June 25, 2017: Stop It!

Pastor Steve Mechem

Matthew 7:1-6 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbors eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.



Audio only.

June 18, 2017: Bird Watching

Pastor Steve Mechem

Matthew 6:25-34 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.


This section of the Sermon on the Mount is about worry, about priorities, about an approach to life.

The passage is concluded with Jesus’ words, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

Why “not worry?” After all, there are lots of things to worry about.

Why “not worry?” Because with the right priorities to life, worry is not necessary.

What are those priorities? Jesus says it in the penultimate sentence of this section,

“Strive first for the Kingdom of God and God's, righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

And how does one strive first for the Kingdom? Jesus indicates that striving for the Kingdom is an approach to life. Jesus says that while everybody else is fighting and striving and hustling to get stuff and figure it all out, his followers should take a different approach.

He illustrates this approach in two ways. The second is by pointing to the flowers. Imagine the setting. Jesus standing on a hillside. A throng of people listening in. North, south, east and west of the crowd is hillside full of wild flowers (we might characterize them as weeds). Jesus points to their organic beauty while emphasizing the reality of their being- they don’t fight and strive and hustle. They just are, and are rewarded with beauty. Truth be told, these flowers have root systems that do stretch and strive to find water and nutrients in the earth, but that being said, the flowers testify to the beauty of being.

The first illustration that Jesus uses to describe this new approach to life is the birds. Understand that the hill on which Jesus is speaking runs into the Sea of Galilee. So a group of people one the hillside, many of whom are carrying snacks and food for the day, attract the sea gulls and such from the Lake. You have probably been at a beach or lakefront and been harassed by those white birds who want your popcorn-

Jesus is pointing to them as he says, “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”

Jesus speaks of birds as care free. They don’t plant or harvest or build storage barns for all their stuff.

I think we may understand Jesus and birds incorrectly when we attach this care free laudy-daudy personality to our fine feathered friends.

I mean, by listening incorrectly to Jesus' words, we are only a short step away from Mayzie the lazy bird who tricks Horton into sitting on her nest and hatching her egg.

I don’t know much about birds, they seem like hard working, sometimes intense creatures.

They may not build barns but building is what birds do. Birds build nests, and if one home is destroyed, they will build another.

Since we have lived in St. Louis, we have had bird nests in our gutters, on our downspouts, under our deck, in our attic vents, in our chimney, and perhaps most annoyingly, inside our grill.

We had a situation a couple years back as starlings would try to build nests in our grill. Every day, I would clear out the few pieces of straw that had accumulated during the day. I kept the grill lid closed, duct taped the air holes, secured the grill with a cover, and still the birds would get inside a leave some building supplies.

Judi and I were gone for a week and when we returned home, I opened the grill and it was packed full with sticks and straws and in the middle of the nest rested a hand full of eggs. The grill became the possession of the starlings.

Busy. Busy. Busy builders.

And tenacious and persistent,as well. Whenever Judi is up to her elbows in dirt while gardening, a robin will come by to see if any worms might be popping up to the top. Persistent.

One day, when we lived in Indiana, I was watching a tree that had a nest resting on its branches. A squirrel, inquisitive, moved onto the branch where the nest was rooted.

In the next moment the squirrel was dive bombed by a protective mama bird. The squirrel jumped to another branch. The mama bird dived again. The squirrel jumped to a branch in another tree. The mama bird dived again. The squirrel jumped to another tree and then another. The bird stayed in hot pursuit, intent on teaching this squirrel a lesson about messing with her babies. Tenacious.

So, just my casual observation about birds leads me away from a description of care free and going with the flow and just chillin’.

What might be Jesus’ meaning as he uses bird as illustrative of the different approach to life his followers are encouraged to follow?

Let me suggest that we can learn some things from the activity of the birds around us.

There is a rhythm to life and understanding that rhythm is key to striving for the kingdom. As Jesus says to his disciples in one of my favorite passages, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”

There is a rhythm to life that includes worship and work and play and focus. Watch the birds. You can see the rhythms unfold.

There is a wonderful scene in the book, The Shack. God, in the form of a woman, tells a young seeker the secret to life’s rhythm, using birds as an illustration. “A bird’s not defined by being grounded but by his ability to fly. Remember this, humans are not defined by their limitations, but by the intentions that I have for them; not by what they seem to be, but by everything it means to be created in my image.”

