this offers.

God makes us a promise, spoken in the Old Testament and reaffirmed in the New, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isa. 55:10-11 NRS)

You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God. For “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” That word is the good news that was announced to you. (1 Pet. 1:23-25 NRS)

This Word gives us hope, in a God who loves us and responds to us in times of celebration and times of sorrow, in times of joy and times of difficulty, a word we can always trust.

In the Gospel passage for today, Jesus tells a parable of an unjust judge who ends up doing the right thing because of the persistence of a woman who will not be denied. The point of the parable is to remind us that if this judge will give justice out of irritation, imagine what a God who loves us, seeks us, gives us His world and who sent his Son to become one of us to lead us to salvation will do.

This is the good news we are given in Scripture, “Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (Jn. 14:23 NRS)

Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. (Lk. 11:9 NRS)

Upon this we can build a foundation of faith and hope. Amen.

Do Justice, Love Mercy, and Follow Trump

“Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire; and to know what he ought to do.”
— St. Thomas Aquinas

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Mic. 6:8 NRS)

After listening to the prayer offered at the Value Voters (i.e., religious Trump republicans) I had to ask myself, “What kind of training in moral theology did “pastor” Brunson receive in seminary?” Not only was his prayer a mockery of praying to God who loves the poor and oppressed, he also pretended to have his eyes closed as he read from a visible paper he was holding in his hand. Who was the show for? I have never heard a prayer skirt the edges of idolatry so closely while “praying” for the president. I believe if Micah had been present he would have cried, “What are you thinking!”

Yes, I will agree that President Trump has pushed for some of the things those whose devotion to the Republican party often overshadows their commitment to Jesus, but to believe that the person elected to lead this nation has any idea of what it means to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God is ludicrous. I do not know which hypocrisy was worse, the prayer or the man for whom the “prayer” was offered pretending to be “blessed” by it. President Trump may not go down in history as the worst president, but certainly he will be in the running for the most immoral and as far as being the president who told the most lies, no contest.

Morality as a standard for our “values” has become quite strange. Morality should flow from the love of God which is the truth of God. This love should fill us with gratitude and humility considering the grace we are given. To be moral is to understand justice rooted in love not selfishness. It is to understand mercy as caring, not conceit. It is to walk with God not think we are god.

It seems to those who believe President Trump is a chosen agent of God. I have a question for those people.  Is it moral to lie if it raises doubt about one’s actions and tries to divert responsibility for one’s actions?  Is it moral to abandon people to be slaughtered simply because you can and it will help you make more money? Is it moral to use the tax dollars of this country to manipulate another country into helping one’s one political agenda. And these are only this leader’s most recent activities for which Brunson prayed (I find it ironic that Brunson was held as a prisoner in Turkey and now prays for the man who is allowing Turkey to commit ethnic cleansing).

I do not like to get into political controversies, but when such irreligious mockery takes place so publicly I feel it is wrong to be silent. Yes, we are to pray for our political leaders. We should pray that they are guided by God. However in this case, I think we find evidence for the truth of Scripture that tells us who dominates the political realm of this world. “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” (Matt. 4:8-9 NRS) So I pray for President Trump that he is awakened to truth and if not I pray that he is impeached.

 

Lectionary sermon 10/13/2019

Jeremiah 29:1,4-7
Psalm 66:1-11
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

In the spiritual war that surrounds us, the battle is often waged on the field of perception. What is the field of perception? It is how we perceive our circumstances from either the perspective of the world or the perspective of God.

I want to begin with a story: A farmer and his son had a beloved stallion who helped the family earn a living. One day, the horse ran away and their neighbors exclaimed, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a few wild mares back to the farm as well. The neighbors shouted out, “Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the mares and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The villagers cried, “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, recruiting all the able-bodied boys for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son, still recovering from his injury. Friends shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

This is a battle fought on the grounds of perception. The difference in this tale from the battle we fight is that when a Christian fights this battle, the Christian has a promise. A promise I will carefully state now: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28 NRS)

Notice, I said I will state this promise carefully. because it is a promise that if it is misused if it causes pain or distrust. It is hard to see the good when a loved one dies. It is hard to see the good in personal suffering. It is hard to see the good in illness, violence, mental anguish and human sin. Never, ever say this promise to a person in such a situation. To do so is to profane the love of God.

