Spiritual but not religious – poem

“Spiritual but not religious”?
So was Jesus.
Jesus didn’t come to create a religion
he came to start a relationship.
Jesus wants you to know
that God loves you personally.
That God isn’t some
amorphous thing in the sky
waiting to catch you screwing up.
God loves you
God made you.
God wants you
to know God personally,
directly,
without an intermediary.

Jesus couldn’t stand
the religious authorities
of the day
and how they made sure
that people
saw them praying,
and saw how big
their prayer shawls were.

Jesus wants people
to show
how big
their hearts are.

Jesus wants us
to be in relationship
with each other
and with God.
He wants us to serve God
not by religious observance
but by taking care
of each other.

Jesus would rather a person
never go to church
than spend all their time
in church
and none of their time
helping people.

With Jesus,
your religious observance
would be in a soup kitchen
or helping people clean up
after a tornado
instead of sitting for an hour
in a building, in “church”.

Jesus came to tell you
that you
are the church,
not the building.
That we collectively
make up living stones.

Jesus didn’t want us
to be anything
other than equal.
We are not supposed
to have
ordained and lay people,
but all the same people.
We’re not supposed
to have
bishops and popes.
The only one
above us
is God.

So “spiritual but not religious”?
So was Jesus.
His teachings are true.

On marriage for priests.

There is heated debate these days on whether Catholic priests should be allowed to marry. Some priests have felt so strongly that they should be able to marry that they have left the Catholic church and become Episcopal or Lutheran. All Protestant denominations allow their ministers to marry, but these are the closest in ritual to Catholicism.

So, let us look at examples from the Bible, so that we don’t rely upon our own understanding (see Proverbs 3:5) Christians learned about God from the Jews, so it is fitting to look at the Hebrew Testament to see what Jews understood was God’s plan for their priests. Their traditions became the blueprint that the early Christian church started with.

The rules for what renders a person fit to be a priest are in Leviticus.  Among rules such as not touching a dead body except that of a close family member and not shaving the edge of his beard, we find these specific rules about who they aren’t allowed to marry –

They are not to marry a woman defiled by prostitution. They are not to marry one divorced by her husband, for the priest is holy to his God.” (Leviticus 21:7)

By spelling this out, we know that there are allowed to marry other people.

Then there are instructions about their daughters in 21:9.   We can logically infer from this that the daughter was legitimately conceived – hence the priest was married.

Verses 13-15 give more information as to who a priest is allowed to marry.   13 “He is to marry a woman who is a virgin. 14 He is not to marry a widow, a divorced woman, or one defiled by prostitution. He is to marry a virgin from his own people, 15 so that he does not corrupt his bloodline among his people, for I am Yahweh who sets him apart.”

This further proves that priests are allowed to marry.  Why say who they can and can’t marry if they aren’t allowed to?  Thus, marriage is appropriate and allowed for priests in Judaism.

These instructions are repeated and added to later in Ezekial 44:22.    “He is not to marry a widow or a divorced woman, but must marry a virgin from the offspring of the house of Israel, or a widow who is the widow of a priest.”

God does not want us to be alone.  It isn’t part of God’s plan for us. In Genesis 2:18 we read 18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper as his complement.”

One of Jesus’s early miracles was healing the mother-in-law of Simon Peter.  From this we must conclude that he was married – he wouldn’t have a mother-in-law otherwise.  Remember this is the person that Jesus built his entire Church upon (See Matthew 16:18).  He wouldn’t have chosen someone for so important a role that was doing something he thought was wrong.

“As soon as they left the synagogue at Capernaum, Jesus and the disciples went into Simon Peter’s house. His mother-in-law was in bed with a high fever. They asked Jesus to help her. He went to her, and taking her by the hand, he rebuked the fever. Immediately she was healed and she began to wait on them. Later that evening, people began bringing those who were sick and possessed to him. He healed them by laying his hands on them and he drove out demons with a word. Those who were possessed had demons who were shouting “You are the Son of God!” But he told them not to speak because it wasn’t time yet for this to be known. What was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah was fulfilled with his actions. “He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.” (Isaiah 53:4)”  (MT 8:14-17, MK 1:29-34, LK 4:38-41   Condensed Gospel)

Paul, in giving instructions to Titus, says in Titus 1:5-9
“5 This is why I left you in Crete, that you might amend what was defective, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you, 6 if any man is blameless, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of being profligate or insubordinate. 7 For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy, and self-controlled; 9 he must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it.”

