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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Sit, Walk, Stand: Lessons My Father Taught Me

Introduction

Greetings from Chalice. I bring you greetings from my church, Chalice Christian Church located on the Chandler-Gilbert border. I want to let you know that Chalice Christian is on the move. After wandering in the dessert for sometime, the walls for our first building are going up. It is a magical time for us.

Also, we have not forgotten what makes us special. We have adopted another refugee family—our fifth; after church I’ll be joining my fellow Chalice members to serve the homeless at Paz de Cristo. Finally, Chalice continues to be a place that fosters curiosity, as we say, “Where questions are as important as answers.”

Time for Disciples. Chalice is one of many new churches in Arizona. Indeed we should have many more because this is a great time for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). There are many people who are hungry for a church that combines caring for others and respecting thinking. That is who we are. We need to get the word out to those people who have left church or never went to church that we have a great gift for them, a sort of Good News for them. I think people are ready for it; I think the world needs to hear what we have to say.

Road map. Today I’m going to analyze three aspects of the Good News, each of which I learned in part from my father. The first truth is that we must begin by sitting, by accepting the grace of God. Next, we must walk in the way taught by the Gospel, and finally, we must stand against evil. The last two actions that we initiate are only possible because we have first accepted the grace of God.

Sit

The Chevy. It was dinner time, in 1978 or 79 and my mom and dad and brothers were sitting around the kitchen table when, Mom & Dad started to talk about the Chevy. The Chevy was a 1967 Chevrolet Impala. It was metallic green.

One of the most amazing things about the Chevy was that it could fly. There were these buttons that for most cars, if you pull the switch out it sets the radio channel and if you pushed it in, it would physically move the selector to the preset channel, but in the Chevy—which we called the Millennium Falcon—it made the car take off.

We had a neighbor who bought one of these foreign cars—a Toyota. One winter morning, this brand new car wouldn’t start, but Dad sat down in the Chevy and smiled deeply with the thunderous roar he produced on the first turn of the key.

It wasn’t perfect. The right mirror had been broken off on one of many trips with the youth group in which five or six or seven kids would pile into it. It had some rust. And, with gas prices climbing over a dollar, it did not get even 20 miles to the gallon. While at the dinner table, Mom & Dad decided to sell it.

People came to look but they didn’t buy it. I’ve since wondered what price my dad was asking for it. I suspect more than what was appropriate for a dented, rusted 13-year-old car.

Then came Don. Neither Don nor his wife could read. They had been victim of many a used car dealer and Don heard Dad was selling the Chevy. I was sitting in the front yard when Don’s father brought him to see Dad. I recall Don’s father saying that Don didn’t need anything fancy, he just needed something to get him through the winter.

Dad nodded and then Don asked him, “What do you want for it.” Dad asked Don, “What do you have in your wallet?” Don told him he had a dollar, which Dad said was about right.

Don sat down in the car, which turned over immediately and ferociously, and drove away.

The woman’s salvation. We find this idea at the end of the story in Luke. Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Notice he did not say her good deed saved her, but her faith.

Faith is accepting the grace that God has given us. Faith is recognizing that this grace is there despite the fact that we did not earn it. The woman did not earn her salvation, it was granted to her when she accepted it, when she had faith.

Accepting. This idea is particularly important to us. Contrary to everything else we do, we do not Earn Grace. If we want to improve our physical selves we work hard; if we want to improve ourselves mentally we have to work hard. But if we want to grow spiritually we have to let go and accept the gift given. To quote Clint Eastwood, “Deserving it’s got nothing to do with it.”

Walk

The second lesson my father taught me was to walk. To act in the manner Jesus taught us to act. Not long after selling the car to Don, Dad went into the ministry. At one of the churches we went to, some tension developed between Dad and Elders. Dad had some crazy ideas like thinking woman should be allowed to be elders. He also thought the county we were in should have a food bank, and in the eyes of these people wasted a lot of his time coordinating an interdenominational effort to create a food bank.

Well, this church had some problems with Gossip. For example, one of the Elders, Jerry, told several people that he had to take Dad home after Dad had too much to drink at the VFW hall. Dad had never been to the VFW hall. He noted to me once that VFW halls were full of WWII veterans, and as a Vietnam War veteran such places were not particularly welcoming.

And, then there were the rumors about affairs. Every pastor of this church was rumored to have affairs. Dad told me that at one point he’d heard of over 10 women that he was supposed having affairs with.

Despite these rumors, Dad continued to work for the good at this Church. Our family also started to take in foster children, something else Jerry felt distracted Dad from doing his job. And so, one evening Jerry and another Elder came to a PRC meeting and told Dad that if he didn’t stop wasting his time on this food bank and start doing as they asked him, he could “pack his bags and his family and get out of town.” Needless to say, he did neither.

But I told you that so I could tell you this. In between these various conflicts, Jerry’s wife went into the hospital. As soon as Dad heard of it, he went there to be with Jerry. He walked the floors of the hospital with Jerry—not for an hour, but until morning. He spent the night comforting him. In fact, this happened more than once, Jerry would attack Dad viciously, but the moment Jerry needed his pastor’s comfort, Dad was there. I frankly found it baffling. My brothers and I wanted him to take revenge on Jerry. But, clearly, we were wrong.

