Friday, November 30, 2012

A Thought for Advent 2012

“The servant who knew his Master’s will and did not prepare himself or do according to His will, shall be beaten with many stripes.  But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few.  For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will seek the more.”  Luke 12:47-48

The word “Advent” derives from the Latin word meaning “coming”. The Lord is coming. We may reflect that every year at this time we celebrate His coming.  In a sense we can lose the feeling of expectancy and joyful anticipation because at the end of the season, everything seems to return to pretty much the same routine. If that is the case, then our preparation may have been lacking and we have therefore been robbed of much of the true meaning of this season.
During Advent we recall the history of God's people and reflect on how the prophecies and promises of the Old Testament were fulfilled. This gives us a background for the present. Today we can reflect on the past track record of God and so begin to understand what it means to us now for the sake of what is to come, in our own future and that of our world” ( 

Let us then not waste the opportunity which is before us to renew our commitment to the Lord’s Covenant and “prepare the way of the Lord” in discipleship.  Let us begin this season of Advent together with joyful hope and great anticipation, for Messiah will not be born as an infant again.  He will come “in a cloud with power and great glory … because your redemption is near”  (Luke 21:27-28)!  Let us give thanks for this Promise!

So shall we wait together.  “Come soon, Lord Jesus”!


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Thought

“I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.”  Acts 26:19-20

St. Paul is recounting his own conversion when he came “face to face” with the Lord in a vision in which he was questioned about his persecution of the Church.  In this vision, Paul was also given his charge for ministry.  A key element of this vision, however, must always be remembered: Paul had been struck blind.  It was only in his moment of weakness that he was enabled to completely surrender to the Lord and the Lord’s own “vision” of what was to be accomplished for the Kingdom of Heaven in Paul’s witness.

At Charge Conference we discussed the need not only for a genuine ministry plan but also the need for a vision of what we believe our charge to be as the Church and not necessarily what we would like to accomplish.  It is only in moments of sincere repentance and doing works “befitting repentance” that we can truly appreciate what we are called to do.  And if we believe we have nothing from which to repent, I would suggest we are not looking closely enough at our lives within the Lord, the Covenant, and the Church.

It must be remembered that a truly Divine Vision is not going to take us away from the Church!  Those justified before the Lord are not only called to be “at” church; we are called to BE the Church!  A genuine vision from Above is going to build up the Church.  It will not guarantee success, at least not as we understand success, but we can be assured that working earnestly for the Lord in faith will bring rewards we cannot begin to imagine!

We need not wait until we are stricken with calamity but if this is what it will take to draw us closer to our Lord, then, Lord, let it be so!  And soon!


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Thought on Thanksgiving 2012

“Offer to God thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High.  Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.”  Psalm 50:14-15

Thanksgiving has in too many cases become little more than a family gathering with pie-eating contests (I used to be a serious contender for the crown!).  Often we take our blessings for granted to the point that when something bad happens, we forget how well off we truly are.  Even in this time set aside to give thanks and count blessings, there are many among us who will spend this holiday alone for the first time.  There are many around the world for whom giving thanks is nothing more than a “church” message with no real meaning.  All things considered, we are very well off.

The promises of Scripture are sure, but we must always remember that our Lord’s ways are far beyond our own.  His “deliverance” may likely look nothing like what we have in mind but if we will give Him serious time in devotion, He will help us to understand; and we will surely “glorify” our Lord!

Look after one another.  Pray for one another.  Remember those who are hungry during this time and, for pity’s sake, take a Beano!  HA!


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Thought

“Remind [your workers] of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers … shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness.  And their message will spread like cancer.”  2 Timothy 2:14,16-17a

Even after the election there is still a great deal of rancor among the politicians that spreads to the constituency.  The so-called “fiscal cliff” is only a few weeks away; and while there is talk about bipartisanship, there is more talk about who is at fault.  Going forward, each side has already drawn its own line in the sand and has clearly indicated they intend to have their own way come hell or high water!  The Affordable Care Act is going forward and causing a lot of concern and consternation about the uncertainty of how this Act will affect businesses.  Again our politicians (whom we elected, by the way) are only concerned with pointing fingers and going on all the “talking head” shows trying to get their messages out that it’s not their fault, that someone else is to blame.

None of these things has anything to do with the Gospel of our Lord.  No matter who “wins” these debates, the Lord will not factor into these discussions on any level; and there will be no concern about how the people are affected.  It will only be about which political party can maintain control.  And because these things, these policies affect us all, we get caught up in the senselessness of it and join the finger-pointing.  All the while the Church continues to struggle because we are more concerned with party politics and public policy than with sound doctrine and our affiliation with the One who gave us life in the first place.

