I Am Against

  1.  Daylight Savings Time
  2. Papal Infallibility
  3. The misinterpretation of the 2nd Amendment
  4. The ACC Tournament being held in New York City
  5. The Men’s Untucked Shirt fad
  6. Seven to Ten Part Sermon Series
  7. Anything in the key of F sharp (that’s six flats)
  8. Olives
  9. Fascism
  10. Vaping
  11. Instachat
  12. Snapgram
  13. Facetwit
  14. Twitterbook
  15. Elon Musk’s Desire for Global Domination
  16. Most of the things you’re for.
  17. Panic
  18. The machine
  19. Yesterday
  20. Tomorrow

Richard Lowell Bryant

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Unpopular Opinions for August 26th, 2017

1. What good is a 20 minute sermon on loving one’s neighbor (or other specifics of Jesus’ teachings) when many in our congregations have spent Monday to Friday as disciples of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity learning a vocabulary of fear and reasons to despise others?

2. After hours of daily radio broadcasts plus television with Tucker Carlson in the evening, how can the church of Jesus Christ present a different way to look at reality when so many people attend the Church of Fox News (and its offshoots)? Jesus, preachers, and mainline Christianity can’t do it.  We’ve lost this battle.

3. A Christian worldview contrasts from a Sean, Rush, Tucker, Fox News, or Breitbart worldview. A Christian worldview is incompatible with most of the dominant American consumerist culture.

4. Here’s the answer to the first question; it does no good. If our sermons don’t echo sentiments or reinforce ideas in line with what millions of people are hearing from their weekday Sunday School lessons from Rush or Sean, people will leave our churches and take their money.  It’s already happening. It goes by other names (opposition homosexual clergy and gay marriage) but this is what we’re witnessing. Jesus following isn’t a popularity contest.  We can’t argue with people who are convinced they’ll be waving to us from Heaven on our way to Hell.

5. Will those who remain in our churches do the hard work of preaching the Good News or just complain about their neighbors? I’m not certain. Jesus was willing to die. Memes are far easier to post.

6.  Love is hard.  We can love harder.  Be a living sermon.

Richard Lowell Bryant

Things To Do During A Dull Sermon

1. Work on your next sermon

2. Make a papier-mâché version of your own head to leave in the pew so it looks like you’re actually there when you’ve stepped out for a break (Great VBS Project!)

3. Compile weekly shopping list for trip to Food Lion

4. Raise your hand and ask, “Is this the one where you come out in opposition to sin?”

5. Shout “Amen” at the least inspiring moment in the sermon (works for the preacher or congregation)

6. Slap your neighbor. If they don’t turn the other cheek, raise your hand again and report them to the preacher

7. Walk outside to your golf cart where a bottle of whiskey awaits.  Then wait for the conclusion of the service to ask the pastor if you can preach next week.

8. Hold up a sign that reads, “WE ARE PRAYING FOR YOU”

9. Check the ferry schedule

10. Volunteer to work in the nursery

What Foolish People and Stories (Luke 15:1-10)

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He seems foolish, doesn’t he; this man who is at ease with sinners and tells stories where their characters do not seem all that wise.  Who does such things?  Given our lack of time and money and the needs of the many, who has time to risk so much for “one” sheep, a single coin, or even a person?  Isn’t it wasteful?  Yes.  Some argue that it is even immoral to risk so much for so little benefit.  To the detached observer, flipping channels and skimming the surface; “some” sound right.

But then again, it only sounds right if you subscribe to a basic definition of “lost”.  Lost means many things.  You don’t know you’re lost when you’re lost; just ask an addict who’s yet to hit rock bottom.  If you think your GPS is working and yet you’re in the wrong place, you’re still lost.  Being lost is relative; to location, time, distance, history, and ultimately perspective.

You may have become lost on purpose and not wish to be found.  We may know exactly where we are and yet the world believes us to be lost.  Lost-ness also presumes a degree of inquisition, does it not?  If you’re lost, shouldn’t something or someone be inquiring as to your location?  Perhaps.  Either we try to look for a way out or someone tries to find a way for us.  Lost is as multi-layered as a cake at a covered dish lunch.  Yes, you can look at being lost from any  number of angles.  All of them, whether by accident or design involve one common factor:  a connection is broken.  When we are lost, we are disconnected from something vital; usually the ideas, places, and people which help us to understand the world.  If we know anything, whether from science, technology, or theology it is this:  lost isn’t how we’re designed to operate.  We were built to be connected.

