Searching the Lectionary

LectionarySo…does anyone know why I’ve received so many hits for a lectionary passage the week after it appears in the lectionary? I’ve had several hits from people searching for Luke 14:1, 7-14.

The same thing happened the last time I posted a sermon based on a passage from the lectionary, and it always happens a week late. Anyone else have the same experience? Any clue as to why this happens? Are there folks out there who preach a week behind so they can get fresh stuff from blogs etc? 😉

Ordination Questions: The Quadrilateral

4.) The United Methodist Church holds that Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason are sources and norms for belief and practice but that the Bible is primary among them. What is your understanding of this theological position of the Church?

In a recent book by Bishop William H. Willimon, we find the following statement, “Scripture is clearly – in Wesleyanism and in us – primary.”[1] At the same time, Willimon describes the quadrilateral itself as our primary pattern of thought and a means of interpretation, “[the quadrilateral] enables us to play some essentials of Christian thought in concert with one another.”[2]  In other words, although Scripture is our primary, “source and criterion” for theological reflection and mission in our world, we never approach it alone.  Instead, we approach Scripture together with the entire household of faith (tradition), as believers and participants in the Body of Christ (experience), who hold its truths so valuable that we submit them to the most rigorous of inquiries (reason).  Even though Scripture is our primary source and criterion, we are not fundamentalist in the way we seek to interact with it.  Anglican Bishop Tom Wright could be describing a United Methodist view of Scripture when he writes, “The Bible is there to enable God’s people to be equipped to do God’s work in God’s world, not to give them an excuse to sit back smugly, knowing they possess all God’s truth.”[3]  Above all else, United Methodist Christians believe that Scripture issues a call both to belief and action in our world.  Arguments over the exact nature of Scripture’s power are far less important to us than living out God’s will in our world while holding a rich conversation with the witness of the scriptural narrative. 

In the local Church, I have found that this approach is greatly valued.  People who have experienced being confronted in unhealthy ways with Scripture are able to fall in love with God’s Word once again when they realize they can ask difficult questions and wrestle with Scripture without being afraid they will come up empty or with handfuls of easy answers.  I believe we need to continue to emphasize the dynamic interplay between scripture, tradition, experience, and reason as a key component of our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

 


[1] Willimon, William H. United Methodist Beliefs: A Brief Introduction.  (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox

    Press, 2007) p. 66

[2] ibid, p. 117

[3] Wright, N.T., Simply Christian (New York: Harper Collins, 2006), p. 184.

Sunday Sermon: Luke 14:1, 7-14 – God’s Table Etiquette

In recent years many people have criticized the decline of etiquette and manners in our world. To many, it seems that society has grown accustomed to things that would have been considered incredibly rude only a decade or so before. My Grandma was always in charge of patrolling this area for my family. Even though Grandma and Grandpa didn’t have much in the way of material things, this was by no means an excuse to be uncivilized! There would be no elbows on the table, the forks were always on the left, and you most certainly did not come inside the house without taking off your hat or cap! So this morning, in memory of my Grandma Pauline, I want to give you a little reminder of some important Table Manners. So, here are ten simple table manners from Emily Post’s daughter Lizzie, who has updated them just a bit for this generation: 1.) Chew with your mouth shut. 2.) Avoid slurping, smacking, blowing your nose, or other gross noises. (If necessary, excuse yourself to take care of whatever it is you need to take care of.) 3.) Don’t use your utensils like a shovel or as if you’ve just stabbed the food you’re about to eat. 4.) Don’t pick your teeth at the table. 5.) Remember to use your napkin at all times (contrary to popular belief, this is not the reason shirt sleeves were invented – that addition is from Grandma). 6.) Wait until you’re done chewing to sip or swallow a drink. (The exception is if you’re choking.) 7.) Cut only one piece of food at a time. 8.) Avoid slouching and don’t place your elbows on the table while eating (though it is okay to prop your elbows on the table while conversing between courses.) 9.) Instead of reaching across the table for something, ask for it to be passed to you. 10.) Always say ‘excuse me’ whenever you leave the table.

We won’t take a poll on how many of those you all follow, because today I want to talk about a different kind of table etiquette – a kind that comes from a significantly higher authority than Emily Post’s daughter! Someone once said that in the book of Luke you always find Jesus coming to a meal, at a meal, or leaving a meal, and that is true in this passage. Jesus had been invited to the home of one of the leading Pharisees, but it wasn’t just your average social occasion. The passage shares the real reason for the invitation – they were watching Jesus closely.

