Friday, May 20, 2005

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Friday, May 13, 2005

Still learning to use our new digital camera. Caught this picture on Saturday while at the airport with my wife Katherine.

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Monday, May 09, 2005

5K Corporate Run

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I finished the race in 37:11. What in the world?!?! Ok, here's the scoop -- There were 22,000+ people, and most were treating this race as a social event more than a fitness event or competition. I wish I had known that. It was a social event for hundreds of mostly medium-sized companies. Anyway, it took me about 2 or 3 minutes after the starting gun to get up to the starting line, but even then, I was walking for a while longer because of the huge crowd. Many people weren't even trying to run -- there were people drinking beer and pushing strollers with babies -- not what I expected. A mile into the race, I was running some, but also having to slow down and walk regularly because the crowd would clump up when the street would narrow.

Other than that, I felt great! It was so much fun. I loved pinning on the numbers. There were people who were about my same level and speed -- I'd try to keep up with them, or pass them, or follow them. That was a lot of fun. I usually run alone. Very motivating, and I feel like I ran better than ever before. When I hit the 2nd mile, the timer said 26:55 which means I ran the last 1.1 miles at a 9:19 pace (and probably most of the second mile was at a similar pace). For me, that's pretty good and fast. The fastest 5k I've done since high school is 9:50 pace (30:28). I was hoping to break 30:00 (9:40 pace), and I think I would have done it -- so I feel good. I want to do it again.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Insult Like the Truth

I've run my ship aground on the rocks of the soul
There's no lie like independence
There's no demon like control
I've fanned the burning embers
Till my house was on fire
There's no parody like power
There's no fever like desire
I've drained the wine of darkness
To the dregs of deceit
There's no drug as strong as pride
There's no blindness like conceit
I've railed against a mountain
With a pickax and a file
There's no minefield like presumption
There's no deathwish like denial

There's no gunshot like conviction
There's no conscience bullet proof
There's no strength like utter weakness
There's no insult like the truth

I've adjusted my prescription
Till I couldn't trust my vision
There's no killer like convenience
There's no sickness like omission
I've amended resolutions
And resisted explanation
There's no trap door like emotion
There's no pit like reputation
There's no cancer like ambition
There's no cure like crucifixion

There's no gunshot like conviction
There's no conscience bullet proof
There's no strength like utter weakness
There's no insult like the truth

by Charlie Peacock, from the album strangelanguage

Monday, May 02, 2005

Sick Christians

I gave this sermon (which leads into Holy Communion) on May 1, 2005 at Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church on the island of Key Biscayne off the coast of Florida near downtown Miami. Actually, I changed a few things, but basically, this is it.

Matthew 9:9-13
As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

It is an honor for me to speak with you this morning. My name is William Sofield. My wife and I moved to South Florida about 7 months ago and I took a job as a chaplain at Baptist Hospital. I love me work. I was a chaplain in St. Louis, Missouri before moving. God moved me into hospital ministry in an unusual way. I never really thought about hospitals much, it was never a plan I had to be a chaplain. As I started looking for a job as a minister of the gospel, I experienced a great deal of pain in the job search process – some of it coming from me and my issues that I carry around with me, some from various Presbyterian churches and elders and pastors. God put me in the hospital and now I love it. My patients are all in crisis – physically and spiritually. As I have struggled to be the best chaplain I can be, I have been attracted to the passages of the Bible that talk about the interplay between physical health and spiritual health. We just read a short story from the gospel of Matthew. This story is also found in the gospels of Mark and Luke, but I think it is especially interesting to hear Matthew tell the story of how Jesus called him to be a disciple – you could say this is a little autobiographical. In this story, Jesus relates spiritual health and physical health – so, I’ve been thinking about this story, and I’d like to share with you some of my thoughts. If I tried to unpack everything in these few verses, we’d be here for the next 6 hours. That’s not fair to me and not fair to you, so, I won’t do it. I’d just like to share some of my thoughts regarding this passage – what I think is the main point of this story.

