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Join Us For Worship!

Join Us For Worship!
Sundays at 8:30AM, 9:45AM, and 11AM

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, August 20, 2017:

First Reading: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Genesis 45:1-15

Psalm: Psalm 67

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 133

Second Reading: Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

Gospel: Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28

I don't like this picture of Jesus that today's Gospel represents. He treats the Canaanite woman rudely, with a complete lack of compassion. What do we make of this vision of Christ?

Part of the answer may depend on your view of Jesus/God. Do you see God as completely formed? Do you see God as never making mistakes?  We see Jesus change his mind in today's reading.  It's an interesting idea of the Divine.

I like the idea of God who allows us to disagree--and a God that sometimes agrees that we are right in our disagreement. I like the idea of a God that is being shaped and changed by creation, just as we are being shaped and changed by creation--and by God.

I know it's not as comforting as what many of us were taught in Sunday School. I know we'd rather believe in an absolute God, a God who has all the answers. We don't want to believe in a God who gets tired. We don't want to believe in a God who doesn't have absolute control. We want a God who can point and make magical changes, even though everything we've experienced about the world doesn't suggest that God does that act very often, if at all.

In today's Gospel, we see a tired, irritable Jesus. It's a terrifying idea (I'd prefer a God of infinite patience), but it's the best support to show that God did indeed become human.

The Canaanite woman is much more Godlike than Jesus in this Gospel. Here's a woman who is desperate to help her child. When Jesus rebukes her, she stands up to him and argues her case. And she persuades him. She demands justice, and because she stands her ground, she wins.

She has much to teach us. We are called to emulate her. When we see injustice, we must cry out to God and demand that creation be put right. Many theologians would tell you that if you want God to be active in this free will world that God has created, that you better start making some demands. God can't be involved unless we demand it (for a further discussion of this concept, see the excellent books of Walter Wink). If God just intervened in the world, that would violate the principle of free will which God instilled in creation. But if we invite God to action, then God has grounds to act.

I would argue that some of the most sweeping social changes of the twentieth century were grounded in this principle of crying out to the wider world and to God to demand that justice be done. Think of Gandhi's India, the repressiveness of the Jim Crow era in the USA, the South African situation decried by Archbishop Tutu, the civil wars in Central America, the Soviet occupied Eastern Europe: these situations horrified the larger world and the movements to rectify them were rooted in the Christian tradition. True, there were often external pressures applied, economic embargoes and the like, but each situation prompted prayer movements throughout the world.

We are in a similar time--perhaps humanity is always in a similar time.  The world is full of injustice that should make us cry out, especially since much of the injustice will not easily be fixed by any one of us.  Cry out to God about the plight of refugees, the racism that has such deep roots, the economy which keeps so many so desperate, the warming of the planet, and the list could go on and on.

 Let the Canaanite woman be your guide towards right behavior. Let the actions of Jesus remind you that even if you're snappy and irritable, you can change course and direct yourself towards grace and compassion. Let your faith give you hope for a creation restored to God's original vision of a just and peaceful Kingdom.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Foundations Firm and Sandy

This week, we finish our study of the Sermon on the Mount, by pondering this passage:  Matthew 7:24-27.

Lately, we may all be feeling like we've built our houses--real or metaphorical--on sand.  I remember the day that my spouse was repairing the fence and digging holes for the post.  He couldn't sink them deep enough because he hit water.  We're about twenty inches above sea level, and although our house has pilings as part of its support system, but those were put in place long ago, long before anyone would have had to consider sea level rise.

I'm also feeling like the larger world is built on a foundation of sand.  I watch world leaders bellow at each other and make nuclear threats which might be hollow or might be real, and I watch Venezuela slide into even greater chaos, and I wonder if we've fallen through a hole in time.  Can we learn nothing from the mistakes of the past?

All of our ancient wisdom, across a variety of spiritual traditions, warns us about placing our trust in the wrong areas.  Most of us have first hand experience in the loss of our material things.  Most of us long ago realized how our world leaders might let us down.