Let us choose our words more carefully.  Let us learn to talk of the things that lift others up.  Let us shun the “bad news” that the newspapers of full of, and let us learn to embrace the Good News that is eternally in Christ!  We are the messengers of our Lord’s Gospel, and we were entrusted with this awesome task when we were baptized – whether we “signed up” for it or not.  Would the Spirit of the Lord be entrusted to those who will not follow the Spirit??  It seems unlikely.

The “lost” among us will learn to believe the Good News when we prove to them there is something worth believing.  Our Lord has done what is necessary and has left to the Church what is left to be done: spread the Good News! 


Monday, November 19, 2012

A Thought

“Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good.  He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God.”  3 John 11

“Situational Ethics” is a mindset that calls something evil in general but allows exceptions under special circumstances.  The most common argument concerns stealing.  Clearly it is wrong to take anything that does not belong to us, including “finders keepers”.  However, the common argument stipulates that if one is starving, it is not wrong to take food since it is not right that anyone go hungry.  We should be able to see, though, that this common argument opens all kinds of situations and circumstances under which the exception (starvation) does not consider whose food is being taken (maybe they were starving themselves) or how one came to such a pass as to be so hungry in the first place (won’t work and earn one’s own bread).  Under such scenarios, there are all kinds of exceptions we can make to the point that the foundational situation (stealing) has become relative rather than absolute.

Today the same situational arguments are made under all kinds of conditions and under any number of circumstances to the point that we dare suggest that _____ is wrong for “you”, but it’s ok for “me” because “my” situation is different.  So when we teach our children to discern the difference between right and wrong, the lesson is lost between the words we use and the actions we take.  In other words, we look for excuses by which we may judge our neighbor but absolve ourselves for the same crime, the same sin.  Subsequent generations take our flawed lessons and reapply these lessons to their own lives and under their own circumstances.  It is not long before sin itself becomes relative to human conditions, and we lose our need for a Savior since we are able to save ourselves (at least in our own minds and by our own faulty reasoning). 

Scripture does not allow for this kind of give-and-take simply because human reasoning, while useful, will always be flawed to a certain degree and almost always circumstantial.  It is far better to trust the Lord and His Revealed Word even if we do not clearly understand rather than rewrite the Scriptures to suit our own purposes.  If we move the “line in the sand” for ourselves, who are we to say that others (including our children) may not move the line even further for themselves?  Because we said so?  Because their situation is not quite like our own?  Hardly!

The Scriptures teach us what is good, and the Lord has clearly “shown us what is good”.  Let us then “imitate” what is good according to Holy Scriptures rather than try to make evil good for ourselves.  Our children are counting on us … and so is our Lord.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

What, me worry?

Revelation 11:15-19
Mark 13:1-13

In nearly every post-apocalyptic fiction movie I've seen or book I've read, there is a common theme that is overlooked.  You know the stories I'm talking about; fictional stories about what the world could look like after a nuclear war or some cataclysmic natural disaster that literally changes the face of the earth.  In the aftermath of such disasters there are always survivors and there is usually that "lone ranger" type who wanders from place to place (and the story usually centers on this "individual"), but in his wanderings our "lone ranger" friend always finds ... communities.  Sometimes these communities are little more than bands of outlaws who murder and pillage for resources, but sometimes there are those communities of survivors who band together and share - rather than fight or kill for - what few resources there are.

Each of these communities exists because its members hold something in common; and the nature of these communities, for good or bad, indicates how they will try to survive.  In the end the "predator" communities will ultimately perish for this simple reason: one can only take so much from those around them before there is nothing left to take if no one is producing.  Their greed will be their undoing. 

Yet those who work together for the common good and freely share what they have find themselves relatively prosperous ... and substantially worry-free, discovering that a community with a common sense of purpose and being will always look after one another unafraid of tomorrow.  These communities would not be considered "wealthy" in our contemporary context, but they often have enough.  And because they have one another and because they all share a foundational goal and because they have learned they can depend on one another through the good times AND the bad times, their need to worry is not as acute as before they found one another and formed this community.

