Monthly Archives: October 2013

10-27-13 ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING

ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING

Luke 18: 9-14

 

Attitude is part of human nature. We see
attitudes in the players or the fans during football, basketball, baseball, and
other games. We see attitude in the parents of gymnasts or dancers; we see it
in boxing contestants and even in fashion designers. We can spot it in a
co-worker or a sibling. And we certainly see in it all of our branches of
government today and in political debates every four years. But did General
Grant not have a certain attitude about the South or General Lee about the
North in the most bloody of wars on American soil?  In the Reformation didn’t Martin Luther have
a certain attitude against his accusers, and didn’t John Calvin have a certain
attitude against the chaotic city government in Geneva?
In his book on the Reformation, author Glenn S. Sunshine says regarding
Luther “the controversy got so acrimonious that one of the territorial rulers …
called for a debate to be held in Leipzig
in 1519 to try to settle the quarrel.” [The Reformation for Armchair
Theologians,
Westminster/John Knox Press, 2005, p. 29.] Competition seems
be stirred best in the cauldron of attitude about winning or beating your
opponent. And in the oldest game, the game of love, boys and girls, men and
women, know that attitude can be a turn on, or a turn off, to the other person.
Usually bad attitudes can make one lose the prize in the end. But not always.
Those who have only watched John McEnroe as a tennis commentator, for example,
have missed that amazing displays of temper tantrums and unsportsmanlike conduct
he displayed on the tennis courts. And those who remember Mohammed Ali in his
days of boxing saw a man who embodied attitude, trying to psych out his
opponents. In the world of movie stars and singing stars, we know catty
behavior often abounds. It is not pretty; it does not endear a person to
others; yet insecurities are woven among the population of the earth.

 

Of course, not all attitudes are bad
attitudes. Some have an attitude of humility, or of kindness, or of
thoughtfulness. In the great book Man’s Search for Meaning about
concentration camp experiences, author Dr. Victor Frankl faced court in a
Gestapo concentration camp. Every single possession he had been taken from him,
including his wedding ring and every stitch of clothes. He stood naked before his
tribunal. But he knew they could not take his soul, and he knew one more thing:
he still had the power to choose his own attitude; his own way to respond to
the torture being done to him.
Dale Galloway, in his book The Awesome
Power of Your Attitude
says: “No matter what your circumstances, no matter
how the people around you think, your attitude choice is yours. You and you
alone will make that choice. Will you have a positive or negative attitude;
healthy or unhealthy; Christian or unchristian; happy or unhappy; courageous or
discouraged; cooperative or uncooperative; grateful or ungrateful; constructive
or destructive; better or bitter attitude?” [Scott Publishing Co, 1992. pp.
5-6] Attitude is a choice, not a natural attribute. There are very poor people
who are joyful and very rich people who are angry. There are people who are
single or married, widowed or divorced, blue collar or white collar, men and
women who are set apart not by their status, but by their attitudes. Bad
attitudes from children makes raising them especially draining on moms and
dads. Good attitudes from children bring joy to families. And brothers and
sisters with bad attitudes of any kind can set themselves apart. In the Bible
there was Cain and Abel; we don’t know Abel’s attitude for sure but we know
that Cain’s attitude caused fratricide; murder.

 

Today a common event was highlighted by
Jesus, not only to us in Luke 18, but also to those who were standing nearby.
Again it is a parable, a story with a point about the nature of God and the
nature of people. You can almost picture these characters in a boxing ring with
opponents or in a debate hall with two people at podiums. Instead we have in
one corner the person that all religious persons would have expected to please
God with his actions and words. He is a Pharisee which is the equivalent of an
elder in a Christian church, a layperson who had studied Scripture and sought
to honor God and follow Torah.  In the
other corner is an obvious sinner in the eyes of the Temple
and the community; he has certainly stolen and borne false witness among his
others sins. Everyone listening would have decided who the righteous man was
before Jesus proceeded.  But he turned
the tables on those listeners in earshot, and unless we are used to the
unexpected lessons of our Lord, he has surprise us today as well.  The righteous man is not praised; the
admitted sinner is praised. Why? It has to do with attitudes, good attitudes
and bad attitudes. I have watched as popular preachers, deacons, or youth
pastors who are supposed to protect the rights and the lives of adults or youth
in their congregations betray trust with sexual, physical, or financial
misconduct. It is dreadful when those who the community believes they can trust
the most betray that trust. God surely gets hurt and angry; churches get
another blemish on their already blemished records; and victims of the betrayal
get badly hurt, often because of an attitude of invulnerability or because of a
wrong relationship that shows they have left their brains behind. Yes, in every
age we’ve had religious people who’ve sinned; in Jesus’ day we see a man who
arrogantly deflected any kind of sinfulness behind a shield of
self-righteousness. Self-righteousness is when you yourself declare
yourself to be righteous; it is not your right to declare that about yourself.
But righteousness—now that is a good thing. Still, it can only be declared by
God or by the Son, Jesus Christ. On that day at the Temple, Jesus stripped away
the self-righteous robe of one, and placed it on the shoulders of the admitted
sinner. God is in the business of welcoming admitted sinners! They
can  be lay persons or ministers, but
they have to possess a certain good attitude: that of humility. Of humbleness;
of people who feel unworthy of accolades instead of craving them; people who
think of others more than they think about saving their own skin or making
excuses for their sins.