Jesus reminds us of our true foundation:  his words.  Our last year's journey through the Sermon on the Mount shows us that Christ's teachings are just as relevant for twenty-first century life as they were when Jesus first spoke them.  If we put those teachings into practice, Jesus assures us that our lives will not collapse--they may change in ways that we would never have imagined, but they will not be washed away.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Good Fruit, Bad Fruit

Our time with the Sermon on the Mount is drawing to a close.  This Sunday, we will ponder Matthew 7:  15-23.  What part jumps out at you?

Perhaps it is the warning about false prophets that seems timely, those people who seem sheeplike from the outside but are ferocious wolves inside.  These days, I'm even more worried about the ones who don't bother to disguise themselves.  I know I should be grateful--at least I know my enemies.  But the unguarded ferocity of our times never ceases to worry me.

I am always struck by good fruit and bad fruit, and always, my inner voice of worry pipes up.  What if I'm bad fruit?  What if I'm going to be cut down and thrown in the fire?

I'm not sure that Jesus meant for us to identify with the fruit itself.  A Lutheran minister friend of mine, David Eck, just preached on the seeds that land in a variety of soil, and he has chosen to view the metaphor differently.  He says that we're not the seeds, but the soil.  There are no bad seeds--what good news!

But we're not completely off the hook.  Eck continues, "When we see ourselves as the field, an interesting thing happens: The need to label others stops, and all the finger pointing gets turned in toward ourselves."  (for the complete sermon, go here:  https://jesusunboxed.wordpress.com/2017/07/25/no-bad-seeds-we-are-the-field-mt-1324-30/)

No matter whether or not we see ourselves as good fruit trees, bad fruit trees, or the soil that holds us all, there's still improvement that can be made.  I think of my parched petunias on my porch.  Once they grew so vibrantly, and now the summer is taking its toll.  But I still water them.  I still hope for a revival.

Likewise, we, too can nourish our spiritual lives.  We can make the chance for good fruit more likely.  The ways we do this will be as varied as our human existences.  Some of us will turn off our gadgets and devices.  Some of us will head out to be in natural surroundings more.  Some of us will add some devotional time.  Some of us will paint.  Some of us will invite the neighbors over for dinner.

God is not the harsh gardener who will chop us down and throw us into the fire.  Frankly, God doesn't have to do that.  We marinate in the bad choices that we've made, and that's punishment enough.
But the Good News comes again and again.  Death doesn't have the final word.  Resurrection awaits.  Choose your spiritual manure and get to work bearing good fruit.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Al Gearhart's Funeral Update

At around 9pm Sunday evening, Al Gearhart, husband to Shirley and father to Tom, Bill, and Denise entered the Kingdom Triumphant, peacefully passing away under the care of Seasons Hospice at Memorial South Hospital after battling pneumonia and other complications. 

The celebration of life and memorial service will take place this Sunday at Trinity Lutheran Church at 11am with a meal to follow in the fellowship hall. If you would like to bring a dish please let Dany know (954) 907-1562 or vdvega@bellsouth.net 

In lieu of flowers the family has asked that donations be made to the Trinity Memorial fund in his memory. The funds will be used towards the completion of Trinity's new communionware set. 

Notes of condolence may be sent to:

Mrs. Shirley Gearhart 
Denise Isbell (daughter) 
12731 SW 13 Manor
Davie, FL  33325

Bill (son) and Patsy Gearhart 
Sarah, Zak (grandchildren)
18440 NW 18 St
Pembroke Pines, FL 33029

Mr. Thomas Gearhart (son)
839 Asbury Drive
Aurora, IL 60502

Allison Isbell (granddaughter)
455 W Riddle Ave 
Ravenna Ohio 44266

Matthew Isbell (grandson)

2039 north Meridian rd #171 Tallahassee fl 32303

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Why Pray at All?

