Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Saturday, August 22, 2009
In Genesis the narrative tells us that creation took place over seven days. The ancient Jewish people often used numbers symbolically. The number six was the number of evil; seven was the number of completion. The writer of Genesis was telling us, with the seventh day being rest, is that rest is a part of God's creation, therefore good. Later, in the Decalogue, the commandment of keeping holy the Sabbath also reminds is that rest is holy.
Rest is holy because it gives us a chance to take it slower and put things into perspective. Often, when we go, go, god, we burn out and don't breath enough to put things into perspective.
Rest is also holy because it quiets us down and enables to listen to other people and listen to God.
Work, of course, is important and good. Rest, however, is also good. We ought to delight in it and know that the rest we take is, in and of itself, a holy thing.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Text: 1 Kings 3:3-14
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
August 16, 2009
When Solomon was a child his prayer to God was a prayer for an understanding mind. Of all the things he desired in life, the thing he desired the most was wisdom. God, of course, is pleased and promises Solomon that when he becomes the king he will reap the benefits of requesting such a great gift. We get the impression that wisdom is something imbued with holiness. The holiness of wisdom is something precious----something almost beyond precious, in the Bible.
There are several things to be said about wisdom.
First, in Proverbs 1:7 it says:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Wisdom and knowledge all start with fear of the Lord.
But often people don’t realize what fear of the Lord is.
It isn’t about being afraid of God. In fact, one of the most common statements in the Bible is: Do not be afraid! So it’s not about being afraid of God. It is, however, being in awe of God.
And being in awe of God, is really being in awe of God. It’s almost like being in the presence of God and shaking in the awe of the moment; not shaking in terror, but shaking in being overwhelmed by the awesomeness of God.
Wisdom comes when we recognize that God is beyond your comprehension and understanding.
Wisdom comes when we stand in the presence of God and are overwhelmed by God.
Wisdom comes when we learn that we don’t know it all.
A seminary professor was vacationing with his wife in Gatlinburg. One morning, they were eating breakfast at a little restaurant, hoping to enjoy a quiet meal. While they were waiting for their food, they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting with the guests. The professor leaned over and whispered to his wife, 'I hope he doesn't come over here.' But sure enough, the man did come over to their table.
'Where are you folks from?' he asked in a friendly voice.
'Oklahoma ,' they answered.
'Great to have you here in Tennessee ,' the stranger said. 'What do you do for a living?'
'I teach at a seminary,' he replied.
'Oh, so you teach preachers how to preach, do you? Well, I've got a really great story for you.' And with that, the gentleman pulled up a chair and sat down at the table with the couple.
The professor groaned and thought to himself, 'Great .. Just what I need... Another preacher story!'
The man started, 'See that mountain over there? Not far from the base of that mountain, there was a boy born to an unwed mother. He had a hard time growing up, because every place he went, he was always asked the same question, 'Hey boy, Who's your daddy?' Whether he was at school, in the grocery store or drug store, people would ask the same question, 'Who's your daddy?'
He would hide at recess and lunchtime from other students. He would avoid going into stores because that question hurt him so bad. When he was about 12 years old, a new preacher came to his church. He would always go in late and slip out early to avoid hearing the question, 'Who's your daddy?' But one day, the new preacher said the benediction so fast that he got caught and had to walk out with the crowd.
Just about the time he got to the back door, the new preacher, not knowing anything about him, put his hand on his shoulder and asked him, 'Son, who's your daddy?'
The whole church got deathly quiet. He could feel every eye in the church looking at him. Now everyone would finally know the answer to the question, 'Who's your daddy?'
'This new preacher, though, sensed the situation around him and using discernment that only the Holy Spirit could give, said the following to that scared little boy.. 'Wait a minute! I know who you are! I see the family resemblance now, You are a child of God.'
With that he patted the boy on his shoulder and said, 'Boy, you've got a great inheritance. Go and claim it.'
With that, the boy smiled for the first time in a long time and walked out the door a changed person. He was never the same again. Whenever anybody asked him, 'Who's your Daddy?' he'd just tell them, 'I'm a Child of God.''
The distinguished gentleman got up from the table and said, 'Isn't that a great story?'