Jesus is asking, through the age old tradition of rabbinic storytelling one question; how far should we go to stay connected to each other and God?  Is anything (or anyone) ever worth writing off and loosing?  Step aside from the fractions, analogies, time, and images Jesus uses.  Both of these stories come down to this single question.  Is loss ever acceptable?

It’s a hard question to answer.  Why?   It’s simple.  We don’t picture ourselves as the one (or thing) who is lost.  We’re safely tucked away in the group of sheep who never have the good sense to run away and get lost.  We’re the well-earned money which stays unspent in the old woman’s wallet.  Jesus says think again.  It’s who we would like to be.  Our aspirations are higher than our reality.  We’re lost more often than we want to admit.

This is why Jesus uses such dramatic analogies.  He wants to grab our attention.  A story about 100 valuable sheep and an expensive coin puts the loss, risk, and gain into perspective.  Their initial reaction on hearing Jesus was probably, “what?”  It’s like asking Jordan a question.  Perhaps they did not hear him or maybe they weren’t paying attention?  They heard him.  We’ve listened to this story so many times that they incredulity and utter foolishness of the shepherd’s actions have been lost to our modern Christian ears.

Jesus describes something so foolish and imprudent.  Would go to such lengths for a single sheep?  No shepherd in the right mind would risk their entire herd for one sheep.  This is why there first response is one of disbelief.  What?  Did he say what I think he said?  Maybe this guy isn’t as smart as my cousin in Capernaum made him out to be.  When we listen to Jesus, this should be our first response.  His stories run counter to everything we’ve been taught.  He defies the conventional wisdom of the world and has so for two millennia.   If Jesus isn’t stopping us, slowing us down, and at least creating a “what?” speed bump in our brains, something is wrong.  This is how it is supposed to work.   Jesus wants to slow our thought processes and our lives down, just long enough, so we think, “Maybe there is another way to see the world.”

Jesus’ parables are memorable because their images are more powerful than words.  Parables are word pictures.  Jesus is telling us a story.  Jesus’ stories are not only something we view, as if we’re watching a movie on television.  When he tells a parable we become participants and characters in the action.  We’ve been there.  We know that man or woman because we are that person.  Jesus’ stories are our stories.

I’ve never been a shepherd.  When we lived in Ireland, where raising in sheep is a major source of agriculture income, I got to know shepherds.  I came to truly appreciate dumb sheep are.  I learned what a messy, time consuming business raising sheep has always been.  My love for this parable and the 23rd Psalm grew immensely.  However, I didn’t need that experience to get this story.  It’s not about the sheep.  It’s about the search for something lost.  The sheep, valuable and dumb as they may be, are only a means of getting to the larger point.

How do you look for something you’ve lost?  If you’ve misplaced a truly valuable item or an everyday object you need to find, what do you do?  What’s your method of looking?  Do you sit down in the last place you remember having the thing and start from there?  Are you logical, calm, and orderly in your search; like the Coast Guard searching for a boat missing at sea?

Or are you like me when I can’t find the remote control?  If I can’t find the remote, I’m frantic.  I start pulling apart couch cushions, looking under furniture, and yelling about the house, “Has anyone seen the remote?”  I will not rest until the remote has been found.  Everything, the cooking of dinner, the doing of homework has to stop so I can know the latest developments on the campaign trail.  The remote must be found.  I search frantically, enlist help, and leave no pillow unturned.

This, I believe, is the picture Jesus is painting.  While the shepherd searches and as the woman seeks, they are frenetic.  You are not laid back about trying to find something of value, something you love, or a piece of you that shouldn’t be missing.  I don’t think God is either.  This is how God searches for us; with such reckless abandon, nothing will prevent the connection from being restored.  God will rip apart hell, if that what it takes, to find what’s lost.  God goes after us; not out of vengeance or sin but because that’s what God does.  God finds the lost.

Luke says that God (and the angels) thrives on joy.   God seeks joy.  Jesus tells us that God does not seek suffering, pain, misery, wrath, or sorrow.  There’s something about joy which cannot be restrained to life as we know it.  Joy and happiness are not limited to the eight or nine decades we spend on this planet. Joy is eternal.  You know what it feels like to find that thing or to restore a relationship that was lost.  In that moment, that is a reflection of God’s own joyful presence.  We see and experience the reality of God in those moments.

