Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Diary of a Country Priest

Well, I won't even attempt to unload everything that has happened in the past month. We just got high speed internet at our new home in Arkansas, and blogging has been kind of low on the totem pole as I have been getting used to a new town and a new job. I don't think I've managed to steer the ship too far off course--I've made some changes in the worship service, including a children's sermon that I have found no objections to. However, I've been told that the small changes that I have put into place have caused some unrest. Oh well.
The inevitable culture shock hasn't set in yet...Probably because we've been busy here at the house getting everything in place. Our cats seem to like all the space, and as I write this, Sid is behind me rolling around on the floor as if there were a patch of catnip growing there.
My sermons have seemed to be sufficient, and attendance has increased from my first to second Sunday. We also have a group of girls that have joined us from a nearby correctional facility work camp type of thing. It is great to have them in the service--they all sit together in their bright orange shirts. It is a great opportunity for my congregation to get to know them and minister to them and with them. We had an ice cream social the afternoon after this past Sunday service, and the girls apparently were excited about it when we made the announcement and asked their chaperones if they could come back, so they did. When a church member suggested they go first in the line, one of the girls looked astounded and said "Us?!" IT was genuinely heartbreaking, and evocative of "the last shall be first."
Well, that's enough for now, I'll delve more into this later. Also good news about our church food pantry--Maybe I can take a picture and have it available to post next time with a story.

IN case you'd like to read my first and second sermons, I'll post them too

Waldron Second Sermon

In case you want to know the texts, I preach from the lectionary. This one is Matthew 10: 40-42, the other one is Matthew 10: 1-8 I think. I'm tired

During the past couple weeks, Lara and I have been encountered numerous times with hospitality. Our refrigerator was stocked with some delicious food when we arrived at the parsonage, someone dropped by a flower arrangement for our dining room table, our yard was mowed for us while I was gone to annual conference, a welcome mat was placed on our doorstep, a churchmember babysat our nephew while the movers came to unload our stuff from the truck…the list goes on and on. What a blessing it is to be made to feel so welcome!

As I shook each of your hands and met you all this past Sunday, I experienced the “open hearts and minds” that also contribute to my sense of the great hospitality of this church. I thank God that I was appointed to a body of believers who are so adept at showing hospitality to their new pastor, and I encourage us all to direct the same outpouring of welcome into our community.

Read green highlighted #1

Hospitality is a time honored expression of our religion, and is written about fairly extensively in our Holy Scriptures. In the stories of our patriarchs and matriarchs, in the prophets, in the books of poetry and wisdom, in the Gospels, and letters, hospitality is celebrated as an activity worthy of God’s name.
In this passage, Jesus tells his disciples, “whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
Now in this day and age, many of us probably take cold water for granted most of the time. All I have to do to get a cold cup of water is to walk to my fridge and push a cup into the water spout on the door. I don’t even have to open the fridge! Furthermore, my house and workplace are so cool that I rarely feel the dry, cracking sensation in the back of my throat. If we transport our imaginations to the arid hills of Palestine though, we might be able to get a handle on how precious this gift potentially is. It is not a ladle of water, it is not tepid water, it is a glass of cold water! And to a “little one” no less! The high regard that this expression of hospitality conveys echoes very well the love and refreshment that God has in store for us!
What is this reward that Jesus is speaking about? In the Genesis reading, we heard about Abraham and Sarah hosting the 3 strangers, who turn out to be either angels of God, or an expression of the Trinity. Shortly after the three show up on Abraham’s doorstep, he is anxiously running around preparing a meal for them. After the hospitality was shown, the guests reveal an intended surprise—Sarah, even in her old age, will soon give birth to a son.
What a reward! Sarah responds as many of us would—she breaks out into a fit of laughter. Though the visitors don’t quite know why she’s laughing—we all do. Sarah is in her 90s or so, quite beyond childbearing years. This reward sounds pretty odd—it is not exactly something the two are expecting. In fact, it reorients their plans quite a bit—perhaps a bit of a white elephant. How many 90 year old couples are prepared to have a child after all! The reward is that God will use these two according two in the way that God has in mind. The hospitality shown by Abraham and Sarah proved to God that they are willing to act in a selfless way. Though the reward of a son will be a great joy to the two, the real reward is the opportunity to be utilized by God!