Before we get into the meaning, I think I should give some historical and cultural perspective. Jesus finds a man named Matthew (who later writes this gospel). Matthew is a tax collector. If you were a first-century reader in Palestine – that would be loaded with all sorts of things. Now, IRS jokes are a dime-a-dozen. But our concept of tax collector is way off – after all, this is a completely different culture, in a completely different time, in a different set of languages, in another part of the world. The Roman army was occupying Palestine at the time. Rome had set up a puppet-government made up of Jews who wanted power so badly, they were willing to betray their countrymen. Basically, Rome was trying to keep the Jews pacified enough so that they would not revolt and cause trouble, while at the same time they were taking as much money from them as possible – in the form of taxes. The rich and powerful became rich and powerful by taxing the poor and the weak. People in Jesus area of Galilee were literally starving – working each day to buy just enough food to eat that day. It was a delicate balance for the Roman and Jewish authorities but they had it pretty well worked out. Well, the tax collectors were part of this mob, if you will. They were on the lowest levels, going door to door in their assigned neighborhoods collecting the taxes. They, too, were Jews who had “sold out” their country. If there was a middle class, it was the tax collectors. They collected a bit more than they needed to, but they were not as wealthy as those they collected for. However, the masses hated them. They were going against everything that God stood for. They were helping the oppressors – they were oppressing the poor themselves. They were taking advantage of others – all the laws in the Old Testament about taking care of the poor and the widows and the orphans and the aliens – they ignored it all. They were not welcome in the house of God – not that it mattered, they did not really want to go. They had turned their back on their families, their traditions, their religion, their God – not just to walk away, but to oppress the very ones they had come from. Who can we compare Matthew to in our society? Perhaps a child molester? Perhaps a American who would knowingly teach the terrorists how to fly planes into buildings, but would then be protected by the government? Perhaps that is a close start.

Now, Jesus comes to Matthew, a tax collector, and says, “Follow me” and he does. Jesus draws others to himself like Matthew and the Pharisees get upset. Who are the Pharisees? These are good, hard-working, religious folks. They are people who know their Bibles. They are people who love God. They are people who are true to the traditions, and maintain good family values. In fact, you might say, they are the opposite of the tax collector in so many ways. They are upset that Jesus would eat with tax collectors. Eating had a different implication, too. To eat together with someone was to be closely associated with them. It would be like, putting your arm around someone in public – a clear sign to all those around you that, hey, we’re together – we’re friends. Jesus – together with people who have turned their backs on family values, and God, and religion? He must not be a very good Rabbi – not a good teacher – not a good Jew. They are upset.

This is where Jesus says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. . . . I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

What does Jesus mean when he says “righteous.” I think he is being facetious. He is not saying that there are people who are really so healthy spiritually that they do not need him. A few chapters earlier, in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us that the standard of righteousness is higher than anyone thought – no one is righteous. In John’s gospel, we see that Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life – no one comes to the Father except through me.” That is, no one can connect with God spiritually, except through me. Everyone needs Jesus. No, I don’t think Jesus is saying that some people are really good enough people that they don’t need a spiritual doctor. What is he saying? I think he is saying – the doctor only sees patients who know they are sick. No one goes to a doctor and says, “Doc, I’m just fine, is there anything you can do for me?” I think Jesus is saying – people who understand their spiritual brokenness are sick, those who don’t consider themselves “righteous” or “good.” Jesus comes to offer help to those who want it, not to those who don’t. Jesus is saying, his message is for those who don’t shift blame to others.

Does that ever happen today? All the time. Since Jesus was talking specifically to and about religious conservatives – I’ll start there, I’ll start here. I’ve been a conservative for most of my life. I was brought up in the church. I was born on Saturday and in church on Sunday. This is me. Here’s what happens. We’re all concerned with truth. We need to get things right, accurate. We study our Bibles, we learn what God says about this thing and that thing. We learn what kind of behavior God endorses and which behaviors he forbids. We work hard to comply. In place where we don’t comply, we put a spin on it so that when we go to church, or school, or work, or Bible study, nobody knows our shortcomings – we are moral and right. Some of us are so good, that we can even deceive ourselves into thinking that we are completely right and completely moral.

