July 10, 2018
Kent’s Sermon from Edinburgh, Scotland
The woman at the loom and finding meaning in living generously 2 Cor 8
May 10, 2018
The trendy topics fake news, the media and skepticism were in focus at the Indiana University Undergraduate Commencement ceremony held on May 5, 2018, but the advice given was from a by-gone era. On the surface the speakers were polished and the deliveries were good, but under the veneer was a shocking omission.
Michael A. McRobbie, the Indiana University president, spoke about the importance of ascertaining facts and determining what was true from what was false in his closing remarks. In an era where there is so much concern about fake news, this is understandable. McRobbie talked about the importance of science and healthy skepticism. He reminded graduates of many of the wonderful blessings of modern technology. He specifically praised Enlightenment Era thinking and urged the graduating class to stick to the facts, science, and to be skeptical. These statements coordinated with journalist, chairman and chief executive officer of the Tampa Bay Times and Times Publishing Co., Paul Tasch’s comments earlier during the commencement address. Tasch emphasized discerning the truth in an era of fake news; he gave examples of purely fictitious news stories that stirred people to act in inappropriate ways, such as the report that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of a pizza parlor, which led to someone firing a rifle inside the establishment in 2016.
Indeed, it is important to separate fact from fiction; even more so in this internet age when consumers can gorge themselves on news that supports their views. But to suggest that discerning truth is that simple is a gross oversimplification that ignores the important advances of the postmodern critique of the enlightenment.
The question is not just “What is fact and what is fiction?” The question is also which facts are being presented. Despite critics claiming otherwise, I suspect that Fox News and MSNBC present mostly facts in their news reportage (of course they broadcast a lot of opinion also!) But the question is which facts are being presented and for what purpose? Whose facts? The razor we need to cut through the news reports to wisely discern truth involves understanding who is telling us these facts and why. If one knows the character and the ideology of the person or news outlet presenting the facts, then ones has a better chance of discerning the whole truth in context. The people who created the pizza parlor sex ring story had a reason, an ideology, and a kind of morality that resulted in their creation of that fake news.
Yet the greater danger to our understanding of the world in which we live and our ability to discern the truth is not the outright lies, but the presentation of partial truths: that is, the presentation of the facts out of context to influence public opinion. One of the things we have learned since the Enlightenment is that truth is power. Whoever defines the truth has tremendous power and such “truth defining” can be used for great good or for horrendous oppression.
What was missing in Mr Tasch’s and Dr. McRobbie’s presentations was an emphasis on the importance of character. If the journalist reporting the news is a person of integrity, there is a better chance of receiving less bias and more of the facts in the proper context. Speaking to thousands of assembled graduates about the future and emphasizing only science and the facts without any mention of character is shocking. What we need is not simply pure science and healthy skepticism; we need people of character, people of moral integrity, and people who care.
The same science that can be used to find a cure for cancer can be used to create biological weapons that could destroy all of humanity. In an era of increasingly powerful technological advancement, such as CRISPR technology that allows scientists to alter DNA, we need so much more than just to be enamored by scientific advancement; we need people of moral integrity and character who will seek to use the technology for the betterment of humanity. In this dangerous political era we need more than the counsel to search for truth; we need people of character who will present all the facts in context and let the individual decide which ideology to follow.
The omission of any discussion of morality and character at commencement is even more shocking given that Indiana has marvelous colleges for visual and performing arts. Artists help us interpret the facts and understand the implications. Artists warn us, and they help us find joy in living. Living without art, focusing purely on science leads to a cold, joyless and dangerous world. Our best hope for the future is not just the facts and science, as important as they may be: it is people of moral character who will discern truth in context.
Rev. Dr. Kent R. Walley
Transformation that Leads to Refreshment
Acts 3:12-21 April 15, 2018 by Kent Walley
The timbers above us shook as we stood on the platform. My 3-year-old son Philip looked up at me anxiously while the boards upon which we were standing shuddered as the roller coaster car whizzed past us. He really wasn’t at all sure he wanted to ride. The Jack Rabbit is a small but unique roller coaster for which you don’t have to be very tall to ride. On it, even a young 3-year-old can experience a roller coaster, but Philip was thinking that maybe he could wait, at least until he was four!