It has been my experience that hospitality is not just “open doors,” (to borrow 1/3 or our United Methodist motto). It also involves “open hearts” and “open minds” as well. To be sufficient catalysts for God’s energy, we must be completely at the will of our master, through our actions, through our thoughts, and through our emotions.

Another instance of hospitality occurs on the road to Emmaus in Luke’s Gospel. Two disciples are walking along a road after Jesus has died, and a fellow traveler joins them for a while, and joins in their conversation. They tell this fellow traveler about their master, and what he had meant to them. When they arrived at their destination, the traveler bids them farewell, but they invite him into their home. As they sit down to eat together, after the whole day of carrying on vigorous converstion with one another, they recognize the man as Jesus. What a reward! The scriptures say that Jesus was known to them “in the breaking of the bread—their eyes were opened—and then the man disappeared from their sight.
The two said to one another, “Wasn’t it like a fire burning in us when he talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?”
Whoever gives a cup of cold water will not lose their reward! As the three sat down with one another, the two disciples had open hearts and open minds toward their guest. They had shared in conversation those things that were most important to them, and the master rewarded them by opening their eyes.
………..Here read highlighted #2…………..
Creating peace on earth is a task that we commit ourselves to, but rarely know what to do to have any real impact in this regard. Here is something we can do—showing hospitality in this way, we create peace in our small corner of the world. This contributes to the overall achievement of peace in the whole world. What a reward for the people of God!
In what ways are we welcoming our fellow travelers on the journey of faith into this house? How are we bringing the peace and fellowship of hospitality to this community? I can assure you that in the short time that I’ve been here, I have noticed our open doors. We welcome all sorts of community groups into this beautiful facility next door that we built for that specific purpose. This is truly a cold glass of water for our community! We have extended invitations to youth groups from other churches to utilize our basement with its pool table, air hockey, and phooseball. What a cold glass of water for our community! Through our food pantry, we have helped provide for around 15 people in the week that I’ve been in the office. What a cold glass of water for our community! (by the way, This cold glass of water that needs to be refilled!!!) We have welcomed neighborhood youth onto our parking lot for a game of basketball. What a cold glass of water for our community! We are planning a Vacation Bible School that will be open to our entire community, whether or not the kid’s parents want to join the church. Now, when it comes to our worship of the most high---how can we better offer a refreshing glass of water to this community? Are we friendly and inviting to visitors that come through these doors? Are we flexible in our worship culture and social customs that are particular to this congregation, while being true to the body of believers who have established this place? Do we really want to open the doors of hospitality, knowing that the people we invite in may eventually influence change in this house of worship?
I believe we do! Based on the sincere welcome that my family has received, I would be willing to bring a weary fellow traveler to this house of worship for a meal. To put ourselves out on a limb by offering hospitality means that we are willing to be conduits for God’s action. God’s actions may surprise us, we may laugh, or our eyes might be opened to a new truth, but we can rest assured that the words of Christ will not fail us.

1st Sermon at Waldron

Happy Father’s Day, Indeed!
Today’s lectionary scripture is not exactly my ideal for a first sermon, especially on a Father’s Day like today—my first Father’s day. The themes are obviously difficult, and I’d rather not start out my ministry preaching on the idea that Christ brings a sword instead of peace, or that we are expected to love Christ “more than” we love our family. These topics are tough to digest—However, I believe in working with the lectionary. I have found it to be a tool that allows for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Now, certain scriptures are lacking from the lectionary (and it is somewhat surprising that today’s scripture is not lacking from the lectionary.) To be quite frank—this piece of our Gospel—what we call the “Good News” doesn’t sound very “good” at all, does it? Jesus sounds a little hard edged doesn’t he? Eugene Peterson, who has translated the Bible into modern English writes, “I have not come to make life cozy, I have come to cut. Make a sharp knife cut between son and father, mother and daughter, bride and mother and law. Cut through those cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God.” Now I know what you’re thinking. For all those who claim that Jesus was a married man, this is a perfect foil to their claims—who else but a single man would call the bond between a bride and mother in law a “cozy domestic arrangement?” Well,

