Saturday, April 12, 2014

VT Message April 2014: The Divine Mission of Jesus Christ Savior and Redeemer

One of the things I have hung onto is visiting teaching.

It doesn't always work. But right now I love my companion who has been my friend for the past 15 years, and I love the women I visit teach.

And this year, the messages have been on the Savior.

This month is about the Redeemer.

We don't talk much about grace at church. We talk a lot about obedience and the lists of things we're supposed to do. But this month, it's all about the grace.

And it isn't just about sin. I've heard people say "what did I do so bad that someone had to die for me", or "why can't God just forgive our sins without having someone pay the price."

I don't know the answers to these questions. They are valid questions. It's one of the things I've put back on the shelf and said "there are some things I just don't know."

So I accept that there needs to be a balance for things. That Heavenly Father has laws that He must abide and one of them is that no unclean thing can enter heaven and for some reason there has to be a complete innocent to pay the price and make us all clean.

That premise is the basis of the atonement. It's why many people reject Christ as the Redeemer. They don't see the need for a Redeemer. So to them Christ was this really cool guy who had a lot of wild things to say.

I accept the premise. I have no reason to accept it. I just do. Maybe I don't want to go down that rabbit hole.

So the premise is that God has laws He has to follow and to balance out the law He had to send down a Redeemer.

Linda K. Burton, Relief Society General President (quote from woman Yeah!) said "Heavenly Father sent His Only Begotten and perfect Son to suffer for our sins, our heartaches, and all that seems unfair in our own individual lives."

So not only did Jesus suffer for our sins, He suffered for our heartaches as well! Those things that happen to us even though it is not our fault and we have no sin tied to it, He suffered for those things as well. Not that we need to be forgiven for them, but because we are scarred by them. We bear the marks of them and His sacrifice will make those marks go away.

"One woman who had been through years of trial and sorrows wsaid through her tears, "i have come to realize that I am like an old 20-dollar bill - crumpled, torn, dirty, abused, and scarred. But...I am still worth the full 20 dollars."

Not one of us is a fresh new crisp 20-dollar bill unless you are a new-born baby and even those come with problems. We are all abused, scarred and crumpled.  But we are all our full worth (which by the way is way more than 20 dollars.)

The message also includes the story of the woman at the well which can be found in John 4. Jesus stops to speak to the woman who is getting water for her household and tells her "whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst, but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." 

This woman was not ignorant. She says "I know that the Messias cometh, which is called Christ when he is come, he will tell us all things."

Jesus revealed Himself to her - okay can you imagine. She knows a savior is coming and then she meets a man who basically says "Hi, I'm superman" only way better than superman.

I would assume she would have a spiritual experience (he knew who she was) to know that what He said is true and not just some guy who goes around and says this. We are told  "The woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, "Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?"

We do not know how long she spent with Christ. If it had been me, I would have talked with Him for as long as He would allow. But the interesting thing, is that out of all the things she had to do that day, getting water would have been the most important. More important than sweeping the floor or doing dishes or making dinner. And yet she didn't say "I just need to finish this and this and this, and then I'll tell people about Christ." Nope, she left her chores undone, even the water chore and ran and told people of her experience.

How many times do we put aside the things that Christ wants us to do until we get our lists of chores done?

In the end, it doesn't matter what we have do, Christ is the one who has created the bridge that we need to get home. We just need to find it and cross it.

Christ is our Redeemer. One of my favorite songs is a Point of Grace song.

"The Great Divide" 
 Svensson, Peter Anders / Sveningsson, Magnus.

Trying to fathom the distance
Looking out 'cross the canyon carved
By my hands
God is gracious
Sin would still separate us
Were it not for the bridge
His grace has made us
His love will carry me
There's a cross to bridge the great divide
A way was made to reach the other side
The mercy of the Father cost His son his life
His love is deep, His love is wide
There's a cross to bridge the great divide
God is faithful
On my own I'm unable
He found me hopeless alone
And sent a savior
He's provided a path
And promised to guide us
Safely past all the sin that would divide us
His love delivers me
There's a bridge to cross the great divide
A way was made to reach the other side
The mercy of the Father cost His son His life
His love is deep, His love is wide
There's a cross to bridge the great divide

Here's the link to the message.

Gospel Medicine: Chapter 6 - Late Bloomer

This blog series is based on the book "Gospel Medicine" by Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal minister who has written several books based on her own life and her sermons. "Gospel Medicine" is a book of sermons around the concept that the Gospel of Christ is medicine to the soul. I discovered this book while attending a morning book club at my local United Church and I was blown away by the depth and beauty of Taylor's writing. These posts will be looking at each of the chapters of this particular book. 

