Pastor Joey Reflections

Thoughts from North Hollywood First United Methodist Church.

REFLECTIONS: September 14, 2014 

pastorjoeyreflections:

Dr. Walter Brueggemann, Old Testament scholar and professor at Columbia Theological Seminary, opens his book, DAVID’S TRUTH, with the following. “The dedication of the book is to my brother, Edward D. Brueggemann. It is a celebration of his restless faith, his dangerous candor, and his…

REFLECTIONS: September 7, 2014

In the thirteenth chapter of his letter to the people of Rome, the Apostle Paul writes about what social scientists call obligations and personal awareness. Paul is trying to underscore the importance of spiritual character and a faith commitment tied to some sense of urgency.
Beginning with verse eight he writes about the obligation of faith.  “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”  He then cities in an order different than found in Exodus the  Decalogue, or ten commandments as it has come to be known.  He writes, These “and any other commandment, are summed up in this word.  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”  It is important for us to remember that before his conversion to the way of Jesus, Paul was a very zealous person of faith who followed the law of faith closely.  Yet, here he takes the tact that love overrides the constraints of law.  He is repeating what Mark records in chapter twelve of his gospel.  In verse twenty-eight, a scribe comes to Jesus asking which is the most important law?  Jesus quoting Deuteronomy 6 says, “The first is love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and strength, and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no other commandment greater than these.”  In sociological terms, Jesus is saying that our obligation to God and others begins and ends in our ability to be intentionally loving.
The second part of the passage is what scholars call an eschatological message.  This is meant to remind the readers of Jesus’ return and the need for urgency in how they live.  This translates to us in the notion that our spiritual character counts for something.  I’m not sure Paul meant for believers to stand around waiting for God to come.  After all God is already here.  Rather, it seems he was reminding people of faith that we need to be aware that time is finite in human terms.  Growing up, my mother had all these sayings, most of them didn’t make a lick of sense when I was young.  As I have matured, some come back with such clarity it stuns me.  One of her favorites was, “We are all dying from the day we are born, so it is not a matter of if, but a matter of when.  How much better then to be grateful for the life God has given us and focus on how we live then worrying about dying.”  How’s that for understanding obligations and personal awareness?
Dr. Joey K. McDonald

REFLECTIONS: September 14, 2014

Dr. Walter Brueggemann, Old Testament scholar and professor at Columbia Theological Seminary, opens his book, DAVID’S TRUTH, with the following.  “The dedication of the book is to my brother, Edward D. Brueggemann.  It is a celebration of his restless faith, his dangerous candor, and his caring energy.  The book is for him and all those who dare imagine truth as that which also summons us to newness.  Our society currently is preoccupied with flattening and securing old truths of putting the epistemological wagons in a circle.  David stands as a summons to resist all of that for the ways of oddness where truth meets us new.  My brother is in that company.”
Through the powerful and lovely things he says about his brother, and in the few words Dr.Brueggemann states on the nature of truth and the future of the faith community; he implies real Church work is tied to new revelation, not old understanding.  One word does need amplification.  Epistemology is the study or theory of what is important and whether we really know what we think we do.  When Dr. Brueggemann says we have circle our wagons and flattened old truths, he is saying we are limiting our ability to know and experience God through new information and experience.
Brueggemann writes of restless faith and dangerous candor.  He applies those qualities to David as Shepherd and King, to his brother Edward, and in the close of the text to Jesus.  Brueggemann seeks not reckless abandon but a restless will.  This is not always an easy thing to do.  In 1980 as a student intern, I chaired a committee investigating the purchase of a computer for the Church.  I knew very little about the technology, but the committee had very capable people on it.  My task was to communicate the committee findings in lay terms to the congregation, and field concerns from the congregation.  To my surprise a very gifted and faithful member voiced the strongest objection.  I was told in no uncertain terms that the computer was “of the devil.”  That the Church would, “use the information improperly, to pry into the lives of members.”  The benefits of the computer were brushed aside with the reminder that the Church had survived for two thousand years without a computer.  The Church did eventually get a computer, but not then.
If we are to survive, we are called to a restless not rusted faith.  To old truths told in new and ever creative ways.  May God be with us on our journey.
Dr. Joey K. McDonald