This passage disturbs me to some extent. It goes against our cultural norms. Many in the Christian faith believe the guiding expression of our religion is “family values.” You hear this phrase quite a bit. I believe in family values too—as you can see, I have a very newly expanded family, and I value those two people with my own life. If you’re like me when you hear this passage, you may say to yourself, as I did, you may say “Come on now—I’m supposed to love some man who lived 2000 years ago who I wouldn’t even be able to speak with if I had a chance to meet him—I’m supposed to love this man more than I love my own son or this woman who I’ve chosen to spend my life with? Look here Jesus, just because you didn’t get a chance to have a wife and children doesn’t mean you have to ruin it for the rest of us!” What do I make of this commandment, and why does it sound so unlike the Jesus I know and love? Here he is, the prince of peace, telling us he hasn’t come to bring Peace to the world, but instead the sword.
As one of my professors in seminary liked to say, “Lets walk around in the ambiguity of this for a while.” It’s okay—we practice a paradoxical faith. Perhaps we can celebrate the grayness of our place in the world and be honest about it instead of trying to convince ourselves there is always a right or wrong. Easy answers in a black and white universe may be the most pleasant way to convince ourselves that we’re AOK with the world and with God, but I believe it is a distraction from the truth. If we’re lulled to sleep by our own faith, we will miss the mark every time. I don’t think that is what you are asking for either. I believe this church is accustomed to living in the tensions, living in this gray world of ours. I think this honesty about our place in the world is much more conducive to a genuine faith than the viewpoint that we can be absolutely right about something.

What is it that we are supposed to harvest from this vine in this day and age? It was no doubt written by a Christian community that faced a lot more strife and adversity because of their faith than we do in this day and time. Matthew remembers Jesus giving this speech during what some call the “missional” commissioning of the disciples. Jesus has unfolded the “fishers of men and women” invitation to the point that he is starting to forecast some pretty difficult obstacles to the emerging church. Christ knows that this love he is preaching about is dangerous to the world. It is not simply a fluffy, heartwarming experience—it is a radical inclusiveness that may feel like pinpricks on our spine. The message that we carry may indeed put us on the outs with our family, our community, and so on.