He began telling me that he was scarred, that he didn’t really know if he wanted to ride this. I looked into that tiny face that was staring up at me, wondering what it was that his dad was getting him into. And I said, “I know you are going to love this ride. It will be alright.” And I put my hand on his shoulder and smiled. And he swallowed hard and stood his ground with me in line. He trusted me. He knew I loved Him. And even though he wanted to turn and run away and go back to the tamer rides in the “kiddie land” section of the park. He didn’t. He stayed, but he was afraid.
As we waited, this scene was repeated several more times – Philip expressing his anxieties, me lovingly reassuring him, holding his tiny hand, telling him that he could do it. And finally the moment came and we slid into the seat and fastened the seat belt and off we went. And Philip loved it! We road it several more times that day. And ever since Philip has loved riding roller coasters.
What happened for Philip at age 3 that day was a complete transformation. He went from one way of thinking about roller coasters with fear and uncertainty, to another way of thinking about them – with eager anticipation. His mind’s view of roller coasters was completely turned around that day. He went from hoping the wait in line would never end, that the roller coaster would break down and close for the day, to hoping the line would move quickly, that the wait would be short, because he was so eager to ride.
Such a transformation is necessary for all of us. I am not speaking now about roller coasters, but in life. We need a transformation of our minds, a turning of the way we view things, a new outlook on life – such a transformation of the mind is what the Bible calls repentance. In fact that is exactly what the word means in the original Greek language of the New Testament – the word is metanouia – meta means change and nouia is mind. And today in the book of Acts, Peter tells us that there is a wonderful promise for those who do have such a transformation. He promises times of refreshing.
We are considering today the continuation of the story in Acts chapter 3. In the verses just before today’s reading, that we read last week, we find Peter healing a man who had been crippled from birth. This man used to sit and beg every day at the Temple. Try to imagine the impact of this healing upon those who saw this man every day. Just imagine if every time you came to worship here at St. Luke’s there was a man sitting on our steps just outside St. Luke’s door. Imagine him as someone you know. You know his family. You know his story. He was born crippled and for years, every time you come to worship at St. Luke’s there he is asking you for money. And then one Sunday as we are gathering here for worship, suddenly the doors burst open and in comes that man! And he isn’t crippled any more. In fact, he is walking in, and he is jumping up and down and praising God. The shock that you would feel must have been something like what they were feeling in the Temple that day. And everyone wants to know how Peter did this.
And Peter says it was not his own power, but the power of the risen Lord Jesus Christ. It is through trusting in Jesus that this man has been healed. The very same Jesus, the Lord of Life whom you killed, is raised from the dead and His resurrection power healed this man.
And then Peter offers an invitation with a wonderful promise. His invitation is to metanouia – to repent, to have a transformation of outlook. Just as young Philip’s view and experience of roller coasters was changed for ever after, so too do those who have turned to Christ view life and live differently, ever thereafter.
Peter tells the people they need to change because they were complicit in killing the Lord of Life. In a sense these people along with the Jewish leaders were trying to control the outcome for their own ends. Jesus was an innocent person, but one who threatened their routines and normal understanding of religion. Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers who were profiting from the sale of animals for sacrifice, and He over turned the Pharisees way of living. He told people that life was about more than merely following the rules, but rather it was about living from the heart. Jesus called people to focus on loving God and others, not merely on keeping the ceremonial rules and rituals of religion.
With rules and rituals everything is nicely controlled. You know what to expect. You have the routine. But when one must seek God in the moment, trying to follow the spirit of the law of love in every situation, one may be in for a wild ride, with twists and turns. This is a surrendering of the control of one’s own life, from living for self and self-worship – to putting one’s life in God’s hands and trusting Him for the outcome.
And the remarkable thing is the result of such repentance. The result is forgiveness that restores our relationship with God, but a forgiveness that also results in something more. I find it incomprehensible that the lectionary stops where it does in the middle of the sentence. And what follows is so incredible. This sentence reads: “Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you,…”
“So that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” What a marvelous promise! Would you like a season of refreshment? How are you doing in life right now? Anything making you weary? How marvelous to consider times of refreshment.
