Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I am a United Methodist pastor, currently appointed to Center Moreland and Dymond Hollow UMC's, known as the Center Moreland Charge. I have in the past used this blog to post sermons and thoughts, but was not really using it for much more. I have recently, however, come through a very singular experience. My wife, Donna Charlene (Grieten) Cottle, was diagnosed in June 2009 with a brain tumor. She died on December 5th, 2010. That's a week and a half ago, as I write this.

As part of accompanying her though that journey, I narrated for our friends and family the sometimes daily events of Donna's illness, the accidental hemmorhage during her biopsy, and the struggle to maintain her quality of life through radiation, chemotherapy, physical therapy, and the life we led after all other treatments had been exhausted.

With her passing, the time to end that other blog is coming close, but blogging has become a part of me. It was a powerful experience. I find that I want to be able to describe what life will be like after her death, for both our son and me, but her Caringbridge blog does not seem like the right place. So I'm returning here to my old sermon blog. I've changed the color scheme, and will probably change other things as well. Consider it the same thing as buying a new bed or painting the walls a new color.

I will still post my sermons as the pastor of churches, but I will also now be describing the life of a mid-forties widower and his pre-teen son, a man who is seeking to get fit and healthy after over 20 years of being overweight, a seeker into the practice of Christianity as described by the Benedictine Rule, and perhaps even a budding musician and author. There are many things i'm looking forward to learning and experiencing, and this is perhaps the place to describe it.

Friday, August 20, 2010

An Eloquent Set of Excuses

Dear All:

I am writing to apologize to everyone who follows this blog. There aren't many of you, but you deserve to receive an explaination because of the attention you so kindly pay.

My preaching style has undergone some significant changes, ones that are still being ironed out. Where I used to stand in the pulpit and preach from a manuscript that was easily transferred to this blog, a few months ago, I began to preach more extemporaneously. At first, it was driven by knowing what I wanted to say but not having the time to compose it on the page. I was also influenced by the encouragement that some of my parishioners gave me when I did step down out of the pulpit.

At first, I sought to generate a manuscript of the sermon by recording myself and using a transcription software, but for various reasons, the learning curve on such a project has been difficult and time consuming. This is why there has not been a sermon entry since the 4th of July.

My goal now is to go back to what my old preaching professor at Perkins/SMU, Zan Holmes, taught--preach extemporaneously all you want, but generate the manuscript anyway. This is now what I will start doing. there may be a false start or two as I develop a new habit, and the other current draws on my time and energy continue to be great, but this is at least my resolve. I also hope to find a way to post the recordings, which I will continue to make.

Thanks for your patience and understanding!

Fryer Drew

Donna's Caringbridge posting, August 20, 2010

(I am currently having some trouble pasting in my entry from MS Word to the Caringbridge site, so I have posted this entry to my blog, here.)
All right, Judy. It was about time for an update anyway, I finally had a few things to tell.

Since I last wrote, Josiah turned 11. The mother of one of his school friends threw a paintball party, and sweetly invited Josiah to celebrate his birthday as well (the boys are about a week apart). I believe, and all the parents sitting in the safe room that day agreed, that when those boys graduate high school, they will still remember that party as one of their seminal common experiences! Joe wasn’t sure about it after getting hit in the mask where his mouth was covered by a plastic grille, and the paint splashed into his mouth, but he did end up loving the day, and wants to go again. Right after that party, I whisked him away to sleepaway church camp, and then a week later, on his actual birthday, we ate birthday cake (made by my mom) in the dining room at Mercy Center with Donna, and my mom, dad, and step mom all came up to eat it!

Donna started receiving physical therapy after that cold she had last month, she was just not getting stronger, and it was starting to affect how she got out of bed, toileted, etc. She also started receiving speech therapy as well this week. Speech therapy is kind of a misnomer, catch-all sort of title, because it seems to encompass everything having to do with the throat, from communication to swallowing. Donna had been having some trouble swallowing food, not getting it all the way down, and so they engaged their speech therapist on Monday this week.

Donna is doing well otherwise, though much more tired in the evenings because of all the work she is doing. She was sitting in the sunroom last night, with two or three other residents, and it was very quiet. I’ve fallen into the habit of bringing her ice cream when I come at night. Last night was a Coffee Toffee Twisted Frosty night, and I asked her if she wanted to go to her room, and she said that she preferred being with some company, but liked the quiet, there were people around and less stimuli. Or rather, when I suggested that that was what she was preferring about being there, she said “yeah, that”, and smiled.

