22 February 2012

Last of the Seven Deadly Sins: Greed "Where Is Your Heart?"

So, before we speak of Greed, let me take a second here to clarify my comments about "Arbitrary Be Nice to Someone Day" from last week's message. At Bible study last week it was pointed out that I did not mention the words "Valentine's Day" once. So there you go! I don't have a problem with Valentine's Day as much as the sentiments around it. I want to encourage loving, equal relationships based on trust and love. We should show such affection all the time, not just February 14. My biggest issue with Valentine's Day is that it feeds into our commercialized culture to the point of muddying the water of our romantic relationships. How we honor our loved ones is measured by the amount spent. This impacts those relationships to the point the become superficial, and not God-honoring. As I left Bible study last Tuesday night, Valentine's Day, I stopped at the light right here at Cedar Springs and Welborn. A couple was leaving the restaurant in a gorgeous red Ferrari. And I noticed the woman talking on a cell phone. So at the end of this perfect, romantic evening, driving a dream car, and they are not even talking to each other! That's the impact an over-emphasized Valentine's Day can have on a relationship. We want to build relationships that are healthy and uplifting, not superficial and defined by Greed. Which just happens to be our final sin in the sermon series!

Greed is the relentless pursuit of our own financial well being, often at the expense of others. Our desire to get ahead, to earn that promotion and its raise in pay, our self worth that is found, not in the biblical truth that we are made in God's image but in our tax bracket- greed. Those churches that espouse a theology of greed in the congregation by promoting a "God wants you to be rich" philosophy- greed. By this thing and you'll feel better, more valuable, more important- greed. 

Add in the reality that we live in a consumerist nation and things get really complicated. We accumulate more and ore stuff so that we have an improved sense of self. We judge ourselves and others by what we wear. What we drive. Where we live. Where our kids go to school. Fifteen years ago there was a series on PBS called AFFLUENZA. Anyone remember it? It focused on American consumer consumption and or appetite for things. The title reflects a uniquely American combination of affluence and illness- Affluenza. You can still go online and read some of the stuff, although it's dated, especially after the financial meltdown of four years ago. Still, it's interesting to wonder how these surveys would be impacted since 2008. 

What are you willing to do for $10,000,000?
Would abandon their entire family (25%)
Would abandon their church (25%)
Would become prostitutes for a week or more (23%)
Would give up their American citizenships (16%)
Would leave their spouses (16%)
Would withhold testimony and let a murderer go free (10%)
Would kill a stranger (7%)
Would put their children up for adoption (3%)

1. Which of the following is comparable to the size of a typical three-car garage?
a. a basketball court
b. a McDonald's restaurant
c. an "RV" (recreational vehicle)
d. the average home in the 1950s.
Answer: d. Many of today's three-car garages occupy 900 square feet, just about the average size of an entire home in the 1950s. Many people use the extra garage space to store things they own and seldom use. 

2. The percentage of Americans calling themselves "very happy" reached its highest point in what year?
a. 1957
b. 1967
c. 1977
d. 1987
Answer: a. The number of "very happy" people peaked in 1957, and has remained fairly stable or declined ever since. Even though we consume twice as much as we did in the 1950s, people were just as happy when they had less.

3. How much of an average American's lifetime will be spent (on average) watching television commercials?
a. 6 months
b. 3 months
c. 1 year
d. 1.5 years
Answer: c. In contrast, Americans on average spend only 40 minutes a week playing with their children, and members of working couples talk with one another on average only 12 minutes a day. from 1980–2004, the amount spent on children's advertising in America rose from $100 million dollars a year to $15 billion a year.

4. True or false? Americans carry $1 billion in personal debt, not including real estate and mortgages.
Answer: False. Americans carry $1 trillion in personal debt, approximately $4,000 for every man, woman and child, not including real estate and mortgages. On average, Americans save only 4 percent of their income, in contrast to the Japanese, who save an average of 16 percent.

