Saturday, October 10, 2009

Let God Be Your Ruler

Our scripture this morning is a familiar one. It is the story of the rich young ruler.

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother."

"Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."
Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor…. Then come, follow me."

At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"

The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?"

Evidently Jesus’ disciples thought that eternal life could be purchased if one were rich enough.

But Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God." This phrase is believed to have added later.
Peter said to him, "We have left everything to follow you!"

"I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first."

This text addresses two competing life-ruling alternatives: our economy and God’s economy. Our priorities and God’s priorities. Ours is a this-for-that type economy and then there’s God’s economy. We know we cannot earn God’s favor. And of course neither can we buy it. The question is “In whom or in what do we place our allegiance?” When told by Jesus to sell all he had and come follow him, the wealthy young man departed in grief unable to come to terms with the “one thing” he lacked.

Then Jesus goes on to say “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle then for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” Jesus is clearly saying it is impossible to live in the kingdom way as long as we are governed by lesser things. The over arching lesson is that the rich young man did not own his possessions…..they owned him.

Our God is our “the ultimate concern”. In other words whatever claims our ultimate allegiance, becomes our ruler. Even Jesus’ disciples wavered between their economy and that of Jesus. They struggled to keep at bay that which vied for their loyalty. From time to time they would talk about all they had left to follow Jesus. It was as though they were saying, “What do I get out of it?”

We recall another incident when one of the disciples were asking to sit on one side of Jesus in his kingdom and the other wanted to sit on the other side. He had to tell them those positions were not his to give. It sounded as though the entire reason they were following him was for the eventual reward.

Entrance into God’s kingdom demands our best allegiance and is not easy. We will have many crucial decisions to make over our lifetime. “Would we ask, “What will I get out of it?” Who knows, sometime we may be asked to give up everything we own. Could we bring ourselves to do that? Whatever we could not bring ourselves to give away, we do not truly own. Most of us probably could not do any better then the rich young ruler.

But every rich person does not grasp hold of their wealth. Bill Gates, for example, developer of Microsoft, has the largest philanthropic organization in the world. He has spent much of his wealth trying to help those in third world countries develop their skills to make their world easier for them and their children. Being the richest man in the world has also enabled Gates to create one of the world's largest charitable foundations.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation now has an endowment of more than $28 billion, with donations totaling more than $1 billion every year. Their aim is to "bring innovations in health and learning to the global community".

Is it a sacrifice for Bill and Melinda Gates to do this?

Probably not. They have not given it all away. Would they be required to do that?

So let us ask ourselves, why did Jesus challenge the rich young man to sell all that he had in order to be a follower when this prerequisite was not made of the others? What did the others have that they had been asked to give up to follow Jesus? Or was this just a test of the character of this rich young ruler?

So what would be the test for us? What is it in our lives that we would find the hardest to give up or give away?

It may be our time….our money…..our own priorities. But are we prepared to prioritize our lives in God’s economy? That’s what Jesus was asking of the rich young ruler.

Put God’s kingdom before all else. Since we are no longer living in kingdoms, the church calls this dream "building community" We have been asked to be builders of community. Are we prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to do that? Are we prepared to let God be our ruler?

Mini Class Reunion

My high school class of 1953 from Field Kindley Memorial High School met at Lannings last night for dinner and a mini reunion. Later we went out to the stadium and watched the homecoming football game from the stadium third floor through glass windows. We lost the game to Chanute High School by 7 points in the last five minutes of the game but we had a good time visiting and I took a lot of photos of my "elderly" classmates. I publish an annual newsletter in December and send it out to all of them and I will use some of those photos in the newsletter.

Many of the women baked cookies and I ate more then my share of them. We got home about 10:00 and brought Slinky in the house. It was to get down to 36 degrees last night and he's an old dog. Missy spent most of the night outside because she wanted out just as I was ready to go to bed.

This morning between 8:30 and 9:00, some of us will have breakfast together. The photo is Ron B who planned the mini reunion. His wife is in a nursing home with Alzheimer's disease and doesn't even know him anymore. What a shame. He seemed to have a good time last night. He's shown here with Melvin A. and his wife.

My younger son called last night. He went to the movies by himself last night and saw the movie our granddaughter had a bit part in. It was called "Couples Retreat", (a teeney bopper movie). She had four minutes of fame in it as an extra that danced in a swim suit. It was no speaking part. He was pretty happy about being able to pick her out.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize

I was amazed this morning to see on CNN that president Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize. I don't know why I was amazed. This president has done more then any other since Carter to promote peace by negotiation instead of war. I am very pleased. I will be even more pleased if he ends this disastrous war and brings our soldiers home. Surely with negotiation we can come to some sort of agreement with the Muslim world.

