Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Sermon preached July 18, 2010

Text: Luke 10:25-42

Distract: To cause to turn away from the original focus of attention or interest. Distraction: Something, especially an amusement, that distracts. (American Heritage Dictionary)
A recent commercial that illustrates distraction well is a commercial for Corona beer. Corona is usually served with a lime in the top of the bottle – I have no idea why. The scene is a couple on sitting side by side on beach chairs looking out at a sandy ocean beach. In between them is a small table with an ice bucket and two Coronas with lime in the top of the bottle. The focus of their attention is the beautiful sand beach and ocean waves, that is, until a distraction comes by in the form of an attractive woman in a white bikini. We see the man’s head turn as the woman walks by. We see the woman seated next to him take the lime from the top of her beer bottle and squirt the man. Distraction. Corona commercial
Two times in the gospel for today, in the second story, we hear the word “distracted.” “Martha was distracted by her many tasks.” Jesus: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.” I don’t know about you, but I sympathize with Martha. The picture that often comes to mind when this story is read is a picture of Jesus, perhaps with a small group around him, engaging in conversation. Among the group is Martha’s sister Mary. Martha, while this engaging conversation is happening is preparing a meal or getting beds ready for guests to sleep – doing the things that a good host does. She begins to resent Mary’s inattention to hospitality, and asks Jesus to send Mary to help. Instead, Jesus seems to put Martha down a bit – calling her worried and distracted. Don’t you kind of feel for Martha? But then as I read the story more closely, there is no specification of the work that Martha is doing. Maybe the meal is already prepared, and Martha is just one of those people who can’t sit still, even when it would benefit her.
Distraction here is not a compliment, but then it seems that not all distractions are created equal. That really struck me a few weeks ago when I was reading this chapter in Luke devotionally. This story of Martha and Mary and Jesus follows directly after the story of the Good Samaritan, and I read them together because I don’t usually associate the stories in any way. Together they seem to say that not all distractions are the same. The good example in story 2 is Mary who stays focused on Jesus. The good example in story 1 is the Samaritan whose focus was on getting to Jericho, but who became distracted by a wounded man on the side of the road. Not all distractions are created equal, it seems.
We live in a world where distractions have multiplied exponentially. When Jesus takes Martha to task for being too distracted, how many opportunities for distraction could there be – no telephones, automobiles, movies, television, computers, i pods, cell phones. What was there to be distracted by – sheep, sand? Even then, distraction could be an issue. How much more for us.
The other night I was flipping through some channels and came to Turner Classic movies, which was showing a silent film called “Speedy.” This 1928 film starred Harold Lloyd, who was trying to save his girlfriend’s fathers business, the last horse drawn trolley in New York. Babe Ruth, the baseball player has a cameo role. He needs a taxi ride to the stadium, and Harold Lloyd gives it to him, except Harold – “Speedy” is so taken with his passenger that his driving suffers. He is so distracted that he nearly collides with other cars or people, much to the chagrin of the Babe. Distractions were multiplying.
Recently I have also been watching some of the Ken Burns Baseball series. One of the things that has amazed me are descriptions of the game that are over 100 years old. “In baseball, all is lightening” – Henry Chadwick. [Baseball has] “the snap, go, fling of the American atmosphere” (Walt Whitman). These days, baseball, to many, seems slow, ponderous, rather dull, not filled with zip, or pop or zap, go, or fling.