These elders become bishops – leaders over others. They are allowed to marry – but only once. But they are allowed to marry.

But – all of this is irrelevant.  Jesus didn’t want priests to be different from the congregation.  He wanted us to all be equal, like brothers.  To have any group of people separate from the rest of the Body of Christ is to go against Christ’s teaching.

Luke 22:24-27   24 Then a dispute also arose among them about who should be considered the greatest. 25 But He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles dominate them, and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’26 But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever is greatest among you must become like the youngest, and whoever leads, like the one serving. 27 For who is greater, the one at the table or the one serving? Isn’t it the one at the table? But I am among you as the One who serves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(All Bible translations are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible unless otherwise noted)

ONE

One 013016
Text reads:
Imagine if (when) the Body of Christ joins together, works together, as ONE, serving God in unison, ONE, as God is ONE.

No divisions, no denominations, no doctrines. Our only leader is God, who we all hear clearly. (May it come speedily and in our time. Amen)

Ingredients:
8.5 x 12 inch Strathmore visual journal
Bought ephemera (magazine page depicting a school of fish swimming in unison)
Silver sharpie. White gel pen.

Created 1/30/16.

What should Church be?

For many people, church looks like this at the most basic level
cross

Yet remember that the angel said to the women who went to find Jesus at the tomb –

The angel said to the women “Do not be afraid! I know that you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. Why are you looking among the dead for the living? He is not here – he has been resurrected!” (Condensed Gospel rendition)

The church as we know it is dying.

The Christian faith tradition must change what it looks at in order to survive. It must change from being a religion of rites and creeds.

It must stop being an institution focused on
the historical Jesus
and the future Jesus
and learn to BE Jesus right now,
to the people in the world.

It must stop the idea of “Bringing people to Jesus”
(preaching the Gospel)
and start living the idea of “Bringing Jesus to people”
(living the Gospel)

Many people have left church because they know that something is missing.

There are many large abandoned church buildings.
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And at the center of them is the altar, a shrine to death, to sacrifice.
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For many, church is a place of divine insight, of sudden epiphanies

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But then when they leave, the everyday world is dull and boring.

For many, church is a sanctuary against the storms of life

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But does this teach them to live in the world?

Perhaps Church can be seen as a boat, to rise above the dangerous waters, or to safely travel to visit or help others.
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Each person gets their own boat. They learn how to row it themselves. They develop the strength to help themselves and to help others.
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It is a place where we can each learn how to learn and grow safely. Others watch our progress and make sure we are not going to get hurt. They cheer us on.
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It needs to be a place where we can learn that right here is where God meets us – that God loved us enough to come down to Earth to be with us and live among us. That God loves us enough to still be with us right now, right where we are. That God wants to work through us, and with us.
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Church should be small, human sized.
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It should be intimate and personal.
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Why have we so long built churches that are immense, that dwarf us, that make us feel insignificant?
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They feel lonely, cold, isolating.
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They are out of proportion with us.
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When God came to earth, God came as our size. The Temple is not a place, but within us.

Often churches are built far away, high up, hard to get to.

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This is especially true of monasteries. They are places to retreat from the world.

Jesus tells his disciples that they are to be in the world – not apart from it. Jesus trained them to feed, to clothe, to help – everyone, not just those who are “in”.

For so many, God is seen as immense, and difficult to get to.
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There are narrow paths, and gates, and boundaries in the way
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We need to break apart the idea of church. We need to see through it, to reinvent it.
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Even modern churches, while looking different, still have the perspective wrong. The focus is on the preacher – on one person. The people sit passively, staring in the same direction. If they speak at all, it is from a script (a hymnal, a prayer-book) Only one person is allowed to speak something different, to direct the service.

