Thursday, February 26, 2009

Looking Christian

Matthew 6:1-8, 16-18

When I was a campus minister, I went to a training session with other new campus ministers, and one of the seminars I attended was one of mission trips. I’d been on a couple by then, and I thought maybe this might be a ministry that might get carried over into my new job. So I went to learn.

I learned a lot, but not much about college students in mission. I learned that one campus minister had been on a mission trip somewhere internationally for many years in a row. Another one was exceedingly proud of the fact that she’d been to one country so many times that she could have been the ambassador from the US. A third seemed to want everyone to know that foreign missions were dangerous, take it from him, he’d been pick-pocketed.

What I had gone to wasn’t so much a nuts and bolts training seminar on quick passport acquisition and strategies for fresh water and building material collection when in poor countries, as it was a bragging competition between ministers who were feeling the need to make their mark, somehow.

There’s a ten-dollar word here for what I was hearing: Hubris. It’s greek, originally, and it meant “Excessive pride, presumption or arrogance (originally toward the gods).” Now, it is more generally understood to be “any outrageous act or exhibition of pride or disregard for basic moral laws.” Usually the act results in the exposire, or downfall of the person who has committed the act. I could just see one of these people taking a team somewhere, getting into a pickle, and damaging the trip or even someone physically, because they knew so much they didn’t need to prepare. Ultimately, their lack of prudence would reflect on themselves, on their team, their church and even their country.

Ever met anyone like that? It’s like that old forture cookie proverb; “It is better to keep one’s mouth shut and be thought of as a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt”.

I have met people like that. I have met Christians like that. People who will wear Christian T-shirts all the time, people who don’t have just one Christian symbol on the back of their car, they have 20 bumperstickers. I once knew a guy who had no less than 15 crosses on his body at any one time.

Apparently Jesus had met some people like that too, because here he is, teaching his disciples what the proper way to be faithful in public is. And the basic statement of the lesson is; do as little as possible in public, and what you do do, it better only be for God’s benefit. To do so otherwise is to be a hypocrite. Not my word, hypocrite; his.

So then, you’ve probably already jumped ahead of me here—what is this silliness with a cross of ash on the forehead? Is there anything that’s more showy? “Here”, some take this as saying; “I’ve repented and now I am better than you.”

For some, you’d be absolutely right. But the answer isn’t to throw away the practice, or to resist adaptation of it yourself. The imposition of ashes is an ancient practice, some have found mention of it as early as the 700’s, over 1200 years ago; and then it was referring to the more ancient practice of sackcloth and ashes. We have seen in Job and other Hebrew Bible occurences that this is the outward sign of an inward move to repentance and acknowledgement of sin. There is nothing new about it, the recent popularity of this particular act in Protestant churches can be traced more to the recovery of institutional memory and the blessed lessening anti-Catholic bigotry than to any creation of a new thing.

Our goal as Christians is not to “look Christian”. It is not our goal to keep score on how many people we have “brought to Christ”, as if we have any power to do anything of the sort. It is to move toward the acknowledgement of sin and to repent of it, both as individuals, and as communities, and to show the love of God to those who are around us. With vigor, yes. With commitment, yes, but also with prudence. What we do affects how others see God. If we pray in a restaurant, it should be because we want to give thanks for the food and the time together, not because we want to “witness” to those who are seated at the other tables. It should be loud enough for the people at our table only to hear, not the family with the kids six tables over.

Ashes on our heads are symbols of repentance and the seeking of the forgiveness of sins. We’ve done it or we want to do it on the inside, so we adapt the sign on the outside. In its way, it is the same thing as adult baptism—there is no inherent magic in the act, but it is a symbol for what is happening in our hearts.

You may decide that you want to do this tonight. You may decide that it is better to do it on your hand than your head. You may decide that you do not want this symbol on you at all. I’m just the tool here, that’s between you and God.

But I would encourage you to reflect on this passage of Matthew, and realize what it takes for granted as well as for what it says. If you are a follower of Christ, the way you show who and whose you are matters. Being tasteful and discreet is preferable, but to do nothing is not. Letting people see what you believe by your actions when observed is preferable to showing them in order to demand their observance isn’t.

