March 26, 2017

2/26/17 How Honest Should You Be?

A large national periodical featured an article reporting research by psychologists on how honest people are, and how honest they think they are. We think we are more honest than we are!
The research showed that there is a group of outliers, comprised of about 2% who are pathological liars, and another group of similar size of persons who are ALWAYS honest.
The remaining 96%-which includes most of us-showed that we are honest much of the time, but not always.  Most people will take whatever opportunities come their way to 1) gain more wealth 2) have their reputations enhanced so that others think better of them and are more impressed by them.
Studies of “witnesses” to crimes have revealed that people will testify to what they saw. Only much of the time what they reported they did not see. No one else saw it. It happened only in the mental processing of the “witness.” Hence, it would seem that circumstantial evidence MAY be more reliable than testimony…at least in some cases.
How are honest are you? How honest am I? Jesus said, “remove the log in your own eye before getting excited about the speck in your neighbor’s eye.”
When any statement is made by a person, the following factors are always present:
What did he/she intend to say?
What words did he actually say?
What kind of inflection marked the words to give them meaning?
What the hearer actually heard.
What the hearer THOUGHT she heard.
Jesus counseled, “say a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ .”
There are two TV news channels that I know of that were never intended to provide actual unbiased news. MSNBC carries content to give a “liberal” slant to the news. Fox News was created for the very purpose of slanting the news another way. Most of us are edified when we hear news reported in the way most comfortable to our own thought patterns and values.  And, we are included to watch “news” that most clearly conforms to our own points of view. Hence, few conservatives watch MSNBC; few liberals watch Fox News.
Let us recognize our own limitations, and be charitable to others.

2/19/17

Today is the 285th birthday of George Washington. “First in war; first in peace; and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
It is impossible to know the fullness of what Washington gave America. First of all, he declined the Presidency. He began his Presidency April 30, 1789, after having presided over the Constitutional Convention. He declined to run for a 3rd term, and in so doing, set an example that lasted until 1940 when, in the midst of World War II,  Franklin Roosevelt was elected to a 3rd term.
Prior to the new republic, Washington led British-American troops in the French and Indian Wars, and at the Battle of Monongahela had two horses shot out from under him as he crisscrossed the battlefield, inspiring his men. Later in the War for Independence, Washington served as Commanding General. Though he gave other Generals leave from time to time, Washington remained with his men in the snow and cold in the winters of 1777-83. Presiding over the Constitutional Convention, Washington gave us the Republican system of government. He also gave us the Cabinet system, still in use. He gave us the first national bank.
He was so inspiring a character that he was unanimously elected President. Yet like all the rest of us, Washington had flaws.  Among them, as a Virginia Plantation owner (and wealthiest man in the country), Washington owned slaves.
When I was a child, we did not celebrate Presidents’ Day. We had two holidays: Washington’s birthday and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, which came eight days apart. Commercial interests motivated the change. Washington and Lincoln have been generally agreed as our two greatest Presidents.
Lincoln had many great accomplishments in his one term. First and most important, he freed the slaves AND kept the country from splitting. Other significant achievements were founding the National Parks, beginning the land grant universities, (such as Oho State), laying a railroad across the continent, and giving land grants to farmers who would farm the quarter section given them. Neither Washington nor Lincoln was a bully. Neither was a braggart. Neither tried to browbeat the press, though both were often criticized. Both were honorable men. So may it be, that their traits may continue in all President!

