Ordinary Time: Fear

 

At the beginning of the week and throughout the weeks leading up to the topic of Fear I thought I had a plan.  I thought I had a good idea about what to talk about, but then news broke early in the week about two police officer involved shootings of men of color.  Then many officers were killed in Dallas during a rally with others injured.

Needless to say, there were some plans that were changed as the stories developed.  With each story my heart broke, and I asked over and over again the question “Who am I to have a voice on this?” “Who am I to deliver some insight to my faith community about situations that I have so little experience.”

I am just ordinary, me.  Maybe that is the point that through this ordinary time we are able to see that in the ordinary we are able to find a voice and action to make an impact in combatting the things our world would have us fear.  It is not hard to find the brokenness, but joy and empowerment is something different.

My hope, at the end of the day, was to encourage us to name God for God and then realize our (each of us) role in pushing out the fear around us with the love that comes with knowing our gracious God.

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Ordinary Time: Virtue

This past weekend was all about virtue.  Not a word that we use too much today, but one that is critically important.  Our Lectionary readings for the day were:

  • 2 Samuel 6:1-5; (the ark is brought into Jerusalem)
  • Psalm 24; the glory of God (connect to the ark and exalting God)
  • Ephesians 1:3-14;’believer’s blessing Ephesians 1:14 (CEB)14 The Holy Spirit is the down payment on our inheritance, which is applied toward our redemption as God’s own people, resulting in the honor of God’s glory.
  • Mark 6:14-29 death of John the Baptist

N.T. Wright says virtue is a revolutionary idea that we need to embrace in his book “After You Believe” (you can pick up a copy on Amazon here.  You will not be disappointed)

Here is a word about what virtue is from Wright’s book:

Virtue, in this strict sense, is what happens when someone has made a thousand small choices, requiring effort and concentration, to do something which is good and right but which doesn’t “come naturally”— and then, on the thousand and first time, when it really matters, they find that they do what’s required “automatically,” as we say. On that thousand and first occasion, it does indeed look as if it “just happens” but reflection tells us that it doesn’t “just happen” as easily as that.

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Ordinary Time: Faith

 

This weekend’s conversation is all about faith.

With a broad swath of lectionary readings we are able to see what  faith is lived out like.

Here are our readings for this weekend:

  • 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27; (David learns about Saul’s death)
  • Psalm 130; (psalm of the temple dedication)
  • 2 Cor 8:7-15; 2 Corinthians 8:7 (CEB)  7  Be the best in this work of grace in the same way that you are the best in everything, such as faith, speech, knowledge, total commitment, and the love we inspired in you.
    Mark 5:21-43 (jesus heals the woman bleeding for 12 years and the 12 year old who was dead

In the lectionary we see a few things that we learn about faith

1. Faith allows us to Pause to see the bigger picture

First we take a look at David and his ability to step back in a time of potential personal gain and mourn with his people because of the bigger picture.  He is mourning, and telling his people to mourn.  This is tragic. Period.  This loss is crushing. Period! And we don’t need to fill the silence with anything but our sorrow and hurt at this point.  To do anything else would trivialize or take away from the current events and dehumanize the fallen king and his son.

David knows that there are times (more than he would to admit) where it is not about him.  David knows there is a bigger picture at play than simply his personal advancement.  Faith is committing to God’s plan over our own.  In one of the commentaries I read this week was one written by Walter Breggeman where he talks about our hardship to mourn publicly and the need to come together through faith to see the larger picture: 

the prospect of public grief is a scarce practice in our society, where we are so engaged in self-deception, pretending that everything is “all right.” Underneath that propaganda, however, we are a deeply troubled community with a great deal of unprocessed public hurt. We have no easy way to process hurt, but this poem is a model. For obvious starters, we have yet to finish with the residue of racial hate left from the Civil War. We have scarcely faced the ghosts of anti-Semitism made visible in the Holocaust. We have not yet tapped the horror of Vietnam. We have yet to acknowledge that our long history of wars is not a set of triumphs but an endless process of “bow against fat,” of “sword into blood,” of death for the lovely and beloved. The earth, like Gilboa, stands deeply cursed. The voice of contemptuous Philistines mock in their outsider status. The purveyors of haughtiness on the inside only go on shopping and consuming and do not notice. This text is a noticing, and its noticing places hard questions before us. What permits one to notice the grief and loss of life around us? How can we break in on our muteness? How can we acknowledge the triumph of brutality in our self-deception? When shall we find words, and who dares sing of intimacy broken, of loss unspoken that must be spoken, of greatness overwhelmed by the savage power of death? David sings about the poignancy of human anguish. These questions may find their buoyant answer if we join the song of relentless, candid faith.

Brueggemann, Walter. First and Second Samuel: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Kindle Locations 4228-4238). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation.

