Food for Thought-What’s My Motivation? Reflections on 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

What’s My Motivation?

“What’s my motivation?” I know you’ve heard that question before. It’s often asked by actors playing pretentious actors on television and in movies. It’s not a bad question. What motivates us to get up in the morning and be the person we are called to be? Why are we disciples? Why do we follow Jesus Christ? Why do we do “this”? I also see it as the underlying question behind these few verses Paul is writing to the Thessalonians in this morning’s lectionary reading.

1) Ultimately and always everything comes back to the Good News. We have one story to tell. It’s the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have to tell it, in the words of the BBC Radio 4 program “Just a Minute” without hesitation, deviation, or repetition. We can’t put words in Jesus’ mouth. Nor can we subtract from the words he said. We can’t make him out to be an icon of the religious right or the political left. He transcends any distinction. The kingdom of God is a place which operates beyond the conventional political boundaries created by the fall of the Roman Empire and the eventual rise of parliamentary democracy in Western Europe and representative democracy in the United States of America. Do we want to conform to his story or will we continue trying to mold him to our own story? Paul’s answer is clear. Conforming to Christ’s story is the only authentic answer.

2) Here’s where a direct quote comes in to play. “We aren’t trying to please people but we are trying to please God.” Who are we trying to please? Are we trying to please what our neighbors as to what constitutes a good Christian? Are we trying to please some kind of flawed internal standard that was warped when we were children or in a youth group as to what God really wanted from us and as a consequence we’ve always been trying to please other people? Pleasing God is our first priority. It always has been and always will be.

If we were in the business of pleasing people, we are in the wrong business. We are not in this for ourselves. We should be doing something else. Was Jesus in the business of pleasing people? If you look holistically, across the board, at his life and ministry, was it about pleasing people? No. It was about pleasing God. People’s lives were made better; infinitely better, through serving and pleasing God.

Is the message of the Good News ultimately about pleasing people or doing God’s will and reflecting God’s glory in our actions? In reflecting God’s glory in our actions and doing God’s will; letting people know the Good News (the one story), we are given the tools and the stage is set for their needs to be met.

3) Paul says, “As you know, we never used flattery.” There are two basic approaches (both in Paul’s day and our own) to sharing the gospel.

a) The “You sure to have a nice car, did I tell you that Jesus loves you?”
b) Or the “You dirty filthy miserable rotten no good sinner; you’re going straight to Hell.”

Paul says he neither flattered people nor did he unnecessarily condemn people outright and try to scare them into heaven. There is, with all good things, a middle ground. Jesus showed us this.
Jesus, Paul, (and you and I) showed us how to meet people where they are. If people are rich, poor, hungry, full, living in a shack, speaking English, or Spanish, they have the same spiritual and emotional needs. Jesus got that instinctively. If they were hungry, he fed them first. If they were sick, he made them better. Everybody was the same, a person searching for a better connection with God. Roman centurions loved their kids just like poor Samaritan widows did.

These are the things Paul says motivates us to keep going and do what we do.

–Richard Bryant

Food for Thought-Reflections on 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Paul says some very important things in the opening of his letter to the Thessalonians.
The first thing that always strikes me each time I read this word and I must say that it impresses me that Paul wants his hearers, above all else to know this information, it’s this, “We (not I) give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remember before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

He begins by acknowledging the work, ministry, and prayers of those around him. Paul’s ministry was more often than not a team effort. He wanted the churches to realize and understand this. Their ministries also needed to be cooperative. Paul’s work was never just about Paul. In this case, Silvanus and Timothy were part and parcel of his success and known to the Thessalonians as missionaries and teachers. Acknowledging each other is an important action in role modeling an important behavior but it also lets the people you work with how much value and care for them. Paul knew this.

Secondly, Paul is living a life of gratitude. “We always give thanks to God for all of you,” Paul says. Plainly put, that’s called being grateful. He’s grateful for the people he knows, has come to know, he works with, his extended Christian family, and those he is in a relationship with. This is different from prayer. We’ll come to that in a moment. This is about living a life of gratitude and showing that gratitude in ways that let people know you value them and the contribution they make to your life. Those things which he’s grateful become the basis he build his prayers around.
Paul is always giving thanks to God for something. How is it possible to live that way? Do you put yourself on some kind of list for a happiness transplant?

What do we have to be grateful for (to the same degree that Paul is)? Where do we start if we want to live a life of gratitude like Paul’s? Here are five easy prompts to get you going each day when considering the things you are grateful for in your life. A word or two about any or all of these five is a great place to begin. Put them in a journal or some kind of place you can come back to. Remind yourself of your blessings. It sounds too easy to remind ourselves of something so obvious. But it is the obvious things we most easily overlook and ignore. That’s why it is good to remind ourselves of the basic and most important parts of our life-the parts that shouldn’t change.