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This sets up a hierarchy – of one person higher than the rest. This is directly opposed to what Jesus wanted, who wanted us to have only God above us. To have a person above us is to make them into an idol.

I’ve met many people who’ve left church for all of these reasons. They felt lost, alienated, alone. They too read the Gospel and met the real living Jesus and made a home for him in their hearts. They know that Jesus says that the Church is us – people, doing the will of God here in the world.

Yet, God says that people were not made to be alone. We are meant to be in community. We are meant to live and work and be together. No one person has everything required. We must work together.

Church needs to be all of us working together to help others. It isn’t a building or a place. But even if we remove the idea of the church being a building, we still have to remember the ideas that have long been part of church, so even when we take the Church out of the building, we must still make sure the old ways don’t come along.

It must be open to all.
It must be human-sized.
It must not be led by a single person – all must participate.
It must be a place where all can grow.

Again- it sounds like I’m talking about a place – an institution. I’m not. Certainly, people need to gather together occasionally. People cannot truly connect online. But, the money raised from members cannot go to a building or a salary. It cannot be inward-based. This will cause self-collapse, and is the opposite of what Jesus wants. The Church cannot support the church. The Church – the Body of Christ, must give aid to the world. That is where tithes must go. Outward.

People can meet in small groups, in each others’ homes.
They can meet in school gyms (they are not being used on the weekend)
They can meet in community centers or hotels.

There are plenty of already-built places that have meeting areas that are either free or inexpensive.

But when they meet, it must be a place to organize to go out into the world, to bring Jesus to people, by feeding, clothing, healing, visiting.

Not by preaching the Gospel,
but by living it.

(All pictures are from Pinterest)

Poem – what Church really is

Christmas stamp

I dream of a world
where people understand
that you don’t
go
to church.
You are Church.

That service is what God wants,
not hymns,
not prayers from a book.

Where people see every window
as a church window
and see the whole world
through it.

Where church buildings
are more like
thrift stores,
the Red Cross,
food banks,
soup kitchens.

Where they aren’t a place
to escape the world
but to equip people
to serve it

– not by preaching the Gospel
but by being a living example of it.

The map and the treasure

I recently went on retreat at a Benedictine monastery. Their website says that “You’re invited to join us any day for prayer or Mass in the Archabbey Church.” They pray five times every day, and have mass every day. They make a point of saying that the Rule of St. Benedict says “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ.” They say that “Hospitality is a Benedictine tradition.”

Their guest house is impressive. They even build guest rooms into their seminary. The meals are generous and filling. There is dessert with lunch and supper every day.

But the hospitality isn’t everywhere, and it doesn’t cover everything. There are quite a number of areas that are off limits. The signs are a bit distressing. And, you don’t get communion unless you are Catholic. Even though guests are to be welcomed as if they are Christ, even though they are welcomed to come pray with the monks, they can’t take communion. I made sure to ask the monk who was leading us (a Methodist group) on tour “Are we, or are we not allowed to receive communion?” and he said “I’m sorry, I’m not able to give you permission.”

He isn’t able to give me permission, because he is just a monk. Even the abbot, the monk in charge of the abbey, wouldn’t be allowed to give me permission. Only the Pope would. I’m working on a letter. I’m not kidding.

This is a Catholic rule, not a Benedictine rule. It is very painfully obvious to me that the Rule of St. Benedict is far more inclusive than the Rule of the Catholic Church. It would appear to me that they should offer communion to anyone who wants it, in the spirit of being welcoming and treating everyone as if they are Jesus. Following the rule of the Catholic Church, even Jesus wouldn’t be allowed to receive communion, because he is Jewish.

I’ve wrestled with this for years. This isn’t the first time I’ve written about this. Just look up “Communion” in the search field or in the tag cloud and you’ll see plenty of other of my musings on this subject. But this time was different. This time I invited Jesus into it. This time I started the weekend with the intention of meditating with Jesus about the goal of unity and inclusion for everyone. This time I was on a mission, and Jesus was my guide.

So how can the Church be inclusive and unified with contradictory policies? They say one thing, and yet do another. How can we welcome everyone as Christ if we put up signs or have policies that essentially say “You are welcome, but only so far, and only so much”?

