Waiting… for what?

Well, it’s been a while since I have blogged about anything.  I’ve waited to have something to say that I think that the few folks who visit here would be willing to read.  By waiting as long as I have, most folks who have cared about my thoughts have probably given up waiting.  And, those who have stuck around might be wondering why they even bothered after they read what I’m about to write.  Oh well, it is what it is.

Here we are in the season of Advent, a time when the Christian church and the followers of Christ are reminded that we live in a time of “expectant hope” (I know that I should attribute that phrase, but for the life of me, I cannot find where it originated).  We live with expectation of the coming of the Christ and the hope that he brings, at least we should.  But sometimes I think that our “expectant hope” gets lost in the busyness that marks this season.  By allowing the busyness and the cultural expectations of Christmas to crowd out the reflection and wonder of Advent, I believe that we truly lose all that is special about this time on our church calendar.

In this fast paced world of ours, I think that we need Advent more than ever.  We need to set aside time in our busy schedule to pause, to reflect, to listen, to seek, and to be.  And, if we take that time, even if it is just for “one brief shining moment,” we can find the strength that we need to move through this life.  Strength that comes from the One who was, who is, and is to come.

“For unto us a child is born.”  May we make time for Him to be born in us today.

Advertisements

The Tinker Toy Model

Aside

The following is part of a reflection that I wrote for a class in Personal and Social Ethics that I am taking at Emory University…

The three dimensional matrix demonstrated by the “tinker toy” model has certainly given me pause as I try to establish where I fit within the matrix.  From a political perspective, as shown on the vertical plane, I self identify to the far left.  On the vertical plane of denominational hierarchy, I am a local pastor, treasurer of the district ministers association, and a member of the Board of Buildings and Locations.  That places me not quite at the bottom, but on the lower end of the spectrum.  The third axis to determine where I fit in the modern to postmodern spectrum is the most difficult one for me to figure out.  I tend to be highly skeptical of what is perceived to be truth and certainty.  My BS meter is pretty sensitive and I prize authenticity above correctness.  I tend to search for grey amidst a worldview that seemingly demands black or white answers.  However, I do hold fast to the idea of an Ultimate Truth that is found in Christ and Christ’s revelation of the God of creation.  So, I guess that I will place my self somewhat to the postmodern side of the plane.

The rub in all of this self-identification, though, is that these points are not fixed.  They change as my life experience changes, as I become aware of new facts, as I interact with others, believers and non-believers alike, and they can change in response to specific situations at specific points of time.  They can also change depending upon where I happen to be in my understanding of God, my relationship to God, and my relationship to God’s people.  Does this make me “wishy-washy” in my views?  No, I believe that it makes me human and that it makes me true to myself and not just some arbitrary sets of rules and regulations that offer no flexibility and through which there is no place for grace.

Within the denomination, I shun the activism at both ends of the spectrum as I try to hold fast to the middle ground.  I believe that we do the Gospel a disservice when we are so dogmatic and rigid in our positions that we lose sight of the fact that we are dealing with people who are made in the image of God.  In a blog post that I read this week, Dr David F. Watson of United Theological Seminary questioned whether we were living in a time of “cultural cold war” in our nation and in the church as well.[1]  As the polarization becomes more pronounced, it is my hope that the voices of moderation, of which I feel I am one, would not be drowned out.

In light of Wesley’s sermon, “Catholic Spirit,” I believe that it is incumbent upon us to strive for the via media in all things.  We should hold fast to the values that strike at the heart of Christianity, but we should let grace abound and “think and let think” on those things that do not.  I admire Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter’s attempt at General Conference 2012 to amend the stance on homosexuality as stated in the Discipline to admit that we United Methodists are not of one mind on this issue and on others.  I despair that we cannot agree that we are in disagreement on these issues.  Dean Snyder, senior pastor at Foundry United Methodist Church, used to have a blog entitled “Untied Methodist.”  Unfortunately, I believe that we are becoming more untied than united.  With that in mind, I do wonder, if a split were to occur, what would this liberal, evangelical do and where would I go?  Would I stay with a more conservative church as a liberal voice in a place that would probably respect my status as a local pastor?  Or, would I choose to be a moderate to conservative voice in a more liberal church that would probably discount my calling as a local pastor?  Not an easy place to be.  So, I will continue to love God, love neighbor, and proclaim the Gospel as best I can.  I can do no other.


[1] Watson, David F., “A ‘Cold War’ in the Church?” at http://drwatsonselementaryblog.blogspot.com/2013/07/a-cold-war-in-church.html, accessed 7/27/13

Sunday Morning Coming Down

 

Week 2 of my annual sojourn to Emory University for the Course of Study is complete. I want to thank Steve Galyon for preaching for me today and Mike Feely for preaching for me next Sunday.  It is a nice change of pace to enjoy Sunday as Sabbath instead of work.

 

I am going to admit something that will probably come back to haunt me, but today is a day that I have “skipped” church.  I’ve spent time in my devotions and I had every intention of heading out to worship this morning, but there was something about just another cup of coffee as I sat in the silence of the room that was just so appealing.