I share these cultural anecdotes simply to remind us how much we have to be distracted by – when the flashing distractions of 100 years ago are now seen as too slow. Distraction is a problem. We can lose our focus on what is most important. It is true for individuals and for churches. And in the church we can be distracted from what is most important not only by what is new and glitzy, but also by what is all too familiar. When we keep doing what we have been doing simply because we have been doing it, then that can be a distraction from what is most important, from listening to the voice of Jesus for our lives and our times, and seeing where the Spirit of God might be taking us. We need to focus on our core values, even as the means for realizing those values may change.
Yet if being distracted can be a problem, and it can be, so, too, can our inability to be distracted. Mary’s singular focus in one story is held up for admiration, while the narrow focus of the priest and Levite in another story are held up for ridicule. In our lives and in our church we need to balance focus with a wide angle lens, not lose our peripheral vision for sometimes what is on the edges needs to grab hold of our attention. There is a place in our lives for being appropriately distracted.
Iris Murdoch, novelist and philosopher, once wrote, “We are fed or damaged spiritually by what we attend to.” If our attention is too scattered, we are damaged spiritually. If our attention is too narrow, we are damaged spiritually.
Psychologist and philosopher William James once wrote, “The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” Our lives need the rhythm of focus and appropriate distraction, of looking and overlooking.
There are times in pastoral ministry when it seems that it is difficult to get focused work done. Take up a project in the office, and the phone will ring off the hook, or the office door will swing open constantly. Part of the learning of being a pastor is to recognize that the phone calls and office visits are appropriate distractions, are a necessary and vitally important parts of the work of being a pastor – except when the calls are simply solicitations!
From my office I have a beautiful view of Lake Superior, though there are days when that view waxes and wanes with rolling fog. Even then, there can be a certain beauty. Is this view a mere distraction? Sometimes, maybe. Other times that view centers me. I am reminded that God’s grace and love are as vast as waters of that grand lake. The sun gleaming off the waves, a full moon setting the surface ablaze, both fill me with awe and gratitude. Lake Superior, for its beauty, and for many other reasons, should be the object of our attention. Its well being matters, yet it is easy for we who live on its shores to keep it on the periphery and lose sight of it.
Paying attention to dreams can be a distraction, but ever an appropriate distraction? In the Talmud, one reads, “an uninterpreted dream is like an unopened letter from God” (Eigen, Conversations, 93). There may be something to be found, at least at times, in paying attention to our dreams. Over the past year I have been paying some attention to mine. Recently I dreamed I was digging through sand in an unusual sandbox. I am on my knees and the box is stomach high with sides that are somewhat buried. It is almost as if the sandbox was constructed of an old dresser of some kind. The sand is dark and dirty and in some places it is very wet. The project is to remove this sand to empty out the box. The old sand will not be discarded but mixed with new sand and put back in the sand box. I keep digging. Not a remarkable dream, but there is in it a sense of some things that have been happening in my life, and also a sense of what I think we need to be doing as a church. In my own life, I have been digging deep into wounds and joys and mixing these in with new experiences.
For our church, as we move into the future, we need to look deeply into who we are and what we do and figure how to build on the best of our past as we also welcome what is new and reinvigorating. We can be distracted by the past. The task is to build on it, focus on our values, yet listen to the voices on the edges of the future.
Not all distractions are created equal. In the Spirit of Jesus, may we learn the art of the appropriate distraction. Amen.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Rescue Me