2. Faith Gives us grit Continue reading…

Ordinary Time: Story Resources

For the past few weeks I have been having a great time gathering materials for my messages. However, like so many other weeks there is so much good stuff and only tome for a little bit of conversation.  So, for the first post in a long time I am going to give a little outline of the message and some of the additional resources that I mention in the message as well as some others that I have been liking while researching and studying this week or while I have been prepping for the message.

We will see how it goes or what it feels like.  This week seems like a good fit because I feel like I have a story welling inside and I struggle at times with the best way to get it out.  This might be a way to get some of the floodgates opened up.

So, this past weekend my congregation continued a series called Ordinary time.  It is following the Lectionary and we are trying to lean into the time in the church year that is from the Sunday after Pentecost to the beginning of advent.  It is a long period that we are not getting ready for Christmas or Easter.  We are using an amazing book by author and pastor Erik Willits. Check it out from his website right here.

This is the 4th week in the series that will take us through the summer

The scripture readings for this weekend were: 1 Samuel 17:1, 4-11, 19, 32-49; Psalm 9:9-20; 2 Cor 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

Ordinary Time: Story Message Outline

We are called to be Spiritual Biographers.  We write (through our words, deeds and ideas) about the why God interactions with creation.  We share the grace and heartache of humanity.  The reality is that the story we are writing is the only Good News (gospel) others will be reading.

Ordinary time gives us an opportunity to get our story straight and prepare to write the next chapter.

The lectionary reading give us 2 guides this week 1. David and Paul.  From them we learn 3 critical things that a good spiritual biographer does.

  1. Know your story–Before Goliath David has a history of protecting the the sheep from predators. He also knew that God was with him and he was anointed to do great things.  In knowing his story, he was able to step-up to Goliath when no one else would.
  2. Set up camp in the discomfort zone–Standing before a giant David chose sling and stone over sword and shield.  He knew it was going to be risky, but he was confidently entering into unknown territory and setting up camp.  Paul understood what it was to be uncomfortable for the glory of God (see the 2 Cor reading).  For both of these men setting up camp in the discomfort zone meant that they would be able to make history.
  3. Write the next chapter–we don’t stay in the discomfort zone forever.  Either we are called to a new place or we face Goliath and that place is no longer uncomfortable.  But we do tell the story.  David kept Goliath’s sword as a reminder of the way God delivered him.  Remembering and writing the next chapter in our spiritual biographies allows us to set way points along the trail of more fully trusting God.

Monday Moment–So what? Why does this matter

We are the only gospel some of our friends will ever read. What does your story say about God? Is it Good News?  As Spiritual Biographers we want others to read our lives and know what God is all about.  This week try this:

Make a list of the 5 people who you have the most contact with, and then:

  1. Pray for them that they may be blessed by God’s grace this week
  2. Look for an opportunity to get into the discomfort zone and share (a little bit more) of your story with them.  This could be over lunch or coffee or just during a pause in your day.  Have meaningful conversation to get to know one another more deeply.
  3. Write the next paragraph: promise to continue the conversation or offer to do it again.  Write the story with your friends in it.  Faith is a team sport.

Some resources I came across this week:

Tell Someone: You Can Share the Good News: check it out on amazon

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants: Check it out on amazon

Another Thought on Online Communion

The other day an article crossed my twitter feed “What’s so wrong about online communion?” As a pastor who recently launched an online campus this struck at the heart of what we are trying to do. To see the post that i am responding to please follow this link

After a time of prayer and thought the article still nagged at me.  So I wrote up a little google doc with the intent to post a response in the comments section yet there is no real place for further dialogue.  Adding to the noise on other social media doesn’t seem the prudent course either.  So where better to share my personal opinion on the matter than my personal (and seldom used) blog.  So, that being said, here are the thoughts that my little Google doc contained.

 

Thanks for your thoughtful article.  I admit that I read it because of the title and found myself drawn in and it gave me a lot to think about during a run and session at the gym.  It also has given me an opportunity to think about not just what I think about the sacrament of communion, but perhaps more importantly as a Methodist how I have gotten to where I am about my beliefs.  This being said I am come to see your response to Taylor W. Burton Edwards’ article as an open up of dialogue.  I feel that the role and “order” or the sacraments are central to faith experiences and should be examined over prayer and conversation by those commissioned to uphold such issues of Word, Sacrament, Service and Order.  In the case of the UMC this would be primarily the function of the fully ordained elders of the church.  

At first blush I found myself agreeing with the spirit of Edwards’ article.  I know that I would be more enthusiastic about it if I were writing a paper for seminary.  But like many well thought plans, my mind drifted to my ministry field and that of my friends.  

