JOY Fellowship Worship Service in Holland Hall: 9:00 a.m.
Worship Service in Main Sancutary: 10:30 a.m.
Welcome to our live-streamed Sunday Worship Services for May 21, 2023. Today we learn that as communities work through inevitable conflicts, prioritizing grace can lead us to become stronger and healthier in our relationships with God and one another.
JOY Fellowship Worship Service in Holland Hall: 9:00 a.m.
Worship Service in Main Sancutary: 10:30 a.m.
Welcome to our live-streamed Sunday Worship Services for May 14, 2023. Today we learn that as communities work through inevitable conflicts, prioritizing grace can lead us to become stronger and healthier in our relationships with God and one another.
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:19 NLT).
I just recently watched a new film about Dracula, entitled Renfield. Well, just by the title alone you can tell that this film is really about Renfield, but Dracula features big in it because Renfield is Dracula’s familiar, or human slave, who can walk around in the daylight taking care of business for the count while he sleeps in his coffin. While definitely a gory film, it is mostly a dark comedy that explores the toxic, abusive relationship between Renfield and his master.
Prior to seeing this film, which stars Nicholas Cage as the age-old vampire and Nicholas Hoult as his eponymous servant, I had watched the trailers for the movie. In them, it shows the basic plot of the film, some funny parts, and some of the gory action that one will see if they choose to watch the film. The theme of the trailer, however, I found did not exactly match up to the movie. In the trailer, these words appear: “Don’t serve. Learn to live”.
That surprised me actually. Don’t serve? That seems to be rather bad advice. Service is an important part of being human. We serve our families, we serve people at our jobs. We serve our spouses and/or significant others and hopefully that is a two-way street. We, as Christians, are called to serve Christ and, if the trailer itself had the final say, it would seem as if the producers are drawing a comparison between Dracula and Christ or any other “master”.
Then I watched the film and I found that the message was not anti-service at all; rather, it was asking the question, Whom do you serve? The film does not state implicitly or explicitly that service ought to be avoided in order to truly live. Thank God for that too, because how could one truly live if they never, ever served anyone. That would be a very selfish life indeed, not true life.
True life is meant to be lived in love and love requires service. If we love those around us, we will serve them and, conversely, if they love us they will serve us too. So, the question is not whether one can truly live life if they are serving others, it is a matter of whom one is serving and the dynamic of that service. In the film Renfield, the eponymous character is serving an age-old vampire that lives in the shadows and feeds off of people as a murderous parasite. Renfield himself is there to serve his master’s needs and, as long as the needs get met, the old vamp is happy.
With that said, it is very much a one-sided relationship. If Renfield does not do exactly what his master wants, his master makes him pay…big time. He derides him, puts him down, makes him feel guilty for his failure to be a “good little servant”, and he kills anyone Renfield tries to have a relationship with. Dracula is your typical manipulative, bullish, abuser. The relationship between Dracula and Refield is not of mutual partners attending to and fulfilling each other’s needs, rather, it is that of a servant who must always keep serving to the master’s delight. That master never gives anything back, never cares for his servant, and certainly never gives in.
That, my friends, is not a healthy relationship and it is certainly not emblamatic of the kind of servanthood Jesus calls us to. Yes, Jesus is our Lord and we are his servants/disciples; however, our Lord also called us friends, which means we are NOT forced to serve like Renfield was; rather, the dynamic here is much different. Jesus gave us eternal life, free of charge. There is nothing we can do to earn eternal life. That is a gift given to us for free. Faith in Christ equals realizing and accepting that free gift. That is all that is required…our acceptance.