One is discipleship, the other is hubris. And the end result of hubris is that you fail because of the very thing you took excessive pride in.

Be disciples, not advertisers.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Now We Know

Mark 9: 2-9

Football in Texas is a very big thing. It’s only half a joke that there are two religions in Texas, Christianity and football, and we’re not sure which is the more important. You see the movie, TV show, or read the book Friday Night Lights and you begin to understand just how important it is to people.

There are ten state champions in Texas every year. They have five classes, each split into two divisions, roughly grouped by size, though geography and the strength of a program also plays a part. That means that there are ten groups of young men who have a moment in their lives where many of the people of their towns look up to them, admire them, honor them. For some, it may be the last time this happens, for others, it is only the first time. But there is this once when they get to be in the parade, instead of watching it. In Commerce, the last town we lived in in Texas, they played for the State championship. The school was on the south side of town, and the highway to where the game was was also that direction. The players, band and cheerleaders were put on the buses, and were led out of the school by the complete fire and police departments, all driving at about 10 miles an hour, so as to allow everyone lined up on the side of the road to cheer, holler, shake cowbells, and otherwise cheer the team on. They won that year, I think, but they came back pretty late at night, so I didn’t go out to cheer the conquering heroes.

For those players, for all of the teams, it’s a moment where, at that moment, they are everything they thought they could be, and everyone else sees who they are at their best. Some guys never get over that feeling. Some hold on to it forever, never missing an opportunity to tell the story of the game, and perhaps even wearing their team jacket. Other guys find that that is the first time they felt that feeling of achievement, and they drive themselves to feel it again.

Champions in any sport have that moment when they have won all that there is to win. It’s not just sports, either. The conclusion of a high school show which received loud and appreciative applause, a choir concert of elite singers, even a bass tournament win, all can give that moment of singularity, a moment when you are noted and singled out for an achievement, and others know of your quality. They don’t just know your name, they know about you, because in the drive to that achievement, they have learned of your character.

If that is true of us as human beings achieving great, but man-made heights, how much more powerful must it have felt for Peter, James, and John to have been present when they saw the proof they’d been seeking about who Jesus was. Peter had to have felt something along the lines of “I was right!” It’s he, who interrupts the three figures talking, asking whether to build a memorial to this event.

What he may not know at that point, but the readers of Mark do know, is that this event, this transfiguration, is not the culmination—this has not been the goal. This transfiguration is the event that names Jesus for what is to come. He is the son of God. He heard the voice tell him so when he was baptized, and now the voice is telling his disciples so, and that they should listen to him. The job that he has prepared for is starting. In Mark, Jesus is very clear about what is to happen, how he will be treated, how he will die, and how he will be resurrected. The transfiguration is the event that signals his movement toward Jerusalem. It shows the three disciples that he is indeed the man they think him to be, and that no matter what happens, no matter how confusing things are about to get, how tough it’s going to be, Peter James and John have experienced the proof that Jesus is who they claim.

Today is also a special day in the life of the church. Transfiguration is a day set a side for the church to mark the change from Epiphany, which has been the season we’ve been in since January 6, to Lent, which are the six weeks before Easter. In various traditions, the season of Lent has been the season of deprivation, of the denial of creature comforts. It has been a season where there is a sense of denying oneself so as to be in common cause, to be in sympathy with Jesus and what he suffered. In the midst of the darkness that is to come, however, we tell the story to each other of the day that Jesus stood on a rock and became a glowing, terrifyingly bright presence, and stood with the two most important figures of the faith, his divinity shining through, just once, so that we could know beyond all reasonable doubt that he is the Son of God. Should we ever doubt his divinity, we can remember this story, what he looked like, and the voice that told the disciples who he was. Should we ever doubt his humanity, we can tell the story that he died.

There was a moment when who Jesus really was became clear to people just like us, people who were frail and clueless, just like us, and if those ordinary guys, Peter, James, and John, went on to do the things that they did in Jesus’ name, then so can we.