2/12/17

Sunday is “the Lord’s day.” It is a time to focus on who we are, where we came from, and the end point of our destiny. Each time I see a newborn baby, I am deeply moved by the miracles of life. and of God’s creation. We are a children of God. We are of incalculable value.
I don’t know how long the American manifestation will last. I do know about the Roman Empire, the British Empire, the empires of Spain and Holland, and of the Aztecs and Incas. All came to an end. So, it is likely that America will face changes that cannot be foreseen today.
In my opinion, America is more than just a place. It is a vision. It is an idea. It is a spirit. America is a constellation of spiritual values. America means respect for every person. America means justice for all. America means freedom: political, economic and religious. It means freedom of thought and freedom of speech. America is STILL a land where most people believe in God and aspire to live Godly lives.
Students in schools in many lands surpass the academic achievements of the average American child. However, in no place do the children grow up to be achievers to the degree and in numbers as do American children.
America is not perfect. Racism and culture clash still abound. We have not yet figured out the proper disposition of the “desperate people who do desperate things.” I cannot say that if I were hungry and homeless –  that in desperation – might not steal. Neither can you. We do not know what we might do in those circumstances. WE have never been there. Our Christian faith and our patriotism demand that we not flag  in pursuit of attaining the vision of America!
As we gather in the Chapel today, we re-affirm Truth that we know. People who live the Spirit of Christ and by the teachings of Christ to experience joy daily.
With our guest Betty Rosemond, today we celebrate our oneness as Christians, no matter our color. As Betty has shown through her bravery, we vow to make our society ever better, respecting and valuing all people.
Practice on one another here and now: courtesy, kindness, sympathy and concern. Pray for one another. And let the love of God flow through you like a mighty torrent! This morning, pray for the persons on either side and in front and behind you. Pray for the Pastors. Pray for our schools and hospitals. Pray for our political leaders. Pray for those who collect our trash and garbage! Enjoy the Love of God that you will experience!

Inner Peace 9.18.16

The changing seasons are a strong reminder of the order of the earth, and the limits of mortality. The trees have started changing into their autumn finery, before fading into a dull brown and falling leaves.   The autumn winds and rain will tear away those few leaves that cling so tightly to their branches. The symbol of death will be seen in the bare and dormant trees.

And, in a half year will come the vernal equinox. Precursors of Spring—the early blooming flowers will fight through the snow (if there is any), and grab our attention proclaiming, “Life is here!   See!”   Soon Robins will return with other birds. Flowers will proliferate in a riot of color, Christians will celebrate the Resurrection which emphasizes the burst of Divine Love upon the human scene.

In between will come the long dormancy of winter—with its rain, cold, and snow; which will give us all an excuse to complain or to flee with the other “snow birds” to gentler climates—or both.

How good it is!   What a wonder is creation.   How fabulous is life in its millions of manifestations. How rich are our lives as we move from infancy through childhood to young adulthood, parenthood, middle life, and finally into that final glide path where, at any day, to another dimension.

Best of all, we can more clearly develop calm and peace, then relinquish anger, gossip, faultfinding and narrow selfishness.   How sweet it is to see the bigger picture and to find our way to employ our words, our energy, our money and our influence in helping others, working for justice, and touching others in such a way that it is healing for them and for us.

In the 19th century Methodist Circuit riders and other very ardent and committed clergy went from place to place preaching the Gospel. From that time came easy-to-sing, catchy songs and hymns that—for some of us–are imbedded in our very being. One of them is:    Living for Jesus, a life that is true, striving to please Him in all that I do; Yielding allegiance glad-hearted and free.   This is the pathway of blessing for me. O Jesus, Lord and Savior, I give myself to Thee, for Thou in Thy atonement, didst give thyself for me. I own no other master; my heart shall be thy throne My life I give henceforth to live, O Christ, for Thee alone

April 17, 2016

Oklahoma has the largest population of Native Americans in this country.   Bev and I were born there.   I spent formative years in Oklahoma. At one time my very best friend was an Osage.   As a small boy my family lived next door to Yvonne Lyons who was known in the Choctaw nation as Princess Pale Moon. She was beautiful. Her photograph appeared on post cards.   Beverly’s youngest sister married a full blooded Seminole.   In school we learned about the five “civilized” Indian nations: Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole and Creek.

What we learned “on the street” was that there was a fierce rivalry among some of the tribes.   Here were people who looked a lot alike, who lived in much the same way, but who couldn’t stand each other and throughout history had fought one another.

Jingoism and racism seem to exist among people all over the earth.   In from the time of Martin Luther in the 16th century until recently “tribes” of Christians fought with one another: Catholics against the Orthodox and Protestants.