In Christ, we then serve as his disciples. Why? Because we are HIS friends and we desire to share the Good News of Christ’s salvation with people. More than that, we take on Jesus’ heart, we start to make note of the needs around us, and we try to fill those needs so that even “the least of these” are being shown love and inclusion. In other words, we serve because we have grown in Christ’s love. We serve because Jesus Christ, our Lord, first loved and served us. We have been served, therefore, we should serve others. Let us always be reminded of this as we joyfully join together in service of our Lord. Let us start serving and learn to TRULY live.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself. Serve and thou shall be served.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
PRAYER Lord, thank you for all that you have done to serve me in Spirit, in Truth, and through the lives of those who have been a source of help to me. Lead me to serve others openly and willingly, thereby serving you and your Kingdom. Amen.
JOY Fellowship Worship Service in Holland Hall: 9:00 a.m.
Worship Service in Main Sancutary: 10:30 a.m.
Welcome to our live-streamed Sunday Worship Services for May 7, 2023. Today we learn that the risen Christ moves us from a place of judgement to a place of connection, so that we can work together for the sake of God’s kingdom.
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too” (Matthew 5:38-40 NLT).
Sam Obisanya was having a bad day, and extremely bad day. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Sam, he is one of the footballers on the fictional English Premier Football team, AFC Richmond, on the Apple TV+ original show, Ted Lasso. This show has become one of my favorite shows and is now on it’s third season. I highly recommend it, though not for children as it does have language and mature themes throughout. Also, while I am not spoiling the whole episode, I will be discussing one scene in it, so if you are watching the show and haven’t seen Episode 7 of Season 3, I would recommend watching it first so as not to spoil this moment for you.
Back to Sam Obisanya. He is a soccer player from Nigeria and comes from a family that is very socially conscious. Why? Because in Nigeria people feel the weight of colonialism and the footprint of the West on them. As such, Sam is not afraid to speak out on social issues in order to do what he believes is right. Enter into the story fictional U.K. Home Security Minister, Brinda Barot. She is standing front and center on the television telling migrant refugees in a boat that they should go home and that she won’t permit them in England. Or at least that’s the gist of it.
Sam believed that he could at least appeal to her “better angels” through a tweet mildly and lovingly callinger her to have a little more compassion to people in need. Well, as is almost always the case with politicians on Twitter, she shot back and tweeted: “Footballers should leave the politics to us and just shut up and dribble.” This quote is actually a real quote from a host on an American conservative news channel who said that people like LeBron James and others should stay out of politics and “shut up and dribble.” So Ted Lasso is pulling from real-life situations, which is what makes this show so relevant and important.
Again, back to Sam. As these things often do on social media, the tweets escalated back and forth. That’s where the tragedy occurs. This is what makes Sam’s day so bad. He went at night, after his football game, to the Nigerian Restaurant he opened up to share Nigerian cuisine with the U.K. and give the British Nigerians a little taste of home. He named the restaurant, Ola’s, after is father. When got to the door, Sam found it smashed in. The restaurant inside completely destroyed, with the words, “Shut up and dribble”, spray painted across one of the walls. Sam was shattered.
The next day, as he was gearing up to practice, he had an angry outburst because he feels unwelcome in the U.K. and he knows people like Brinda Barot want to ship him and other immigrants right back to where they came from. His team members were confused because they didn’t at first know about his restaurant, but they all were there to listen and comfort him. Also, at the same time, his dad showed up for his planned visit to see his son, watch him play, and eat a meal at Ola’s, which obviously was no longer going to be able to happen.
His father gave him a big hug and sat down with him. Sam was sharing with him that he didn’t think he was going to reopen the restaurant just to see it destroyed again. His father countered him and told him he NEEDED to reopen it, not just for himself, but for his staff and for other Nigerian immigrants who would like a taste of home. Then his father told him this, “If you really want to piss them off, forgive them. No big deal. Just forgive them, like it’s no big deal. Don’t fight back Sam, fight forward.”
Now, I won’t share what happens from there; however, those words really stuck with me and they reminded me of the same thing Jesus taught his disciples in Matthew 5:38-40 NLT), “If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too”. Believe it or not, Jesus was talking not about fighting back, but fighting forward. This takes forgiveness and fortitude and faith, but it is the only way in which we end the cycle of destruction that we humans are so hellbent on carrying out against each other.