Jesus tells us that joy is in the finding and being found.   The bad news is this:  we are still lost.  The good news:  we are always being found.

 

Food for Thought-What If We Die and God Is a Big Fat Chicken? (Luke 13:31-35)

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Jesus says some strange, even disturbing things.  One time he told people to love their neighbors as they love themselves.  In the same sermon, he claimed the meek were due to inherit the Earth; not the strong.  He eschewed violence by telling people to turn the other cheek if assaulted.  Some foreign policy Jesus!  He wouldn’t be Secretary of State, Defense, or Homeland Security in my imaginary cabinet.  Can you imagine, loving people instead of killing them with predator drones?  Today Jesus says one of the wackiest things in the entire New Testament.  He compares God to a chicken!

To really pick up on these strange statements, you have to pay attention.  If you’re not listening carefully, they’ll fly right by.  If you are clued in, you’ll find yourself saying, “What did he say?” If the politicians and religious figures of today said many of the things Jesus said, no one could run for any kind of office.  Like Jesus, they would be running for their lives.  Jesus judged the faith of the Pharisees.  Jesus made provocative statements.  Jesus couldn’t keep his nose out of politics.  With his whole body, he stepped firmly into the political arena between the Roman Empire and those who ruled Palestine.  Jesus spent most of his time healing the mentally and physically ill.  We call that “health care”.  Jesus called that his day job. He preached about the misuse of money and the coming kingdom of God.  Rome called the economic policy.  Jesus said it was the best parts of Leviticus. And yes, he also said God was like a chicken.

Jesus talked about holy chickens.  Your God (my God, our God) is like a chicken.   I don’t know much about chickens.  I’ve never kept hens, roosters or chickens of any kind.  I’ve seen a plenty both here and in other places.  I do enjoy eating chickens; particularly if they are dipped in ranch dressing or some kind of buffalo wing sauce.  I love eggs.  Scrambled, fried, omelets; I’ll will consume eggs in most ways you place them on a plate.  I have a great deal of love for the chicken and everything it has given to human civilization.  Here’s where the problem occurs.  I’ve never really associated a chicken with God.   If I were to be captured by ISIS or some other rogue organization and forced at gunpoint to, “associate your infidel divinity with a bird”, I NOT would choose a chicken.  And that’s assuming my intimate knowledge of the 13th chapter of Luke.  I might say the “the Bald Eagle”.  I know it would irritate ISIS.  I might name some mythical creature like a Phoenix or a Griffin.  I would not name a chicken.

However, we go back to the Bible.  Into the New Testament, the Gospel of Luke, to Jesus’ own words, and there it is in black and white, and what does Jesus say, “God is like a Chicken”.  Wouldn’t it be crazy if we get to heaven, and instead of old man on a cloud it’s a large mother hen?

What an interesting metaphor for Jesus to draw when illustrating who he is, who God is, and who King Herod is.  Despite anything else Jesus may or may not offer at this moment, people get the relationship between foxes and chickens.  Foxes do one thing and chickens do another.  Within the world of chickens, Hens have an even greater protective role.  The rural people Jesus knew understood this.  The city folk with a basic exposure to education (they read fairy tales, like Aesop’s) also knew about foxes and hens.  Jesus puts everyone on the same page.  Who has your best interests?  Who is looking out for you?  You need to understand, you are a character in this story.  The story will not end well if the fox is allowed to roam unchecked.  The fox is not your friend.  Have you realized this?  These are all the things Jesus is addressing by making this strange comparison, “God is like a chicken”.

This whole thing started when someone came to Jesus and said, “Herod wants to kill you.”  What’s new, right?  Someone in that family has been trying to kill him since the day he was born.  This is Herod Antipas, son of the original gangster King Herod.  This Herod, Antipas, has already killed John the Baptizer and now wants Jesus.  This isn’t an idle threat.  Antipas, with the full backing of the religious authorities and the Roman Empire, can have Jesus killed.  Everyone, including Jesus, knows this.

There’s something about how Herod kills that’s passive aggressive.  He’s motivated to kill John by his wife and daughter, he’s a puppet to the Romans and the high priest, and sends death threats through messengers.  Whether that’s fox like behavior, I don’t know.  Jesus thinks so.  It is shady, indirect, wasting his time.  He doesn’t need to be worried about the fox.  Jesus has a whole farm to tend to.

