Monday, July 31, 2006

Is there any Hope?

"Hi, my name is Michael and I am an MBWR addict."

Fellow Methoblogosphere members return the greeting: "Hi, Michael."

"It all began quite innocently enough. I had just begun a blog and had published a few items here and there. Of course there was much I did not know about the whole blogging business and I was getting very few hits, so what was going to be my last post got a response from this guy who would only refer to himself as 'John the Methodist'. He said, 'Get thee a blogroll.'"

"Had I known then what I know now, I may have stepped back. I mean, it all seemed so simple. Join a "club", get your blog listed on a roll, read other blogs, and have others read yours. It was so compelling, I was completely taken in. It was something I wanted to be a part of, and of course there are some very good articles of religion, politics, humor, you name it! What normal human person would not want to be a part of such??"

"It only began as the weekly summary of as much as could possibly be included. But I think just to draw me in a little deeper, 'John the Methodist' listed MY blog and what I had written in the past week. Only a few weeks later, I was rated a "BEST". My life was no longer my own. John the Methodist had completely taken over the very fabric of my being."

"I had hoped that perhaps one day there may be help for someone like me, someone innocently wanting to read and be read. I never intended to go this far. I mean, it's like a trance every Monday."

"Once he was late putting out the MBWR. LATE?? Not there??? What could it mean? Could it have possibly all been a hoax? How could he do this to us? How could he do this to ME?? I thought I was special; I thought we had something meaningful. Then it suddenly occured to me: he is only known as 'John the Methodist'. No one really knows who he is. We THINK he goes to school at Asbury in Orlando, but no one seems to know for sure. I mean, how do you track down someone who seems to move as the wind blows?"

"What finally made me realize that it was not me, that it never was me, was when I discovered rabbits. He never cared about me, he was never concerned for my well-being. He just wanted me to see the @@*&#^$*&# rabbits! 'Look how cuddly, look how cute..' And I noticed that in all his pictures, there were no rabbit PELLETS! No pellets??? How could this be?? It was then when I realized that I had been duped. It was grand conspiracy, a major deception. But by then it was too late. I was hooked."

"I need help. I mean, how do we know that this MBWR is not some faceless outfit in India where people who don't even speak or read English just make this stuff up? How can we know there really is a guy named 'John the Methodist'? What are we supposed to hold on to?"

"I .... feel .... so .... lost ......"

Saturday, July 29, 2006

It's the Gift that Counts

Mark 10:35-45
1 Corinthians 12:12-26

Having particular gifts unique to us as individuals is a funny thing. For instance, I am not a handy man. In fact, I am downright mechanically inept. The only thing that maybe I can fix is dinner, and the jury is still out on that one! I’m also not a numbers kind of guy. I cannot do quick figures in my head; I always have to take the time to count. Yet my son – and I hope I don’t embarrass him by talking about him – can see numbers and tell if something is wrong, and he can figure pretty quickly in his head. He is also a man who loves to work with his hands and fix and build things. The “funny thing” about his particular gifts is that he obviously didn’t get them from his old man!

Somewhere along the way in his young life he has discovered his passion and his gift for doing such things and since ol’ dad was not much help, he had to figure it out as he went along. But as he was replacing our garbage disposal this past week, I was reminded of Paul’s words to the Corinthians about spiritual gifts and how he reminds us that we are unique not necessarily because we choose to be but because it is all part of the wonderment of the Lord’s creative handiwork.

Paul reminds the Church in Corinth that these gifts that are unique to us as individuals are not so that we can amuse ourselves or show off for others or even to earn a living, though we do have to support ourselves. Rather, the gifts are granted to us as the CHURCH has need because if the Church does not or cannot function as Christ intended, then we have been reduced to nothing more than a social club of like-minded individuals who gather in a common place once a week. My dear friends, there are dozens of secular clubs that do this. The only thing that distinguishes one from another is the purpose they intend to serve as a group.

The Church as Christ intended, however, is much more than this. If we are to call ourselves a “church”, then we must begin to think of ourselves as a single body made up of, as Paul says, many different parts with each having its own unique function. And not just a “body” but THE Body … of CHRIST.

What does it mean, then, that we would accept this challenge and seek to distinguish ourselves in such a way that when someone enters into this building, they experience Christ Himself? What must we do so that upon walking through the door, a visitor might think “sanctuary” with a sense of relief that only Christ can provide? What do we do beyond having a sign out in the yard that identifies us as the “Body of Christ”? And perhaps more importantly, how do we distinguish ourselves as the Body of Christ outside these doors?

In Mark 10:35-45, it is recorded that James and John come to Jesus and ask that they be granted the special privilege of being placed on Jesus’ right and on His left; they want their own special places of power within Jesus’ kingdom. Of course they cannot be aware of the full measure of this privilege for which they ask, and Jesus is quick to point that out. Oddly, however, Jesus also removes Himself from responsibility for making such a choice among men, even among His own disciples.

