Sunday, May 25, 2008

Reflection on Matthew 6:24-34

With income tax over 50% in some European countries and gas existing at $6 a gallon for a good number of years; I have to say that our slow increase toward $4 has left me fairly unconcerned. Perturbed at times: yes. Heart pounding, sweaty palmed concerned: no. It is all a matter of perspective. What seems bad to us now has been the way of life in other parts of the world. People learn to adjust to new situations. There is little to worry about.

However, when I sat down at my computer and read a recent article on Yahoo Green written by Samantha Gross of the Associated Press entitled, Energy Fears Looming, New Survivalists Prepare, May 24, 2008, I took a step back to reconsider.

The article read:

BUSKIRK, N.Y. “A few years ago, Kathleen Breault was just another suburban grandma, driving countless hours every week, stopping for lunch at McDonald's, buying clothes at the mall, watching TV in the evenings.
That was before Breault heard an author talk about the bleak future of the world's oil supply. Now, she's preparing for the world as we know it to disappear.

Breault cut her driving time in half. She switched to a diet of locally grown foods near her upstate New York home and lost 70 pounds. She sliced up her credit cards, banished her television and swore off plane travel. She began relying on a wood-burning stove.

"I was panic-stricken," the 50-year-old recalled, her voice shaking. "Devastated. Depressed. Afraid. Vulnerable. Weak. Alone. Just terrible."

Now, you can correct me if I am wrong, but I think that Kathleen from Buskirk just may fall under the category that Jesus may label: “worried.” Jesus' teaching on not worrying about what you will eat, drink, or wear just may apply to her. But, she’s not the only one. She is simply joining the growing ranks of worriers. The article continues:

Determined to guard themselves from potentially harsh times ahead, Lynn-Marie and her husband have already planted an orchard of about 40 trees and built a greenhouse on their 7 1/2 acres. They have built their own irrigation system. They've begun to raise chickens and pigs, and they've learned to slaughter them.

The couple have gotten rid of their TV and instead have been reading dusty old books published in their grandparents' era, books that explain the simpler lifestyle they are trying to revive. Lynn-Marie has been teaching herself how to make soap. Her husband, concerned about one day being unable to get medications, has been training to become an herbalist.

By 2012, they expect to power their property with solar panels, and produce their own meat, milk and vegetables. When things start to fall apart, they expect their children and grandchildren will come back home and help them work the land.

Wait a second here, would Jesus really have a problem with what this couple is doing? They are learning to live off of the land. They are learning how to live self-sufficiently. They are preparing amply for the future. This is a biblical notion. Was not the moral of the Joseph story: make sure that you have enough food stored away in case there is a famine? The moral was: be prepared. Was not the problem with the Prodigal’s Son the fact that he was foolish, squandering all his money, leaving himself unprepared for the famine to come? These biblical teachings, one from Jesus himself, indicate that at least a little bit of worry is good. I do not think that we should worry about being worried? Because then we will come to church and worry that we were worried about being worried, and then we really do have a problem. Is not just a little worry healthy?

I have to admit that I have had secret fantasies about what I would do in the case of a world economic disaster. Here are the questions I have asked myself as I have stared out the window at my property: “Do I know how to plant a garden?” “Do I know how to can food?” “Do I know how to keep meat cool if I have no electricity?” “Do I know what box my backpacking water filter is in?” “Randele, do we have candles somewhere in this cluttered house?” “Does an oak table burn well enough and slow enough to create days of heat?” “Will apple trees grow in two years?” “What if a tree grows its first apple and someone steals it?” “Will a child’s plastic, single pump air soft hand gun be enough to ward away evil apple thieves?” “What if my last two packages of pork chops do not last four years. Will that air soft hand gun kill a buck?”

The article also states:

Convinced the planet's oil supply is dwindling and the world's economies are heading for a crash, some people around the country are moving onto homesteads, learning to live off their land, conserving fuel and, in some cases, stocking up on guns they expect to use to defend themselves and their supplies from desperate crowds of people who didn't prepare.

That is right, in a world where there is a shortage of food, you cannot trust your neighbors. It is every man for himself if you want to survive. Get the gun ready. Defend your property. Defend your family. Defend your trees. Defend your pigs. Shoot on first sight. Do not allow anyone the chance to get the upper hand.

And, to this sort of worry driven attitude I imaging that Jesus would yell, “Stop. What sort of god are you worshiping anyway? The god of hording? The god of me me me? The god of wealth? If you are willing to kill a person whose only sin is that they are hungry, what sort of god are you worshipping, because it certain is not the one God almighty?"

"No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. 'Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?"

Are there not more important things in life, little things such as grace, love, forgiveness, caring, giving, and compassion for your neighbor? Get your head screwed on straight and sit down. Put down your pitch fork and your gun and sit down in the grass for a second while I teach you something.

"Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And, can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?"

No. In fact, worrying drains away hours of time that could have been used for Godly things. And now look down for a second.

"Why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear?' For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today.”

There is something that I forgot to mention about the Joseph story. In the story, God sent Joseph to Egypt to prepare the entire nation for the famine. Because God sent Joseph, an entire people were saved from starvation and economic destruction. God did not tell Joseph to horde his food so that he could save himself. One could say that Joseph strove first for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness. Joseph did not forget the people around him. Joseph did not send away empty handed those who were hungray. Nor did he shoot those who were caught unprepared for the famine, such as his own family. Joseph strove first for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and everything that Joseph needed was given to him as well.