This group of Pharisees and religious scholars probably wanted to give Jesus a very thorough test, but in a surprising twist, the only observations made at the table came from Jesus himself, as he began to comment on their table manners. You see, the religious and social culture of that day had very strict and well-developed list of social rules for eating together, and there were an incredible number of do’s and don’ts. The ways you interacted in these settings were very much tied to your social standing and your place in society. The place you sat at the table was incredibly important and determined your social rank, so we may not be surprised to find that as they sat down to eat, there was a great deal of jockeying for position.

Lest you think we’re above this kind of behavior, and social ranking has nothing to do with your seating, just think about your last family Thanksgiving or Christmas gathering. Maybe your family has a “kids table” that still has thirty and forty year olds sitting at it?! At Nanci’s family gatherings, those of us who are the younger adults in the family had to wait until we had enough kids to populate the kids table with grandkids in order to get to sit with the adults! In my family, my Dad sat in the same spot at the table for as long as I can remember! And even though we might think these kinds of things don’t really matter in our day and age, it was a little bit awkward the first Thanksgiving after my Dad’s death, because no one else had ever sat in that place.

Jesus noticed how the people put a great deal of effort as they jostled for position at the table, so he began to teach through a parable. He told the people gathering around the table the best way to go about choosing a seat. “If you’re invited to a banquet, don’t simply sit in the place of honor. You just might not be the most honored person there, and it will be incredibly humiliating when your host asks you to give up your seat and you have to traipse back down to the children’s table…” Instead, Jesus says, “Sit at the least honorable place, so that your host can invite you to the higher place. Then you’ll receive a great honor.”

Now what happened next is the most surprising, because Jesus doesn’t stop with what may have been accepted as reasonable and practical advice. Instead he challenged the very notion of what honor and privilege were all about as he turned to look at the host and challenged the practical wisdom and etiquette of the day.

Meals like this one were not just occasions to gather, eat, and talk; they were occasions to build your own reputation and connections. Gifts, such as an invitation to a meal, weren’t free but were tied to obligations to those who accepted the invitation. If you gave out an invitation, you expected to receive one in return. In a way, these dinner invitations were a lot like political rallies. You’re invited to attend, but there are expectations that are tied to the invitation. But Jesus turned this on its head when he said, “When you have a big meal, don’t invite all the people you’d normally think of inviting, just because they can invite you in return and pay you back. Instead, when you throw a party, invite the poor, cripples, lame, and blind because they can’t repay you. And in the end, you’ll receive your reward, not from them, but at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Jesus gave them, and he gives us, a completely different kind of table etiquette. In those days, common wisdom and social etiquette said jockey for position. Jesus said God’s etiquette calls for something completely different – all who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted. In those days, common wisdom and social etiquette was to invite those who can give in return. Jesus said that God’s etiquette reminds us to invite the very least: the poor, lame, and blind. And when we show generosity to those who can never give in return, Jesus says that we’ll find out something incredible. You won’t be repaid in the usual way, but you’ll be repaid by the very God who created every man, woman, and child. God himself will be the one who gives in return for those who are unable in the resurrection of the righteous.

Jesus shows us that God’s table etiquette operates with an entirely different way of looking at the world, and I believe that is directly connected today with our celebration of Holy Communion today. At God’s table, everyone is welcome. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, able or disabled, young or old, white, black, Asian, or Hispanic. As we kneel at Christ’s table today, we are shoulder to shoulder and elbow to elbow with people from all walks of life. Because around Christ’s table, we are all one receiving the very same grace, love, and forgiveness that only God can give. Kneeling at the feet of Jesus Christ, we are all loved, we are all cared for, and we have all been offered the same gift of forgiveness and Salvation. As we prepare our hearts and minds for communion today, let us pray that God will give us the grace to practice the kind of etiquette we learn at God’s table outside these walls in our daily lives – that’s the kind of etiquette that will truly be rewarded…

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 

 

Ordination Questions: Christ’s Lordship & the Holy Spirit

3.) What effect has the practice of ministry had on your understanding of (a) the Lordship of Jesus Christ and (b) the work of the Holy Spirit?

On any given Sunday a visitor to the congregations I serve will hear sixty or more voices united in confession saying these words: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord… Although we certainly mean this in some sense, often I am afraid that if we’re not careful, we might miss the incredibly life-altering and subversive message that this commitment signals.