I know that my wife, a fully ordained elder, is currently serving her full-time appointment while serving as  elder in charge for 2 other local congregations who have no pastor currently.  Preconsicration is the only way that these 2 churches would be able to gather and share in the sacrament if they want to gather in their home church.  I guess the other option is for them to find another faith community to partake the sacrament. But there is something about being with those who are part of your faith community that adds dimensionality to the Holy Mystery.  When I think of the state of affairs that the church is in, we do run into a logistical problem of not having enough Elders.  The cause for this is not that our churches are growing at a rate  that we cannot keep up with, but many retire and young clergy are turned off or are not encouraged to do ministry in ways that are meaningful and relevant to those without a church home.  So we find a way, as our history of being practical theologians, so to speak – making it work.  Wesley broke from the Church of England and Asbury did what he needed to to get more pastors in pulpits.  

I don’t have much experience with “drive-through” communion so I cannot speak to that.  However I can say to use it as a basis against online communion is suspect (let’s do away with the word “virtual” we aren’t trying to consume pixels as if they are the host).  

That brings us to point #3; we shouldn’t practice online virtual communion.  As a pastor of a faith community that has an online campus I am conflicted about this.  I am not sure where I stand on the practice of the Eucharist with an online community, but I do know that the reasons that have been voiced don’t hold enough weight to forego thinking about how to faithfully have TRUE communion online.  I am willing to bet that those who are speaking out against the practice have not encountered an authentic online community.  For many, the possibility of celebrating the sacrament online isn’t even a concern. This is because for 99% of faith communities worship online is not an option.  

The argument that is gnawing at me is the assumption that there is no authentic connection or community online.  Sure, I will agree that we polish the things we place on facebook and other social streams, but Facebook is not the internet.  Let us not forget than the primary way we communicate is not face to face but via text, e-mail, snapchat, twitter, a phone call, Skype and many other over the air means.  To say we cannot have online communion because of a lack of authentic community online is like blaming the hammer for hitting your thumb when framing a house.  The web is a tool and the way we use it is up to us, #freewill.  To imply that we can’t participate in the sacrament for this reason, would mean that when we participate in the Eucharist in real life no one in our congregation is faking it or putting on a mask to hide their current state of affairs.  Online and in person we are a broken people in need of restoration.  

At our online campus we have been able to unite parents with their daughter who is studying in Ecuador, reconnect a number of young adults who have been absent from church for a while because of hurt, work schedule or because they cannot find a church that accepts them.  So, FaithPoint is the place they connect, it just happens to be our online campus.  A positive side of the web’s anonymity is that snap judgements based on appearance are not made.  We frequently have people who would NEVER worship in the same space together because of theological perspective differences coming together and engaging in healthy life-giving conversation.  It is amazing.  

Further, we believe in God who transcends time and space.  God is no more with me than God is with you (wherever that might be).  Online we offer prayers communally, and I don’t think that they are more or less effective than those offered under 4 walls of stained glass.  I do know that scripture does call us to not neglect meeting together, I feel strongly that the web allows us to do this in powerful ways.  Sure, all of my social media connections are not worshiping online with me.  But I have prayed with, had life giving conversations with and been blessed by the authenticity of those who are my community online.  Those who are worshiping together are gathering at a particular time, at a particular (web)address and worshiping to the same music and message at the same time.  I would much rather someone have the option to connect with a community online and become a deeper disciple than wander the wilderness of church shopping week after week without even so much as a greeting from the indigenous churchgoers.  I am not saying it have to be your cup of tea grape juice, but that doesn’t mean God cannot transform lives in powerful ways online.  If the Spirit can warm a heart after studying Luther’s introduction to Romans, the Son can be raised from the dead and the Creator can paint sunsets in fall, then isn’t there a possibility that we can encounter and be enfolded into the Holy Mystery as one body but in different rooms?

Like I said up top, I am still working though some of my understanding of this.  But to argue against an online community practicing communion because of authentic community just doesn’t cut it for me.  My intent is not to come across as another internet troll, but open this important conversation.  I would love to discuss this further over some coffee at a coffehouse or via Google Hangouts with a diverse panel to see how we may preserve the sacredness of communion while realizing there are powerful ways to do ministry that no one is doing, YET.  @CMBishop on the Twitter

One Proud Pastor

There are times where my heart bursts with pride because of the faith community that I get to serve.  For the past month and a half we have taken a look at different religions of the world.  Each week we laid the foundations for the beliefs for each religion and then sought out some of the similarities between Christianity and the others.  Additionally, we attempted to see where we can be reminded of the depth and wonder of the Christian faith by seeing how other faith traditions may call us to refocus on some aspect of Christianity.  We also spoke honestly about the differences.

The goal of this series was that we could sit down for a cup of coffee with someone of a different faith and no one have to give up our beliefs or convictions, but we could both be more deeply committed to our faith because of the conversation.

The series, it gave me a platform to make connections with many people who I wouldn’t have connected with otherwise.  I met many hindu, buddhist, jewish, atheist, muslim and even some christian folk who shared their story with me.