In this chapter Taylor tackles the story of Abraham and Sarah. Abram and Sarai are old and infertile. Sarai is well past the age of child bearing, Abram is even older. So when God promises that they will be the parents of more people than stars that can be counted in the sky there is some skepticism. As a promise and a reminder (much like the rainbow) God rechristens them. Abraham meaning "father of a multitude of nations" and Sarah "kings of people shall come from her".

The promise doesn't happen instantly. Years earlier Sarai had asked Abram to impregnate her hand maid Hagar. It must have taken an act of desperation to ask your husband to have sex with another woman. But in that time, a woman's worth was based on motherhood.

I feel more sorry for Hagar than I do for Sarah. It appears that hand maid is merely a nicer term than house slave. It does not appear that Hagar was asked for her opinion on this plan. She was ordered to have sex with an old man until she became pregnant and then give up her child to Sarai. The child was not completely given up. Hagar was still a part of Ishamael's life. But even though she bore him, nursed him and took care of him, she would always be viewed as the lesser mother. Ishmael belonged to Abram and Sarai. Furthermore, the child that Sarah eventually bore took presidence over Ishmael, the lesser son. Plus Hagar is not allowed to have a husband of her own as she is owned by Abraham and Sarah.

It's no wonder that Hagar is resentful.

The point of this chapter is that we must be patient for God's promises. He will fulfill them in His own time.

Who knows, maybe he would have fulfilled them faster if they had treated Hagar with dignity and respect. You know, not enslaved her and allowed her a family of her own.

Which really isn't the point of this story, but this story makes me so mad that I have trouble seeing anything else. I know Abraham and Sarah are considered to be righteous people, but I'm having trouble with the whole slavery, polygamy thing. Even when you consider it was the culture of the time.

I guess God blesses people even when they behave badly and he judges based on what knowledge we actually have. He won't condemn you if you have slaves and you don't know that slavery is horrible because that's the cultural construct of your time.

I like to think that Hagar was rewarded when she died. Rewarded big time.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Book Review: Leaving Church - Barbara Brown Taylor

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor

Barbara Brown Taylor is an Episcopal Priest, first as an associate priest in large city parish in Atlanta and then as the minister in a small country church. Taylor relates what led her to the priesthood, how she discovers the tiny church that appeals to her and the five years she spends there. While she's there the church grows and the demands on her time increases until she finally suffers burn out. She promised to stay for ten years but when an offer to teach religion at a nearby university comes up, she grabs it.

This is her story how leaving the ministry actually allowed her to find God again. Not that she ever really lost Him, but there was never time to have a conversation with Him. She experiences discovering the sabbath again, a time where she is not expected to be somewhere doing something and it is rejuvenating for her. She discovers church and God in the backyard of her country home.

As I rounded the corner on my first front porch church service with my congregation of creation, I framed an apology to all the people who had ever told me they were not in church the previous Sunday because the weather had been so nice. At the time I had judged them for shirking their duty to worship in community. I had thought they needed to be where I was, meeting their own responsibilities for keeping Grace-Calvary going. Clearly I had forgotten that people are not the only creatures who glorify the Lord...On the first Sunday after I left church, the irony was hard to miss. If one day without work had that much holiness for me, then what else had I missed while I was laboring for the Lord?

I can relate to this. The LDS church preaches the importance of keeping the sabbath and then proceeds to break it by demanding so much from the congregation. God took a break on the seventh day from work. For the Mormon people the sabbath means that you don't work at your regular paid employment (exceptions for essential services excluded), but you're still expected to work. You have to get up early and get everyone ready for church on time. And you're there for at least three hours or it doesn't count. If you have a leadership calling you have meetings. You may have to do your home teaching that day. There's a fireside you're expected to be at in the evening. If you're lucky you might squeeze in a meal and a quick nap.

No one thinks any of this is restful. In fact there's a joke in the church how Sunday is the busiest and hardest day of all.

I never saw in the scriptures that the Sabbath was supposed to be a day of hard work.

Taylor points out that she is given another Sabbath while she's a minister but because hardship isn't convenient and as a devout minister she couldn't say no, her sabbath was taken up with work.

Leaving church is not about a woman who leaves God, nor even really leaves church. There is no crisis of faith here, just a woman who finds God in other ways.