1. Your life, your health, your well-being.
2. Your most meaningful relationships. (like your family or friends)
3. The fact you have food to eat and clean water to drink.
4. You are not homeless.
5. You have people who love you.

Then, as I mentioned, Paul takes these things he’s grateful for; the churches the people, the people he share mission and ministry with and lets them shape his prayer life. Do you see what happens there? If you move into this constant awareness of gratitude, you’re writing a few things down, you’re telling be how grateful you are, you always have a ready source of something to pray about; you’re never at the point where you say, “God, I’m just don’t know what to say or what to talk about.” You’ve always got somewhere to start the conversation.

The final point Paul makes is this, “our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit.” It came to them, as I like to say, “Beyond the quotation marks”. The word of God is so powerful in cannot be contained by this book alone. Nor can it be contained by what people say about this book, our quotes and explanations about the Bible, such as what I’m doing now. It’s hard for anyone to do justice to the Bible other than the Bible itself. We can try. We can and do help facilitate the conditions for understanding and growth. We do that each week but as Paul says, the message also come not by words but by the work of spirit, in the reality of the words, deeds, and actions of people prompted by spirit. I’m talking about us having the opportunity to see the scriptures and the ideas of the Bible go from being 2 dimensional theories to a 3 dimensional living reality where people are making Christ’s words and teachings come alive. In the case of the Thessalonians, they made it real. They were doing things that no one else was doing. Not content for classroom learning experiences only, they wanted to take it to the streets. That’s what they did. Paul thought it was important remind them of how far they had come in such a short period of time.

He ends up with this message. The Thessalonians story is telling itself. Their story has become its own missionary. In verse 8, Paul says, “For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia but in every place where you faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. When Paul, Silvanius, and Timothy arrive somewhere new, people have already heard of the great work and faith of the Thessalonians and their church. He doesn’t have to preach that sermon. It’s a “been there and done that” moment for Paul. Their gratitude and devotion to God has spread to church communities all around the eastern Mediterranean and people are inspired by their story.

Is our story going ahead of us? Do people know of our faithfulness, devotion, and gratitude to God beyond the place we call home? Is there no need to speak of us because our faith has become known? What can we do better to help our story become a missionary in and of itself this morning?

Food for Thought-Mission Statement Update

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I am about an unapologetic assault on the mediocrity, boredom, and conventional wisdom that have come to define contemporary American Christianity (and my own denominational tradition). I want to call into question the theological and institutional inertia that seems to prohibit our congregations living vibrant lives rooted in an authentic Biblical vision.  I want to aggressively challenge the norms which we’ve carved in stone to create sacred cows and the practices that have no basis scripture which date only to the recent past.  This is a big part of what I am about.

Food for Thought-A Look Ahead to Reformation Sunday

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An Early Look at Next Week’s Lectionary Passage (Reformation Sunday)

“What do you think about the Christ?” Matthew 22:42

How would Jesus respond to that question, a question he asked (in the days before his betrayal, arrest, and execution), were he to pose it to the Pharisees of our day and time? Would he take the course of Judas Iscariot and betray himself? Would he still allow himself to be betrayed?

Or might he do something different and betray the institution we have built in his name? Would Jesus plan the downfall of Christianity in all the many forms that surround us today?  Would that be the next modern reformation?

In order to be faithful to Christ must we demand a moment of betrayal to the institution created in his name?  Doesn’t betrayal pave the way for redemption? Christianity is always at war with the images it creates of itself. Whether it’s Judas’ betrayal or Christ’s betrayal of contemporary Christianity we live inside a paradox created by this tension.  To paraphrase Christ’s question, “What do we think about ourselves?”

Like Luther, must we betray Christianity if we are to be devoted to Christ?   I’m starting to think so. The systems we have created to worship him and his identity is mutually exclusive. One must be betrayed if we are to remain faithful to the other. This is the fundamental question at the heart of Reformation Sunday.

Food for Thought-Text Messaging the Gold Calf

I’m in this thing somewhere,
That’s me,
Right there,
Beside that golden cow,
Looking at the reflection,
Holding up my index finger,
As if I’m trying to write my name,
Or send a message,
To this bovine God,
Or an unseen friend,
While I wait,
For this “Moses”
Who will never return,
From his powwow with God,
What do I say,
What shall I write,
In this text,
OMG,
DO I REALLY EXPECT
A COW TO DO SOMETHING
GOOD FOR ME?

–Richard Bryant

Food for Thought-First Thoughts on Exodus 32:1-14:Chopin and the Golden Calf

There are two vital elements at the heart of the “Golden Calf” story:

1. Vital Melancholy

2. Unspeakable Joy

The question is how to move ourselves between a melancholy which is so attractive and with each moment eats away at our souls and is so vital to our existence. The Golden Calf isn’t really important. It is the existential question it forces us to ask when we confront its glimmering reality.

What will take us from the impatience of this moment of mulling madness to that point where we may simply be with the God not bound by time, eternity, and the worship of things?

