Sermon: The Gift You See is the Gift You Get

The “Parable of the Talents” (Matthew 25:14-30) is often one of the stories people who are disaffected with Christianity use to criticize our faith. And at a surface glance, that criticism is warranted. What kind of master gets mad when his servant attempts to save and preserve what is given to him?

But the parable is not about saving or producing wealth. Rather, the parable is about how we see God. In the story, the master does not get mad at his third servant until the servant communicates his mistrust and fear of the master. How do we see God? Do we see God as vengeful master, or as a loving Creator?

How we use God’s gifts relies on how we see God.

“What You See is What You Get”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Matthew 25: 14-30
Oct. 14, 2018

Sermon: Eat and Run

When Jesus comes back to the disciples in Luke 24, he doesn’t command their attention. He waits for them to accept him.

Throughout the Easter stories, we see God’s divine discretion. We have an ability to either invite God in or to let God slip away. Every day this invitation is open to us.

Jesus is always walking with us, regardless of whether we acknowledge him or not. And sometimes God leads us on a journey that we did not intend to take. Just know that wherever you are on your journey, Jesus is with you. Even if you’re walking away from church, Jesus is with you you. In every moment, Christ is here, knocking, asking to be your heart.

“Eat and Run”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Luke 24: 13-35
May 6, 2018 • Sixth Sunday of Easter

Lenten Devotional: Saturday, March 24

By Adrienne Bumpers

Mark 8: 22-26: They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him “Can you see anything?” And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, waking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and [the man] looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Then he sent him away to his home saying “Do not even go into the village.”

I recently read through this scripture and was truly stumped. This is the first time that I remember Jesus performing a miracle in two stages. This seemed weird to me and sparked my curiosity so I started  looking at what transpired before this miracle to see if that could give me clarity. When I read from Ch. 8:11-21 (go read it!), it seemed as if Jesus was showing some frustration with the Pharisees and even the Disciples.

My first reaction was “did Jesus let frustrations pile up so much that He allowed it to distract him and He had to try twice to heal this blind man?”  I immediately laughed at my question. Sometimes I just want to see Jesus as human. I totally let frustration distract me at times, but that obviously wasn’t the reason for the two stages of healing.

So, after feeling even more stumped, I did some Google research and what I found was that you wouldn’t get the full effect of the miracle in v.22-26 without the context of v.11-21. The context reveals that Jesus is increasingly aware that everyone around him, specifically the Pharisees and even the disciples, are not fully getting it. The Pharisees wanted proof and the disciples keep forgetting, both displaying a lack of faith. Jesus ignores the Pharisees and lectures the disciples.

How frustrating that must have been for everyone.

So then Jesus’ next step was to respond to the need and the faith of this blind man in the next village. Some say the disciples were with Jesus at this time, so it makes sense to think that Jesus deliberately chooses to perform this miracle in front of them in two stages. The first stage the man can see but he doesn’t fully understand what he sees. Then the second stage Jesus allows him to see with full understanding.

I guess the thing that encourages me most from all of this is that Jesus extends the invitation for others to see clearly and more fully understand. Through my process of trying to better understand the two attempts at healing,  I feel like that same invitation was directly extended to me. Might I remember the constant invitation that is extended to me to not only see but to exercise my faith and more fully understand.

Prayer: Gracious and loving God, give us the curiosity to see more deeply what you reveal to us each day. Heal us in as many stages as you need to show us the importance and majesty of your great love. Amen

Lenten Devotional: Wednesday, March 14

by Julie Dotterweich Gunby

Hosea 14:5-7 (ESV):

I will be like the dew to Israel;
he shall blossom like the lily;
he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon;
his shoots shall spread out;
his beauty shall be like the olive,
and his fragrance like Lebanon.
They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow;
they shall flourish like the grain;
they shall blossom like the vine;
their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

Screen Shot 2018-03-14 at 7.32.26 AMBeauty like the olive, life, roots, shade, blossoming, flourishing … 

Of course this is what I want for my life.

I want to have real, genuine goods.

I want the patient humility of Father Jimmy Boyle, who with his missing fingers and mild manner celebrated mass for 35 years in not only the L’arche community, but also in the penal-like state institution for adults with developmental disabilities.  

I want the radical faithfulness of my coworker who now patiently tends the daily needs of her husband with early onset Alzheimer’s- the very husband who, when he was well, was cruel, distant, and emotionally manipulative.

I want the frightful courage of families who willingly adopt children from orphanages, knowing full well what the ravages that reactive attachment disorder will bring, and that love cannot heal their children’s wounds.

But, of course, that’s not true.

I don’t want those things.

I *want* to want those goods.

Patient humility, radical faithfulness, frightful courage — these have a beauty that is like the ancient olive tree, a gnarled, wisened beauty that matures over time, and still puts forth fruit after hundreds, even thousands of years. A tree that makes fruit both bitter and sweet, that is nourishing for food and for oil for anointing.

These kinds of deep, other-worldly goods are not what I actually want.

These are not what I rush through my work to get to.