An exploration of the original context for these proclamations reveals the revolutionary nature of this commitment. The word gospel is our rendering of the Greek word euangelion, which was not only used in connection with Jesus, but was also a word used in connection with the birth of Caesar Augustus. [1] This Roman Emperor’s birth was hailed as good news because he was also seen as kyrios, which primarily is a word that refers to power and authority.[2] Salvation

in the first century Mediterranean was intimately connected to the order and rule of Rome. In this cultural milieu, the phrase, “I believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord,” would have been an extremely subversive statement to make. As Anglican Bishop Tom Wright is fond of saying, it means that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not. Confessing Jesus as Lord meant placing your trust and hope in one who exhibited a completely different set of values than the prevailing wisdom of the world. From the earliest times, Christians believed that their trust in Jesus was warranted because he was in fact, “the exact imprint of God’s very being.”[3]

The practice of ministry has shown me that this continues to be an extremely difficult call to follow even after nearly two thousand years. Although the claim easily passes our lips, the reality of affirming Jesus against any other claim to our lives is often excruciating. As a clergy member, I often feel tempted to smooth the rough edges of the Gospel. When encountering a difficult passage of Scripture, my desire to be affirmed and liked is often at odds with the strong call of Jesus. Yet when I surrender my own preferences and comfort for the counter-intuitive demands of Jesus, something strange and miraculous happens.

I believe this is where the two parts of this question merge. It is by the power and work of God’s Holy Spirit that we find the energy and inspiration to live out the unique calling of Christ. By the Spirit, we are strengthened to live differently. We cannot begin to understand “losing our lives to save them,”[4] how “the last will be first,”[5] or “selling our possessions,”[6] unless we are motivated by the very Spirit of God working and moving in our midst. In my ministry, I have seen people make these difficult choices. It’s in the lives of wealthy members brokenhearted by the need in the world and motivated to share their possessions. It’s in the hard decision of a man to quit a job that conflicted with his passion for Christ’s Church. It’s in the utter love for little ones who can give nothing monetarily in return for their support and care. Each one of these acts subvert the common wisdom of our day and shout, “Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not!” By the power of the Spirit, sayings like, “he who dies with the most toys wins” and “always look out for number one” are dismantled and exposed as hollow imitations of the wholeness found in the passionate dedication to Jesus. It is only by confidence in the Spirit’s power and trust in the graceful rule of Jesus that I am able to stand in the pulpit and offer hope, love, grace, and the challenge to be the people God continues to call us to be.

 


[1] Freedman, D. N. The Anchor Bible Dictionary . (New York, Doubleday, 1996)

[2] Bauer, W., Danker, F., Arndt, W., and Gingrich, F., Greek-English Lexicon of the New

Testament and Other Early Christian Literature Third Edition.(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000)

[3] Hebrews 1:3

[4] Matthew 16:25

[5] Luke 13:30

[6] Luke 12:33

The Story Continues…

So, I saw our little neighbor-guy riding his bike on Saturday. He asked me when church was, and I said, “Classes are at 10, and worship at 11.” I was a little taken aback when he said, “No…what day is Church?”

Wow, are we conditioned to Christendom or what? I told him that we always meet on Sunday, and that we were looking forward to seeing him there. He wasn’t there yesterday, so I’m going to stop by and make sure his grandma knows that he was very well-behaved (curiosity is not misbehavior!) and is welcome anytime.

Ordination Questions – Humanity & the Need for Divine Grace

2.) What effect has the practice of ministry had on your understanding of humanity and the need for divine grace?

I entered ministry holding together two views of humanity. First, we are created in the image of God (the imago Dei). In fact, the Psalmist marvels at the way in which humans are created “a little lower than God…and crowned with glory and honor.” In other words, we are created for goodness and wholeness in the exact image of God. Yet on the other hand, one need only to watch the evening news to see that our world is broken and disjointed. As Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Things are not the way God intended. In my ministry, I have seen the heights and depths of both views. I have seen the mystery of God’s good creation cradling infants in my arms to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and I’ve seen the brokenness of our world in the struggle of a husband and wife whose marriage collapses under the stresses and strains of life.

This tension between the original goodness of God’s creation and the reality of evil and brokenness in our world is the place where we live. Far too often, I have found that people put these in the wrong order. Instead of seeing the imprint of God’s gracious presence in their lives, far too many Christians have heard this message, “You are a despicable, worthless creature, but God might just be able to do something with you yet.” Instead, the wonderful gospel message we are called to share is this, “No matter how you might feel, no matter what you have gone through, you are one of the crowning achievements of God’s good creation! Even though the Fall is lived and reenacted daily in the lives of women and men, the good news is that God will stop at nothing to repair what is broken in your life. The story of Jesus is the story of God’s great reclamation project of our world. God is continually working to form each one of us into the imago Dei. God is actively at work, graciously restoring you to wholeness.”