The professor responded that it really was a great story!
As the man turned to leave, he said, 'You know, if that new preacher hadn't told me that I was one of God's children, I probably never would have amounted to anything!' And he walked away.
The seminary professor and his wife were stunned. He called the waitress over and asked her, 'Do you know who that man was -- the one who just left that was sitting at our table?'
The waitress grinned and said, 'Of course. Everybody here knows him. That's Ben Hooper. He's governor of Tennessee !'
It’s stories like that which make us stand in awe of God, a God who can change and transform lives.
There is another aspect of wisdom, however, that is important.
The philosopher Aristotle said that wisdom begins with wonder. Wisdom begins with wonder.
It really does.
Last summer we went to Kitty Hawk and went to the Wright Brothers museum. They wondered how to fly; and flew.
Growing up in New Jersey we all learned a lot about Thomas Edison. He wondered if he could make a light bulb; he did.
Henry Ford wondered what would happen if you had large assembly lines for cars; and he made it happen.
With faith, however, it is also about wonder. Faith begins to grow when we begin to wonder and ask questions.
Much of how we practice our faith begins with wonder. We tend to view how we do things as having tradition, but take note that these traditions started with someone wondering something.
Russ Mitman is the United Church of Christ Conference Minister for the Philadelphia Southeast Conference. He wrote a book several years ago and observed that the largest innovation in Worship in the 20th century was the invention of the mimeograph machine.
We say ‘huh?’ to that now, but before that, the Worship Service started at page three in hymnals and the only changes were the hymns which were posted on the wall and the Scripture readings, and the sermon. And I am sure some people were outraged at this modern innovation that would never last.
We have electric lights in churches now because someone wondered how that would go.
We have sound systems in churches. Years ago preachers used to preached under a huge cone with large bellowing voices. Someone said, ‘I wonder what would happen if we put a microphone up there?
Someone wondered what would happen if they air conditioned churches. I am sure that some clamored that air conditioning was no necessary but they tried it anyway.
So much of what we do now in church and in the practice of our faith comes because people wondered. Wisdom begins when we wonder.
And lastly, no sermon that references wisdom and Solomon should lack a caveat.
Solomon turned out to be a bad king a man of wretched excess.
Solomon, 1st Kings tells us, had 700 wives and 300 concubines or mistresses.
He built a Temple not to honor God as much as himself.
He made peace treaties with nations he had no business in doing so. He did it for money and more wives.
Solomon enslaved his own people to do his work. This was, for a people who had been led from slavery by Moses and spent their history so often slaves to others, a grotesque sin.
Solomon wrecked the Kingdom and it split in two upon his death.
He abused the wisdom God had given him and remind us now that wisdom is a gift from God. And it is only a good gift when we, unlike Solomon, actually use it to honor God and not ourselves.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Secondly, I write this as a person who does not support euthanasia or physician assisted suicide. I can see the arguments both for and against this. I have seen many people at the end of their lives and have thought that it would be merciful if their lives could end sooner rather than later. Watching people suffer, at the end, is dreadful. But I cannot bring myself to embrace euthanasia of physician assisted suicide. I believe that the risks that go along with these are too great.
Which brings me to where we are right now. Much is being debated about the end of life issues as to what is covered and what is not covered in the health care bills. From what I have read, counseling will be optional for the patient, but required to be paid for to allow the patient and physician to have these conversations. But this is not my issue.
The end of life, natural death, has become an interesting subject of debate. There are several facts that need to be remembered.
Fact number one. All of our senior citizens will die, many of them sooner rather than later. No matter what kind of health care they have, no matter what kind of health care bills get passed or not passed, the mortality rate of our senior citizens will be 100%.
Fact number two. All of the people having the debate right now will also die. Alas, the mortality rate of human beings has always been and remains at 100%.
Fact number three. Many people will have to make decisions as to end of life treatment options. People will potentially need to make them for parents, for spouses and partners, for children, even for themselves.
Medical technology is excellent and has improved a great deal. I have been a minister for over 25 years and have seen several things change in rather dramatic fashion.
