Traditions around St. Roch show him as a friend of Dogs who became a third-order Trappist - a lay person who lived as a poor pilgrim. After years of caring for the sick he also contracted the plague, and a nobleman's dog attended to him, bringing him food. Eventually the dog's owner discovered St. Roch and nursed him back to health. He is known also as the patron saint of epidemics.
We acknowledge St. Roch as a way to remember that God gives us a special gift in loving and being loved by dogs. They are unique companions to human life - often regarded as expressing unconditional love in a way rarely found elsewhere. This can remind us of God's unconditional love for us.
On this day, and in this week, we give thanks for and ask God's blessings upon dogs and dog owners and caretakers.
A word about the recognition of Saints among Protestants:
Why is a Protestant church talking about saints? Isn't that a catholic or orthodox thing? Well, yes and no. The traditions of recognizing the saints do derive from the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions. It is also true that they originate centuries before the Protestant reformation when nearly all Christians were one or the other (except in Egypt and India where other ancient Christian traditions had developed independently from the 1st Century).
Paul reminds us that we are surrounded by "so great a cloud of witnesses" which is meant to encourage and inspire us to deeper and bolder living of our faith. There is no notion of worshipping the saints, in the way that some cultures worship ancestors. Rather, it is drawing inspiration from their lives of virtuous faith and the power of the Holy Spirit demonstrated in and through them. We might even use them as a way to focus our prayerful intentions, similar to how we ask others to remember us in prayer or put us or a particular situation on their church prayer list. If we believe that those who dwell with God are living with God, and we pray directly to Jesus and the Holy Spirit (see Romans 8) to intercede with the Father on our behalf, then it is not beyond reasonable faith that we might imagine in our prayers these others who dwell in the spirit with God to also remember us in prayer.
This is no magic. And it certainly is not needed. According to consistent teaching of the Christian faith traditions, we clearly have direct access to God in our prayers. And yet, we do consistently ask others to intercede for us, and we do pray not only to the Father but also to the Son and Spirit.
We worship the triune God - Father/Son/Spirit - Creator/Redeemer/Sustainer. We also receive a vast array of helps and aids to our worship and spiritual growth from many different cultural heritages. So long as they help us draw nearer to God as revealed in Jesus the Christ, then they are sources of blessing and can be received and appropriated as such.
(The image above can be found and purchased here) http://www.modernartisans.com/p-1947-patron-saint-retablo-plaque-st-roch.aspx
You can learn more at the following links:
1 Samuel 16:1-13 - 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
God does not choose us because we are exceptional. The world is captivated by fame and glory and the next new thing. What people crave (and what God offers) is authenticity even with all of our quirks and faults, our scars and wrinkles. God chose you.
None of the Apostles or early Christian leaders (men or women, Jews or Greeks) had what one would call a great resume for ministry. And many had things that would directly disqualify them – i.e. a sinful past, the wrong gender, religious or ethnic background, or lack of proper training. Some, like Paul, even had a reputation for working directly against the Christian movement they later came to lead.
Jesus himself was from the wrong kind of family and community to be thought a fitting leader (Nathaniel said, “Can anything good come from Nazareth!?!?” referring derogatorily to the region as unsuitable to produce a religious leader who would be theologically and culturally astute and morally righteous. Jesus repeatedly called people to follow him about whom others said, “Lord, don’t you know what kind of person this is?” (Tax collectors, women with questionable sexual histories, people who were diseased.)
It is certainly true that people with big dynamic personalities have the ability to draw large crowds with compelling presentations that entertain and inspire and possibly edify. Of course God can and does use such individuals and groups to further the Gospel. It is equally true that most people and groups are not this way, and that God works through all kinds of people and organizations. Congregations often look for the next dynamic leader who will “bring the magic” that solves all the problems and either continues or restores a vibrant and growing ministry. Yet while leadership is key, leaders do not grow ministries. It is ultimately God’s Holy Spirit working through the individual members and participants, using their gifts and graces for ministry, that attracts others and brings growth. It is one-on-one and small group relationships where people feel they are seen, known and loved that cause churches to thrive. It is each person being inspired by the work of the Holy Spirit through their own lives – so that they experience the joy of fruit-bearing faith.
It is equally true that as we look beyond the walls of the church we should not stop at the pretty and popular and powerful folks, but look to the left and the right, ahead and behind, to see all people for who they are and who God is calling them to be in Christ. Each person we encounter is made in God’s image and precious. Each one bears the spark and breath of God. Each one is beloved. Each one has gifts to offer and a dream which may be the seed of the kingdom of God within them.