It’s a tough couple weeks, because Josiah is in a two week spread between the last organized summer activity and the beginning of school, and though he would be all for it, I’m not interested in his playing Wii for ten hours a day for two weeks. So, I need to invent things to keep him occupied, like having friends over (where they play Wii or their DS’s together, as well as go outside and play soccer or football), or having him go to their houses. He will also run errands with me, and school supplies and shoes need to be bought for school. I’m also continuing to re-engage in the life of my two churches, which sometimes sends me places where Joe cannot go with me. It’s a very busy time, and some days I go to bed late and just can’t get to sleep. I’d always heard that you can be too tired to sleep, but I’ve never really experienced it until now. The car that I bought in March already has 15000 more miles on it than it had when I bought it.

All of this other activity means that Donna comes out on the short end of that stick a little bit. When I can see her, lately, with or without Joe, it’s usually when she and I are both at our weariest.

Dr. Oley ordered a new MRI last week, because we want to know how far, or even if, the tumor has progressed. We’re waiting on the approval of insurance for that, now.

One last item: the process of obtaining medical assistance has now been completed, and she has started receiving some.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

The Fruits of Freedom: July 4, 2010

In an effort to boost recording signal, so the Dragon software might work better, I tried the counter-intuitive approach of turning the recording level to low. What I got was a recording of such low level I couold not even hear it with all the software's boosters. the software certainly could make no sense of it, so this sermon is a reconstruction from memory of what I said last weekend. The learning curve continues!
Galatians 5: 13-26

“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.”

Did you know that the area that Paul is writing to, Galatia, in what we know as North Central Turkey, is named after the Celts? Apparently the story goes that some petty king or another hired mercenaries from central Germany to come down and do his fighting for him, and those german tribesmen were Celts. This may have even been before the Celts had moved west far enough to have settled Ireland. But that’s why Galatia is named that; Greek for Celt.

There’s your Bible study for the day.

The issue that Paul is addressing in Galatia is one of how to follow Christ. Paul had founded the church in Galatia, and now, other believers, with a slightly different outlook on how to follow Christ, have come along and taught the Galatians that one of the ways that you must follow Christ is to live like Christ—observe the festivals he observed, follow the rules, eat the way he ate. Paul has gotten wind of this, and has written back, in this letter, to address the issues that these “judaisers” have created.

It centers on Freedom. Yes, Jesus has freed us from the law. You don’t have to keep kosher. You don’t have to observe Passover. You get a sense that Paul’s point, stated simply is that in Christ, you can live the way jesus told us to, not as Jesus did.

As followers of Christ, Paul is saying, we have become free from the rules society has placed on us. We are not bound by our economic or social status, we are free to associate with Christians of all stripes.

What freedom doesn’t mean is to be able to live however you want, to indulge in every want and desire, knowing that we have still been forgiven in grace. The “works of the flesh” are even listed by Paul in the text.

So freedom still carries with it a responsibility, by Paul’s way of thinking.

Which brings me to today, the 4th of July, American Independence Day. And we talk about freedom an awful lot, too. But what kind of freedom is it?

For me, I think back to the history I was taught, and one of the things that Americans have always valued is the ability to make our own choices. We will live where we want, if we are willing to work for it-clearing the trees, planting the crops, or working in the factory hard enough to buy a our own house. We value being able to go to the church we prefer, choose the mate we want, raise our kids the way we think is the best.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote about Self-Reliance, and I seem to remember my teachers referring to that essay as a supporting document of the ability of Americans to be able to make our own choices. That it is necessary and valuable for Americans to make their own way as much as possible.

And so, I think, it is.

But what troubles me is that Paul seems to speak of freedom a little differently.

Americans seem to claim to be free to make their own way, to forge their own path, and to heck with the people around them. At least that’s how it seems to be taken today. But in Paul’s thought Christians are free to be able to follow Christ, and care for God’s people in the way they see fit.

But they are not free to follow their baser desires. Or stated more accurately, they will not evidence the Spirit of God if they choose to use their freedom in ways that do not produce the fruits of the spirit, and that is their call, as it is ours today; to live our lives in such a way as to show God’s love as much as possible.

When you try to observe national holidays in religious contexts, it is always a bit like running a rapid. It’s an uneasy bit of paddling, with certain hazards that aren’t always visible threatening to gash your boat. If you ignore the holiday completely, certain people are offended. If you turn the elements of worship over to national symbols too easily, you threaten to worship a nation rather than God in Jesus Christ. And if you wrap the two together inappropriately, you look as if you have made America into the new Israel, the new chosen nation. And for some folks, that just fine. But it is wrong.

We hear talk an awful lot about America being a Christian nation. But if we look at the bedrock values Americans hold as their basic freedoms, and then look at the fruits of the spirit that Paul lists in today’s scripture passage, I do not see one flowing from the other.

The fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Given what we understand as American freedoms, how is that “America is a Christian Nation” idea working out, these days?

