An ELCA pastor shares his thoughts about the Bible, spirituality, the world, and LGBT issues.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Creation Spirituality: Via Negativa

John 15:1-2,5-6; 12:20-26
10/04/15  David Eck

"For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven."  [Ecc 3:1]

     People mark time in different ways. Some of us carry a physical calendar with us to keep track of events and appointments. Others use a digital one on our cell phones. Some have four seasons and all the delightful changes each one brings. Others live in a temperate climate and have to watch for subtler signs that signal what time of year it is.
     Not surprisingly, our spiritual lives are structured in ways that mark time as well. Christians have rites that celebrate significant life events such as birth, confirmation, marriage and death. There is also the liturgical calendar the Church observes that takes us through the cycle of the year. Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent and Easter take us on a journey through the life of Christ. Pentecost begins a season of the Spirit where we focus on spiritual growth.
     Today I begin a sermon series that presents yet another way of marking time. It's based on the work of Matthew Fox who identifies four spiritual paths we walk at different times in our lives. These paths are Via Negativa, Via Positiva, Via Creativa, and Via Transformativa. Today we will focus on Via Negativa which embodies the characteristics of the season of Winter.
     Matthew Fox says that Via Negativa tells us that "darkness, suffering and letting go matter." They are an important part of our spiritual journey. The Via Negativa is probably the hardest of the Four Paths to walk, but it serves a holy purpose in our lives, just like Winter serves a holy purpose in nature.
     When November 1st arrives, the time of the fall harvest has come to an end. The leaves have fallen off the trees as they prepare for the slumber of winter. During this time they turn inward and draw their energy from the good earth through their root system. It is a time when each day gets shorter and shorter until we reach the Winter Solstice, the darkest night of the year. Days also turn colder and we spend less and less time outdoors.
     Our focus is inward. We do our own form of hibernation. Yes, we try to distract ourselves with lots of Christmas lights and a flurry of activities. But if we listen to what this season is trying to tell us, we hear that there are times in our lives when we simply need to let go of that which no longer serves a purpose in our lives. There are times when we need to go inward and look at parts of ourselves we might not want to examine. It's a time to rearrange our roots and think about the things which nourish and sustain us. It's also a time to rest and cease the need to always be productive.
     This is the spiritual path of Via Negativa. Not surprisingly, it is the hardest of the four paths to walk. Just like Winter is a difficult season for many, the Via Negativa is a difficult path to us to navigate. Darkness, suffering and letting go are not subjects we like to talk about. Yet, these things serve a holy purpose in our lives. They help us to clear away the clutter so that something new might be born. What I would like to do this morning is examine several elements of the Via Negativa. My task is to show you the important role they play in our spiritual journey.
     We start with LETTING GO. Just like the leaves that fall off the trees, the Via Negativa reminds us that sometimes we need to let go of that which no longer serves a purpose in our lives. The gospel of John gives us a wonderful image to understand the importance of letting go. Jesus said, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. Any unfruitful branch in me he takes away, and he prunes every fruitful branch, so that it may bear more fruit."
     LETTING GO means we allow God to remove the dead branches from our lives so that we create space for something better to take their place. LETTING GO means we allow God to also prune our healthy branches so that they may bear even more fruit.
     Let's be honest, LETTING GO is not a fun process. It may involve some pain and suffering. It might mean we need to go into a time of mourning to grieve that which was lost. As we find ourselves walking the Via Negativa, it's important for us to remember that if we don't submit ourselves to the process of removing dead branches and pruning our spiritual trees will be much weaker. It is only in the LETTING GO that we create room for something new to grow in their place. It is only in the LETTING GO that our lives become much fuller and healthier. This might seem a bit contradictory, but those who have walked the Via Negativa know that it's the truth.
     The second element of the VIA Negativa is DARKNESS which is a subject most of us want to avoid. Yet darkness serves a holy purpose in our lives as much as light does. Barbara Brown Taylor in her magnificent book Learning to Walk in the Dark, says "The problem is this: when, despite all my best efforts the lights have gone off in my life, plunging me into the kind of darkness that turns my knees to water, nonetheless I have not died. The monsters have not dragged me out of bed and taken me back to their lair. The witches have not turned me into a bat. Instead, I have learned things in the dark that I could not have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion: I need darkness as much as I need light."
     In John's gospel, Jesus talks about seeds being planted in the darkness of the earth. "In truth I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains solitary; but, if it dies, it becomes fruitful." When we plant a seed in the ground, it breaks itself open. This can be seen as dying but it is actually transformation. The young green plant of spring cannot emerge until the seed itself is broken open. The same can be said for the caterpillar who retreats into the darkness of its cocoon. From all outward appearances, it looks like the caterpillar has died. Yet we know that it is actually transforming itself and will emerge as a beautiful butterfly. Nature teaches us time and time again that darkness is a good thing. It is a part of the cycle of life. It is a gift from God if we are willing to unwrap it and learn its secrets. 
     There are many Bible verses which paint darkness as something we need to avoid. However, there are also a number of stories which tell us that darkness can be a good thing. Anyone who knows the story of Abraham remembers the night God led him outside to look at the stars. "Count the stars if you are able," God said to Abraham, "So shall your descendants be."
     Jacob wrestles with an angel all night long, surviving the match with a limp, a blessing, and a new name. His son Joseph dreams such prophetic dreams at night that he catches a Pharaoh’s attention, graduating from dungeon to palace to become a royal interpreter of dreams.
     The Exodus from Egypt happens at night. God parts the Red Sea at night. Manna falls from the sky in the wilderness at night. And that is just the beginning. What we learn from this is that darkness is not always bad. Sometimes good things happen at night. God works as much in the darkness as God does in the light.
     The final element of Via Negativa is REST. It is an essential part of the cycle of nature. Nothing can truly thrive without it. In the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, we see a powerful understanding of Jesus as one who deeply understood the natural world around him. "What is matter? Will it last forever?" Jesus told his disciples, "All that is born, all that is created, all the elements of nature are interwoven and united with each other. All that is composed shall be decomposed; everything returns to its roots; matter returns to the origins of matter. Those who have ears, let them hear."
    While this is not in our Bibles, I love the wisdom it contains. Jesus is observing the cycles of nature and the origins of life. He is echoing the words of Ecclesiastes that "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven." Activity and rest. Work and play. Labor and leisure. Learning and unlearning. There has to be a balance between these things. Therefore, as we find ourselves walking the Via Negativa, we need to give ourselves permission to REST; to stop the need to be productive; to step back from day to day activities and discern the bigger picture.
     Perhaps Jesus said it best in Matthew 11: "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Does that sound like someone who is a harsh taskmaster? Hardly!  It sounds like someone who observed the cycles of nature intimately and understood the need for rest, for letting go, and even for dying so that resurrection and new life might appear!
     There is so much more I can say about this subject but I will save it for another time. If you feel like you are walking the Via Negativa  during this season of your life, I hope my words will encourage you to trust this important spiritual path. It is not an easy path to walk but it has much wisdom to offer us if we take the time to listen.  AMEN