Now I want to say that there can be no goal more noble than truth and morality. The problem here is not the goal. The goal is an excellent goal. For those of us who pursue truth and morality – I say, with Jesus – Yes! Hang your hat there. The problem is not the goal – the problem is what happens when we take our eyes off the goal. You see, the Pharisees that opposed Jesus thought they were pursuing truth – but they were not. Not everyone who thinks they seek the truth actually seek truth. We see this time and time again throughout history. The Christian church sought the truth about how our solar system works – we found the “truth” that the earth was the center. Even when presented with clear and convincing evidence that the sun was the center, we did not bend to the “truth” that the earth was the center. What was happening? We were hiding behind shield of self-righteousness and we had spray-painted the word “truth” on in it. In other words, we decided that we were right, no matter what. There’s no way I could be wrong. That is not an honest search for truth. Truth is not the goal. Or, to say it another way, if truth is always your goal, you are willing to consider other possibilities – possibilities that you might be wrong. And being wrong is no threat to you because the higher goal is always truth.

In our society as in most societies, people who are most concerned with what is right are usually stiff, unbending, unable to seriously consider that they might be wrong. When George W. Bush first ran for president, he said he was a “compassionate conservative.” I think he was setting himself up for failure, because someone was bound to say, he’s not really compassionate, and others would say, he’s not really conservative. Politics aside, I think we can all agree that it was a phrase that attracted a lot of attention, because common wisdom says that those two words don’t go together. Right or wrong, that is common wisdom. I would contend that many conservatives are not really concerned about truth or morality at all, but mostly about their personal pride in being right.

Jesus said, I am the way, the truth and the life. Jesus is the ultimate truth. Any truth that doesn’t align itself with him, or doesn’t look like him, is not the real truth. Let’s think about this ultimate truth in the person of Jesus. Jesus loved sinners. Jesus loved people who were notoriously immoral. Jesus loved people who hated God, people who had no sense of family values. And, I should note that they loved him. They were drawn to him. They couldn’t wait for him to come to town, they flocked around him. They sensed his love immediately and as they spent time with him, their love for him deepened. If your pursuit of truth does not lead you to love notoriously immoral people, what kind of truth are you pursuing? If your pursuit of truth does not lead the notoriously immoral to be drawn to you, are you really pursuing the same truth the is revealed perfectly in Jesus? Maybe it is not really truth at all, maybe it is a self-righteous shield you’re hiding behind, that you have spray-painted with the word, “truth.”

As a hospital chaplain, I deal with all sorts of people. I have had the privilege of working with other clergy from various religions and denominations, including Jewish, Catholic, Unitarian, Episcopal, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist and Pentecostal. I minister to my patients, which include a much larger representation of the world’s religions. Many would consider my love of such a multi-faith experience to be quite liberal, and I guess it is, in a way. Liberals have a different set of values than conservatives. I don’t want to speak definitively here about conservatives and liberals – but only as it deals with this particular passage of scripture. Liberals are, shall we say, less concerned about truth and more concerned with compassion and tolerance.

Is compassion and tolerance a good goal? Of course it is. If God had not shown compassion on us, and been tolerant of our sin, we would have been wiped out from the face of the earth immediately. But I’ll ask the same question of liberals I did of conservatives. Are we really pursuing our goal? I’m not sure. I find that for all the talk from liberals, we really are not so compassionate for people who disagree with us. Tolerance is good, for a certain group of people, but not for others. In my experience, James Dobson gets very little respect among liberals. Now that just doesn’t line up with what liberals themselves claim to be our goal. What is going on here? Could it be that we are hiding behind a shield of self-righteousness that we’ve spray-painted with the word, “compassion”?