When I was a young minister and a person was having by-pass surgery, it seemed like close to half of the people who had the surgery never left the hospital. The surgery was tough and dramatic, and while most survived the surgery, many didn’t survive the recovery. I knew that if a person had the surgery they would be hospitalized for a solid two weeks and would require a great deal of critical care.
Now, most people have the surgery routinely, and most are home within the week.
Years ago if a person had their gall bladder out, a very common surgery, they were hospitalized for a week. Now it is out-patient surgery.
Then, all surgeries were inpatient and often required multiple-day stays; now, many surgeries are out-patient.
People live long and better quality lives. Medicines available are often very effective and in the hands of a skilled physician, people can live well for a longer period of time. Which is, of course, great.
The upside of medical technology is that people can be kept alive and maintained for much longer than they used to. The downside is that often people can be kept alive for quite a long time, but there are issues about quality of life and how much pain and suffering a person is willing to endure.
When is it, for example, appropriate for chemo-therapy to end? This is a hard decision for patients and their loved ones. Cancer is a killer and chemo often prolongs life; but at the expense of quality of life. Many people suffer grievously to the point that they want to stop. It it ethical to stop and allow a person to die? I am not talking about killing them, but allowing nature to take its course.
Often there is discussion of feeding tubes. Sometimes people or their families, are faced with the issue of putting in or removing a feeding tube. Without the feeding tube the person will die----of natural causes---- but because they cannot receive nutrition albeit artificially. Again, there is an ethical question on this.
A person is taken into the emergency room and they are elderly and in bad health. They have had a stroke or a major heart attack. What is the right thing? If they do not have any sort of advanced directives, what does a family and the hospital decide. What happens, however, if the family cannot bring themselves to accept or enforce the advanced directives and the DNR is not followed? What becomes the ethical thing to do?
Part of the dilemma is this. Death is not perceived to be evil. Death is the obscenity we no longer want to discuss. It is almost like we have an ethical belief that we save human life, no matter what we have to do, no matter how much it costs. Everything that can be done, even for a short time, even if there is no quality of life, even if it requires a great deal of pain and suffering, is done.
Perhaps death ought to be looked at, however, from a faith perspective. Maybe the end of life should not be a political football for people to play with but a spiritual issue for people to understand.
Christians believe that when we die we go to be with God. The embrace of Heaven is something Christians believe and share. We debate who goes and how you get there, but there is one constant. Life in this world has to come to an end first, preferably naturally and at an old age.
Increasingly, as the technology improves, people have to decide when to allow nature to takes its course and allow life in this world to come to an end. It strikes me that, as a people of faith, we support people on the journey to a better place at the end of life, than to keep the fight up when all hope and any sort of comfort is no past. This is not, in any way, killing, it is allowing a person to die of natural causes.
This seems to be rational, moral, compassionate, and faithful.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
I am not an emotional person, by nature, and I do not approach faith from an emotional perspective. To me, inspiration comes when things make sense. As a result, I rarely get passionate about things; I tend to approach them analytically.
But I have found, in my faith, something to be passionate about. It comes via an intellectual journey, but is also comes from my heart.
At St. Marks United Church of Christ we begin each Worship Service with the words, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” They are the new ‘slogan,’ if you will, of the United Church of Christ as a denomination. If one sees one of the United Church of Christ commercials, they always end with those words.
I’ve come to believe that these words are a Biblical and spiritual mandate. “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” They are not chapter and verse anywhere, but they come from someplace else. The bigger picture.
I decided to read the four Gospels in their entirety. The more I read, the more I realized that we have, often as a culture within Christianity, seemed to have missed something in the Gospels. We have been so busy cutting them up into little pieces and using little verses out of them, that we have missed that they were not written and not intended to be read as a collection of verses, but as whole documents.
Jesus speak of two things over and over again. The first thing he spoke of was caring for the less fortunate among us. Over and over again, he spoke about this. Jesus’ economic advice was that if you really want to be rich you need to sell everything you have, give it to the poor, and follow Jesus. In a larger interpretation of this he was making a point of owning what you own as opposed to letting what you own, own you. If there are poor people in our midst, we are all responsible for them. If you read the entire Gospel, start to finish, it is impossible not to come away with this. If there are poor people in our midst, we are responsible for them. How we do it may be a great political question; but that we do it is a Biblical mandate.