Grace is the gift of God’s ongoing reclamation of the world, and I have seen this in the lives of those people I serve. I have seen it in a woman recovering from addiction as she joined the Church by professing her faith in Jesus. Immediately she was surrounded by a new family that loves, cares, and prays for her. In that scene, I don’t simply see someone added to the membership rolls; I see the work of God’s new creation happening right there in our midst. I have seen it in a community asking me what has gotten into our members, “I don’t know what’s going on over there, but something’s different.” That is far more than more workers being added to our depleted ranks; that is the very work of God’s new creation happening in our midst. Sin and brokenness are real, but God’s love came first. Through the grace of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, our world is being transformed. That is my understanding of what grace is all about.

Ordination Questions – Experience & Understanding of God

Inspired by the commissioning responses of Andrew over at Thoughts of Resurrection and the ordination responses of Andy at Enter the Rainbow, I’ve decided to post a few of my own. This has been taking up a lot of my writing time, so I thought at least my blog wouldn’t go silent in the meantime. So, feel free to comment, make suggestions, ask questions, etc. These are all rough drafts and will most likely change in some form or another.

1.) How has the practice of ministry affected your experience and understanding of God? Oftentimes, ministry is like the weather in Oklahoma. If you are not happy with what’s happening at any given moment, all you need to do is wait and it will change! Three scenes scattered from my last three years of ministry illustrate this perfectly: a quiet evening at home with my family is interrupted with the news of a motorcycle accident involving a teen from our congregation who was broken but survived, I am awakened by a late night call with word that a beloved matriarch of our congregation is dying in the hospital intensive care unit, and an evening visit with community members at the local high school football game is cut short in order to be with a family at the funeral home when the body of their loved one arrives.

In the middle of life, in the very midst of ministry, I have learned to experience and understand God in a new way. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once said, “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Looking back at my answers immediately following seminary, I see a very complex doctrinal portrait of God focused on God’s Triune nature, creative power, redemptive purposes, and eschatological vision. Even though I still hold strongly to these commitments, the very practices of baptizing both young and old, offering God’s grace at the table, speaking words of both comfort and challenge from Scripture, sitting with the dying, and leading worship for the bereaved have helped me move more closely to the simplicity beyond complexity. It is no wonder that the first letter of John to the “beloved,” eventually states the simple fact that, “…God is love.”

At times, I am overwhelmed by the sheer mystery and complexity of our Triune God, but through the free gift of grace, I have experienced God’s abiding presence and abundant peace in the midst of the storms of life. Through countless experiences watching God at work in the lives of others, I am more and more convinced of God’s transforming love. So even with a full appreciation of God’s complexity, I have a simple trust that God’s eternal self-giving love descends to us in the incarnation, seeking to reach out to save those who are hopeless, helpless, and hungry.

It is this simple loving presence in the world that motivates my ministry. It is God’s subtle, yet increasingly real work in my life that sustains me through the ups, downs, and surprises of service. The fullness of God’s love is the fullness for which I’m willing to lay down my life.

Who Owns Your Church?

This weekend, I had the privilege of helping clean profane graffiti off the sidewalk in front of our Church. A friend from the Church and I spent time Saturday morning working to get it clean with a power washer, paint thinner, and a wire brush. On one hand, I was angry that someone would do this in our little slice of Mayberry, but on the other hand, it made me realize that we can no longer pretend that the Church has a privileged place in society as it once did (Post-Christendom) even in rural America.

Not long ago, I read a post or an article about someone saying the trash on their church lawn reminded them of the messiness of the world and was a call and reminder of the mission to which we are called outside our doors. Believe it or not, this statement gave me the strength to pray we could reach the kind of people who would spray paint on a Church sidewalk with the good news of God’s Kingdom.

Even as I was breathing this prayer, a little boy from next door walked up to see what we were doing. He proceeded, without blinking, to recite the profanity written across the street at the school, and asked if we had seen it. When we said no he proceeded to give us a parable. He said, “Who owns this Church anyway?” I tried to explain that it is like the school and it is owned by a group (since he likely had never heard of a denomination). He said, “No our principal owns the school.” Maybe so! That’s sure the way it’s structured from a third-graders perspective, isn’t it? He then said, “I know who owns it anyway,” and then pointed at my house across the street. “That guy over there owns it.” My buddy was laughing, when I told him I was “that guy over there.”

A few minutes later, I invited the little guy to the Church I “own.” He ran in and asked his grandmother, and lo and behold showed up yesterday morning – on the second row, with his feet propped up on the pew in front of him, like he owned the place. During our welcome, when we go around and shake hands, he was up on stage running his hand through the flame of the candles!

Who owns the Church anyway? Jesus said to save your life you must lose it. To save the Church, maybe we need to lose it. If so, I can’t think of a better way than by handing over the keys to a little poor third-grader who lives next door with his grandma. Sounds crazy…almost like a parable.