What Do you Think?/…Do You Think?

by Rev. Scott Summerville

Matthew 22:15-22

..Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
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The Feast Is Ready

by Rev. Scott Summerville

Luke 14:15-24

When one of those who sat at table with him heard this, he said to him, “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!” But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many; and at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, `’Come; for all is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused.’ Continue Reading

But I Say to You…

by Rev. Scott Summerville

Matthew 5:38-48

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. Continue Reading

That You May Live!

by Rev. Scott Summerville

Ok – you pulled your self out of your warm bed on this frigid morning. You got yourself to church without breaking your neck on the ice, you settle into the warmth of the sanctuary, with its heat recently restored, and you open your ears and your heart for a comforting word of the Lord, only to hear this:

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live…” Words from Torah – the Book of Deuteronomy. Continue Reading

Pointing Fingers and Rebuilding Walls

by Rev. Scott Summerville

“If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong… ”

Isaiah 58:9b -11 Continue Reading

Crunch

by Rev.  Scott Summerville

Mark.10:13-15

…they were bringing children to Jesus, that he might touch them; and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it he was indignant, and said to them, “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Continue Reading

He Took Him by the Hand

by Rev. Scott Summerville

Mark 8:22–26

They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him he asked him, “Can you see anything?”

And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again, and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Then Jesus sent them away to his home, saying “do not even go into the village.”

Are you worried about healthcare? What worries you most?

Health and healthcare is on all our minds these days.

Are you aware that healthcare is one of the main subjects of the Gospels? The most persistent theme in the Gospels is the fact that every where Jesus went there was a crisis of health care. Everywhere he went he was mobbed by people who were sick. Yes, people came to hear Jesus speak, but the impression the Gospels give is that the primary reason people flocked to Jesus was that they were desperate for healing for themselves or their loved ones. Ponder that.

Because we are disciples of a healer, Christians have a particular slant on healthcare because we profess our belief in one who was a healer. Everywhere he went he healed. I am a bit uncomfortable when people talk about “the great spiritual teachers,” and include Jesus in a list of great spiritual teachers. Jesus was indeed a teacher. They called him Rabbi, which means in Hebrew, “teacher.” But Jesus was not just a teacher. The activity that dominates his ministry in the Gospels is healing. As we see from today’s Gospel story that this was a very down-to-earth, roll up your sleeves, spit on your hands and get to work kind of business. When we think of a teacher, especially perhaps a “spiritual teacher,” we don’t tend to think of someone surrounded by desperate, sick, and worried people clamoring for release from pain and help for their loved ones, and when we think of a teacher we don’t usually picture someone rubbing spit on people’s eyes.

Jesus was a teacher but more than a teacher, and the fact that he was a healer puts us on notice that Christians should have a special concern for healing, especially healing for those who are most desperate for healthcare. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t give us any unique wisdom about how to solve the healthcare crisis, but it does require us to insist that system that excludes so many people from care are morally unacceptable and must be changed.

There is something that is curious to me about the Gospel story’s day. When people brought this man to Jesus and begged for his help, instead of responding immediately, Jesus takes the man by the hand and leads him away from the village outside of the town. This is an unusual detail in the Gospel. Jesus took this person by the hand and walked with him before doing his thing with the spit in the eyes. I don’t quite know what to make of this. It certainly adds a quality of intimacy to the encounter of Jesus with this person.

I heard a very wise doctor speaking the other day. She said that medicine is more than technical skill; it is a human to human art; and that a doctor’s capacity to be present with the human being who is the patient and to listen carefully to the patient and read all the signals coming from the patient is critical to the doctor’s ability to accurately diagnose and treat illness.

Jesus walks hand-in-hand with the blind man before the actual act of healing takes place – this is a very personal encounter. I suspect that underlying so much of the passion around healthcare today is the fear we have that someday we or someone we love will not be treated as a person. We fear for ourselves or those we love that someday they will show up at a hospital and because they don’t have the right card they will be denied medical care. Or they will receive care, but it will be mechanical, unfeeling, minimal treatment. We fear that in some moment of distress or disease or injury we or someone we love will not be treated with dignity and given appropriate care and regarded as a person.

There is so much worry in the air these days that it has become very difficult to have a sensible and factually-based conversation about healthcare.

One of the senior and very respected members of this church is Doug Smith. Doug has been for many years on the Board of Directors of the Holy Comforter Nursing Home. He was telling me recently about the struggles that nursing homes are facing in trying to provide quality care to patients within the reimbursal limits set by Medicaid. Doug is struggling very directly with the crisis of health care and its impact on the elderly. He mentioned that this particular home that he has devoted so much attention to was established by the Episcopal Church. Our congregation has had a close relationship with the Methodist Home in Riverdale. So many of our healthcare facilities have their roots in communities of faith who believed that their faith required them to be about the business of healing.

Quite a number of our church members are in medical professions. I have a very positive feeling as a pastor knowing that out there on the medical front lines there are so many compassionate and committed people whose spiritual grounding will enable them to care for people’s medical needs with compassion and humanity.