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sunday Sermon: Who Do You Say That I Am?

ORDINARY 24B  Mark 8:27-38
9/13/15  David Eck

     Jesus is the Answer! That's what the church sign proclaimed as Gary and I drove by it the other day. Jesus is the Answer! To which I immediately remarked "But what is the question?" 
     I've always understood that phrase as implying that Jesus is the answer to every question we could ever ask Jesus is the answer to every problem we face. Jesus is the answer to every longing that is in our hearts, and every difficult decision we need to make. Jesus is the Answer!  Period!
     How I wish it were that easy. How I wish that all we needed to say was "Jesus" and everything would fall into place. But Jesus is not the answer to every question we could ever ask. "How do I pay the bills this month?"  Jesus. "How do I know if I'm making the right medical decision for my loved one?" Jesus.
     See what I mean.  It doesn't work that way! Jesus is NOT the answer to every question we could ever ask. In fact, Our gospel lesson tells us that Jesus is not an answer to a question but he is a path we need to follow. Let me repeat that: Jesus is not an answer to a question but he is a path we need to follow. But before we get to the path we need to follow, Jesus begins by asking a question: "Who do people say that I am?"

     Jesus and his disciples are in Caesarea Philippi when he asks them this question. This is an important detail in the story. I've been to the site of this ancient city and it's setting is quite dramatic. There is a very high stone cliff face in front of where this ancient city used to stand. In this cliff face there is a large cave from which a crystal clear spring flows. Carved into the face of the cliff are little niches where statues of the gods used to be placed.
     Originally the city was called Panias, to honor the Greek God Pan. His statue stood in one of these niches, along with the Canaanite god Baal, and other Greek deities. Eventually this city was conquered by the Romans. Herod Philipp, the son of Herod the Great, built an administrative capital building there and renamed it Caesarea Philippi, in honor of himself as well as Julius Caesar.
     So imagine Jesus and his disciples are sitting somewhere in front of this massive stone cliff. It's filled with statues of the gods and goddesses of the day. It's also a place that represents the power of the Roman occupation of the region. Surrounded by all these symbols of authority and influence Jesus asks the question "Who do people say that I am?"
     As he asks this question I imagine his disciples acting like school kids taking a test. They want to get the RIGHT answer. They want to please Jesus. And so they start raising their hands and shouting out answers. "Oooh, Jesus, me first! Some say, John the Baptist." I can hear Jesus laughing, "Well that would be quite a feat considering our beloved brother John was beheaded by Herod Antipas."
     Another disciple raised his hand, "Some think you're Elijah, or one of the prophets." Jesus smiles and replies, "They're getting warmer, but they're not quite there yet. So…who do you say that I am? You've heard what others think of me, but what's your personal opinion?"
     Not surprisingly, Peter is the first to speak, I know! I know! You are the Messiah!" Jesus puts his finger to his lips and tells them to keep this to themselves. [Sh!]
     It would appear that this was the answer Jesus was looking for. But what happens next shows that that the conversation was not quite finished yet. Peter tells Jesus that he is the Messiah which in Greek is "the Christ." Both of them mean "the Anointed One."
     What Peter envisions by his answer is that Jesus will be the one to topple all of the symbols of power which surrounded them. The gods and goddesses of old will be history. Pan and Baal will no longer he worshipped. The Roman occupation will come to an end and the Israelites will be free, once again. Peter, envisions a military coup, and perhaps renaming Ceasarea Philippi "Jesus-ville" to show that there's a new sheriff in town!
     Peter does not say these things out loud but Jesus knows this is what he is thinking. Perhaps this is the reason why he sternly ordered his disciples not tell anyone. They still failed to produce the right answer to the question "Who do you say that I am." So Jesus begins to clarify Peter's answer. He tells his disciples he must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priest and scribes. Then he is going to be murdered. And after three days he will rise again.
     I'm sure at this point you could have knocked Peter over with a feather. This is NOT what Peter had in mind when he told Jesus he was the Anointed One. So, Peter took Jesus aside and he began to rebuke him. "Jesus, what are you talking about? Why did you bring us to this place if you're not going to start a revolution? You are not going to suffer! No one is going to kill you! Stop saying such foolish things!"
     Then Jesus gives Peter one of the biggest verbal backhands in the New Testament: "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." Ouch!  You know that had to hurt. Jesus was saying that Peter was not acting like a disciple but like an enemy. Apparently, it wasn't enough that Peter had the right answer to Jesus' question. It was equally important that Peter understood what his answer meant.
     Let's pause of a moment and think about what all this means to us. We may be more connected to this story than we realize. As disciples of Jesus, we must also answer the question "Who do you say that I am?" Over the years we've all heard lots of people give different answers to this question.
     We've listened to pastors share their scholarly and personal opinions regarding who Jesus is. We've probably read some books on the subject and maybe discussed it in Sunday School. We've also heard lots of public dialogue where a million different answers to the question have been offered.
     Everyone who makes an attempt to answer this question wants to get it "right." Not surprisingly, in trying to get it "right" we, like Peter, mold Jesus into what we need him to be. Suddenly, Jesus looks and acts like a Southern Baptist or a Lutheran, a Republican or a Democrat. Jesus becomes a political revolutionary, or a social activist, or a healer of what ails us, or a handyman who is going to fix all our problems, and so on and so forth.
     As we attempt to answer the question "Who do you say that I am?"we may come up with a really good answer, but like Peter, we are often guilty of wanting to tell Jesus who he needs to be and what he need to do for us. Is it any wonder Jesus rebuked Peter, saying "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." 
     I have the sneaking suspicion that we are often guilty of doing the same thing. Instead of letting Jesus mold our lives into what HE wants us to be, we want to mold Jesus into what WE want him to be. "Get behind me, Satan, indeed!
    But, thankfully, Jesus doesn't leave things with a sharp rebuke hanging in the air. Instead he reminds his disciples, as well as us, that he is not an answer to a question but is a path we need to follow. "If any want to become my followers," Jesus said, "Let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it."