 

 

So, I have listened to some folksy-bluegrassy-gospel music in the background while I have been reading, washing clothes and just relaxing.  So there.  I admit it.  And maybe I won’t have a whole lot of credibility the next time I give someone a sideward glance when they offer an excuse for missing worship, but this morning this is what I needed.  Sometimes it is necessary for us to just rest in the arms of the one who gave his life for us “while we were yet sinners.”

See you in a couple of weeks.

 

 

 

 

Ascension Sunday Sermon 2013

He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

Familiar words spoken almost every Sunday when we join with Christians throughout the world as we affirm our faith with the Apostle’s Creed.  A statement of faith almost as old as the faith itself.  Designed to combat the heresy that Jesus was only a spiritual being, that he never lived as a human being and that he could never have died for us because a spiritual being cannot die.  This phrase from the Apostle’s Creed speaks directly to the day that we celebrate today.

Today is Ascension Sunday.  This past Thursday marked the Feast of the Ascension.  On the 40th day after the resurrection, Jesus met with his disciples one final time.  His final words to them are reported with minor variances in the four Gospels, but there is a common theme.  In his final words, Christ commissions the disciples to go and preach repentance in Jesus’ name to all the nations.  In our Gospel lesson from Luke this morning, we hear:

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.  And see, I am sending upon you what my Father has promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.

Parallel texts can be found in all of the Gospels and in the opening of the book of Acts.

In John, we hear “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

In Mark, “Go into all the world and proclaim the Good News to the whole creation.”

At the opening of the book of the Acts of the Apostles, we hear “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

But the description of the final words of Christ that we know best are found in the Gospel according to Matthew:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

This Great Commission, as it has come to be known, along with the other scriptures, call all of us to a life of action.  Hear again the action words in the Great Commission:

We are to go.

We are to make.

We are to baptize.

We are to teach.

And, we are to remember.

When Jesus ascended to the Father as it is described in Acts 1, we hear these words: While he was going and they (the disciples) were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.  They said “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?  This Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”  The angels were telling them to get off their duffs and that the time was now to stop looking and start living; living the life that Jesus had called them to live and living into the commission that he had given to them.

Ours is a faith that cannot be contained or repressed.  We, who call ourselves followers of Christ must reach out to others in the name of the very Christ that we claim to follow to preach, to teach and to remember.

We are called to love one another as Christ loves us.

We are called to care for widows and orphans.

We are called to visit the sick and the prisoner.

We are called to provide food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, clothing and shelter for those who have neither clothing nor shelter.

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

As followers of Christ in the Wesleyan tradition, we believe that our greatest task is in reaching out in Christ’s name to the local community and to the entire world and to share the message that God loves us, that he cares for us and that he is there with us each and every moment of our lives.

John Wesley believed that there is no religion but social religion, no holiness but social holiness.  It is through our work as a community of faith that the Methodist movement has been known.  Throughout the history of the Methodist movement, we have advocated in favor of:

•         Better working conditions for the poor and oppressed

•         Educational opportunities for all

•         Compassion for the poor and needy

•         Care for widows and orphans

•         Dignity of life for the elderly and those who are physically challenged

Through the connectional system of the United Methodist Church, we continue to do these things in the local community and throughout the world.  Our work through the Tri-State Food Pantry, our support of Holston Home and Camp Lookout, our support of initiatives such as the Imagine No Malaria campaign, our collection for Change for Children and the collection of the food buckets for Zimbabwe are examples of how we try to fulfill the commission that we have been given by Christ.

We Methodists are known for our good works and we are sometimes criticized by others who say that we believe that Good Works will lead to salvation.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Good works are not the cause of salvation – good works are our response to the grace of God working in us to move us toward sanctification and perfection in love.

We move on toward perfection as we dive deeper into the scriptures and as we work to develop our relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  As we move toward perfection in this life, we find that many of the old things that used to interest us are no longer of any value to us.  We begin to move from faith in God to trust in God.

Does this mean that the life of one who professes Christ as their savior suddenly becomes easy?

Does this mean that all of your troubles and concerns will magically disappear because you have declared to follow the one who was crucified, died and was buried but who rose again in victory over sin and death and now sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty?

Does this mean that all of us who claim to follow Christ can put on our rose colored glasses and declare that the world is fine and just ignore the suffering of the world around us?  Not on your life!  The devil would like for us to think that way.  The devil would hope that we would think that “we’re saved…nothing and no one else matters.” Anyone who would believe that lie plays right into the devil’s hands.

Remember, of whom much is given, much is expected.  We have been given the greatest gift of all…the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ.  It is our responsibility to share that gift with everyone that we meet.  In fact Jesus told us that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with every fiber of our being and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

And let’s be frank.  This loving your neighbor business isn’t the easiest thing to do.  As a matter of fact, I’m not called to even like my neighbor, let alone approve of his or her laundry list of sins.  But regardless of who they are, where they are or what has happened to them, it seems that we all are called by God to heal wounds, provide food and lodging and comfort to those who are hurting and to show mercy to those who stumble or who have been knocked down.

