Christ the King Sunday: A Response to Fear

blogpic ChristtheKingLisbonPortugalChrist the King Sermon; November 21-22, 2015
Preached at St. Thomas/Holy Spirit Lutheran Church, St. Louis, MO

Text: John 18:33-37 - Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" 34 Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" 35 Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" 36 Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." 37 Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

Grasping power through violence, threatening death to embed fear, dominating villages, towns and cities to oppress and expand territory,distorting religion, torturing and murdering innocent people, sending refugees fleeing for the lives.

You probably think I am referring to the recent terrorist attacks on a plane of Russian tourists, in Beirut, in Paris, in Nigeria, in Mali– and their devastating destruction and tragic loss of life.

But I am also describing first century Palestine and the life of the Jewish people under the Roman Empire – an empire and culture of violence that provides the context for our Gospel lesson this morning.

It’s startling, isn’t it? How similar our stories have come to be. We can imagine the conversation between Pilate and Jesus as a modern day dialog about which kind of kingdom, which kind of power, and to what kind of dominion will we be devoted.

In the John 18, Jesus and Pilate are using the same language and the same words – kings, dominion and power, but they are each talking about completely different things.

In verse 36, Jesus claims his kingdom is not from this world and he contrasts himself with Pilate:

• Pilate's rule brings terror, even in the midst of calm; Jesus' rule brings peace, even in the midst of terror; we hear this in John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

• Pilate's followers imitate him by using violence to conquer and divide people by race, ethnicity, and nationality. Jesus' followers put away the sword in order to invite and unify people, as Jesus does when he says, And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. (John 12:32).

• Pilate's authority comes from the will of Caesar, the emperor, and it’s always tenuous. Jesus' authority comes from doing the will of God, which is constant and eternal.

• Pilate taxes the poor, takes what is not his, oppresses those without military might, cares not for others except to the degree that they serve his agenda. Pilate has no interest in building community - much less one guided by truth and love, and Pilate keeps order through fear--through the threat of death on a cross or otherwise. Again, by contrast, Jesus’ ministry has been a traveling parade of love, healing, renewal, second chances, beatitudes and bread – lots of bread to feed thousands and thousands of people. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers leap for joy, the demon-possessed dance with praise. Jesus empowers others and uses his authority to kneel down on the floor and wash the feet of those he leads. Jesus spends his life on them, every last ounce of it; he gives his life to bring life. Jesus enters death to show us beyond the shadow of a doubt, that not even violence and death can stop love, eternal life and the reign of God.

We have all heard in the news this week the dozens of governors refusing to allow Syrian refugees to resettle in their states. Who’s kingdom are they listening to – Pilate’s kingdom or Jesus’ kingdom? We’ve heard our legislators in Washington debate, jockey and write laws to stop the influx of not only Syrian refugees, but others as well – Who’s kingdom are they listening to – Pilate’s kingdom or Jesus’ kingdom?

We each struggle with a very real fear along with angry abhorrence and deep sorrow to what we have witnessed around the world in just over a week. We are tempted, and we do want to give into fear, to close our borders, increase military action abroad, use drones and every kind of fire power against our enemy, but who’s kingdom does such action follow, Pilate’s kingdom or Jesus’ kingdom?

We bring our cries and prayers before God today and we ask for the power and wisdom of our risen Lord and King to help us tease out the differences between what our fear want us to do and what our faith in Jesus Christ calls us to do. The great sin of American Christianity has been to merge our patriotism with our Christian calling in the world, but our Gospel lesson makes clear today, that these are often not one in the same. I can’t think of a more appropriate time to lift up Jesus Christ as King.

For all violence, whether wrought by terrorists or nations, is the way of Pilate which never leads to a crown, a kingdom, and a power that is true and everlasting.

For the way to the crown is through the cross; and the way of the cross leads to the crown of righteousness. Mahatma Ghandi said it this way: “The enemy of love is not hate, but fear.” In fact, there are 365 verses that say, “Fear not” in the Bible – one for every day of the year. Clearly, fear is our major human issue in our relationship with God!

It does not mean that we don’t need systems or screening at our borders. But as Christians, we must call to account manipulation through fear-mongering and unethical, inhuman policies that result from fear.