5. Which activity did more Americans do in 1996?
a. graduate from college
b. declare bankruptcy
Answer: b. In 1996, more than 1 million Americans declared bankruptcy, three times as many as in 1986. Americans have more than 1 billion credit cards, and less than one-third of credit card holders pay off their balances each month.

6. Of the Americans who voluntarily cut back their consumption, what percent said (in 1995) that they are happier as a result?
a. 29 percent
b. 42 percent
c. 67 percent
d. 86 percent
Answer: d. Eighty-six percent of Americans who voluntarily cut back their consumption feel happier as a result. Only 9 percent said they were less happy.

Jesus asked, "What good is it to gain the whole world but lose your soul?" It's a question worth asking ourselves every time we see a newer, fancier car, a neighbor's bigger home, that commercial selling the next amazing thing we need to be important. Did you know that in ancient Israel poverty was illegal?  It is literally against the law: "There will, however, be no one in need among you, for the Lord is sure to bless you in the land the Lord your God is giving you..." Sounds great, right? But there's a caveat: "If only you obey the Lord your God by observing diligently this entire commandment I am giving you today" ( Deuteronomy 15:4-5). In ancient Israel it was illegal to charge interest on loans. Even to outsiders. Landowners set aside days when then poor could gather food for free. There was to be a Sabbath year for the land every seven years. And every 50 years was to be a Jubilee year, where all debts were forgiven and ancestral landholdings were returned to their original  owners. The cycle of poverty was not allowed to exist, much less persist. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, income disparity in the United States has increased 40% in the past 30 years. In 2010 the nation’s poverty rate rose to a 17-year high, with more than 46 million people – 15.1% of the population - living in poverty and 49.9 million living without health insurance.

Jesus told a parable about a rich landowner who had a huge crop one year. His barns were not big enough to hold everything. His solution? He tore down those barns and built new, bigger ones! That's a spiritual issue! Did the thought even occur to him to share out of his abundance? Did he grow up in a family that saw money as something to be accumulated or shared? What discussions went on in s faith community? Or were his leaders more concerned with earthly things? Jesus condemned him, calling him a fool. Jesus ate at the home of a Pharisee, who immediately took issue to the lack of hand washing by Jesus' disciples. Jesus challenged him: "You're concerned with cleaning the outside of the cup but not the inside. Give for alms those things that are within."

Of all the issues addressed by the Bible, money is the leading one. Jesus spoke more about money than any other subject except the Kingdom of God. Money holds infinite possibility for blessing. Lives have been changed forever because of how people understood money. Someone will eat tonight because of how this church views money. Someone will go to college this week because of how someone understood money. Someone will receive great blessing at the time of a loved one's death because of how that person understood money. The opposite of greed is what was traditionally called charity- what we would call generosity. Remembering that what we have came from God, and belongs to God, will help us to share what we have. We will see money as a great opportunity to bless others as we have been blessed. We're going to bridge this series with our next, which will offer Christian perspectives on giving for the Season of Lent. All the way through March we're going to talk about using our money in a healthy, spiritual way. 

Now, I am a fan of Pink Floyd, so it pains me to point out an error in one of their classic songs, MONEY. It is not "the root of all evil today." The love of money is the root of all evil today- and always. Money itself is neither good nor bad. It is how is used- even how it is approached- that determines its moral value. You have been blessed by a loving, generous God. Don't waste it by building bigger barns. Jesus said, "Your treasure is where your heart is." So the question for today is: Where is your heart? 

12 February 2012

Counting Down the Seven Deadly Sins! #6: Lust "Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God!"

Proverbs 5:1-14

My child, be attentive to my wisdom;
   incline your ear to my understanding, 
so that you may hold on to prudence,
   and your lips may guard knowledge. 
For the lips of a loose woman drip honey,
   and her speech is smoother than oil; 
but in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
   sharp as a two-edged sword. 
Her feet go down to death;
   her steps follow the path to Sheol. 
She does not keep straight to the path of life;
   her ways wander, and she does not know it. 
And now, my child, listen to me,
   and do not depart from the words of my mouth. 
Keep your way far from her,
   and do not go near the door of her house; 
or you will give your honour to others,
   and your years to the merciless, 
and strangers will take their fill of your wealth,
   and your labours will go to the house of an alien; 
and at the end of your life you will groan,
   when your flesh and body are consumed, 
and you say, ‘Oh, how I hated discipline,
   and my heart despised reproof! 
I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
   or incline my ear to my instructors. 
Now I am at the point of utter ruin
   in the public assembly.’ 