Our congregation has been involved in establishing a medical clinic in rural Ghana – a place of staggering infant mortality and lack of any sort of regular health care for the people. Rev. Marion Hubbard who was instrumental in launching this project, the Dorcas Project, was here last month in our pulpit, and she has been keeping us up to date on the progress of the clinic. Since she was here she made us aware of the timetable for the opening of the clinic and the current immediate needs. (See above.) This week our congregation will send an additional $1000 to the Dorcas clinic project, and in September we will raise additional funds for the project – and we are still looking for a person or persons to go to Ghana in 2010 to have a hands on role in the project.

Disciples of the healer need to care about having a fair and compassionate system of health care in our own country. It is not morally sufficient simply to ask whether my healthcare is working for me at this moment. The entire system is facing crisis; huge numbers of people are uninsured; most people face the risk of loss of insurance for catastrophic costs above and beyond the limits of their insurance; and the cost of our health care far exceeds that of any other nation. At the same time we are part of a global community and we recognize that the crisis is a global crisis.

There is something else that we are aware of that is not part of the national health debate: we are aware that being healthy does not necessarily mean that you can pass a checkup at the doctor’s office with flying colors. There are people whose physical systems are not working well but who are healthy. We are aware that life is more than the body.

I will never forget sitting in a circle, a family circle, where the mother, the matriarch of the family was dying, and where she had said “NO!” to any further medical procedures. She had come fully to accept that her physical life was approaching its end. She gathered her family from two continents and asked them to sit with her, so she could hear from each of them before she died, and so she could address them all. Children and grandchildren and in-laws – each one spoke personally to her of their love and their appreciation for her . Then she looked into each of their eyes and said to all of them:

“I mean what I am about to tell you. And I want you to understand that I mean it. Listen to me: you are all here with me, and I am looking at all of you, and this is the best. This is the best moment of my life. Do you hear me? Do you understand that being here with you in this room right now; this is the best moment of my life?”

It was an awesome moment.

Our bodies are to be honored and cared for and not abused, but in the end we all wear out, no matter how many doctors we see or how many procedures we have. Earth to earth and dust to dust…. we are mortal.

People have every right to be anxious about their health and the state of our medical system, and we need to do what we can to fix that system. If we do not fix it then everyone will suffer.

At the same time we proclaim that there is more to life than a healthy body.

As Scripture says: If we live we live to the Lord. If we die we die to the Lord, so that whether we live or die we are the Lord’s possession.

Grace and peace to you.

Grief and Glory

by Rev. Scott Summerville

Psalm 65

II Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

King David was the second and the greatest king of Israel. Roughly nine hundred years before the time of Jesus he conquered his enemies and united the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. He established Jerusalem as the capital city of his kingdom, and he ruled for forty years. He was so favored by God that it was promised to him that his descendents would rule over the house of Israel for all time. When Jesus was greeted by the crowds as he came into Jerusalem on the day we celebrate as Palm Sunday, they shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David ” (Mark 11: 9-10.)

David had glory and power beyond anyone who ever lived in Israel – but if you have been with us this summer, you have been hearing the stories of David week after week, and you know that for all his glory and power, David was a deeply tragic figure. As a young man he is forced into conflict with King Saul, who betrayed him and turned against him, and in this conflict with Saul, David’s dearest friend, Saul’s son Jonathan was killed. David weeps bitterly when he hears that Jonathan is dead.

David was known for his righteousness and wisdom as a king, but he could also be ruthless and immoral – the past two Sundays we have heard the story of how he abused Bathsheba and murdered her husband, Uriah. There were many moments of grief in David’s life, but the greatest grief came at the end of his life. His own son, Absalom, rebelled against him. Even though Absalom made war against his father, still David longed to be reconciled with him. But that was not to be. Absalom was killed by David’s soldiers, and again David was overcome with grief . We hear today the story of David grieving for his son Absalom.

II Samuel, chapter 18:

18:5] The king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom.
18:6] So the army went out into the field against Israel; and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim.
18:7] The men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the slaughter there was great on that day, twenty thousand men.
18:8] The battle spread over the face of all the country; and the forest claimed more victims that day than the sword.
18:9] Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on.
18:15] And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him, and killed him.
18:31] Then the Cushite came and the Cushite said, “Good tidings for my lord the king! For the LORD has vindicated you this day, delivering you from the power of all who rose up against you.”
18:32] The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” The Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up to do you harm, be like that young man.”
18:33] The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

When I saw that we would be reading the story of Absalom and David today, I remembered the Sunday a few months back when the Men’s Chorus of Asbury United Methodist Church did a rousing “a capella” rendition of the anthem, “David’s Lamentation,” and I lamented that the men were not all here today to sing it again! Then it occurred to me that thanks to the miracle of modern technology all we have to do is go to the website of Asbury United Methodist Church to hear the men’s chorus singing

“David’s Lamentation.”

“David, the king, was grieved and moved,
He went to his chamber and wept; And as he went he wept, and said:
‘O my son! O my son!
Would to God I had died
For thee, O Absolom, my son!’ ”

So right now I shall go to my wireless device, and for the first time ever from the pulpit of Asbury United Methodist Church, we will hear one of our choirs singing electronically through the Web for a Sunday service. [And so we did. If you missed this history making event – not to worry – go to our web site, asburycrestwood.net, where you can see and hear our choirs, including the men singing ‘David’s Lament.”]