 

Today there are people in our world and
in our churches who do not think of themselves as sinners. And yet from Old
Testament times, through New Testament times, to the Reformation period until
today, important rituals have surrounded admitting sinfulness, asking for
forgiveness and being reconciled to God and others. Such actions have been
acted out at altars, in Temples, at the cross of Christ, in morning services,
in evening services, or in ceremonies around a fire at a youth retreats.
Presbyterian worship includes a confession of sin early in the service, so what
we acknowledge can be removed. Then the tablets of our hearts will be made
ready for the Holy Spirit to write on them rather than have them remained
stained by the blood, sweat, and tears that sin brings.  Sometimes people try to hide their sinfulness
from others or from God. It is not productive. People around you are often
aware of or suspect your sins, even before you admit them. Admit them sooner
rather than later. Live the life of grace instead the life of deception. Then,
when you go before God, you will not be like the self-righteous person that
Jesus condemns; you will be the sinner who Jesus says will be exalted.

 

May Jesus exalt even you, in part
because of your humble spirit, and in part because of your honest attitude.

Let us pray: O Creator God, you know
exactly how we are put together, and you have seen human attempts to dodge or
deny sins. Remind us how you love us and have a goal to redeem us and return us
to right paths. Guide us dear Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen.

 

Jeffrey
A. Sumner                                                          October
27, 2013

 

 

10/13/13 REMEMBERING TO THANK OTHERS

REMEMBERING TO THANK OTHERS

Luke 17: 11-19

 

I
took time when I visited my parents for four days this past week to set aside
work  books and pick up a fun one. I read
The Gashouse Gang, the story of the 1934 St. Louis Cardinals becoming
world champions! They played Detroit
in that World Series; who knows if that might happen this year? One thing fans
of baseball know is that players are thankful sometimes, and superstitious most
of the time. Some players, when they get a hit, or especially an extra base
hit, they point to heaven; before some of them hit, they kiss a cross around
their neck. And occasionally they’ll keep the same cap or batting helmet all
season if they used it in a game when they played or hit well; just check out
Dodger Hanley Ramirez’ batting helmet to see what I mean! In the 1934 World
Series one of the Detroit Tigers’ ace pitchers was Lynnwood “Schoolboy” Rowe, said to be among
the most superstitious players in the Major Leagues. On the day he was trying
for his seventeenth straight win,

His pocket
contained a Canadian penny, two trinkets from China, and a copper coin from the Netherlands.
Inside his shirt were four feathers plucked from the tail of a three-legged
rooster. A jade elephant figure was in his glove. Beneath his hat was a
rabbit’s foot, taken from a rabbit said to have been shot in a graveyard at midnight. But Rowe lost that game
anyway, and when he got back to the Tigers’ hotel … he heaved them all, like a failed
witchdoctor, from his sixteenth story window!

[The Gashouse
Gang,
John Heidenry, New York:
Public Affairs books, 2007, p. 218.

 

Superstition
can cripple or empower some people! But gratitude; gratitude can bring joy to
the receiver’s heart, joy to the giver’s heart, and joy to God’s heart.
Everybody can win when gratitude is lavishly shared.

 

In
Second Corinthians, using the popular Bible paraphrase called The Message, the
apostle Paul writes:

The most
generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is
more extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away which
grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, producing
with us great praise to God. Carrying out this social relief work involves far
more than helping meet the bare needs of poor Christians. It also produces
abundant and bountiful thanksgivings to God.

 

So
what does God give for which we might return thanks? God is love; like the
endless water that Jesus described to the woman at the well in John 4, God is
love and an endless well of love. So we can thank God forever for an
endless well of love. Those who get it “share the well.” God also gave us a
Savior; we are not only saved once, but by God’s amazing grace we can be saved
from ourselves and our sins over and over. And after God created the world, God
wanted to be part of the human race; not an absentee owner. So God came in
Christ, and then God ultimately stayed with us through the power of the Holy
Spirit. We have a God who loves and cares that much! What is the proper
response to all God’s gifts? Keep taking? Taking without a word? Or is there
more we could do?

 

Do
these examples strike home with you?