Who has God put in your life so that you might call them toward Christ, help them name and celebrate their giftedness, and live into God’s fullness for them?
John 4:1-29 - Luke 7:36-50 - Luke 19:1-10
Whoever tells the story determines the heroes and villains. Western history has been written primarily by wealthy, white, heterosexual Christian men – the holders of societal power for the last 17 centuries. We learned the story of Oz from Dorothy’s point of view, but there are other perspectives and HERstories. Jesus engaged people based on a true understanding of their background stories rather than the external presumptions or common assumptions.
No one alive today is older than the original story of the wonderful Wizard of Oz. Or of the first Broadway musical adaptation from 1902. The movie which made the story of Dorothy ubiquitous was released in 1939. Which means that in various ways everyone alive today is inheritor of imagination shaped by this narrative. But what if the narrative is wrong.
Wicked the musical is presented as a prequel to the wonder wonderful Wizard of Oz, offering some backstory imagining how the characters and situations we discover in the Wizard of Oz along with Dorothy came to be. How did the wizard come to be the wizard and how did it come to be that Glinda is the good witch and Elfaba is the bad witch? The “Wicked Witch of the West.” Popular history is always written by the winners. Other groups write history but it doesn't survive at all or remains hidden.
From early childhood we are taught by intentional peer and adult messages along with narratives from the wider culture that there are insiders and outsiders, people who are on our side and those who are on the other. Even in the Bible we see indications of this in Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament when God’s people struggle with their relationships they have with those outside their own tribes. How often do we make assumptions and snap judgements about people based on where they are from, who their people are, what we think they say or do?
One of the challenges we face theologically is wrestling with the presence of evil in the world. Are there actually evil people, or is it rather that evil “spirits” take control of people and organizations and pull them away from the divine image in which they are made? What does it take to bury the Light and Breath of God in each person that would then allow them to behave destructively toward others? And what about mental illness or other expressions of distorted nature (like brain tumors) which prompt people to act in ways contrary to the love of God that creates, redeems and sustains all things?
Perhaps you had the experience of visiting with aunts, uncles or cousins as an adult and hearing alternative versions of stories you received as a child from your own parents. As you're sitting around the kitchen table you hear them talking and the dissonance rings in your years. Either their version is incredulous, or you hear a truth in it that brings to clarity the discomfort you always felt with the versions of the story you received as a child.
My purpose here is not so much to challenge the validity of whether certain actions were good or bad. Rather to help us see behind the actions to the person of the actor and wonder about what led them to take those actions. As Brene Brown asks of herself and those she teaches, “What story are we telling ourselves to makes sense of the world as we experience it?" The story you tell yourself then gives rise to the actions that you take. In Rising Strong, Brown tells the story of swimming in the lake with her husband. She thought they were going for a swim together and he apparently thought they were competing and so he took off swimming without her. She began to create a narrative in her own head to make sense of what her husband was doing. She became increasingly upset because he abandoned her in the water. After having conversation with him later that day she realized that they simply had different understandings of the situation and therefore different expectations and different actions. Her interpretation was based on her understanding and expectations which were completely different from his.
Even when it is objectively true that another person's words or actions are hurtful and harmful, it is still worthwhile to understand what's behind their choices. We may discover sympathy, empathy or compassion toward them for the brokenness behind their bad decisions. At the very least we can experience a reduction in our own resentment when we see that they were perhaps not as free or complicit as we imagined.
During the spring of 2017 we gathered in small home groups as a congregation simply to hear one others' stories. I don't know about you, but as I listen to people's stories from childhood, adolescence and earlier adulthood, I gained a much greater appreciation for their personality and how they live and move in the world. Through this process people may become four dimensional beings rather than the two-dimensional caricatures we often project upon them through our presumptions and laziness.
As we look around our church, around our community, and around the world, how can we learn to see others as God sees them, rather than as our dominant cultural narrative or our own distorted stories present them? Until we move beyond our assumptions and see the image of God in each person we will not be able to love our neighbors and our enemies as Jesus both commanded and demonstrated. Each person has the spark of God in them, and each person has a story that shapes their thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, words and actions. Let us learn to listen and appreciate each person as a child of God.
The Kingdom of God as Jesus presents it is a kind of La La Land. It’s idealistic, fanciful, hopeful, starry-eyed. It imagines another world and another way of living that may seem unrooted from reality. God invites us (pleads with us?) to live differently, to follow and share this dream of a different way and world.