What do I mean by “self-righteousness”? I have just alleged that both liberals and conservatives are hiding behind self righteousness. What does this mean? It means – an attitude of, “I know what is wrong with this country, this church, this school, this city, this family. It is those people over there. They are what’s wrong.” I don’t need to change, they need to change. The problem is not here, it is there. Self-righteousness is proclaiming yourself to be right. And we have good company. Most of us do this. And we congregate in little groups with people just like us. “Those conservative, if they just really understood the issues and stopped being so ‘backward’ then this country would be a lot better off.” I’ve been using the paradigm of liberal and conservative, but there are many other paradigms we could look to. Maybe the other people to blame for our problems are the young people who don’t respect authority, or the old people who are stuck in their ways. Maybe it’s the poor people who don’t take responsibility for their communities, or maybe it’s the rich who hoard their wealth and flaunt it in front of the less fortunate. Maybe it’s the Cubans who think they own Miami, or maybe it’s the whites who refuse to acknowledge Latin culture. Maybe it’s your husband who still acts like a baby, or maybe it’s your wife who nags you incessantly. I know the problem here, it is not me. Don’t you see, the young, the old, the rich, the poor, the Cubans, the whites, the men, the women, the liberals, the conservatives – they all, we all have the same problem. Self-righteousness.

Why is it uncomfortable for you to be with people who are so different from you? Self-righteousness. Why do “they” not like to be around you? Self-righteousness. I declare myself to be right – not-the-problem. Jesus says, there is a problem here in this family, this country, this city, this world. And we say, yes there, is. I know what the problem is. That’s a diagnosis. Then we say, I know what the solution is. That’s a prescription. For those who would self-diagnose, and self-prescribe, and self-medicate, Jesus says, well, apparently you don’t need me, I’ll move on to someone who does.

I want to say a few words about Tax Collectors, too. There are people who understand their brokenness and weakness at a very deep level. Typically, these are people who are thrown out by society. These tax collectors were probably not happy about who they were. They probably felt driven into this line of work by the horrible economic conditions – perhaps like a young girl seemingly forced into prostitution by a physical hunger . . . just a sandwich and a cup of milk. Some of us have been the victims of some horrible sin. Sexual abuse. Physical abuse. Emotional rollercoasters. A lost job at the whim of a vindictive boss. Perhaps caught in the crossfire of a battle in which you were not really a part. Perhaps a poor education, perhaps a lack of good parenting. Maybe some struggling some horrible addiction and you think, I’ll never get any better. The voices in your head tell you that you will never change – you’ll never be as pretty, as skinny, as successful, as smart, as good, as useful, as important, as loved as most other people. If this describes you, I want you to listen carefully to my words. This story hints at it, but there are lots of other clear examples in the Bible. Jesus loves you just as you are. Jesus loves you just as you are. You don’t need to change before Jesus loves you. He loves you now. You are not alone. When Jesus walked this earth 2000 years ago. People like you found refuge in Jesus. He did not toss them aside like a used and soiled paper plate. He treated them like fine china – and that’s what you are. Please, I invite you, please, look past the self-righteousness of this preacher, of this church, of your family, your friends, especially the Christians – we are poor representations of Jesus in many ways. Please do not discount Jesus – look to him and find your rest, your healing, your dignity. I wish I could talk about this more now, but let me just urge you – Jesus is so much better than what I can illustrate for you. He is tender and compassionate, full of mercy and love.

Others of us are slowly and painfully becoming aware of our own inability to do what Jesus has asked us to do. He says here, “I desire mercy.” We are slowly becoming aware that we are not as merciful as we think. The first step in spiritual growth is always to acknowledge our inability to do what Jesus has asked us to do. We say with the apostle Paul, the good things I want to do, I don’t seem to be able to do them, while the bad things I try to avoid – I keep finding myself doing them. What is wrong with me?

There is a physician who invites you to come, to listen carefully to his diagnosis, to accept it, fatal though it is, and he invites you to consider throwing away your self-diagnosis, your self-prescription and try his divine medication. To take this new drug, you must see the worthlessness of your own homemade medication, you cannot take both. To take one is to drop the other. And that is the problem. If you are still working out your own solution to the world, your own solution to your family problems, your own solution to your sinfulness, your own solution to the abuse in your past, then this drug is not for you.

What is this new, radical drug?

It is the grace of God. It is the most expensive drug in the world, but it is already paid. You see, Jesus took your cancer for you, and suffered the fatal disease in your place. He offers you nothing less than himself. Are you sick, this morning? Do you need help? Are you weary? Are you tired of trying to live a good life? Are you tired of hiding behind a shield? Are you tired of pretending? Then this table is for you.

[Lead into Holy Communion here]