Notice the response of the other ten disciples when James and John tried to elbow their way into a place of prominence with Jesus. “They became indignant”, as it is written. A division amongst those who are supposed to be united in Christ’s purpose was about to occur because man was looking to protect and promote himself and maybe establish his own “turf” within Christ’s body. Not good, and Jesus points this out to them by reminding them of the Gentiles who have places of prominence and seek to lord it over the people.

“Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
Mark 10:43-45

The mindset that these brothers have is part of what blurs the line of distinction between what we are supposed to look like as a church – as the Body of Christ - and what secular social and civic clubs actually look like. Even though these clubs exist to serve a particular function within their communities, the truth is that membership in these clubs – and certain leadership positions within these clubs – looks pretty good on a resume, and the one who holds the gavel is the one who can call the shots. And these clubs are for the most part self-serving even though they seek to do good within their communities.

I am aware that this happens in churches as well, but it must not be so because I am also of the opinion that it is at this point when the church is in danger of losing its identity as Christ’s body and even jeopardizes its own moral authority when individual members refuse to work with one another and work instead toward achieving their own individual visions and goals.

Notice that throughout Jesus’ life on this earth, His ministry was never about Himself. He did His greatest works for the sake of the faithful and to the glory of the Lord God, and it is that many came to believe by watching the “BODY OF CHRIST” function as the Lord God intended it to.

As a gathering of believers, it must necessarily be that we seek only what Christ would ask of us even if we may not like the answer. We may want to do one thing, but Jesus may call us to do another or two or more. And the only way we will be successful in such an endeavor is if we are keenly aware of Christ’s presence and will among us. Otherwise, we would be nothing more than a ship without a rudder but a full sail: going wherever the winds take us but with no genuine sense of purpose.

It is not about making members and growing our little church. It is about making disciples and growing Christ’s Holy Church. When it ceases to be exclusively about Christ, the church ceases to exist.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Parental Rights

US Senator Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark, recently voted to allow "a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or religious counselor" to circumvent the authority of parents. How? By voting against the parental notification proposal that would have allowed virtually anyone to take a minor across state lines for an abortion. Her argument was that these individuals whom a young girl may trust could be convicted under the proposed statute and "sent to jail". "I believe this bill could deter young women from seeking help from adults they trust in times of crisis."

Senator Lincoln fails in a couple of significant items in her rather lame argument. First of all, we are not talking about "women"; these are children in the eyes of society as well as of the law. And secondly, it may not always be that the child would need to be "protected" in any sense of the word. It could amount to not much more than finding someone "cool" who will keep their mouths shut about what little Sally Jane and Billy Bob have been up to.

Parents need to know this stuff. In many households, there would indeed be consequences. This is what parents do. We correct our children when they go astray. We blow our lids when we discover some hidden secret about our child. Again, this is what we do. But after the dust settles and emotions subside, we discuss and talk and cry and argue and pray and discuss some more. This, too, is what we do. Senator Lincoln seems to suggest that a teenage girl, or "a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or religious counselor", usually knows better than her parents what might be best for the child. Heck, even pro-abortion US Congressman Vic Snyder voted against this sort of legislation long ago, believing in the authority of the parent.

I suppose what upsets me most about this state of mind is that a US senator believes that she knows better than any parent what is good for a child she's never met and likely never will. There is always more to a story than what the face presents. Usually there is something else far more sinister at work here. If the girl became pregnant, she is obviously having unprotected sex; this in itself is a HUGE, and potentially life-threatening, problem. And even beyond this, depending on the age of the girl, there are certainly bound to be severe emotional problems that will come as a result of such secrecy and it will be the parents who are left the clean up the mess, never knowing what may have happened.

And what's worse is that the "trusted" adult who may have been enabled to transport this minor child across state lines could very well have been the father of the unborn baby. His sorry behind would have been federally protected by the short-sightedness of such arrogance as to believe that the government has more at stake in the life of a child than her parents.

Senator Lincoln, as angry as I am with you right now and as determined as I am that you will not be re-elected to your position, I would never wish that "trusted" adults would think so little of you and your husband as to go behind your backs with your own children and take them across state lines for God-only-knows-what. Remember, Senator Lincoln, that you are not our "leader", and you were not elected to "lead" us. You were elected to REPRESENT us, and at least three national polls show that roughly 75% of the American public is "strongly opposed" to such an idea. It's time for you to begin paying more attention to what is going on at home so that you can best REPRESENT us rather than attempt to "lead" us where we have no intentions of going.

HANDS OFF MY KIDS, Senator. Mind your own @#&$^ business, and go home where you belong. Better yet, when you come up for re-election, I will help you pack.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

More on Stem Cells

Columnist Paul Greenberg writes, “Didn’t this pro-life president himself authorize research on stem cell lines derived from already destroyed embryos? The moral of that story: One step down this slope quickly leads to another.”