There was a brief shining moment in their lives that they could reach for whenever things got tough. Whenever life events conspired to cause them to doubt, there was a brief moment when everything was clear, truth was understandable, and they were in the presence of the greatness of God, with no filter. That moment would be with them for the rest of their lives.

We are far removed from that day. The story we have is not told from the lips of Peter, James or John, but is from the pages of a book. We don’t generally do Lent the way the church has, historically—we do not always deny ourselves things during this time. But, rather than have this story lose importance, we can make it more important, more year-round, more evergreen. There are times through all of our lives when we wonder whether Jesus is for us. Whether Jesus died for us, whether Jesus was really the son of God. Our testimony comes from the Bible, and from our elders in our churches, people who have lived more life than we have, who will say to us that yes, Jesus is divine, Jesus is for us, and let me tell you what happened to me.

And when that story is told again, in the world of the saints who live among us, Jesus is transfigured again. Jesus is the son of God, and in him God is well pleased. Listen to him.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Yesterday's Doonesbury

My seminary Alma Mater. Go 'Stangs!

Heal Me Just a Little

2 Kings 5: 1-14

How many pills do you take in a day? For me, aside from vitamin, allergy and supplements, I have seven. The ailments that I suffer from are all things that have genetic predispositions, but having a genetic predisposition to something and living a life that allows that disposition to mature into a case of the disease are two different things. I am like many Americans, in that much of what ails me can be traced back to the abundance of our lifestyle. What I have are things that people in the African bush, the jungles of Indonesia, or the mountains of Guatemala rarely suffer from.

I know that I can change the way I live, and the things that ail me will largely disappear. But it isn't so easy, certainly not as easy as taking a pill.

When one wants to truly be cured of something, one finds the motivation. This is true especially when the cure is seen to be easy.

Naaman was a general of the Aramean army. This army had fought the Israelites in the past, had apparently won a few times, because there is, in Naaman's household, a young slave girl who is an Israelite.

Naaman is a guy with a disease. I don't know much about Israelite culture, and I know less about Aramean culture, but I do know that Leprosy was one of those things that made you religiously unclean in most cultures. When the Bible talks about leprosy, they are meaning anything from psoriasis and eczema, still that can be treated today with and lotion or a prescription, all the way to Hansen's disease, which is a disease that causes "numbed nerve endings, the blistering and whitening of skin, and eventual loss of parts of the body". What Naaman suffers from is more likely one of the former, and his "people" can't cure him of it.

So he takes his slave girl's advice, and arranges a visit to this Israelite prophet. The arrangement, like most official visits, is a little stressful. The most stress lands on the Israelite King, who interprets this foreign general coming to be cured of a disease as picking a fight, because he doesn't know about Elisha. (Sounds like some kind of knucklehead King, really, and I think we don't know his name for a reason.) Elisha hears that this foreign general is coming, though and sends a message to the king, saying "hey, remember me? Let this guy come here, and at least he'll know there is a prophet in this country!" So Naaman arrives, and the prophet, through a servant, (Elisha doesn't come out, probably because this guy after all, is unclean) tells him that he must bathe in the River Jordan seven times.
Naaman's not thrilled with this, because 1. He's an important guy, and this Israelite prophet won't even come out to see him, and 2. there are plenty of decent rivers back home. His commonsense servants talk him into doing it, however, on the grounds that "psh, this is a piece of cake, you'd be all into doing it if it was hard, so what's so bad about it being easy?"

So he goes, does what he is told in the Jordan, and sure enough, he is healed. Now, this story, all of chapter five, has a lot of lessons in many different tracks. But what I want to focus on is this idea of healing.

I'm not one who puts much trust in televangelist healing services, I see guys who make people get up out of wheelchairs and then turn around and ask for money a little on the shady side. For a long time, United Methodist and other mainline denominations wouldn't touch a healing service with a ten foot pole. But the Biblical witness will not be silent, and if we are to take Jesus Christ seriously, then we have to at least consider the possibility that God has the power to make people whole. And so God does.