There was a lot of trust placed in the church and prayer for the Spirit’s guidance during this series.  The leadership, worshiping congregation and FaithPoint community at large took a big risk with these conversations.  As a community of faith committed to making our belief and practice a real everyday part of our lives these conversations needed to happen.

This past weekend we partnered with a local mosque and have a panel of young people come and talk (over coffee) about the core beliefs and practices of Islam as well as some of the differences.  This was our chance to show that the kinds of conversations that we had been encouraging throughout the series are really possible.  We had 5 young people come and be part of the conversation.  Some were in high school, others in college and one is a teacher at the middle school that we worship.

To be honest I was nervous.  For weeks I struggled with how much of the conversation should be outlined ahead of time and how much should be organic.  I knew this was a conversation we were called to facilitate, but the “what ifs” kept creeping in.  I had only met 1 of the students ahead of time.  But if we are going to model this kind of conversation the more “real” it could be the better…right?

So, I sent out our order of worship to the group ahead of time along with contact info and about 5 questions to guide the conversation.  That was all the pre-conversation scripting that happened.  I was determined that there would be no surprise for these young people and FaithPoint’s leaders and those serving last weekend were a huge part of making them feel comfortable.  Emails were sent to their parents and FaithPoint’s leadership affirmed how these young people were brave coming into “our” space to share. “So let’s make sure they know they are our special guests,” one of my leaders said.

The time came for the conversation and it was easy and natural.  The coffee was also great.  I had a blast!!! I learned so much, made great connections and couldn’t believe how quickly the time went.  The best part was that we were able to say we needed to do it again rather than outright ending the conversation.

BUT THEN…. worship ended and the FaithPoint community descended on our guests.  I stood back and watched as the group was surrounded by a whole church full of people saying thank you, giving hugs, and in tears that we could come together and find common ground.  I watched as a proud parent at the playground when their kids interact with others.  My heart was overflowing.  We were late getting cleaned up because of the rich connections that were happening.

I know this interaction couldn’t happen everywhere, but FaithPoint is one of those places called to be a forum for this kind of conversation and I couldn’t be more pleased, proud and blown away that I get to be their pastor.

Thank you , Thank you, thank you for being the church you have been called to be as we all grow in God’s grace together rather than the church that is comfortable resting on “the way it has always been.”

Hope Worth Sharing

Today I took a run and found myself at the future home of New Hope UMC, and their mission statement “A Hope Worth Sharing,” kept going through my mind.  My intention was not to run out to the property, but that is where I ended up.  I guess I can’t get enough Brunswick hills in the 90 degree heat.

My path took me past apartments, section 8 housing, the High School, doctor’s office, a beautiful development of single family homes, farms, local businesses and much more.  I remember the conversations and memories that I have had at different locations on my run with friends and family.  While I was caught in a little bit of a daydream, watching some workers from the electric company, I came upon the Olive School Road property.

Pausing my workout, I walked the foundation of the church and prayed.  Thinking about the gift that the church has been to me, I prayed. Knowing the blessing the community of faith will continue to be for my family, I prayed still more.  I prayed for about a mile, walking the foundation.  Imagining the classrooms, worship services, fellowship meals, tough conversations and the movement of the Spirit in that place was humbling.

The simple act of walking and praying, praying and walking, is a powerful spiritual act of discipleship for someone who has a hard time sitting still.  Above all I prayed that the church (both in brunswick and universal) may be a place of hope.  My hope worth sharing is that the church could be a place where we share in the spectrum of life as we seek to follow Christ more fully. While walking the foundation prayers came of the generations past that laid the foundation for the church, the church of today who put up the walls and calendar of events that are filled with ministry that reaches out to the church of the future.

There is New Hope that we have as disciples.  It is not a Star Wars, long long time ago in a galaxy far far away kind of Hope.  It’s a hope that is right here right now, in our neighborhoods and schools.  Not a lightsaber and jedi mind tricks kind of new hope.  It is a hope that finds its place in the open conversations of faith at the pub and in the sunday school classes, in the christmas pageants and the worship celebrations.  It’s a hope that bridges community and church in the yard sales, mission trips and softball teams.  Above all it is a hope that finds a way in tears of loss, sobbs of unanswered questions and the brokenness of selfish relationships.

This hope worth sharing is bigger than the worst day, or diagnosis or mental illness, or child who makes a poor choice.  It is a hope that promises a better way.  A way paved with tears of joy not sorrow, a way shalom and completeness, a way that is eternal not temporal.

The best news is that the victory is already won, and we are invited to participate in that victory.  WE are called to partner with God in this Hope that is worth building right now!

……

So now, prayer time over, time to find my way back home.

One mile, one peak, one valley at a time, and with each step trying to proclaim in very ordinary ways an extraordinary “hope worth sharing.”