Thursday, July 01, 2010

True Grace

I apologize for the tardiness of this posting, but it was not a good week in my Dragon dictation software experiment, and this is also VBS week, so I had to transcribe manually when I had free moments! -FD
Luke 9: 51-62
How many of you have heard about a theologian named Dietrich Bonhoeffer? He was a German theologian who lived in the 20th century, died in the 1940's. He was one of a long line of Academic theologians who were German. He came to America in the 20's or the 30's, and studied at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Because he was a curious man, he didn't worship at the Seminary chapel, but instead would go into Harlem and worship at one of the African American congregations there, because it was so foreign to his German Lutheran experience. And he fell in love with those churches, fell in love with that style of worship, fell in love with those people. It affected his theology, affected his worldview, it affected almost everything about what he wrote.

As he was living here in the United States in the 1930's, he began to watch the politics and the news coming out of Germany; the rise of the National Socialist Party, the rise of the Nazis, the rise of Hitler. He was very troubled by this news. In the mid 1930's he made the decision to go home. For a number of people, it was an odd decision, because most of the theologians in Germany were actually leaving at this time because of the political climate. They did not want to be a part of what was starting to happen in Germany. Bonhoeffer went the opposite direction, he went back.

At this time in Germany, the national church was becoming part of the apparatus of the government. When Bonhoeffer came over, he became part of what became known as the Confessing Church, which was an underground movement of pastors and laity who sought to resist what was happening. At one point, Bonhoeffer was assigned the task of organizing and leading an underground seminary. They found this farmhouse way up in the north of Germany, and gathered up the young men from other areas, who wanted to resist this government, and resist what that national church was becoming.

They went on for a while, and then the seminary was found out; someone spied or tattled, or whatever, and all those young men were drafted into the army. Bonhoeffer wasn't caught then.

He became involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler, and this is what he was caught doing. He was sent to a concentration camp.

I don't know if you know this. Most folks know about a few of the symbols the Nazis used to mark different groups in the concentration camps. You know the yellow star of David that marked Jews, of course, fewer of you may know about the pink triangle that symbolized homosexuals, but there was also a symbol for dissident protestant pastors. It was a red triangle, and Bonhoeffer wore one of those. He spent two or three years in a concentration camp, and then, a couple of weeks before the camp was liberated, he was hanged.

It often seems true that you don't become a famous theologian until you've lived into your 60's and 70's. A great achievement seems to be reaching the age when you can distill all of your thought into one great masterwork. The image that pops to mind is the great 12 volume work by Karl Barth titled Apologetics, but what my seminary theology professor called “The Great White Whale”, both for it's inability to be controlled and the fact that it was bound in white leather. Bonhoeffer never got to live to the age where that sort of work became possible; the beginnings of where he thought are tantalizing, but incomplete.

When we read today's scripture, and Jesus says to one “follow me”, and he says to another “Let the dead bury the dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God”, the scripture becomes a statement about commitment, and about what grace can really do when you respond to it.

When you introduce people to Bonhoeffer in academic settings, the phrase that comes up almost immediately is “cheap grace.” One of the quotes that we have from Bonhoeffer comes from a book called “the Cost of Discipleship”, is this: “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance; baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” A man who wrote a phrase like that, a man who would make such a commitment to his faith and to his Christ, that he would return to a country, work in the underground, and eventually be killed by that government; when Jesus called him and said 'Follow me,”, he said “Yes sir.”

This is not one of those sermons where I'm going to say “Now you must make that same commitment, and who shall come forward?” This isn't like that. There's nothing about our government or church, nothing in our lives right now that is calling us to make such stark choices. But do you remember last week, when we talked about the woman who wiped Jesus' feet with her hair, and anointed his feet with oil, and how I said that this was a response to some off-camera forgiveness that she was showing gratitude for onscreen?

To truly be disciples of Christ, we have to be open with Christ. We have to be available with our full selves to what we are called to do. We can't hold ourselves back because of secrets we may have. I'm not saying that you must have some great emotional repentance scene, something like the guy in the tent revival who runs down the center aisle pouring whiskey out of bottles in both hands. I'm not saying that you should have anyone else present; but somehow between you and God, there has been, or at some point will be, a time when you will be laid open and affirming, and fully available with God about everything.

And then you will find out what “there can be no grace without discipleship” means. It is only when we are fully open with God that we can truly become full disciples. Then there will be nothing holding us back. Nothing. God knows it all, he probably did from the beginning, but it is important for us to have shared it with God, so that whatever that thing is, those things are, whatever troubles we have, we are being honest with ourselves, so it is no longer in the way.

There can be no grace without discipleship. No real grace. Repentance isn't “I’m sorry for having gotten bad grades; I’ll try better in the future.” Repentance is “This is something I am being honest about with you, God, and through it, I can serve you better.” It's a change of direction.