This week at Trinity, we will consider Matthew 7:7, the verse that tells us to ask, to knock, to seek.  Some of us may say, "I already tried that, and my prayers weren't answered."

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat has an interesting perspective on prayer, which I first discovered a few years ago in this article:  http://zeek.forward.com/articles/117998/.  She says, ""Jewish tradition forbids asking God for the impossible. For this reason, we don’t pray for rain during the dry season; the laws of nature are what they are, and our prayers can’t change that, so our liturgy guides us to pray then for dew instead. We can’t 'wish away' climate change. That isn’t how prayer works."

I wish more Christians had this view of prayer.  I see far too many people viewing prayer as a version of Santa Claus for grown ups:  I will pray fervently, and the cancer will go away.  I will pray enough, and a job will come, and it will be a good job that pays lots of money, and I will finally be happy.

But what does that mean if the outcome is negative?  Do I need to improve my prayer techniques?  Does God not hear me?  Does God not like me?  If I prayed harder, could I have affected the outcome?

It's crummy theology, and that's one reason why I don't like it.  But that leads us to a different question:  why bother to pray at all?

Why pray?  Different theologians have different answers.  One of my favorite theologians, Marcus Borg, admits that he's not sure of how prayer works, or if it works, but he does it the way that he practices other good manners.  And he does it because he's willing to admit that he doesn't know everything:  "I myself have no clue what the explanatory mechanism is, and I am content not to. And this leads to my final reason for continuing to do prayers of petition and intercession. To refuse to do them because I can't imagine how prayer works would be an act of intellectual pride: if I can't imagine how something words, then it can't work. To think thus involves more than a bit of hubris" (The Heart of Christianity: Discovering a Life of Faith, page 197).

I like the views of my all-time favorite theologian, Walter Wink, who reminds us again and again that God will not intervene in this universe that gives us free will unless we ask God to intervene: "This is a God who works with us and for us, to make and keep human life humane. And what God does depends on the intercessions of those who care enough to try to shape a future more humane than the present" (Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination, page 301).

Rachel Barenblatt's article shows me a similar strain of thought in Judaism:  "The kabbalistic tradition teaches that God withdrew God’s-self in order to make space for us and for our free will. Free will means that we can choose to harm, or we can choose to bring healing. And when we act here 'below,' our actions are mirrored 'on high.' When we act to bring healing to our world, we arouse the flow of healing within transcendent divinity too. This is one of the deep kabbalistic messages of the Tu B’Shvat seder."

I've always believed that my actions can change me.  I have an atheist friend who says she envies me my belief. I argue that my beliefs come because of my practice, and that she could enter into spiritual practices, and she would be a different person in a year. She proclaims not to believe me, but she also refuses to try my experiment. Marcus Borg, in The Heart of Christianity, says "We become what we do" (192).

But Barenblatt's idea says that my actions not only change me, but they change the planet, which I desperately want to believe.  And yet, my actions seem so piddly.  Can my recycling really help heal the deep poisoning that we've been seeing?  I'll plant a tree, as there is room in my yard, but I know that the planet needs so many forests of trees, and I am one small person.

Barenblatt's idea gives me hope.  God wants our buy-in, our participation, and then God will meet us more than halfway.  God has many more resources than I do.  I'm willing to partner with the Divine.  I like the idea that my actions not only change me and the planet, but they also change God.  Suddenly, every action has a weight that I don't always see.

Maybe that's my problem with the prayer that I watch so many practice.  For example, we smoke and then pray for the lung cancer to be healed.  It's rare that the body works that way.

Yet, if someone I loved had lung cancer, I'd pray those prayers anyway.  Much as I'm committed to a universe based on the principles of free will, I want to allow room for miracles.  I want a world where God and my fellow humans can bring about healing of all sorts--the kinds of miracles we need today.

