The events in Charlottesville, Virginia remind us in absolutely no uncertain terms that we are still a broken people; we are still in need of redemption and reformation. The Bible uses the word sin to describe the brokenness and the fragile state of human affairs.
My Dear Precious Congregation,
Jesus once taught that when a house is at its cleanest it serves as the most fertile ground for dust to return. It goes without saying that our living and working spaces must be constantly cleaned. Of course, Jesus was talking about the well-being of our souls. Of course, the point of that teaching was the well-being of our character and our souls. He was helping those in his day understand that just when we think all is well evil is quick to remind us that all is not well. Such is the case in our community, nation and world today. I am reminded that during the period of the Renaissance the notion existed that humanity would just rise to one greater level of knowledge, understanding and enlightenment after the other. We remember that the Middle Ages/Medieval Period “lasted from the 5th to the 15th century. It began with the fall of the Western Roman Empire and merged into the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery.” Sometimes, I wonder with all our technology and our desire for instant this and instant that are we really any better where it really counts? Like in how we treat each other regardless of our differences? Enlightenment?
In other words, after a terrible period in history, better times came and humanity, in effect, believed it had arrived. That cycle continues to repeat itself and I believe will continue to repeat itself with the same fallacious conclusion that one day humanity will be without blemish. Indeed, in the Old Testament there is what is known as the Prophetic Cycle. It goes like this: humanity and God are in right relationship and all is well, humanity, at some point, falls short of the expectations of God, humanity is punished, humanity repents then God restores humanity to better times. As I said, it is a cycle. Or to put it another way, history continues to repeat itself. World War I was called “the war to end all wars” and today we are talking about the use of nuclear weapons following WW II, Korean War, Vietnam, Gulf War, all our efforts in fighting terrorism, not to mention our longest war in Afghanistan. In light of humanity's inability to settle its differences in more humane ways, I believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt we need to live with a more sober, more realistic understanding of human nature.
The events in Charlottesville, Virginia remind us in absolutely no uncertain terms that we are still a broken people; we are still in need of redemption and reformation. The Bible uses the word sin to describe the brokenness and the fragile state of human affairs. Do we think too highly of ourselves as human beings? I believe we do if we live with the notion that we have arrived and all is well with us in our own community, nation and world. Do we think too highly of ourselves? I believe we do if there is an ounce of a superiority complex in our minds, hearts or souls. Do we think too highly of ourselves? I believe we do if we do not take evil seriously. Do we think too highly of ourselves? I believe we do if we think we can help the human situation improve without our own practice of a lifestyle of humility before God and each other. Do we think too highly of ourselves? I believe we do if we think that economic prosperity is the highest mark of a healthy society. Do we think too highly of ourselves? Again, I believe we do if we fail to take evil seriously for in so doing we cannot take good seriously.
What can we do? Where can we make a difference? I am reminded of these lines from an old gospel hymn: “Do not wait for some deed of greatness you may do, do not wait to travel afar, but to the duties ever near you now be true, brighten the corner where you are.” We make a difference in teaching our children that what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia is as evil as evil gets and is terribly wrong in the eyes of God. We make a difference when we let those with whom we work and/or employ that such behavior as we have witnessed is unacceptable in the workplace. We make a difference when we share with our students that people like those who marched on the campus of The University of Virginia are sadly mistaken in their understanding of what it means to be the best human being we can possibly be. We make a difference when we discuss these issues with our families (that is to be sure that we engage in times of clarifying values for those whom we love so very dearly). We make a difference when we, refuse to lend any kind of credibility to such evil as raised its ugly head in the form of white supremacy and Nazism and in Charlottesville, Virginia. As followers of Jesus, we should know that we have been called to stand up and speak out against such evil, call it what it is, where we live, where we work and where we play. And, I will add, where we worship.
Jesus, I remind people from time to time, died on a cross. His death and the way he died are reminders, for as long as humanity is privileged to walk upon the face of God’s good earth, that we have not arrived. In the past, when our world was in crisis, people were quick to turn to religious institutions, turn to God. Today, not so much. I would ask you, are we better off by not insuring that humanity hears loudly and clearly the biblical message as shared in such a story as The Tower of Babel in the Old Testament? The story that teaches us that humanity left to its own devices without a spirit of humility is a humanity destined to live in chaos. Are we better off without telling the story of Jesus? The story that reminds us that good can triumph over evil. The story that teaches us a much better way to be human. Are we better off without prayer, without worship, without being who Christ has called us to be and doing what Christ has called us to do? Indeed, may we find ways, as followers of Jesus, to work with persons of other faith persuasions to help such evil find no place in our community, nation and world.
Hope to see you in church where we will enter to worship, pause to pray and depart to serve. In doing so, may we remember that we believe good will triumph over evil because of what God did in Christ.
Published on Monday, August 14, 2017 @ 3:17 PM EDT
One of the toughest teachings of Jesus is the one about turning the other cheek. Remember, Jesus once said, “But I say to you, do not resist him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Matthew 5:39 (New American Standard).
We know that Jesus was very skilled in using oriental hyperbole (the use of exaggeration to make a point) as a teaching tool. This may or may not be one of those times in which he employed that tactic. However, it begs the question as to just what Jesus was attempting to teach his followers. I heard a very prominent preacher years ago from Memphis, Tennessee say that Jesus was telling his followers not to allow the actions of other people to control their reactions. I have always liked that interpretation. The Matthew Henry Commentary on Matthew 5:38-42 states that “The plain instruction is, suffer any injury that can be borne, for the sake of peace, committing your concerns to the Lord’s keeping. And the sum of it all is that Christians must avoid disputing and striving. If any say, Flesh and Blood cannot pass by such an affront, let them remember that flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God; and those who act upon right principles will have most peace and comfort.”