They also discovered that even as they could not control the circumstances that brought them to such a pass - such as a world nuclear war or a meteor crashing to earth - they can control how they live and work and relate to one another.  They can choose to play the role of "predator" who can never be trusted, they can be the "lone ranger" - OR - they can take control and manage themselves and their resources within a community of commonality despite the circumstances.  These communities, the good and the bad, pretty much determine their own destinies by the way they choose to live: they can destroy themselves from within, they can die alone - OR - they can build up from within.  Either way, the outcome will always be determined from within the community.

It's hard to know exactly what Jesus is referring to even as the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD seems to be a given in Mark's context, but the disciples could not possibly have known this.  Other scholars suggest Jesus may have been referring to the coming reign of Nero whose persecution of Christians is legendary, or it could be as others have suggested: what Jesus is referring to is more directly related to His imminent return. 

Regardless of whoever is correct in the assessment, however, one thing remains clear: Jesus is admonishing and warning the community of the faithful that there will be things taking place that we cannot control; but we must also note that Jesus is admonishing and warning the community that despite the coming persecutions, in whatever form or fashion they will come, the faithful will still have total control over how we will choose to respond. 

This is why practicing and engaging the "means of grace" in peace time is a lot like peace time war maneuvers; when the time comes (and Jesus says this time is certain when we will be challenged), it is important that we are prepared.  It is a mistake to believe our faith will suddenly come to us when we need it if we spend a lifetime neglecting that faith, taking it for granted as some "magic spell" that can be conjured up when needed.  And in Mark's context, underscored by The Revelation, we are warned well in advance that all which is man-made - including our laws - will ultimately perish when the Kingdom of the Most High God is finally and completely revealed.

Yet we also read that even as Jesus prepares us for the worst which is certain to come, our Lord also prepares us for what we must continue to do in the meantime: "The Good News must ... be proclaimed ..." (Mark 13:10).  We must not be distracted by the things we will certainly endure, the things over which we have no control - like wars and natural disasters because, as Jesus teaches, "these things must take place ... but do not be alarmed ... for the End is yet to come." 

Even as "nations will rise against nations and kingdoms against kingdoms ... this is but the beginning of birth pangs".  Do we see that even as Jesus seems to be referring to death and destruction of the "former things", He is also making us aware that what is actually taking place is birth rather than death?   Reading apocalyptic literature in the Bible is often very hard to take because it sounds like a lot of gloom and doom - indeed for those outside the community of faith, it may well be!  For the faithful, however, something wonderful is coming forth from these "birth pangs", and it has nothing to do with the commercialization of eschatology (end times theology)!  The knowledge of what is to come is not for sale, for the Price has already been paid!

It also cannot be good for the soul that we would spend so much time worrying about what is to come, but it can benefit the soul greatly to spend time dealing with what already is!  And this is where the community of faith comes in.  I think perhaps the Church has done a grave disservice to the people we are supposed to minister to by trying to make the masses afraid of the End Times instead of showing them what is to be had right here and right now!  "Eschatology" is a $20 word for something that really should not concern the devoted disciple.  When Jesus tells His followers not to worry about these "things to come", is He essentially telling us to just plain, ol' NOT worry at all?  Especially as there is nothing we can do about it?

Governments will do what they will do, and we have little control over these decisions.  There are bands of international outlaws doing their level best to make us afraid, trying to convince us that their acts of terror will be our undoing - OR - our future way of life.  Jesus is not trying to make His followers afraid of these things which are certain, and He is not offering advice on how we must deal with these treacheries.  He is teaching us about how we are to conduct ourselves - not as a nation of individuals, "lone rangers", each seeking his or her own - but as The Church, His Body, His very being!

We must not be "afraid" or even overly concerned about the state of the world; we have chosen representatives to see to that business for us.  We must not be afraid of other "kingdoms" or "nations" that seek to do harm, and we certainly cannot control nature!  We can, however, be mindful of that certain promise from our Lord: that "This is but the beginning of birth pangs".

Something wonderful will arise from the smoke and ash of natural and man-made disaster; it is the Holy Church, the Body of Christ.  It is the community of the faithful that will endure not by "magic" but by sheer will, rigid determination, and practiced faith as a community.  And those "who endure to the end will be saved".  And it is a safe bet that it will be a long time between "now" and "then".

If we wish to endure "to the end" and "be saved", let us as a community stand together.  Let us declare our allegiance to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  Let us reaffirm our faith by sharing together the Last Meal our Lord shared with His faithful. 