That song goes right to the heart.
According to the Hebrew Scriptures David was not only a king and a general, and a man who knew great tragedy and enormous grief; he was a musician and a poet. We are leaving David today. Next week move on to David’s son Solomon. I want to end our time with David, not by focusing on his glory or his failings, or his terrible grief, but on a song of David in which he celebrates the glory of God the Creator.

“You visit the earth and water it,
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
you provide the people with grain,
for so you have prepared it.
You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth.
You crown the year with your bounty;
your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
the hills gird themselves with joy,
the meadows clothe themselves
with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy.”

Those are the words of Psalm number 65. According to the Bible these are the words of a song. If you look in your Bible at the Psalms, you will see that very often just before the words of the psalm itself there will be some kind of explanation or instruction. So in Psalm 65, at the beginning, it says: “To the leader. A Psalm of David. A Song.” That tells us a few things. It tells us that when we read from the book of Psalms we are reading from a book of liturgy. When it says “to the leader” it is speaking of the one who is leading the worship. And obviously when it says, “a song,” it is telling us that the Psalms were originally sung. So the Psalms are in part a book of liturgy and prayer and also a hymnal.

Unfortunately we do not have the tunes to these songs. Sometimes the introduction to the Psalm will tell us that it is to be sung with stringed instruments, but we do not know what melodies were played or what these songs sounded like when the Jewish people sang them in ancient times.

Most of the songs begin with a note telling us who wrote the words to the song. Most of the Psalms are attributed to King David. In this Psalm of David and in many of the Psalms there is the celebration of the earth.

“By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance,
O God of our salvation;
you are the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas.
By your strength you established the mountains;
you are girded with might.”

The Psalms speak of the oceans and the mountains and the sense of awe that human beings feel in all of nature, but especially when we are near water and mountains.

Mary Ellen and I traveled a few weeks ago to Maine. In Maine the water is so cold that only a few crazy people like me get in and swim in the ocean. There are lots of people with boats sailing and paddling around. But of all the millions of people coming to the shoreline, the great majority never touch the water. Though they never touch the water, they need to be near it. The price of rental property goes up higher and higher the closer you get to the water. It is as if there is something in the molecules of our bodies that is pulled by some magnetic force toward the water. You can stay home and stand in the shower and cover yourself with water and save yourself a lot of money, but no, we have to pack up our gear and drive hundreds of miles in order to be near vast bodies of water. Or to be near the mountains.

We drove through the Presidential Range in New Hampshire on our way back from Maine. We took the ten mile drive up Mount Washington, the highest mountain in the eastern United States. People say we are drawn to the ocean because our bodies are primarily composed of water. But that does not explain why we are drawn to the mountains. What is this thing that draws us to the mountains? Why does it take our breath away to look at them?

What is it that comes over us when we stand at the top of a mountain looking out in every direction? Why is it that it is so hard to write a song about the glory of God without mentioning at least once or twice a mountain or a river or lake or the ocean? Why is our sense of holiness connected to water and mountains?

The short answer to that question is, I do not know. But I do know this: it is a very challenging thing to be a human being. We are subject to all the same dangers and diseases and physical struggles as the other creatures of this earth. At the same time, in every human being there is this vast inner world; a vast inner world of thoughts and dreams, a world of imagination and emotion – our inner world is full of as many dangers and troubles as our physical world – for every wound that the flesh is subject to, the heart and soul are subject to even more.

It is truly an awesome thing to be born on this earth. I was reminded of that last week when the mother of our newest church baby permitted me to hold her day-old son. It is indeed an awesome thing to be born on this planet as a human being.

As we go about the ordinary business of everyday life, we get distracted, and we forget what an extraordinary adventure life is, but when we are at the ocean or on a mountain, the awe returns. Oceans and mountains awaken in us the awareness that we are fragile creatures standing before great mysteries. There is something that is thrilling and comforting and terrifying about oceans and mountains – in these places we are experiencing the awesomeness of creation and the awesomeness of the Creator.

We have come to the end of David’s story for now. His personal story was tangled up with the history of his time and the personal struggles he had in his family and in his friendships. It is a story in which even the greatest of human beings must deal with all the uncertainties and troubles of life. There were times when David the king stepped back from the affairs of state and the complications of family, and stood in awe of God, the holy one of Israel, Creator of heaven and earth. And he would sing in long forgotten melody:

“By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation; you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas. By your strength you established the mountains; you are girded with might. You silence the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples. Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs; you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.”

A prayer:

“Creator God, we stumble and fumble through life; we are bewildered and challenged at every turn; we stand in wonder and awe at birth, and we are humbled and struck down by death. You are the Creator, the source of our being, and to you we entrust our lives, our fragile lives. We give you thanks and praise for every gift of creation. In the glories of this earth you reawaken our spirits and call forth our adoration and love. To you be honor and glory now and forever.”

Grace and peace to you.