–A
grandparent sends money for a granddaughter to get some new clothes for
starting school. The granddaughter loves the clothes; after all she picked them
out (with her mother’s help!) She is grateful, and says it to her mom; but her
grandmother never gets a note to thank her.

–You
are invited to the wedding of your cousin. You’ve known her all your life.
She’s marrying a great guy. You get them a significant gift right off of their
gift registry. They might have liked what you got them but you don’t know for
sure. You’ve never gotten a “thank you” note for the gift.

–A
parent sees that her son is at all of his after-school practices for band, and
she even goes to his games and cheers! The son is talking to his friends one
night. “Wow, your mom is great!” one says. “She’s always here to cheer you on!
I wish my parents would come some time.” “Yep” you say back to your friend,
“She’s pretty cool.” But he never says that to his mom.

–You
can add your own example. Gratitude brings joy; expressing it makes and
keeps connections; and it helps your relationships immensely
.

Here’s
another example: Ten lepers were horribly disfigured due to their disease in
Luke chapter 17. People would not allow them to work or to associate with
others so they lived with people who also had the illness, in leper colonies.
They weren’t choosy about the nationality or the color of the skin of the other
lepers; they were grateful to have companionship from others. Jews didn’t want
to be near them, nor did other Samaritans.
But they were doomed to that state all their life unless some healer
could perform a miracle. Such a man was our Savior. Jesus. As he approached,
they kept their distance, knowing how their disease and the sight of them might
alarm him. “Jesus, Master! Have mercy on us!” they said.

 

So
what happened? Jesus saw them and said “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”
The priests had the power to declare people clean; clean medically and clean
religiously. By Jesus saying that, can you read between the lines? These men
were now no longer lepers! As they departed they were healed! Like a man who
receives his sight, or a woman who can hear for the first time, or a soldier
who loses his leg in war, when the man sees, the woman hears, and the soldier
walks, doctors are owed a debt of thanks. Some speak to them directly to thank
them; some don’t. In this case, ten were healed, but only one returned to thank
the giver of the gift directly. One. Jesus thought this story was important
enough to tell. It’s in the Bible, not in just in an etiquette book. It’s
biblically important to thank God and to thank others in intentional ways. The
others in the story came to Jesus begging for help, but once they had it, they
left. The same thing has happened in different ways and in different times over
the centuries, and I’d imagine God has never gotten used to it; it hurts to not
be thanked for a special gift, doesn’t it?

 

When
we get to our time of national Thanksgiving this year, you may hear the hymn,
“Now Thank We All Our God.”  That hymn
was written by a man who thanked God even in the most dreadful of circumstances.
His name was Martin Rinkart. Around the end of the thirty years war in the Germany village of Eilenberg
where he had served as a minister for thirty-two years, Rinkart buried or
helped bury four thousand residents from his village who had been killed. At
that time, he did not exact revenge on the other side like terrorists often do.
But what he did do we have recorded. He wrote: “Now thank we all
our God with heart and hands and voices! Who wondrous things hath done in who
this world rejoices. Who from our mother’s arms, hath blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.” Gratitude is a very
different response from retaliation or resentment.

 

Finally,
if you have ever read the book The Hiding Place, then you know the story
of Corrie Ten Boon and her sister Betsie who were held in a Nazi concentration
camp for a long period in their lives.
Betsie died there, but not without gratitude for blessings. Listen to
what she had scrawled on a small piece of paper that Corrie found:
“Yesterday:  many blessings….Jan gave me
butter and cheese. Red Cross gave a bacon sandwich. Washed my blanket. Had
cabbage soup. Got my broken glasses back; they are glued. Moved my bed from the
window where it was very cold….Corrie is doing well at  Phillips….We receive amazing strength for
this harsh life. I am often suffering very much from hunger.”

 

Giving
thanks in a way that takes both time and focus is different from words quickly
said on the spot. You can write your thanks; you can pray your thanks; or you
can turn back and, face to face, give your thanks. It will change the gift
giver when thanks are offered; it will change God when it is witnessed or
heard. And it will change you if you continuously remember to thank others.
May
your life, and the lives of others, be changed by your actions that show
gratitude, and your words that show you mean it.

 

Jeffrey
A. Sumner                                                October
13, 2013

 

 

10-06-13 ENOUGH FAITH

 

I’ve got to say, I feel for the disciples here. After all, they’ve been listening to the stories we’ve heard over the last few weeks. Hard stories. The stories of the dishonest merchant and the story of Lazarus and the rich man in hell. Not easy stories to get their minds around and now we have this. Woe to you who causes others to stumble, you should be flung into the sea! And if someone sins against you and then repents, you must forgive them seven times for the same sin each day.

No wonder they cried out to Jesus to increase their faith! Those sound like monumental tasks. And who among us can blame them for not feeling up to it? How many of us want to forgive someone of the same sin against us twice, let alone seven times a day? And I might be scared of talking to anyone for fear of making them stumble.