To the End.  And beyond.  Amen.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Thought

“Have mercy on me, O Lord!  Consider my trouble from those who hate me; You who lift me up from the gates of death, that I may tell of all Your praise in the gates of the daughter of Zion.  I will rejoice in Your salvation.”  Psalm 9:13-14

“From those who hate me”, how often have we sought human solutions to human problems rather than to go first to the Lord?  It occurs to me that we are much more apt to pursue political solutions to our problems long before we will give real attention to serious prayer time.  This may be why, in so many circles, it is virtually impossible to discern the difference between the Church and the “world”; we are perhaps too quick to make peace with those whose lives conflict with the Lord’s order and statutes, those who often tempt us to follow them rather than follow our Shepherd.

The Church cannot be all things to all people anymore than Christians can be something to everyone; we can only be who and what we are to the Lord.  Yet each day our choices reflect whom (or what) we truly follow.  If we take our discipleship for granted and simply assume “the Lord understands”, we are kidding ourselves.  No relationship can survive neglect for long.

Reconnect.  Repent.  Confess.  Pray.  Fast.  Study scripture.  Attend worship.  Do whatever you must to reengage in the One Relationship – the ONLY relationship – that gives us life and purpose for that life. Do this, and the Church will survive.  Do it not, and we will desperately cling to every passing fad (and person!) that sounds good in the moment but will not last, discovering that the very best the “world” can offer is only an illusion.

Have mercy on us, O Lord!


Monday, November 12, 2012

A Thought

“The Lord spoke to Moses, ‘The tenth day of the seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement.  It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the Lord.’”  Leviticus 23:26-27

This day is known in Judaism as “Yom Kippur” which is, translated, the “Day of Atonement”.  It is a most solemn and sacred day, taught in Judaism as that day when all work is prohibited so that one may spend the bulk of the day in Scripture study (The Torah) and reflection on one’s sins for the past year.  Individuals are required to make atonement to the offended neighbor (those we have hurt or neglected) before an offering can be made to the Lord.  In fact Jesus affirms this practice in Matthew 5: “If you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way.  First be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (23-24).  In short, it is a time when one’s repentance is to be demonstrated.

We Christians have allowed ourselves to be too far removed from this solemn practice and disciple of reflection by suggesting to ourselves that either 1) Jesus took care of the need to do this, or 2) the Lord knows our hearts.  Yet it was Jesus who affirmed the practice as necessary!  And as for the Lord who knows our hearts, can we not say the Lord knew Abraham’s heart even as He asked Abraham to offer his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice?  Can we not say the Lord knew Job’s heart but still required Job to endure his suffering?  I think we can say with confidence that the Lord does indeed know our hearts, but can we say we are truly sorry and will earnestly repent (“turn away”) from the harm we have done to others and to our Lord if we are unwilling to make amends and demonstrate our repentance?  Is this not why we discipline and punish our children; so they will not forget and will truly learn a valuable lesson?

“Cheap grace” allows us to commit sin against our neighbors and against our Lord and simply walk away with a cheesy “sorry ‘bout that” or “my bad”.  True grace, divine grace, requires much more.  It is not cheap, and it is not easy by any means.  How many times would we ask Jesus to go to the Cross for the sins we commit so easily and sometimes eagerly and never bother to make amends for?

If we really want to restore the Church to its former glory (when was this, exactly, anyway??), we are going to have to go much deeper and act much more purposefully than to simply think up a new ministry or a new music program or a new ad slogan or replace the preacher.  Restoration of the Church must begin with the restoration of one’s soul.  It will begin in the pews, not from the pulpit, and certainly not from the Conference office of the area bishop, nor from Rome.  And it absolutely will not happen with a new president or a new Congress!!   It will begin on our knees, and by our demonstrations of our faith.  The Holy God instituted this practice for His people as a discipline, and Jesus affirmed it.  Who are we to dismantle it in the name of Jesus or outright ignore it?