If he will read the book "Imperial Hubris" by Michael Scheuer, who was the CIAs chief analyst on Islamic terrorists, that would be helpful. This man should know. He has studied the culture and made recommendations that were ignored completely by the last administration. He spent 17 years studying militant Islam.

Some of his conclusions are:

U.S. leaders refuse to accept the obvious. We are fighting a worldwide Islamic insurgency-not criminality or terrorism-and our policy and procedures have failed to make more than a modest dent in enemy forces.

The military is now America's only tool and will remain so while current policies are in place. No public diplomacy, presidential praise for Islam, or politically correct debate masking the reality that many of the world's 1/3 billion Muslims hate us for actions, not values, will get America out of this war.

Bin Laden has been precise in telling America the reasons he is waging war on us. None of the reasons have anything to do with our freedom, liberty, and democracy, but have everything to do with U.S. policies and actions in the Muslim world.

The war Bin Laden is waging has everything to do with the tenets of the Islamic religion. He could not have his current-and increasing-level of success if Muslims did not believe their faith, brethren, resources, and lands to be under attack by the United States, and it's policies and actions, are Bin Laden's only indispensable allies.

Persian Gulf oil and the lack of serious U.S. alternative-energy development are at the core of the bin Laden issue. For cheap, easily accessible oil, Washington and the West have supported the Muslim tyrannies bin Laden and other Islamists seek to destroy. There can be no other reason for backing Saudi Arabia, a regime that, since it's founding, has deliberately fostered an Islamic ideology, whose goals-unlike bin Laden's-can be met only by annihilating all non-Muslims.

This war has the potential to last beyond our children's lifetimes and to be fought mostly on U.S. soil.

The reasons we are hated across the Islamic world are also listed:

U.S. support for Israel that keeps Palestinians in the Israelis thrall.
U.S. and other Western troops on the Arabian Peninsula-their Holy Land.
U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.
U.S. support for Russia, India, and China against their Muslim militants.
U.S. pressure on Arab energy producers to keep oil prices low.
U.S. support for apostate, corrupt, and tyrannical Muslim governments.

Hopefully, this president has more intelligence with his emphasis on diplomacy than to continue this fruitless war past his administration. Perhaps this prize will give him the necessary incentive to move ahead with peace....something our "white" presidents have not had the will to do.

And, it will be helpful to understand why he received it to know that The Nobel Peace Prize committee has a long history of awarding the prize to people who "point in the direction of peace," like Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opponent of the military junta who remains in house arrest, and Desmond Tutu, awarded years before the demise of apartheid.

What the Nobel Prize is for is whatever the Nobel people want it to be for. It's their prize to give, after all, so they give to whomever they choose. The nomination of Obama for consideration occurred only twelve days after Obama assumed office, so it stands to reason that the prize was NOT given for his presidential service, but for the campaign, election, and his first steps in office. The facts that he is of mixed race, the son of a Muslim and a christian, the son of an African immigrant and a white lady from Kansas, and his campaign promises to end the Iraq war and re-integrate the USA into the community of nations makes the fact of his election an unprecedented and monumental achievement. The mere fact of his election has raised the stature of the USA in the eyes of the world. I think the folks in Norway knew very well why they wanted to give him this prize, even if some other people don't.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Receive the Kingdom

In this brief passage of scripture, Mark 10: 2 - 16, Jesus reminds us that the kingdom is inclusive of all persons who are willing to take upon them the characteristics of a child and come expecting to receive God’s blessing of peace.

It is important to recall that Jesus said the kingdom was already there and people simply did not see it. He compared it to salt and to yeast…a small amount permeates the entire mass.

That is our challenge in today’s world as well. We cannot sit idle while there is need all around us. We should be anxiously engaged in many good causes. We are to be salt and leaven in our world today. We are a small group. But we all have a ring and sphere of influence. It is our mission to have an impact on our world…not so much the world at large as the world in which we live. Perhaps we could do more but if we even have a small impact on our world, that is making us a part of the mission of the church.

As I was thinking about this theme earlier this week, it occurred to me that as a small congregation, we do try to change our world. John and Sue are very involved in their community; Karan still has her hospice duties. As long time neighbors, Gene and Carletta have influence in their rural neighborhood, Bob has his PINCH group, and I have the Montgomery County Medical Clinic for which I do publicity. And we have the two Ministerial Alliances. Bob A has his classmate breakfasts. I know others of you have influence in your communities as well. Even those of you who have careers have an influence on the co-workers you impact. God leads each one of us into avenues of service and influence.

God’s peaceable kingdom is all around us. We are sometimes distracted and unable to see and recognize it. Last Sunday evening at our “Living the Questions” group, Richard shared with the group that we had each had an impact on his life. Richard is an avowed agnostic but when he recently had surgery, many of our group provided him with food while he was recovering. None of us would have ever known the extent of our influence if Richard had not shared that. He went on to say, he had not yet decided to attend a church but his ideas about Christian community had changed drastically since being invited to attend our group.