What God is saying is that no human tragedy goes unnoticed. No human wrong is ignored. God will take that which has been bad and will use it in ways beyond our comprehension to bring about the ultimate good, even when we might not know the outcome this side of eternity. This is perhaps our greatest tool of faith we can develop. It is a tool we most definitely will need to use at certain points of our life.

Paul tells Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David–that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained.” (2 Tim. 2:8-9 NRS) Paul, imprisoned for his faithfulness, his obedience, his sacrifice for his Lord, is fighting the fight of perception and winning. Paul is encouraging Timothy to fight as well.

However, our ability to win this fight is one of faith when we enter the battlefield of perception, we must first understand it is a fight the enemy is used to winning. Sometimes the only way we can even know we have been attacked and lost is when we lie devastated from wounds of deception, ignorance, complacency, delusion, and just plain selfishness in our own lives. The enemy capitalizes on these things and gloats over our suffering.

Take the covenant people of Judea. They lost the battle of perception by thinking false gods could help them. Thinking that military alliances could help them. Thinking that their cultural approach to their religion could keep them from being overtaken and exiled from their country. But it did. When they woke up, it was too late. For seventy years they lived in exile.

What did God tell them? Accept this captivity. Pray for the good of the land. Live your lives as you should. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jer. 29:7 NRS) This is the perception you must have.

Why, why did God give this to Jeremiah to say? Why, because the first thing we need to do when we find ourselves knocked down by the temptations faced in perception or the results of letting the enemy knock us down is realization and acceptance of our situation.

In Psalm 66, the Psalm for today, we find a prayer lifting God’s glory as well as speaking to the danger we face in arrogance. “For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs; (Ps. 66:10-11 NRS) The Psalmist cries out that God has done this. No, God did not do this. God allowed this. God allowed this so that the people might wake up. If you were to read the rest of this Psalm you would see that the Psalmist is led to cry out for forgiveness and God does hear. This is the way out of the trap of a false impression. This is the path to true perception.

Last week the text of the lectionary spoke on faith. The apostles wanted more faith. The problem is God has already given them access to all the faith they would even need, not as a possession, for faith cannot be concocted by human effort. Faith is a state of being grown through trust. Faith is a duty, an expectation, an obligation that gives us true perception and defeat our demonic foes. When God enters our life we have access to all the faith we need, we just are too deceived to understand.

There is a prayer that can help us in “our awareness that the God’s gift rather than our accomplishment gives us the confidence expressed by Paul: “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me” (Phil. 4:13).” This prayer is the Prayer of Examen. It is a prayer founded upon the recognition of God’s love for us, our gratitude, our realizing how we need God to help us win the battle of perception through the power of discernment, and the promise of God’s forgiveness when we fail. It is a prayer of reflection and realization of this fallen world in which we live. An unexamined life is a spiritually defeated life.

The gospel story today is the account of ten lepers. Leper were likely the most isolated, feared, and hopeless people of their time. Yet, in this perception of hopelessness they take a chance and seek out Jesus. Jesus heals them all and the leave. Only one comes back, a leper who was also a Samaritan. He comes back and gives praise to God. You see the others had the perception that the leprosy was their battlefield. It wasn’t. Their battlefield was a state of mind that would allow them to walk away from a gift of healing without a word of thanks to what only an act of God could make happen. Only one understood. Only one perceived.

We live in a world in which perception is becoming more powerful. Deep fakes can create lies that are believable. We are continually being manipulated by mega data. We sold a bill of goods by people who serve their own interests and, likely out of ignorance and arrogance are serving the darkness that is drawing closer and closer. God has given all so much but way too many think it is not enough so they seek to live in a deceptive perception that for someday they must account.