Sermon preached July 11, 2010

Texts: Colossians 1:11-14; Luke 10:25-37

Words. Words matter. Words are powerful and silly and precious and wasted. With words we proclaim our love, we assert our political views, we offer opinions on movies or music or clothing. Words can hurt and words can heal. Some of us grew up learning the phrase – “sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me.” It is untrue. Sometimes a broken bone heals more quickly and more completely than a cutting insult. The Bee Gees, before “Saturday Night Fever” had a simple song in which they sang – “It’s only words, and words are all I have to take your heart away.”
Words can be ambiguous. What’s black and white and red/read all over? A newspaper, or a sunburned zebra.
Biblical words, words of our faith, can be challenging sometimes. Take this phrase for instance. “God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” We know something about forgiveness and if we are honest with ourselves we acknowledge our need for it. What does it mean to say that we have been rescued from the power of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God, the kingdom of Christ? We know what it might be like to be rescued from water if we were drowning. We know what it might be like to be rescued from being lost in the wilderness. We know what it might be like to be rescued from quick sand – at least if we have watched movies. We know what it might be like to be rescued from an addiction. What does it mean to be rescued from the power of darkness and brought into a new place, the kingdom of God, the kingdom of Christ?
Here is where the beauty of lectionary Scripture readings comes in. The ecumenical lectionary is a set of readings for each Sunday on a three year cycle, and I most often use some Scripture from it as the basis for the Sunday sermon and worship service. There is a Psalm, usually another reading from the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures, a text from one of the New Testament letters and a reading from a Gospel. Today Colossians, in which the phrase about rescuing appears, is matched with Luke, chapter 10 – a story. And I think the story answers the question I have been posing - What does it mean to be rescued from the power of darkness and brought into a new place, the kingdom of God, the kingdom of Christ?
In Luke 10 we have a story within a story – and there is a wonderful richness in stories that abstract language cannot capture fully. The overarching story is about a lawyer, that is a person versed in Hebrew Scripture, who inquires of Jesus about eternal life. Another way of asking the question might be to ask what it means to be a part of the kingdom of God. Jesus replies with a question and the lawyer answers. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus commends the lawyer, he understands what it means to be a part of God’s kingdom, God’s dream for the world. But the lawyer wonders about an abstract word – neighbor. Who is my neighbor? Then we get the story within the story about the man on the road, robbed and beaten and left for dead. Two persons pass by – a priest and a Levite, both respectable men in that culture. The hero of the story turns out to be the unrespectable Samaritan who cares for the man, who is moved with pity, who shows mercy. This story would have shocked Jesus’ listeners. They were all for poking fun at the respectable people, that has been a human sport for a long time, it seems. But to make a hated and despised Samaritan the hero, well, that goes kind of far.
But back to the question - What does it mean to be rescued from the power of darkness and brought into a new place, the kingdom of God, the kingdom of Christ? The Samaritan helps answer this.
To be rescued from the power of darkness is to see differently. The first people who walked by the wounded traveler saw someone who might take up too much time in their busy lives. More tellingly, they saw someone who could mess up their other obligations. What if the man were dead, and not just half dead? Touching him would have meant ritual contamination and the need to engage in purity rituals. Perhaps both were on their way to perform services requiring their ritual purity. Taking time for, touching an unclean man, well, that could really mess things up. The Samaritan saw this wounded traveler as a human person in need of assistance, in need of help, and not as someone who was simply unclean or a complication.