How this evolves into seminars on how Jesus can make your business more profitable----and we see these all the time, eludes me, but, so be it.
There is a Gospel mandate. If there are poor in our midst, we are responsible for them.
For churches the mandate towards the poor is simply this: “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”
The second big picture item in the Gospel is to welcome and embrace those who know one else will welcome and embrace. The Christian Church has been good about this, with a qualification that goes to the point of that it is important to welcome and embrace all those people who are a lot like us.
The problem is that when we, as a Christian Church embrace only those who are like us, we miss the point. The people Jesus associated with, in large part, were people large sectors of society rejected.
The sinners-----or those people others called sinners.
The call of Levi/Matthew was an amazing call. Levi, so named in Mark and Luke, and Matthew, so named in Matthew, was a tax collector. A tax collector was a person who would normally steal from his own people----under Roman guard and with Roman authority. Levi/Matthew would have been seen as a heinous sinner by most; yet Jesus called him.
The reason, for Jesus,” No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”
Those words, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here,” are words that, to me, are truly something to be passionate about. They are words I know, my church, and me, try to live by.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Most Democratic Presidents eventually get around to being called Socialist/Communists because if their inclination to have more government benefits and corporate regulations. Every time they move in this direction, even a tiny, tiny bit, people scream Socialism!!!
Most Republican Presidents eventually get around to being called Fascist/Nazis because of their inclinations toward an increased sense of nationalism, increases in defense, and a proclivity toward law and order. Every time they move in this direction, even a tiny, tiny big, people cry out Nazi!
Socialism and Fascism are often seen as the opposite ends of the political spectrum. If you move a person extremely to the left, they become a Socialist; extremely to the right and they become a Fascist. People do quibble with this for a variety of reasons, but there are some solid rationales behind this.
Barack Obama has, predictably, been called a Socialist. Government bailouts, stimulus money, the health care plan, etc., have all been labeled Socialist. This is fairly predictable and moves in, at least, the correct direction on the political spectrum. I am not sure where socializing something turns into Socialism, but that might be another question. There is even an incredibly offensive ‘cartoon’ of Obama with a white face and the red paint of the diabolically evil Joker from Batman. Using this caricature of any American President in light of the pure evil of that character in the movie is, frankly, offensive. But people see no fault in being offensive, I guess.
Interestingly enough he has now been called a Nazi and Hitler. There is a new caricature out of Obama as Hitler, little mustache and all.
One can make an argument about the absurdity of this because it would seem to indicate that Obama has managed to be an extremist on the polar opposites of the political spectrum. To confuse Fascism/Nazism with Socialism/Communism is to have little to no grasp of political philosophy. People often try to argue that the Nazi Party’s official name was the National Socialist Worker’s Party had the word ‘Socialist’ in it, but Hitler was staunchly anti-Socialist and anti-Communist. He loathed Karl Marx ( who was Jewish) and the philosophy of Marx. Loathed it. LOATHED it. Nazism had a strong sense of corporatism which was a movement seeking to have shared wealth but not at the expense of business. The name, which evolved from the Latin word “Corpus,” or “body” was designed to allow people, government, and businesses to work in partnership and cooperation with each other. In and of itself, corporatism is not a bad thing at all-----in many ways part of what we have in the United State is a sense of this in the best sense of the word when everyone does work in cooperation with one another.
But the Nazis were more than about that.
In fact, Hitler laid it all out. He argued that Nazism had 25 Points----Together which made up the spirit of the Nazi Party:
1. We demand the union of all Germans in a Great Germany on the basis of the principle of self-determination of all peoples.
2. We demand that the German people have rights equal to those of other nations; and that the Peace Treaties of Versailles and St. Germain shall be abrogated.
3. We demand land and territory (colonies) for the maintenance of our people and the settlement of our surplus population.
4. Only those who are our fellow countrymen can become citizens. Only those who have German blood, regardless of Creed, can be our countrymen. Hence no Jew can be a countryman.