Mr. Greenberg goes on to quote Robert P. George, a law professor at Princeton who served on the President’s Council on Bioethics: “Researchers know that stem cells derived from blastocyst-stage embryos are currently of no therapeutic value and may never actually be used in the treatment of diseases…In fact, there is not a single embryonic stem cell therapy even in clinical trials. By contrast, adult and umbilical cord stem cells are already being used in the treatment of 65 diseases. All informed commentators know that embryonic stem cells cannot be used in therapies because of their tendency to generate dangerous tumors.”

Considering Mr. Greenberg’s sentiments about the “slope” and Mr. George’s information about the apparent useless (and potentially dangerous) continuation of embryonic stem cell research, why do so many seem willing to allow the United States to continue? Why do some polls suggest that roughly 70% of Americans are ok with this, given the considerable unanswered ethical questions and as-of-yet-not-thought-of scenarios?

Are we on a quest? If so, what are we looking for so much so that we are apparently willing to play God by taking one life in favor of another, and with no real or evident potential? And would we eventually reach a point by which we would draw the line and say, “no further”? It seems to me that there are apparently no limits to what we will allow in our desperate search for immortality.

Mr. Greenberg also counters the argument of those embryos “already destroyed” and will be discarded anyway by asking whether we would be willing to stop there. Why not the terminally ill? Why not convicts incarcerated for life or death-row inmates? Well? Why not? When we challenge the validity or value of human life by suggesting that a greater good could be served for “more” lives to be saved by destroying the only true potential that exists at this point, what is it that we are already suggesting about human life?

I am not completely without sympathy for those who suffer from debilitating diseases and I am not at all opposed to medical research within certain limitations, and the limitations as defined by the Nuremberg Code of Medical Ethics is a good place to start … and stop.

Human life has unknown value until that life is given an opportunity to live and to grow into its full potential. If the Lord God knew Jeremiah even before he was formed in his mother’s womb, there is a better-than-average chance that a soul is indeed present and life is already in full bloom with unseen potential. But that potential and value cannot be measured or realized in what might be gained from its death. Potential is measured in life by how that life unfolds and develops. Deliberately destroying that life before its full potential can be realized in the off chance that something more may come from its demise is unthinkable and immeasurable.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Embryonic StemCell Research: the Final Frontier

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, yet nothing captured on film can attest to the cruelty that man is capable of such as what came to light during the Nuremberg trials after World War II. During these proceedings, Nazis were tried and convicted of crimes against humanity not only for their systematic extermination of innocents Jews but also for the unspeakable crimes that were committed against the human person in experimental labs.

Some may suggest that much of what we know about the human limits of pain endurance came from these experiments and that medical science, and ultimately humanity, has benefited from these experiments, that in some perverse way human life has been enhanced by the cruel acts and experiments that were performed on men, women, and children against their will. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that such advances would mean that such innocence was not in vain. I strongly disagree.

From these trials were born the Nuremberg Code of Medical Ethics which, in essence, sought to protect human persons from being used as medical experimental subjects without their express consent. Even today, doctors cannot perform known life-saving procedures without the written consent of that person. Yet we “celebrate” the potential that stem-cells, and more specifically embryonic stem-cells, may hold for further advances in health care so much so that the Congress is now set on a collision course with President Bush who has all but guaranteed that any bill authorizing further embryonic stem-cell research will meet with his veto.

“The great weight of the evidence before us is to the effect that certain types of medical experiments on human beings, when kept within reasonably well-defined bounds, conform to the ethics of the medical profession generally. The protagonists of the practice of human experimentation justify their views on the basis that such experiments yield results for the good of society that are unprocurable by other methods or means of study. All agree, however, that certain basic principles must be observed in order to satisfy moral, ethical and legal concepts.”

“The Nuremberg Code”

US Senator Bill Frist and Arkansas Congressman Vic Snyder are both licensed physicians as well as representatives of the people. Yet neither of these gentlemen seems mindful of the fact that the people of the United States of America signed on to the principles contained in the Nuremberg Code in 1947 by ordering the execution of those responsible for such medical experiments.
The articles contained in the Code address various scenarios with respect to such experimentation so as to leave no ambiguity when it comes time to make decisions that affect life and limb.

  1. The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential.

  2. The experiment should be such as to yield fruitful results for the good of society, unprocurable by other methods or means of study, and not random and unnecessary in nature.

  3. The experiment should be so designed and based on the results of animal experimentation and a knowledge of the natural history of the disease or other problem under study that the anticipated results will justify the performance of the experiment.

  4. The experiment should be so conducted as to avoid all unnecessary physical and mental suffering and injury.

  5. No experiment should be conducted where there is an a priori reason to believe that death or disabling injury will occur; except, perhaps, in those experiments where the experimental physicians also serve as subjects.

  6. The degree of risk to be taken should never exceed that determined by the humanitarian importance of the problem to be solved by the experiment.

  7. Proper preparations should be made and adequate facilities provided to protect the experimental subject against even remote possibilities of injury, disability, or death.