I’m not called to like it.  I’m called to do it.  Whether I like it or not.

As we grow in our faith…as we grow in our love of Christ and one another, we will find that the service that we give to others will be the greatest gift that we give to ourselves, because we are enriched by the experience.

How can we accept the gift and not give thanks to the giver by living out the risk taking love that is expected of us?

All that we are and all that we can hope to be is the direct result of the Amazing Grace that God has showered upon us.

Before Jesus ascended to the Father, he gave us our marching orders.  Orders that call us all to a servant ministry that puts others first and calls us to love one another.  Orders that we cannot accomplish on our own.  Orders that can only be executed when we turn to the source of those orders and receive the power of the Holy Spirit to work through us to accomplish the ministry objective.

Because he lives, we can face tomorrow, freed from the fears that hold us back and prevent us from becoming the people that God wants us to be:  People who joyfully share the amazing love and the amazing grace of God with everyone that we meet.

It is a ministry that we all share.

We have our marching orders.

It is our bounden duty to accept those orders and go forth in his name.

Why?  Because it’s just what we’re supposed to do.

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Random Thoughts

I’m sitting here this morning listening to the music of The City Harmonic as I process my visit with a parishioner facing major health issues.  Emotions are welling as I remember my mother’s similar struggle that ended 20 years ago this month.  I realize now that I’ve never really dealt with the grief that I felt with mom’s death and I wonder how that has shaped my ministry to the sick and dying in the short time that I have been in a pastoral role.

These thoughts are creeping in as I am trying to finalize my preparations for Holy Week.  Beginning with 2 services on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday at Rising Fawn, Good Friday at Sand Mountain, the traditional Good Friday lock-in with the youth (Lord, in your mercy), and ending with the worship celebrations on Easter starting at sunrise.  Holy Week can be a killer… at least it is spiritually and emotionally draining for me.  So, where do I get the strength to do it?  I wish that I could say that my spiritual life and spiritual practices are so strong and deep that I have a tremendous well from which to draw, but I’m afraid that would be a lie.  I’ve fallen into the trap of my Bible reading to be focused on preparation of the sermon and my prayer life  is nowhere near what I want it to be.  I’ve allowed the “busyness” to overcome the Holy and I am diminished by that realization of truth.

I find that I am “preaching faith until I have it,” and encounters like this morning help to orient me back to the foot of the cross, back to the place where I fall to my knees and ask God to give me the strength, because I don’t have it on my own.  I can never have it on my own.  I am too broken, too prideful, and too much of a doofus to do any of this on my own.  Perhaps that is a place where we all need to be:  Acknowledging our dependence upon the One who calls us and equips us to do the work that He has called us to do.

My experience at the new Cokesbury

Today I needed to purchase the texts for my upcoming class on the New Testament so I turned to the internet and Cokesbury.com, the online presence of the soon-to-be-closed Cokesbury bookstores.  According to leadership at UMPH (the United Methodist Publishing House), Cokesbury.com is poised to compete with Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  Well Neil (Alexander, President and Publisher at UMPH), I hate to break the news to you, but if my experience today was any indication, you just need to go ahead and shutter the whole works right now.  I would imagine that the property at UMPH headquarters in Nashville, with its proximity to the new convention center, would make a pretty penny for the UMC if we were to sell it in the current market.

The class that I am taking is COS311-New Testament I at United Theological Seminary.  The text books are all common and respected titles.  At Cokesbury.com, I could only find 4 of the titles.  I could only locate 2 of those tiles by their ISBN.  I did not have this problem at Barnes & Noble or at Amazon.  At both of the commercial sites I was easily able to find all of the texts by ISBN without fail.  To top it off, the cost of the 4 books that I could locate at Cokesbury.com came to $133.88 before tax.  The cost at Barnes & Noble was $110.75 and the cost at Amazon was $110.72, both before taxes.  Plus, I would get free shipping at all but Cokesbury.  Needless to say, Cokesbury.com did not get my business.

What can we expect in the future?  If my experience today is any indication, I don’t really hold out much hope that there is much of a future for Cokesbury.  And when the lights are turned off, I have to wonder just what kind of future there will be for Wesleyan theology without a voice.  And that is the biggest disappointment of all.

Recovering Our Song and Story

This is my story,
This is my song.
Praising my Savior all they day long. (Blessed Assurance)

I have just returned from the Holston Conference Convocation for pastors at Lake Junaluska.  It was a special time apart on holy ground, sitting at the feet of Len Sweet as he led us to think about rediscovering our story and our song.

As United Methodists in the Wesleyan tribe, song is part of our DNA.  Our theology is expressed not in books, but in our hymnal, in the music of Charles Wesley.  As Christ followers, our story is God’s story expressed in the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us.  And, in both cases, we are one generation away from losing our song and our story.

I have just finished reading Manna and Mercy by Daniel Erlander.  Erlander distills the whole of the story between Creator and created into a form that is easily accessible to all ages.  I’m looking forward to introducing this to our youth.