REFLECTIONS: August 24, 2014

It has been said that the general difficulty with religion is not theology or doctrine or even belief in God, but the difficulty is found in people and especially with their interpretation.  A number of years ago, I remember watching a famous person being interviewed about his values.  When asked about faith he said, “I am religious, but I hope not in a way that shows.” Perhaps what he was afraid of was what humorist, Garrison Keillor, describes in one of his stories.  “The problem with protestant ministers is that they come across just a bit too earnest like a used car salesperson, wearing too much corduroy and Hush Puppies.”
In chapter fourteen of the gospel of Matthew, two of Jesus’ most powerful miracles are recorded.  The feeding of the five thousand in verses 13-21, and walking on water in verses 22-36.  This work is followed by what some scholars term the “tradition of the elders.” in chapter fifteen verses 10-20, & 21-28.  These passages find Jesus encountering the fierce legalism of the Pharisees with regard to food intake, the apparent inability of the disciples to comprehend what he is teaching, and his own understanding of what he is called by God to do with regard to those outside of the fold of Israel.
In conversation with the Pharisees, Jesus points out that what a person takes in by mouth for food ultimately turns to waste, whereas, what proceeds from one’s mouth can have a potential, lasting harmful affect because it has come from a heart susceptible to all manner of evils.  Therefore, religious dietary laws must be held in context with the internal bearing of the believer to do the will of God.  Next, the disciples admit they do not understand what he is talking about.  So he explains in greater detail the dangers of spiritual blindness, and especially of the spiritually blind leading others.  Finally, the disciples complain to him that a Canaanite woman is following asking for Jesus to heal her daughter.  Since she is an outcast, not a part of the House of Israel, they ask that Jesus send her away.  Jesus speaks with her saying that he was sent to minster to the lost of Israel.  However, her faith touches him and he tells her that her daughter is healed.
What Jesus models is transparent faith.  A religious pattern which shows that we follow God not our own biases.  His willingness to change his mind with regard to healing the Canaanite woman’s daughter bears witness to this.  The late philosopher, G. K. Chesterton, said with regard to the value of religious behavior, “For religion all persons are equal, as all pennies are equal, because the only value in any of them is that they bear the image of the King,.”  In the end, religiosity must take a back seat to being faithful.
Dr. Joey K. McDonald

REFLECTIONS: August 24, 2014

It has been said that the general difficulty with religion is not theology or doctrine or even belief in God, but the difficulty is found in people and especially with their interpretation.  A number of years ago, I remember watching a famous person being interviewed about his values.  When asked about faith he said, “I am religious, but I hope not in a way that shows.” Perhaps what he was afraid of was what humorist, Garrison Keillor, describes in one of his stories.  “The problem with protestant ministers is that they come across just a bit too earnest like a used car salesperson, wearing too much corduroy and Hush Puppies.”
In chapter fourteen of the gospel of Matthew, two of Jesus’ most powerful miracles are recorded.  The feeding of the five thousand in verses 13-21, and walking on water in verses 22-36.  This work is followed by what some scholars term the “tradition of the elders.” in chapter fifteen verses 10-20, & 21-28.  These passages find Jesus encountering the fierce legalism of the Pharisees with regard to food intake, the apparent inability of the disciples to comprehend what he is teaching, and his own understanding of what he is called by God to do with regard to those outside of the fold of Israel.
In conversation with the Pharisees, Jesus points out that what a person takes in by mouth for food ultimately turns to waste, whereas, what proceeds from one’s mouth can have a potential, lasting harmful affect because it has come from a heart susceptible to all manner of evils.  Therefore, religious dietary laws must be held in context with the internal bearing of the believer to do the will of God.  Next, the disciples admit they do not understand what he is talking about.  So he explains in greater detail the dangers of spiritual blindness, and especially of the spiritually blind leading others.  Finally, the disciples complain to him that a Canaanite woman is following asking for Jesus to heal her daughter.  Since she is an outcast, not a part of the House of Israel, they ask that Jesus send her away.  Jesus speaks with her saying that he was sent to minster to the lost of Israel.  However, her faith touches him and he tells her that her daughter is healed.
What Jesus models is transparent faith.  A religious pattern which shows that we follow God not our own biases.  His willingness to change his mind with regard to healing the Canaanite woman’s daughter bears witness to this.  The late philosopher, G. K. Chesterton, said with regard to the value of religious behavior, “For religion all persons are equal, as all pennies are equal, because the only value in any of them is that they bear the image of the King,.”  In the end, religiosity must take a back seat to being faithful.
Dr. Joey K. McDonald

REFLECTIONS:August 17, 2014

Do you read advice columns?  They illustrate perfectly how relatives and religious people say some wonderful and awful things.  In one column, a while back, a person wrote to say that his understanding of faith called for him to ‘spiritually divorce’ himself from anyone whose views were not in tune with his.  The advice columnist response was this thinking did not fit with the general understanding that theology is about love rather than hate.  So the concept of staying apart from those who disagree with you would not be wise.  In a recent column “Ask Annie” was queried on how to stop a relative from being a bully?  Citing an earlier bit of advice where Annie had said simply leave when relatives become insulting and overbearing (the advice seeker) said this did not seem fair, and wanted to know how to change the behavior of said relative?  Annie responded by saying leaving is always the first best option because while we cannot change the way others treat us, we can remove ourselves from toxic circumstances.  
I remember hearing a lively and engaging sermon some years ago.  The title was “You Can’t Box God, Your Arms Are Too Short.”  The premise was similar to most of the writings of Paul.  Who are we to argue with the workings and wonder of God?  Yet we humans have been doing just that for millennia.  Fighting with God over who is elect and who is damned?  Creating our own rules with regard to who is accepted and who must be shunned in the name of faith?  Even to the point of killing people simply because their views are different. It happens yet today.  In Romans 11 Paul is responding to serious questions.  The first is why and how Gentiles can be part of the realm of God?  The second is, if this is so, what becomes of Israel with regard to being the elect, or chosen of God?
In his wonderful rhetorical idiom the Apostle asks and answers the questions.  Did God reject Israel?  Of course not, and then to underscore this point, “I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.” As to how gentiles are part of the ‘Party’ Paul writes in verse thirty-two “God has imprisoned all in disobedience in order to show mercy to all.”  This, of course, ended all dissent, debate, and demeaning treatment in all religious arenas.  Remember our brother writes before the Church split East and West, denominations, the crusades and all the fun religious bigotry of the twentieth century.  His point then and now still holds.  It is God who invites and invests in humanity.  In our dissent and undignified beliefs and behavior we often miss God’s graciousness.
Dr. Joey K. McDonald