What’s your dream and how hard are you willing to work for it? Are you able to pursue it even when others around you want you to be more realistic?
The parables of the Kingdom of God told by Jesus present God’s preferred future as a kind of fantacy, a flight of fancy, a “la la land.” The motion picture La La Land is the common story of artists in Hollywood seeking to live out their dreams – one a writer and actor, the other a jazz musician. It becomes clear through their telling of their own stories that these are long-held goals from early childhood. It also is clear, and no surprise, that the chances of “making it” are slim – the odds are definitely not in their favor. And yet, they persist. But their persistence is not without struggle, doubt, and even moments of giving up hope. After all, “maybe I’m just not good enough.”
This narrative holds two themes we will highlight – the first is that many people have dreams that seem to go unfulfilled, and often even untried. (It may be all people, but I have no way of knowing that.) Whether their circumstances or people around them present obstacles, or simply don’t offer any clear path forward, these people do not pursue their dreams. And I think the world is the poorer for it. After all, “The dreams in our hearts may be the seeds of the kingdom of God.” And if that is true, then one goal of faith is to allow the dreams within us to emerge, and to encourage and support the dreams of others as they give voice and vision to new life and hope.
The second theme is that The Kingdom of God is itself a dream which seems far off and improbable, if not impossible. We read what Jesus asks of us, and look at ourselves, those around us, and the resources available, and we say, “Who is God kidding? Who are we kidding? This will never happen. It will never work.” And so often we don’t even try, or try so halfheartedly as to ensure failure before we even begin. Again, we and the world are the lesser for not having given God’s dreams our all, despite the high possibility of failure.
So much is beyond our influence and control. Yet God calls us forward into faith, and invites us to launch into this grand experiment of the church, the Body of Christ on earth (itself an absurd and mysterious premise). We journey together with one another and with God. We dare to dream the improbable, and to pursue it trusting that these acts of faith are themselves some fulfillment of God’s dream for us. Let us boldly pursue the foolish gospel of Jesus and work together with God to create this la la land, the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. And let us sing and dance our way through the sorrows and the joys of this adventure together.
Isaiah 58:1-14; Matthew 25:31-46
How do we respond to the suffering in the world around us? Throughout scripture, and especially in the Prophets and teachings of Jesus, we see God reaching through and beyond the lifestyles and concerns and rhythms of the rich and comfortable into the intimate circumstances of the poor, the oppressed, the excluded. Are we willing to follow God into relationship with our neighbors?
While the story of Les Miserables is set against the background of the French Revolution, the musical is primarily a story of love and redemption contrasted with legalism. Our main characters are Jean Valjean (the convict) and his adversary Javert (the inspector) Javert demonstrates fierce and blind dedication to the letter of the law and to the institution of the state. Jean Valjean served 19 years hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s children, but then after his release was marked and rejected by society. In desperation Valjean steals from a Bishop who housed and fed him in an act of charity. Brought back by the police with the story that he had been given the silver table service, Valjean then receives mercy from the Bishop who not only confirms the false story but gives even more silver, stating: “I have bought your soul for God.”
Valjean goes the rest of his life seeking to fulfill the calling of this mercy and grace. He shows it first to Fantine, then to her daughter Cossette, to a man mistakenly arrested, to Marius, and ultimately to Javert himself. In each of these instances he risks his own life, safety or freedom in an effort to extend the mercy and justice he has received.
God calls for us to offer charity to those in need, but not to stop there. We are called to recreate the economic and social systems of our world so that ALL people have the best chance possible to flourish and thrive, and so that when people stumble and fall they have the best possible opportunity for restoration, transformation and a redeemed life.
Paul highlights God’s desire when stating, “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us. That proves God’s love for us.” (Romans 5:8) The idea here is that God helps those who cannot help themselves (contrary to the popular saying, “God helps those who help themselves.” Which originates instead with Sophoclese and Euripides.) Scripture’s witness is that God enters in to redeem us precisely when we cannot help ourselves, and then God calls (commands!) us to structure our communities likewise. The Sabbath is designed to give all of creation regular days of rest, and the Jubilee eliminates both generational poverty and generational accumulation of vast wealth by restoring to each tribe their property and resources every 50 years, regardless of what choices, circumstances or failures led to them losing it in the first place.
God is continually calling the children of Abraham to be “restorers of streets to live in.” We are called to be people who renew and restore the world around us as signs of God’s kingdom, and to restructure our relationships and social interactions so as to open up possibilities for others. As followers of Jesus we are called, and then empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit, to join in God’s work of creating the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. God’s upside-down kingdom where all live fully and in harmony.
