the tentmaker

daily thoughts on the common lectionary

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Location: Sharpsburg, Georgia, United States

"...because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together — by trade they were tentmakers." Acts 18:3. Tentmaker is a title taken by bi-vocational pastors. As such, I am both a pastor and a project manager. I am a pastor of a local congregation of moderate, accepting and affirming people who worship in the Baptist tradition. We call our church "Hope Memorial Baptist" and we are about 40 in number. I am also a project manager of major construction projects for the State of Georgia. My home and church is in rural Coweta County, between Peachtree City and Newnan, with a mailing address of Sharpsburg, Georgia.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Year B - Ordinary 25

Jeremiah 11:18-20
Psalm 54
James 3:13-4:8
Mark 9:30-37

Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Year B - Ordinary 24

Isaiah 50:4-9
Psalm 116:1-8
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

My letter of response

Here is how I propose to respond to the letter I referred to below:

Thank you for your letter commenting on my sermon. I appreciate your heart-felt concern for my welfare and the welfare of the congregation. And, given the scripture you provided in your letter, I understand the concern you have for your own welfare.

Although your letter does not say so directly, it assumes that same gender relationships are sinful and that those who engage in such are, therefore, sinners. Also implied in your letter is that all persons who engage in same gender relationships are to be condemned by the Church and all Christians. This implication is certainly supported by a considerable segment of popular opinion. But it is not the only opinion on the subject, even within the Church.

I have followed the debate in the Church regarding the sinfulness of same gender relationships for some time. I have tried to understand both sides of the argument. At present, I have formed no clear opinion for myself. Also, I have not received any clear direction from God about this matter, except as to the treatment of persons so engaged. After reading all that I can find on the subject, I am not qualified to say whether the engaging in same gender relationships is sinful or not. As with all issues of human behavior, I believe that ultimately the answer is between God and the person so engaged.

Now to the matter of sin and the treatment of sinners in the Church. The Apostle Paul tells us that we “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” The Catholics categorize sins as being either venial or mortal, depending on their severity. I think that the Bible teaches that there is no distinction between levels of sin. Again, the Apostle Paul tells us that “the wages of sin is death.” Man has created laws that categorize criminal behavior as misdemeanors, felonies and capital crimes. But these categories are man made. In God’s eyes all sin is a capital offense. Whether the sin is a “white” lie, infidelity, murder, drug abuse, ill treatment of a child, or same gender relationships, sin is sin and “the wages of sin is death.”

This is certainly one of the theological strains in the Old Testament where salvation is seen in the righteousness of man, or the ability of each man to keep the commandments of God. But the truth of the matter, as Paul tells us, is that we cannot do that. We cannot, no matter how hard we try, faithfully and consistently keep God’s commandments.

We all deserve the punishment for sin. But...yes, thanks be to God, there is a but. “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ.” You see, I believe that when God became man in the person of Jesus, he realized that we poor mortals could not resist the temptations of sin. And because he loved us so much, he himself provided a different way to righteousness than by our own efforts. He, in fact, made it a gift such that “even while we were sinners, Christ died for us.”

He died for sinners. He died for murderers, drug addicts, adulterers, speeders, spouse abusers, liars and gays and lesbians. And he came to earth to save sinners. He also came to demonstrate through his own life how we should treat our fellow men. There is a passage in Luke 7:36-50 and another in John 8:1-11 that illustrates how Jesus treated sinners. He treated them with compassion. He treated them with acceptance. He did not condone their actions, but he forgave them.

You see, I believe that all men are children of God, even the vilest of sinners. And I believe that because we are all His children and part of his creation, that we all should treat one another as we should wish to be treated. The second commandment following the greatest is that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. To me, this means acceptance. It does not mean condoning sinful behavior, but it does mean loving people with the love of God (1 Corinthians 13.)

Yours truly,

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Sermon Feedback

Last Sunday was the day before Labor Day. On long weekends we usually have a sparse crowd at the worship service. The service I planned was filled with prayers and responsive reading as well as the usual reading from the lectionary texts. My sermon was actually no sermon at all but a brief homily. I published it in its entirety here

The crowd was a bit sparse, we had four in attendance. The pianist had taken the day off and we sang our hymns without musical background. It was a very inspiring service for me.