There are plenty of signs throughout the grounds that say “off limits” in one way or another – –
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The tabernacles are all locked. These are the boxes in the chapels that hold the consecrated host. Catholics believe that Jesus is physically present in the communion wafers once they are blessed. Those that are not used at the mass are put into a tabernacle, locked away, and a candle left burning nearby.
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The vials for holy oil are in a special container with locks on it –
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In spite of all these “off limits” signs, there is a place that is truly special and yet has no doors to block it, no barricades. I knew when I saw a picture of this place when researching the monastery that I had to spend time here. This is a shrine that holds the consecrated host, but it is far fancier than the ones in the other chapels. The “Blessed Sacrament Chapel” is in a special alcove behind the organ in the abbey.

Their website says that “The tabernacle and its tower were fashioned from the altar used in the Church from 1909 to 1968.” The tower over it is called a “baldachin”. There is a much larger one over the altar in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It is used to indicate a holy place is underneath it.

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Here I prayed, asking Jesus about this rule. Should I take Communion anyway? This was on Friday. I was still unsure if I should even go to mass on Sunday, knowing that I wouldn’t be officially allowed. Sure, the priest wouldn’t know that I wasn’t Catholic. But I know.

I prayed, barefoot on that cold marble floor.
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I sat near the windows, looking at the shrine, with all that gold, all those gems. I wandered around that little chapel, taking pictures of the windows and ornaments, wondering about how many hungry people could have been fed with the money spent on these things.

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And then I heard Jesus say into my heart – “Why are you crying over the map, when you have the treasure?”

The “map” is the way you get there. The “treasure” is what you are seeking. The “map” is the communion wafer. The “treasure” is Communion with Christ. Why was I so upset over not being able to participate in a symbol, when I already had what the symbol represented? I have Jesus in my heart. That is the goal. That is the treasure. Once he has been welcomed in, there is no need to have the symbol of communion again. It points the way, while Jesus is the Way.

Yet I am still sad. I’m still sad over the painful exclusionary practices of an institution that represents Christ. I’m crying over the harm that their policies cause – and the hypocrisy of them. You can’t say you are welcoming of guests and yet put up signs saying that guests are not allowed. You can’t say you are hospitable and then not allow everyone to take communion.

The symbol matters. It matters because it shows that they still do not have Jesus in their hearts. If they did, they would understand that they can’t put up walls and barriers of any sort.

But then, let’s go deeper. This is about more than the symbol of communion or signs saying “off limits”. I say, not one more church building should be built until poverty is eradicated. When all people have food, clothing, and homes, then, and only then, can more churches can be built. People have to come first. Until then, these church buildings are empty shells, they are tombs. They are shrines to a dead faith that cares more about ritual and rules than reality. This applies to all denominations.

Think of how many people could have been housed with all the effort and money put into this place.
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The roofs are made of stone or terra-cotta tile. Very durable. Very expensive
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Even the downspouts are expensive – copper!
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How many poor people could have been fed with all of that money and effort put into these buildings? The Church is missing the point of how to serve Jesus. He said “Feed my sheep”, not “Build a huge church and hide yourself away in it, separated from the world”.

The reality of the living Christ is too important to pass by. All too much, Christians are focusing on a Jesus who existed “back then” in the stories in the Bible, or in the future, in a time of glory when he will come again. They focus on his death and his coming again, without the middle bit. They miss out on being united with Jesus right now, not just when they die. They live their whole lives in hope of “eternal life” with Jesus, completely passing by the opportunity to have a full life now, with Jesus in their hearts.

This is why I’m sad. I’m sad because the truth of Jesus hasn’t entered into the hearts of the faithful and into the Church. I’m sad that their policies and rules prove that their hearts and souls are not in synch. They say they are welcoming and hospitable, and yet their actions, deep down, prove otherwise.

Did I go to mass? Yes. Did I take communion? No.

