Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Your Pants Are On Fire

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were a way we could instantly tell if someone was telling the truth or trying to pass a lie by us.   According to Wikipedia (see how much I have grown in my technological savvy) "the idea that lying produces physical side-effects has long been claimed. In West Africa persons suspected of a crime were made to pass an ostrich’s egg to one another. If a person broke the egg, then he or she was considered guilty, based upon the idea that their nervousness was to blame. In ancient China the suspect held a handful of rice in his or her mouth during a prosecutor’s speech. Because salivation was believed to cease at times of emotion anxiety, the person was considered guilty if by the end of that speech the rice was dry.” All of this eventually led to the invention of the polygraph or lie detector.

When I was a child and we thought someone was not telling the truth,  we used to chant, "liar, liar, your pants are on fire, your nose is longer than a telephone wire.” Good thing that childish ditty doesn’t really happen, or we’d all have singed pants and a nose that would rival Pinocchio's. 

Some years ago Jim Carrey played the role of an attorney, Fletcher Reede, who often bent the truth to his advantage. That is until his eight-year-old son Max makes a wish as he blows out the candles on his birthday cake. His wish is that his dad could go one day without telling a lie.The whole movie spins around how difficult it is for Fletcher to go even one day telling the truth and nothing but the truth.   

Childish rhymes and slapstick comedy give way to more serious scenarios.  A new baseball season opens this week. At one time baseball great Barry Bonds was a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. Now it seems like he is destined for the hall of shame. Bond's mistress testified the other day at his perjury trial in U.S. District Court about his steroid use. She told the court, “I’m not a liar.” The court will have to sort out who is telling the truth and who is bearing false witness. Seems like these old Ten Commandments just won’t go away.

Sermon preview: As with all the other commandments we have examined so far in this series, there is another side to not bearing false witness, aside from the obvious. I'll delve into this other side of telling the truth this week, using the story of the time my friend almost drove off the side of I-77 while driving through the mountainous stretch near the North Carolina/Virginia line....all because of something he heard on the radio….me!   See you this week as we ask…"How Far Do My Words Travel?"

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How Do You Like Them Apples?

I am always amazed at how many oft-repeated sayings people seem to think originated in the Bible. For instance, “God helps those who help themselves.”  Can’t find that in Bible, no matter how hard you look.  In fact, Lent reminds us that just the opposite of this statement is true: “While we were yet helpless…” is what the Bible really says; when we were helpless, he saved us.  
Then there is the classic version of the story of Adam and Eve and their chomping on a forbidden apple. That version is so ingrained in our culture that we assume it must have come right from the Good Book. But the Bible doesn’t say anything about an apple. It could have been a banana or kumquat,  for all the Bible tells us. It does make for a nice image though, one that persists in our culture in phrases like “one bad apple spoils the barrel.” Guess that is true, but still not in the Bible.  
So what do apples and pithy, overused platitudes have to do with the ten commandments? This week in the series we will examine the eighth commandment, “thou shall not steal.” Last week in worship I talked about the sex saturated society we inhabit, but we also live in a consumer driven culture.  James Moore reminds us, “Modern advertising, with all of its enticements, can create a strong desire for more and more things. And this desire can make us do strange things”.
He goes on to tell the following story (here is where the apples come in): All of us are like the little boy standing by the apple barrel in the country store. He kept looking at the apples and then looking away. Finally the grocer went over and said, ‘Son , are you trying to steal an apple?  No sir, replied the little boy.  I’m trying real hard not to!”  
The more you linger with the eighth commandment, the more you discover there are other things besides apples that you can steal. You can steal or rob a person of joy, a good day and even hope.  I wonder, is there something that no one can steal?  I think there is, I’ll tell you about it on Sunday.   In the meantime, remember; “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”  

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sex and the Big Dance

My team for the tournament this year:
15th seed Long Island Blackbirds

    Even if you don’t know if a basketball is stuffed or inflated and even if you could not care less about the game James Naismith invented, everyone knows about March Madness.   Hope your team made the big dance hosted by the NCAA.   BYU made it, but they also made the news last week because of sex.   That’s right,  a player was kicked off the team when he acknowledged his transgression to BYU officials.  His transgression was having sex with his girlfriend.   The school has suspended him for the rest of the season.  Not sure what you make of all of that; some writers commend the school for their actions and some think the school has their head in the sand.   Who’s to say?   Apparently the NCAA, which lives and breathes endless rules like the Pharisees of long ago, doesn’t have a policy regarding premarital sex or adultery.   Not sure Moses would have been invited to sit on the NCAA Board of Directors.   

This week we uncover the meaning of the seventh commandment, “Thou Shall Not Commit Adultery.”   Some of the figures are staggering when it comes how many have had sex before marriage and how many spouses have broken this commandment.   Over my years in the ministry I have come to believe that this commandment is much more complex than having (or not having) sex.  