This week I received a letter from one of the four in attendance. Here is what it said:
Dear Pastor Joel Heaton,
I found your sermon to contradict the very Word you gave for resonsive reading. When you teach to accept homosexuals, you are condemning your congregation to the same death penalty as Sodom and Gomorrah. I will not preach to the preacher, you know what I am saying. I am only writing this letter so your blood is not on my hands. I hope you will repent, if not your blood is on your hands. (Ezekiel 3:18-21)

I am praying for you. I write this letter in the true spirit of love (obedience) of Jesus Christ. (2 Chronicles 19:2, Romans 3:4)

B. L.
note: The responsive reading referred to in the letter is the Psalm lesson from the lectionary. She is referring to verse 4.

Here is where I should ask you all to pray for my soul.

Sharpsburg is in the heart of fundamentalist country. I know of only two other Baptist churches in this area that are not fundamentalist. So, it isn't surprising that this kind of sentiment is out there. But I have been preaching a message of acceptance and mercy and love for the eight years that I have been here. This is the first time anyone has taken exception to anything I have said. And the source is a long-time church member.

I'm not sure what to do with this letter. If you have any advice please leave a comment.

Year B - Ordinary 23

Isaiah 35:4-7
Psalm 146
James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17
Mark 7:24-37

Here is a story told by a Nun:
As an African-American woman, I have listened to the tales of the men and women in my family who use to work as house servants. They often tell that there were times when they cleaned and cooked; got everything ready for "large parties" for the people they worked for, etc. At the end of the parties, weddings, gatherings, etc., they were often told, "you can eat what is left, but you can't eat off the "good dishes." At other times, they were told they could not eat the "party food or diner food" but were told they could have the "cheap" food that was available in the house (chicken).

Much like in this story, there was always plenty of food available, but like the woman, they were told it was not available to them.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Pure In Heart

Words of Thomas Merton:
You will never find interior solitude unless you make some conscious effort to deliver yourself from the desires and the cares and the attachments of an existence in time and in the world.

Do everything you can to avoid the noise and the business of men. Keep as far away as you can from the places where they gather to cheat and insult one another, to exploit one another, to laugh at one another, or to mock one another with their false gestures of friendship...
Every day brings me into the arena Fr. Merton recommends we avoid. I must deal with men who cheat, insult, exploit, laugh at and mock one another. I try not to participate in these activities, but the close association, the pressure to succeed and the pursuit of financial security are always present. And always tempting me to stray across the line.

I am keenly aware of the tension between living a holy life and providing a means of survival for me and my wife in our old age. I can truly say that it's not about amassing a fortune or achieving any sort of financial gain. But the prospect of not being able to earn a living because of age, health and ability means living on what we have been able to accumulate over my lifetime, which is not a lot.

Living a life wholly trustng in God to provide has always meant using the gifts, the energy and the imagination He has provided to sustain life. You know, the drill,"give a man a fish and you feed him for one day, teach him how to fish and you have fed him for a lifetime." But at some point faith in God's grace must transcend our faith in our own ability to provide for ourselves.

Perhaps some of the resolution to this dilemma is in the definition of what sustaining life is. I have defined sustaining life in retirement to mean the maintenance of my current standard of living. But trusting in God does not mean trusting Him to provide a certain standard of living. It means trusting Him to hold me in his hand no matter what hardships I have to endure.

Suppose I get a cancer. God's provision is not to cure me of this disease and make me whole, physically. His provision is to be with me, to love me, to comfort me in His presence.

What I am able to endure for myslef is not the same as what I will abide for another to endure. So, if a loved one gets cancer, I am not content with this definition of provision. My human needs for companionship and the sharing of life come into play. I do not want to see another suffer. I do not want to see another go hungry. I do not want to see another live a life of poverty. I must provide.

Now here is a passage from My Utmost for His Hightest, by Oswald Chambers.
As they led Him away, they laid hold of a certian man, Simon..., and on him they laid the cross...Luke 23:26
If we obey God, it is going to cost other people more than it costs us, and that is where the pain begins. If we are in love with our Lord, obedience does not cost us anything‚ it is a delight. But to those who do not love Him, our obedience does cost a great deal. If we obey God, it will mean that other people's plans are upset. They will ridicule us as if to say, "You call this Christianity?" We could prevent the suffering, but not if we are obedient to God. We must let the cost be paid.