Last week we prepared for a day of excess, Super Bowl Sunday, when Americans spent $11 billion. This week we’ll celebrate another day with excess. I intentionally scheduled lust for this weekend, because we’re just a couple of days away from celebrating that most romantic of observances, Arbitrary Relationships Day. It was no coincidence that the theme of yesterday’s mini women’s retreat was love. So as you consider how much of the estimated $17.6 B Americans spend on Arbitrary Relationships Day—an increase of 8.5% over last year and the most in 10 years—let’s pause to define a few terms to make sure we do not use them interchangeably today. The love we celebrate on Arbitrary Relationships Day was not created by us. It is a gift of God. 1 John, in the New Testament, offers the best, and most succinct, definition of love in the Bible. “God is love.” And this: “We love because God first loved us.” Sex is also a gift of God, a holy, physical enjoyment between committed adults. Contrary to what you see in movies or TV, there is nothing evil, sinful, or unclean about sex. It is a celebration of the gift of love. Rape, on the other hand, is not sex. It is violence. Human sexuality—including the physical attraction all of us feel for others—is a normal, healthy thing. Lust is not love. Lust is not sexual attraction. Lust is very similar to the sin of envy, which is the want or desire of something or someone that belongs to someone else. Lust dehumanizes the other person—they cease to be a child of God made in God’s own image and become an object for our own lustful needs. Pornography is rooted in lust. Sexual encounters between non-committed adults are not holy and beautiful. They are the outcome of sexual desire that is not rooted in love, but lust.

Colossians 3:5
Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).

Adultery is forbidden by the seventh commandment. Adultery is lustful sexual relations between people where at least one is married to someone else. Pretty simple enough. But Jesus, unfortunately for all of us, broadened the sin: “You have heard it said, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, if a man looks at a woman with lust in his heart, he commits adultery with her.” Yes, he intentionally uses male words there, but does that mean lust is only felt by men? No! In his patriarchal society only men could file for divorce, and adultery was defined as a married woman having sex with anyone who was not her husband. The man was left off the hook legally, if not morally. But by adding lust to the equation, he leaves no one exempt—neither you nor me, not just men but women too. His expectations for his followers are intentionally difficult, regardless of the religious or state law.

1 john 2:16-17
For all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live for ever.

Lust and the general term “sexual immorality” are major concerns in the Bible—both testaments. As concerned as we are about issues in our society, and we want to know what Jesus or the Bible has to say about those—we tend to ignore what it says about human relationships, which are meant to be built upon mutual respect and love, so that they honor God and each other. Even David, one of the Bible’s most important characters, struggled with lust. And it nearly led to his downfall.

David suffered from unchecked desire.  One day David notices a beautiful woman bathing in the house next to his.  David was married to several women, and had many other concubines.  He had many sons, so there is no reason to lust after Bathsheba except that she was beautiful and he desired her.  He ordered his troops to go to her house and take her to him.  Knowing she was married to one of his best soldiers, he slept with her anyway.  And then she became pregnant.  Now David begins to scheme.  He recalls Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, from the battle for a weekend furlough.  He says to Uriah, “You’ve done well; you deserve a weekend at home with your wife.”  But Uriah won’t go home.  He says it’s not fair for him to be with his wife when the other soldiers are still at war.  So David throws a party.  Uriah becomes drunk.  And he still refuses to go home.  Then David gets desperate.  He writes an order to his commander, saying Uriah is to be placed on the front lines, then the other Israelites are to retreat, ensuring Uriah’s death.  Uriah literally carries his own death warrant to his commanding officer.  Once Uriah is dead, David allows Bathsheba to mourn for a week and then marries her.  