Note that what I say is "to make people whole", not to cure their ills. I'm a little bit at sea with regard to healing services, but what I feel much more comfortable with is seeking to make people spiritually whole in the midst of their illness, rather than seeking a cure to cancer.

Let me say it this way. If I was to be miraculously healed of the things that ail me, I am not sure that I would have become spiritually whole. I would probably not change the habits and behaviors that led to the diseases, and I would undo God's work. No, the diseases are there because of habits and behaviors, and the spiritual work is changing the life that lives them. That's where I have much more comfort claiming God's power, because if I change something about me, God's will becomes clearer.

When we talk about "going on to perfection", becoming "entirely sanctified" in the Methodist tradition, we talk about turning away from sinful lifestyles. That doesn't just mean smoking, drinking and such. That can also mean sedentary lifestyles, fast food, and too much TV. And the strength it takes to change your life in those ways does come from God. All day long.

Naaman wasn't happy with the fact that Elisha didn't come out and do the hocus pocus over him, and the leprosy disappearing. What Elisha told him to do was to put out your own effort. Not exciting, not spooky, no fireworks. Just "go take a bath". But once Naaman was healed, (and this is outside this morning's reading, it is vs. 15-19) , and believed that Israel's God was real, he had a dilemma; How can he go back and worship Rimmon, the Aramean God? He can't not go back, and he can't not worship in the temple without risk of losing his job, and probably his life. Can he take some Earth from around the house of Elisha so that he can stay connected to the ground of Yahweh? Elisha says "go in peace', which I guess means yes. Naaman was able to maintain his connection to the God who had restored him.

What ails us, physically and spiritually, is usually of our own doing. Yes there are exceptions, and it is a bad idea to tell people that they just need to "shape up", or "shake it off", or "forget about it", or whatever. But doctors will tell you that in treating disease, the attitude of the patient makes a huge difference.

We all know people who have been in the midst of chronic illness who have amazing spirits. Back in Commerce, I knew a woman named Shelley Seay. She was probably 90 pounds, soaking wet. I don't know what she had, but it required her having dialysis 3 times a week. The church had gathered around her in an amazing way, arranging for drivers to take her and bring her back from the dialysis center, which was some 40 minutes away.

What people remember about Shelley wasn't her misery, her pain, or her emaciated look. Well, not first. What comes to mind first for so many people is the spirit she had. She took this dialysis treatment for a number of years, by my feeble math, at least six. She was tough, gracious, and would always ask about your life. She ran the church's' Meals on Wheels program, which was called "Casseroles for Christ".

I saw recently her name in a list of memorial gifts to the church in their newsletter, so I wonder if she has indeed passed away. But with a spirit like that, a living memorial is not out of the question.

No one can avoid the aches and pains of getting old. But stopping unhealthy behaviors, and starting healthy ones, and keeping to it, will certainly help alleviate the pain and suffering that we will all experience. Eventually the pills stop working, the medicine loses it's effectiveness. But not doing the thing anymore that brought us to sickness goes a long way toward healing us.

If we are healed to be whole spiritually, you can't be healed just a little; God will seek to heal you all the way. And through the healed Spirit, the body will be stronger.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

"He's a Righteous Dude"

1 Corinthians 9: 16-23

One of the most famous movies of the 80's is a movie called "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." The plot is that a very clever high school student skips school, figures out ways to get his best friend and his girlfriend to come along, and they visit museums, go to baseball games, participate in a parade, and generally gallivant around Chicago, while avoiding contact with the schools' principal.

Easily described, but the magic of this movie is in how the story is told.

Ferris, in the movie, is a well-liked kid. The school secretary, Grace, remarks on this in a line that is one of the lines anyone quotes when they talk about the movie. (I didn't show the clip in the worship service, because I didn't want some of the language to dstract from the message. Click here to hear the line.