Today, in the Muslim world there are places where Sunni and Shia Muslims hate one another and fight one another.

Our kind of Christianity in United Church of Christ promotes the “brotherhood of man.”   We believe that all people are God’s children, and that it is our duty to care for one another, practicing racial justice and promoting peace through the whole world.   This is a huge challenge. For so many of us have been taught on the school ground that we are better than colored people, or poor people, or those whose grammar is not good.

In the great Broadway Musical South Pacific there are several memorable songs.   Here are the lyrics of one of them:

You’ve got to be taught to hate;

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear,

You’ve got to be taught year to year

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to hate,

To be afraid of people

Whose eyes are oddly made,

And whose skin is a different shade:

You’ve got to be taught to hate.

 

Today is a good day to bury hate!

Easter Sunday 3/27/16

Matters of Practical Faith

In matters of deepest meaning and feeling, words are often inadequate. Young mother, are there adequate words to describe your feelings for your new baby?

Victims of Nazi imprisonment, beatings, starvation, torture…what words adequately describe the character of your torturer? Or of your own feelings?

The words about Christ are of similar character, but of cosmic magnitude. They are so great, not one of us can plumb their depths. “God so loved the world, that He gave His own Son….I am the way; no one comes to the Father, except by me, I am the way, the truth and the life.”

For God to be known by men and moment, He must be known through human love to a Divine dimension. That is the Christ story. That is the Gospel: God loves you and offers you life in an eternal dimension. God shines through you touching and blessing others. God gives us each joy that cannot be quenched; courage that cannot be conquered by fear; vision and compassion that are beyond our natural faculties.

On this Resurrection Day, eternal life and daily joy are ours from our simple trust in Christ, and our love for God and one another.

Blessed are you when you are pure in soul.
Blessed are you when you share others’ feelings.
Blessed are you when you stand, demanding justice
blessed are you when your compassion is lavished
on those who suffer.
Blessed are you when purely honest and honorable.
Blessed are you when you cower not nor surrender to evil.
Blessed are you when you stand firm in faith and love for Christ.
For your reward is permanent, immovable and rooted in the Divine.

Reformation Sunday

For the first 1000 years of its existence, the Christian Church was one world-wide organization. There is disputation among church historians as to who was the first pope. As late as the fourth century, bishops from Alexandria, Constantinople, Rome and Jerusalem were vying for primacy amongst bishops.

In the eastern part of the world the Orthodox claimed to be the one true church from the beginning. To this day, all the oldest Christian congregations are Orthodox. In 1054 there began a split between Roman and Catholic Orthodox Catholic churches. This was sealed in 1450. Each now claims to be the original church.

Mysticism and superstition characterized much Christian teaching. Pope Leo X wanted to build a new Cathedral (St. Peter’s in the Vatican). Construction of the cathedral required vast sums of money. To raise that capital, the {Pope sent representatives throughout Europe selling indulgences. An “indulgence” guaranteed the release of a soul from purgatory. “Get grandma out of hell!”

To Martin Luther King, a Professor of New Testament at the University of Wittenberg, this was blasphemous. He challenged anyone to debate with him. German princes, who did not want good German money to go to Italy to build an Italian Cathedral, back Luther.

Luther held that everything in the teaching of the church should be based upon scriptures. To adopt that view would cause radical change in a church where all sorts of practices had crept into the life of the church and were dubbed “tradition.”

Soon, half of Europe had become “Protestant” (from the Latin “pro” meaning “for” and “testare” meaning “to witness or testify”). Protestants generally followed Luther or Calvin. Lesser lights had followers who developed churches such as Robert Browne, father of “Separatism” (Congregationalism) whose book REFORMATION WITHUT TARRYING FOR ANY motivated our Pilgrim Fathers who laid the foundation for the American nation.

Luther began the movement on October 31, 1517. The Sunday before or on November 1 is celebrated as Reformation Sunday.

First Sunday in Advent

I love Christmas!   I love the music of Christmas. I love the annual presentations of THE MESSIAH and A CHRISTMAS CAROL.   I love the Christmas Eve worship service by candle light, and with it the singing of Christmas carols.