    This well-known response remind us that there is no one "right" answer to the question "Who do you say that I am?" Just about the time we think we have Jesus figured out, he goes in a different direction altogether! Our answer to the question "Who do you say that I am?" will change over time, based on life experience and our growth as disciples of Jesus.
     If Jesus teaching us anything today, it is the spiritual truth that what is important is NOT that we have the right answer, but that we answer the call to follow. "If any want to become my followers," Jesus said, "Let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." This reminds us that the path Jesus wants us to follow is not an easy one. Our goal is not to mold Jesus into who we need him to be. Our goal to follow his example of service and sacrifice.
     Jesus is NOT the military Messiah who will conquer those we label as our enemies. He's NOT the bully club we use to beat up those whose answer to the question is different from ours. Instead, Jesus is the Anointed One who walked a path of servanthood and sacrifice, and calls us to do the same.
     What would the Church look like if we stopped arguing over the question who do you say that I am?" and started putting the needs of others before our own? Can we feed the multitudes without asking  for their political or religious affiliation? Can we welcome immigrants, refugees, and the homeless as if they are our long lost friends?
     What would the we look like if we stopped molding Jesus into our image, and let him mold us into his? Can we pull it off? Can we live a life of sacrifice and servanthood? Can we keep our know-it-all attitudes in check?
     So many questions that come from this one seemingly simple question "Who do you say that I am?" I hope we've learned that Jesus is not a question to be answered but is a path we need to follow.  AMEN.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Sunday Sermon - Overcoming Racism and Prejudice