I'm not saying that it doesn't take courage, but it also doesn't necessarily require drama. It must be done, however, for us to be true disciples, and for us to respond with true gratitude in the way of the woman who washed Jesus' feet. It must be done in order to follow Christ completely.

True grace isn’t cheap. But it is free.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Seek the Grace

Luke 7: 36-50

When you are living as a Pharisee, by definition in that culture, you're going to live a largely blameless life. When Jesus says to the man later on in the story "when you sin little, you need to be forgiven little," he's not kidding. By that society's terms, this guy hasn't sinned much. We know people like this now; men and women, people who just seem to always do the right thing, are very wise in their choices, they never get out of hand with their money, they always get their oil changed on time, you know, those kind of folks. We know lots of folks like that, a lot of you all are those folks. The Pharisee is one of those kind of guys. He lives according to the strictures of his culture; he is largely doing what he supposed to do to be blameless and holy in his world.

He is successful in that, but even when people are living right, as we like to say, there are still sins that are wrestled with, and this guy has them too. One wonders what the motivation is to invite Jesus to lunch. Perhaps it's to be an advance look out, or, I don't want to say "spy", but the one who says "okay, I’m going to find out about this guy and I'll report back to my friends." Maybe that's what he's doing and he's reporting back to the other leaders of the town about this guy in their midst. Or maybe he's thinking "Ooh, I'm going to be the first one to get this new interesting hot figure in our town into my house and I will gain prestige from that!" Maybe he is honestly inviting a person into his house, inviting this new interesting teacher named Jesus, this possible prophet, because there may be something that he can learn from this guy. That may be his motivation. Luke is not real clear about why the invitation is made. He's just clear that it is.

So Jesus comes to lunch with his Pharisee. Commentators of this Scripture taught me a lot this week. They taught me, for instance, that when you go to dinner in this century, you're not sitting in chairs around a table. You're leaning on your left arm and eating with your right, and your feet are stuck out behind you at a 45° angle. That's the way it is all the way around the table. You're eating little bite size stuff, like dates or maybe rice pilaf, as you talk around the table. You use flatbread to pick up food and eat it, so your fingers aren’t in the common dishes. Jesus is laying at that angle with his feet sticking out backwards, so it's not immediately obvious that there's somebody messing with his feet because she's behind the person next to Jesus. Simon the Pharisee doesn't automatically see her.
So they are talking, and I'm sure Jesus is being probed on various theological topics, and then Simon notices the woman. The woman has taken her hair down, we're talking long hair, and she's wiping her hair on Jesus' feet to clean them. Remember, if these men and women have shoes at all, they are sandals, so their feet are always dusty. It's a custom, so as to not bring that stuff into the house, to have your feet washed or to do it yourself. Not only is she washing his feet, she's using her tears as water, and she's rubbing oil into his feet to soothe them because, as you know, when you wear sandals all the time, your feet do crack. Even Jesus' feet.

Simon knows who this woman is. The Scripture says that she is a sinner. It doesn't say what the nature of the sin is, but centuries and centuries of people thinking a certain way kind of have led us to understand to what they think that sin is. Let me be clear; it is not stated in Scripture what the sin is. But because she is a sinner, she is separated a certain degree from Simon, and Simon looks down on her. Okay there's another sin for Simon. We've got two now, possibly. He's looking down on her; he essentially considers her less of a human being, and he judges Jesus (the other is the possible issue of pride at inviting Jesus to the meal.) He says "Well, if Jesus really was a prophet, he would know what kind of woman that was, and he wouldn't allow her to touch him at all, anywhere!" In that culture, touching anybody who is in the status that she's in makes you a sinner, too.

So Simon has all kinds of cultural boundaries and cultural taboos going around in his head, and Jesus is merely simply receiving the gratitude of woman who realizes that her sins are forgiven. That's all that is really going on over here, and Simon's all kinds of twisted up and spun around with judgments and all that stuff. We're looking at a situation here where the person who seems to be the one who leads a more blameless life is sitting in a prison of his own resentments, and the woman who is supposedly a lower class citizen is a sinner or a taboo person, someone who's not to be touched, she is in the midst of feeling some amazing grace. We don't know what happened before she comes in; the Scripture leads us to believe that whatever forgiveness that she's feeling gratitude for, she already received outside the picture of the story. What we're seeing now is her response and gratitude to something that happened off stage. But here she is, feeling an amazing amount of gratitude and love and everything that comes with truly knowing that you are forgiven for your sin and that you are loved. Isn't it ironic that the person who is the blameless person in the society has no idea what that love feels like, and looks at it and doesn't know what it is? She knows what grace feels like, and she's responding to it.

Do you?