Another thought on Jesus’ words about turning the cheek comes from Echart Tolle in The Power of Now: A Guide To Spiritual Enrichment. He writes, “Maybe you are being taken advantage of, maybe the activity you are engaged in is dishonest, irritating, or unconscious, but all is irrelevant. Whether your thoughts and emotions about this situation are justified or not makes no difference. The fact is that you are resisting what is. You are making the present moment into an enemy.”
Part of what I take from Jesus’ words and the other words on this page is that we must always be careful to keep our egos out of the way in order that the power of God may work through us. Though a hard teaching, I believe it is one with which we and our world need to wrestle.
– Doug Fairbanks
Published on Friday, August 11, 2017 @ 2:48 PM EDT
In a book entitled Making the Annual Pledge Drive Obsolete: How Churches Can Get Out of This Business Once and For All by Timothy Dombek and Michael Durall there is a chapter about living the good life. The following comes from their quote of author Daniel Pink from his book, A Whole New Mind. I believe, as people of God, the quote offers all who seek the “good life” should take to heart.
“For most of human history, our lives were defined by scarcity. Today, the defining feature of social, economic and cultural life is abundance. Abundance has brought beautiful things to our lives, but the bevy of material goods has not necessarily made us happier. The paradox of prosperity is that while living standards have risen steadily, decade after decade, personal, family, and life satisfaction haven’t budged. That’s why more people – liberated by prosperity but not fulfilled by it – are resolving the paradox by searching for meaning.”
Jesus answered a question one day with the following words: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to God except through me.” John 14:6
Contrary to much erroneous thought these words of Jesus are not words of exclusion. (Don’t have enough time to get into all that right now.) However, part of what Jesus means by these words is that a very meaningful life can be lived (eternal life right now) according to Rev. Matthew Laney, Senior Minister of Asylum Hill Congregational Church, UCC, Hartford Connecticut, “by living the Jesus way of nonviolence, doing justice, telling the truth, defending children, forgiving one and all; in other words, revealing peace, love and heaven with every step.”
I started out in ministry believing that Jesus could help anybody live a meaningful life. Precious Ones in Christ, I still believe that with every fiber of my being.
– Doug Fairbanks
Published on Monday, July 31, 2017 @ 8:51 AM EDT
In a book entitled The Trust Edge by David Horsager, he shares the following about the greatest secret of the magnetic person.
“One secret and irresistible quality of magnetic people is that they’re grateful. They are genuinely thankful, and it shows in their interactions with others. Even though we don’t usually think of gratefulness as a major personality trait, it actually goes a long way toward shaping who we are. In fact, Dennis Prager, the researcher and talk radio host, conducted a study on happiness for his 1998 book, Happiness Is a Serious Problem: A Human Nature Repair Manual. What, he wondered, was the biggest factor determining happiness? After numerous surveys, he found that the usual suspects – occupation, economic level, relationship status, geographic location, and ethnicity – didn’t really matter. Every one of these categories included people who were happy as well as those who were unhappy. What mattered most? Gratitude. People who learn to be thankful are more content and fulfilled. The single greatest commonality of happy is an attitude of gratitude. And people find that attractive.”
I have not done any official/scientific research on the matter of what major quality could be found in people who feel the happiest and most fulfilled in their relationship to Christ and his church. Yet, I do believe, by way of many years of pastoral experience, that those who have been and continue to be the happiest in said relationships are the ones who have exhibited the “attitude of gratitude” for the good things God has done in and through Christ.
Indeed, I believe that much of our energy and our influence as the people of God are born out of gratitude to God. And, there is nothing wrong with our visiting and evaluating our own “attitude of gratitude” from time to time.
– Doug Fairbanks
Published on Wednesday, July 12, 2017 @ 10:46 AM EDT
I have heard children say to their parents when wanting to do something that the parent was not happy about or believed it was not in the child’s best interest, “You don’t understand me!” I am sure that I said that a time or two to my parents as I was growing up. One of the great human needs is the desire to be understood.
The Judeo-Christian heritage teaches us about the omniscience of the God in whom we believe. We believe that God not only knows all things but understands us in a very sympathetic manner. For instance, Matthew 6:32 “Your Heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” is a declaration of God’s knowledge of our weakness and awareness of our needs. It also informs us that God is willing to bring God’s sympathetic care into our lives.
God’s characteristic of omniscience reminds us that God is aware of the perplexity of the human condition. It enables us, at times when our knowledge is incomplete concerning the realities of life as well as punctuated with problems which seem unsolvable, to realize that God is not only sympathetic but also empathetic. Theologian Jurgen Moltmann wrote of the God we encounter in Christ as God crucified. This, in part, means that God in Christ knows first-hand the complexities of human existence and is always ready to bring redemptive sympathy and empathy to us in a way that can transform, make better and help us when we need greater strength and a more complete knowledge. Thus, again, God is omniscient in understanding us and always ready to walk with us in and through whatever state in which we may find ourselves.
The Psalmist writes of the omniscience of God in the following way: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Psalm 46:1-2
– Doug Fairbanks
Published on Tuesday, June 27, 2017 @ 2:38 PM EDT