So, I will do as Jesus tells us.  I will ask, I will seek, and I will knock.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Judge Not

The text for Sunday, July 23, 2017:  Matthew 7:1-5


This famous text has Jesus telling us not to judge, followed by the example of taking the speck of dust out of our own eyes before we try to remove the logs out of the eyes of others.  Along the way we're reminded that we'll be judged in the same way that we judge others.

Some of us should shake in fear at those words.  But this morning, as I read them again, I thought about the way I judge others and the way I judge myself.  Frankly, I'm much harder on myself.  I give others the benefit of the doubt as I remind myself that I can't possibly understand every aspect of what's affecting them.

Meanwhile, in my own head, I hear a chorus of voices that remind me of all the ways I'm not living up to my full potential, of all the ways I've let everyone down.  You might think I need some therapy, and you might be right, but I suspect I'm not alone in this.  I know many people who are far more gentle with each other than they are with themselves.  Just listen to how people talk, and you'll see.

With that in mind, let us return to the text again.  This text is not about the way we should judge.  No, I believe that Jesus is telling us not to waste precious time in judgment.

It's a variation of what one of my most beloved yoga teachers told me long ago.  She caught me looking at a fellow student when I couldn't hold a pose.  She said, "Don't compare yourself to your classmates.  It won't help.  Focus on your own body."  It's wise advice in a variety of contexts.

When we judge, we're comparing.  Maybe we're comparing to a standard that we feel everyone should be attaining.  Maybe we're comparing ourselves to our larger society.  Maybe we're finding ourselves superior.  Maybe we come up lacking.

It's not helpful.  It's not a good use of our time.  Jesus reminds us again and again of our main task:  to love each other and to love God.  Judging doesn't get us there.

Life is very short, and judgmental behavior robs us of many joys.  Let us resolve to stop judging each other.  Let us resolve to stop judging ourselves.  Let us look at the world with a different set of glasses:  let us look through the lenses of love.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Wealth and Treasure, Rust and Moths

The reading for Sunday, July 15, 2017:

Matthew 6:19-34
Any time we see stock markets wobble, I think about various Bible passages that talk about wealth and where we place our trust.  The one in Matthew is one of the most famous.

Money--and the power and status that it brings--is a powerfully seductive thing. Once, when facing reduced circumstances because of my spouse's job loss, my Charismatic Catholic AA friend acted as if I'd had a death in the family.

I shrugged and said, "I think having too much money is spiritually dangerous."

You wouldn't think I'd have to explain that to her, but I did.

If we have too much money, we tend to think of ourselves as capable and smart and able to go about our lives on our own. We think we don't need God. And soon, we begin to worry that we don't have enough money, and we lash ourselves to our jobs, jobs that require ever more of us, so that we can ensure we have enough money. But we'll never have enough money.

We will never have enough money. We will never be safe and protected by having enough money.

The only way to win that game is not to play.

When markets tumble, I'm reminded of how much faith I've put in my money, of how I've stored up for myself treasures on earth, where moths and rust and thieves and worldwide economic downturns can take it from me, and I can do nothing.

Most spiritual traditions warn us not to rely on our monetary wealth.  Let us try to follow the teachings of Jesus, who reminds us that God knows what we need.  The passage at the end is one I suspect I will spend my entire life trying to follow:  "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

Let us strive not to worry at all.  Let us learn to trust God ever more fully.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Walter Wink Books Worth Your Time

If you were at church this morning, July 9, you heard Kristin reference the work of Walter Wink.  Here's more information about his work.

I'm happy to see that the work of Walter Wink is still in print.  I find his writing very easy to understand, especially for a theologian delving in deep.  If you want to read the book that had such influence on me, it's Engaging the Powers:  Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination.  Chapter 13 gives a list of historical times when nonviolent resistance has worked to overcome oppression on a geopolitical scale.  Chapter 9 contains the information on The Sermon on the Mount's section on turning the other cheek, walking the extra mile and giving up our clothes as resistance texts, not let people walk all over us texts.