Up until the very last minute I prayed about it, asking God what I should do. I went to mass and got up when it was time to get communion. Two of my friends who were on the retreat with me remained in their seats. In the queue, I prayed, asking God to direct my actions. And in response, my arms went up and crossed over me, as if on their own. To cross your arms over your chest, hands holding your shoulders, is a sign that you cannot take communion. It is to ask for a blessing only. When my arms came up, I knew that was what God wanted for me to do. The tears began to form in the corners of my eyes, and I let them come. Misty-eyed, I stood before the abbot who was administering the communion wafers. I bowed to show reverence for Jesus. The abbot muttered some blessing that I could not hear, and I walked away, tears streaming down my face.

I want them to see me cry. I want these brothers to see how painful this rule is. I want them to know that it does not build up the Church. I want their hearts to open. Perhaps they could practice a bit of conscientious objection, and refuse to take communion until all people can take it?

While on retreat, I got another answer from Jesus in the form of the reading for the day. It was from Haggai 2:3-9. (HCSB)

3 Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Doesn’t it seem like nothing to you? 4 Even so, be strong, Zerubbabel”—this is the LORD’s declaration. “Be strong, Joshua son of Jehozadak, high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land”—this is the LORD’s declaration. “Work! For I am with you”—the declaration of the LORD of Hosts.5 “This is the promise I made to you when you came out of Egypt, and My Spirit is present among you; don’t be afraid.” 6 For the LORD of Hosts says this: “Once more, in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. 7 I will shake all the nations so that the treasures of all the nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,” says the LORD of Hosts. 8 “The silver and gold belong to Me”—this is the declaration of the LORD of Hosts. 9 “The final glory of this house will be greater than the first,” says the LORD of Hosts. “I will provide peace in this place”—this is the declaration of the LORD of Hosts.

What I got out of this was that the day is coming when the Lord will rebuild the House. Not the Temple, but the entire Church. It isn’t a building, after all, but a collection of people, united as the Body of Christ. Each believer that has Jesus as his or her guiding force inside is a stone that builds up this Church.

Also part of my intention for this weekend was this verse –

10 Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. (Psalm 46:10, ASV).

Yet when I looked it up in the translation I brought with me, it was rendered as –
“Stop your fighting—and know that I am God, exalted among the nations, exalted on the earth.”

What I got out of this was this – it isn’t for me to worry about. God’s got it.
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Flower fund

There is a flower fund at the church I went to. It pays for the flowers behind the altar, but it also pays for the wine and the wafers used for Communion.

Often people give to the flower fun in thanksgiving for something good – a birthday or an anniversary, for instance.

But it is also given in memory of someone who died. Some of those deaths are natural. Someone died after a good long life, well lived. But some of those deaths are tragic – accidents, suicide, crib death.

We eat joy and sadness when we share Communion together. Those wafers and that wine were bought with money in memory or honor or thanksgiving of those very human events.

We eat them together, kneeling, at the altar. This is a profound thing. This is a healing thing.

I know people who think they are too sinful to go to church. This is like saying they can’t go to the gym because they are too fat. Church isn’t about being holy. It is about being whole. It is about accepting and sharing our joyful and sad times together.

But church isn’t about a building or a denomination. It is about being part of the Body of Christ. We are all members of the same Church, regardless of creed or ritual, or tradition, regardless of whether we go on Sundays or Saturdays, or not at all. We are all called, and we all serve in our own way, according to our calling.

Money and church – a dangerous combination.

I really don’t want money to be involved with a church. I don’t want people to feel guilt about having to tithe and I don’t want the government to get involved.

The government has nothing to do with church. If there is no money involved then it is simpler all around. Forget the idea of registering a church as a nonprofit. A church isn’t a business and shouldn’t be run like one. It is a group of people, united in a common goal to serve God and humankind.

Tithes make people feel excluded. They are guilt inducing. Have I paid enough? Is it ten percent of my net or of my gross? The poor person knows that he hasn’t paid anywhere near the amount that the rich person has, so he feels that he is not an equal member.

To expect people to pay to go to church is to exclude some people. It certainly will shame some of them. It will make some people feel like modern day lepers.