REFLECTIONS:August 3, 2014

Story has it that the mother of Ray Charles, fearful of her son’s dependence on her sought to change the path of his life. Blind since birth she had tended to his every need, until the realization that she would not always be there for him.  The next day she made him get ready on his own.  While he screamed and wailed behind his bedroom door she listened in agony on the other side.  The change she had chosen for her son was incredibly difficult, but she explained she was doing this for his future.  He went on to fame and fortune, remaining fiercely independent, both as a recording artist, and as a businessman, being one of the few artists of his era to control the master recordings to his music.
Genesis 32:22-31 is the ‘bookend’ to chapter 28:10-19a.  In chapter twenty-eight Jacob is on the run from his brother Esau.  Having cheated him out of his birthright for a bowl of soup a few chapters earlier, Jacob now has stolen the family blessing belonging to Esau.  Having sent his family across the Jabbok river he settles in for a nights rest but as in chapter twenty-eight he gets none.  Where in the earlier story he visioned his ancestors, here he spiritually wrestles with God. So bold is Jacob that with the Holy he will not quit until he receives a blessing.  Therein his name is changed to Israel, because he has ‘struggled with humans and with God and prevailed’. Jacob (Israel) then changes the name of the place to signify the Holy encounter.
In athletics someone with talent is referred to as a ‘game changer.’  In the realm of faith God is ‘The Game Changer’.  God saw something in Jacob, which Jacob himself could not perceive, leadership and hope.  This errant vagrant grandson of Abraham was changed both in name and spirit by the blessing of God. A gifted theologian Max Lucado puts it slightly differently. “ While it is true that God loves us as we are, God does not expect us to stay where we are.”  This is the spirit of Holy change to which we are all invited.
Dr. Joey K. McDonald

The Wisteria are blooming early this year. Feel free to stop by our courtyard sometime. It’s a great place to reflect.

REFLECTIONS: July 27, 2014

Matthew’s gospel records the parable of the mustard seed.  In words attributed to Jesus he writes.  “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field, it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of all shrubs and becomes a tree, so that birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (MT 13:31-32)
My first appointment as a senior minister was to the high desert community of Twenty Nine Palms.  I can assure you the area contained at least 29 palms.  In addition, it had more varieties and sizes of cacti than I ever imagined.  Shortly after arriving, we received a visitor to our home who pointed to a cactus in the front yard and said, “Be careful that is a jumping cactus.”  Our guest then took a leaf from another plant, placed it close to the cactus and the cactus spines “jumped” at the leaf.  We were told that species of cactus, known as Ocotillo, were called jumping cactus because of this defense mechanism used for its survival.
We live in a world fraught with danger.  Some day we would be hard pressed to find one good reason to provide shelter and care for anyone other than self.  Our heads tell us to be safe and protected.  To build strong defenses.  To throw barbs when threatened.  However, our hearts and souls long to be like that mustard seed.
Dr. Joey K. McDonald

REFLECTIONS: July 20, 2014

The word character as defined in Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary is a “Mark of distinctive quality, or one of the attributes or features that make up and distinguish an individual.”  Another interpretation is related to theater and artistic performance.  In each case character development is important.
The Biblical narrative is filled with characters.  When we say the names of our faith history, images come to mind. The names of Sarah, Abraham, Isaac, Matthew, John, Mary or Paul, each calls images to our minds in terms of spiritual tradition.
Genesis 28:10-19 is a story of character, both kinds.  Jacob has left his homeland after cheating his brother out of the family birthright and blessing. He stops in Luz to rest and dreams of a ladder reaching to heaven on which angels move up and down.  He hears the voice of God pronounce a blessing and offer protection.  In the morning Jacob marks the place as Holy and names it Bethel, meaning house of God.  In verses 20-22, Jacob vows that if God will provide for and protect him, he will give a tenth of all he has to God.
Jacob cannot escape being a character for his name means trickster.  Yet, God chose this cheat to lead a nation.  In time, of course, Jacob transforms from a character to a person of great character, a patriarch of the faith.  The true character in this narrative is that of God.  The nature of God is to choose us first, love and care for us more and have a greater interest in our care than we do for ourselves, others, or God..
The Bible records God choosing flawed persons to demonstrate holy activity.  From King David to the Disciples and back again God tapped people we would not hire to clean our restrooms to do mighty acts in the name of faith.  Such is the character of God.  It remains a message of grace, which causes me to believe there is hope yet for this character.
Dr. Joey K. McDonald
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