Now, movies in the 80's, especially the John Hughes ones, were fond of classifying high school kids into rigid stereotypes, and grouping all like kids into groups. The Breakfast Club, a movie I've used in a sermon before, took a number of these stereotypical kids and mashed them together in a common experience that blew their assumptions about each other. Ferris Bueller, however, takes those stereotypes and creates a character who bridges all of them. Every school seems to have kids that are well known and liked by everyone. The character Ferris is one of those. In twenty years of thinking about this movie, I think I know why, and it is pretty close to what Paul claims in today's scripture. Ferris, the character, is very easygoing, and accepts people as they are. So, even though he may not be a "sporto" himself, he listens when people who are athletes talk, and really understands what they mean. He would be the same with drama kids, band kids, FFA kids, college-prep kids and kids who are "this close" to dropping out. He's smart enough not to judge kids with piercings as wierdos, to not judge kids by their look. And really, that's all anyone asks--to be understood. And he can do all this without losing a sense of who he is, himself.

Being Righteous so often becomes a negative--"boy, that person is so self-righteous". You'll see a range of meanings in the dictionary: from Morally upright; without guilt or sin, to absolutely genuine or wonderful: what the turtle Crush means by righteous in Finding Nemo.

Truly righteous living is to be both-- morally upright, but genuine and wonderful.

Paul says that he "becomes all things to all people"; I have to believe that Paul does not paint his body to become an Ethiopian; rather, he listens, and understands, and accepts people as children of God. All people, because he knows the Gospel of Christ is for all people. And he does so completely aware and comfortable being a man who was raised to be a rabbi.

To be like Paul, to fulfill our call as Christians, we are not necessarily called to be like the people around us. Rather, what makes the gospel authentic and trustworthy is how we live it in our lives, and we give evidence that the truth we live prepares us to live with those who aren't us.

When people make mistakes as evangelists, it's usually that they insult or somehow discount who the people are they are working with. Someone once said that it is better to catch flies with honey than it is with vinegar. If you want to carry the love of Christ to a community, to a group, to an individual who is not like you, the job becomes impossibly hard when you do not accept and love who the people are.

Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, says it this way, in Paul's voice; "I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people. . . I didn't take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ--but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view."

Getting out and being a part of the world is a necessary part of the Gospel. Seeing how people live by being with them is so very important, it is almost crucial to a proper living of the gospel. The seminary where my stepmother went required a 5 week trip outside of the US, preferably to another continent, so that comfortable, insulated Americans would experience life from another perspective. It was required for graduation. My life has changed through my experiences in Mexico and Guatemala. Ask Chrissy Bell about India sometime. You go to places where life is different, where the people are different, and you shut up and listen. And where you have commonalities with them, that is where the Gospel can grow. You don't always have to leave the country, but you do have to hush and listen wherever you are.

What does it mean to be a Righteous Dude? It means to live your life according to the Gospel, and to be interested in the lives of others; not just so you can change them, but because you genuinely are interested in them as they are. It means to accept their culture and their lifestyle, to present the simple love of God and the salvation of Christ, and to attach as little of your own culture to it as possible. It means to learn about people in humility, in gentleness. Today is scout Sunday and it really is like living according to the Scout Law: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent. (see, it isn't just Paul who says to live this way!)

The gospel is best preached by the way it is lived. If the people who preach it live in judgment of others, it is a stumbling block. If the people who preach it do not care about the real lives of the people they live among, then their words are hollow, and the Gospel of love for all is a lie.

Truly, our call as Christians in the world is to live as "righteous dudes" If the people who preach the gospel live their lives by the love of God, the true gospel can't help but leak out.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Joining St. Brigid's

So, last night we were having an Administrative Council meeting at my larger church (I am pastor of a "two point charge", in Methodist parlance), and as part of my report, I wanted to say something about my recent final oblation. And I found I really didn't have the words to explain what I wanted, and I was caught up short by the people around the table expressing interest! (and let me say up front how much I love them for that!)

So, I'm going to try to say what it is that I did, and why, and also attempt not to induce drowsiness. Anyone who is more versed in this stuff than I am is absolutely invited to give constructive criticism.