When our obedience begins to cost others, our human pride entrenches itself and we say, "I will never accept anything from anyone." But we must, or disobey God. We have no right to think that the type of relationships we have with others should be any different from those the Lord Himself had.
And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him, And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, And Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance. Luke 8:1-3
A lack of progress in our spiritual life results when we try to bear all the costs ourselves. And actually, we cannot. Because we are so involved in the universal purposes of God, others are immediately affected by our obedience to Him. Will we remain faithful in our obedience to God and be willing to suffer the humiliation of refusing to be independent? Or will we do just the opposite and say, "I will not cause other people to suffer?" We can disobey God if we choose, and it will bring immediate relief to the situation, but it will grieve our Lord. If, however, we obey God, He will care for those who have suffered the consequences of our obedience. We must simply obey and leave all the consequences with Him.

Beware of the inclination to dictate to God what consequences you would allow as a condition of your obedience to Him. January 11
Is this where my faith falters?

God, how can I live with one foot in the world and one foot in Your will? Show me the way, Lord.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Year B - Ordinary 22

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
Psalm 15
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Acceptance, Community, Mercy, Grace

In the movie Chocolat, the young Priest gives a sermon at Easter that is, itself, the theme, the lesson of the movie:
I want to talk about Christ’s humanity, I mean how he lived his life on earth: his kindness, his tolerance. We must measure our goodness, not by what we don’t do, what we deny ourselves, what we resist, or who we exclude. Instead, we should measure ourselves by what we embrace, what we create, and who we include.
(Carla Thompson Powell, Livonia, MI)

The small French town has been kept "clean" by the Comte de Reynaud and his family ever since the first Comte ran off the Huguenots. He controls everything, even writing the young priest's sermons. He is meticulous, especially in observing Lent. But Vianne and her daughter comes to town and opens a Chocolate shop, during Lent, which magically feeds the needs of those who eat it. The Comte knows she must be stopped. Before long, some "River Rats" (including Roux, who romances Vianne) also come along. There is a battle between these "clean" forces and the "unclean." Although before long it becomes obvious that those who are "unclean" are living out a life of goodness. (Darrel Manson, Artesia, CA)

The movie, Chocolat, presents a wonderful opportunity to talk about the nature of evil, the goodness of creation, and the reality that nothing human is alien to us. Just as is true of the Biblical stories, something of every character lives inside each of us. The people whom we like the least can function as blessings to invite us to look at those aspects of ourselves which we dislike or of which we are ashamed, and which we therefore project onto others in order to avoid meeting them in ourselves - and therefore cutting ourselves off from the possibility of opening them to God's love, (which accepts all of us - not just the "good" parts) and allowing it to heal and transform us so that we may live life from our true center, which is Love - and which is the only power more powerful than the power and the reality of Evil. (Senter Crook)

It is no accident that all four of our scriptures this morning speak of the good and the evil that comes from within the heart of every man.

God is a just god. He loves us all very much. He wants us to love Him and to get along with each other.

Acceptance. He wants us to be accepting people who look past the differences in color, religion, politics, and sexual orientation.

Community. He wants us to live in community as a diverse people who love him and depend on the talents He has given each of us to complement our own talents. Living in community means living in cooperation.

Mercy. God is merciful. He wants us to be merciful too. Places in scripture that the KJV translates the original text as “mercy”, the RSV uses the phrase “Loving Kindness.” For that is what mercy is. Jesus, John, Paul and James all tell us that the heart of our faith, the center of being in God’s favor is that we Love our neighbor as ourselves.

Grace. Grace is the gift of God that we don’t deserve, and can’t earn. The apostle Paul tells us that “even while we were (are) sinners, Christ died for us. Jesus told us that “God so loved the world (you, me, and all peoples everywhere) that He gave his only Son, that whosoever believeth in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life. It’s like the hymn the children sing at Bible School:

Jesus loves the little children.
All the children of the world.
Red and Yellow, Black and White
They are precious in his sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

Paul says it this way, “[we] are saved by Grace through Faith, it is the gift of God, and that not of [ourselves]...”

Thanks be to God.

Let us Pray

Deliver us, Lord, from every evil
and grant us peace in our day.
Keep us from formalism and lip-service
in obeying your commandments.
Help us to serve you and people
in freedom and responsibility
and let love inspire all we do,
as we wait in joyful hope
for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ.
For the Kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours,
both now and for evermore.