LECTIONARY 23B  Mark 7:24-37
9/06/15  David Eck

     Several months ago I saw an unusual sight while shopping at Wal-Mart. Now, I know that unusual sights are a common occurrence at Wal-Mart, but this one tops the list. I was walking past the cashiers at the front of the store when I noticed a woman dressed in a veiled black burka. She was covered in black fabric from head to toe so she was impossible to miss. She even had black gloves on her hands. Needless to say, I was surprised by the sight. I would expect to see this in New York City but it's definitely the first time I've seen one in Asheville.
     I must confess that my gut reaction was not a positive one. Once I got over the initial shock of seeing such a sight, I remember thinking to myself "I sure hope this doesn't become a common occurrence in Asheville. For me that burka stands for the oppression of women and a religious ideology that is a breeding ground for terrorism and religious extremists."
     Now, mind you, I kept these thoughts to myself and simply walked by once I got a good look at this unusual sight. But afterward, I had to confront my own racism and look at a part of myself I wish wasn't there. She may have simply been a loving mother shopping for groceries to feed her kids. But the first thought that entered into my mind was "I don't want to see this in my town!"
     Racism and prejudice are hard things to confront within ourselves. Even if we were raised by the most non- judgmental parents there is at least one group of people that makes us feel automatically uncomfortable when we are around them. Sometimes this is due to race. We find ourselves looking at people differently because they are Black, Latino or of Middle Eastern descent. Some of this is due to other phobias and prejudices. We find ourselves stereotyping someone because of their perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, socio-economic status, and political or religious beliefs.
     Most of the time we're not aware that these hatreds and prejudices exist UNTIL we see a woman in a black burka at the checkout line, OR we spot a man sitting on the sidewalk asking for money, OR we read a crazy political statement a friend posted on Facebook. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, we feel something bubbling up inside of us. A little voice starts screaming things like "Not in my backyard," or "Why don't you get a job" or "I can't believe this person is my fiend."
     We may not speak these things out loud. Most people like to believe they are good people who treat everyone fairly and equally. So we censor these negative thoughts and try to keep them to ourselves. But when these feelings fade we are left to examine a part of ourselves we may not like very much. We don't want to be racist or homophobic. We don't want to look down on other people. So where does all this stuff come from and how do we overcome it?
     I don't have to tell you that today's gospel lesson is a doozy. It's a preacher's worst nightmare! If read the text at face value the only conclusion we can come to is that Jesus was racist at one point in his life and ministry. Yes, that's what I said. Jesus was racist at one point in his life and ministry. Thankfully, he overcame the prejudices of his culture and eventually ministered to both Jews and Gentiles but Mark tells us this was not always the case.
     Matthew has the same story in his gospel. The main difference is that he refers to her as a "Canaanite" woman instead of "Syrophoenician" but the effect is still the same. In both versions of the story, Jesus utters a racial slur at someone who sought his help. This is a side of Jesus we don't want to see!
     David Henson, who writes a blog entitled "Edges of Faith" on, gets it right when he talks about our uncomfortableness with today's gospel lesson.  He says "Part of the difficulty of this passage is that as Christians, we want Jesus to be the simple, easy answer to all our problems and to all of society’s problems. When faced with the complexities of personal and institutional racism, it is much easier to think of Jesus as transcending them all and loving all peoples regardless of skin color or culture of origin.
     After all, that’s what our children’s song teaches us. Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white. They are precious in his sight. But what of the little dogs? Does Jesus love them too?" Wow, that's powerful stuff!
     So, let's assume for our time together that Jesus, indeed, uttered a racial slur. Let's examine the details of the story and see if it is of any help to us in learning how to overcome this kind of racist and prejudicial thinking.
     As the story begins, Mark tells us Jesus "went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there." Tyre is a coastal town on the Mediterranean that was right in the middle of Phoenicia, which is modern day Lebanon. The people in this region worshiped Phoenician gods, and were considered to be pagans by the Jews who lived across the border in Palestine.
     Is it any wonder that Jesus "did not want anyone to know he was there"? This is NOT the kind of place a good rabbi should be found! In modern English we would say he was on the wrong side of the tracks, and we KNOW what kind of people live THERE!  Don't we?
     As soon as Jesus arrived in Tyre, one of "those people," bowed down at his feet. She asked him to cast a demon out of her daughter. Now, in our mind's eye we picture a beautiful scene where Jesus smiles and says, "Go in peace, your daughter has been made well." But this is NOT what happens. Instead Jesus' says the most unkind thing that could possibly be spoken at that moment: “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs."
     The children, in this instance, are the children of Israel. They were the heirs of God's covenant with Abraham and Sarah. They were the "chosen ones," whom God had freed from their bondage in Egypt and led them to the Promised Land. The dog, of course, was this woman, along with any other person who wasn't a Jew. She was not worthy of this rabbi's time and it's scandalous that she should approach him in this manner, asking for mercy.
     This was the prevailing attitude of the time. Jesus was merely echoing what he had been taught ever since he was a little boy. It was a gut reaction and he probably said it without even thinking about it. Was it racist?  Absolutely!  Was it judgmental? You betcha! Would any Jew have given this racial slur a second thought? Not really.  In fact, they probably would have cheered him on! It's a sad state of affairs, but it's true.
     The knock out punch in this story appears in Matthew's version where Jesus is quoted as saying "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." [Mt 15:24] In other words, Jesus tells this desperate mother that she is to worthy of his time! Do you see why this story makes followers of Jesus so nervous? Surely the Jesus we know and love is not capable of saying such racist and uncaring things! But here it is in print and we have to deal with it.
     Thankfully, the story does to end here. If it did, it would be a complete and totally disaster. I would be forced to rip this page from my Bible and set it on fire! I know that's a little dramatic but that's how I feel!
     But thanks be to God, the story continues! The tables are turned as this so-called dog cleverly counters Jesus' racist remark  and reminds him how wide Gods mercy really is: “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs." 
     There is something about her bold response that has a profound effect on Jesus. He moves beyond the racial prejudices of his culture and is schooled by the student. This woman reminds Jesus that God is "Gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love." Surely, this God has a few crumbs of blessing that can be given to people like her!
     Jesus' response to the woman's clever rebuke is one of grace, mercy and compassion: “For saying that, you may go the demon has left your daughter. The woman went home and found her child lying on the bed and the demon was gone!
     Over the years scholars have tried to tap-dance around Jesus' racist remark. Some say Jesus knew what he was doing and said this slur with a twinkle in his eye, knowing the Syrophoenician woman was in on the joke. I find this argument unconvincing and wishful thinking.
     Others say Jesus used the diminutive form of the Greek word for "dog." This meant he was calling her a puppy, a lap dog or a beloved pet. I also find this argument unconvincing and wishful thinking. Jesus said what he said, and we need to deal with it.
     Apparently Jesus dealt with it as well, because we see from the story that he changed his mind. He changed his mind so much that in Mark 8 we find Jesus doing ministry on the Gentile side of Lake Galilee. He feeds over 4,000 Gentiles and touches and heals many Gentiles who were sick. This is more than a crumb that falls form the master's table. It is grace overflowing. Jesus conversation with the Syrophoenician woman is one of the things that sets this change of heart into motion.
     Friends in Christ there is much we can learn from this difficult story. If we, as Lutherans, believe that Jesus is fully human as well as fully divine, we are seeing the fully human side of Jesus rearing its ugly head in our gospel lesson. But, thanks be to God, Jesus confronted his own prejudice and cultural upbringing. He transcended it and, instead, showed this woman a full measure of God's grace, mercy and healing.
     This is our challenge as well. Jesus calls us to examine the roots of racism and prejudice that lie deep in our hearts and minds. He calls us to look at negative and hurtful attitudes we may not even know are there, but they are there nonetheless.
     Our slogan at Abiding Savior is "Welcoming All.  United in Christ." Then we list nine bullet points which spell out what this inclusive welcome entails. But let's not fool ourselves into thinking this kind of inclusivity comes easily. It takes a lot of hard work because our attitudes about race, class, sexual orientation and the like are deeply ingrained. They have been programmed into our hearts and minds ever since we were little kids. 
     These attitudes are difficult to change. Jesus proves this in our gospel lesson for today. But there is hope because Jesus reminds us that when kingdom seeds get planted in good soil they will multiply 30, 60, 100 times more than what would be expected. God's love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy are built to last for eternity. With God's help we can overcome the prejudices of our culture and be transformed into the vessels of compassion and healing Jesus needs us to be.  AMEN.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Sunday Sermon - Holiness

LECTIONARY 23B   Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23
8/30/15  David Eck

Holiness, holiness is what I long for
Holiness is what I need
Holiness, holiness is what you want from me

So take my heart and form it
Take my mind and transform it
Take my will and conform it
To yours, to yours, O Lord 