1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 - “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen who do not know God.”

Over the years, commentators have tried to take David off the hook, implying that Bathsheba purposefully bathed in plain sight in order to lure David.  She was the schemer.  But the text in no way says that.  David is the responsible party here, using his power and position to acquire whatever he desires.  Lust often leads to damaged relationships and severe consequences because of the abuse of power. We see it in schools, we see it in our elected leaders, and we see it in our churches. We abuse the power we’ve received because of our position for our own lustful purposes. This is what David does. The danger of lust lies with how one understands other people.  In healthy relationships, each member is treated with an equal amount of respect and honor.  One does not sacrifice more than the other; there is balance.  Someone put it this way: a river is beautiful to look at when it exists within its banks, but when it floods it ceases to be beautiful, destroying everything in its path.  Sexual desire between committed adults is beautiful, but when the boundaries are broken it becomes just as destructive as the flood.  Let’s be clear: his interest in her is only lust. Not love. If she had not become pregnant he would never have spoken to her again. This was not a digression of character—it was a brutal, awful attack on her personhood. In fact, one could argue this was not a sexual encounter at all, but rape—the Hebrew word often translated “sent for”—as in “he sent for her”—is rightly translated “he took her.” His power, as king, drives the story. Rev. Darryl Stephens, one time intern at Oak Lawn and now staff executive for sexual ethics at the United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women, was asked recently about the power dynamics associated with clergy sexual  misconduct. Darryl said, “People still have difficulty understanding why clergy sexual conduct with an adult is misconduct. There’s not the immediate realization that this is a relationship that is not balanced in terms of power, that there may not be a possibility to genuine consent to sexual activity.” David’s manipulation and scheming ultimately pay their toll on his family. The baby conceived in his act of lust with Bathsheba dies.  One of David’s sons, Amnon, rapes his half-sister, Tamar, then sends her away in disgrace instead of marrying her.  Her full brother, another of David’s sons, Absolom, then murders Amnon.  Later Absolom overthrows David and makes himself king.  Sin, when allowed to overcome us, causes a multiplying effect, where nothing in our lives is safe.  

1 Peter 1:14-16
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, "YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY."

After the horrible incident with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah, the prophet Nathan comes to David and tells him a parable, although David believes it is an actual case: a wealthy and powerful landowner seized the one and only sheep from a poor shepherd.  The sheep was cherished by the shepherd.  The rich man then killed the sheep.  David, himself a former shepherd, is enraged.  “That man is guilty!  He should repay four times what he has taken from the shepherd!”  “YOU ARE THE MAN!” Nathan says to the king.  David sees his sin and immediately confesses.  And God hears his prayer and forgives. It is remarkable that this episode between David and Bathsheba was included when the historians put this part of the Bible together.  David was the national hero—God’s chosen king—but we learn also that he cheat, stole, murdered, and committed adultery?  Even David was no better than the rest of us?  One thing that makes the Bible so profound is that time and time again God raises up ordinary, sorry people like you and me to do extraordinary things.  Moses committed murder and fled the scene of the crime, but God sent him before Pharaoh; Saul was a Pharisee whose ministry involved persecuting Christians, yet God called him to be Paul, the great apostle; and David, the one everyone looked up to and admired, the shepherd boy and victor over Goliath, did these terrible things, abusing his power and authority for his own lustful satisfaction.  When confronted by Nathan, David repented, and God forgave him.  There were still consequences—the damage done to his family would take generations to heal.  Still, David experienced the grace of God, which said, “Yes, you sinned.  But I still love you, and you still have a future with me.”  Or as Jesus put it, “Go and sin no more.”  Following the episode with Bathsheba and its fallout, David wrote the powerful words of Psalm 51: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.  Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.”