To understand your place in the rhythm of God’s grace is the beginning to living a life that strives for the kingdom.

There is a song to sing- with your life. It is a song of love and grace and joy. But it is a song we discover on the journey.

There is an old proverb about birds. “A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.”

You may or may not understand life, and God, and purpose, but you have a song to sing and you sing it with you life, your words, your actions toward other people.

There is a bliss to find. Yes, there are nests to build and eggs to protect and squirrels to chase off, but there is also the pure joy of dancing in a puddle or singing from the clothes line.

Approaching life in a new way means finding and embracing your bliss in the midst of all that goes on around you.

And finally, there is the adventure to discover God’s provision. Believing in God using a new approach is to trust that God is at work in you and through you and that God provides.

Again watch the birds. When we fill our finch feeders, they come- almost immediately, almost as if they are constantly looking for provision, knowing it is there. When our hummingbird feeder is filled with sugar water, woodpeckers and hummingbirds, and bees for that matter, come to sup. Aware of the provisions. When we backwash our pool, robins land immediately staring, hoping that the puddle will provide some food. A hawk sits in our tree or flies in circles in the sky, knowing that provision is close by if she will stay alert.

They fly, they sit, they hop around always on the adventure of discovery. They are continually discovering that which is provided. . No need to worry, because provision is all around.

“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”

Amen.

June 11, 2017: Piles of Stuff

Pastor Steve Mechem

Matthew 6:19-21 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.


The text, Matthew 6:19-21, would indicate that this is a sermon about materialism. And this is how that works,

I, the preacher, tell you, the congregate, that materialism and the collection of stuff is wrong and you should feel very guilty about any creature comforts you might have acquired. I will probably quote Mother Teresa and Francis of Assisi and imply that you should be more like them. I will most certainly quote Jesus about selling your stuff and giving the proceeds to the poor.

You, the congregate, will probably feel a little guilty as I prattle on.

You may resent my judgmental tone or question me and my stuff as I question you and your stuff.

You will, because you are always kind and encouraging, thank me for an insightful sermon. Then, this afternoon you will be on Amazon.com with its one click shopping and buy several items to massage any guilt from the sermon.

That is the way most sermons on materialism work.

So, let’s not do the sermon that way.

Having stuff is okay. You make decisions about what things you should have and whether you can afford them and then you acquire the stuff you decide you need (and want).

The real problem with material stuff comes when you begin to cherish those things as treasure!

Stuff is stuff. But once stuff becomes treasure, things change. People live for treasure. They ignore the needs of others as they pursue treasure. They fight for treasure. According to the Pirate movies I have seen, they kill for treasure.

Jesus reminds us that treasure changes our hearts, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

The problem isn’t about the stuff, it is about naming material stuff, “treasure.”

Jesus’ words about materialism and the accumulation of stuff have always interested me because of the time and place in which they are uttered.

Jesus speaks the Sermon on the Mount in Galilee somewhere around the 27th year of the Common Era. Galilee is the northern most area of historic Israel, separated from Judah by Samaria. Galilee is hill country, with a thousand small villages with names like Nazareth, Chorazin, Jezebel, Megiddo, and Capernaum scattered in every nook and cranny.

Most of the area, in Jesus day, is poor, fishermen on the sea and sustenance farmers in the hills. Sure, Herod had his palaces in Tiberius and Sepphoris, but Jews were only allowed in those towns to serve as workers.

In the seaside town of Caperaum, I walked into a home that remained from the first century, well actually, the foundation- that was all that was left. It was a space of perhaps 200 square feet.

Back when the foundation had a house attached to it, it would have consisted of one room. The kitchen would be outside, there would be no inside plumbing, no electric, no water. The building itself would be made of mud, the roof would also serve as a patio.

Inside the house, against one wall, sleeping pallets might be stacked up, maybe a hammock or two was strung up. There might be a table in the center of the room with a candle on it, there probably was another candle or two attached to the walls. and piled against the other wall might be a family’s collection of material belongings, clothes, kid’s toys, kitchen ware, tools, a bottle of perfume, some keepsakes.

It was people who lived in houses like this who had very little in the way of possessions that were listening to Jesus that day as he talked about not pursuing treasure!

Seems almost comical, doesn't it. Jesus is talking to people with almost nothing about getting distracted with stuff.