Rita and Roy are having some problems in their marriage. This is a situation described by a therapist named Michele Weiner-Davis, so no one we know, though the situation may be familiar. Weiner-Davis describes Rita’s range of responses to Roy’s behavior in one part of their life. When she thought Roy was being spiteful, Rita considered punishing him. Compassion was the furthest thing from her mind…. When he was seen as overworked, sad, or depressed, her reaction was compassion. (Divorce Busting, 106)
How often we get stuck in our usual ways of seeing the world, and sometime those ways are not helpful. We need to be rescued so as to see the world with wider vision. We need to be rescued so as to see the world in ways that are humanizing and caring. We need to be rescued so as to see the world with more creativity.
The story of the good Samaritan also tells us that to be rescued from the power of darkness is to feel the world differently. The Samaritan not only sees a human person in need, but is moved by what he sees. The story says he was moved with pity, but that is a mild translation of the Greek. He was moved in the depth of his being, viscerally (William Spohn, Go and Do Likewise, 89).
I have a good friend who is a writer and a county commissioner – not in St. Louis County. Awhile back he forwarded me an e-mail sent to him by a woman about her experience with the church. He did a good job of disguising the woman’s identity, but wanted me to see what she had written. The woman, a United Methodist, had been active in church as a young person and continued to be so as an adult, but some things changed after she was divorced. “One minister even told me he didn’t believe in hit or miss attendance when my kids spent a weekend with their father.” She goes on about her experience with churches as a divorced woman with children. We moved a few times and were often treated as if we didn’t exist. One church going lady even said in front of me that they wanted to attract young families. I said, but I have a young family and she looked blank. My youngest even absolutely refused to attend Sunday School after she was given the third degree by a nosy Sunday School teacher. As a divorced older single person it has also been difficult to fit in. I don’t make very good bars. I have been drug to Bible study groups where there was an on-going argument over which version of the Bible was the REAL one.
Can we hear this story and begin to feel the disappointment and isolation? Are we open to the feelings of others who may have different life experiences from ours but desire a relationship with God and the fellowship of the church? Feeling the pain of others isn’t easy. Often we would rather close off some of those feelings, but that is to be trapped by the power of darkness, cutting off something of our own humanity. There used to be a term of derision – calling someone a “bleeding heart.” Well, I think we as Christians are to be people of bleeding hearts, caring deeply for the world and it hurts and pains. Bleeding hearts don’t imply empty heads – we need both, but if we don’t have the compassionate heart, we are in need of rescuing.
Lastly, the good Samaritan teaches that to be rescued from the power of darkness means to act differently. It is not enough that the Samaritan sees and feel differently, he acts on what he sees and feels. The lawyer gets it just right in the end. Who is neighbor to the man who is beaten, the one who showed mercy – the one who acted with compassion and mercy.
A Japanese coastal village was once threatened by a tidal wave, but the wave was sighted in advance, far out on the horizon, by a lone farmer in the rice fields on the hillside above the village. At once he set fire to the fields, and villagers who came swarming up to save their crops were saved from the flood.
To be rescued from the power of darkness is to find ways to make a positive difference in the lives of others and the world. It is to see, feel and act differently – see, feel and act like we are part of making God’s dream for the world a reality. Rescue us, God, from all that gets in the way of this kind of life. Amen.