  8. The experiment should be conducted only by scientifically qualified persons. The highest degree of skill and care should be required through all stages of the experiment of those who conduct or engage in the experiment.

  9. During the course of the experiment the human subject should be at liberty to bring the experiment to an end if he has reached the physical or mental state where continuation of the experiment seems to him to be impossible.

  10. During the course of the experiment the scientist in charge must be prepared to terminate the experiment at any stage, if he has probably cause to believe, in the exercise of the good faith, superior skill and careful judgment required of him that a continuation of the experiment is likely to result in injury, disability, or death to the experimental subject.

Stem cells extracted from human embryos will result in the death of that very human person. This is why many scientists insist that further research is warranted on adult stem cell lines that have shown to have more potential than is currently recognized, perhaps even more potential than even embryonic stem cell lines.

To my knowledge, the Roman Catholic Church has been the only religious entity that has been clear in its objection to such experimentation. The intentional destruction and ultimate desecration of the human person is immoral and, according to the findings of the Nuremberg tribunal, in violation of “the international conventions, the laws and customs of war, the general principles of criminal law as derived from the criminal laws of all civilized nations, and Control Council Law No. 10. Manifestly human experiments under such conditions are contrary to ‘the principles of the law of nations as they result from the usages established among civilized peoples, from the laws of humanity, and from the dictates of public conscience.’"

How can human life be enhanced if human life must be destroyed in the process? How can it be that the United States of America would deliberately and intentionally violate the precepts of findings the results of which were the executions of sixteen of the twenty-three Nazi “physicians”? This was an AMERICAN tribunal which passed judgment and determined that execution of these men was warranted, yet we find ourselves today arguing about the quality of life which may or may not enjoy certain benefits as a result of the destruction of these unborn children?

There will certainly be more to come in the next couple of days as the Congress considers measures aimed at virtually unlimited medical experimentation on children whose only crime has been that of having been conceived. Many of those who were destroyed in Nazi labs were mentally retarded and otherwise handicapped to the point of being deemed “asocial”, a life not worthy of consideration, in addition to civilians and POW’s not of German nationality, presumably for the “benefit” of German society.

Was it worth it then? Will it be now? We have to draw the line somewhere, and President Bush drew the line in 2001 when he stopped federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, reasoning that the existing seventy-eight stem cell lines would be adequate since they already existed. Scientists have since determined that the number was substantially less than first believed, so they want more. To what end?

If you are willing to sacrifice even one child “for the benefit of society”, I dare you to select even one whose life would be “worth it” for the benefit of humanity and I will say to you, “What good is saving a life at the expense of one’s soul?”

Saturday, July 15, 2006


Can you just imagine living in Israel? The new war with Hezbollah to the north and the continuing fight with Hamas to the south and potentially the east is reminiscent of the '67 Mideast War in which Israel found herself literally surrounded by those whose sole intent was to destroy the nation and drive it into the sea.

Today's war is not much different than then. Hamas and Hezbollah are intent on the destruction of Israel and, with the help of Syria and Iran, driving them into the sea. Why? When will this end? What will it take?

Israel says it will hold the government of Lebanon accountable for the actions of Hezbollah, and Lebanon says they have no control over Hezbollah. My question is this: have terror organizations somehow become legitimate in that governments can exercise no control even when terror operates within its borders?

I have written in the past that my inclination is toward Israel because as far as I can see, Israel does not necessarily fire unless fired upon. And I do not understand what some call for in a "proportional" response. Does this mean that when Hezbollah fires a rocket into a Israeli town that Israel is only allowed to fire a rocket back? This has been done before and when Israel's return fire is successful, the terrorist vow to "avenge" the attack even though they fired first! And the world cries out to Israel to "show restraint". I do not understand.

Pray for the peacemakers, that they are successful in stopping the shooting. The only ones being hurt are children, and they are still children of the Lord God. He cannot be pleased.

Baptism: Where did we go wrong?

Genesis 17:9-14 Acts 16:25-34
Matthew 3:13-17

“The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about; but that we should duly use them. And in such only as worthily receive the same, they have a wholesome effect or operation; but they that receive them unworthily, purchase to themselves condemnation, as St. Paul saith.” Article XVI – Of the Sacraments, UM Book of Discipline

“Baptism is not only a sign of profession and mark of difference whereby Christians are distinguished from others that are not baptized; but it is also a sign of regeneration or the new birth. The Baptism of young children is to be retained in the Church.” Article XVII – Of Baptism, UM BoD

Original sin stands not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature inclined to evil, and that continually.” Article VII – Of Original or Birth Sin, UM BoD

Last week I shared some thoughts and United Methodist doctrinal ideas about Holy Communion, one of the two Sacraments recognized and retained by the United Methodist Church. This week I think it would be appropriate to explore the United Methodist position on Baptism, the other Sacrament where the intentional and incredible journey with Christ actually begins.