No, what I want, at the end of the day, is another glass of red wine, a chance to binge watch some Netflix, a gushing word of praise about my own virtue, a clever thrift store find, a donut, a nap, a flash of self-righteous indignation.

The goods that I actually want are the moral equivalents of candy corn. Easy on the tongue, vapid and depleting in the end.

What would it take to cross this chasm, to want the goods I might, on my best days, almost want?

A hint comes a few verses earlier in this prophecy — in that day “we will say no more, ‘our God’ to the work of our hands.” (Hosea 14:3)

In these weeks of Lent, we have a brief chance to deny ourselves some of the trinket goods and vapid pleasures we make for our own enjoyment.

In so doing, we ask that God might give us a taste for olive oil, whole grain, and the fruit of the vine.

Real goods are an acquired taste.

We cannot force ourselves to enjoy them as good any more than a child can come from the womb craving spicy paneer bhurji.

We cannot cultivate a taste for mature beatitude any more than an orphan can force herself to form attachments after years of abandonment.

But here Hosea is right too– the promise of goodness is possible because Israel is known and loved by “the One in whom the orphan finds mercy.” (14:3)

Perhaps I must begin not by imagining myself as the adoptive mother who holds radical space to bring new life, but as the broken child tied to the bed, with knowledge of nothing but her own desire.

Prayer:
Oh God, we ask that you continue to tirelessly mother us,
   to set before us a table rich with Your food.
Bear with us when we can do no more than choke down tiny bites
   and reach for desserts of our own making.
Love us with patient, radical, frightful courage,
   forgive us when we fight you off and spit it back.
May we, in the end, return and “dwell beneath your shadow,
   flourish like the grain, and blossom like the vine.”

Sermon: “More Precious Than Gold”

peter-heals-1024x626.jpgSometimes it’s difficult to believe what’s in the Bible. In Acts 3:1-16, Luke tells us the story of how Peter healed a man “lame from birth” simply by telling him, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up an walk.”

In 2017, with our scientific and medical knowledge, how are we supposed to believe that this actually happened. And if it is that easy to heal people, why aren’t Christian churches around the world doing similar acts?

Although we find it difficult to believe this story word-for-word, we can all point to a time in our own life where we believe a miracle occurred. Whether it was surviving a disastrous accident, having a loved one overcome a debilitating sickness or witnessing an act that doesn’t seem humanely possible, we have all been filled with the Holy Spirit and something we can only describe as the work of God.

That’s what Luke was aiming for in Acts 3:1-16. We’re called, like Luke to be witnesses of God’s work. Like Peter, we’re called to be share experiences of God that do not fit scientific logic.

Sermon

“More Precious Than Gold”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Acts 3: 1-16
June 18, 2017

Sermon: Our work must be inspired by God

hands-1222866_960_720Although we may work for justice, our service needs to be inspired by something bigger or else we will falter. If you don’t have a vision of what God is doing in the world, you can’t wake up every morning and go work in the soup kitchen, because one day it will finally wear you out.

Jesus wants us not to just see the miracles he performed, but to understand the significance of them — the purpose of God to bring salvation, healing and restoration to the world. We must attune ourselves to the Holy Spirit to see what Jesus saw, and to hear what he heard.

Sermon

“Do You See What I See?”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Matthew 11:2-11
Dec. 11, 2016

Why is Jesus so concerned with manners?

"Peacock and Peahen." Art by Nagasawa Rosetsu, 18th Japanese painter.

“Peacock and Peahen.” Art by Nagasawa Rosetsu, 18th Japanese painter.

Why is Jesus so concerned with manners? He’s always telling his disciples where to go, when to leave, how to act, and most importantly, who to eat with.

The mystery of faith as much to do with manners as it does belief.

 

Sermon

“Manners and Mysteries”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Luke 14:1, 7-14
Aug. 28, 2016

Sermon: The Gift of Being Lost

“The Gift of Being Lost”
Sermon by The Rev. Lisa Caine
John 3:1-10
March 6, 2016

Audio for this sermon in unavailable.

There are times in life, even when we’re doing everything we think we’re supposed to be doing that we realize at some point along the way we’ve gotten lost – taken a wrong turn, become preoccupied with our busyness  and missed a signal, zigged when we should have zagged, put our minds on automatic pilot once too often. However it happens, we wind up not  where we want to be, doing perhaps what we didn’t want to do, worried about how things haven’t turned out as planned, and wondering how did that happen and how in the world do we find our way out of this place.  Being lost is not a once in a life time experience for most of us; it happens from time to time and requires a mid-course adjustment , but sometimes we don’t know how to start, maybe feel stuck, maybe feel scared, maybe feel inadequate and not up to a change even though the present is uncomfortable.

The story of Nicodemus’ night time visit to Jesus is a familiar one to many.  He has lived to this point within a very well defined framework. He’s comfortable with it; he knows its contours; everything is under control, nothing within his reality is loose or untamed or inexplicable. The very first words out of his mouth are a confident, “Rabbi, we know.”