They might feel a bit like the man who fell off a cliff, but managed to grab a tree limb on the way down. The following conversation ensued:

“Is anyone up there?”

“I am here. I am the Lord. Do you have faith in me?”

“Yes, Lord, I have faith. I really do, but I can’t hang on much longer.”

“That’s all right, if you really have faith in me, you have nothing to worry about. I will save you. Just let go of the branch.”

A moment of pause, then: “Is anyone else up there?”

They have faith, but they aren’t sure if they trust that their faith is enough.

But Jesus says “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

Now many of you are familiar with the phrase Jesus uses in Matthew, with faith the size of a mustard seed, you could move mountains. I actually like how Luke puts it better, with the absurdity of this tree. Because I think that absurdity points us better to the tone Jesus uses here. Tone is something that doesn’t come across in the written word very well, does it?

Many people read this passage as a rebuke. If only you had this minuscule amount of faith, you could do miraculous things. The danger here comes in believing that miracles will happen if you only had enough faith. If I only had enough faith, I could do something about the lump that they found. If I only had just a little more faith, I could find a new job. If I only had more faith, he wouldn’t have died. Reading the passage in that way, makes it the suffering person’s fault for not having more faith. And that’s not what Jesus is saying at all.

What if we try reading this passage in a different way? Here in Luke, Jesus picks an absurd image, taking a bush and telling it to replant itself in the sea where it will grow and prosper as a sea bush, to show the ridiculousness of what the disciples ask. When they say “Increase our faith,” and Jesus responds, I can see him shaking his head and smiling at the ridiculousness of his followers.

After all, the strict definition of faith is “the complete trust in someone or something.” Faith isn’t something you measure! I can’t say I have more complete trust in you today than I did yesterday. You either have faith or you don’t. Jesus is saying that faith doesn’t have anything to do with quantity – so get rid of that way of thinking as it’s as nonsensical as a mulberry tree growing in the sea.

We also have to look at the original Greek to get the full tone of what Christ is saying here. The phrasing that he uses here in Greek is according to present reality conditional clause, which is a complicated way of saying that the statement implies agreement. Thus it should read more like: “If you have the faith of a mustard seed (and you do).” The disciples already have enough faith because they have real faith!

And Jesus was trying to show them that with that faith, they really could do amazing things.

I’d like to take a minute now and tell you the story of Scott Harrison and what he did because of faith. He was a success story by our culture’s standpoint. His job was to go to popular nightclubs and wear certain products and drink certain drinks so that people could see him doing it. He got paid an absurd amount of money for doing this. He was thirty years old and he had made it
. And he was desperately unhappy.

As Scott puts it “Faced with spiritual bankruptcy, I wanted desperately to revive a lost Christian faith with action and asked the question: What would the opposite of my life look like?” So he signed up to be a photographer with a program called “Mercy Ships” which offers free medical care to the world’s poorest countries. He ended up in West Africa, Liberia, watching the doctors screen and treat children with horrible deformities and diseases. And he learned that most of the worst diseases and death could be fixed with one simple thing. Clean water.

So Scott went back to the states and called up some of his friends from his old life. And he started telling them things about water. Like 90% of the 30,000 deaths that occur every week from unsafe water and unhygienic living conditions are in children under five years old. And he and his friends started the company Charity:water, where every single dollar donated to this charity go directly to the building of clean wells. They fund the administrative costs through other channels. Since 2005 they have completed well over 5,000 new wells across the globe and are in the process of building thousands more.

That is the sort of thing faith can do. Faith in God allowed him to leave his life. Faith in God allowed him to see the problem and do something about it. Yes, faith really can do amazing, incredible things, but it isn’t about miracles. He had faith, but then he had to go out and do. He had to go out of his comfort zone and see the problem. He had to go home and work to make change happen.

Faith in a God that is so much bigger than us can allow us to go out and make a difference in the world. Faith in God’s love for all, allows people to give up some of what they have and live on less so that others can have enough. Faith that Jesus’ way is better than any other is what drives people to offer comfort to the lonely and give more to the hungry.

Faith doesn’t always drive us to leave all that we have behind. But faith always drives us to look beyond ourselves and our desires towards God, to what God is calling us to do. Because faith in God trusts that God’s way is so much better than our way.

Now faith doesn’t always make the journey easier. It is hard to forgive someone who wrongs you over and over again. We may not always want to do it. But we have faith that God calls us to do what is best, and we have faith that that forgiveness really is what we should do. The journey is still a struggle, but faith in God helps us keep going forward.

Listen to where God is calling you this week, whether it be to forgive someone yet again or to reach out to someone you never normally would reach to. And even if that call seems hard, know that you have enough and more than enough faith to follow that call.