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Life is ... life

Job 4:1-6, 5:17-22

Suffering is something we all share in common.  There is not one soul among us who has not endured pain to one extent or another, but there are many souls among us who have suffered - at least in their own minds - unjustly.  To be sure, bad things happen to good people every day, but the superstitious elements of religion have reduced these sufferings to either 1) "God has turned His back on me", or 2) "Satan is trying to get me".  Whether either statement can be true in Job's context or in our own, I suppose, is a matter of perspective; but we cannot ignore this profound reality: life happens, and it is not always pretty.  I believe this to be the essential component of Job.
It is arguable whether Job is to be understood as a literal account or a story of metaphor with much broader implication and meaning (I pick metaphor).  In this it is also arguable as to the true nature and character of "Satan" as the "evil one" who intends to undermine divine sovereignty - or - a legitimate member of the "Judgment Day" divine court as the "accuser" or "prosecutor" whose charge is to challenge the human facade of faith.  Either role can challenge the devoted believer because it is hard to imagine the "evil one" with unfettered access to the heavenly court (1:6) as much as it is difficult to envision a benevolent and merciful God who would subject His faithful to such a test only to prove a point or settle a bet.
To answer questions about Job's challenge is to dig deeper into a study that will challenge the believer to perhaps question the basis for faith.  "Satan" suggests to YHWH that Job's faith has been essentially "bought" with divine favor and that if this facade as the basis for his faith were to be challenged and the divine favor withdrawn, Job's faith would fall away at the first sign of trouble (1:11).  It is here where we are challenged to examine ourselves and our own relationship to YHWH just as we often evaluate our human relationships, the compelling component of this evaluation being whether we would participate in any relationship without a certain promise or a reasonable expectation of reward. 
This is, I think, the essential element of Eliphaz' discourse to Job.  Job clearly wants answers to his suffering just as anyone would if one were to go from "abundance" to "nothing" virtually overnight with no clear cause.  What would be troubling, however, is what may finally come from such answers.  Would we discover that absent divine blessing, we may find no practical use for YHWH if we discovered we had an abundance of hope for good things but no faith to endure the bad?  If the mask of contentedness were to be pulled away, might we discover that our faith can be reduced to the promise of reward or the threat of punishment which, of course, would be completely about self and "stuff"?  That is, we are eager to "receive" but not so willing to "give".  That is no relationship at all.
Our Christian theology informs us of eternal life in Christ, but our practical experience proves to us that it is a long time between "now" and "eternity".  That is, we have to endure life now with its ups and downs, with its blessings and curses, with perhaps more broken hearts than dreams fulfilled.  There is good and bad, but it would be disturbing to most of us if we were to discover that the adversity we face in this life was not so much a "natural order" (stuff happens) as it is a "bet" between YHWH and "Satan" as merely a test of the authenticity of our faith.  Such a portrait of a cruel God would not be enticing to those who are still searching for meaning to their existence in the midst of needless suffering or self-imposed "pity parties".
"Satan" suggests Job's faith is connected directly to his wealth, but we are also told Job was devout in his religious practices and faithful in his burnt offerings for sins that "might" have been committed by his children (1:5).  His gratitude for all he has seems clear to us as it is equally clear Job was willing to go to great lengths (and substantial expense) to offer sacrifices to YHWH faithfully. 
After such fidelity, then, it is understandable that Job was not as willing to be instructed as he had been willing to instruct others in their misery and pain (4:3).  Others may have brought their misery upon themselves, but we are not given that kind of information.  We see by what is written that Job was virtually flawless in the practice of his religion and in his relationships with others.  What may come from his faith, however, remains to be seen in his conversation with Eliphaz that is equal parts accusatory and comforting.  
What the faithful reader is confronted with is the certain reality that life is just ... life.  Jesus teaches that it rains on the just AND on the unjust.  Life happens.  Yet even if we do not figure out all the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, we can be confident through genuine faith that the Lord has His own purposes.  We are often "reproved" perhaps so that we do not become so full of ourselves in our own sense of pious "awesomeness" that we compromise our humility and ultimately endanger our immortal souls as the Pharisee in Jesus' parable of Luke 18:9-14 ("Lord, I'm glad I'm not a sinner like that tax collector!"). 
Such necessary reproval may be better understood in the context of Jesus' parable of the vinedresser (John 15:1-8); when one is "pruned" (enduring "pain" as in being "cut"), it is for the purpose of producing even more fruit than before.  That is, when we have done well and faithfully, our Lord will enable us to do even better in the perfection of our faith and the honest practice of genuine religion.
Honest evaluation of our relationship with the Lord is as much a part of sanctifying grace (i.e., "going on to perfection", Hebrews 6:1-3) for the soul as is the food and water we consume to nourish our bodies, maintain our health, and grow stronger.  The Church provides all the tools necessary for this growth, but we have to make an effort to use these tools.  Indeed how much good can it do for us to join a gym but never use the equipment?  Is it of any practical use that we can proclaim our "membership" if we do not actively participate in that "relationship"?  Or will others simply laugh at us as the "hypocrites" we ultimately prove ourselves to be? 
It is not always easy to endure such "growing pains", but there is divine purpose (beyond self-indulgence) in our common calling as ministers of the Gospel irrespective of material wealth and worldly comfort.  For it is as St. Peter shares: "Since Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin), so as to live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desire but by the will of God" (1 Peter 4:1-2 NRSV).
Life is ... just ... life.  For our Lord.  In our Lord.  And through our Lord who "[may] wound but will bind.  Who [may] strike but will heal".  As faith endures.  Amen.       

