Monday, April 30, 2012

Monday’s Musings

I watched part of the White House correspondents’ dinner the other night.  Mildly amusing.

I thought Jimmy Kimmel observing that a high school teacher told him he’d make nothing of himself, and then giving the President high five was the best part of the night.

President Obama was mildly amusing but nothing to write home about.  Too many bizarre dog jokes, in my opinion.

Jimmy Kimmel was mostly funny making fun of people from both parties.  I thought it was, however, pretty low making fun of Barbara Walters about her speech patterns.  I do not find that entertaining.  And his observation about fans of Bill Maher and Rush Limbaugh was not really a joke.  It was just sadly accurate.

Interesting to note that opponents of President Obama are critical of his ad celebrating ‘getting’ Bin Laden and that he’s politicizing it.  I suspect his opponents are helping in this process by pointing this out.  Obama was the President when Bin Laden was killed under Obama’s orders.  It’s his shout out----but I had ‘celebrating’ the killing of anyone.

Having a serial killer in New Albany does not make me feel very good.  How gruesome has this story been?  It’s chilling.

Roman Catholic Bishops going after Roman Catholic nuns.  This is called institutional religion versus Christianity.  Choose your side, I guess.  Which is more important?  An institutional church or Christianity?   They do not always overlap. It happens in every denomination when we make the ‘church’ more important than Jesus.  It is easy to do and we’ve all been guilty of it.  But wow, on this one.

I’m always fascinated by ‘grades’ given to NFL teams in the draft.  It seems, to me, not unlike giving final exams before a class starts, grading the draft.  One thing every player has in common with every other player drafted is that not one of them has every played professional football as of yet.  No one knows how any of them will actually do until they have a chance to actually do it.  Tom Brady was drafted in the sixth round.  Tony Romo was an undrafted free agent as was Victor Cruz.

I have been praying that Psalms every day, twice a day.  There is a lot of asking God for forgiveness and a great deal of celebration of God’s being so forgiving.  I am reminded on how much we all need to be forgiven and how amazing generous and loving our God is. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

This was today's combined anthem:  "And There'll Be Music."  It was composed by Jim Stanton of New Albany and  written in honor of Sara Cortolillo for her better than 40 years of service at St. Marks United Church of Christ.

Combined Choir Anthem today at St. Marks

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Presence of God

I have always been fascinated by monasteries. One of the great blessings I have living where I do is access to two amazing monasteries as well as the grounds of a Conventual Franciscan Motherhouse. I have made visiting Saint Meinrad Archabbey at least an annual trek. I find that no matter how wound UP I am when I arrive, I find myself immediately winding down. It is a quiet place and a very peaceful place. There is something good here; there is, very much, the presence of God here.

Despite the fact that I am a minister, the presence of God is often elusive to me. It comes, I suspect from my failings, my own sin, my own busy-ness, my own preoccupation with doing ministry without recharging myself. It often comes from being over analytical and forgetting to feel God’s love and just intellectualizing God. It is easy to rationalize away so many things and often one of those ‘many things’ is spending time with God.

One think I admire about the monks is that they do spend time with God every day. They are in the chapel at 5:30AM every day for an extended period of time and then they are back mid-day, evening, and at night. Well, their ‘night’ is 7pm, but if you have to be ‘up and at em’ at 5:30AM, I guess bed time is on the early side!

But they spend time with God every day and they pray and chant the psalms slowly and methodically. There is no rush.

The grounds of the monastery remind us that they have been prayed over mightily over the years. This monastery was founded in 1854 and the Benedictine monks have been around since the mid point of the 6th century. Their rhythm and style has never been quick but it has always been constant.

I do admire the monks. I am not called ever to be one and I have never been. They do, however, remind us of the importance of stopping to pray and being slow and methodical before God. There is something holy about that.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Palm Sunday, 2012 Sermon (Both audio version and manuscript)

A Remarkable Covenant III: A Covenant of Grace
Mark 11:1-11
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
April 1, 2012

In the 17th century a Flemish scientist by the name of Jan Baptist van Helmont invented a word for a substance he identified. The word was ‘gas.’ It was the word he used to describe fumes from coal burning, from wine fermenting, from burned gun powder, etc. He realized all of these things had something in common so he developed a word that used all of them.

In 1907, the American humorist G. Burgess coined the word blurb to describe a short summary or brief advertisement. A few years ago the word “Google” went from being the name of a website to the action of searching for something on the Internet. And, most recently, in 2006, Noah Glass coined the word Twitter for mass text-messaging with short updates or “tweets.”