As I pointed out last week, there still exists some differences and division among Christians regarding Holy Communion and what is proper and what is acceptable and who can and who cannot partake of the Meal and how St. Paul might have some not-so-kind words to the contemporary Church like the ones he had with the Church in Corinth. I’m sorry to say that it is not only Holy Communion that keeps Christians divided at the Table of the Lord; it is also Baptism.

In the United Methodist tradition, we baptize babies. Even though this practice goes back centuries and is suggested in the reading from Acts, many lifelong Methodists have a problem with this practice and refuse to participate and all I can say is, how sad if not short-sighted. Before I go too far and with respect to those who do not come from such a tradition, let me say that the so-called “believer’s baptism” is equally valid and, as long as the heart is in the right place, accomplishes the very same thing, just at a different stage in one’s life. It must always be remembered that baptism is a sign of GOD’s grace and not our own.

And even before we discuss the practice of infant baptism, consider the traditions that practice full immersion and those who sprinkle and those who pour. All are equally valid and all are just as powerful a symbol as the other. So why is it that rather than to simply say we might be more comfortable with one as with another, we REJECT the practice of other traditions and attempt to render them invalid? Why not simply respect the tradition, rejoice in the occasion, and give ALL glory to the Lord God alone?

I wish I could answer that. I have my theories, but the United Methodist statement about Original Sin may be closer to what is wrong with our minds when we choose to argue and fight over something that does not even belong to us in the first place: “man is very far gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature INCLINED TO EVIL …”

Ouch. The worst part of that statement as it applies to us and our practices here and now is that these divisions and arguments are among those who supposedly are already baptized and living the NEW life. But it looks a lot like the same arguments as among the non-believers. Wow. Actually, non-believers would not even be having such a discussion about what is and what is not proper in baptism. Let us not be distracted, however, from the importance of the act as a whole and find our commonality.

As is stated in Article XVI, we should USE these Sacraments – and use them in a worthy manner for which they were, and still are, intended: as means of grace by and through which the Lord God makes Himself known.

But this is not about the propriety of infant vs. believer’s baptism, and it is not about the propriety of immersion or sprinkling or pouring except to say this: could there possibly be enough water on the face of this earth to wash away the kind of sin for which it had become necessary for Jesus to give His life?

What is baptism? And if the practice of baptism by the hands of man can be nothing without the presence of the Lord, then why waste the time? If it is enough to simply repent and turn to the Lord since He is the only one Who can forgive sin, why does man ruin the moment by arguing about the “right” way and the “right” time to baptize?

John the Baptist stated that he only baptized with water but that there would be One coming after him who would baptize with “fire and the Holy Spirit”. So is the baptism of ‘only’ water a useless gesture, or is it a necessary first-step toward entering into the presence of the Lord – which is what our journey is all about?

I’m sorry to say that the very best understanding we have is man’s interpretation of biblical texts to help guide us and throughout the Church’s history, there have been disagreements over finer theological points that have served to do nothing more than to confuse the contemporary church which I think has done more to keep people away than to draw them in. We can be more comfortable with a particular tradition primarily because we were raised in particular tradition, but we cannot get past the “right” and “wrong” as expressed over time between this Protestant leader and that one as evidenced by the number of denominations.

Let’s make it real simple for ourselves. In our tradition, there is this thing taught called “prevenient” grace, and it makes perfect sense in that it expresses a nature inherent to such a God as ours: that He loves us FIRST and desires nothing more than to be in our lives to grant us “holiness and happiness of heart”. As Jesus offered us “peace, but not as the world offers it …”, so does the Lord God wish us peace in our hearts. And the only way to possess that sense of peace is by His presence, that overwhelming sense of protection which ultimately expresses to us that everything is going to be ok somehow.

But even though there is this distinctive individual relationship that one can have with the Lord, Jesus established a “church” and not necessarily a “religion”; very communal, very social. It is here where our greatest work is done for Him when we stand UNITED as one, just as there can only be ONE Body of Christ. So in entering into that body, there is an initiation: baptism.

As a social order, however, something must be taken into account as we practice the baptism of young children, even infants, and bring them into this social order. It reaches far beyond the simple one-on-one relationship. When we baptize children into the Church, the entire Christian fellowship – and especially the local church – is not only celebrating but is also being called to account because that person being baptized – whether man, woman, or child – is being offered to the Christian community to be loved and nurtured IN THE FAITH. The entire community is then being held responsible in the presence of the Lord for the spiritual well-being of that individual being baptized. Why would we dare deny this to a child when Jesus said, “Allow the children to come to Me and DO NOT HINDER THEM …”

Think of the baptismal relationship between those being baptized and the Church sort of like a marriage of a man and a woman. Is the relationship between the man and the woman “as valid” in the absence of matrimony? Though many would disagree, I say that in the absence of matrimony there is no solid foundation, no real bond, no real commitment; and in such an absence, it would be too easy to simply get bored or tired and just walk away from that relationship as having "run its course".