Thursday, November 08, 2012

A Thought

“Whenever you sign a boycott or a petition, any time you e-mail a corporation or a member of Congress to ask that they change their own behavior or force a change in someone else’s behavior, first think of five things you could have done, relative to the same issue or a closely related one, in the past month, but did not do.  Then think of one thing you can do, and then do it.  The five things ensure that you don’t get to feel self-righteous about your action [of only complaining]; the one ensures that you take personal responsibility for the issue [we claim is so important to us].”  David Walbert,      

“The one thing you do”, the writer continues, “should not include spending money, but it should include sacrificing something.  It need not be major because it is not about grand gestures.”  It is about a willingness to take personal responsibility and be willing to sacrifice for something we believe in rather than demanding someone else make the sacrifice in our behalf.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who coined the term ‘cheap grace’, could not have said it better.


Wednesday, November 07, 2012

A Thought

“The Lord has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all.”  Psalm 103:19

We can worry about how to make the “state” stronger, or we can work diligently to strengthen the Church.  We’ve exercised our civic duty by voting in the election and perhaps we “won” or we “lost” depending on how we see it, but the Church still stands as called and set apart for the Lord’s work.  I noticed this morning the sun still rose, and the news indicates the Northeast continues to recover from the latest storm while bracing for a new one; to me, indicating our Lord still is seated on His throne and His Church still set apart for His work.

The psalmist expresses confidence in that which is everlasting – the Covenant; to those who “keep His Covenant, and to those who remember His commandments to do them” (Psalm 103:18).  The only mention the “state” receives is toward those who choose to reject the Covenant and choose, instead, “Caesar” as their “god”.

Our Lord will be faithful to those who are faithful to Him.  We always have a choice to make, and this choice is reflected in our daily living.  Saying His Name while ignoring His commandments and neglecting His Church is like trying to “have the cake and eat it, too”.  We cannot have it both ways.

So let the election stand.  Speak positively about our Lord and His Holy Church, and refrain from negative comments about our elected officials (they were never able to save us, so why do we blame them for not saving us?).  Speak of the Covenant that is open to all who will trust in the Holy God and will receive His Son as Lord.  Be mindful that the people of the Covenant are rightfully held to a higher standard, and know that as we faithfully “make disciples … and baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit … and teach them to observe [the Lord’s commandments], [The Lord} is with [us] until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).  This is our faith; this is our hope.


Monday, November 05, 2012

A Thought

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.  Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain.  It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for He gives sleep to His beloved.”  Psalm 127:1-2

When we work, we work for things that have no lasting value.  We pay our bills that will keep on coming, and we make our car payments only to turn around and trade that car before it is paid for.  We buy groceries week after week because, well, we eat the food!  All these things and so much more has become necessary in our daily living.  And though I would bet the people of Israel did not endure such a complicated life as ours, they still bought, sold, and traded for things that lasted no longer than those things we buy, sell, and trade for today.

The psalmist is making a point, however.  Daily living requires a lot from us but offers nothing that will last beyond its own time.  Humans are the same in that our physical bodies will not last beyond their own time.  The soul, however, which truly defines who we are, is that part of us that will last long after our bodies give out.  This is the eternal image in which we are created, and it is necessary that we find our connection to that which is everlasting.  The Lord must “build the house” and the Lord must “guard the city” lest these things crumble before our eyes, and we discover that for all our work and for all our hoarding and saving for the rainy day that never really comes, we find that apart from the Lord our existence is no more meaningful than a house that will deteriorate with age or a city that changes constantly, vainly trying to keep pace with the latest trends.

Let us look to the heavens and pour out our hearts.  The Lord will show us what matters, and the Lord will give to us that which He wills.  And after the house crumbles and the city falls, we will endure … from everlasting to everlasting.