Frederick Buechner described lust as “the craving of salt by a man dying of thirst.”  The opposite of lust is the virtue of chastity — that virtue by which we are in control of our sexual appetite rather than it being in control of us. God has given us the wonderful gifts of love, sexual attraction, and sex between committed adults. As we do with other freedoms God gives, we push the boundaries. Sometimes we take advantage of others. Sometimes we inappropriately use power for our own lustful purposes. Sometimes we dishonor God and our brothers and sisters by reducing them from children of God to objects of lust. Remember these words: “For while were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6).  And may we never forget that each of us is a child of God, made in God’s image, with the breath of life in us.  Each of us is worthy of love and respect.  Know this for sure: we might forget others are uniquely gifted and beautiful, made in God’s own image, but God never forgets.  In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

05 February 2012

Seven Deadly Sins-- Gluttony "Obey Your Thirst!"

Proverbs 23:1-8, 19-21

When you sit down to eat with a ruler,
   observe carefully what
 is before you, 
and put a knife to your throat
   if you have a big appetite.
Do not desire the ruler’s
   for they are deceptive food.
Do not wear yourself out to get rich;
   be wise enough to desist.
When your eyes light upon it, it is gone;
   for suddenly it takes wings to itself,
   flying like an eagle towards heaven.
Do not eat the bread of the stingy;
   do not desire their delicacies;
for like a hair in the throat, so are they.
   ‘Eat and drink!’ they say to you;
   but they do not mean it.
You will vomit up the little you have eaten,
   and you will waste your pleasant words.
Hear, my child, and be wise,
   and direct your mind in the way.
Do not be among winebibbers,
   or among gluttonous eaters of meat;
for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty,
   and drowsiness will clothe them with rags.

So… in case you didn’t know, or you live in some football insulated bubble, today is the Super Bowl. Who’s for New England? (Boo.) Who’s for the Giants? (Yes!). Who’s for the Cowboys making the playoffs again sometime in our lifetimes? Here are some Super Bowl statistics for you—and I don’t mean Eli Manning’s passing yards or Tom Brady’s interception totals. Did you know that the Super Bowl is an $11 billion business? Americans will spend, on average, $64 per person! It is the 2nd biggest food consumption date on the calendar—after Thanksgiving. That’s right: folk eat more on Super Sunday than Christmas or Easter! Pizza Hut will deliver two million pizzas today, and Americans will consume 2 ½ billion chicken wings. 173 million Americans will watch the game—100 million will host or attend a watching party. Of those viewers, roughly half watch for the actual football, 37% watch for the commercials—which, by the way, go for $4 million for 30 seconds this year! Americans will wager $10B on the game—half of us bet on it—and five million will buy a new TV for the game.

Continuing in our series on the Seven Deadly Sins, obviously the sin for today is Gluttony! We are already a heavy society. 64% of Americans are overweight, and 30% are obese. By the year 2020, 1 in 5 medical issues will be related to obesity—50% more than today. Over the last couple of decades childhood obesity has doubled, and diabetes has become an epidemic. The United States has approximately 15% of the world’s population—but get this: we consume 80% of its resources. A cartoon recently featured a sign outside of a restaurant: “Specializing in meals that leave you bloated and lethargic, followed by self-loathing.” The husband says to his wife: “I liked it better when they called it ‘comfort food’.”

Gluttony is the sin of over consumption. When we eat more than we should, when we go back for seconds and thirds, when our carbon footprint is unnecessarily large, we are not enjoying the blessings of God’s bounty. We are engorging ourselves, to the detriment of our bodies and others. “Isn’t food a blessing?” “Shouldn’t we enjoy what God has given to us?” Yes! But a raging appetite is never good for anything, as we have seen throughout the series. When are appetites exist in a restricted environment, then go for it! Enjoy! But so often we stretch those boundaries. We end up consuming more than our fair share, and resources that could have been used for the benefit of those in need are spent on those who already have enough.