5. Those who are not citizens must live in Germany as foreigners and must be subject to the law of aliens.
6. The right to choose the government and determine the laws of the State shall belong only to citizens. We therefore demand that no public office, of whatever nature, whether in the central government, the province, or the municipality, shall be held by anyone who is not a citizen.
We wage war against the corrupt parliamentary administration whereby men are appointed to posts by favor of the party without regard to character and fitness.
7. We demand that the State shall above all undertake to ensure that every citizen shall have the possibility of living decently and earning a livelihood. If it should not be possible to feed the whole population, then aliens (non-citizens) must be expelled from the Reich.
8. Any further immigration of non-Germans must be prevented. We demand that all non-Germans who have entered Germany since August 2, 1914, shall be compelled to leave the Reich immediately.
9. All citizens must possess equal rights and duties.
10. The first duty of every citizen must be to work mentally or physically. No individual shall do any work that offends against the interest of the community to the benefit of all.
Therefore we demand:
11. That all unearned income, and all income that does not arise from work, be abolished.
12. Since every war imposes on the people fearful sacrifices in blood and treasure, all personal profit arising from the war must be regarded as treason to the people. We therefore demand the total confiscation of all war profits.
13. We demand the nationalization of all trusts.
14. We demand profit-sharing in large industries.
15. We demand a generous increase in old-age pensions.
16. We demand the creation and maintenance of a sound middle-class, the immediate communalization of large stores which will be rented cheaply to small tradespeople, and the strongest consideration must be given to ensure that small traders shall deliver the supplies needed by the State, the provinces and municipalities.
17. We demand an agrarian reform in accordance with our national requirements, and the enactment of a law to expropriate the owners without compensation of any land needed for the common purpose. The abolition of ground rents, and the prohibition of all speculation in land.
18. We demand that ruthless war be waged against those who work to the injury of the common welfare. Traitors, usurers, profiteers, etc., are to be punished with death, regardless of Creed or race.
19. We demand that Roman law, which serves a materialist ordering of the world, be replaced by German common law.
20. In order to make it possible for every capable and industrious German to obtain higher education, and thus the opportunity to reach into positions of leadership, the State must assume the responsibility of organizing thoroughly the entire cultural system of the people. The curricula of all educational establishments shall be adapted to practical life. The conception of the State Idea (science of citizenship) must be taught in the schools from the very beginning. We demand that specially talented children of poor parents, whatever their station or occupation, be educated at the expense of the State.
21. The State has the duty to help raise the standard of national health by providing maternity welfare centers, by prohibiting juvenile labor, by increasing physical fitness through the introduction of compulsory games and gymnastics, and by the greatest possible encouragement of associations concerned with the physical education of the young.
22. We demand the abolition of the regular army and the creation of a national (folk) army.
23. We demand that there be a legal campaign against those who propagate deliberate political lies and disseminate them through the press. In order to make possible the creation of a German press, we demand:
(a) All editors and their assistants on newspapers published in the German language shall be German citizens.
(b) Non-German newspapers shall only be published with the express permission of the State. They must not be published in the German language.
(c) All financial interests in or in any way affecting German newspapers shall be forbidden to non-Germans by law, and we demand that the punishment for transgressing this law be the immediate suppression of the newspaper and the expulsion of the non-Germans from the Reich.
Newspapers transgressing against the common welfare shall be suppressed. We demand legal action against those tendencies in art and literature that have a disruptive influence upon the life of our folk, and that any organizations that offend against the foregoing demands shall be dissolved.
24. We demand freedom for all religious faiths in the state, insofar as they do not endanger its existence or offend the moral and ethical sense of the Germanic race.
The party as such represents the point of view of a positive Christianity without binding itself to any one particular confession. It fights against the Jewish materialist spirit within and without, and is convinced that a lasting recovery of our folk can only come about from within on the principle:
COMMON GOOD BEFORE INDIVIDUAL GOOD
25. In order to carry out this program we demand: the creation of a strong central authority in the State, the unconditional authority by the political central parliament of the whole State and all its organizations.
The formation of professional committees and of committees representing the several estates of the realm, to ensure that the laws promulgated by the central authority shall be carried out by the federal states.
The leaders of the party undertake to promote the execution of the foregoing points at all costs, if necessary at the sacrifice of their own lives.