Sunday, November 04, 2012

The Real Deal

Deuteronomy 6:1-12
Luke 18:15-17

I read a letter recently to "Dear Abby" in which an elementary school teacher was bemoaning the many (but not all) children in her class who have no concept of discipline, no social restraint, no foundational moral code to speak of, and no real idea about how to behave under any semblance of authority or sense of community.  These children, the teacher says, are the direct product of neglectful parents who have come to believe life owes them more than they owe their own children.  So these neglectful parents, who often complain of being "too busy" with their own lives, willingly surrender their God-given authority and responsibility to teachers and then complain that their children are not being magically transformed into model citizens or cannot read and do simple math at grade level.  We need only to look at Arkansas’ relatively high number of schools in academic distress to know the depth of this secular truth.

Traditionally, we have understood that children do not “just know" anything; in fact no one does, but in a child's world and mind there is no such thing as "common sense".  They must be taught, and they must be taught from Day One.  These lessons about family, friends, church, faith, community, discipline, respect, and responsibility do not come as the result of one or two lessons or one or two lectures (lectures never seem to work anyway, so why do we keep doing them??).  These lessons do not come even by one or two spankings or other acts of correction.  Children learn by example, by watching and observing (including the lessons we would rather they never see!).  These lessons are reinforced continually so whether good or bad, these lessons are not "theoretical" like a lecture or even a sermon; they become practical.  And when they become practical, they become an integrated part of the child's social DNA. 

In the community of faith there are practices and Sacraments that are a very practical part not only of what we do but essentially define who we truly are; and these practices have their roots in Moses' teaching to the people of Israel as he reminded the nation that their children will not "just know" about Israel's history and liberation by the Lord's mighty hand.  "The Story" must be told from generation to generation; purposefully, intentionally, and practically.  That is, by "doing"; in life, in living with and relating to one another, and in our religious practices.  And it must begin "immediately".  There is no appropriate age for which to “wait”. 

Moses also warned them before they entered into the Promised Land that they will be walking straight into blessings they had not acquired for themselves: "cities you did not build, homes ... you did not fill, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant".  If "The Story" is not told faithfully "to your children at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise", that is, in practical, day-to-day living and religious practice, the children are at risk of never knowing how they got where they are, what they went through, and never knowing the goodness of the Lord who gave them this blessed land AFTER having delivered them from slavery.  This must surely be part of the reason why the Passover celebration is so elaborate.  Absent these practical lessons in the way “The Story” is told, the children are at risk of expecting that all this "goodness" and all these blessings of plenty will have always existed and will always be there because they required no real discipline to attain.  They will not appreciate what they have, and they will never have known how it all came to be.

We know how easy it is to take things for granted.  We get used to a certain thing - or persons - and we come to expect these things or these persons to always be there ... for us ... on our own terms ... when we want or need.  It rarely occurs to us that these things or persons don't "just happen" - and that if these things and these relationships are not protected and developed and supported and nurtured and shared mutually, one day they will be gone.  And then it will be too late.  Once these things or persons are gone, because we somehow came to believe we were entitled to them, it becomes "someone else's" fault when these things no longer exist (sometimes we even blame the Lord when we don’t get our own way!) because it never occurred to us and subsequent generations who learn from us if we fail to teach them by showing them what it took for these things and these relationships to come into being AND to continue to exist. 

It is all the more important now than ever before that painstaking attention and efforts toward the Church community be taken lest neglect set in and our children are raised up to simply expect the church community to be there for them for as long as they want it to be there, never having been taught that the very existence of any kind of community, but especially the church, does not "just happen" somehow by magic or by the work of the Annual Conference or the bishop.  It takes mutual effort, mutual sweat, a mutual sense of community, a mutual sense of faith, and mutual sacrifice.  And it begins at infancy, from day one.

The Roman Catholic Church recently convened a synod in which the bishops of the Church explored issues of evangelism in efforts to revitalize the Church.  One writer who observed the goings-on at the synod had this to share: "It may not be easy for the bishops to say openly, but our situation in a secularized world is not ... 'similar to that of the first Christians.'  The early Christians lived in a pagan society untouched by the Good News.  Our culture is deeply shaped by rejection of that News and [continually reshaped] by a sustained effort to live life on explicitly non- or even anti-Christian grounds.  If we are not absolutely clear about that, much effort will be simply wasted."