Most of us have lived long enough lives that we've done something once. We know what shame feels like. I do. I'm a human being, I've done dumb stuff. I'd be willing to bet that everyone in here has done something once, at least. Do you know what shame feels like? I'd say we all do. But do you know what grace feels like? To know that whatever that dumb thing was that you did, that you truly have indeed been forgiven for that, and for everything else? Do you know? Is that why you're here this morning, because you have felt that and you are here out of gratitude? Sometimes you're here on a Sunday thinking "I'm here out of gratitude because I love God. I don't know what that doofus up there is saying, but I'm here because I'm feeling gratitude!"

The basic truth of our faith is that we are forgiven for our sins. I don't know how much more basic you can get that that. It seems to me that Jesus dying on the cross and being resurrected is pretty central to our faith, but at root, it starts with "You are forgiven for your sins." I think there are people that don't believe that. "Well, sure, whatever that woman did must've been really bad, I guess, and Jesus has already forgiven her, but hey, you know what, Jesus was right in front of her, and he cast his spell. She knew that she was forgiven because he was standing right in front of her, and I'm just not that lucky." Or even more basic, "Yeah, but my sins are pretty bad." You hear that all the time.

Folks, trust me. And if you don't want to trust me, some 42-year-old native Californian who has come in your midst for a certain time because the Bishop sent me, trust what you read in the Bible. Your sins are forgiven. Period. Now it takes a certain amount of strength to say, "Okay you know what, that is a sin and I need forgiveness," but everybody's got that much strength. Everybody has enough strength to get to the place where Grace is.

Here is my challenge for you all this week; everybody's got that thing that they have in the back of their minds that they don't want anybody to know about. They're not sure they can be forgiven for that one thing. Well, maybe this is the week that you trust God that you are forgiven for that sin, too. Maybe this is the week, and I encourage you to wrestle with it. Seek the grace this week.

And I pray that my words are the Lord's intention this day. Amen.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010


Luke 7: 11-17

This story is the last of the first part of the stories of Jesus's teachings and healings throughout Galilee in the Gospel of Luke. What happens immediately after this is that a message is sent from John the Baptist. It says: "Are you the one we're looking for?"

Immediately before this passage is the story of the Roman centurion who sends for Jesus to heal one of his slaves. Jesus is on his way to him, and this Centurion says, "You know what? I don't think I am worthy for you to come in my house. But if you'll just do what you do from right there, I'm sure it'll be fine." Jesus says "Wow! This kind of faith from this guy? Okay, your slave is healed!"

I've kind of been messing around in this topic the last couple times i've preached, about the fact of what a healing or a teaching of Jesus tells us, the people who are watching from afar; the people who are reading the story. Why is it that Jesus goes out and does his healings; for what possible purpose could it serve for Jesus to go around and heal people? It seems to me like a false promise; this person gets healed but this person doesn't. These people get to hear a teaching of Jesus, but the people in the next town over never hear of the guy going through. What possible purpose could Jesus walking around serve?

Why would Jesus be walking into a little town called Nain, see a funeral procession coming out towards him, stop the funeral procession, touch the funeral bier that they're carrying the body on, and bring the young man who's on it back to life? Is he showing off? If someone were to be doing that now, if these kind of things were happening, that's where our heads would go, whouldn't they? "Who is this guy?" As they say in the Valley, "This guy is being bold."

But when you look at these stories, and especially this particular story, what he's doing isn't showing off. What Jesus is doing is taking an example of something that happens in an ordinary life, and using it. Not to show off, but to show the love of God. I am sure you've heard of your previous preachers talk about how widows were treated in first century Israel, first century Galilee. There is a specific reason why Luke tells us she had no other children, and she was a widow. Why does that matter?

Because that means she has no one to support her.

She will go hungry. She will be destitute. There will be no one for her except for the occasional charity of her neighbors. Yeah, it's all well and good that a young man gets to come back to life, but Jesus is going for a twofer here. Not only is he saying "young man, you are now returned to life", he's also saying ". . . and your mother will no longer be in danger of poverty." He's restoring two lives, not just one

There is a dividend to acting in the love of God. I'd be willing to bet (not that United Methodists bet, but you know what I mean), I would be willing to stand by the assumption that, if we were to go back through all of these stories in Luke, and look at all the stories of healings and teachings, at their core is always the sentiment of Jesus saying to someone, eye to eye, face to face, "God loves you." I'd stand by that assumption.