Mr. Big Stuff

Sermon preached July 4, 2010

Texts: II Kings 5:1-14

This morning we are going to begin with a little quiz. Did you all bring your number 2 pencils? The quiz is called, “Bible or Not,” but I also don’t want to embarrass anyone, so it will be a silent quiz. Only you will know how you did. I am going to share a few quotes, and you have to decide if they are from the Bible or not.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If you don’t know this one you were not here last week!

Cleanliness is next to godliness. Sorry, but your mother’s were wrong about this.

Don’t make love by the garden gate. Love is blind but the neighbors ain’t. No.

My country right or wrong. Again, no.

God helps those who help themselves. No, and it is not even true from a biblical point of view. It is only partially true. We have our role to play in shaping our lives, and we need to be responsive to God. But part of the Bible story is that when we fail to live up to our end of the deal, God is there to help get us back on track.

Pride goes before a fall. Well, close but not exactly. The closest thing we have in the Bible is Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

If that last proverb were to have a song, it might be Jean Knight’s “Mr. Big Stuff” (play a snippet). If it were to have a story, it might be the story of Naaman. The story of Naaman from II Kings is a story about pride and humility. Before getting into the story more, let me offer some general reflections on pride and humility – these from Frederick Buechner (Wishful Thinking).
Pride: Pride is self-love, and in that sense a Christian is enjoined to be proud, i.e., another way of saying “Love your neighbor as yourself” is to say, “Love yourself as your neighbor.” That doesn’t mean your pulse is supposed to quicken every time you look in the mirror any more than it’s supposed to quicken every time your neighbor passes the window. It simply means that the ability to work for your own good despite all the less than admirable things you know about yourself is closely related to the ability to work for your neighbor’s good despite all the less than admirable things you know about them…. Self-love or pride is a sin when, instead of leading you to share with others the self you love, it leads you to keep your self in perpetual safe-deposit. You not only don’t accrue any interest that way, but become less and less interesting every day.
Humility: Humility is often confused with the polite self-deprecation of saying you’re not much of a bridge player when you know perfectly well you are. Conscious or otherwise, this kind of humility is a form of gamesmanship. If you really aren’t much of a bridge player, you’re apt to be rather proud of yourself for admitting it so humbly. This kind of humility if a form of low comedy. True humility doesn’t consist of thinking ill of yourself but of not thinking of yourself much differently from the way you’d be apt to think of anybody else. It is the capacity for being no more and no less pleased when you play your own hand well than when your opponents do.
Naaman was a great man, a Mr. Big Stuff. He commanded the army of Aram, and was admired by the king. He was a mighty warrior. He had a problem, though – leprosy. No doubt there was shame and embarrassment with this for Naaman. He had probably tried any number of cures, but to no avail. When a servant girl belonging to his wife suggests that Naaman might consult the prophet in Samaria (Elisha), Naaman goes to the king asking for permission to seek out this cure. The king sends him off with his blessings – and with many goods to give and a letter to share with the king of Israel. The letter causes the king of Israel a great deal of consternation – what’s he supposed to do? And if he doesn’t send Naaman back cured, how will the powerful Arameans react?
Enter Elisha. He hears about Naaman and tells the king of Israel to send him his way. Elisha will help Mr. Big Stuff. You can imagine Naaman’s excitement, but his bubble is soon burst. He arrives with his entourage, and is met by Elisha’s messenger who tells Naaman, “Go wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.”
Mr. Big Stuff is outraged. Doesn’t Elisha know who he is? How dare he send a servant out with a message! Elisha should have come out and prayed, called out, waved his hands. And don’t we have better rivers back home?! Naaman’s pride has been wounded. His pride is getting in the way of his healing, however.
The story takes a quick and remarkable turn. A servant respectfully suggests that Naaman set his pride aside and think more clearly. If Elisha had asked him to do something hard, wouldn’t he have done this? Isn’t it worth taking a chance and doing something simple. Naaman’s sets aside his overweening pride, is willing to be humble enough to take advice from a foreign prophet and from a servant, and he washed in the Jordan and is made clean.
This is a delightful story with lessons for us – for our lives, for our country.
David Schmelzer, in his book Not the Religious Type argues that our pride can get in the way of the work of God’s Spirit in our lives. When we become too concerned with always “being right,” we can be closed off from new ways God’s Spirit might be weaving her way into our lives. Schmelzer argues that it might be better to be on to something than to “be right” (xii). Naaman almost missed God’s healing because he wanted to be treated as Mr. Big Stuff.
Overweening pride in the form of needing to be right all the time, can mess up our relationships. When we are always concerned with being right, and making sure everyone knows we are right, we can crush others, become blind to the nuances of others feelings.
Excessive pride gets in the way of healing of addictions. It is not a big surprise that the first step in many addiction recovery programs is to admit you have lost power over your lives. Excessive pride blinds us to the harm some of our own behaviors causes for others and for ourselves. The first step in healing can be honesty humility.
Immoderate pride can get in the way of learning and growth. There is no one from whom we cannot learn in some way, yet immoderate pride tells us otherwise. The beauty of the story of Naaman is how again and again this proud man works through his sometimes overweening pride and is willing to listen to servants – people whose education and social standing are quite different from his own. God’s voice speaks to us in unfamiliar accents.
On this July 4, this day when we celebrate our nation, lessons about overweening pride are important as well. I am proud to be a citizen of The United States. I love this country. When I think about some of the things that bring me joy, so many are deeply rooted in this country: jazz, blues, rock n roll, the poetry of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, baseball. I am proud to be an American. I am also deeply aware that blind pride is counter-productive. It gets in the way of our progress as a nation and can hinder work toward peace and justice. I wince when I see some of the ways we let our pride become immoderate. When the government of France raised objections to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Congress passed a resolution which changed the name of French fries, and French toast in the congressional cafeteria to “freedom fries” and ‘freedom toast.” How silly. I am bothered by the conversations in the Senate when the Supreme Court is discussed that seem to suggest that learning from the laws of other countries somehow is “un-American.” Really? Are we so proud that we cannot learn from others? I hope not. We all need to find ways to get along as we share this small planet.
At the end of the day, I hope we can be proud of who we are – as individuals, as church, as country. We have a lot to be proud of, a lot to love. And may we be humble enough not to let our pride get in the way of healing, of relationships, of growth and learning, of peace and justice, of the work of God’s Spirit. Amen.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Well That's Different

