First printed in the Leader-Herald Newspaper, Gloversville, NY

6/26/2010

Our society today is filled with opposing parties, all trying to win the prize.  Our politicians can only agree with members of their own party – if then; “Survivor” television show lifts up winning as more important than getting along – as THE most important thing; competition in which one person “puffs themselves” up over another fills our airwaves – all trying to win the prize.

But what does this prize become if we destroy each other in the process of obtaining it?

This is the situation Paul was faced with by the church in Corinth when he wrote 1 Corinthians; a church filled with people who each one wanted to be more important than the next; who went ahead and took what they wanted without regard to those who came later.T  his was a church getting ready to fracture into pieces as it had forgotten that which had created it – the Good News of God’s love for all God’s children.

It is ironic that Paul became the “apostle to the Gentiles” for Christianity.  When we first run into him in the New Testament, he is intent upon destroying the “heretical” Christian sect that was then part of Judaism.  Next, we see him “breathing hate” as he starts out along the road to Damascus, a journey during which he experiences God’s love and forgiveness.  While in Damascus, he becomes the most powerful preacher of God’s love for all of God’s children that there ever has been, founding many churches of that sect he had so wanted to destroy.

For Paul, “buildingup” was MOST important: building up the church; building up the other “for whom Christ died.”  “Winning” for Paul was creating the most loving relationship possible – that type of love that builds up the other, helps society transform into more than it had been before.Being patient and kind, not pushy and deceitful; NOT boasting or being envious; NOT cheating to get ahead, but instead always protecting, always trusting, always hoping and always persevering.  Paul felt that without this Christ-like love, this God-like love – we are nothing; no matter how many elections we win; no matter how many times we have won the million dollar prize; no matter how many athletic records we have broken.

If we took Paul’s opinion seriously, our society, our world would most definitely change for the better.

What I have found amazing recently was the pitcher response to the umpire that “robbed” him of a “perfect game” by calling a player “safe” who should have been “out.”  Good sportsmanship was more important than revenge against the umpire who had “robbed” him.  Could it be that this man cares more about the sport of baseball than getting in the record books?  For that IS where he should have ended up.

Or is it a different record book that he wants to get into?  This man has done more for the sport of baseball than 20 record breakers.

July 4th will soon be here.  Will we take our freedom as Americans for granted, or will we seek to build up our country – even if it means that the other will win once in awhile?

We have forgotten that opposition is important, that there is more than our side to a dialogue.  None of us knows everything; those who disagree with us help us to understandour own position better – and even, sometimes, point out wherewe have been wrong.  It is not the weak person who changes their mind, but, rather, the one who places truth and unity first and who understands their own imperfections.

What is the Christian, the American, who believes in building up rather than tearing down called upon to do?  Yes, there are many issues that we may strongly support – but not at the cost of tearing America apart.  If we follow Paul’s goal of building up, we will pull together – in different directions most likely – but the foundation of freedom will be stronger.  We will travel down the road into the future together or not at all.

“Faith, hope and love abide, but the greatest of these is love.”

The Rev. M. Kathleen Chesnut is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Gloversville.



8/2010

Many people believe that our society is in the process of many of its major paradigms shifting.  We use paradigms to make sense out of reality.  In the 1500s, people thought that the sun revolved around the earth and they gained their understanding of where people fit into the scheme of things based upon that idea.Galileo supported Copernicus’ idea that the earth revolved around the sun, thus making the earth no longer the center of the universe.  He was condemned as a heretic because this scientific breakthrough threatened the system; it was considered “false and contrary to scripture” by the church.  But now we accept this as fact, having created new paradigms based on this “new” idea.

Today, we are moving from a sense of an absolute truth that humanity will be able to grasp one day, to a GPS system of truth, which needs several viewpoints to come to an approximation of truth – from truth as objective, unchanging and concrete to truth as a subjective experience that we have to interpret ourselves.  We thus speak about “my truth” and “your truth”, forgetting that what we are really interpreting is an experience of that which is.  Remember the God who introduces himself to Moses in Exodus as “I AM WHO I AM.”  That reality remains the same, but our experience of God changes as we grow and develop, and our ability to see matures.  We are moving from a black and white to a digital understanding of reality, as our factual knowledge doubles every 7-9 years.  And many of us want to turn off the electricity, because we are afraid.

We learn a lot about paradigm shifts from looking at the Book of Job.  In the prelude, God bragged about how righteous Job was.  In spite of this, Job was worried, constantly making sacrifices on his children’s behalf, as he was worried about them as well.  This righteous Job did not name himself righteous, God did.

In Job’s understanding of reality, good things happened to good people and bad things happened only to those bad people who deserve it.  When Job lost everything he owned and his children died, his friends told him to confess his horrible sin. His wifealso told him to “curse God and die.”  Job refused, as he knew that he had done nothing to deserve what had happened.J  ob is in pain from his loss as well as from the collapse of his system of understanding reality.  He has to chose God or his understanding of who God is.  Job’s system loses as Job reaches out – and finds – God.  At the end he says, “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.”

Job’s friends know that Job is a good man, but faced with acknowledging that reality or letting go of their system, they constantly tell Job to repent.  They put great effort into saving their friend – or so they think – but what they are really trying to save is their system, their understanding of reality.  They, too, declare Galileo to be a heretic, and so, most definitely, is that nasty fellow Job.  They are that systemic resistance that refuses to move forward, destroying what they value (their friendship with Job) in their effort to save it.  They become self-righteous, rather than righteous.

In the Epilogue, Job has been transformed.His faith is in God, not in a system.  He has that experience of life that we call the Peace of Christ.  Even though he does not understand how and why God does what God does, Job trusts in the One who created him.