I kicked around a number of sermon titles this week.  I always like the ones that “get you off the bus” and want to come and hear the sermon.  So I first thought of “Forbidden Sex,” but when I told the person who sends my title into the Observer, she blushed and said, “Oh, dear.”   So I figured I needed to tone it down.  So then I liked the snappy and catchy one, “ Lust, Sex and Grace.”   But that too seemed a bit too racy to some.  I was running out of ideas and time, so finally in a cooperative spirit with Jason, Catherine, Jane and Jessica we came up with, “Looking For Love In All The Wrong Places.”   Oh, in case you are wondering, a basketball is inflated, not stuffed.  And here is something to chew on: I wonder how many teams would have enough players to field a team  if everyone fessed up?   Catherine says they wouldn’t have enough teams for a tournament!  Still blogging.  See you Sunday.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Murder in the Cathedral

I am running behind on my blogging this week.  Not sure anyone noticed other than Jessica Otto, my Executive Associate who kept saying,” where’s your blog for this week?”    So here we go, something I borrowed and paraphrase from Dr. Robert Holland in his series on the Ten Commandments.  Over eight hundred years ago when Henry the Second was King of England, Thomas Becket was the Archbishop of Canterbury.   Most of the time, before becoming the Archbishop, Thomas supported the King even against the Pope.  But in his new role, Thomas and the King quarreled.  Thomas believed that rule of the church took priority over the King.  You can guess what the King thought of that idea.   Well, one thing led to another and the bickering grew hotter and more intense, that after only two years on the job in Canterbury, Thomas was forced to flee to France where he lived out his life as a monk.

Meanwhile, things grew worse in England as both King and Pope jockeyed for position.  Some six years later, Thomas was called back to England to set matters straight.   Needless to say, the King was not happy, in fact publicly cursed the Archbishop and hinted it might be  better if Thomas were out of the way.   King Henry is rumored to have roared, "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?", but according to historian Simon Schama this is incorrect: he accepts the account of the contemporary biographer Edward Grim, writing in Latin, who gives us "What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?"

13th century depiction of Becket's murder in the Cathedral.

Well, if you remember you history classes back in high school,  that is exactly what happened.   Right there in the Cathedral Thomas Becket was murdered.  I am told that if you go to Canterbury today  you can walk around the spot where the stain of his blood still lies.  

It’s a sad tale in so many ways….but what is sadder yet, we still kill people—and sometimes even still kill them in churches.  Sometimes murders are committed with weapons, and sometimes with words, or neglect, or indifference.  

This week’s commandment, “Thou Shall Not Kill” is up.   I’ve titled my sermon, “Gangsters, Gunslingers and Christians”.   See you Sunday.  And as one of my old cronies named Cromie once said….”before entering the church, leave your gun and holster at the door.”   

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Do You Have a House or a Home?

Yesterday I read that last American survivor of WW I died.  And sadly, each day more than one thousand WW II veterans, tagged the Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw, pass away.  

I’m not sure if any generation can be labeled the greatest, though we certainly understand the reasons why the WWII generation has received this label.  But some amazing things are happening all over the world today in places like Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries, driven forward by a new generation of young people who have ideals and dreams and the technological savvy to stir the hearts and minds of their fellow countrymen and women.  Time magazine calls these young people “the Generation That’s Changing the World.”

So which generation is the greatest? It’s a toss of the coin.   Perhaps it all comes down to each generation “being faithful in their time.”   The Bible echoes the refrain, “the faithfulness of God endures for all generations,” which I think means that God plants a seed of greatness in every generation.

     Of course, each family has its own tree or genealogy.  None of us arrived here solo: from generation to generation, we all got here on the same bus which departed from the Garden of Eden.  Adam and Eve were the first mom and pop.   Sometimes things do not work out as planned, so unassuming Seth had to step up to keep bus rolling.  Every parent tries their very best.  Every parent knows happiness and heartache.  I have said it many times, there are no perfect families in the Bible.   Why even the holy family left Jesus behind one day!

So what does it mean today to honor your father and your mother?     This week Dr. Rodger Nishioka will continue our sermon series on the Ten Commandments.  This week’s commandment is Honor Thy Father and Mother.   Not a clue how he will spin his sermon, but I can assure you it will be a homiletical humdinger and give you some fodder for your own family.   You are in for a treat.

    In the meantime,   let me close with a story from the book, When All Else Fails, Read the Instructions by James Moore.  During World War II, a kindly older gentleman who lived in a hotel here in the United States became acquainted with a  young preschool girl, the daughter of a serviceman.  The man noticed the little girl playing daily in the hotel lobby.  It was the only place  she had to play, but she didn’t seem to mind.  In conversations with the little girl, he found out that because of the war, the serviceman and his family had moved time after time, from place to place, and now the hotel was their residence.

    One day as they were talking together, the man said to the little girl, “What a pity that you and your family don’t have a home.”   The little girl answered with deep wisdom, “Oh, we have a home.  We just don’t have a house to put it in!”  

Folks, in the words of Moore, being a Christian family “takes patience, commitment, energy, communication, trust faith – a lot of hard work.  Christian homes just don’t happen.  Christian families don’t just pop up out of nowhere.  They must be worked out, nurtured, developed, tended, cherished – and renewed each and every day.”

Seem to me that if you strive in that direction, if you transform a house into a home, you too are part of the greatest generation that can change the world.  And in so doing, you are also keeping the fifth commandment. We are honoring our fathers and mothers, and all the greatest generations before us, when we are faithful in our own time.

See you Sunday.