So it surely must be with baptism. IN THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD GOD, we are making a commitment to that person – again; whether man, woman, or child – to “love, honor, and protect; in sickness and in health; for richer or poorer”. YES???? We are making this commitment not only to the newly baptized but to the Lord Himself. The work that we do now in the life of the newly baptized will enable that person to more easily recognize – and more eagerly accept – the work that the Lord will do later in his or her life.

Those marriage vows are not contained in any of the baptismal liturgy but the more I think about it, the more I realize that the social and spiritual commitments we make are no less so in one relationship over another especially when the relationship is sanctified in the Church through Christ. When a man and woman get married in the Church, they are publicly professing their love for one another, and the Church should be making such a commitment to that couple to help them through the inevitable challenges that are ahead.

It is not ours to challenge the ability of the Lord God to work in the life of any individual, and it is certainly not ours to challenge the validity of ANY baptism in which the Lord is invited to participate. Suffice it to say, it is all to the glory of the Lord God and faith is perfected in love. But Jesus also says that “praise is perfected in children”; He did not say how young or how old these children had to be.

The sign of the covenant that the Lord God established with Abraham intentionally involved children as young as eight DAYS old, and this covenant was established for all generations to come; it did not include a “sunset” clause by which the COVENANT – not necessarily the SIGN of the covenant – would be rendered invalid.

So the sign of this new covenant is to be publicly “washed”, whether we or the recipient truly understand it, and enter into this incredible journey of faith and prepare ourselves – just as Jesus prepared Himself – to stand firm on the Word of the Lord, to challenge the temptations that are inevitable and proclaim the holy name of the Lord God to “all nations”.


Saturday, July 08, 2006

Eucharist: The Nature of Sacrifice

Mark 14:12-31
1 Corinthians 11:27-32

“We believe the Sacraments, ordained by Christ, are symbols and pledges of the Christian’s profession and of God’s love toward us. They are means of grace by which God works invisibly in us, quickening, strengthening, and confirming our faith in Him. Two Sacraments are ordained by Christ our Lord; namely Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.”

“We believe the Lord’s Supper is a representation of our redemption, a memorial of the sufferings and death of Christ, and a token of love and union which Christians have with Christ and with one another. Those who rightly, worthily, and in faith eat the broken bread and drink the blessed cup partake of the body and blood of Christ in a spiritual manner until He comes.” UM Book of Discipline, Article VI – The Sacraments

Part of the heritage of the United Methodist Church is the union of Methodists with the Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1968, creating what came to be known – and is still known – as the United Methodist Church. The portion from the Discipline that I share with you this morning is from the United Brethren statement regarding the Sacraments celebrated by United Methodists only because it states the United Methodist position a bit more concisely, in my opinion, and cuts straight to the heart of what this Commemoration is all about.

Recall last week that I shared with you my anxiety about considering the Passion of the Christ as any sort of “miracle” or divine act because there just cannot be a presence of the HOLY God in what I consider to be an extremely un-holy act. However, we must also be mindful of Jesus’ words about what was to take place and what it would come to mean for the Church. We must also consider Paul’s admonishment to the Corinthians before we can share the meal together.

Even more distressing than considering this Memorial to be worthy of “celebration” is the division that this Eucharist has created among Christians even today. While we argue about the “right” way to do it or whether Christians from another denomination can participate in "our" Meal, we lose sight of everything this Sacrifice is all about. In doing so, we live according to what Paul wrote of what is so worrisome about our useless arguments:

“In the following directives I have NO PRAISE for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it.” 1 Corinthians 11:17

Believe it, St. Paul, that the divisions are alive and well here in the 21st Century. In spite of Paul’s admonishment, we still have divisions among ourselves as to what is proper, what is right, what should be our focus as we come to share in this Meal, and who can and cannot participate in this gathering. And believe me when I tell you that the Bible contains no such warnings that Catholics, Methodists, or Baptists cannot or should not participate in one another’s Eucharistic gatherings. Quite the contrary; this seems to be the nature of the divisions Paul warns the Corinthians about; the will of man vs. the will of God.

Of course the Catholics are going to insist that they are “right” and of course the Baptists are going to insist that they are “right”, but the United Methodist tradition and practice seems to suggest that they are both right, at least to a point: those who are not baptized into the faith should refrain from participating in the Meal. The Catholic and Baptist traditions of a “closed” Communion do teach and testify to a profound theological statement: there is indeed a “brokenness” that must be healed though I do not think that “brokenness” from one denomination or another is the kind of “brokenness” that Paul feared among believers, at not not as we teach it and preach it today.

The “brokenness” that existed in Paul’s day and still exists today is the separation from what we must necessarily be focused on when we choose to come forward to receive this Meal. The early Methodist warning against the Catholic doctrine of “transubstantiation” as giving rise to particular superstitions is appropriate to a point, as well, because having grown up in the Catholic Church, I can see and still do see even in the United Methodist Church as well as in other denominations that some believe the mere act of eating the bread and drinking of the cup is some magical, mystical act through which all is forgiven and we are made whole again.