Jesus did not let fear, the threat of violence, or the pain of death put a stop to his love, compassion and solidarity with God’s people. In fact, his kingdom is so powerful that it
bridges this life and the next life, the earthly realm and the heavenly realm, the finitude of this world and the infinity of the next. Communion is one event where these two realms are joined: When we celebrate Communion, we do so knowing that we are at the table with the Church triumphant at the heavenly banquet. We make up ½ the table here and the other half extends into heaven where all the saints of God and our loved ones who have gone before us (including my Mom and my in-laws) are feasting with us in heaven as part of this “Holy Commuion!”

Knowing that our life ends not in death, not in fear but in a real, risen, eternal life with our Lord and with all people and with all of Creation, Jesus, our King, calls us to live in this eternal kingdom here and now, as a witness against the “Pilates” and “terror-mongers” of our time. St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order and The Spiritual Exercises, words Jesus' call to us in this way:

It is my will to win over the whole world, to overcome evil with good, to turn hatred aside with love, to conquer all the forces of death—and whatever obstacles there are that block the sharing of life between God and humankind. Whoever wishes to join me in this mission must be willing to labor with me and so by following me in struggling and suffering, [in loving and forgiving], that you may share with me in glory. (A contemporary interpretation by David L. Fleming, S.J. in Draw Me Into Your Friendship, p. 85)

Jesus’ call to embody his kingdom here and now—before its final and complete fulfillment—goes out to all peoples, yet he specially calls each one of us in a particular and unique way.

How Jesus calls me to live in love, compassion and service may be different from how Jesus calls and compels you, which may be different from your spouse, your children, or your friends.

Yet Jesus brings us together and unites us in and with his body in heaven and his spirit on earth—through bread and wine, through song and prayer, through fellowship and forgiveness, through "St. Thomas and Holy Spirit" - this church!

Be filled with Jesus love at this table today, and at your own table every day. Embody God’s kingdom in your daily life, your daily conversations and your daily actions by being
grounded in God’s love for you, grounded in God’s love for this whole Creation and for every person it; that God knows every hair on our head; that the Spirit is part of every breath we take, and that Jesus presence can work through us, making the impossible, possible.

That’s what Christ our King desires; and it’s absolutely what our world needs. Amen.

Photo Credit: dreamstime.com - Cristo-Rei, Lisbon, Portugal

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Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life

blogpic mindWhat is one thought pattern or core belief that operates in the background of your life that if you changed it, would transform you?

We all live with fundamental operating assumptions that come from our family, our education, our experiences, the larger culture, the religious system in which we were raised and so on. What if the assumptions with which you live no longer help move you toward your goals and prod you to fulfill God’s purpose for you? What thought pattern exists under the surface that if it were changed would shift how and where you put your energies?

Amy Ahlers, The-Wake-Up Call Coach, asked it this way, “Underneath the surface of your filled to the brim life there is one thing that can change everything. That one shift that will cause ripple effects in every single area of your life when you change it. What is this one thing? 'It’s your one big core belief that is no longer serving you.'”

There’s a whole host of tribal beliefs that can operate under the surface; however, there can be one dominant thought that feeds into all areas of our life. Beliefs such as, “I am not enough,” “I’m damaged goods,” “People won’t love me unless I do things for them,” or “I’m the only one who can do it right.”

This is not a new thought of course. In Romans 12, the Apostle Paul writes, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect." When I ran a Mary Kay business while the kids were small, a favorite phrase in sales training was, “you bring about what you think about.” Thoughts have a powerful influence on our behavior, and sub-conscious beliefs can cause us to sabatoge the very things we desire and for which we work.

Amy’s question gave the opportunity to reconsider the power of my dominant thoughts so I spent some time pondering what core belief dominates my behavior and my health right now. It didn’t take long for this thought to bubble up, “Everyone else is more important than me.” I had never said it so plainly, so clearly.