Turning the other cheek and giving people more than they want to sue from you is not giving up or taking the cowards way out. It is not a sign of weakness, either. It is quite the opposite. Walter Wink, in his book Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination, interprets the passage as a way to be subversive to the power structures of the time. In ancient Judea, one asserted their authority and dominance by backhand striking a person on their right cheek with their right hand. If that person then turned their left cheek to be struck, the person with the higher social status had a problem. The left hand couldn’t be used to strike because it was used for unclean purposes; however, if one open-palm slapped someone on the opposite cheek, it would be seen as a challenge to a fight placing the other person at equal status.
Jesus, in calling people to turn the other cheek, was directing them to FIGHT FORWARD, publicly calling out the injustice by turning the other cheek rather than fighting back in retaliation. The same thing is true regarding giving one’s shirt too when one is being sued for their coat. Going over and above publicly displays that what is being done is an injustice.
Friends, we are called to fighting forward, not fighting back. It is so easy to get up in arms when we feel threatened or attacked; however, that does nothing to change the world. Let us be a people who follow Christ’s way, not the world’s, so that we can be public displays of justice, peace, and love as well as agents of hope, healing, and wholeness. This is the Christian way.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY “Sweet mercy is nobility’s true badge.” – William Shakespeare
PRAYER Lord, help me to have the strength and courage to fight forward and forgive. Amen.
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.” (Psalms 46:1-3 NRSV)
In the film, “The Dark Knight”, Heath Ledger plays my favorite version of the Joker. As a method actor, Ledger isolated himself and immersed himself in the role in order to “become” the joker. His interpretation of the Joker was that of a maniacal mass murderer who was hell-bent on projecting the inner chaos within his tormented soul out into the world at large. Sure, this Joker has all of the attributes that you’d expect the Joker to have: the clown face, the broad and menacing grin, the crazed laugh, and the green(ish) hair; yet, this Joker is wild, extremely dark and utterly chaotic.
There are many awesome quotes to pull from this Joker character that Ledger plays, but the one that struck me the most came toward the end of the film as it was approaching its tragic and climactic end. Sitting in the hospital next to the bedside of Harvey Dent, the District Attorney who the Joker severely burned with a gasoline explosion, the Joker began to explain himself. “I just did what I do best. I took your little plan and I turned it on itself. Look what I did to this city with a few drums of gas and a couple of bullets. Hmmm? You know… You know what I’ve noticed? Nobody panics when things go ’according to plan.’ Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all ‘part of the plan’. But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds!”
In that moment, the Joker hands Harvey Dent a gun and has him point it directly at his (the Joker’s) head, “Introduce a little anarchy,” the Joker continues. “Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It’s fair!”
Whether or not chaos is actually fair, it is certainly indiscriminate. The world, much to our dismay, is filled with chaos and always has been. The Jews who were exiled in Babylon certainly understood what chaos was and they sought some sort of plan in order to explain why the chaos was surrounding them.
While the prophets tried to explain the chaos and the reasons it befell the Jews, the scribes did not for there is no real answer why. Yes, our bad decisions could help in creating chaos around us, as can the bad choices of others, as can the forces of nature. Yet, all of those are chaos because they are NOT a part of any sort of divine plan. Rather than explaining why, the priestly scribes wrote what we now know as Genesis 1, which tells of a God who, at the beginning, hovered over the chaos. What’s more, out of the chaos, God brought order and new life.
It is so easy for us to get caught up, or even tripped up, in the chaos of this world. It is easy for us to allow our lives to spin out of control and for us to fall into chaos ourselves. Who knows why the Joker became the Joker? Who really knows why he chose the path of chaos rather than the path of hope? There is really no explanation that answers those questions, and those questions really miss the point. The point if we succumb to the chaos around us in our lives we, too, become agents of chaos. Just like the Joker, we can choose to be chaotic, but God is calling us to let go of the control we think we have in our lives, to let go of the avoid chaos, and to let go of the fear that keeps us imprisoned within it. If we do that, and we need to trust in God in order to do that, then God will create order in the midst of the chaos and we, in the end will experience true and lasting peace.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY “In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.” – Carl Jung
PRAYER “Lord, help me to trust in you, for I know that out of the chaos you bring order. I trust that you can do this in my life.” Amen.
