30 March 2013

Woman, Here Is Your Son

Our time of death causes a certain clarity of vision. What once seemed important to us in the prime of our health and life no longer matters. No one ever said on their deathbed, "I wish I'd spent more time at the office." What some people do say on their deathbed is more likely to be, "I wish I had spent more time with my family."

Jesus may been thinking something along those lines as he drew his last breaths from the cross. Notice how he doesn't say, "I wish I'd spent more time with my disciples. I wish I'd spent more time healing the sick. I wish I'd spent more time feeding the hungry." No. Instead, Jesus' thoughts turn to his mother and he says to her, "Woman, here is your son …"

Jesus offers his mother John, the beloved disciple, to be her son. Maybe he thought John could the son to his mother that he could never be. Maybe Jesus thought his mother would need the continued support of a son to look out for her after he was gone. We don't know what was the thinking behind Jesus statement, "Woman, here is your son …" We do know the emotion behind his statement and that was a feeling of love.

Jesus mother had stood with him through thick and thin. She carried him in her womb while she and Joseph searched Bethlehem for a place to spend the night and were told there was no room in the inn. She was with him in the manger when the angels sang and wise men brought gifts from afar. She carried him in her arms in the flight to Egypt to escpape Herod's harms. She searched for him and found him in the temple when he was nearly a teenager. She got him to perform his first miracle of turning water into wine at a wedding. She stood underneath his cross now and heard his words to her as he died, "Women, here is your son …" Jesus loved his mother and his mother loved him too. No wonder she was on his mind and in heart as he was dying.

It is worth noting that the beloved disciple responded in obedience to Jesus' request. We read in the gospel, "Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home." When Jesus puts someone on our heart to care for we respond in obedience. We support them. We pray for them. We contact them. We care for them.

On this Good Friday, as we contemplate Jesus on the cross, let us consider the certainty of our own death. When the moment of transition comes for us, our hearts and our minds will most likely be upon our mother, our spouse, our child. Let us hold them in our hearts today even as Jesus held his mother in heart on the cross.

- -  -
Good Friday Sermon 2013
John 19:26b-27_29
"Woman, here is your son …"
12:55 pm at Salem Lutheran Church

05 March 2013

"Love Thy Neighbor" Wasn't Optional

Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat
Once there was a gentile who came before Shammai, and said to him: Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot. Shammai pushed him aside with the measuring stick he was holding. The same fellow came before Hillel, and Hillel converted him, saying: That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it.

Matthew 22:36-40 (New International Version) 
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Unitarian Universalists and Presbyterians are not, historically, natural friends. Universalism – the theological claim that all are redeemed by grace, and no one is condemned to eternal punishment by a loving God – arose in part as an opposing response to the strict doctrines of predestination and selective salvation that were the hallmarks of the Calvinism out of which Presbyterians evolved. But I have many wonderful colleagues and friends who are Presbyterian. And I am proud to stand firmly on the side of St. John’s Presbyterian Churchand Presbyterian Children’s Homes and Services (PCHAS) as they continue to fight to open a housing development that will serve single mothers and their children.

Jesus knew a basic truth about human society. Wherever you have Empire, you have hierarchies of vulnerability in the population. Not everyone is afforded equal status, power, or even dignity. And while this is the usual way of Empire, this is emphatically not the way of God, as it is presented in the Jewish and Christian traditions. Jesus repeatedly not only teaches that one must provide for the marginalized of society, he demonstrates it with his actions – healing the unclean, cavorting with women, welcoming children, offering compassion and care to stranger and enemy.

In our society, too, there are hierarchies of vulnerability. Not everyone in our culture is afforded equal status, power or even dignity in spite of all of our rhetoric of equality. These vulnerabilities are sorted out by virtue of gender, age, race, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, family status, religion and other markers of identity.  When they combine, vulnerability increases. A poor woman is more vulnerable than one in the middle class. A poor, unmarried woman moreso. A poor, unmarried woman with children is even more vulnerable, and her children along with her.  Life is precarious from that position, where one is stretched so thin as to be fraying financially, emotionally, physically, sometimes spiritually, and there are small beings dependent upon you for everything they need.  These are precisely the people both Judaism and Christianity commands us to help.

Around the Meyerland neighborhood which is protesting the building of this facility, there are signs posted. Love Your Neighborhood, they say.  Opponents of the project, which would help lift single mothers out of their struggle by providing shelter, training and resources, claim that the multi-family housing unit could adversely affect property values in the deed-restricted neighborhood. Despite the fact that this claim, a common one whenever multi-unit housing is proposed in a predominantly single-family housing neighborhood, isempirically untrue, it persists as their protest.

Love your neighborhood?

There is no neighborhood without neighbors. A neighborhood is not a collection of houses, boxes of potential cash to be jealously guarded, gated and made into fortresses. A neighborhood is a community of human lives and stories, of shared experiences and connection. A neighborhood is not private property, it is a commonwealth where people make a home, raise new generations, unwrap the gifts of a lifetime. Neighborhoods are vibrant, life-filled communities precisely because we do not choose our neighbors. Instead, they are places where we are called to practice the hard, messy work of being in community with those who are different from us; whose voices and stories and songs sound different from ours; whose food and pleasures and dreams taste different from ours.  Neighborhoods are places where we all should know welcome and support. Not exile and isolation.