Jesus wants to send a direct message back to Herod.  Jesus has work to be done.  One thing you’ll find in Luke’s gospel is an obsession with time.  Jesus is always on the move.  You’ll see three day countdown clocks (like watching the television networks until the next primary).  Yes, these are hints which point us toward Easter.  More importantly, they tell us Jesus is on a schedule and his tasks are life giving.

What is Jesus up to?  What’s so important that even Herod’s death threats seem like a minor bump in the road?   Jesus is throwing out demons and healing people.  It’s going to take up most of the next three days.  If Herod wants to see him, it’s going to have to wait.  That’s it.  You’re listening to Jesus’ agenda, his plan, straight out the man’s mouth.  He’s healing people.  Again, we call that health care.  He’s restoring the physical and spiritual well being of the mentally and physically ill.  He’s charging no money.  He’s simply doing it.

Can you see why Herod was scared to death of Jesus?  Are you able to envision why Herod wanted him dead?  He made sick people spiritually and physically better.  He sacrificed no bulls, goats, or paid no taxes to the temple authorities.  He worked on roadsides and in synagogues most rabbis had forgotten.  He said God was a bottom up experience not a top down encounter.  God meets you at the bottom, where you are.  God doesn’t force you to climb stairs, begging and pleading for forgiveness.

It does seem natural, if Jesus is going bring up foxes, comparisons to chickens and hens will soon follow.  I agree with that idea up to a point.  As many times as I read this passage, I can’t get over the image of the tough talking, demon expelling Jesus who has just told Herod to go to Hell than comparing himself to a fat mother chicken.  Welcome to the irony, the paradox of Christian living.  This is who we are, people of the paradox because Jesus placed us on this path.

Jesus wants to care for us the way a hen cares for her chicks.  He wants to protect us. You can’t get much clearer.  However, there is something within us that resists this kind of relationship with God.  I don’t know what pushes us away.  Jesus says we go as far as trying to stone those God sends (prophets and others).  In other words, we try to eat the chicken instead of letting the chicken love us.  It’s easier to hang out with Herod and the foxes.  We might even buy into the foxes’ lies about the hen and the chickens.  Foxes are going to lie.  They’ll say, “A chicken isn’t a real God, it isn’t strong, can’t offer real protection and won’t come back from three days of anything.”

Jesus said it for us, “But you didn’t want that.”  We didn’t want the safety the hen provides.  We wanted something else.   We thought chickens were gross and icky. What do we want?  Is it something triumphant, like a man on a donkey or hanging on a cross?  That didn’t do it for us either.  Maybe you want something or someone stronger?  As for me and my house, I’m sticking with the chicken.

 

Food for Thought-Jesus, Do Something

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They were going to a wedding. It wasn’t the first wedding nor would it be the last. The way the story is related is that was a “family” wedding. John tells us from the beginning, “his mother was there”. Somehow, someway these were kin folk. Whenever my mother talked about “family” weddings, she said “family” like Dragnet’s Joe Friday trying to protect innocent people; namely good, God-fearing relatives like ourselves. Family could have meant cousins, brothers, or sisters. It could also be your next door neighbor. As they say in these parts, “family is family.”

Weddings are bad enough when you’re forced to attend one against your will. It’s not clear from the text whether Jesus wanted to be there. I would guess his mother wanted him there but if Jesus showed up, he brought 12 other people with him. Those 12 guys didn’t have the best table manners or wedding attire. On the other hand, that’s 12 extra waiters, ushers, or servers. Jesus is a one man catering company.

Weddings are also not as much fun when you’ve got to work behind the scenes. It’s difficult to enjoy the romance, elegance, and beauty. Working at a family wedding usually means your relatives don’t have enough money to hire enough caterers, photographers, servers and the like. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with doing things on a budget. In the end, relatives, people like you, get to do for free what wedding professionals get paid for. In the back of your mind, you begin to think, I hope they find some money before they have children. You are not going to raise their children, babysit, or feed their family once a week. Helping at a wedding is one thing, raising somebody else’ family is another matter altogether. Though really, what can you say, this is after all, a “family” wedding.