Lately, i've also been talking an awful lot about how we, if we are to be the people of God, the people who believe in Jesus Christ, we are to act in his image. So that means, without necessarily having the power that Jesus has, We are to act with love to all people. Even to centurions. There's nothing about a centurion that Jesus should trust. This is a soldier of an invading army subjugating the people of whom Jesus is a member. And yet, when the centurion comes to him and says "I would love for you to come to my house, but I don't think I'm worthy for you to come to my house; I know that you can do healings, can you heal my slave from here?" "Jesus says wow." When we can be impressed by the people that we don't like, we are acting in the image of Christ. When we can say to someone, "we are going to help you", and when we help that one person, four or five other people are, for instance, kept out of Child Protective Services, we are acting in the image of Christ.

This is my challenge to you all this week. We all have it within us to act in the image of Christ. We're called to it, we have the means to do it. Like I said in my last sermon, we have every thing that Jesus had, plus we have Jesus himself, in the form of the Holy Spirit. It is within us to speak the love of God to the world. Each of us lives a different life. Each of us is in a different place; each of us goes to different places in the week. Some of us spend a lot of time at home, and go out occasionally, and some others have homes that are only there to provide the bed and the roof that we can collapse into at the end of the day.

But in each of those lives, there is the opportunity to speak the love of God to someone. As St. Francis of Assisi said, "Sometimes, even use words!"

This is my challenge for you all this week, and may my words have been the Lord's intention this day. Amen.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What If it Were Really True?

John 14: 8-17, 25-27

A note about this sermon. The last sermon I posted was at the end of March. I have preached since then, but without manuscript. This is a style that I have held to for the last 2 months. I have therefore started recording my sermons and using voice recognition software to transcribe the recordings to the written word. This has taken a bit of a learning curve, and so sermons were not always reproducible. You may notice a certain change in the style of this sermon, and that is because it more directly reflects my speaking, not my writing, style. I have edited for content and mistakes the software makes.

The art for this blog entry comes from a photograph found on the website of the First United Methodist Church of Greenfield, Ohio.

Today is Pentecost. Happy birthday, church! This is the third big day of the church year; the first of course being Christmas, the second of course being Easter (not of course in importance, but in chronological order) and a third one is today! This is the birthday of the church. Now, we know the story of Pentecost, we know the story from Acts, the second chapter, the first 21 verses.

We know the story of all of the disciples and the others gathered in one place, and we know the sound of a great big wind coming along, and we know the story of great tongues of fire flickering over each person's head, and we know the story of all of the people who were surrounded by a group of people hearing testaments to the greatness of God being spoken to them in their own language; and we know (I can't think of the right word that would be appropriate for right now so I'll just say) "the guy" who decides that everyone being able to hear the witness to the greatness of God being spoken in their own language is the evidence of someone who has been drinking too much.

I don't get that guy, do you? It seems to me that if someone's been drinking, they would be less articulate in their own language rather than more articulate in a language that they never spoke, wouldn't it be to you? I don't know where that guy comes up with that. But it gives Peter the opportunity to tell everyone "of course they're not drunk, it's only nine o'clock in the morning!" and then he proceeds to tell them what exactly this is, and the prophecy from the prophet Joel about what this means.

We know the story. We know what Pentecost is.

John has a different Pentecost, did you know that? There is a Pentecost according to John. It's actually in the 20th chapter of the Gospel and so I'll go ahead and read to you. Chapter 20 verse 22: "when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them 'receive the Holy Spirit." That's it. But John has a Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, as well. There is also the smaller Pentecost that happened in later chapters of Acts at Cornelius's house, where Cornelius and all his household received the Holy Spirit, after the big vision that Peter has about the sheet coming down and all the food up there that's all un-kosher, and the voice says “Kill and eat”, and Peter says “I can't do that, it's not allowed to me”, and the voice says "whatever God has created you will not call profane," and then it does the same thing three times, and then the sheet goes back up. Then he goes to Cornelius's house and the Holy Spirit comes again, to the Gentiles. Each one of these three things illustrates what Pentecost seems to mean. It is that the Holy Spirit has come to a people.

Now let's talk a little bit about what the Holy Spirit is. It seems to me that what the Holy Spirit is, is the presence of Jesus that is available to us, all of us, all the time, everywhere we go. Fair? Okay. Now, what makes it different, of course, is that when Jesus was a human being on earth, Jesus was not necessarily able to be with everybody all the time and every place, right? He was a human being. I'm here with Christopher right now; that means that I'm not with Sue, to a certain degree, and I am certainly not with the folks who are not here, who have all gone on to their separate places by now. Jesus has limitations when he was a human being because when he was a human being, he can only be right here right now, or, now I'm with you, now I'm with you. But the Holy Spirit allows us to be in the presence of Christ no matter where we go. This is why I say at the end of every service; "Christ above you, Christ below you, Christ on your left and the right." It's to remind us that the presence of Christ is with us no less than when he was next to his disciples 2000 years ago.