     Holiness is a church word. The only time I think I've ever heard it spoken outside of the church is when addressing a revered religious figure such as his Holiness, the Pope, or his Holiness, the Dalai Lama.
     The dictionary defines holiness as "The state of being holy" which is NOT helpful at all! Somewhere in the back of my mind I hear the voice of my Jr High English teacher who told us repeatedly you CANNOT use a word to define the same word. The other two definitions of holiness are "Devoted to the service of God"a nd "morally and spiritually excellent."
     I don't know about you, but I find the prospect of being holy a little bit daunting. I can handle "devoted to the service of God." After all, I'm a pastor! It's kind of expected! But "morally superior and excellent"? Well, that just makes me break out in a cold sweat. I don't feel "morally superior" to anyone. And if I did feel morally superior, wouldn't that make me LESS than holy? It's a Catch-22 if you know what I mean! Then there's "excellent" to which I have to respond "Well, most days I'm just average; other days I'm barely hanging on to all the responsibilities that are on my plate."
     So what does it mean to be holy? What does holiness look like? Does it involve living a monastic existence apart from the world, devoting our lives to prayer and contemplation? Does it involve selling all our worldly possessions and dedicating our lives to serving the poor and oppressed? These are the kinds of things that come to mind when most people hear the word "holiness?" It feels like an impossible standard to live up to. So why even give it a try? I'm not sure any of us can be 100% "devoted to the service of God" and "morally and spiritually excellent." Perhaps Jesus has something else in mind for us in terms of holiness. I sure hope so because if he doesn't I think we're all in serious trouble!

So take my heart and form it
Take my mind and transform it
Take my will and conform it
To yours, to yours, O Lord

     Our gospel lesson for today has a lot to say about the subject of holiness. In fact, it's a debate between Jesus and the Pharisees on this very subject. But before we go into the details of the debate it's helpful to know where Mark places this story in his gospel. In Chapter 6 Mark has Jesus ministering and performing miracles on the Jewish side of Lake Galilee. He feeds over 5,000 people. He also touches and heals many Jews.
     Then, skipping over to chapter 8, Jesus is on the Gentile side of the Lake where he feeds over 4,000 people. He also touches and heals many Gentiles. This is significant because a good rabbi would be expected to conduct his ministry on the Jewish side of the Lake. However, doing the same thing on the Gentile side was more than a bit scandalous! It was basically forbidden!
     I believe that Mark set up this narrative structure on purpose. It shows the dramatic shift that happened in the way Jesus conducted his ministry. He goes from ministering to Jews only to ministering to both Jews and Gentiles. Mark gives us a reason for this change. This reason is the debate in chapter 7 between Jesus and the Pharisees on the nature of holiness. There is something about this conversation that Mark uses to explain why Jesus dismissed some of the cultural and religious expectations of his day, and blazed a new path.
     Mark's audience would have paid close attention to this narrative structure because they found themselves in a similar position. The gospel of Mark was written around 70 CE. This is when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. This caused an upheaval in Judaism. They had to figure out what their faith looked like without the Temple as a primary focus. The followers of Jesus were in a similar position. They found themselves asking if they were going to continue with their Jewish identity OR move ahead more vigorously into a Gentile mission that set aside parts of the Law.
     We see this struggle for identity in many of Paul's letters. Disputes over issues such as circumcision, the eating of food offered to idols, and even the wearing of head coverings, speak of a religious movement that was in flux. Some wanted to cling to the old ways. Others wanted to forge a new identity.
     Therefore, this portion of Mark's gospel would have resonated with them quite deeply. It spoke to the struggles they were facing as an emerging religious movement. The way Mark structures chapters 6-8 makes it clear that he understood Jesus mission as one that was focused on both Jews and Gentiles. The reason for this change has to do with the way Jesus understood the nature of holiness. It has less to do with outside religious observances and more to do with what's going on inside of us.
     This message would have hit home with Jesus' followers during the time of the destruction of the Temple. It should also resonate with us since we are the byproduct of the Gentile mission of the early followers of Jesus. If they had not made the switch, we might not even be here today! Our gospel lesson is an essential text in our understanding of the kind of holiness Jesus expects of his followers. So let's jump into the text and see what we can learn about the nature of holiness.

So take my heart and form it
Take my mind and transform it
Take my will and conform it
To yours, to yours, O Lord

     The setting is a familiar one. The Pharisees and some of the scribes are angry at Jesus…again! This is hardly the first, nor the last time, this would happen! In this particular instance the disciples were "eating with defied hands." This means more than practicing good hygiene. It means they were not following the Jewish ritual of hand washing that was performed before eating a meal.
     As a side bar, Mark lists some of the other religious observances yhe Jews followed including not eating anything from the market unless it was ritually cleansed, AND not eating from any cups, pots or kettles that were not ritually cleansed. The implied reason for this sidebar is that the disciples didn't strictly follow any of these religious laws and this was a bone of contention with the Pharisees.
     Jesus answers their criticism by quoting the prophet Isaiah: "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines." In other words, what's going on inside is far more important than what's going on outside. One could follow all the ritual rules of the Law and still be a horrible person.
     In case the Pharisees failed to understand what he was trying to teach them, Jesus made it abundantly clear: "Listen to me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person." [NRSV]
     Jesus had drawn a religious line in the sand. His interest was true holiness, not hygiene. True holiness begins inside of us and then radiates outward into the world. It doesn't work in the opposite direction.
     Jesus would make this observation repeatedly throughout the gospels. In Luke 17 Jesus told the Pharisees "The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you."  [Lk 17:20-21] The Greek word translated as "among" also means "inside." The kingdom of God begins INSIDE of us, NOT outside of us. It begins in our hearts, minds and spirits, and then radiates out into the world.
     The Pharisees failure to understand the true nature of holiness exasperated Jesus so much that he called them "white washed tombs." "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees," Jesus said, "for you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth."  [Mt 23:27-28] That's pretty harsh. You know that had to hurt! This is one of the strongest rebukes Jesus spoke that is recorded in the gospels.
     I believe the reason why his rhetoric was so harsh is that this was a very important subject to Jesus. As he moved from a primarily Jewish mission to one that included both Jews and Gentiles, he would always look at people's insides rather than judging them by how well they followed the ritual rules of Judaism. This made many of the Pharisees very angry. It's one of the reasons why they plotted to kill him. He threatened to upset their whole way of living and they didn't like it one bit.
     So where does this leave us as we ask the question: "What does it mean to be holy? What does holiness look like?" The answer should be perfectly clear. We don't have to live a monastic existence, devoting our lives to prayer and contemplation, in order to be called holy. We don't have to sell all our worldly possessions and dedicate our lives to serving the poor and oppressed in order to be called holy.
     True holiness begins inside of us. as we walk with Jesus, day by day, he begins to transform our negative thoughts and emotions so that we become more and more like him. The light he gives birth to in our hearts, minds and spirits radiates out into the world and fills it with light as well. This is light is a thousand times brighter than any external appearances of religion we could follow.
     Meister Eckhart, a 14th century monk, put it this way. "The outward work will never be puny if the inward work is great.  And the outward work can never be great or even good if the inward one is puny or of little worth. The inward work invariably includes in itself all expansiveness, all breadth, all length, all depth.  Such a work receives and draws all its being from nowhere else except from and in the heart of God."
     Friends in Christ, may we strive to be holy, not by outward appearances but by a radical reworking of our hearts, minds and spirits. May we allow Jesus to transform us from the inside out so that the world might be transformed by the radiant light of Christ.