We are living in a time when people in their 60s and 70s think differently than those in their 20s and 30s  .That concrete understanding of truth that I grew up with no longer exists.T  he events of the 1960s act as a dividing line.  After then, truth became subjective.  Many people are lost in a rudderless boat upon a choppy sea.

“I AM WHO I AM” is still with us.  But instead of reaching out to touch God, we need to find that still small voice within.  We are branches connected to a vine, a vine that sustains and gives life, a vine that is as fully alive as it ever has been.  This vine gives structure to our world

Hierarchy may be dissolving as we reach down into our subjectivity, people will increasingly question authority, but the Living Water of God’s love can still be reached deep inside our souls.  Reach down, connect, and be filled with life.



9/30/10

In the Christian context, only Christ has successfully managed to fully love his enemy; only Christ has managed to pray for those who persecuted him consistently.  We see this happen in Gospel of Luke (23:34); while hanging upon the cross Jesus says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”   Meanwhile, the soldiers who just crucified him are casting lots to divide up his clothing.

Most of us would be yelling at the soldiers or weeping, if we had any breath left.Our hearts would be filled with anger or fear.  In spite of our human nature, we who follow the way of Jesus Christ are called to follow his example, we are called to embody Christ as fully as we are able, to allow God to transform us.  We are called to allow God’s love melt our hardened hearts.

This phraseology sounds new.  So I opened “The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible”, published in 1962, and turned to the word “Sanctification”.  It stated that sanctification is “the realization or progressive attainment of likeness to God or to God’s intention for men.  It may be regarded as a status conferred by divine grace and as a goal to be aimed at.”  Today, we use the word humanity instead of men.  I haven’t heard the word sanctification for awhile, yet I have heard many others talking about embodying Christ.  I use this phrase often as well.  But I mean the same thing my teachers did when they taught me about sanctification.

The words may change, but the call issued by God does not.God issues the same call to us as had been issued to our grandparents, but God issues it in words that we can understand.  Not only this, but the definition in the book is correct, we cannot seek to achieve this without God’s help, without God’s grace.  We aim at the same goal and have the same help as did our ancestors.

Can this 50 year old book shed more light on things?   It also stated: “Individual Christians enter the sphere of sanctification where, with their fellow Christians, they are united in worship of a Lord who is Head of the body and source of holiness and moral power.”  “With their fellow Christians” – can I love others without first having experienced God’s love myself?  Can I understand the nature of the challenge to love as God loves without observing others struggling to meet that challenge?

The Bible often contains contradictory statements – we are told that bad things happen only to bad people, yet Job, who is admitted by God to be good loses everything.  But what comes through loud and clear in both the New and the Old Testaments is that challenge to love others as we love ourselves.  That challenge that is made stronger in Matthew 5:44 “love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.”  That challenge that only Christ, himself, has been able to meet.

But that does not let us off the hook.  Our goal is to become more LIKE Christ, not be Christ.This process of sanctification, of embodying Christ more fully, really is a process, a becoming something more than we were.It is a goal we strive for, although we KNOW that we will never actually meet it.

The words that we use may change.  The call does not.  Our culture is afraid, and when we are afraid it is easy to hate.  Those who follow the way of Jesus Christ are called to do otherwise.  We are called to love. 



LH11-10
Many of the major religions of the world have given humanity their own special gift.  Eastern religions tend to speak of the oneness of life, the unity of creation and the divine.  The Hebrew Scriptures contain the vision of Isaiah of a “new Heaven and a new Earth,” that vision ofswords being beaten into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks, lions and lambs living together in peace.  Christianity has the challenge of loving the other – the “one for whom Christ died.”  There is a vision of peace and lovingkindness throughout the religions of the world.

So why is there so much discord in the world?  An increasing lack of this peace?  Doesn’t this prove that those who believe that Armageddon and the destruction of the world are correct?

No.  The world is itself a system, and when systems change they are filled with conflict and anxiety.  There is no new life without conflict.  Reflect for a minute on the planting of a seed.  The seed is planted and watered.  The shoot forces its way out of the seed hull, the roots go down and the shoot goes up.T  he seed hull is destroyed, becoming fertilizer for the growing plant.  Childbirth is a conflict-filled event as well.But the end of both is new life.

Unfortunately, for the creation of a new heaven and a new earth, many old forms of being human need to die off before the new can take its place.

Other Christian visions of the “end” of the world – as in where the world is headed – include a vision quite similar to that of Isaiah.  They say that Christ will come and rule our world in peace for a thousand years.  Others see the kingdom of God as something that is here, but not yet.It began with the creation of the church, the church acting as the Body of Christ, as his hands and feet, reaching out to that “other for whom Christ died.”  As the church more fully embodies Christ (for we are definitely NOT there yet) the presence of God’s kingdom on earth grows.  This is not done without prayer and God’s help.

As systems move toward what is called the tipping point, that point where the coming change is embodied in the system, conflict increases, the system as it is composed doesn’t make sense.  But then the system “tips,” the change is embodied in the system, and it suddenly becomes peaceful, with that change moving the system forward.

Our world doesn’t make sense, but that is not as bad as it is a sign that something new is coming our way.  Something new is coming our way in a global sense.  The day will come when “lovingkindness” fills the world, when the lion and lamb lie down together, when Christians place the welfare of “the one for whom Christ died” first.  Every time we Christians pray the Lord’s Prayer, when we pray for the Kingdom of God to come “on earth as it is in heaven”, we are praying for this day.

At Gloversville’s Veterans Day parade speech, our Marine veteran spoke of his hope for the day when we will no longer need veterans.  That day WILL come.It will come in God’s time, but that day WILL COME.

 

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