The scripture that we have today talks about the fact that Jesus was in the presence of the Lord when he was on earth, and he is telling the disciples, in that upper room space, "you can do this too." "Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Very truly I tell you that the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and in fact will do greater works than these because I am going to the Father." "But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you."
Now, I've read Daniel. I've read the apocalyptic section, all the scary stuff. I've read Revelation from first to last. I've read all that stuff in between. I've read apocalyptic literature up and down but it seems to me this scripture, "Very truly I tell you the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do, and in fact will do greater works than these. . ." That's the scariest scripture in the Bible! Jesus is saying not only are you going to do everything I did, you are going to do more than I did. Yikes!

Jesus did healings. Jesus did teachings. He went to people in need, and forgave them. He went to the woman at the well and said "you know what? I know everything that you've done and God still loves you. Just stop what you're doing." All he did, all he ever did, from his first healing to the day he died on the cross was demonstrate that God loved the people of the world. Everything could be boiled down to just that. And that's what we can do, too. When Jesus came into the world he came into a world where the religious culture was problematic, at best. There were people who are doing things just because they felt like they should, just so that they could score points and end up going and being with God in heaven. There were many, many different beliefs in the world and there were lots and lots of people who were kinda "eh" about religion. He came to earth and he would go up to people and he would say; "God loves you. This is how much God loves you," and he would do something to show them and the people around them that that person was valued in the face of God. He would forgive people that were unforgivable into the religious strictures. He would bring people up from the dead. He was demonstrating the love of God to everybody whom he met.

We are not in such a different culture now. Question-and-answer: when people look at the church, people who aren't churched people; never mind what they may feel about God; but what do they feel about the church? One answer from the early service was "They think we're boring", and I said, "no, not the church services" and she said "yeah I know; they think we're boring." Okay. They think perhaps we are too judgmental. Ever heard that one? Have you ever heard that we are irrelevant? Have you heard that we're perhaps parasitic? Do you know what that word means? We suck the life out of everything around us so that we can continue to survive. Ever heard that one? How we get to there from being in the image of Jesus who went around saying "you know what? God loves you!" How did we get there? And how can we get back to what it is that we're supposed to be doing?

We are the people who are supposed to exhibit extraordinary grace in the face of a cruel world. We're the people who were supposed to say "I know someone who loves you and I'm going to act in that person's stead so that you know that God loves you." We're considered judgmental. We're considered irrelevant. We're considered behind the times. We're considered cliquish, we stay with our own.
Folks, we know that God loves us, right? That's why we're here! Now, let's go out of this place and act as if we believe it tomorrow morning, not just when we're in here! This is what Pentecost is. Pentecost is the coming of the Holy Spirit so that the world would know of God's love. We say it in here, now let's go out and exhibit God's love out there. Pentecost +1. Tomorrow morning, tomorrow afternoon.

Jesus said, "very truly I tell you the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and in fact will do greater works than these because I am going to the father"; In other words we had all the tools that Jesus did, plus we've got him!

What if? What if it were really true? What if we really could be the people that God wants us to be? The people who exhibit the extraordinary grace and the love of God in the world? We know we have all the tools Jesus had. What if we could actually do the work Jesus did?

What if?

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Philippians 2: 5-11

This is the amazing time. During most of the year, except maybe at Christmas, Transfiguration and Pentecost, we hear stories of a very earthly Jesus when we come to church. We hear about a Jesus who taught ethics, who was responsible for miracles, but rarely let people talk about them. No, when Jesus was on earth, the things he wanted people talking about were his teachings: who God was, what he was really like, and how there time was now here for people to expand their understanding.

The story we are going to embark upon this week, this Palm Sunday, is a story that is missing miraculous elements, missing dramatic healings, but is chock full of the teachings. Until the very end. It is the central story of our faith. Christmas has more of a grip on the public, secular imagination, but Easter is where we truly live. It is wall to wall Jesus teaching about the character of God; not as the judgmental list checker that the Gospels portray the Pharisees and Sadducees as believing in, but as the loving, all powerful and all giving Creator.

It is the story of a man teaching about the great love he knew that God has. His teaching style was By Any Means Necessary. He would tell you about God, he would show you through healing a loved one, he would put himself into a position that only God could get him out of. And the whole way teaching, modeling trust in the God he knew.

When we talk about the divinity of Jesus, as the second person of the Trinity, it isn’t that we should understand Jesus as God on earth. Jesus was fully human. He made choices, the same choices that face us. He took as his purpose in life, at some point, the purpose God had for him. At some point, he chose to accept the birth story his mother had always told him. In a culture like his, there was no adolescent struggle with purpose and identity. Jesus accepted who he was and what he was to do.

This is not to say that he was born to die. But he was born to be God’s son, and to be for the world the one who shows love in a way not ever seen before, the fullness of God’s love.