That’s how we make the kingdom visible in the world around us. Simple acts of kindness reveal it.

I am reminded of a story I heard recently about the church in Africa. The speaker, gathered with 2,000 people for worship. In a city where one third of the people are dying of malaria, HIV/AIDS related diseases, and schistosomiasis (a parasitic disease caused by flatworms), that fact did not keep a single one of them from waving palm branches, singing joyously and proclaiming the gospel message.

And what was the gospel message on that day? It was if Jesus were a Mozambican who traveled over the eastern highway mountains into Zimbabwe, he would see his people and know their need to be freed of political and economic oppression. And because of that, the Zimbabweans would greet him with palm branches, dancing and singing. That sermon on a pre-election Sunday was not just powerful, but probably the only time that Palm Sunday had ever made any actual sense to those people. Perhaps it’s not surprising that the minister was eventually arrested and imprisoned for his preaching. That church in Africa is all about heaven on earth, not heaven after death, it’s about salvation of the community, not about personal salvation, it’s about applauding the poor, but not poverty. It’s about daily bread and forgiving one’s economic debts as one’s debts are also forgiven. It’s about welcoming the stranger. It’s about listening to the ancestors, Jesus, in particular.

Once again, we first must become like children (or even Africans) who trust and obey, have no limits to their generosity, and have no prejudice or preconceived ideas about who belongs and who doesn’t. Jesus wanted his disciples to realize the importance of what it means to be humble and meek like a child and yet be adventurous and willing to travel into the “unknown” without fear.

This past weekend, I spent at John Whitmer Historical Association in Independence. I stayed, as I often do, with Paul parents. They shared with me some of the struggles they are having in their congregation at Stone Church there. I said to them, “I think I am happy that I belong to a small congregation. We are as close as family, we know when one another are hurting and are able to support one another in our struggles. But even as small as we are, we know we can still have an impact on our world…. They both agreed.

No, we are not a large congregation but that should not keep us from being able to discern the kingdom all around us and do those simple acts of kindness that are necessary to make God’s kingdom more visible.

As we approached the communion again Sunday morning, we were once more challenged to examine our lives, recognize where we have failed and come short of taking responsibility for helping another see the God within each of us and seeing the God within themselves. Let us look for opportunities to serve in our communities. Let us “Receive the Kingdom”.

The table of the Lord’s Supper symbolizes Jesus’ open welcome to the least and to all who would respond to his call.

Yesterday..Scattered Thoughts

Yesterday was a strange day. I went to Independence for my appointment, met Juanita for breakfast and gave her her birthday gift, came home and read for while and then worked on the ministry notebooks for the newer members of the Coffeyville Ministerial Alliance and got them up to date as well as possible. I put their checkbook into Quicken on my computer. That will help me keep track of their money.

In the afternoon, I made a bank deposit for them and stopped at Sonic for a Blast. It had been awhile since I had had a Blast. I wonder if it was worth the carbs and calories?

That evening I fixed dinner and we watched TV and read. There's not much on TV anymore since there are so many channels. There's a lot of advertising. I would guess the ad agencies have tried to minimize the effects of splintering on so many channels. I certainly would not buy TV advertising if I were a business...unless I had a local channel. We have none closer then 75 miles here. Radio is our best bet since it is local. Even then, there are five local radio stations. Which one would we buy?

Tomorrow is my class mini reunion at Lannings. I have to say I have never had a good meal there. Obviously someone else picked the place. We will then watch the homecoming game from the stadium third floor room and have refreshments there. I have to bake cookies...either today or in the morning.

Our son, Keith, called again. He is considering signing up to go to Afghanistan as an IT contractor. The money is great but what good is it if you get killed or maimed? I dread his decision. He has little or no retirement and he wants to go for three years to build himself a retirement fund. I fear for his limb and life. Also, he wants to help his dad and me with our income needs. He doesn't want me to have to go to work next year. We are that close to out of our retirement income. That's wonderful but I would rather he not risk his life in this war. It's his decision and his life but I gave him my point of view anyhow. I'd rather work ten years at Wal Mart then for him to take a risk like that. Of course, it's not all about me. It's about his retirement and that's probably 15 years away. He's 54.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

To Independence and Back

Bob and I went to Independence after I got home from my sister's this morning. I bought a gift certificate for Juanita. Her 88th birthday is Sunday and I wanted to take my card and gift with me tomorrow to our breakfast after my appointment.

Then we took Leslie to lunch. Tonight we have another of our concert series. I am looking forward to that. It will be something different to do. I thank my brother-in-law for the tickets.

It took me awhile to finish at my sister's this morning. My brother-in-law had a new HDTV and had the cable people hook it up for him. Their remote had a "hundred" buttons and he could not figure out how to get his DVD player to work. I am not too whippy myself on this new technology but I did program our remote so I gave it a try. After about 45 minutes, I figured it out. He was able to cancel the house call he had ordered from the cable company after that.