I love the re-telling of the story of the young couple from Nazareth walking to Bethlehem where the young bride is to give birth to her “first born son.” I love the elegant song sung by this peasant girl and declaring that her son will be the promised new revolutionary leader who will overthrow the oppressors of the Hebrew people.   What more beautiful story exists?

I love the underlying resolve of the Christian Church that in this “New Messiah” we experience the very incarnation of the love of God, and that—symbolically—we demonstrate God’s love through gift giving.

I don’t like shopping! But, I do like much of the extraneous and non-Christian trappings that now accompany the Christian celebration of the Love of God in the world: decorations of holly, ivy and fir branches; parties and feasting.

I love the motivation to remember the unfortunate and to give that there may be some comfort and beauty in their lives.

I love Judaism: the source of Christianity. Jews are our special “brothers and sisters” in the religious quest for justice, peace and liberty.   Jesus was born a Jew, and never resigned his Judaism.   To this day, many Jews model the quest for excellence, and they often model generosity to charity that is rarely matched by others.   Jesus was a Jew, as were all his early disciples. Much of Christianity is Jew-“ish.” Most of our Christian “Holy Bible” is Jewish.

For Christians, the Jewish notion of a Messiah has taken on new meaning.   Jesus’ personal courage and humiliating death move us.   In the Resurrection story is seen the eternality of Divine Love.   In the life, teachings, thought, and Spirit of Jesus we find salvation from the little devils which attack us daily: selfishness, stinginess, narrow-mindedness, fear, and doubt.   From this understanding of Jesus, we claim a special kind of faith, joy, courage, and reverence.

Some of the poetic expressions of Negro Spirituals make it so powerful when we understand ourselves as being sustained in “the bosom of Jesus.”

Let there be Christmas in your soul….”stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.” “Let the same Mind which was in Christ be in you.”   “Let My joy be in you and let your joy be full.”

BUT….dear one….do not let social pressure originating in profit- seeking merchants cause you to “bust your budget,” wear you out, or frazzle your soul!   Worship God. Love others.   Eat and drink to Life!

10/18/15 Pastors Essay

Will Rogers was quoted as having said “I am not a member of an organized political party. I am a Democrat.”
Irrespective of partisan politics, democracy may be messy, but it respects people. When any group of people gathers to discuss or decide most any question, there are differrences of perspective and differences of opion. That is one of the reasons I love being a minister in the United Church of Christ. In the UCC we debate many issues and we hold a variety of views.
But, these efforts are always to find the Mind of Christ, to do justice, love, mercy and walk humbly with God.
The Christian Church is in a transition period. Is it our duty to preserve ancient cuture, ancient values, and ancient thught forms? Oxford professor, Richard Dawkins, a biologist, has written books and articles attacking the idea of God, published in the Wall Street Journal some time ago. At the bottom of his argument however, is an attack on trying to use ancient views for contmporary understanding. Before the solar system, or the atom, or microbes and viruses were known, mankind explained the world in ways unacceptable to knowledgable people today.
It is a huge challenge for “traditionalists” to hold that all spiritual truth was recognized in one ancient culture before there was scientific knowlege of the universe.
To me, the Biblical declaration “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever” speaks of the unchanging power of divine love. It does not mean that we must perpetuate ancient culture, ancient thought patterns, ancient lanuage and ancient values. We must apply eternal principle to contemporary needs in relevant ways.
UCC believes that we ought not be prisoners committed to maintaining ancient culture where women are-and should be-uneducated chattels; nor should we uphold ancient culture where slavery was tolerated. Even in the Holy Bible itself, St. Paul writes of a slave, that he should be content with slavery! (Philomen 16) Does this not fly in the very face of the notion of divine love that recognizes the dignity and worth of all people? That direction in culture conditioned; not eternal word!
While the “faith once delivered to the saints” may be the same from age to age, its understanding must always be in terms of the contemporary age and culture. As the poet wrote “new occasions teach new duties.” That is why justice is so important to UCC Christians.