This is an issue I struggle with myself—I have made too many return trips to the buffet line or the dessert cart. And I have made too many excuses for skipping a walk or riding my bike—two things I enjoy doing and make me feel much better. Exercise has been proven to help with the blues, but so often I am too busy or lazy or too stuck in every day routines to think about it. Still, I am fortunate that I can hide behind my clergy robe on Sundays. Recently after a service someone shared a few words of thanks, stepped away, then came back. She said, “By the way, black is very slimming on you.” What??? So yeah, when I am talking about gluttony, I don’t do it by pointing at you and not thinking of my own self. I have consumed more than my fair share wayyy too much in my life. And the food industry is more than happy to order more and more stuff for me—and you—to eat. I heard a dietician say on the radio that other day that it takes 20 minutes for our stomachs to communicate to the brain that we are full, so we should eat slower and take smaller bites. She even encouraged listeners to put down their fork between bites while chewing.

But gluttony is not only a physical issue. It’s more than a medical diagnosis or portion control. Gluttony, like all sin, is a spiritual issue. Gluttony is sinful because it is an attachment to worldly things. The Apostle Paul reminded us that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), meaning that not only does God’s Spirit reside in us, but that our bodies belong to God. As he put it, “You are not your own.” So it matters—what we eat, what behaviors we exhibit—it matters. Our actions and habits reflect upon ourselves and God. So we should stop our rampaging gluttony. We should embrace simplicity. We should enjoy only as much as we need. Obsessing on our next meal—living with three boys it’s constant—as I serve them breakfast they’re asking what’s for dinner—leaves no room for contemplation about God. Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for forty days, and his first temptation had to do with food: “Turn these stones into bread.” But he refused: “One does not live on bread alone, but from every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Jesus’ time in the wilderness was spent in devotion—40 days of fasting and prayer.

Fasting is a form of devotion not espoused by the restaurant association! The voluntary missing of eating, whether a single meal or a day or several days, is a religious practice observed by nearly every faith. Fasting was commonplace in biblical times as a way of acknowledging one’s dependence on God’s provision. In times of mourning or national calamity, leaders would call for a fast. Knowing that one would not be distracted by the next meal meant one could focus on spiritual matters. In our society of instant gratification, the fast has lost its appeal. We don’t even think about it as a spiritual practice. In fact, our gluttony is so profound that we don’t even speak of it as a sin. It’s now a commonplace, accepted reality. One that is destroying us every day. Even our doctors are reluctant to discuss it. This week’s Time magazine mentioned that only about 30% of healthcare providers mention their patients’ weight, and the percentage is even lower for physicians that are overweight themselves, particularly if they are heavier than their patients—18%.

Paul mentioned the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Self control. Mark Twain said, “It’s east to quit smoking. I’ve done it several times.” The issue is self-control. Do we really want to stop self-destructive behaviors? Do we really want to turn away from our appetites and embrace a stronger spiritual life with the necessary limits?
No one is saying food is inherently bad. Jesus himself performed marvelous miracles around food and drink. His first sign, according to John, was at a wedding in Cana, where he changed water into wine. They didn’t really need more wine—we’re told everyone was already drunk—but when the steward tasted the recently changed wine he noticed it was better than anything offered previously. God’s abundant grace is there for each of us to enjoy—it is limitless and is offered freely. All four of the gospels remembered a story of Jesus feeding a large crowd with a few loaves and fish. In fact, Matthew and Mark record the event twice—so six times in four gospels! The disciples are tired after a long day and ask Jesus to send the crowds because they are hungry. “You give them something to eat,” Jesus says. But they can’t, so Jesus tells them to find what they can and bring it to him. After seating the crowds in groups, Jesus takes the bread, holds it up to heaven, blesses it, and breaks it for all to share. Everyone eats and there are twelve baskets left over.

The feeding of the crowds is a parable that speaks to the meal we will share together in a moment. Around the Lord’s table, we are all invited to share in what our liturgy describes as a feast. Our boys always love communion Sundays, because they want to consume as much leftover bread and juice as possible. Which is fine—as long as everyone is served first! John Wesley understood communion as a means of grace, and encouraged Christians to partake as often as possible. He often received communion several times a week. You may say he was a glutton for it—but the more we feast on Christ here the more we are filled with love and grace. When you come to the Lord’s table, come with thankful hearts. Come to the feast hosted by your risen Lord. Taste and see that the Lord is good!