In the religiously liberal tradition, we understand that the Truth about the world, the Divine, human nature–it’s all continually unfolding.  New discoveries bring new wisdom. New people bring new depth and insight. Any human being that crosses our path, be them sage or child, grandparent or stranger, powerful or dwelling humbly among the least of these–any human life and story can profoundly enrich and affect our own or the world’s. New neighbors bring new truth. We are all harbingers of transformation, all bearers of truth, all teachers of love.

The mitzvah is clear. We are not only to love the neighbor that looks and talks like us. Not only the neighbor that votes and worships like us. We are not to love only the neighbor whose car is as nice as ours, or whose family is put together like ours is. We are simply to Love our Neighbor.

To those who oppose the project, I would invite you to consider deeply what lies beneath your loud and resounding No. Can you recall a time when you were welcomed by strangers? When you were shunned by them? Consider that while being open and welcoming to the stranger and the poor can feel vulnerable,without vulnerability there is also no joy, and there can be no freedom. Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost put it well in their book The Faith of Leap: “There is an exact equilibrium. The more security and guarantees we want against things, the less free we are. Tyrants are not to be feared today, but our own frantic need of security is. Freedom inevitably means insecurity and responsibility.”

To those in Meyerland who would welcome these women into their community: Don’t let the angry and overly loud voices of fear shout you down. Stand firm and resolved, arms wide open to receive the stranger. Raise your voices publicly in love and compassion, and know that you do not stand alone. And when your new neighbors do arrive, welcome them warmly and bring them a casserole. Bring one to the neighbor that opposed it, too – there is no neighborhood without neighbors, and God knows we people need one another

By Rev. Ellen Copper-David
Via Chron.com Blog

03 March 2013

Sermon audio: The Paul Problem

I have always been jealous of people who have a dramatic conversion story. Some people, like the apostle Paul, have a clear "before and after" testimony of how Jesus Christ has made a difference in their lives. The apostle Paul, known as Saul in this story, did not start out as a fan of Jesus. He thought Jesus and his followers were heretics that needed to be run out of town. But after Jesus appeared to Paul, everything changed. When Ananias put his hands on Paul’s eyes, a whole new world opened for Paul. Suddenly, Paul saw grace. He saw freedom. He saw forgiveness. He saw a whole world of people who needed the gospel. The soul yearns for many types of nourishment as we hunger and thirst for God. Today’s focus is on the hunger and thirst for grace. In the Lenten season, we return to God, not simply to get recentered and refocused, but to acknowledge our desperate desire for the health and wholeness we find in Christ. The thirst for grace propels us forward, satisfying us like nothing else can. Surely, this is the bread of heaven, the manna that feeds the spirit, the living water that quenches the soul. Come to the waters of grace. Receive the wine of salvation and the milk of God’s teachings, offered without money or price. Come and eat the goodness of Christ’s grace, God’s steadfast love, and the Spirit’s abundant acceptance.

02 March 2013

In Remembrance of Rev. John Shute

Rev John Schute died  from a blood clot last Thursday , on February 28. John served as pastor of St. John’s Presbyterian Church from 1994 to 2001. His wife,  Janice, is in our prayers. Funeral arrangements have been made for nnext Thursday, March 7, at noon at Holy Trinity Presbyterian Church in San Antonio.A s is customary when a former pastor dies, we will place a brick in the columbarium with his name on it. This is the columbarium Rev. Schute helped create.

Rev. Schute and his wife attended St. John’s  56th anniversary celebration last year. There he encouraged the congregation to move forward with the single parent family ministry even in the face of opposition from some in the community. He reminded us of when St. John’s was planning to build a columbarium and the fuss that was raised by some Meyeland residents. The church went forward anyway and the result is a beautiful columbarium on our church property. No one in the community is even aware of its existence now and it has no effect on their lives or their property values.

So it is with the single parent family ministry. Last week an angry resident in the community sent a letter of complaint to members of the congregation. Such complaints may continue until we have finished building the beautiful duplexes on our property along West Bellfort Avenue. After they are complete and the ministry has been going for a few years, don’t be surprised if some of the loudest complainers in the neighborhood start bringing home made cookies to the residents or even inviting them over to swim in their swimming pools. That is how God works in people’s lives and brings healing to a community.

In the meantime, we honor the ministry and the memory of Rev. John Schute, and will continue his legacy of moving forward with significant new projects even in the face of opposition from a small but vocal part of the community. Although they don’t talk so loud, many residents of Meyerland and even political leaders including the mayor’s office supports our single parent family ministry. They know that when churches step up to provide services for people in need that means the city doesn’t have to bear that expense. That is why we say, “Healing Happens Here.” We are taking action to meet human needs. We don’t sit back and rely on the government for such help.

We are serious about our mission at St. John’s. Our mission is to glorify God by making disciples and meeting human needs. That is what Rev. John Schute knew and that is how he led the congregation. His particular area of emphasis was on prison ministry. He was an example to us all of faithful discipleship and following Christ even in the face of opposition. He knew that perseverance is the evidence of commitment to Christ. May the Lord be with the Schute family and with our church family as we mourn his death.

Jon B.