Wink has also written a shorter (and less expensive) book which looks like it covers similar territory:  Jesus and Nonviolence:  A Third Way

Friday, June 30, 2017

Aventura Assisted Living Visit

Sunday July 9th volunteers will return to the Aventura Gardens Assisted Living Center to bring worship. All welcome to be a part of bringing joy to these wonderful people. Meet in the Trinity parking lot at 145pm or at the Center at 230pm. Please RSVP with Piper Spencer if you are planning on going.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

July 4th Ice Cream Social

Join us in the Fellowship Hall for some yummy icecream and Rootbeer floats at 7:30PM on July 4th, then set up in the back parking lot and watch the city of Pembroke Pines fireworks! Open parking except for the viewing area on the east side of the back lot. Donations of icecream, cones, sprinkles, etc welcome!
All cash donations will go to support Trinity's Prayer Shawl Ministry.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Prayer Service and Feast

There is an interfaith prayer service and feast to mark the end of Ramadan this Sunday 130pm-3pm at the Daruloom mosque's interfaith center (next to their main building) two blocks east of Trinity. Any and all welcome. Trying to get a count - let me know if you are interested in attended. Pastor Keith will be offering a prayer on behalf of Trinity Lutheran.

Anger and Reconciliation

This week at Trinity, we will explore  Matthew 5:21-26.  What does this text have to teach us about anger? Is our anger a sin?  Is it a gift?  Can it be both?

We live in a time that seems angrier than any I've ever seen--people who are older than I am say that this time is even more full of fury than some of the worst years of the Johnson or Nixon administration.  Is this rage healthy?

I used to believe that politics had more potential to change the world than any other societal institution.  My 19 year old self would have scoffed at the idea that religion could be transformative in the same--or better!--ways.

My current self feels a great weariness when it comes to any political discussion.  Once, I would have been happy to discuss any political issue.  Once I knew exactly what politicians needed to do to fix any problem.  Now I freely admit that I wouldn't know what to do if you gave me full power--and I certainly don't know how to make huge groups of politicians work together for the common good.

We might argue that Jesus is instructing us about our individual relationships in this passage.  I would agree.  But the case against corrosive anger is true whether we're talking about individual relationships or our anger about larger groups.

I've spent time lately thinking about ministries and how we see our ministry.  I've wondered how our nation might change if we saw more of us saw our ministry as being one of reconciliation. 

One way to do that might be to seize opportunities to de-escalate situations.  People can't be reconciled when everyone is vibrating with anger.

Anger can be transformative too, and not always in a bad way.  But anger nursed deep within us is damaging.  To hold that anger for many years is even worse.  Far better to forgive, although it's much harder.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

To Be Salt and Light

This week, we'll think about what it means to be salt and light.  Once, years ago, Pastor Amsalu Geleta of St. Mark's Lutheran Church (Springfield, Virginia) told us that Jesus gives us new name tags: light and salt. Light of the world, salt of the earth: check. We know how to do that: feed the poor, be kind to everyone we meet, clothe the ragged, make sure that the oppressed are taken care of. Not easy, to be sure, but there's our mission.

Everyone I know seems to be wrestling with the same question: how can we live a life of integrity, a life that's in synch with our values? The Gospel gives us some fairly serious instruction along these same lines, as Jesus directs us to be sure that our insides and our outsides match. Apparently our current struggles with living a life that's in balance are not new to our time.

We all know what happens if our lives get out of synch. We become hypocrites, and most of us would say we don't want that. I could make the argument that the hypocrisy of Christians do more to hurt our Gospel mission than anything else. If you know any non-believers and you ask them why they don't believe, they won't often bring up the fact that belief in God requires a faith beyond their senses, a faith beyond what is scientifically provable. No, most non-believers will bring up the hypocrisy of Christians, from the smaller hypocrisies, like the Christian who pretends to be a friend to your face but spreads ugly rumors about you, to the huge hypocrisies, like all the sexual predators employed by the Church through the ages. How can they believe in the God of those types of people?