Do likewise. All of us need to walk like Christians. Of course, the first step we take is to realize the grace God has freely bestowed on us. That is what gives us the spiritual strength to do it.

Walking like Christians does mean abstaining from wicked things. We don’t know what the woman in the story from Luke did, but we know she is identified as sinful. And, we know there are things we can do that are sinful. Turning our backs on our basest instincts is certainly a part of being Christian. That includes wastefulness and consumerism as well as some of the sexier vices.

However, we also must practice Christianity. We must be kind all of the time. When my father had just started preaching at a new church a woman asked him if he had ever been a correctional officer. He said he had, and was curious to know what generated the question. Her son had been in prison, almost ten years earlier. When she told her son that the church had a new pastor—a man named Jim Barton—he wondered if it could possibly be the guard who had shown him kindness so many years earlier. My dad did not remember the prisoner, or what kindness he had shown him. You really never know how you will affect people.

As Christians we have to do more for others than is expected of us. Notice the woman did not do what was expected, which according to Jesus would have been to wash his feet with water, give him a kiss on the cheek and anoint his head with oil. Rather, she washed his feet with her tears, lavished him with oil and had not stopped kissing him since she arrived.

Stand

We know what was expected from listening to Jesus scold the Pharisees for their nastiness. This brings me to the third lesson: Stand up against Evil. Realize that Jesus wasn’t picking a fight with these people. He was sitting down to dinner with the Pharisees. Sometimes, I think we forget that Jesus was a prominent Jewish teacher and the Pharisees were officials in his church. They were a part of the same group. I can imagine that Jesus might have been looking forward to a nice meal with colleagues, if not friends.

Then this situation is thrust upon him. He hears the snickering of his dinner companions as this woman pours out her heart. He could have quietly told her of her forgiveness, and then after she left apologize to everyone for the interruption. He did not; instead, he chose to make an example of them. He chose to confront them, even if it would ruin the evening. He rejected their cynical attitude and held her up as behaving more appropriately then they did. Then he forgave her of her sins.

Stand up against evil from the church. We have a responsibility to do the same when we are in the presence of evil. And we as Christians have a particular responsibility when the evil is done in the name of Jesus Christ.

When a church leader said that he “really believed that the Pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists and the gays and lesbians” were responsible for the events of 9-11, we needed to be outraged, not only as Americans, but as Christians.

Recently we have seen Christians promote an anti-science agenda in the name of our faith. It is not limited to creationism, but has extended to opposing stem cell research and denying global warming, or denying our responsibility for global warming. Think about this: in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, people are preventing research into the cure for disease and presiding over the destruction of God’s creation. We must stand up to this.

We must stand up to it, even and especially when it is thrust upon us. When we are in polite settings and someone presents an anti-woman, or anti-gay or anti-science perspective as being the Christian perspective.

The ambush.
One Sunday my dad learned that the head of the Sunday school had disparaged Martin Luther King during the Sunday school opening. The man had remarked that he didn’t agree with celebrating Dr. King. That Sunday during church my dad stood in the pulpit and declared that Martin Luther King’s message of love and tolerance was Christ’s message and to not celebrate Dr. King’s message was to not celebrate Christ’s. He also did not ignore the rampant gossip and frequently called them to task on it—even as they periodically threatened to fire him. One Sunday he said, “I can tell you that if this church was as full of gospel as it is of gossip, these walls would be full.”

But my father was not invincible, which is a tough lesson to learn. One evening when I was seventeen Dad and I went to what should have been an ordinary business meeting and found all of the cronies there, including his secretary who had been very much involved in spreading rumors about Dad—the best evidence being that, despite the building number of woman that Dad was supposedly having affairs with, there was never a rumor about having an affair with his secretary.

It caught him off guard. He held his chest and had trouble catching his breath. Then he left the room. Dad had suffered an anxiety attack brought out by yet another ambush from these relentless people, aggravated by the constant rumors and personal attacks.

Dad had stood up to plenty of evil in that church; on that night it was my turn. After the meeting, I went to the house of his secretary. My heart was pounding; I swallowed hard when I came to door. I clench my sweaty hand into a fist and knocked. When she came to the door, I stood face to face and began the discussion with, “I want you to stop telling lies about my dad.”

I was nervous, and it was awkward, but it had to be done. It was thrust upon me. Likewise, when such things are thrust upon you, it is not likely to be easy or even socially appropriate to be heard, but you must be.

I leave you with this challenge from a bumper sticker, “Raise your voice, even when it trembles.”

2 comments:

shadowfax said...

well said. How was it received?

JimII said...

Thanks.

It was received well. I had many comments from people who related to the story about the Chevy. It is a story I've been telling for a long time and it is certainly the best formed of the three I used.

In retrospect, I think if I wanted to make the point about the dangers of the anti-science movement in the church I needed to be much more explicit about 1) the fact of the anti-science movement and 2) the evils of it. I think both are very true, but I think I assumed my audience would have the same information I had. A frequent shortcoming for me.

Several people did thank me for challenging the church stop being silent with regard to things like Falwell's comments after 9-11.

It was a good experience for me. I really enjoy preaching because it forces you to put your thoughts together carefully, and then you have to test them against an audience.