I am an oblate in the Monastery of St. Brigid of Kildare. I declared my final oblation on Sunday, Feb. 1, 2009. So what does that mean?

The way I understand it, an oblate is a person of Christian persuasion who pledges to live according to a "Rule", which is a guide to living life written for a cloister. (I am not aware of their having been Rules written by any women, but my education down this road is very short.) An oblate, however, is not a monk. Oblates were originally people who lived outside the monastery and helped it, served it, did the things that allowed monks to maintain their life within the monastery. Oblates, however, have developed into people who want to live faithful, regular lives without taking on full monastic vows. They seek to apply a Rule to "secular" life (secular meaning outside of the monastery, or in the world.)

The Rule I pledged to try my best to live within is the Rule of St. Benedict. It was written by Benedict of Nursia, Italy, in the early 6th century. It wasn't the first, it is not the last, but it is the basis for most western Monasticism. My new wrestling partner provides a wrestling match that consists of taking the rule and adapting it, to try to make meaningful for my life the rules that are meant to provide structure and harmony for a community of cloistered monks; how to make their rule work for a married father who is a pastor. Benedict was very practically oriented, and though maintained in the Rule 5 times of prayer daily, also speaks of the value of work, of faithfulness to community through work, and the balance of work, rest, prayer, meals and times of study. The balance of these makes human life meaningful. I've found that it actually does give spiritual peace to do ordinary menial tasks well. There is a sacrament to washing dishes, to cleaning toilets, to doing laundry, to being patient as a parent and a spouse. There is also a sacrament to doing a vocation well, to honoring responsibilities. The less fun parts are more easily done when you think of them as ways of being in communion with a God has created it all. This is not to claim that I am perfect at any of it, but I feel that I have gotten better at all of it over the last year; and just to be clear, three daily prayer moments are the goal for me!

My journey with the Rule is just starting, and I do not know it by heart yet, as some who are oblates do (never mind the men and women who live by it much more closely as cenobites, or monks who live in community). When I declared my oblation, I declared it to a community, a group of people who had made the same declaration, the same oblation. The group I joined is called the Monastery of St. Brigid of Kildare, and its physical base is in St. Cloud, Minnesota, apparently included within a large Benedictine Catholic monastery. I don't know, because I haven't been there. It is not Catholic itself, but United Methodist. I actually found it at first in a guidebook that the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship published. I think there are about 60 members of this group, and it has existed for about 25 years. All of us are Oblates, there are no regular residents, no "Cenobites". We do not meet regularly physically. There is a once a year meeting and retreat that is scheduled on or around the "Feast Day" of St. Benedict or conveniently, midsummer. We do meet, regularly, by teleconference.

The Monastery of St Brigid of Kildare has three sources of inspiration; The Rule of St. Benedict, which I described above; the writings of John Wesley and the Methodist movement, from which most of the members spring and whose understanding of salvation and action we share; and the spirit and the expression of Celtic Christianity. Through the third inspiration, the house is structured much more loosely, and both men and women are members. St. Brigid was an abbess of two adjoining houses in Kildare before 610, the year that the Roman Catholic church took over Ireland and eradicated much Celtic Christian practice. That may be the reason why her name was chosen, but I don't know.

I don't know that there is any short answer to the question "so what did you do last week?" I can point you to the website that first got me interested, if you will click here.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Devotional Reflections

My devotional practice, recently, has developed into the following rhythm; Morning prayer according to the Celtic Daily Prayer structure, following the Aidan cycle from that book, with an added reading from Chittister's "The Rule of Benedict", to reflect my new commitment to St. Brigid's Monastery.

Today's three scriptures named in CDP Aidan were Psalm 119;107, Isaiah 53:11, and Mark 1: 16-17. There was a poem by Catherine Baird (#103), and the meditation for the 5th day was the Methodist Covenant Prayer. Chittister's entry for Feb. 5 is the 8th step of humility. (Non highlighted entries are included in the Celtic Daily Prayer's website.)