So, if people who live in those conditions are susceptible to seeing stuff as treasure, how much more are people in our culture susceptible to being caught up in the accumulation of stuff.

Now there is nothing intrinsically wrong with having stuff as long as it doesn’t become treasure.

Once it becomes treasure, we lose perspective. Our stuff takes on value beyond its price tag. It's ours. Like Gollum, it becomes precious to us. Sometimes more valuable and more precious than the people we encounter.

Once our stuff becomes more important than people, we have lost our way.

Which is ironic, because all that stuff will one day disappear.

The house you live in will one day deteriorate, or get termites, or fall down in a storm, or be knocked down so a bigger one can be built in its place.

Your car will one day be stripped of its parts and crushed into a steel and plastic cube.

The clothes you wear and the stuff you collect will end up in a landfill eventually.

So, recognize that stuff is stuff.

Once you name it treasure, it occupies a place in your heart. And once your heart is filled with stuff rather than your relationship with God or your connection to people, you lose yourself.

And truth be told, none of the stuff we collect, whether we call it treasure or not, goes with us beyond this life.

I have officiated sermons where people were buried with cigarettes or whiskey or beer cans or a book or food in their casket.

I have read of funerals where people were buried in their favorite cars or with their motorcycles or in their favorite chairs or with fully charged cell phones.

Truth be told, it may be buried with you, but it aint going with you. And it isn't doing you any good.

As I understand scripture, the things that go with us beyond this life are threefold:
1- our relationship with God,
2- our connections with people, and
3- the positive acts of graciousness and kindness that we do to others.

So, it is not our cars, it is not our clothes, it is not our houses that are our real treasures.

The treasure is our relationship with God. God, who is Creator, loves us and cares for us and allows us to be connected to holiness, to love, to grace. God, who, I believe, is revealed in Jesus Christ shows us a way forward based on the ideals of brotherhood and sisterhood, of community, of justice and mercy.

The treasure is our connection with other people-
family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, fellow students, acquaintances, and strangers.

The treasure we pursue consists of treating people (all people) with respect and dignity.

The treasure consists of the positive acts of graciousness and kindness that we do to others.
-A kind word spoken to a stranger.
-A meal offered to the hungry.
-A Prayer said in faith
-Stooping to give a hand
-Sitting and waiting with another who is forced to sit and wait.
-Standing alongside one who is bullied, or scared, or overwhelmed.
-Walking the walk with another whose journey has left him or her exhausted and weary
-Running the race with others, hand in hand, encouraging and challenging.

That is how we accumulate real treasure.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Amen

June 2017 New Outlook Newsletter

The Outlook for June is now available here.

June 4, 2017: Reciprocity

Pastor Steve Mechem

Matthew 6:9-15 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Pray then in this way:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.


In her book Forgiveness Is A Choice, Joanna North writes “When unjustly hurt be another, we forgive when we overcome the resentment toward the offender, not by denying our right to resentment, but instead trying to offer the wrongdoer compassion, benevolence, and love.”

In Amish culture, there is a concept called Uffgevva. It is understood as “Forgiveness means giving up your right to revenge.”

There are lots of quotes and thoughts out there that try flesh out the idea of forgiveness

————We are reminded that forgiveness is not weakness.

Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.
- Mahatma Gandhi

“Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.

————We are reminded that forgiveness is basic to the understanding of the Christian identity of love and grace

“If we really want to love, we must learn to forgive.”
- Mother Teresa

“Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly.
― Henri J.M. Nouwen

————We are reminded that forgiveness is done as much for the offendee as it is for the offender.

When deep injury is done to us, we never heal until we forgive.
- Nelson Mandela.

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
― Lewis B. Smedes, Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don't Deserve

“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”
― Ann Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

————We are reminded that forgiveness is essential to moving forward with a new sense of hope.

“Forgiveness means it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back. You're done. It doesn't necessarily mean that you want to have lunch with the person. If you keep hitting back, you stay trapped in the nightmare…”
― Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

“Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.”
“You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well.”
― Lewis B. Smedes

“Forgiveness is the final form of love.”
― Reinhold Niebuhr

When Jesus talks about forgiveness, he doesn't mess around, He obviously believes that the act and attitude of forgive are essential to following the gospel.

Jesus indicates that we are called to forgive others because we are forgiven and as forgiving others is part of the reciprocity contained in our relationship with God. Jesus says that we forgive as we are forgiven and even seems to declare that we are not forgiven if we choose not to forgive.