And if you ask the non-churched why they don't go to church, they will almost always bring up hypocrisy. And if I hadn't started going back to school, I'd have mentioned that too. I think back to when I was a self-righteous 19 year old, angry, angry, ANGRY about the cost of the church building, the offering collected in heavy, gold offering plates and being used to pay the light bill. I wanted to be part of a church like Luther Place, in downtown D.C., a church that transformed itself into a homeless shelter for women every night, a church that operated a variety of services for the dispossessed.

I think back to the favor that the pastor of that church did for me. I told him that I wanted to switch churches, that I wanted to drive past my suburban church and become a member of his church, a church that so clearly was doing what Jesus wanted it to do.

He studied me. He asked me which church I was a member of, and I told him that I went to St. Mark's, in Springfield, Virginia.

He said, "You know, we wouldn't be able to run any of the programs that we run without the financial help that they give us." And then, in that precise moment, my perspective shifted. I started to move away from being a self-righteous, know-it-all 19 year old towards being someone who sees life as more complex. And thus, I entered into what I suspect will be a lifelong measurement: am I living the life that Christ calls me to live? If I'm to be light and salt and to begin living the life of God's Kingdom right here and right now, what does that look like? How can I make my inner attitude match my outer actions?

Jesus wants us to be more than surface Christians. It's easy to go to church service each week, to sing the hymns, to hug each other. It's harder to live our Christian values the rest of the week. Go back and reread all of what Jesus tells us to do, both in this Gospel and throughout the Gospel texts. Can we really live like that? We're called to forgive each other more times than we think we can. We're called to make peace with our neighbors before we head to church. We're called to give away our money to those who have less than we do. The world watches to see how we live our lives.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Sunday In Celebration of Radical Hospitality!

Join Trinity Lutheran this coming Sunday June 18th for our commemoration of one year of being a radically welcoming, intentionally inclusive, Reconciled in Christ (RIC) congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America at 8:30AM, 9:45AM (in the hall), 11AM.

Poems by Lora Mitchell and Kristin Berkey-Abbott.
A reflection by Lisa Gomez.
I'll share some thoughts based upon 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
"But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God."

Father's Day Waffle-A-Palooza after each service.

Should be an awesome Day!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Trinity Celebrates a Year of Being a Church of Radical Inclusivity

This Sunday, Trinity will celebrate the one year anniversary of our decision to be a church of radical inclusivity and hospitality.  Some of us will say that we've always been that way.  Some will say that all churches are that way.

Many of us understand that many churches have failed miserably at being truly welcoming to all.  And of course, we all struggle with how to be welcoming and inclusive while having good boundaries, in the ways that our friends in helping professions would tell us are so important.

In Matthew 5:13-16, we get our mission statement from Jesus. We are to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world. It’s an interesting time in history to contemplate light and how we manifest light and darkness in our world..

Jesus tells us that we are to let our light shine, but he doesn't tell us how hard it will be some days. As a child, I always thought that once the light was lit, the hard part was over. I would just shine and shine and not hide my light under a bushel and not let Satan pfff it out (as that old song goes).

I did not anticipate the days and months I would feel like I had no light at all, no wick to light, no oil left in the lamp.  I did not anticipate the days that I would wish I had a flicker, a guttering flame.
But now, more than ever, every flame of love is important, even the ones that are sputtering.  It’s important to remember that we are often the only light of Jesus that many people will see throughout the week. How would our attitude and behavior change if we saw our lives through this prism? We are the instruments and tools that God uses to deliver God’s light into the world. How can we make ourselves better at the task?

Some of us think that we need to lead people to Jesus by talking to them about our faith. But our lives and our actions have already done all the talking before we ever open our mouths. Keep that in mind as you interact with people. Let your life do the shining. Be the salt that adds savor to everyone’s surroundings. Glorify God in this way.