Things change.

On a day in Jerusalem so many years ago things changed. Jesus arrived, on a donkey into the city of Jerusalem and things changed. He was no longer an outlying preacher, he was no longer an eccentric preacher and miracle worker who wandered in the wilderness, but now he was in the center of action for the region. He had arrived in Jerusalem. Everything changed.

There were people in the crowd genuinely excited for the entrance of Jesus. Things were changing and they were happy. There were others who were taking a more ‘wait and see’ kind of attitude. Still others were angry. They saw Jesus as little more than a trouble maker. Jesus was entering with mixed reviews.

From the perspective of Christianity, this marked a change of covenant.

But then there was Jesus. Nothing has ever been simple about Jesus. He confounded and confused people in his own time, and so it is no wonder people today are still wrestling with him and his message. People still grapple with the legacy of Jesus, his life, his death, and his resurrection and his power and charisma seem undimmed from two thousand years ago

In the last few weeks I have been talking about the three great covenants of the Bible between God and people. The first was made through Abraham and it was simply identifying God as God and God’s people as God’s people. The second was through Moses and it was a covenant of living loving lives by following commandments or God’s Law. The third is the final covenant and comes through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and it amazing, unique, beautiful, and a clear demonstration of God’s love for people.

What makes this covenant so remarkable comes down to really two things. The first is that it is a transformational covenant. It is a covenant that is not static in any way. It demands more than good conduct or being righteous.

Whereas we look at the 10 Commandments as ‘thou shalt nots’ this is a covenant of ‘thou shall.’ It is living a life of ongoing transformation and conversion. It is living a life always seeking something more.

Jesus had a radical and troubling message to the world that still knocks people off their kilter.

Love one another.

You may wonder why a person with a message of ‘love one another’ is so radical and ends up getting killed.

When we love one another we don’t allow people to go hungry. When we love one another we do not allow people to have no clothing. When we love one another we embrace and accept one another with no reservation. When we love one another we commit ourselves to never be violent to another. When we love one another we try to heal all of a person’s hurts. When we love one another we can never hate. When we love one another we can never judge. Loving one another is not about rules; it’s about loving one another and loving one another is really, really difficult.
Loving one another demands that we see the inherent worth and dignity of every person, expect justice, equity and compassion in human relations; and practice a radical acceptance of one another.

Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey listening to the voices of a cheering crowd was bringing a message and living a life people were not really ready for. If we are truly honest, we still aren’t ready for it.

The second aspect of this covenant is that it is a covenant of grace. It is a covenant of forgiveness when we fail. It is a covenant filled with ambition and yet an amazingly compassionate anticipation that everyone will fail.

It is a covenant of grace that Christians debate about all the time.

A priest, a minister, and a rabbi were all on vacation at the beach. Hour after hour the priest and the minister were arguing about what God’s grace meant. The rabbi kept begging them to stop as they were ruining his vacation. But the priest and the minister kept arguing.

They finally came upon a lamp and when they picked up the lamp a genie came out and said, “I will give each one of you one wish!”

The priest said, “I want to be Pope,” and he was whisked away to Rome.
The minister said, “I want to be the pastor of the largest mega-church in the country,” so he was whisked away to Houston.”

This left the rabbi standing alone on the beach with the genie. The genie said, “What is your wish?” The rabbi said, “Oh, don’t worry. You granted it when you whisked those two away.”

Therein is the problem with grace. We love to debate about it more than we like to embrace it. We love it for ourselves more than we like the grace of God being given unto others.

And, again, Jesus riding into town on a donkey brings all of this and people were not ready for it; and we still aren’t.

Jesus ushered in new words, new ideas, and a view of God that was radical and transformational. Jesus coming into the world, living, preaching, teaching, dying, and being raised changed how we approach God forever. It became the new and everlasting covenant which remains forever.

On this day, on this Palm Sunday, we celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem but we need to do so recognizing a sense of profound irony. The crowds which cheered on Sunday, jeered on Friday. The people proclaiming him the King of the Jews on Sunday were shouting for his death on Friday. Jesus was, in so many ways, a very difficult Messiah to embrace. He still is. But we are given the opportunity to embrace Jesus for who he really was and is to our lives today. As he entered into the city of Jerusalem he enters, again into our leaves. It is up to us to cheer or jeer.