Jesus’ mother was helping to wash the dishes. I can imagine Mary of Nazareth enjoyed the art of mindful, dish scrubbing. To call washing pots and plates a ritual is nothing short of exact. When the Hebrew people washed pots and pans it was a religious act. According to Moses’ people, they believed God cared about clean dishes. Don’t get me wrong, no one wanted to get sick and they found food residue disgusting, especially after a day or so in the hot sun. The idea of a clean pot went way beyond hygiene and personal taste. God told Moses, Moses told his people, and they kept telling each other: wash dishes in this one divinely endorsed manner. Mother Mary thrived on cleaning by the book until she came to the page that wasn’t in the book.

The wine ran out. I know how it happened. They drank it all. People do that at weddings. They were excessive in their consumption of the fruit of the vine. As a result, because of the budgetary restrictions at hand, the guests became drunk on cheap wine. There’s nothing more unruly or unpredictable than entitled people drunk on their own sense of celebratory entitlement. This was the wedding they inherited. A flock of disorientated, drunken sheep all wanting something more than the present moment provided. What do you do?

His mother comes to him and says, “Do something!” Something, do something. How many of you have ever said, “Do something Jesus?” It’s impossible to put words together and describe what you feel or need. Those three words are an acknowledgement that our best traditions (and rituals) will not meet the needs of our current reality. By asking Jesus to do “something”, you’re opening the door to the subversion of our traditions and rituals. Most people don’t want Jesus to subvert the status quo of the lives.  When we pray for Jesus to do something it is usually a prayer to “put me back in charge of my own life”.

At the wedding, chaos is taking hold. The fun is no longer what people see. Fear is in the eyes of those who realize the truth behind the empty vats: scarcity is diametrically opposed to the will of God. Among the guests, a degree of confusion has descended. What next? What is happening?

Jesus does not do ambiguity. Vagueness is not in his vocabulary. The frustration you hear in his voice as he responds to his mother is a clue to this most important part of his identity. Mary wants him to “fix” this wine problem. Jesus is saying, “The lack of wine isn’t the real problem.” Solving the wine issue won’t change the world. It may even lead to religious hangovers. Ultimately, more wine leads to more problems. Jesus will look more like a magician than a religious teacher. Whatever you read into this dialogue, hold onto this, Jesus does not refuse to act. These verses show us Jesus taking space to think and reflect with his mother. Building in space for thinking and reflection are important parts of our faith.

What if he can do both? What if Jesus is able to meet this immediate need and also change how people view God? (I.e. solve the wine crisis and make a larger more meaningful point)

Jesus has to think quickly. Here’s where the dirty dishes come back into the story. I told you that ritual purity was a big deal. It takes up page after page in the Torah. Jesus sees the opportunity to turn the tables, to open up a can of theological worms, religious hornet’s nest, and challenge the way people think about what’s Holy, sacred, and what God really values in our lives. Perhaps some of the purity rules are dated, limiting, and hurting our ability to faithful to God in meaningful ways?

The jars were tall. They might have stood slightly above the waist on an average person. Inside, they would have held twenty to thirty gallons of dirty water. Here’s the important to remember. People were probably washing their hands in this water. That’s in addition to cups, plates, and other eating utensils. Given the Jewish ideas about purity and sanctity, this was about the filthiest water imaginable. The people who had come in contact with the water (the help) were now ritually unclean and subject to being purified. It was a literal, spiritual, and nuptial mess. Now read it closely, you’ll see Jesus doesn’t go anywhere near the water. He doesn’t need to. His initiative is all it takes. So what’s the message Jesus sends with the over abundance of wine, clay pots, and dirty water: outdated traditions will not be obstacles to God’s initiative. Nothing will be an obstacle to God’s initiative.  God disrupts our tea parties, wedding receptions, and backroom shenanigans with life altering words of catharsis.  Something happens when we do what he says.

This coming Monday, we will honor the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Dr. King embodies the essence of this idea. Regardless of what you throw at a people, God’s initiative is too meaningful to be stopped. Attack dogs, water cannons, and bullets could not stop the march of racial equality. What God does, whether at a distance or up close, turns our expectations and fears into something we never expected. John 2 tells us that the gallons upon gallons of expectations and fear we’re holding on to are dirty, filthy, and likely to kill us if we don’t let go and allow Jesus to do something. They’ll kill us, not because we’re drinking dirty water but because we’ve put ritual ahead of people and Jesus’ initiative behind our excesses. Is Methodism ready to allow Jesus to do something? Are we ready to be disrupted?  I hope so.