Love and Controversy by Pastor Leah Rosso

Love and Controversy by Pastor Leah Rosso

This past week at the Create CommUnity Event, I met a woman who shared with me an experience she’d had one day while walking with a friend. A car pulled up at a stop sign near them and they saw a black man and a white man in the car together laughing about something. Her friend turned to her and said, “Now that’s a strange sight,” which caught her totally off guard because she is Asian American. She said she spent the rest of the walk wondering if her white friend thought it was strange that the two of them were walking together as well.

When I was in Zimbabwe, in Southern Africa, I got lost one day in the bustling city of Harare— a city of about a million people. I was riding my bike to get to the University, as I did everyday, and somehow I got on a road I didn’t recognize. When I stopped to ask the crossing guard where I was, he responded with a laugh, “You’re a long way from white town. You’ve got to go that way several miles.” To him, I was a strange sight— a white woman, on a bike, in pants nonetheless! No matter how adamant I was that I needed to get to the University of Zimbabwe, he just kept pointing me to “white town.”

Many years ago now in Minneapolis, I had the privilege to meet Michael. Michael had been coming to church for several months when he came to see me about becoming a member of the church. He and I talked about what it means to follow Jesus, about the membership covenant, about his desire to commit to a Christian community, and then Michael asked me what I thought about his being gay. He had grown up in the United Methodist church. His Dad was a Pastor in the Dakotas Conference. He was a child of the church and longed to have a community of his own now that he was an adult. But he wanted to know what I thought about his being a gay man because he had tried his whole life to keep it as a secret so that he didn’t have to lose his faith community— or his father. Michael grew up hearing that he is a beloved child of God; and yet he had also grown up being told that to be himself was too strange; to be himself was too outside of the norm; to be himself was too sinful to be in the church.

A Worldwide Communion of Love by Pastor Randy Johnson

A Worldwide Communion of Love by Pastor Randy Johnson

Of the Bible’s four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Matthew is usually thought of as the gospel most written in connection with the first followers of Jesus who, like Jesus himself, were born and raised in the Jewish community within the nation of Israel. This first small circle of disciples had formed Jesus’ spiritual and political base.  By following Jesus and publically declaring their faith in Jesus as the Messiah, these disciples had courageously challenged the status quo maintained by the alliance between their powerful Roman rulers and their own religious and community leaders.  These first followers of Jesus had risked everything in the belief that with God on his side Jesus would heal the division in their nation, unite the Jewish people and lead them in battle against their Roman oppressors. Their dream was that Jesus, as the victorious warrior- king of Israel, would re-establish the throne of David and the glory of the nation.

But, now after Jesus’ death and resurrection they understood that they had been wrong.  Their dream of national and personal glory, of remaking Israel into a world power, was a much too narrow vision.  Jesus had come from God for a much larger purpose.  Jesus was not only the Savior of the nation of Israel.  He was sent from God to bring all people together to create a whole new kind of world community- a communion of Jews and Gentiles, men and women, rich and poor- a worldwide communion where the power of God’s Spirit would break down all divisions by replacing fear and self-interest with love, hatred and violence with peace, oppression of many with freedom, justice and equality for all.  Simply put, by telling the story of Jesus as he did, Matthew was clearly lifting up the main lesson those first followers of Jesus had learned and wanted to pass on to future generations:  God sent Jesus into the world for love first: not for self-interest or national interest, but first because God loves the whole world and calls all who follow Jesus to do the same.

Defying Gravity by Pastor Leah Rosso

Defying Gravity by Pastor Leah Rosso

In 1927 a hotel operator, Raymond Orteig, offered a prize of $25,000 to the first person who could fly non-stop from New York to Paris. This was a huge amount of money at the time, around $330,000 for us today. Do you know who the contenders were?

Rene Fonck, a French World War I flying ace, would’ve been there except he had tried that flight just a few months before and had decided to do it with style. He had plush furniture aboard, wine and champagne, and lots of elegant food for all that time in the air. He packed so much, in fact, that he weighed in at 8,000 lbs over his 20,000 lb weight limit and decided to add an extra wheel instead of leaving anything behind. As you might imagine, the day he was to take off, among crowds of spectators, he never made it off the ground. Newspapers reported that as the plane roared faster and faster down the runway, it broke apart piece by piece until it ran off the runway and crashed in a fiery mess. Fonck narrowly escaped.

Another contender was a millionaire named Charles Levine. Levine wanted the ordeal to be showy to say the least. He hired two pilots, one of whom he wanted to fire later because he wasn’t sure he was handsome enough, and at the last minute tried to cheat his pilots out of their share of the winnings, having them sign a contract for a small percentage of the winnings. With all of the internal conflict, they remained grounded.

Next was a Naval officer named Richard Byrd, who prized safety above all else. He took every safety device he could, and sometimes two of them just in case. On one of the trial flights, Byrd had to make an emergency landing, and this deterred him even more as he continued to try to figure out the safest and surest way possible to get across the Atlantic.

The last contender was Charles Lindbergh. Lindbergh didn’t have a staff, a lot of supplies, or much comfort. He worked closely with the aircraft company to give his opinions on the design of the plane, and kept very clearly focused on his goal. He realized early on that the plane would need to be as light as possible, and in the end left behind even his radio and parachute. On May 19, 1927 Lindbergh took off in New York and 33.5 hours later, landed in Paris, 3600 miles away. He won the prize, becoming the first person to fly over the Atlantic without stopping. They called him Lucky Lindy, but not much of it was luck. He had a complete focus on the goal he wanted to achieve and in doing so, defied gravity in a way that had never been done before. (1)

So what does this do with our lives and the financial gravity that exists in them? Here’s the thing. I think all of us want to be generous. As much as there is an instinct in us to protect ourselves first, there’s also an instinct in us that longs to connect and to give of ourselves, to become generous people of God, whose image we reflect.

Breaking Free by Pastor Leah Rosso

Breaking Free by Pastor Leah Rosso

I’ve always been fascinated by the night sky, by what we are able to see and by what we aren’t able to see. When I was small my older brother used to try to scare me with the idea of black holes, since everything within its reach gets sucked into it. Gratefully, scientists say that there are no black holes within reach of our solar system, but that doesn’t mean they’re not common. Some scientists say that a new black hole is born every second. A black hole is born when an object is unable to withstand the force of its own gravity. (1) But what’s really interesting is that we can’t see them at all— we only know they exist by the behavior of the gas, dust, and light around them. (2)

Last week we began talking about what it means for us, as people of faith, to defy gravity— specifically the financial gravity in our lives. The same is true in our lives— the pull of money and stuff and wealth on our lives— that can feel like black holes. We can’t walk around looking at that gravity in our lives because its not dependent on how much wealth we have. But we can see it clearly in our lives and in the lives of those around us by the decisions we make about how to use the resources we have; of where and how to spend the money that we make; by our attitudes towards the people around us. The Bible is pretty clear that it’s not wealth itself that is bad. It is the pull of that wealth on our hearts and our loyalty. John Wesley himself, the man who began the Methodist movement in the 1700’s, said that we should make all of the money we can as long as it’s by faithful means; and he said that we should save all we can because he saw how people’s lives were torn apart by debt; and then he also said that we should give all we can— because everything we have is God’s anyway.