We will have the leftover roast from Saturday evening for dinner this evening. That will make a quick supper so we can leave for the concert.

Our son, Keith, called this afternoon to discuss his tentative plan to sign up for a three year tour as a civilian computer tech (IT) in Afghanistan. After discussing it with me he then called his brother who is in the military. He advised him to do it...for $200,000 a year for a three year tour. I advised against it because of the risk. We are losing military worse now then in 2003. Even the UN Food building was suicide bombed over the weekend and 20 were killed. But Scott says Keith would be in a "safe" place in Kandahar, the capitol of Afghanistan. Where in the world anymore is a safe zone? I fear something would happen to Keith. Right now, with his life in turmoil, he is an accident waiting to happen.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Fellows of the Jesus Seminar

The Fellows of the Jesus Seminar represent a wide variety of western religious traditions and academic institutions. They have been trained in the best universities in North America and in Europe. Together they first all inventoried all the surviving ancient texts for words attributed to Jesus. They then examined those words in several ancient languages in which they have been preserved. They produced a translation of all the gospels, known as the Scholars Version. And finally they studied, debated, and voted on each of the more than 1500 sayings of Jesus in their inventory.

If I recall correctly, there are scholars from every major denomination except Southern Baptist and I believe, Lutheran. Those denominations would not allow their scholars to participate.

Professor Mahlon Smith of Rutgers University presented a draft on the Sayings Gospel and Professor Stephen Patterson, who was our guest speaker at the recent April Restoration Studies Symposium in Independence who is from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis prepared the explanations on the fairly recent Gospel of Thomas.

Professor Julian Hills, Marquette University, helped prepare the comments on the Gospel of John. Professor Daryl Schmidt, Texas Christian University, a leading member of the translation committee took the responsibility of checking for accurancy in the Scholar's Version: he also discovered and corrected numerous errors of statement and citation.

There are many authors.

The Jesus Seminar

The Jesus Seminar and Westar Institute was the dream of founder Robert W. Funk. (PHD Vanderbilt University). He led dozens of world class scholars to the search for the Historical Jesus starting in 1985. The quest has gone through several distinct phases, generally divided into two or three stages. The first stage, which ended with the work of Albert Schweitzer, ended with the conclusion that no first historical basis for a life or biography of Jesus could be ascertained.

The second stage gathered momentum after World War Two among students of Rudolf Bultmann. Sometimes referred to as the "new quest", this movement did not seek to write a biography, since the project had been repudiated in the first quest, but rather sought to study the sayings of Jesus to see how or rather they supported the preaching of the early community. The Jesus Seminar views their work as starting a third quest . This third stage has as it's chief characteristic an effort to understand Jesus within the historical, social and religious contexts of the Greco-Roman world. While a division of opinion was real within the Jesus Seminar, it did not have a major effect on the groups' findings or the final outcome of it's labors.

Their findings were to be made an effort to educate the general public.

I have their first book, "The Five Gospels" and also their second one "The Acts of Jesus". I also have their "Jesus Seminar Guides". Each time they meet...twice a year, they have an "expert" on the subject present a paper which they then critique. Then after that is finished they "vote" with colored beads to indicate whether they believe those words or acts to be the authentic words or acts of Jesus, using the evidence presented as their guides. The colors are Red: "that's Jesus!", Pink: "that sure sounds like Jesus", Gray: "Well maybe" and Black: "There's been some mistake".

They then published their five gospels with those colors indicating their collective beliefs about the scripture. The five are: Mark, Matthew, Luke, John and Thomas.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Another Busy Day

This has been another busy day. I spoke this morning at church. Afterward, we went to Sirloin Stockade with half the attending congregation and had lunch together.

This afternoon I have read and we will go to a dinner with our "Living the Questions" group tonight. It is about thirty minutes away from here so we will meet the group at 5:30 and ride over together.

I made a nice salad to go with the main dish. Bob ate a half sandwich awhile ago and then promptly dropped part of it on his new shirt. I got out the Shout and rubbed it and put in a load of colored clothing to wash. I don't know whether the stain will come out or not. If not, a new shirt will be ruined.

Slinky has wanted in all afternoon but it is a nice day and he needs to be outside while he can. I will let him in in the morning after he's had a chilly night outside.

I cleaned the refrigerator outside this evening with Clorox Cleanup...a pretty good product. It needed it. It had smudged fingerprints all over it.

I will do my letters tomorrow morning before the mail goes out.

We went to Richard and Mona's for dinner and "Living the Questions" tonight. It was a good meeting and Karan had the lesson. Fourteen attended. We got home about 9:30 and I dried the laundry. Bob's shirt stain came out, thank goodness!