To have the alms basin pass through the pews right before communion is even more excluding. If you pay, you can play. If you put some money in the plate then you get to meet Jesus. I suspect that most people don’t see it that way. But you notice the alms basin isn’t passed at the beginning of the service, or at the end. It is right in the middle, right before communion. This is the worst time ever.

I get it. People would bring their offerings to the Temple. They would bring an ox or two doves or some grain, depending on the degree of the sin that they had committed. The bigger the sin, the bigger the offering. Since we don’t deal in animal sacrifice any more, we use money. It is a lot more portable.

Also, the modern idea of offerings is to make us mindful of the idea that everything we have comes from God. Everything. If we hold on to it like it is all ours then we start to think that we are responsible for our fortune, and by fortune I mean not only money but luck. When we give some of our money back to God we are acknowledging that it isn’t ours. It wasn’t really ever ours to start off with.

But I just don’t like the idea of money mixed up with church. Jesus never collected money for his services. Jesus never carried money.

The disciples rarely carried money either. When he sent them out to preach he told them to not take any money (or much of anything else) with them.

Jesus says in Luke 10:4,
“4 Don’t carry a money-bag, traveling bag, or sandals; don’t greet anyone along the road.”

We are told to not worry about money or material possessions.

Jesus says in Luke 12:27,
“Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are.”

Now, of course people have to have stuff to survive. They need food and clothing and shelter. But we aren’t supposed to worry about it.

When they got to a certain town, they had to pay the temple tax. Jesus tells Peter to go fish. Jesus tells Peter to use the talent he has, that he is good at and trust that God will provide. And God does provide in an amazing way.

In Matthew 17:24-27 we read this amazing story.
24 After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” 25 “Yes, he does,” he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?” 26 “From others,” Peter answered. “Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. 27 “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”

But churches need money too, right? Of course they do, if you think of church as being a building. Of course they do if you think of that building being staffed by paid ministers.

But this isn’t the model that Jesus gives us.

In Luke 12:33-34, Jesus says,
33″Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. 34″For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

In Matthew 6:19, Jesus says,
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.”

We’ve started to think of the buildings as church, and forgotten that the Church is the people. The Body of Christ is made up not of bricks but of bodies. Every one of us is a living, breathing cell in the Body of Christ.

When we forget this, we start to worship the building and not even notice the Body.

Jesus never built a building. If you go to the Holy Land, you can’t take a tour of the First church of Jesus. Jesus never ordained anybody. Jesus never consecrated a place or a person. Jesus said that everything and everyone was of God. So why are we doing otherwise?

We shouldn’t spend our time and our money building up a church made of bricks and stones. We should spend our time and our money building up a Church made of people. If we spend our time and our money on education, on health, on arts, on healing people inside and out, we will have a stronger Body. We’ll have a stronger world.

If we wake people up to their true potential then this Body will be very strong indeed.

2 Timothy 2:14-21

I don’t often refer to the words of Paul because they aren’t the Gospel. It is like watching the movie instead of reading the book. I’d rather go to the source than get a translation. But today’s reading had a lot of useful stuff in it, so here we go.

The words of Paul are letters written to churches far away. He writes to them to encourage them sometimes and to chastise them other times. Here he’s doing a bit of both.

2 Timothy 2:14-21 (NRSV)
14 Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth. 16 Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have swerved from the truth by claiming that the resurrection has already taken place. They are upsetting the faith of some. 19 But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who calls on the name of the Lord turn away from wickedness.” 20 In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary. 21 All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work.

Now, let’s look at it more carefully.

14 Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening.

This is the same idea as the Jewish concept of “lashon hora” – don’t speak ill of people. It is also the same as the Buddhist concept of “right speech”. It is important to not lie about people, but it is also important to not spread truths that are harmful and unnecessary. For example, if a lady you know is going to go play golf with a man who has been divorced four times, you don’t need to tell her that. But if she is going to go on a date with him that might lead to marriage, she might need to know that. Just because it is true doesn’t mean it needs to be shared.

15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.

This applies to everyone. Here, Paul is making no distinctions (as we too should make no distinctions) between lay and ordained. We are all called to present ourselves as one approved by God, because we are. The fact that we are called by God means we are approved by God.