Hitler, as we know, lived these out. Europe was devastated. Six million Jewish people were murdered for the simple crime of being Jewish. Millions of others were murdered for a large variety of bogus reasons. The murders were cold, calculated, and efficient.
People, as they were herded into Concentration Camps were stripped of their clothing, and their possessions. Upon their deaths teeth were pulled for ivory and precious metals.
In 1942 after a brutal German Commander was killed in the modern day Czech Republic, the village of Lidice was seized. All the men over the age of 16 were executed, all the women and children were shipped to Concentration Camps, and the village was burned to the ground. It no longer existed.
All media was controlled and regulated by the state. If you expressed any criticism, you died.
Clergy were killed by the thousands. Any hint in a sermon that Jesus was greater than Hitler was a death sentence.
Barack Obama is not a Nazi. Not even close. As much as I think George W. Bush was a poor President who didn’t protect people’s right as much as I think he should have, Bush was not a Nazi. Not even close. No American President has come even close to being a Nazi. To call any American President a Nazi, or even hint at it, is an atrocity in and of itself. It, on so many levels, dishonors those who were victimized by the Nazis. It dishonors the nation of Germany that has faced its history with great courage and has worked to move beyond it.
Shame on those who use the name of these horribly evil people from a different era on those they disagree with. And shame on us when we don’t challenge it.
Saturday, August 01, 2009
When is the last time you watched the news and didn't see a story about Michael Jackson? We are still on Michael Jackson overload and, as of yet, he has not been raised from the dead giving us a truly interesting story to cover.
The story of the Harvard professor and the police officer and a President who used the word 'stupidly' at a very bad time has dominated the news. We even got to watch them drink beer and eat pretzels together.
The health care debate has been on talking points and commercials. Our two parties are busily disgracing themselves by their antics instead of actually working on something constructive. They WANT to disagree with each other and WANT the other party's ideas to fail. This isn't about fixing health care; it's about making the opposition look bad. Both parties are totally guilty of this. This has been reported a great deal.
Some amazing lunatics, for whom facts mean nothing, and I use the term lunatic intentionally, are still debating over where Barack Obama was born. This foolishness is on the news. Nightly.
Missed was this:
WISE, Virginia — They came in their hundreds, America's uninsured and working poor, descending on this coal mining town in Virginia's southwest corner in search of the medical care they could not otherwise afford.
Some slept overnight in their cars in the grass parking lot in front of the Wise fairgrounds, where some 1,700 medical professionals had set up dental chairs, mammogram stations, panoramic X-ray machines and more, ready to diagnose maladies, numb mouths, pull teeth and take pap smears for Americans down on their luck and battered by economic realities.
And all for free.
Remote Area Medical (RAM), a travelling collective of volunteer medical practitioners, was set up in 1985 by British expatriate Stan Brock, who wanted to take medical care to those who were too poor, or live in areas too remote, to otherwise access it.
"The appearance of a RAM team means an opportunity for poor folks to get some real treatment free of charge," Brock said.
RAM has been doing this and their venture in Wise, Virginia was a huge effort. In a day and age when health care reform is being debated and all sorts of options are being laid out on the table, one group is doing amazing work.
And their work has gone virtually unnoticed.
This is a major media failure. We are fed a steady stream of nonsense and, the major media is feeding us this nonsense because it is what we want to watch.
More people want to watch stories about Michael Jackson than they do getting down to the nitty gritty on the economy, two wars, and health care reform.
More people want to know how they forged Barack Obama's birth certificate and got people to certify it in Hawaii, and even put birth notices in the local newspapers, when they claim he was born in Kenya in 1962 with a major plot to overthrown the American government. (His father even cleverly left his family and died to keep suspicion off of him. His mother, shiftily developed cancer at a young age and died so no one could question her. Devious people!)
I can go on, but you get the point. We want to listen to garbage, we crave garbage, and so it is what we are given.
But be reminded that there is a great story we missed. Great people doing a great thing for those who have less than they do. It's not only a good story, it's a holy story, mostly missed by the vast majority of people.http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5j8w9zX_4NeT2B2qNQnjCic-g6Pxw