Holiness, holiness is what I long for
Holiness is what I need
Holiness, holiness is what you want from me

So take my heart and form it
Take my mind and transform it
Take my will and conform it
To yours, to yours, O Lord.


Sunday, August 30, 2015

"Threads: Pulling Meaning From The Tangled Mess" by Nancy Kraft

     This book is a must read for all LGBT people of faith.  Rev. Nancy Kraft, a friend of mine, tells it like it is in her honest and moving spiritual memoir Threads: Pulling Meaning From The Tangled Mess.  Included in this book are personal stories, commentary on biblical texts and quite a number of stories of ministry with the LGBT community.
     I love this book because Nancy is the real deal.  She never sugar coats the truth about the challenges of life and the struggles we all face in trying to understand God.  There are wonderful insights on nearly every page in this book that will inspire and challenge you at the same time.
     Nancy's faith journey is far from perfect, which is what I love about her. In Threads, Nancy never toots her own horn, saying "Look at what I did."  Rather, she always points to God saying, "Look at what God did." Nancy is quick to remind us that God is full of surprises and if we just let the Holy One guide our lives, we're in for some wonderful and unexpected twists and turns along the way.  You can buy Threads on Amazon.  I highly recommend it.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sunday Sermon - What Are Your Superpowers?

LECTIONARY 21B  Ephesians 6:10-20
8/23/15  David Eck

     If you were a kid in the 60's or 70's, it's highly likely that you watched the hit TV series Batman. You remember Batman: Climbing up walls that you knew were filmed on a horizontal surface; zipping around town in the eye-popping Batmobile that has tucked away in a secret, hidden cave; battling colorful bad guys and bad gals such as the Penguin, the Joker, the Riddler and Catwoman.  And, finally, all those marvelous gadgets that Batman and Robin had at their disposal to vanquish their foes and save the day. It was adventurous, entertaining and oh so campy. Even as a kid I was in on the joke. I never missed an episode and knew I was guaranteed to have a good time. Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na, Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na, Batman!
     As a kid I dreamed of what it would be like to be Robin, Batman's faithful side-kick. I dreamed of living in Bruce Wayne's mansion where Alfred the Butler would serve me breakfast. Then I'd spend the day in the Bat Laboratory inventing new gadgets that Batman and I could use in fighting crime in Gotham City.
     Well, that might not have been your fantasy as a kid but I'm fairly certain that no matter what decade you grew up in, there was some superhero who caught your eye: Power Rangers, Transformers,  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Wonder Woman, and the list goes on! The reason why we like these mythological heroes is that they give us the courage to believe that good will triumph in the end and evil will always be defeated. Amazingly, all this can happen within the span of half an hour!
     Is it any wonder that Jesus encouraged us to be like little children? Who doesn't want to live in a world where good and evil are so easily identified? Who doesn't want to live in a world where the scales of justice are always tipped in favor of those who fight for what is good and right and just in our world?
     This brings us to our second lesson where Paul talks about life as if it's a superhero TV show: "For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm."
     Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na, Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na, Batman! Do you see what I mean?
     Paul is telling us the world is a dangerous place, the boogeyman is real, and we need to prepare ourselves for a battle of epic proportions: A battle of good against evil, a battle against nefarious forces, both seen and unseen. The Message states it this way: "This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels."
     In order for us to win this fight Paul says we need to "Put on the whole armor of God" so that we may be victorious over every sinister force that makes it's presence known in our lives. If that doesn't sound like Batman, I don't know what does!
     If Paul were writing this letter today I doubt he would use the phrase "whole armor of God" which sounds like it belongs in the Middle Ages. Instead, he would speak of the "superpowers" we possess that enable us to be victorious against any force or person who seeks to oppress, demean or enslave us. What I'd like to do this morning is "test" each of these superpowers and see how we can use them as we fight for what is good and true and just in our world.
     The first superpower is the "belt of truth." The literal purpose of a belt is to keep our pants from falling down around our ankles. Likewise the belt of truth keeps our spiritual pants from falling down around our ankles. It prevents us from embarrassing ourselves. Therefore, we should always seek to be truthful. We should never deceive others or have any hidden agendas. Instead, we should seek to be people of integrity whose words and deeds do not contradict one another. We should strive to be honorable, trustworthy, reliable and dependable. 
     Truth is, without a doubt, one of the most important superpowers we have at our disposal. It has vanquished many villains who seek to destroy others through lies and deception. Don't leave home without it!