16 Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety,

This is totally true, and just as relevant today. Have you ever noticed that if you agree with someone’s gossip, they’ll just give you more? If you share some, then they’ll think that is all you want to hear. However, if you hold yourself to a higher standard then they will come to talk differently around you. If you go for the lowest common denominator in conversation, that is all you will get.

17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus,

I feel like Paul is being really rude here. So much for talking kindly about others. His own rule was that if someone was out of line, you should talk to them in private first to try to resolve it. This is a good rule for life. Calling someone out in public will only put them on the defensive. These letters of Paul’s were meant to be read out loud in the midst of the church members, as if he himself were talking to them. To call these two out is really weird and goes against the first line here.

18… who have swerved from the truth by claiming that the resurrection has already taken place. They are upsetting the faith of some.

Plenty of the disciples “swerved from the faith” of the Jews by claiming that the Messiah had come. They got in trouble for it. Is the Christian faith entirely dependent on waiting for the Messiah to come again? Will it crumble and fall when that happens? How are they upsetting everyone? Perhaps they know something that the others don’t.

What if the “second coming” isn’t going to happen as everyone expects, just like the first coming didn’t happen the way anyone expected? Even though it was prophesied, it happened quietly and surprisingly.

19 But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who calls on the name of the Lord turn away from wickedness.”

This reminds me of the story from the Gospels about how sometimes the seed is sown on rocks, sometimes in sand, and sometimes in good soil. Only the seed that is in good soil will grow well. Likewise, it reminds me of the idea that not everybody is called. If you are, act like it.

20 In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary. 21 All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work.

This is a great image. It isn’t quite as useful as Paul’s image of the body parts and the Body of Christ. We are all different, and all useful in the Body metaphor. In this, only some are useful. Still though, in this metaphor, it isn’t the called that are useful, but those who make themselves spiritually clean. There is a way to become a “special utensil” and it is open to everybody.

“But I’m not judgmental!”

People will say “but I’m not judgmental!” in the same way they will say “I’m not racist!” and then tell a racist joke.

They say they aren’t judgmental after saying that they are against someone because they are gay. I know a lady who refuses to go to a certain denomination of church because it has an openly gay bishop. She doesn’t go to any church, and is living with the father of her child. They are not married. So “being gay” is worse in her mind than what she is doing.

I asked this lady “What does Jesus say about homosexuality?” She stammered “You tell me”, because she didn’t know. The answer – “Nothing”. Jesus said nothing about homosexuality, but He said a lot about not judging others.

He said “Judge not, lest ye be judged”.

He said to not point out the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but examine the plank in your own.

He said that whatever measure you use will be used against you.

The role of the Christian is to be like Jesus, and Jesus was about radical acceptance. Jesus took in all that came to him. We are to be examples of that love by how we live our lives. We are to be welcoming. We are to be servants.

We are not gatekeepers or guards. We don’t get to decide who is on or out. We don’t get to tell people off.

The funny part about being part of the Body of Christ is that we are members with prisoners and tax evaders and alcoholics and wife beaters and the average everyday jerk.

That is kind of hard to accept for some people. They think that being Christian is like being part of some elite social club, where only the cream of the crop get in.

Their logic goes something like this – “If Jesus lets “them” in, then that means we are just like them, and we don’t like the idea of being just like them, because they are sinners. We don’t want to be associated with them.”

Then the reality sets in.

Jesus came to heal the sick, not the well. We are all sinners. And we are all redeemed. There is room enough for us all. Once we become Christian, we don’t stop being us, with all our faults. We don’t start being perfect. We just start realizing that we are all loved the way we are because that is the way that God made us.

Jesus calls us when we are broken, not when we are perfect.

Jesus erases all lines of “them” and “us”. We are all one.

It is our job to make people want to come to this healing, this forgiveness, this acceptance. We are to welcome all in the name of Jesus. They won’t come if we are pointing fingers and calling down the wrath of heaven on them. Think back to what drew you to Jesus. I bet it wasn’t someone yelling at you that got you there.

This doesn’t mean that we need to water down the message of Jesus – not at all. This means that we are to live it.