Wednesday, June 15, 2016

To Squash or Not to Squash: That is the Gospel

1 Kings 21: 1-21a
Rev Debra Jene Collum
Chatfield UMC
June 12, 2016

Well, isn’t this a pleasant story. Did you know that this story was even in the bible? Does it surprise you?
A wicked, selfish king and a commoner who pays the price for the King’s greed...
We shouldn’t be surprised. AT ALL. For this is what the prophets told the people of Israel would happen when they asked for a king.

This is what happens when people get power. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Anyone in a place of power has to keep this in mind. You are going to be corrupted and you could possibly be corrupted absolutely.

We wonder how is it that a parent could harm a child. Well this is how. A parent has power. Power to shape and form a child into a person who is loving, caring and a good citizen. But if a parent isn’t aware of their power, or wants to misuse their power, it can turn out very, very badly.
For society as well as the child.

We wonder about priests and clergy and any public figure who have abused others. You know clergy in the UMC are required to take boundaries training every 5 years to remind us that we are in a place of power. And we have to be very careful about how we use this power.  Unfortunately, clergy have abused their powerful positions and ruined the lives of many, many people.

ANYONE in a place of power has the capacity to bring harm.

Maybe because I have just finished with VBS, maybe because it is summer, maybe just because a book came to me while I was preparing this sermon.

While it is tongue in cheek, it is still poses a provocative question about power and use of power.

Read: Hey, Little Ant by Phillip and Hannah Hoose. Illustrated by Debbie Tilley

I love these stories that leave us to make the final decision. Because that is what life is ultimately about, how will we decide.
Not about whether we will squish an ant or not, but will we use our power to squish another human being, another culture, race or tribal group?

This week in VBS I shared my story of being asked to leave a church because of my encouragement to love others as Jesus called us to love. The kids were shocked. Why would anyone be asked to leave a church because they were teaching about love?

I wish you could have seen their faces. But then I explained that I was teaching people to love those who people thought were their enemies. Then they began to understand.

When Steve and I put the Ramadan sign outside the parsonage we wondered what the reaction might be. It was teaching that Muslims were our neighbors and not our enemies that got me into trouble in more than one job.
As someone who has sat with Muslims in text study and diversity leadership training, it really saddens me when others clump all Muslims together into one big terrorist group.
It would be like people clumping all Christians into the same group as the KKK or the Branch Davidians. And saying that we were their enemies.

I am so thankful that the sign has stayed up in our yard, that we haven’t had negative messages because of it and that it has caused folks to ask questions. That is the point. We are called to ask the question: Why does our neighbor’s vineyard become a threat to us.
Particularly when we have a perfectly good vineyard of our own.

Why do we, who have the biggest footprint in the world, think we need to squash others?
Why don’t we instead use our power to learn about others, show others love and care, and be the people God called us to be: people who love all, even those whom others call enemy.

As I told the children this week, this is why Jesus died, because he called on us to love even those we perceive of as our enemies. Even those who are truly our enemy. We couldn’t stand that.

Our faces reflect the faces of the children when I told them that we are to love even those who we can’t even like.

And that it would be hard. It is much easier to squash our feelings for others than it is to face them and change them and make them to be like Christ.

But that is what we are called to do.

While God won’t threatened to spill our blood on the ground where dogs can lick it up; we will be no better than Ahab or anyone else who abuses power.

And you might even say that we are negating the death of Jesus on the cross. For while our sins might be forgiven, what good are forgiven sins when we grieve our Savior?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A Chance for Hope

1 Kings 17
Chatfield UMC
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
June 5, 2016

You may wonder why we don’t read both the gospel lesson and the Hebrew Scripture lessons on a Sunday morning. Well, there are many reasons why but the most important reason is because when the lectionary was formed, the texts that are appointed for our Sunday readings, the Gospel and the Hebrew Scriptures were not meant to correlate to each other. Over the years some preachers have tried to tie all the lessons appointed to a Sunday together and everything gets a bit muddy.

This Sunday is different. Both the Hebrew Scripture lesson that we just read and the Gospel lesson are about great men of God who help out a widow whose son, her economic support system, has died.
In Jewish practice, Elijah, is one of the great prophets of God. Elijah, like Jesus, ascended into heaven to sit with God. Like Jesus, Elijah didn’t finally die. Like Jesus, Jews are waiting for the return of an Elijah. At the annual Passover feast Jews set a plate for Elijah at their table and during the meal a child is asked to rise and open the door in case Elijah wants to join them at the table.

In Christian practice, we are instructed to always watch for the coming of Jesus among us. Will he be sitting at our tables while we eat? Will he be coming around the corner as we head into our next adventure? When we look into the eyes of the person next to us, do we see the Jesus in them?
Always looking and watching for the coming of Jesus.