So we are not dealing today with a culture that never heard the Good News; we are dealing with and living in a society that has largely rejected that Good News in favor of something ... what?  More fulfilling?  More appealing?  More satisfying?  The writer continues: "Speaking of being saved: a [ a non-Christian] reading the synod 'Propositions' would have a hard time knowing what there is to be saved from, religiously speaking. Violence, war, individualism are condemned and there is call for reconciliation; human rights, religious liberty, and freedom of conscience are affirmed. But even the [non-believers] largely agree with us about all that." Robert Royal

So we are compelled to ask ourselves: what is the difference between a conscience informed and developed by secular social or cultural realities, and a soul transformed by the Gospel and the Spirit?  Stability.  That's it; stability.  It has so often been said, "When conscience trumps truth, we have moral chaos."  Amidst that "moral chaos" is a lot of moral ambiguity and feel-good notions about doing whatsoever we please when we please (as long as it’s legal, it must ok, right?) and going to great lengths to hear only what we wish to hear and then wondering why the lectures and sermons never take root.

Something magnificent happens, however, when parents intentionally and purposefully bring their little children (yes, even infants) forward and offer them to the Lord, His Covenant, and the community of faith through the practice and Sacrament of Baptism.  In Luke’s gospel it is seen that the "church", represented by those followers who tried to shoo away these "bothersome" parents who were bring their “infants” to Jesus, clearly did not get what was being offered to them and what continued to happen after Pentecost when "entire households" (presumably including young children and infants) were baptized according to the faith of a parent who came to the Truth that is Christ our Lord and who discovered that true salvation is within our grasp through Christ.  It was parental leadership by example within the community of faith that changed children's lives and taught them, and it is no less true today.  If anything, it is more important now than ever before in a society informed by rejection of the Gospel!

Jesus is saying in clearly unambiguous terms that the little children should not be – MUST NOT be - withheld from Him; and if we do not “bring” our children to Him in the Covenant, are we not “withholding” our children from Him?  There is no such thing as a "more appropriate" age, children do not have to be "prepped" for baptism into the Lord's Covenant, nor do they need to be taught to say “right things” or “proper prayers” before the Lord will accept them (is this not like “works”?), and there is no better time than "now" to teach our children by showing them what is truly important and will offer “stability” and a firm foundation of faith.  Parents must not "wait and see" what may transpire with children and merely hope for the best, especially when we are mindful of the social context in which the Church exists, the social context in which our children are at risk of being handed over to moral conscience largely informed by a secular culture "shaped by rejection of the Gospel", as our writer friend suggests.

Discipleship does not "just happen".  It is directed, it is disciplined, it is focused, and it is purposeful toward learning more and more about our Lord and our place within the community of faith.  It begins with parents and by the faith of parents.  It continues and is supported and nurtured by and with the faith of the Holy Church - that's you and me - and it does not end until we breathe our last.  And if we lament the sorry state of our nation that seems to be going to hell in a hand basket, why would we not work more diligently and earnestly to build up the community of the Holy Church rather than neglect it – instead of blaming politicians?

Matthew and Britany McDonald are about to come before you today and ask a very special favor and bestow on us an incredible honor.  A couple of weeks ago they decided they wanted to join this church and become a part of this fellowship.  Now they are about to offer their precious child, Sarah, to our Lord in the Sacrament of Baptism, and they are going to ask the community of Asbury United Methodist Church to support them, encourage them, and help them to continue to raise up Sarah - and Savannah - "in the way that they should go" so that "when they are old, they will not depart" from the Truth who is Christ our Lord, Christ our Savior, Christ the Lord God's Most Holy Covenant; for the journey with Christ must begin in the Covenant of Christ, and this beginning is the Sacrament of Baptism.  It is the “real deal”.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

A Thought

“Every day Jesus was teaching in the temple.  The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill Him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.”  Luke 19:47-48

What strikes me in this passage is the contrast between those who were “spellbound” by the Good News Jesus was teaching to those who wanted to hear, and those whose minds were already made up and who didn’t want to hear more.  It is very likely Jesus was teaching the people to look to and lean on the Lord rather than these chief priests and other religious leaders. 

Also consider how compelling Jesus’ lessons must have been to a people oppressed not only by the invading Romans but no less so by religious authorities.  Somewhere in the midst of the harsh realities of life, a soul needs to be reminded of their “sacred worth”.

Life is no easier now, and the election season only reminds us of how divided we are as a nation AND as a church.  Worse than this, however, are the many politicians (“leaders of the people”) who are trying to convince so many that they alone have the answers to all our problems.  It is now more than ever that many poor souls need to hear the Gospel of our Lord, the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Now is the time for all Disciples of our Lord to step up.  Let us put aside the judgments and those things that divide us and strive to reach out and offer sanctuary.  Let us offer the Eternal Truth that will not change regardless of the political majority.  Those who do not want to know will search diligently for a way to suppress this Good News, but those who truly do want to know will be “spellbound” by the Truth.