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “Whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.” (1 John 5:4 NRSV)
We, as human beings, have a very difficult time dealing with the unknown. We absolutely desire to be in control and nothing seems more “out of control”, then uncertainty and the great unknown. Right now, our world is going through traumatic and fatal pandemic that is leaving everyone in the dark, confused, isolated, in shock, and wondering why any of this is “allowed” to happen. It is in such moments, especially when we are caught off guard, that we begin to ask the question, “Why?”
This makes me think of the film, “Miracles From Heaven,” which tells the true story of a young girl who has a rare, serious, and terminal illness that causes her to not be able to digest food. This, of course, leaves her in considerable amounts of pain most of the time. Her life, at the age of 9 (or so), was relegated to bed rest in hospital rooms. In the midst of it, her family was seeking answers as to what they could do in order to cure their daughter of this illness. Yet, doctor after doctor could not even come up with what the illness was, let alone why it was or how they could cure it. One doctor, who was a renowned specialist at the renowned Children’s Hospital in Boston, was able to put his finger on what the disease was; however, with that said, he was also certain there really was no cure for it. All they could do was try to give the little girl pain medicine to keep her comfortable and wait for illness to take it’s inevitable course.
In the midst of their struggle to help their daughter, they turned to their church for spiritual and emotional support. While all certainly intended to provide that, what the family really got was a bucket load of terrible theology. Some congregation members were asking the mother if there was anything she or her husband did, or if there was anything the little girl did, to bring this terrible illness down on them. The pastor, thankfully, was not a part of this…and did try to support the family, however, the response of some of the congregation members was enough to drive the mother further and further away from her faith. What kind of God would punish an innocent little 9 year old because of the sins of her parents? What kind of God would punish a 9 year old girl, whose not even old enough to be held accountable according to Biblical standards, for her own sins?
While, I will not spoil the rest of the film (and I highly recommend that you watch it if you are able), I will say that THEOLOGY MATTERS. We often think that our suffering and struggles are a part of GOD’s PLAN. We will try to comfort people who are struggling by telling them that “they’ll be okay,” that “things will work out in the end,” and that “this is all a part of God’s plan” in order to “test them” and “help them grow.” Or, more judgmental people will try and speculate on what sorts of wrong people did to “deserve” the things that have befallen them. Both lines of theology are appalling, egregious, and dangerous. What kind of God causes people to suffer in order to help them grow? What kind of God blinds people, cripples them, puts them into gas chambers, or kills their family members as a part of “the plan?” What kind of God gives us “what we deserve?” Certainly the not Grace-filled God of Christianity.
Just as Jesus Christ did with his disciples, he is calling us to rethink our theology and to be careful in it. God’s plan is not to hurt, punish, or kill people as some sort of twisted means to an end. That never was God’s plan, nor will it ever be God’s plan. People have articulated it that way, even in the Bible, but only out of ignorance. Overall, the Scripture is consistent in what God’s plan is: to LOVE creation and to be present in relationship with it. That is God’s plan. Things happen, circumstances take us by storm, and life hits us in various ways, but GOD’s LOVE for us and GOD’s PRESENCE with us NEVER changes. God’s plan is to be with us and to be with others through us. That is the plan…and it certainly is a MIRACLE when we acknowledge the plan and LIVE INTO IT.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY “You know what I noticed? Nobody panics when things go according to plan, even if the plan is horrifying.” – The Joker PRAYER Lord, even when things do not go according to plan, you are present with me. Help me to acknowledge that and be a witness to your presence in my life and the lives of others. Amen.