Nicodemus is a Pharisee; he takes his faith very seriously. To preserve the faith the Pharisees had separated themselves from secular influences centuries before, and practiced rigid rules of purity and sacrifice. They were a distinct class, inflexible defenders of tradition, who over the years had grown in power and influence. They knew the limits of divine action, how God does and does not work in the world. They knew what is possible and not possible. Within their system there was no room for surprise; God is awesome, magnificent, and perfectly predictable.

But then they heard about Jesus and saw him in action. Now on the one hand, the signs, the miracles he is able to do mark him as a man of God because as Nicodemus says, “no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God”; but here’s the problem – Jesus is obviously not qualified; he’s not one a Pharisee; he hangs out with unsavory people; he doesn’t follow all of the 613 rules that a truly God-fearing person must; he heals on the Sabbath, touches the unclean, and eats with gentiles. He reinterprets tradition.  Nicodemus and his friends are experiencing a kind of cognitive dissonance. What they know for sure and certain seems to be the opposite of what they have actually seen and experienced. It’s not a comfortable place to be in. Nicodemus is lost and in the dark. It is not by accident that he comes to Jesus at night.

Jesus answer is not the one Nicodemus had hoped for, not the one that says “you’re on the right track, Nicodemus. Just keep on doing the same things, the way you have your whole life; don’t change a thing and everything will be all right.” No, Jesus says “No one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above.” Or in a more loose translation – “You can’t see God if you don’t start back at square one and start over like a child.”  And naturally enough Nicodemus’ answer is, “you gotta be kidding me; you can’t teach an old dog new tricks!”  Or more accurately, according to the New Revised Standard Version, “How can anyone be born after growing old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” And then Jesus totally loses him with “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” And Nicodemus’s reply is an uncomprehending, “How can this be?”

Sometimes we have to start over from the beginning with all of the assumptions and definitions and categories and goals that we hold so dear, blown away by the spirit.  It means letting go of control and searching for truth in the midst of new realities. As our model, Jesus recommends the open and unprejudiced mind of a child, non-judgmental, capable of immediate response, ready for excitement and the experience of awe. Children can be in the present moment without some part of them stepping outside of the experience to hold it at arms’ length to evaluate it, filter it, and critique it. This is what Buddhism knows as “the beginners’ mind” where one is always the student, always willing to begin afresh and anew, always ready to learn and to experience more.

Often when we are lost, don’t have our bearings, and the ground shifts under our feet, we cling to what we already know, what has worked before.  But you know that cliché, “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.” Sometimes before frantically clutching at outdated and worthless straws, it is better to sit still and simply be, to have that beginner’s mind – to listen, to look around, and stay in the present rather than desperately casting about for alternative scenarios – and then — wait for the breeze.  As much as we’d prefer it, God doesn’t not behave anything like the God of the movies –  no incredible Star Wars special effects, no magnificent, resonant Morgan Freeman voice, no miraculous George Burns’ friendly-old-guy type appearances. Just a still, small voice, a hunch, an intuition, a coincidence here, a surprise occurrence there.  Funny things happen that tend to add up to more than expected. God is in the details; God is in the small things that we will miss if we fail to be quiet and attentive.

A poem called “Lost” by David Wagoner is often quoted either in whole or in part by various authors reflecting on darkness – Richard Rohr, Barbara Brown Taylor, Joan Chittister, Eric Elnes . He describes what to do when you find yourself lost:

Stand still. The trees ahead
And bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here.
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger.
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers.
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it you may come back again,
Saying Here.
No two trees are the same to the Raven,
No two branches are the same to the Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still.
The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

Good advice: Stand still; get your bearings; study your surroundings; pay attention to details; wherever you are is called “here.” And then wait for the breeze, and only then take one step at a time. Patiently, slowly.  The path is never straight or well lit, so charging ahead can be more harmful than helpful. If you’ve ever walked a labyrinth you know how it twists and turns, sometimes it seems as if you are doubling back on yourself, going in the wrong direction, but with perseverance and concentration, walking slowly one small section at a time, you finally reach the goal, the center, and the presence of God.

The journey from being lost to being found does not happen in an instant or even overnight; it takes time, to be sure. We walk to where we see the next step revealed and then must stop and wait for the breeze, the signal to take the next step forward. Some describe as similar to driving a car at night, “You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”[i]

Have you ever wondered if Nicodemus found his way out of the dark wood? Or did he stay stuck, wondering “How can this be?” He is mentioned twice more in John’s gospel,  first as a defender of Jesus against the Pharisees who had wanted Jesus arrested, saying “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” (7:51) He hi criticized by the Pharisees for his tolerance. And then later after Jesus’ death he is named as a companion of Joseph of Arimathea, bringing spices and assisting with the linen cloths to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. No longer the confident, but lost, interrogator, he has worked his way through the contradictions he’s experienced to become a disciple, a student, a follower; he has been touched by the wind that blows where it will with the grace and love and mystery of God; and he is lost no more.   When we feel lost, may it be so for us as well.  Amen.

[i] Eric Elnes, Gifts of the Dark Wood: Seven Blessings for Soulful Skeptics (and other wanderers), 2015, 100.