This one thought explains why I’ve been working on some important goals and still haven’t met them. Service to others is as ingrained in me as breathing – as a female, as a Christian, as a daughter, and as a Pastor. I’ve absorbed down to my cells the idea that everyone else comes first—my children, my husband, my extended family, my church, my work, my friends. My job is to take care of others’ needs and to spend time on myself meeting my needs and working on my goals is “selfish.” I would rather be called a liar, a cheat, a scoundrel, even a bitch, than to be called selfish. When I was growing up, I thought that being selfish was the sin of all sins (perhaps becoming a pastor is a good cover for such a sin—maybe no one will notice!).

I played around in my mind what would be different if I let go of this unhelpful, even destructive core belief. What if I was as important as everyone else? What if I thought taking care of myself and my needs was even more important than anyone else; after all, I am the only one who can take care of me. My body might have fewer chronic issues if I believed taking care of me was the most important use of my time and energy. I would spend more time meeting my own goals and listening to God at work in my own spirit, rather than doing this for others.

Over the last month I began to practice shifting my behavior. Self care first, service to others later. I cut back on two areas where I was volunteering. While a change in thoughts does shift our behavior, I believe it also works the other way around. Sometimes we have to “act as if” we believe we are important (or whatever new thought we're embracing), and as we change our behavior, our thoughts shift as well. It can be a self-reinforcing system in both directions (we have an amazing Creator!). I’ve learned it’s important to shift thoughts and behaviors at the same time in a complimentary direction!

As I shift my thoughts and daily priorities, I do notice one amazing truth: the more I care for myself, the more energy I have to serve others in a healthy way (not in a needy-please-don’t-think-I’m-selfish way). I believe this is why Jesus, in three of the four Gospels answered the question about which is the first commandment like this: “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31, emphasis is mine).

We (and most of Christian history for that matter) seem to forget the second part of the second greatest commandment – love yourself. Early 20th century mystic Evelyn Underbill said it this way, “don’t be ferocious with yourself because that is treating badly a precious (if imperfect) thing that God has made.” I’ve got the imperfect thing figured out; I’m working on the precious part.

Photo Credit: Stock Images, dreamstime.com

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The Butterfly Effect, God-Sightings and Missional Church

blogpic IwoJima2 butterflyIf you find a small piece of art placed in a public space, especially a butterfly, pick it and read it for you’re in for an experience of hope and transformation!

My Dad and I just returned from a trip to visit both my sons at college: Jacob in Washington DC and Daniel in Sarasota, FL. Our last activity before departing for the DC airport  and heading to Florida was a visit to the Imo Jima Memorial in Arlington, VA. As we approached the memorial from the parking area, I noticed a decorated cardboard butterfly leaning against the stone railing alongside the steps. It looked like a collaged piece of art and I wondered why someone would leave it there and if it was related to the upcoming Veterans Day holiday.

While Jacob and my Dad walked around the memorial, I picked up the butterfly art and found instructions on it. I was asked to take a picture with it in the location where I found it, email, text or instagram said picture to the address listed, and they would donate $250 to a charity of my choice! But the email address was for a school; how could a school be involved in a philanthropic effort like this? I responded to the instructions immediately by emailing my picture (at right) and was excited to learn more about this butterfly project and its spirit of joy, generosity and philanthropy.

The Butterfly Effect project was founded by Tasha Wahl, spouse of artist Erik Wahl who distributes free art in a treasure-hunt like fashion: he places his art in different locations with clues on where to find them on social media; the person who finds the art becomes the new proud owner. Tasha, who was nick-named, “Butterfly” as a child expanded on this idea when she combined her favorite phrase first uttered by Mahatma Gandhi, “be the change you wish to see in the world” with the 1963 theory presented by Edward Lorenz which stated, “a butterfly can flap its wings and set molecules of air in motion, which would move other molecules of air, in turn moving more molecules of air—eventually capable of starting a hurricane on the other side of the planet.”

Tasha wanted to be the change that would “hopefully set into motion molecules of hope that will set into motion molecules of faith that will set into motion molecules of love.” Once a week during her global travels and at home, she leaves a butterfly somewhere with clues on social media and the instructions I found on the Veteran’s Day butterfly. The butterfly is the finder’s art to keep, but the gift to charity in their name creates “the molecules of change that will bring hope, rebirth, faith and love to the world!!"