Why Elijah? Why Jesus? Why do we need these two men of God to come back to us? Wasn’t their one life enough? Didn’t they do enough the first time around?

These two stories of Elijah and Jesus attending to the widows speak to why we need the daily return of the great prophet of God and the great Savior of humankind.
We need people of God to see the need of God’s actions on behalf of the widows. We need Jesus and Elijah to come among us reminding us that those who society overlooks are the very ones who draw out the compassion of God’s people. Or at least they should.

It is very striking in these stories to see how Jesus and Elijah react to the loss of a son. Jesus is approaching the village of Nain. It is a small village under the shadow of Mt Tabor. Even now it is a poor village, the children come up to visitors asking for handou
ts with dirty hands and feet, running noses. It is an Arab village now. A minaret stands in the public square.
As Jesus approached the village a funeral procession was coming out of the town gate. He saw a widow bent down, weeping for her son, her only son who was being carried to the tombs on a stretcher. Jesus didn’t hesitate. Jesus didn’t ask questions, does the widow deserve this miracle? Was the son a good son? He merely had compassion for her. That is what the scriptures say. Jesus saw her and had compassion for her and said to her: do not cry.
Then Jesus walked up to the stretcher and touched the shoulder of the dead man.
Up he sat and started talking. Jesus then handed him to his mother.

Gave the widow back her chance to have a life of at least a small bit of prosperity and dignity.

It is unfortunate, but in the times of the bible. Widows were given very little notice or help. This is one of the things that made Christians so different than the rest of the culture. Christians took care of the widows who came to the churches. Because of the work of the Christians, widows didn’t have to wonder where their next meal was coming from or if they would be working on the street in order to get by.

In our Hebrew text we see the plight of a widow in biblical times. Elijah comes to the widow’s home hungry. Asking for bread. The widow barely has enough to feed herself and her son. Widows didn’t have the means to life abundantly. They had to take what was available to them, what was left over.

In biblical times it was required of farmers that when they harvested their crops they were to leave the edges uncut. They were not to harvest all the way up to the edges of the fields, nor where they to strip their vineyards and trees of all the fruit. These leavings were to be for the poor and widows and foreigners in the land. Those who couldn’t get a job or had no means to grow their own food had a way to get something to eat. It was kind of like an ancient food shelf.

Of course, eating only the gleanings and leftovers wasn’t going to keep a growing boy’s stomach filled. But the widow was trying her best and now this man of God came by and asked her for bread.

Karen Edwards from Project Legacy shared something about living in poverty that struck me. She told the story of her daughter who had gone on a home visit with Karen. Her daughter later said: “In seventh grade, Kira wrote an essay that began, "I thought I knew what poverty was but then I went on a home visit with my mom. We went to a house where some of the JOY kids lived and I realized that I hadn't understood poverty until that moment. It changed me forever and I'll never take what I have for granted. Poverty is more than not having things and food, it's not having hope."

I am always amazed at this story: While the poor widow did hesitate to provide bread to Elijah, she didn’t refuse. And her small act of bravery and hospitality resulted in her son, finally having a full stomach. Maybe for the first time in his life.
Maybe for the first time since her husband died, the widow had hope.

But then, of course, it was all dashed when her son died.
Elijah was not happy with God, do not take away this woman’s hope, that is what Elijah was arguing with God about. A full belly is not enough for this woman who went above and beyond to care for a prophet of God.

Like Jesus, Elijah asked for hope for this widow.

God heard and answered this prayer. This prayer.
God restored hope.

This is what we are called to do as we walk alongside our sisters and brothers who are in need. In whatever need that may be.
It might not be lack of food or loss family or even poverty.

The need might be just the everyday all day long persistent daily living of life.
It might be the inability to overcome a prevailing depression or a body that no longer works the way you would like.
It might be poverty, loss, or food insecurity.

It might be all sorts of troubles, but the common factor is lack of hope. And we are called to walk alongside each other giving the gift of hope. We of course, will not be able to raise sons or daughters back to life but we can raise life out of the ashes of despair and hopeless for others.

A bag of groceries, a package of toilet paper, a tube of toothpaste and a wash cloth, a new school uniform, a word of encouragement, a seat at the buddy bench, an invitation to join in...
All and more are messages of hope.

This we are capable of doing.

The difference in the story between Elijah and Jesus is this: Jesus didn’t ask anything of the widow. Nothing. He asked no questions and asked for nothing. It was pure and simple the gift of grace. The pure and simple gift of restored hope.

The same gift Jesus gives to all of us. Every single day. As we awake each morning. Restored and resurrected hope. The gift of God.