Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Song of Morissa and Jason

Last weekend, (June 24, or 8 Tammuz, 5767,) I was privileged to watch two friends get married down in Philadelphia. As you may be able to tell from the date, they are Jewish, and it was one of the most amazing, spirit filled weekends I have had in a while. This is a picture of them cutting the cake. (It is from my camera phone, so the quality isn't great.)
Theirs is a tight knit, though welcoming and loving, community, and when one of their young members gets married, it is apparently a cause for great celebration! And so this was, starting on Friday night, going through the service and reception on Sunday, and on into a series of well-wishing parties all up the east coast this week!

I have known Morissa for a long time, at least 11 years. She is one of my dearest, deepest friends. Jason I have just met recently as he and Morissa came to be together. Because she loves him, I have come to love him, too. We have hosted the both of them twice for New Years', and it was at New Years' this year at our house that Jason proposed. My son was very good about telling everyone that this weekend!

It was a great honor to be asked to give one of the seven blessings (Sheva Barachot) during the ceremony on Sunday. The introduction to the blessing was sung by one of Jason's friends from Berkeley, CA and then read in English by the Rabbi, a friend of Morissa's mother and stepfather.
Here is the traditional blessing:

Grant great joy to these loving companions as You gladdened Your creations in the Garden of Eden. Blessed are You, our God, who brings joy to the lovers.

Here is what I wrote. You'll note the echoes of the Song of Songs. For context, I should say that for the first couple years of their courtship, Jason was in Berkeley, while Morissa was in Philadelphia. Recently Jason moved to Boston, and Morissa will be joining him there. They have never lived in the same town until now.

The Song of Morissa and Jason

"The voice of my beloved", Solomon said. "Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains".

The Sierras, the Rockies, the Poconos weren't too much trouble.
"Fly the Friendly Skies" to my love, Solomon should have said.

"Arise, my fair one, and come away."
Finally to the same time zone, the same area code, the same phone, the same place.

One mezuza.

"Lo, the winter is past, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land", indeed!

"Set your seal" upon each other.
"Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the fields, there I will give you my love". Make haste, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or young stag upon your mountain of spices.

Now is the time. Make haste, arise, come away!

Go. Be. Love.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Tough, Loving, Smart and True

Colossians 2:2-7
Preached at Shavertown United Methodist Church
Farewell Sermon
June 16-17, 2007

When you read Colossians, you begin to realize why it can be so hard to do Biblical study, sometimes. You get the feeling that Paul is arguing against something, but it's really hard to figure out what it is. It's like hearing only one side of a phone conversation, but not being able to hear the other side. So we are left to piece together what Paul is arguing against.

I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God's mystery, that is, Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

The Bible commentaries that I read suggest that the church at Colossae was listening to some teachers who had a bit of a strange take on the Gospel. Modern presumption of the argument of the strange teachers in Colossae comes down to this-- Jesus is one of many appearances of the divine, and that Jesus himself is not divine, nor perhaps was he human.

So, in response, Colossians was written. And what Colossians says is that Jesus is sufficient for Christian faith. There is no further knowledge of God necessary, Jesus was God's full self-disclosure all by himself. Paul reminds the Colossian church to stand together, remember what they have been taught, and be reassured that they have the full knowledge of Jesus, and that there are no further secrets to learn.

This is good enough for me. Not because I am not open to new revelation, but because we all need something definite to hang our hats on. The goal is a relationship with God, so it is enough for me to believe that Jesus IS the son of God, that he WAS fully human, and that he DID die in order to save humanity from itself, and that God DID raise him from the dead, to show us his power over everything, including death, injustice, and oppression. There is where I start, that is the base from which I explore.
And as believers, our response is to be tough, loving, smart and true.

I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God's mystery, that is, Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

It's not easy to be a Christian. It never has been. There are always these moments where we re-think ourselves because of something we have heard in church, or read in the Bible, or been taught. Plus, there's all this work; study the Bible, fellowship dinners, our conscience demanding that we speak up when it's probably wiser to hush. Oh and there's that irritating back-of-the-mind thought you've had for three weeks about going on that mission trip. Do you really want to blow vacation time to build a hospital in the tropics, instead of sipping drinks with little umbrellas in them?

Oh, and the people at church. Speaking of being a Christian being hard work! Some of them make you so mad you could just. . .

Ugh. It would be a lot easier not to be Christian.

But you are. You've heard the story of Christ, you've been baptized, you are in.

Tough, loving, smart and true.