Quote, “For if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will forgive you; but if you don’t forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your sins.”

That’s pretty straight forward.

Later on in Matthew’s Gospel, Peter is having a conversation with Jesus about forgiveness. He asks Jesus the question, “how many times must I forgive someone who sins against me?”

Jesus’ answer includes a pretty amazing parable. This is a paraphrase of that parable.

A man named Jeb lived in a community where the ruler was just (depending on your definition of justice). The ruler had been kind with his subjects concerning the late payment of taxes and had even extended loans over time to many of the people in that community.

Circumstances required that taxes be paid and loans re-paid. The Ruler had given the citizens plenty of notice.

And when the date arrived, citizens of the community showed up at the courthouse and paid their debts.

Jeb showed up that day as well, but did not have the money he owed to the ruler. He plead his case and promised to pay when he could. The law permitted the ruler to sell all of Jeb’s possessions and use the funds to pay his bill. Further, the law permitted that Jeb, his wife, and his children could sold off to another ruler in another community and the payment used to cancel Jeb’s debt.

The ruler looked and Jeb and felt compassion for him and his circumstance. Though the debt was very high, close to astronomical, the ruler made the decision not only to spare Jeb in the moment, but to forgive Jeb entirely.

His debt was declared $0 by the ruler.

Jeb was elated. He couldn’t believe his good fortune. He was so thankful to the ruler for his kindness and mercy.

As he left the courthouse, he stopped by the corner pub to celebrate. “This round is on me,” he proclaimed with joy.

As he sat and drank, he noticed his neighbor Ethan, sitting at a back table.

Sometime back, within the last couple of months, Jeb had loaned Ethan some money to pay a small bill- a truly insignificant amount- a few bucks.

But as Jeb watched Ethan drink his drink for which Jeb was paying. Jeb grew angrier and angrier. His face reddened and he started to murmur to himself. “Why hadn't Ethan paid his debt? What's he trying to get away with?”

After a bit, Ethan finished his drink and began to leave the Pub. He walked right past Jeb and didn’t say a word. In the next moment, complete chaos broke out as Jeb jumped Ethan, threw him to the ground and started choking him. “Give me my money that you owe me you lousy so-and-so.”

Ethan sputtered and fought back, but Jeb clearly had the upper hand. Patrons of the pub tried to pull Jeb off of Ethan but Jeb fought on. “Give me what you owe me!” He yelled.

Finally, the community police arrived, arrested Jeb, and threw him in jail.

He appeared before the ruler the next day. The ruler heard the testimony from folks at the bar- that Jeb attacked Ethan over a debt Ethan owed.

The ruler looked at Jeb incredulously as Jeb hung his head in shame.

“Aren’t you the one I forgave a substantial debt yesterday?”

“Yes, I am.”

“And yet you are arrested for attacking a person, a friend, because he owed you just a little bit.

Since you can’t seem to grant others the little bit of forgiveness they need, I can’t imagine forgiving you your astronomical debt to me.

Therefore, I am rescinding my forgiveness of your debt. It is off to prison you go until all your debt is paid to me in full.”

The End.

Norman Cousins reminds us that “Life is an adventure in forgiveness.”

I would suggest that life is an adventure in both receiving forgiveness and extending forgiveness.

We celebrate the fact that God forgives by forgiving others.

It is often hard work to forgive, grueling work, humbling work, but as Rob Bell intones about following the teachings of Jesus,

“It takes quite a spine to turn the other cheek,
It takes phenomenal fortitude to love your enemy.
It takes firm resolve to pray for those who persecute you.” (unquote)

and to forgive, it takes boldness of character and the tenacity of spirit
-to give up your need for revenge,
-to hope for the best for even those who don't hope for the best you.

“Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” Not really an option, is it?

Amen

May 28, 2017: A Slice or Two

Pastor Steve Mechem

Matthew 6:9-15 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Pray then in this way:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

May 21, 2017: Coming, Close, Here

Pastor Steve Mechem

Matthew 6:7-14 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Pray then in this way:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Audio only.

May 2017 New Outlook Newsletter

The Outlook for May is now available here.

April 2017 New Outlook Newsletter

The Outlook for April is now available here.

March 2017 New Outlook Newsletter

The Outlook for March is now available here.