I don't think so. Something must come before that. Just as the Crucifixion of the Lord must come before the Resurrection, so must something come even before we step forward to receive the Body and Blood of the Messiah.

“A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and rinks judgment on himself.” 1 Corinthians 11:28-29

What does this mean for us exactly? What kind of examination must we undergo before we can consider ourselves “worthy” to partake of this Meal? To “recognize” the Body of the Christ, I think, is to recognize the very ugly nature of the Crucifixion and what it tells us about the entire salvation story. In the movie “The Passion of the Christ”, we are given an extremely graphic, vivid, and obscene portrayal of what sin really looks like and the very destructive nature of sin itself while the physical body of Jesus takes such a beating. When we read the Gospel accounts of the Passion, we are invited to see – indeed, compelled to see – the sin in our lives, the sin for which Jesus Himself stepped forward to take upon His blessed shoulders for our sake. To see anything less and to consider anything less does, in my humble opinion, render us “unworthy” because of what choosing to partake in the Meal really means.

Jesus tells us in John 6:53: “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.”

We know Jesus is not talking about cannibalism. What He is talking about is becoming completely one WITH Him as well as IN Him, and He in us. This means that we are choosing to separate ourselves from this life and this world and spiritually ingest Him so that He resides within us. In order to become worthy of such an act requires REPENTANCE. That is to say, sin that so overwhelms and overtakes and DESTROYS must be completely and entirely rejected and a total commitment made to become one in Christ. And we should know that we cannot enter into the holy presence of the Lord if we are unholy – that is to say, unclean.

To do anything less is to completely reject the Sacrifice that is made in our behalf. It is as if we might choose to be thankful that Jesus would make this Sacrifice for us, but we are unwilling to do anything for Him; that we are unwilling to “take up our own cross” and follow Him.

This is not some liturgical act we “just” do because we are expected to; this is a very spiritual act we “must” do in order to be made whole again. This is something we “must” do in order to be reconciled with Him. This is something we “must” do in order to fully appreciate why Jesus compels us to forgive those who have wronged us “seventy times seven”; because the Lord our God is willing to do the same for us.

IF we are willing to receive it.


Celebration of the Eucharist, according to the Didache

9:1 But as touching the Eucharistic thanksgiving give thanks thus.
9:2 First, as regards the cup:
9:3 We give You thanks, O our Father, for the holy vine of Your son David, whom You made known to us through Your Son Jesus;
9:4 Yours is the glory for ever and ever.
9:5 Then as regards the broken bread:
9:6 We give You thanks, O our Father, for the life and knowledge which You did make known to us through Your Son Jesus;
9:7 Yours is the glory for ever and ever.
9:8 As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains and being gathered together became one, so may Your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Your kingdom;
9:9 for Yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever and ever.
9:10 But let no one eat or drink of this Eucharistic thanksgiving, but they that have been baptized into the name of the Lord;
9:11 for concerning this also the Lord said:
9:12 {Give not that which is holy to the dogs.}

10:1 And after ye are satisfied thus give ye thanks:
10:2 We give You thanks, Holy Father, for Your holy name, which You have made to tabernacle in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality, which You have made known to us through Your Son Jesus;
10:3 Yours is the glory for ever and ever.
10:4 You, Almighty Master, did create all things for Your name's sake, and did give food and drink to men for enjoyment, that they might render thanks to You;
10:5 but did bestow upon us spiritual food and drink and eternal life through Your Son.
10:6 Before all things we give You thanks that You are powerful;
10:7 Yours is the glory for ever and ever.
10:8 Remember, Lord, Your Church, to deliver it from all evil and to perfect it in Your love;
10:9 and {gather it together from the four winds}--even the Church which has been sanctified--into Your kingdom which You have prepared for it;
10:10 for Yours is the power and the glory for ever and ever.
10:11 May grace come and may this world pass away.
10:12 Hosanna to the God of David.
10:13 If any man is holy, let him come;
10:14 if any man is not, let him repent. Amen.
10:15 But permit the prophets to offer thanksgiving as much as they desire

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Evasive Nature of Peace

It is within our legitimate desire for peace that we would dare to call upon the Israeli government to show restraint in its latest battle in Gaza. We can see for ourselves through the various media that there are innocent Palestinians caught in the crossfire who have nothing to do with Hamas, and we can be certain that children are getting hurt and killed. With equal certainty, we can see for ourselves that innocent Israelis are being hurt and killed as well. However, there is a significant difference that the world seems to be overlooking: Israeli civilians are not caught in the crossfire – they are the deliberate and intended targets of murderers seeking headlines. This can be the only logical explanation since Israel has made it clear by word and deed that they do not negotiate with terrorists, and their national will has not diminished over time. Western citizens would do well to bear this reality in mind before they offer criticism.

These misguided persons intent on terror as their means of waging war have become convinced that the will of Israel and of the world will somehow be weakened if just one more atrocity were to manifest itself in the slaughter of innocent civilians who are guilty of doing nothing more than living their lives and going about the daily business of living. This is not to be, however, and peace continues to elude us because of those who live by this credo.