Today's scriptures are about affliction, the power of taking on burdens and what you learn (. . . and he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge), and companionship (come with me, and I will make you fish for people). The Baird poem is a poem of speculation, wondering if the Earth knew what was coming for Jesus, and did it commiserate?

And Just for added measure, Chittister's Feb. 5 reading is about doing what you're told, and the Wesleyan covenant prayer is a prayer for God to do what God will with us.

Do you think that sounds like a leading?

Humility. submission. The suffering servant discovering value in the suffering.

There is pain in submission, we Americans seem to feel that more than most others in this world. But there is also pain is what we do choose, the pain of isolation. What comes through submission is membership, identification, camaraderie, and support. Suffering pain to be alone gives nothing. Suffering pain in submission is temporary, and there is something that comes after. Suffering pain to be alone only brings more pain, and no value.

We all submit to things. If we have jobs or vocations, success in them involves some sort of submission; to a boss, to a committee, to a job description. And for all of our native intelligence, our personal experiences, submission to the community of work we are in does yield wisdom about how the job we do has developed. It isn't always true that "we've never done it that way before" is an epithet. Sometimes it is acquired wisdom, and it pays for the newbie to pay attention, trying it their way, before discovering that it doesn't work. there's also the issue of acceptance, if you are new. If you come in and try it the way the established community does it before introducing innovations, you show that you value and accept the people you have just joined, which is as important as their showing you the same.

Ordinary tasks must be performed every week, just like the cows must be fed and milked. This is the work. I am a pastor, but I am in service to a congregation. Two, really, and one of them has a funeral coming on Saturday. Perhaps the teaching here is that the mundane stuff is what makes you holy. If there is less static on the radio, the song can come through more clearly, and my song is the love and grace and acceptance of God, as evidenced by Jesus Christ.

So, I will now go and address the mundane in my office!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Why I Entered the Blog World--2009 Update

The occasional restatement of first principles in never a bad idea, so I thought I would re-run this, with some edits to reflect changes. I resisted the urge to create a blog originally because I could not justify it for any reason other than an exercise of ego. I do not think that this is true of all other blogs; there are plenty that serve great ends.

If parishioners miss Sunday worship, they can find the message here. Friends and colleagues can catch up, and occasionally, someone may happen along who finds value in what I say. I am in the business of providing meaning to the Christian scriptures in this time and place for a people to whom I am sent to serve, and this is just another way of doing that.

For the most part, this space will be used to post the sermons and other thoughts of one young-ish pastor in the Wyoming Conference of the United Methodist Church, as the denomination travels a rough patch of ground theologically and socially. As part of that, the Wyoming Conference will soon cease to exist, in the pursuit of efficent ministry. The other part of what we will become is now called The Central Pennsylvania Conference. Something new will be created out of these two Conferences in 2010.

Why the name Fryer Drew? It's really a bad pun. I am fascinated with the modern monastic movement, starting with and continuing with the Northumbria Community. On Feb. 1, 2009, I became an Oblate in the Monastery of St. Brigid of Kildare, which is based in Minnesota. It also reflects my interest in cooking, food and the eternal quest for the perfect fried chicken!

The wit may be meager, but I hope that this blogging journey I am embarking on will be of value both to me and to whomever may find it!

Monday, February 02, 2009

Be Excellent To Each Other

1 Corinthians 8: 1-12

There’s a sense here that Paul seems to be micro-managing. He’s traveling all over the Mediterranean, trying to spread the word of the salvation through Christ, the love of God for all, and he takes the time to dictate a letter back to Corinth about what to eat and where to eat it. Really, the Corinthian church may be thinking, don’t you have more important things to do?

Well if that is all this was about, they’d be right. Imagine, for a minute, that Bishop Hassinger wrote us a letter saying that there is a problem, and that it’s entirely possible that we could be causing people to warp or even lose their faith because of the meat that some of us are eating. Because some people still labor under the superstition that meat that is alaid out for Gods that we believe don’t exist, by any measure don’t have any power over us, avoid trouble-just don’t eat that meat. A traveling Bishop (and that’s he closest thing that we have in the modern church to what Paul does) just doesn’t do such a thing in this time and place, even if they did start the church, which we’re pretty sure Paul did.