Sermon preached June 27, 2010

Texts: Luke 9:51-56; Galatians 5:1, 13-25

How many of you remember the scene from The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy meets the talking apple trees? Walking along the yellow brick road with the scarecrow – who utters one of the movies great lines – “some people without brains do an awful lot of talking” (it is taking a great deal of discipline not to make an election year joke here) - - - any way, Dorothy and the Scarecrow are walking along the yellow brick road and Dorothy decides to pick an apple from a tree. The tree objects, slapping Dorothy’s hand. She is startled. “Did you say something?” Then she states the obvious – “I keep forgetting I’m not in Kansas anymore.” The scarecrow, even without a brain, devises an ingenious plan for procuring apples, knowing that by taunting the trees they will throw their apples. It is picking up apples that Dorothy discovers again that she is not in Kansas as she meets a tin figure, saying, “Why it’s a man.”
Now if Dorothy was not from Kansas, but from Minnesota, instead of saying, “I keep forgetting I’m not in Kansas anymore,” she might say, “Well, that’s different.” A scarecrow without a brain who talks – well, that’s different. Apple trees that talk and are rather thin skinned when it comes to their fruit – well, that’s different. A tin man rusting in the woods - well, that’s different.
So picture yourself in a boat on a river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies – sorry wrong metaphor. Picture yourself as a tree. What kind of fruit does your life produce? What kind of fruit might come from our lives as disciples of Jesus?
If we are honest, we must admit sometimes we produce crab apples in our lives – wormy, sour apples. I appreciate the honesty in this morning’s gospel reading. Some of the disciples don’t come off so well – just like us sometimes. Jesus and the disciples are walking through a Samaritan village, but they are not well received. James and John react. “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Don’t you feel like that sometime? Let’s call down a little fire from heaven and get rid of the troublemakers.
Christians are sometimes thought of as sour apples. In 2005, the Barna group polled 16-29 year olds asking the question, "What do you think of when you hear the word 'Christian'?" 91% of young adults outside the church replied, "anti-homosexual;" 87% responded "judgmental;" 85% said "hypocritical;" 72% reported that Christians were out of touch with reality; and 68% pegged Christians as "boring." (source: Diana Butler Bass). So Christians have been graceless, humorless, and judgmental. We have sometimes displayed all the warmth of those apple trees in the Wizard of Oz. And sometimes when others have pointed that out to us, we simply threaten them with fire.
Jesus responded to James and John simply and directly. “But he turned and rebuked them.” They had it wrong. To be a disciple of Jesus is not to give in to anger and vengeance. We want to produce a different kind of fruit in our lives – not wormy sour apples, but juicy, succulent, flavorful fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
Lives that produce such fruit are richer, fuller lives. Giving in to vengeance and anger can feel good, for a short while, but how often our anger is an overreaction and we need to follow with an apology, often embarrassed by our angry outburst. Living to get even means that we are always on guard against our enemies, who are always trying to get even with us. Better to live with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
This kind of life also attracts others. Hafiz is a beloved Persian poet from the fourteenth century, an Islamic mystic poet whose work sings with religious joy. “What is laughter? It is God waking up.” (I Heard God Laughing, 65) The story of how he came to his deep, joyous faith is a wonderful Persian legend. It is said that when he was twenty-one and working as a baker’s assistant, Hafiz delivered some bread to a mansion and happened to catch a fleeting glimpse of a beautiful young woman on a terrace. However brief, that one glimpse captured his heart and he fell madly in love with the woman. She did not notice him, however. She was from a wealthy, noble family. He was a poor baker’s assistant. She was beautiful, he was short and unattractive. As months went by, Hafiz composed poems and love songs celebrating her beauty and his longing. His wonderful words became well-known and oft repeated in the city of Shiraz. Hafiz remained oblivious of his fame, pining for his beloved. Desperate to win her, he undertook a difficult spiritual discipline which required him to pray at the tomb of a particular saint all night long for forty nights. It was said that anyone who could accomplish this arduous task would be granted his heart’s desire. Every day Hafiz went to work at the bakery and every night he kept vigil, spurred on by his great love. At daybreak on the fortieth day, the archangel Gabriel appeared to Hafiz and told him he could ask for whatever he wished. Hafiz had never seen such a glorious and radiant being as Gabriel. He thought to himself, “If God’s messenger is so beautiful, how much more beautiful must God be!” Hafiz blurted out to Gabriel, “I want God.” (op. cit., 79-80) As our lives burst forth with fruits of the Spirit, others may say that they want the God of Jesus Christ whose Spirit produces those fruits in our lives. Others may look at us and say, “well, that’s different,” and want to join the journey.
At our last Church Council meeting I shared these words from management guru Peter Drucker during the devotion, The “non-profit” institution neither supplies goods or services nor controls. Its “product” is neither a pair of shoes nor an effective regulation. Its product is a changed human being. The non-profit institutions are human change-agents. Their “product” is… a changed human life altogether.” I ended the devotion with these words – “what we finally have to offer others is our lives and a seat on the bus next to us on the journey with God.” Programs are important – for families, for singles, for youth, for adults. Education in the Bible, in Christian faith, in Methodism is important. Faith formation that takes seriously the biblical injunction to do justice matters – we seek justice and well-being for all regardless of race, place of birth, gender, sexual orientation. Worship that has some energy and liveliness and thoughtfulness matters. But if we are not being made different by all these, if our lives are not growing in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control then we are missing what is most important. Yes, we will still have our wormy, sour apple moments, but are we moving away from them and toward love? What we finally have to offer others is our lives and a seat on the bus next to us on the journey with God.
Hafiz really was a remarkable poet, even if the story of how he moved toward God is more legend than anything. Let me begin to wrap up with a short poem of his called, “The Only Sin I Know” (op. cit. 56). As you hear it, know that a word Hafiz often uses for God is “the Beloved.”

If someone sits with me
And we talk about the Beloved,

If I cannot give his heart comfort,
If I cannot make him feel better
About himself and this world,

Then, Hafiz,
Quickly run to the mosque and pray –

For you have committed
The only sin I know.

Be fruitful and multiply. May we say of our lives – we are different. May others say of us, “well, they’re different,” and may they join us on our journey with God. Amen.