As a Danish philosopher from the 19th century named Sooren Kierkegaard observed, the moment Christianity starts becoming comfortable in society, that is the moment it needs revitalization. Christ’s message is one of forgiveness, of compassion, of the real abundance of simplicity. The message that we find so often in this culture is one of retribution, of distancing ourselves from the afflicted, and of the hollow abundance of consumerism. Indeed Christ brings a sword. Christ will not stand by while we amuse ourselves to death by affluenza. If peace is a satisfaction with the status quo, then Matthew is correct in saying Christ does not bring peace but a sword.
Paul picks up on the absurdity of our faith walk in his treatise on death to Sin and Aliveness to Christ. In Romans, Paul demonstrates that everybody is under the power of Sin. Yet, generally in Romans, when Paul mentions Sin, he is not talking so much about sin as an individual act of disobedience or bad behavior. He is talking about Sin as a cosmic power.
In other words, he is talking about Sin with a capital "S." Sin, as a cosmic force, is a tyrant that rules over the believer like a despotic monarch. Sin with a capital "S" is what creates sin with a little "s."
Eugene Peterson communicates this idea by speaking of our death to Sin and aliveness to Christ in terms of leaving one land and starting a new life in another land.
Instead of being alive to this tyrant, in Baptism we are dead to it. Being dead to this ruler, we are instead Alive in Christ to God. Instead of being wanted Dead or alive, like the posters in the Old West, We are wanted Dead and Alive by God! Can there be anything more black and white than “dead or alive” These are mutually exclusive terms aren’t they? However, Paul sees a need for us to live in the gray area—We are to be dead and alive.
Unfortunately, Sin has left its mark on every life. Sin’s signature is death. But the Good News of Romans is that there is a way to break the curse of Sin, and ironically, it is through death.
In other words, we must fight fire with fire. Sin rules over us like a tyrant, and it brings death. The only way to break free from the death of sin is through death— dying not in the natural realm, but in the spiritual realm. Dying in the spiritual realm for Paul is represented by baptism. Baptism is a powerful symbol of dying to Sin. Romans 6 is Paul’s reflection on the ethical implications of baptism. Baptism equals death.
Listen to Paul in Romans 6:3: "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?" In Romans 6, Paul reminds his hearers of the significance of their baptism.
To be baptized by the Spirit into fellowship with Christ is like a spiritual Fourth of July. Baptism into Christ is Independence Day. Baptism into Christ is understood as that moment when we break free from the hostile power of Sin, no longer being held captive by its seductive power.
Paul says that after we have been buried with Christ by baptism into his death, we are dead to Sin. Now, I want to be crystal clear on a point. To be dead to Sin does not mean that we never again transgress. It should, however, mean that we will not be dominated by Sin. As long as we are in the flesh, we are prone to making mistakes— mistakes for which we can sincerely seek pardon. However, once we have been baptized into Christ, Sin no longer should have dominion over us. Sin should no longer rule over us because now we have divinely-bestowed authority.
As we mature in Christ, stumbling blocks after a while should start becoming stepping stones for us to move up in Christ. But in order for this to happen, we must be dead to sin and alive to God in Christ. As Paul says in verse 4, when we are alive to God in Christ, we will walk in the newness of life. When we are dead and alive, life is definitely new in us, because in the Christ’s country, life is completely different.
Christians who are dead to Sin and alive to Christ don’t live like they did in the old land. There are new customs in the this new country. As Peterson translates, “When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace--a new life in a new land!” As the old hymn goes"What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought, since Jesus came into my heart."
If we take seriously Paul’s words in Romans 6, every day there should be a funeral in the life of the Christian. None of us have been completely conformed to the image of God, but every day, we ought to lay to rest something that is not like God, which hinders us from having a closer walk with God. Paul says, “Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to us…and God speaks our mother tongue, and we hang on every word.”
Paul knows being crucified with Christ sometimes tears you away from those comfortable places we know and love. Christ comes to cut like a surgeon. The cancerous infection of Sin is removed from our lives, and our lives become truly alive. As this sword divides us from the old tyrant of Sin and death, our lives are cut loose and freed for God. Freed to open our eyes to God’s kingdom, which is all around us as Jesus says in Luke 17:21. In our newly minted lives in Christ, we have the capability to not only see this kingdom, but to share it—Not only to hope for it but to enact it. As we witness to the beauty of this new life in the shining presence of the Light—it emerges within us for the world of Sin. I believe this church knows what it means to be a beacon to the old world. Through our food pantry, through our hospitality to several community groups who show exploration, hope, and recovery to our community, through our interest in being a reinvigorated ministry for our neighbors through the igniting ministries project, through our Bible studies and prayer circles, we are in the process of refracting the light of the kingdom of God onto this beautiful area of land we call Waldron Arkansas. Christ called it a sword, but it sure looks like light to me.
Now into all this amb, God injects a bit of surety. I say a bit of surety, but this small truth is big enough to stake our whole lives on. In the midst of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar’s shifting sands of a crumbling family, God injects some bedrock or God’s provides some bedrock. It says in the Scrip that God heard the cry in the wilderness and God said, “do not worry. I will create a great nation for Ishmael.” In Jesus’s frightening missional speech which warms us of the perils of discipleship, and flips our conceptions of his purpose like he flipped those tables in the temp. Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.” In the confusion of Paul’s revelation of our death and life (look at scriptures – You are alive in Christ??), the perfect simple truth that gives us meaning in the midst of a life of grey is this: God loves us! Though we do not fool ourselves with the notion that life in this world as a Christian is black and white, we have a real, tangible proof for the existence of our hope in the Kingdom to come. God loves us and God loves the world. Sometimes this love is like the lap of Jesus for the children, and sometimes this love is like a drawn sword to our idolatries. What is sure is that it is love.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

We were having a good conversation, and then he just started smiling and saying, take my picture dad.  Posted by Hello