When God provides, God provides for all people. It may be by your hands and by your garden that God provides, but do not be mistaken, it is for all. This is true, both in the times of economic crisis and in times when many can still afford $4 gasoline.

"Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today.”

All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Reflection on Genesis 1:1-2:4a

In the beginning, when God created Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, the area was a formless void of chaos, and darkness covered the deep pit called, Towanda. Then a wind from God, God’s Spirit, moved as God said, “Let there be light,” and there was a light on the hill. It was a stone fortress with people in it. And God called it Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, and it was good.

In the church God separated the families into pews, by pews on opposite sides of the church did God separate the families, and there was peace and there was harmony, and God saw that it was good. God said, "Let there be a space for David Fortney under the 'judgment window,'" and it was so. Forever will that space be named, “David Forney’s pew.” Though Cathy Smith or Gert May or Janet Buchta may try to sit there, it will always be known as “David Fortney’s Pew,” and it was good.

And God said, "Let the choir always sit in the front of the church just off to the side and let them sing only after the prayer of the day, or during the offering, but preferably after the prayer of the day," and it was so, and God saw that it was good.

Then God created the pastor. The pastor did God create, and God said, "May the Pastor stand at the pulpit and preach to the people…no shorter than three minutes and no longer than fifteen minutes, but preferably more on the three minute side," and it was so, sometimes. And, God heard the pastor’s sermons and God said, “They are very good…sometimes.” And God said, "Let us create something to laugh at," and God created Dave Estelle. Dave Estelle along with his jokes did God create and they were very good…sometimes.

So, after God had created the places in the pews for each family, a space at the organ for Kay, and the order of worship to be followed without fail, God rested because it was good and it was all written on stone for eternity.

You already know what’s wrong with this retelling of the creation story I’m sure. Number one, it is self-centered. God cares about more than just Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church. There was no mention that the people reach out to the community in any creative sort of way in this creation story. Further, the story was about separating and thereby keeping peace between families and said nothing of loving the enemy or even of the love found between all of us in our community. The story made the creation of our church seem final, set in stone, immovable, stuck, unable to breath in a new breath from God’s creative Spirit. The entire thing was a caricature of our congregation that rung only a small hint of truth, but failed to look at the real congregation and the real movement of the Spirit.

Sometimes I fear that the creation story in Genesis exists the same way in people’s minds. It is an imperfect caricature of the real creation story. The false creation story that we remember has a ring of truth to it, but it fails to see God’s real creative power.

One way to get at this is to ask people to retell the creation story from memory, see the details they remember, and notice the details that they have left out. Now, when Americans are asked to retell this story, we get a retelling that goes something like this: “God, who is all powerful, created the universe and everything in it out of nothing. It was done in an orderly fashion, done in seven days, and when God saw it, God said that it was very good. And, the pinnacle of all creation is the human being who has dominion over everything created.” Some astute American Bible students will alter things a little by noting that God actually created out of a murky pool of chaos and not out of nothing. He or she may also note that seven days does not have to be literal. However, this is generally how it is read by Americans.

Now, listen to some of the things that a Namibian student I knew lifted up in their retelling that was not heard in the American retelling: The Namibian recounted God’s Spirit ordering of the world out of chaos like the astute Americans, and also noted that God asked the waters and the earth to help in the creation. God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures,” and God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures.” In addition, the animals and humans are also asked to help create. “God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply…’” He further noted that God asks the heavenly court for help in creating humankind in their image. Just look at the text closely and you will read it there, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” What the Namibian remembered in their retelling, above all, is that creation is an ongoing, shared effort. Creation is an ongoing, shared effort.

We Americans have long overlooked the fact that creation is ongoing. The Bible clearly states that creation is not a one time event. It is constantly continuing to develop. In addition, we Americans and our cowboy riding into the sunset attitude do not always see that creation is the act of “us” not “me.” Creation is an ongoing, shared effort between our Triune God, creation, and especially humankind, those set aside by God to ensure the creative process does not come to an end.

I could rightly launch into a sermon about the need for the world to work together in an effort to find creative ways to allow all creation to thrive without destroying it. You know that sermon though. I will not preach to the choir, so to speak, instead I will ask the choir to preach. You are the people of God. Please leave from here and preach it. It needs to be preached.

Instead, I want to go back to talking about the creation of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church. My caricature in the beginning was wrong. This congregation is not static. Just as the creation of the world was not a one-time event, so too the creation of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church was not a one-time event. Just as new people sit in Dave Fortney’s pew, God continues to create new life in this congregation. The congregation’s shape continues to grow and change and be new. And, that sort of creative ministry is good. And, it is not done alone. It is done as a community. Together we work to create, shape, and form our ministry so that God’s love in Jesus Christ truly may make this church a light that can be seen by all those around us.

In this reflection I simply want to remind you, the people of God right here, that we are alive with God’s Spirit, we are creative, and we have the gift of each other. With those gifts, we can decide together how to create a ministry that will be effective in sharing God’s love and God’s passion for life. Creation is ongoing and it is a shared effort, and it is an effort coming directly from Jesus the Christ whom we gladly join.

All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.