For me, the word conjures up images of walking in a desert on a hot, dry summer day without water. And as you walk along you get thirstier and thirstier in the hot dry heat. Your mouth becomes so dry. Your tongue sticks to the roof of your mouth and you are desperately wanting to get to that ice chest that you have in your car. And when you finally arrive and drink that cool crisp water – you are refreshed.
That is a picture of refreshment. Seasons of refreshment are what God wants for us. Times of refreshment are possible for us now that Christ has risen. The Greek word for refreshment in verse 20 of Acts chapter 3 is a word that means “rest, respite, breathing space, cooling, relaxation, and relief”.
Does your life need such refreshment this morning? Wouldn’t you like that rest, relief, breathing space and relaxation? Our world is a weary world this morning isn’t it? We just launched missiles into Syria. Are you not weary over the wars in the Middle East, weary of terrorism, weary of the politics in our country? What things in your personal life make you weary this morning? Over the past two weeks the Walley family has been wearied by 4 tech visits to fix our cable and internet, a computer that had to be sent to the manufacturer because it crashed, a rabbit who had to have a surgical procedure at the vet and some serious health issues in my extended family.
And I am sure you have things also – life is hard sometimes. Life can be overloaded and saturated with information in the times in which we live. We have so many opportunities of good things to do, and those things can erode the space in our lives to cope with the difficulties that inevitably come. And in the blur of such difficulties Jesus says: “Come to me all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” That is in the gospel of Matthew chapter 11.
And today in Acts 3, Peter’s call echoes down through the ages right to our burdened and weary world this morning: Repent and turn to God that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.
Do you see how this works? When we turn to God, and have a transformation of outlook, so that we no longer attempt to control the outcome, by manipulating others, or controlling things to our own ends, when we surrender to Christ and trust the outcome to His loving infinite wisdom – the burden is released. It is given over to Him. He takes the wearisome heavy load from you and He carries it for you, and, then, times of refreshing come from the Lord, so that you will discover that His yoke to guide your life is easy and His burden is light, so that you will be granted in Him rest, renewal and refreshment!
What a wonderful promise! What a wonderful word to us this morning!
But you may be out there thinking, sounds great, but Kent I have repented and trusted my life to Christ and I don’t feel refreshed, what about that?
And here in lies an important point. In today’s passage Peter is calling non-Christians to make a decision to trust their lives to Christ – but for followers of Christ who have already done this – the old habits die hard, the sinful nature is not instantly removed from us, we still make mistakes and we still sin. And so we need more than a one-time change of outlook, more than a one-time repentance. We need that mental transformation every day – several times a day.
I find in my own life that when I am burdened with some problem or stress, I find myself carrying that burden, trying to figure out how to fix it, how to resolve it, what to do, what the implications might be and fretting over it….can anyone here relate? And then what I realize I must do, and I must confess to you that I am not always good at doing it, but what I must do is give that burden over to Christ – trust it to Jesus. I do so in prayer, I do so sometimes visualizing handing it over to Him – but it can be hard, because my human tendency is to think I can handle this on my own – yet what repentance means is that I have a change of mind and I surrender that control over to God. When I truly release the burden, release total control of my life over to Him the burden is lifted! Times of refreshing do come! Sometimes such a time of refreshing is hard fought in faith, but there is, I assure you, a peace that passes understanding that is available to all if we will give it all over to Him!
This of course doesn’t mean we do nothing – it doesn’t mean we stop working, serving, and loving….but it means we stop fretting, we stop manipulating and we stop controlling and we let God be truly our God.
And it can be frightening to adopt such a transformation in thinking, letting go of that issue that is burdening me and trusting it to God can be every bit as frightening as standing on the loading platform to ride a roller coaster for the first time at age 3. But oh, so much more than any earthly father, we have a loving Heavenly Father, who looks us in the eye, who holds our hand, who even right now at this moment places His mighty hand on your shoulder and smiles at you and says, it will be alright. I love you, you simply have to trust it over to me.
To Him be the Honor Glory Power and Praise Now and forever. AMEN