Let us ask one another, and our neighbors, how we might grow toward this vision of beloved community that Jesus dreamed.
Hidden Figures Screening Night This Wednesday, July 19, 6:30 pm #SpiritualityOfStageAndScreen Worship Series
Join us in the Parlor at Central on Wednesday, July 19th @ 6:30 pm for a screening of Hidden Figures.
We will watch the film and then have some discussion before we adjourn. This film is the inspiration for worship and sermon on Sunday, July 23rd - "Hidden Figures - Everyone Has A Contribution to Make"
SNACKS: Popcorn, Candy & Cold Drinks
DINNER: For those who won't have had dinner we will order pizza and have salad and tea available. Or you can bring your own.
LOCATION: Central Christian Church Parlor - 4711 Westside Drive, Dallas, TX 75209.
QUESTIONS: Call or text Ken's cell - 214-288-1663.
MORE ABOUT THE WORSHIP THEME: Hidden Figures: “Everyone has a contribution to make.”
Often the best leaders and problem solvers are those who get overlooked. God chooses people not based upon human judgement criteria, but based upon how God ca work in and through a person’s live to further the work of the kingdom. In this film, those with the solutions are overlooked because they are African-American women, and thus assumed to not be qualified or even able to address the needs at hand. Who around you is being overlooked that God wants to use?
If you're available, you can also join us Wednesday morning @ 10 am for Bible Study inspired by this theme.
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The full upcoming screening series on Wednesdays @ 6:30 pm:
Our view of reality is limited - past, present and also future. This means that even our dreams probably lack significant elements that we simply can't see. We are typically at the center of our own story, but not at the center of God's story. Pure dreams compel us forward, but into a future that will unfold beyond what we can imagine.
We often have dreams for our lives that get side tracked by our own choices or by the circumstances that unfold around us. The result may be that we assume our dreams are lost. It may well be that things will come full circle and the dream will be realized, just not along the path we’d imagined in the beginning.
In this story of Joseph we hear his dreams and see how he responds to them by sharing unwisely and braggadociosly with his brothers, who are also objects of the dreams. They try to circumvent the unfolding future and prevent what Joseph predicts. A long and circuitous route ensues, which eventually leads Joseph to exactly the place he’d imagined he would be. Is that the only way he could have arrived at the destination of his life? Or was it rather that God was planning to work this blessing through Joseph, and willing to accommodate a variety of paths?
There are certainly things that appear to bring a complete end to our dreams. When we dream a bright future for a child who then dies, then it seems the dream has died too. And yet even then families describe that while their own child did not live into the dream, their legacy may extend the dream even beyond what had been imagined. Does this eliminate or negate the grief of loss? Certainly not. It can soften and transform it into a new kind of tender hope.
Christian writer and speaker Joni Eareckson Tada describes how as a girl she dreamed of impacting the world for Christ. Following her diving accident that left her a quadriplegic she began to have opportunities for public speaking, eventually ending up on the Johnny Carson Show. She would later talk about how God used her injury to open doors and give her a much wider audience than she could imagine having otherwise.
People have different understandings of how actively involved God may be in orchestrating the events of our lives. There seems little doubt that God can and will work in the midst of any circumstances to unfold redemption and transformation if we are open to it. As you look back on your life and the dreams you’ve had, consider how God has been, is now, and may yet be at work to fulfill dreams, bring glory to God, and bring about healing, salvation, and God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
For freedom Christ has set us free. And if we live in true freedom, then we will also seek freedom for those around us, and will not profit from their subjugation. As followers of Jesus, our pursuit of Justice and Righteousness for others is a primary witness to our faith in Him.
What does freedom mean to you? What scenes are conjured in your imagination? The mountains? The beach? A flowered meadow? Flying? Floating? Laughter? Family? Health?
What freedom do you seek? Is it freedom from addiction? Freedom from financial worry? Freedom from anxiety and fear? Freedom from relationship problems? Freedom from violence and oppression? Freedom from judgement and hate – either self-imposed or from others?
Jesus’ ministry echoes and fulfills the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17). We hear proclaimed and see demonstrated the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25) when God instructed the people to release their neighbors from the bonds of oppression imposed by generational poverty – regardless of what caused that poverty. Jesus set people free from disease and disorder – regardless of what caused these problems. Jesus set people free from guilt and shame – regardless of the circumstances or complicity of their sin and brokenness.