It's a lovely book with beautiful writing about a woman who's identity is in her vocation and how taking off the uniform leaves her invisible and lost for awhile. She explains her adjustment from being the star of the show to being on the side.

Here's an excerpt randomly selected. It takes place at a house party - a rare occurrence of an invitation because you simply don't invite the parish minister to fun parties, but since she has handed in her resignation then she is free to accept it. She's standing at the edge of a pool when suddenly a fully clothed adult gets pushed in.

I stood back and watched the mayhem that ensued. All around me, people were grabbing people and wrestling them toward the water. The dark night air was full of pool spray and laughter. The kids were going crazy. Several people hunting for potential victims turned toward me, their faces lit with smiles. When they saw who I was they turned away again so that I felt sad instead of glad. Whatever changes were occurring inside of me, I still looked waterproof to them. Like the sick man in John's gospel, who lay by the healing pool of Beth-zatha for thirty-eight years because he had no one to put him in when the water was stirred up, I watched others plunging in ahead of me. Then two strong hands grabbed my upper arms from behind, and before I knew it I was in the water, fully immersed and swimming in light.

I never found out who my savior was, but when I broke the surface, I looked around at all those shining people with makeup running down their cheeks, with hair plastered to their heads, and I was so happy to be one of them. If being ordained meant being set apart from them, then I did not want to be ordained anymore. I wanted to be human. I wanted to spit food and let snot run down my chin. I wanted to confess being as lost and found as anyone else without caring that my underwear showed through my wet clothes. Bobbing in that healing pool with all those other flawed beings of light, I looked around and saw them as I had never seen them before, while some of them looked at me the same way. The long wait had come to an end. I was in the water at last.

I can relate to this book. I too am leaving church. Not God. And I haven't completely left church either. I like church. I just want to feel the spirit more and claim the sabbath back. So I will go to whichever church I feel like going to and no longer be guilted into doing things I don't want to do.

Or at least I'll try.


I am doing a series on the Barbara Brown Taylor book "Gospel Medicine" because I'm so taken by her thoughts and writing style. So here's a little bio about her stolen from Amazon.

 Barbara Brown Taylor's last book, An Altar in the World, was a New York Times bestseller that received the Silver Nautilus Award in 2012. Her first memoir, Leaving Church, received an Author of the Year award from the Georgia Writers Association and won the Theologos Award for best general interest book of 2006. Taylor spent fifteen years in parish ministry before becoming the Butman Professor of Religion at Piedmont College, where she has taught world religions since 1998. She lives on a working farm in rural north Georgia with her husband Ed.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Gospel Medicine: Chapter 5 - Refreshing God's Memory

This blog series is based on the book "Gospel Medicine" by Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal minister who has written several books based on her own life and her sermons. "Gospel Medicine" is a book of sermons around the concept that the Gospel of Christ is medicine to the soul. I discovered this book while attending a morning book club at my local United Church and I was blown away by the depth and beauty of Taylor's writing. These posts will be looking at each of the chapters of this particular book. 

In this chapter, Taylor focuses on Noah and the Ark and the rainbow of promise. I wrote my own blog post about rainbows several years ago which won me a place on a well known blog and scholarship money for my education. You can find that post here.

 Chasing Rainbows.

Self promotion aside, Taylor offers a distinction I had never thought of before.

The promise of the rainbow wasn't for humans. The promise was a reminder to God himself.

She talks about covenants but says that the rainbow wasn't a covenant, which is a two way promise. There were no conditions placed upon this promise. It was God promising never to do it again and He sets out the rainbow to jog his memory and remind himself that no matter how horrible we are, He loves us.

As parents we all need that sometimes.

She also offers us a God who repents. A God who says not only that He made a mistake in creating the world and in anger destroys it, but a God who regrets destroying it.

It's a unique take in a world where God never makes mistakes, never has to repent.

And yet when we read the Old Testament the change that we see from the Old to the New isn't in the people. People remain the same. They murder and cheat and do amazing acts of sacrifice and are all over the place. That part is consistent.

No, the bible tells the story of a God that changes. A God who punishes and repents. Who loves and hates, who gives and takes back. A God who controls and relinquishes control.

I have no problem with an imperfect yet still wiser God. It actually fits into my Mormon belief (one of the ones I still hold onto) that "as man is God once was, as God is man may become."

I actually like the idea of a man and a woman (for I believe God is a couple) working things out and trying to make the best world possible and finding out what succeeds and what doesn't.

For some that may be sacrilege. For me, right now, it makes sense.