I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God's mystery, that is, Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

It has been my privilege to walk with you for two and a half years. I am a pastor. It is what I am called to do by God and by the United Methodist Church. And now the time has come for me to move on to other congregations.

But as I leave, I will take with me memories and useful experiences. I'll remember summer nights out on the Anselmo's deck talking about faith and church in the Back Porch Jesus classes. I'll remember sitting in worship with you hearing Pastor Doug announce that he and Jan had separated. I'll also remember the joy of their reconciliation as Doug moved to Central Endicott. I'll remember a pastor who was already a friend, Lynn, coming here.

A huge chunk of my memory will be filled with the youth group, especially the young women who were as constant as the northern star. Through thick and thin, weather, homework, and jobs, I saw you all the time. We IM'ed together, you got me into MySpace, we played mandolin together, we crashed the Beetle together at Sky Lake. I can tell you now that my nickname for you all was "the Beguines". I went and finally looked that word up this week, so I could make sure I wasn't calling you something terrible, and I discovered that there are two meanings. One is a dance that originated in the Caribbean, and the other is the name for a religious sisterhood that started in the 13th century. No lie, I didn't know that, but it is perfect.

Those of you who have helped with youth group over these two years will be the model of how to develop people as disciples together for God's purposes. Through you, I know what can be done when God leads.

We have lived together as a family, with all the attendant loving, fighting, and bad and good behavior. You will continue to live together as that family. Colossians tells us that Christians are to be united in love, that our hearts should be encouraged, and we should remain firm in the faith of Christ. You will continue this journey together, with Lynn as your pastor. I will start a new journey with my new church families. Both of us will continue to seek God, root our lives in him, build up our faith in Him, and abound in thanksgiving. This will keep us in Him, and keep us together as a church, with our purpose clear--that we will make disciples of Jesus Christ.

And may we be tough, loving, smart and true, too. May our hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that we may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God's mystery. God's mystery is Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. And belief in him is all that we need. There is no further knowledge required. There are no more secrets.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

New Appointment

Yesterday at the Wyoming Annual Conference meeting in Scranton, I received my official appointment, to Center Moreland and Dymond Hollow UMC's. It was a semi-solemn moment, of course, but it was also pretty exciting. This is a photo from out of the back door of the parsonage.

There was a new twist to the reading of the appointments this year; the pastor moving in was called out, along with the new church, and the District Superintendent gave us both letters. The one addressed to me outlined the Bishop and Cabinet's thinking in sending me to CM/DH, and what the new church had asked for and how they feel I filled their request.

It is actually a pretty handy letter--if there is one thing I have learned, especially from the appointment I am in now, it is to get as clear a set of guidelines and expectations from the church as possible from the beginning. Setting up an evaluative tool based on this letter and conversations with the new churches is something I want to do as soon as possible, so success can be measured, and not based on peoples' feelings on a certain day.

Nothing in the letter is anything that is out of my reach, I feel. I am naturally an outgoing person, especially in a professional environment. I do have some expertise in technology for worship, though by no means do I know the ins and outs of PowerPoint and know even less about actual worship software suites. I do sing well, but I wouldn't say that I am a strong musician--rather, I have a strong interest in music, and like to plink along as best I can on my mandolin. I am pretty good with youth, though my strengths don't lie in programming and activities so much as just being able to hear and relate.

As for more visitation in homes, hospitals and nursing homes, I'll do the best I can, and we'll see if it is enough. I'll be making a weekly schedule that will be a guideline to perform this part of ministry, but I am sure that some weeks will be more successful than others. In ministry, things do have a way of coming up!

Which leaves preaching. Not a specific characteristic in my letter, it is still one of the primary tasks of being a minister. It will have been 6 years since I have had the weekly discipline of preparing sermons. I know that I have the gifts to be a good preacher, and being able to prepare over the course of two to three weeks has been a great luxury. True excellence in preaching is based on what what you can do consistently over the course of time. Again, the best I can do is to set out a schedule of time with which to use for sermon preparation, continue to attend my lectionary group (as if I would EVER give them up!), and pay attention to what Eugene Peterson calls "Working the Angles"; prayer, scripture reading, and maintaining a relationship with a spiritual director.

In the midst of all of this, I need to remember how to say no to stuff--I continue my prayer of "Please Lord, give me the strength to do Less!" I want to concentrate on the big rocks of the famous story, and the littler rocks and and sand will fill themselves in. These are the Big Rocks: Family life & life with spouse, God, Preaching & Worship, Visitation.