If this letter when to all churches, that’s one thing. If the pastors there were acting like Eli’s sons and skimming off the top of the offering for their own greed, that’s one thing. But hey, so my meat comes from the temple down the street? It’s cheaper, it’s pretty good quality, aren’t I being a good steward?

Paul’s tactic is to make sure that people who are on journeys of growth to understanding the love of God and the love of Christ are not diverted or distracted by other things.

There are other ways in which we do this today. There are places where our customs and the pure gospel do not mix, but we favor the local customs over the pure gospel anyway. Paul has a message for those who want to live by love and not just by the knowledge; Care for those who are less aware of things, who are still growing towards reflecting the love of the Lord. Don’t get in their way, help them. Correct them when they are in danger of falling into error, when they are in danger of making themselves stumble, but don’t throw stuff in their path, just because you know more than they do.

Be excellent to each other. I can’t hear that phrase without thinking of it’s unlikely source, the movie Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It was the first movie that Keanu Reeves was known for, and in many ways, even through the Matrix series, he has not been able to shake the image of the slow slacker who cares a lot about his music, but doesn’t care that he’s not good at it. We laugh at guys like Bill and Ted, we watch three whole weeks of people like him at the beginning of every American Idol season.

Somehow, though, I think they know something we don’t. Or they’ve kept something we’ve forgotten. If you haven’t seen the movies, these two guys travel through history in a magic phone booth, collecting historical figures like Napoleon, Socrates (whose name they persist in pronouncing “So- krates”) and Billy the Kid for a report in class, so they can pass history, not be sent to different schools, keep their band together, and save their friendship. “Be excellent to each other” is the philosophy of their lives, and they live it perfectly. Everyone is respected, each of the two of them supports the other, and conflicts are resolved with these principles. They believe that they are great musicians, even though the way the currently play leaves something to be desired.

You begin to realize, as the movie comes to its conclusion, that this attitude of theirs is less delusional and more about believing in their own and each others, and the whole worlds’ potential. And the way for everyone to grow, to achieve what it is they are meant for, is by caring for each other. Parents and teachers have them pigeonholed into roles, and they find a way to live the way that makes them happy, and still gives room for others to live.

Paul, the busybody Apostle of Christ, is really saying the same thing, here. All of you in the Corinthian church; some of you may believe, still, that the meat that is sacrificed to idols, and then sold in the market, is somehow tainted. The true knowledge tells us that the only taint meat can experience is being out in the sun too long, that there is no God but one. If folks want to sacrifice, let them. But for us believers in Christ, if there are those among you who believe in the spiritual taint of meat bought from the temple market, then you should avoid that meat, because it will cause distress to those who haven’t grown to that point yet.

Think about it this way—Do parents discuss the particulars of marital relations with their young children? No, we simply say that parents love each other, and avoid actions that would cause our children to be troubled. More information becomes available as the children grow.

When we are excellent to each other, we do live as if we and everyone else around us have potential. We know that God’s Prevenient grace will lead them to a greater understanding. We know that there is no secret, any more than algebra is a secret to kids who are just learning multiplication. It is no secret, but you do have to build to algebra, and that takes time and effort. So we provide the supportive environment, the tools necessary, and the encouragement. We turn off the TV when it is homework time. We make sure that when they get tired, they get a break. And we watch the growth.
I know it’s hard to do that. It’s hard to get Christians, both in Paul’s time and in ours, to stop believing in things that are more cultural than faithful. But look at the evidence—who sacrifices meat to idols anymore? It’s hard to get kids to do their homework, but look at the evidence. The overwhelming majority of kids pass Algebra, and go beyond it, and pass calculus.

When we have faith in God and God’s motivating grace, wonderful things can happen.

Bill and Ted do a spectacular report, save their friendship, their band and their grades.

Be Excellent to Each Other. Give God’s grace room.