As kids, when playing ball, there would occasionally be some interference, and we would all call out, “DO OVER!” – a type of forgiveness of the last play made. In business we have several types of debt forgiveness, often under some form of bankruptcy. There is a process, and there are consequences, but there is also freedom.
Followers of Jesus Christ long to claim our freedom from sin and from the Law, yet we are also often the first to hold others to strict standards of action and reaction, behavior and consequences. Consequences matter, and certainly God does not sweep away all the consequences of our choices.
What if we as Christians were the first and most consistent to declare freedom for people, and then organize our lives and our work in ways that help people live into the full freedom that God offers us in Christ Jesus? What if we sought the freedom of others before we claimed our own freedom (Philippians 2). What if we lived like freedom in Christ was for all people?
God dreams of doing a new thing. How does our fear cause resistance? Where is God sending us? To whom is God sending us? How might we think we are being faithful when we are actually resisting and putting up obstacles to the new things God is doing? (Acts 9:1-16)
In this story of Saul and Ananias we see that they have several things in common. They are both devout Jews. They both take very seriously their faith and commitment to serve God. And both hold an understanding of God that is too narrow, regardless of how devoted they are.
Ananias had already become a follower of Jesus. He was “a disciple of the Lord” committed to growing the Church. He was significantly connected to the Spirit that he was able to experience and be open to a vision in which Jesus gave him instruction. He was also significantly connected to push back against a path that did not square with his idea of “Church.” Surely there must be something wrong in this communication. Surely God is not really wanting him to go and meet with a known persecutor of Christians – someone who was actively working against God’s purposes.
Saul likewise was sure of his faith and his devotion to God. He was sure of what God wanted for the world, and from him specifically. He was sure that this Jesus movement, these people who called themselves “followers of The Way”, was anathema to God. It was a danger to the true faith and must be resisted. And he too was open to experiencing a vision from Jesus.
And yet God was doing something new that neither of them understood. Jesus had to intervene directly because they were working against his purposes. What new thing is he desiring to do among us today? Are we ready and able to see, hear and follow?
God’s Dream for creation is illustrated in the verdant garden of Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22. Abundance is God’s intention and desire. In Acts 2 & 4 we see how the Holy Spirit’s presence in the community results in an outpouring of abundance overflowing with generosity and mutual trust and care. How might we experience and demonstrate God’s power to the world in similar ways through our own mutual sharing in love?
When people encounter the holy, they are moved to the center of God’s will as described in Micah 6:8 – “Do justice, Love kindness, Walk humbly – all with God”. When Abraham encountered God (Genesis 18) he and Sarah were moved with hospitality to prepare a feast for them. They weren’t giving because they had lots left over, but because the Spirit prompted them too.
Likewise in Acts 2 and 4, the people are not giving and sharing in this way because they are overflowing with abundant resources. They are not giving from their excess. And they’re not giving just to meet the needs of the suffering. They are converted to a new way of thinking. Their minds are renewed – metanoia – “Be transformed by the renewing of your minds” (Romans 12:2). And with this renewed mind they see and respond to the world in new ways.
No where in this story, in Acts or Paul’s writings or even in the gospels is there a broad instruction or teaching for everyone to adopt a lifestyle of poverty and communal sharing. The people are not told to do this – it simply emerges, even bursts for the, from their experience of grace from God’s Holy Spirit. Wealth is not demonized by either Jesus or the Apostles, though it clearly has its dangers (Mt 6:24; 19:24). And in Acts 5 we read the story of one family who in this same community chooses deceit instead of honest dialogue when they choose not to give all of their possessions over to the community. The consequences come not for their withholding but for their faithlessness as shown in the dishonest betrayal. And this demonstrates how difficult following the Spirit can be.
This sharing also was not with the wider world (that comes elsewhere). It was specifically with the other believers, as a demonstration of their “love for one another” (John 13:35). The sharing was simple their honest and humble response – a desire to live in trust of God’s provision and abundance. So what if the church lived this way today? Perhaps not selling everyting and sharing all in common (though maybe that). What if we were open to a radical reordering of our relationships with one another and with our possessions and our wealth?
And what if we remember that as church we are not just a congregation here or there, but the scattered and gathered Body of Christ around the community and around the world? What if we practice this new stewardship of resources with other congregations in our community – say those situated within the same middle or high school district? How would we rediscover the meaning of church, and thus of our faith, if we were one with these other folks as the 3000 souls who became believers on Pentecost were one? How might that transform our witness and testimony to the power of God to work miracles in our day and time and heal our land?