     The second superpower is "the breastplate of righteousness." How many superheroes do you know who do not have some kind of high tech armor to shield their vital organs? Some of this armor is impressive like the kind Batman wore. Others are more subtle like the suit worn by the Flash. Yet both of them protect the wearer from harm. Likewise, Paul tells us the breastplate of righteousness protects us from the attacks of those who tell us we are weak and can be easily defeated.
     The word "righteousness" means "Equitable in character, innocent, holy, or just." When we can claim this for ourselves we will, indeed have super human strength. It enables us to say the words of Romans 8 with powerful, unshakable confidence: "I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
     Let anyone try to pierce that armor. It's Not. Gonna. Happen.
     The third superpower is "shoes" that enable us "to proclaim the gospel of peace." That's quite a mouthful, to say the least! Good As New paraphrases this as "peace" as "your hiking boots" which reminds us that "peace" is a powerful path to walk.
     Think about all the superheroes you know. Do any them spazz out and panic? Do any of them scream like little schoolgirls when evil surrounds them on all sides? I don't think so. Most superheroes I know remain calm, cool and confident, unless your Christopher Nolan's version of Batman, and that's another story altogether!
     To those who learn to harness it peace is an amazing superpower. It's the superpower I carry with me every night shift at Mission Hospital, where I am required to remain calm and grounded in the worst circumstances you can possibly imagine! It's one of the superpowers Jesus gave to his disciples during the final meal he shared with them: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."  [Jn 14:27]
     The fourth superpower is the "shield of faith." Immediately Captain America comes to mind who can do absolutely amazing things with his shield! It's sort of his version of the Swiss Army Knife. Likewise, we can do amazing things with the shield of faith. Jesus reminds us that if we had a shield of faith as tiny a mustard seed we can say to a mountain "Move from here to there," and it will move.  [Mt 17:20] With the shield of faith at our disposal Jesus reminds us that "Nothing will be impossible for us.”
     There are many ways we can define what faith is. But my all time favorite comes from Frederick Buechner in his book Wishful Thinking: "Faith is better understood as a verb than as a noun, as a process than as a possession. It is on-again-off-again rather than once-and-for-all. Faith is not being sure where you're going, but going anyway. A journey without maps."
     Faith is the shield that protects us from the flaming arrows of the evil one. It is, as the book of Hebrews says, "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."  [Heb 1:11] It may the the one superpower that turbocharges all the rest. Don't leave home without it!
     The fifth superpower is the "helmet of salvation." Good As New calls it our "spiritual hard hat." A number of superheroes have some pretty fancy headgear. While some of this is decorative, the purpose of a helmet is to protect our skulls from being crushed. It keeps our brains from being turned into scrambled eggs!
     Likewise salvation is the superpower which reminds us that our lives are covered and protected by Jesus. In the battle between darkness and light, the light has already won. John put it this way in his gospel: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."  [Jn 1:5]
     The helmet of salvation reminds us that the battle is already won! Ultimately nothing can harm us because even death has been conquered by Jesus. He has delivered us from all evil. He has released us from our sins. His saving power will sustain us in this life and bring us into the next where we will be with God for all eternity. The helmet of salvation gives us the courage to proclaim the words pf Psalm 23: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me."
     The sixth and final superpower is "The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." Up until this point, all the superpowers I've mentioned have been defensive. The sword of the Spirit is the first and only offensive weapon on Paul's list, and this makes a lot of sense. 
     Think about the story of Jesus' temptation by the Devil in the wilderness. In each of three temptations the Devil challenged Jesus to do something: 1) Turn stones into bread 2) Hurl himself off the wall of the Temple 3) Worship the Devil who would give him all of the kingdoms of the world in exchange for it. In all three of these temptations, Jesus responded to the Devil by quoting scripture: "One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." "Do not put the Lord your God to the test." and "Worship the Lord your God and serve only him." If Jesus needed to use this superpower as he faced one of the most difficult spiritual battles of his life, it's a safe bet that it's an important source of power for us as well.
     Using the sword analogy, the Word of God can be seen as something that helps us "split our thought in two." In other words, the Scriptures help us to discern right from wrong, a wise decision from a mistake, a safe path from a dangerous one." There is no way we will survive the attacks of the cosmic powers of this present darkness without it!
     So, my cape crusaders, are we ready to do battle? Are our superpowers intact? Let us put on the full armor of God so that we will be well prepared to fight for what is good and true and just in our world.  Amen.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sunday Sermon - Lady Wisdom