Will it be asked of us, “Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?” (Lk. 17:17 NRS) Will we be the one who understood or the nine who walked away?

There is a reason we need Examen

jesus-praying-in-gethsemane-640x360

 

“For want of contrition, innumerable Confessions are either sacrilegious or invalid; the penitent so often breaks his promises to God, and falls again so easily into the same faults, and many souls are eternally lost. Contrition is that true and lively sorrow which the soul has for all the sins it has committed, with a firm determination never to commit them any more . . . Many Christians spend a long time in examining their consciences, and in making long and often unnecessary narrations to the confessor, and then bestow little or no time upon considering the malice of their sins, and upon bewailing and detesting them. Christians such as these, says St. Gregory, act like a wounded man who shows his wounds to the doctor with the utmost anxiety and care, and then will not make use of the remedies prescribed. It is not so much thinking, nor so much speaking of your sins that will procure their pardon, but heartfelt sorrow and detestation of them.”
— Fr. Ignatius of the Side of Jesus, p. 289

It is never fun to have someone trying to manipulate your emotions be it either out of ignorance or of malice. Perhaps the person thinks they are trying to “help” the person. Perhaps their motive is guided by a different spirit. Only God knows and judges the human heart.  I have learned that the best way to deal with a person who is acting in this manner, projecting their own darkness on others, is to avoid them. Toxic people can make you sick as well.

It is so true of what Ignatius says about the acts of our sinful nature. Contrition, true contrition should lead one to be more aware of the harm there actions have done and they should be more willing to take the right actions of penance. These acts of penance should not make of religious Schadenfreude, but of a true understanding and confession (even apology) for what they have done.

As a spiritual director I am very aware of how the enemy uses misdirection and self-deception to lead a weakened, devoted person to believing their bad is good and their good is bad. It is a hard thing to watch, but often there is nothing that can be done.  As Ignatius states, their wounded state has become so a part of them that they will not do what they need to do to escape it.  In fact, they use their weakness, there hostility, they illness and their transference issues to get attention or pity or to use as an excuse for why they behave the way they do.

A true prayer of examen with the help of a spiritual director can help a person move from the sacrilegious or invalid nature in their confession to allowing God to being the contrition and penance that helps real produce real spiritual health.

It is never easy, as stated above, to be someone else’s spiritual punching bag. Some times we can avoid it, some times we cannot. Sadly, such actions are seen more and more frequently in churches. So there are more conflicts, more people leaving the church due to such toxic individuals’ behaviors. When in such a state, it is best to just be aware of what the person is saying in the light of why it is said. Do not let their toxic personal poison sink into your own heart. Do not get into discussions with them, just be polite ignoring what is said and leave as soon is you can. Focus instead on your own reflections and actions. Learn from the Holy Spirit. Give the Spirit access to your mind and heart. Let the Spirit bring forth the things you need to correct and the things you need to cherish. This is the path of the examen.

I have listed the following quotes that have been helpful to me. I hope they will be helpful to you as well.

“You change your life by changing your heart.”
— St. Benedict of Nursia

“There is nothing the devil fears so much, or so much tries to hinder, as prayer.”
— St. Philip Neri

“Prayer is the duty of every moment. We ought always to pray, said our Lord. And what He said, He did; therein lay His great power. Action accompanied His words and corresponded with them. We must pray always in order to be on our guard. Our life, both of body and soul, our natural and supernatural life, is like a fragile flower. We live surrounded by enemies. Ever since man rejected the Light that was meant to show him the way, everything has become for us an obstacle and a danger; we live in the shadow of death.”
— Dom Augustin Guillerand

“Never give up prayer, and should you find dryness and difficulty, persevere in it for this very reason. God often desires to see what love your soul has, and love is not tried by ease and satisfaction.”
— St. John of the Cross