On this Super Bowl Sunday, if you find yourself surrounded by mounds of pizza, buffalo wings, or whatever else, remember the source of all good things is God. Whatever we eat, let us each with gratitude for what we have received, and let us not overindulge ourselves, but leave food for others to enjoy. I read about a church in Vermont that is observing Super Sunday in a unique way. West Dover Congregational Church is comprised roughly of half Patriots fans and half Giants fans. They decided to have their own competition, inviting congregants and those in the community to bring donations to the Deerfield Valley Community Food Pantry. Donations will be counted and the winning team announced at halftime. Then every will enjoy—hopefully not in a gluttonous way—a potluck lunch!

Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life. Everyone who eats of the bread I give will never be hungry.” So see, taste, and enjoy the goodness of God! Years ago, the marketing campaign for Sprite was, “Obey Your Thirst.” An invitation to gluttony! As we leave this place, may we obey our thirst for hope. May we obey our thirst for truth. May we obey our thirst for peace. May we obey our thirst for God!

02 February 2012

"Happy Endings Only Happen in the Movies."

today was my birthday, so i decided to take the day off. i cleaned the house a little bit, finished a couple of american experience documentaries on annie oakley and jesse james, and headed out the door. i went to see martin scorcese's hugo, a 3-D (yikes!) movie he directed and released last fall. i didn't know much about the film, except that it was a tribute to a film pioneer. i am generally not a fan of 3-D movies, as they are a money grabbing scheme from hollywood. but this was scorcese. as far as i know, unlike certain other directors, he has no plans to retro-fit his classics and release them in 3-D to make a buck.

hugo was brilliant in 3-D. in fact, i cannot imagine a better way to watch it. i was glad i ponied up the $8.25 (first showing discount). truthfully, had it not received a ton of oscar nominations, including best picture and directing, it would have been long gone from cinemas by now. it's been marketed as a children's adventure movie, but it's more than that. i'm not sure which genre i would put it in.

it's the story of a young boy whose father works as a clock repairman, tinkerer, dreamer, and inventor. after he dies in a tragic accident hugo is taken in by his uncle, who lives in the catacombs of the paris train station, making sure all the clocks are tuned properly. a drunk, he is often absent, leaving the work to hugo. in his spare time he tries to fix an automaton his father found in the attic of a museum. working in the train station is georges melies, played by ben kingsley. he owns a toy shop, where hugo often steals gears and such to work on the automaton. hugo befriends isabelle, melies' goddaughter, and the two begin to learn secrets about papa georges' past. turns out he has a past no one knows about. this discovery is the key to the film.

hugo is beautifully made-- wonderful colors and costumes, great performances, lots of emotion. but it's the story that makes any movie, and especially this one. it's not about the adventures of kids. it's about honoring ties to the past, claiming one's true identity, and celebrating our gifts and purpose. turns out georges melies wasn't just a toy shop owner. he was a legendary french filmmaker who made the movie hugo's dad loved most: a trip to the moon (1902). and he made many, many more, which were believed lost, and forgotten, after WWI. embittered, he destroyed the artifacts of his past, invented a new identity, and tried to forget. hugo's discoveries lead to an embracing of a legendary artist's work, but only after a struggle. melies says to him at one point, "happy endings only happen in the movies."

what sets hugo apart is that it is a biography-- melies really existed; he really was a magician and built automatons. he really was a writer, actor, director, set designer, and just about everything else. this movie is scorcese's tribute to one of his heroes. scorcese has been, for years, a preservationist of movies. hugo honors the work of a cinematic treasure, made by a cinematic treasure. i don't know if it will win best picture or director, but anyone who loves the movies ought to check it out. don't allow its marketing to keep you away. it is a joy.

each of hugo's characters struggle with their identity. so do you and i. who are we, really? where does our self-identity come from? who influenced us? what gifts do we have? and are we using them effectively? know that each of us is gifted-- in the church we believe the Holy Spirit endows us with gifts at our baptism. no gift is more important than another. some of us are pastors, teachers, leaders, helpers, etc. so the question is: do you know who you are? what is God's dream for your life?