LECTIONARY 20B  Proverbs 9:1-6
8/16/15  David Eck

     JUST TELL ME WHAT TO DO!!! How many times have we thought this, or said it out loud, to an unhappy spouse, to a boss who was a bully and could NOT be pleased, to a counselor from whom we were seeking guidance. JUST TELL ME WHAT TO DO!!! How many times have we prayed our children or grandchildren would say this to us!
     Every day of our lives we are required to make choices: Big choices, little choices, sometimes life-changing choices. I don’t think there is anyone in this room who got up this morning thinking, "I’m gonna make some BAD choices today! Woo hoo! Let the party begin!"
     Every one of us wants to make the best choices possible: In our food choices which affect our health, in our life choices of relationships and jobs, in our environmental choices as we try to make the smallest carbon footprint possible, in our stewardship choices as we manage the time and resources God has given us.
     We all want to make the best choices possible: Choices that lead to prosperous paths, choices that bring joy and happiness to our lives, choices that make us and our loved ones feel safe and secure. None of these choices I've named should ever be made off the cuff. In fact, when we make these choices quickly there is a strong possibility we'll make a bad decision.
     Have you ever bought a shirt that was 75% off retail because it was such a bargain. Then you got it home and thought to yourself "You know, this is the ugliest thing I have in my closet. What was I thinking?"
     Have you ever experienced love at first sight and were immediately convinced that this was the right person for you? You fell hard and heavy for them. Then, several weeks into the relationship, you discovered the steamer trunks of emotional baggage your beloved brought with them? Come on, it's confession time. Most of us have been there!
     When making choices in life a general rule is that it's not a good thing to make them quickly. We need to give at least a little bit of thought to the choices we make in life. When they're life-changing ones, it's best to do a little research, seek the wisdom of others,and prayerfully consider our options.
     This brings us to our first lesson for today which presents us with a choice between two tables where we can metaphorically dine in life: Lady Wisdom and Dame Folly. The tricky part is discerning which table we're dining at. The tricky part is trying to figure out if we're making a good decision or a bad decision in life. In this instance, JUST TELL ME WHAT TO DO doesn't cut it. 
     The writer of Proverbs is telling us that both tables have their appeal. It may not always be easy at first glance to figure out what table we're dining at! So, let's look at the two tables, Lady Wisdom and Dame Folly, and see what they can teach us about making good choices in life.
     We begin with Lady Wisdom. Verse 1 says "Lady Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her seven pillars." The word HOUSE used here refers to a school of learning which became associated with the wisdom movement. SEVEN HEWN PILLARS refers to the pillars surrounding the central courtyard of a house for someone who is wealthy and prosperous.
     Gary & I saw houses like this in the ancient city of Pompeii. All the rooms open up into a central courtyard that was used for lounging, entertainment and eating. Part of this courtyard had a roof over it that was supported by three columns on each side, and one column at the far end. The walls which surrounded this courtyard were decorated with colorful frescoes.
     So the visual picture we get of Lady Wisdom is a beautiful woman in a white toga with a laurel wreath around her head. Her house is absolutely stunning. She shows us into the central courtyard and we know we're in for a treat! Verse 2 says "She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table." The Message paraphrases this beautifully, "The banquet meal is ready to be served: lamb roasted, wine poured out, table set with silver and flowers." Lady Wisdom has prepared a banquet for us.  It's quiet a feast! Like an Old Testament Giada de Laurentis or Rachel Ray, she has prepared the very best for us and we know it's going to be absolutely delicious.
     Verses 3-6 say "She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls from the highest places in the town, 'You that are simple, turn in here!”' To those without sense she says, 'Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.'"
     I know the invitation sounds a little insulting. "You that are simple," "Those without sense" However, the word "simple" in this text is not Forrest Gump or some sort of brain dead person. The Hebrew word for simple is PATHAH which means "to open." i.e. One who is open to any influence; someone who is impressionable and easily molded. "Those without sense" can be translated as "Those who lack judgment." The root word means "to separate or divide." i.e.Those with an inability to distinguish between right and wrong.
     The image we get in Proverbs is of an impressionable young person who is being invited to dine at wisdom's house. It is there that they will learn to distinguish between right and wrong; they will be influenced in a good and positive way and learn how to make better choices in life.
     Now we turn our attention to Dame Folly. She looks quite different from Lady Wisdom. Verse 13 says "Dame Folly is loud; she is ignorant and knows nothing." Folly is personified here as a lady of the evening, if you know what I mean! We picture her in the window of a bordello in Amsterdam. She is trying to lure us into her establishment.
     In other translations of this text, they describe Dame Folly as someone who is "brazen, empty headed and frivolous," [The Message] "Acts on impulse, is childish, and knows nothing."  [Lamsa]
     The Broadway equivalent of Folly is any woman in the cast of Cabaret. She is sexy, provocative and enticing. [If you like that kind of thing!] Whatever image comes to your mind as alluring and seductive this is how you should picture Dame Folly.
     Verses 14-16 say "She sits at the door of her house, on a seat at the high places of the town, calling to those who pass by, who are going straight on their way, 'You who are simple, turn in here!' And to those without sense she says, 'Ooh, stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.'"
     Notice the identical phrasing that us used by both Lady Wisdom and Dame Folly: "You who are simple," "Those without sense." Lady Wisdom and Dame Folly issue the same invitation to come and dine at their table. But what each of them offeres is as different as night and day.
     Again, the Message has a good time paraphrasing Dame Folly's invitation: "Are you confused about life? Don't know what's going on? Steal off with me.  I'll show you a good time! No one will ever know. I'll give you the time of your life!"
     This is the difference between Wisdom and Folly. Both give the same invitation, but what they offer is something different. Human nature, for whatever reason, seems to be drawn to the house of Folly rather than the House of Wisdom. We see this in the newspapers all the time as people from all walks of life make tragic and self-destructive decisions: Adultery, corruption, murder, abuse of power, accumulation of wealth at the expense of others, escape from reality through drugs and alcohol. 
     There are just some of the meals that are offered at Folly’s house which begs the question “Why is the forbidden so enticing?” I guess its sort of like a child that is told by a parent they cannot do this or that. Suddenly the forbidden becomes the very thing they want to do. We often do crazy things and make bad decisions in order to obtain what Folly offers us. We enter the House of Folly with our blinders on, ignoring the consequences of our actions, until they hit us upside the head like an 18 wheeler going 120 M.P.H.
     The results of dining at the House of Folly are stated clearly in vs. 18 "But they do not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol." The best translation of this verse comes from Today's English Version: "Her victims do not know that people die who go to her house; that those who have already entered are now deep in the world of the dead."
     When we enter Folly's House, we might have a good time for a season but ultimately we will pay a heavy price for it. This is the difference between the two houses: Wisdom offer us a fuller life where we "walk in the way of insight" Folly offers us rotten fruit in a flashy wrapper where we end up "deep in the world of the dead." The Message translates vs.18 rather chillingly as follows: "But they don't know about the skeletons in her closet that all her guests end up in hell."
     There is a lot we can learn from these dual images of Wisdom and Folly. I would encourage everyone to read Proverbs 9 this week preferably in several translations and absorb its meaning. As we make choices in life I hope we will keep these two images in mind and continually ask ourselves: Are we going for the cheap thrill OR something that is lasting and eternal? Are we going for something in a flashy wrapper OR something that may have little style but lots of substance? Are we going for the things that will lead us to a fuller life OR that will ultimately lead us to misery and unhappiness?
     Friends in Christ, life is a series of choices. I have seen godly men and women who were brought to their knees because the entered the House of Folly instead of the House of Wisdom. Unfortunately, no one is going to stand around and tell us what to do all the time. We are going to have to make most decisions on our own. I pray that God would grant us the discernment to know the difference between dining at the House of Wisdom and dining at the House of Folly. AMEN