Middle School educator Jennifer Cauzza of a Julian Charter School in southern California discovered Tasha’s mission and has made the project the theme of this school year. The goal is to teach the students that like a butterfly, the small acts that we take to help others can effect big change for someone else in the world! They have garnered sponsors for their philanthropic gifts, and every week during the school year, they too are dropping a decorated butterfly in a public spot to encourage the finder to join them in being butterflies who change lives around the world through love and generosity. You can follow their butterflies and gifts on Facebook and their website. You can see by reading their Butterfly Stories the wonderful effect and learning that is taking place! The sponsor of the Veterans butterfly that I found is Telacu Construction Management (if you live in Southern California, please commend and patronize them!). 

After we left the Iwo Jima Memorial, we dropped Jacob back at school and Dad and I were off to the airport and were in Sarasota, FL for Veterans Day. As God would have it, we went to a Veteran’s Day picnic with a group for whom Daniel works called, Florida Veterans for Common Sense, which serves disadvantaged veterans. Daniel has helped them start a farm project for both training and income purposes. My $250 contribution from the Veterans Day Butterfly Effect project will be donated to them! It's a wonderful God-sighting to be in one state and encounter a "butterfly drop" and a few days later, be in another state having a picnic with a non-profit celebrating the theme on that butterfly.

This really got me thinking about missional churches (which needs to be every congregation) who ask, “what is God up to in our community and how can we help?” Just imagine what wonderful connections could arise through a congregation participating in this project with a focus on their own community! The butterfly is often used as a symbol of Jesus’ resurrection, after all. There are such rich opportunities to expand hope, faith and love in one’s town or county by building relationships in person and on-line with individuals, artists, businesses, schools and others who want to “be the change” along with charitable organizations that serve our communities and need our concentrated support. The Butterfly Effect puts hands and feet on God’s work of hope, resurrection and new life. Contact Tasha Wahl if you'd like to find out more about being another Butterfly Effect project site: shoutout.wix.com/so/cL3vBudA!

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Being Drawn Instead of Driven

blogpic lotusflowerinsandBeing drawn instead of driven. I’ve heard this phrase twice in the last month from two different people. When I hear the same thing from different sources, I feel like God is trying to get my attention.

I was raised with the idea that being driven was a great quality. It meant I was willing to work hard, to go the extra mile, to do my best, to out-per

orm expectations. Isn’t being driven necessary to meet your goals and accomplish great things in life? It’s part of the fabric of the American Dream – that through hard work, drive and dedication, you can fulfill your heart’s desire. Many times in my life, this has been true. Doing well enough in college in order to attend graduate school, being a dedicated pastor in challenging urban settings, and being an involved, active Mom have all required a certain amount of drive and ambition.

I wonder now, however, if part of getting older is to move from being driven to being to drawn. My body can’t do what I was able to do in my twenties and thirties and it’s been persistently letting me know that it wants a change of pace. Although I’m quite sure part of my ailment is genetic (on both sides of my family tree), chronic migraines certainly change the pace of my life. In one of Louise Hay’s books, Heal Your Body: The Mental Causes for Physical Illness and the Metaphysical Way to Overcome Them, I read that migraines manifest “a resistance to being driven.” Hhmm. Now I’ve I heard this same message about being driven from 3 sources.

There is something that feels unnatural about slowing my pace and accomplishing less. At the same time, I also feel pulled toward less scheduled, more contemplative time. While our three children were all at home, involved in several activities and Dan and I were both working full-time, the only thing I felt drawn to was a good night’s sleep! Maybe one of the best gifts of all of us getting older is the opportunity to pay more attention to what draws me in and feeds my soul, rather than to what success and goals I am driven to meet. Such a shift involves listening inward instead of responding outward; reflecting instead of declaring, being instead of doing, accepting instead of earning. It’s a process of spiritual unfolding rather than ego-building. Instead of my mind telling my body what it must do, my body is leading my mind into a new way of being--a way of being that I pray leads to spiritual transformation as well as physical healing.

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Quotation of the Week

The church does not have a mission in the world, God's mission has a church in the world.

 

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