We can call upon the Israelis to show some restraint for the sake of those innocent Palestinians who, like Israeli civilians, just want to live their lives in relative peace and safety, and I think in many instances the Israelis do just this. To criticize them, however, for taking stern measures to protect its citizens from indiscriminate attacks coming from Gaza is not reasonable, is not rational, and shows a great deal of naiveté, if not historical and political ignorance about the reality of terrorism.

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria, the West Bank from Jordan, and the Gaza Strip from Egypt during the ’67 Mid East War not for the “spoils” or for the “booty” but for the sake of national security and for the protection of its citizens. Indiscriminate attacks had been launched against Israel from each of these nations in the past, and the land served well as a buffer against future attacks. Thankfully, these nations came to the peace table, if grudgingly, and Israel responded in good faith by offering back this captured land. Peace seemed possible.

Not much later, attacks began to mount from within Lebanon. It would seem that Syria was perhaps one of the “grudging” nations to have come forward since it has been shown that Hamas and Hezbollah had been well financed by Syria to mount attacks from Lebanon which, in turn, forced Israel yet again to move into Lebanon to put an end to these attacks against Israeli civilians who were, again, not caught in any crossfire but were being deliberately attacked. And yet again, for the sake of national security and because of the cowardly tactics of terrorists who hide among the civilian populations, Israel was again accused of atrocities against Lebanese civilians and refugees who had been caught in the crossfire of the new battle front.

Here we are today in the Gaza Strip. Israel had given over control of the territory to the Palestinians as an act of good faith, and they are rewarded with terror attacks not only against their army but, again, against their civilians. And because of the shooting and because Israel will always fire back when threatened or fired upon, innocent Palestinians are again caught in the crossfire because of the cowardly tactics of terror.

Peace is not possible for those who do not desire peace. Israel has given more than any other nation would consider being reasonable for the sake of living in peace. Yet time and again it is proved to the world that those who could benefit from laying down their arms refuse to do so, and critics of Israel do not seem to notice. I cannot help but to wonder if Israel really has this many enemies.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Losing Our Focus

The Arkansas Supreme Court’s recent decision striking down a state policy prohibiting gay persons from serving as foster parents has the governor “disappointed” in the ruling and perhaps disturbed about the direction that the state’s foster care program may take. The governor is quoted as saying, “There are a lot of issues that will need to be sorted through with the lawyers…” in Saturday’s (July 1, 2006) Arkansas Democrat-Gazette when asked whether a legislative special session might become necessary to address the ruling, presumably to figure out how to prevent gay persons from becoming foster parents.

“You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry and My wrath will become hot …” Exodus 22:23 NKJV

Surely this entire conflict is not as much about gay rights as it is about the rights of our children (and they are “ours” if we are God’s) to feel safe, secure, and cared for. Surely this conflict is not about whether a particular group of big people are getting their feelings hurt and are feeling left out or slighted in some way as it is about another particular group of little people who are getting their feelings hurt and are feeling left out, unwanted and uncared for.

It seems to me that the governor’s, and ultimately our own, focus is a bit skewed as to what we need to be talking about, and I am pretty sure that it’s not about whether gay persons have a right to serve as foster parents. Surely this whole discussion has not denigrated to a point in which we have forgotten that there are hundreds of children in dire need of a stable environment and parents, foster or otherwise, who will commit to their care and education. These are children, not pawns to be used as a means to a political end. And if it is truly a moral issue, we must then be prepared to ask ourselves what is immoral. Trying to use politics, and children’s lives, as a political barometer is about as immoral as it can get and does not address the legitimate problem of finding children good homes.

We pro-lifers are big about defending the rights of the unborn and being concerned about the well-being of the child while in the womb but seem to lose our focus when we forget that once the child is born into this world, we are charged by the God we claim to believe in to love and to care for these children, the “fatherless” whose cry will be heard by Him if they are “afflicted”. Being unloved or neglected in favor of political consideration is about as afflicted as one can get in this life and because we are concerned about a potentially negative, if immoral, influence, we will choose for the battle of “rights” above the battle for what IS right.

I do not necessarily advocate for the rights of homosexual persons to serve as foster parents or to adopt as much as I advocate for we who oppose such an idea to offer an alternative such as opening our lives and our homes to these children. If we oppose these children staying “there” but refuse to offer them a “here”, then what are we achieving except perhaps a hollow political victory which would serve no useful purpose and which will still not address the legitimate issue that requires our attention?

Make no mistake. This is not a gay rights issue and cannot be discussed with such an emphasis. This must be strictly addressed for what we hope to achieve: the best possible solution for the children of this state who have no home to call their own. There is nothing else. Sorry, gay rights people; this is not about you. And sorry, Governor Huckabee, but lawyers cannot answer the questions that require our attention because this is neither a legal issue. It is exclusively a moral issue about what is right, and it is all about the children. Let us choose to be focused on them.