From the beautiful melancholy of Golden Calf (the golden calf in your drive way, the golden calf you’re wearing, the golden calf you send messages on) from within that place of permanent impatience, there is a path to pure joy where you’re forced to encounter a God you can’t caress or touch. The only way to know this God is to listen.

One man who charts the journey from melancholy to joy, like no other, is Frederic Chopin. By listening to a moment of Chopin, you can hear the sadness, the impatience, and the joy of this story come to life. This, for me, is how God become real. This is how idol are shattered. Things you can touch go away. Yet when we remove our hands from the golden calves of our lives and simply listen, we are then able to be with God.

My wish is that we would have a small glimpse of that reality as part of our individual and collective journeys. I also believe that the best way to actually learn to listen is to listen.

As Moses is leading the Israelites on their journey through the wilderness, Chopin will join us this morning to help take us to where we need to go-away from our golden calves. Like the Israelites, we must be led there. It is a journey.

In a moment I am going to play a series of impulses, sounds of impatience and melancholy. Like our Israelites sisters and brothers, this is where we begin. One by one, those impulses will begin to change. From this discordant b flat, which doesn’t seem to stop, like something is wrong with the note itself, coming from some distant sad place in us as we walk around our own golden calves over and over again. We have no idea how to break out of the pattern we are in. We need a way out. We need a way home; a way back to where we ought to have been in the first place.

I’m going to play the Chopin Number 4 in E Minor for you now. I want you to listen. I’m going to stop along the way and point out a few important transitions.

I’m going to play it again, this time all the way through. Listen carefully for the steps on that journey. I want you to think about your Golden Calves. What is it that we worship when we grow impatient with God not acting fast enough in our lives? What are those things we hold fast and secure to as a tangible substitute for the intangible reality of God? Who are the people around us and are they looking to us to be role models when it comes to Golden Calf time? When they guy shows up with the bucket saying are you in on the calf project and people look to you, what will you do? Will you set the trend or stop the insanity?

Think about the assumptions the people around us, in our neighborhood and community hold about the church. Do they see us as golden calf people?

Are we ready to lead them on a journey and help move them closer toward being in a relationship with God toward the spiritual home they are seeking?

Prelude Number 4 in E Minor

Food for Thought-Richard’s Daily Prayer for October 2nd, 2014

Richard’s Daily Prayer
October 2nd, 2014

What a day! Center our hearts and minds as we go into this evening after the business and chaos of this day. Bring our focus around to you. May we take a moment of silence to listen to your words of direction and guidance for our lives this evening. We thank you for being there, one step ahead of us, during each minute of this day. As we reflect on the day that has passed, may we focus on the positive, the good, and the places where you worked in our lives today. Prepare us tonight for service and ministry tomorrow. We love you God. Thank you for loving us.

Amen

Food for Thought-Matthew 21:33-46 I Despise This Parable

I despise this parable. I really do.  And there are better ways Jesus could have discussed being rejected, much better.

You would think that after the first set of slaves were killed; red flags would have gone up all over the place. The authorities would have been called. Arrest warrants would have been issued. What kind of fool would send more people, once again into the breach, after others have been killed, to simply die over the acquisition of produce in the form of rent? Is one life worth a single fig, olive, or grape? When the bloodshed has now spread to a Jonestown, Waco, name your mass murder like level, instead of calling of this insanity, instead of calling in the army, the riot police, or some overwhelming mass force to exact vengeance on those who murdered his slaves and now hold his fruit hostage, this crazed land owner decided to send his son to be murdered. We actually see the irrational thought processes at work in this madman’s head. Surely, these people who have already decapitated and massacred dozens of people will respect the life of my son. Don’t they know who I am? The people who have no respect for the life of slaves will surely respect the life of my son. Then, the bloodshed will end. The figs and grapes will be freed and the bloodshed will end. The madness of slaves being murdered by tenants will surely stop because these people who have committed such acts would never do the same thing to my son because they clearly understand he is my son.

I’ll tell you what we clearly understand. The landowner is as insane as the wicked tenants doing the killing. The old fool doesn’t grasp this reality: for some people, the people he initially hired, life his no value. He was a poor judge of character and the blood of his slaves and his son will ultimately be on his hands. Secondly, the landowner is a coward. Why is he the last to go? If he’s so big and bad, if he want his money, why doesn’t he go first?  Or is he too much of the fat cat landowner?  He’s got slaves and help for that.  Mister landowner man doesn’t do things like the help are supposed to do, does he?  Why didn’t the landowner go as soon as the first slave was murdered? Why is it that the landowner is only the punishment of last resort? He will “put those wretches to a miserable death”. Had he really be concerned about his rent, his fruit, his employees, and his family, he would have never left and gone to “another” country in the first place. Had he really cared, he would have taken action when the first slave was murdered. Had he really cared, he would have never sent his son to do the job he should have gladly done in the first place.

I despise this parable.