So he taught. So he healed. So he asked questions. So he sent others out to tell the story. And So, knowing it had to happen, he set his path on Jerusalem. The greatest number of people present at Passover, the most possibility of ruckus that would set people talking. Did he know that he would die there? I don’t know. It means more to me if he doesn’t. If he had the faith in God to allow whatever happened to happen, that’s a better lesson for me in my daily life than that Jesus allowed himself, in all his power, to be killed by small-mindedness and prejudice, the thirst for power and ambition.

The look on his face as he enters Jerusalem, coats spread before him, palms waving in the air, may be something akin to enjoying the moment than tradition may care to admit. When one has faith in the Lord that Jesus did, the certainty, it is absolutely true that one can live in the moment, because God has control of the world. So I think he’s smiling as he enters Jerusalem.

The frowns will come soon enough. Palm Sunday is about the potential of God’s people; Holy Week is about how we fall short. It is about the spreading of malicious rumors; it is about using situations to further ones’ political ambitions. It is about reacting in fear rather than with courage. Holy Week is about imperfect and incomplete human beings, it is about us as we too often are, as scared and stubborn, wanting so often to break through to compassion and grace filled people of God, but too frightened about what others will say to make the jump. And when we are not courageous and compassionate, the one who was sent to show us that love is hidden. Because of the fear of the people, because of the ambitions of the leaders, because of the prejudice and indifferent nature of the government, Jesus is killed for preaching unlimited love and grace.

It is that love and grace that we reach for now, as Christians. This is what we mean when we say “What Would Jesus Do?” It doesn’t mean who Jesus would vote for. It doesn’t mean who Jesus would send political contributions to. It doesn’t mean what news network Jesus would watch.

It means how can you show your neighbor the love of God as you have learned about it, as you have experienced it? How can you live in the moment, trusting God has his hand on the future?

Jesus showed God’s love by doing what he was called to do. All we are called to do is show God’s love, to neighbors, friends, strangers, ourselves. When the wider society hates certain people, we are called to love them. When our towns distrust people who are different, we are called to love them, welcome them, knit them into our communities. When people don’t like that, then comes the rub; God’s love against the world. The pain doesn’t come from God. The pain comes from people who don’t want to or can’t understand love, and God gives us the strength to endure and overcome. Sometimes, there are people who have loved so much like God that they have died, too, but God has never called anyone to die. They have just been called to love, and the world has responded with hate and violence.

We are called to love by any means necessary. The way Jesus did. And God has the future in his hands. This is what Easter teaches us. His love will be shown in the end. If we are faithful, God will take care of the rest.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Congregation of the Older Brother

Luke 15: 11-32

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the more well known stories in the Bible. I’m sure anyone who has been more than a couple years in Sunday school can tell me a story they’ve heard related to this parable.

It’s even reached the stage of common reference in the wider culture—even un-churched people all know what it means when someone says “the prodigal returns home!” It’s a story that’s very high on the Biblical Literacy scale.

We’ve come to understand the word “prodigal” to mean someone who has made bad choices and needs to be forgiven. But that isn’t the actual definition, I discovered! To be prodigal means that you spend lavishly, or “are characterized by wasteful expenditure”. So the younger son isn’t prodigal because he went away and then came back looking for forgiveness; he’s prodigal because of, as Peterson’s Message says, he was “undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had.”

At various times in our lives, I think, we’ve fit into one or another of the characters of the story. It’s easy in some phases of our lives to identify with the younger son. There is no better teacher than experience, and sometimes the best way to learn a lesson is by doing the wrong thing, despite the advice we’re given. Those mistakes can sometimes be costly, but we learn because they’ve been made. I’m not really going to spend a lot of time on that brother, today, because while we all may have been there at one point or another, rarely does someone resemble that brother consistently. Most of the time, when you get to a certain age, making prodigal choices is pretty rare.

When it comes to resembling the father, well, that may seem presumptuous, because that character is usually understood to be God. Some of us may have had opportunities to be magnanimous when others have hurt us—children who have made bad choices and seek to return to our way of thinking, and sometimes literally return to our houses. It’s a common interpretation of this story to see the father as God, and great hay can be made about the character of God as Jesus understands him, running toward the younger son while he is still far off, graciously and extravagantly giving the younger son a new robe and a new ring. And indeed, Jesus is telling us about the reaction God has when we have earnestly and honestly repented of our sins, a message not to be lost during the time of repentance that is Lent.

But this morning, I am thinking that our normal way of living, our default way of life, resembles most closely the older brother. We get up, we do our jobs, we feed our families, we do our homework; in general, we do the best we can, each and every day, and rarely make a hash of it. We don’t expect to be congratulated for what we do, we just do it because that is what life is. Provide for our families, support our church with our prayers, presence gifts service and witness, do what it expected of us, not because we are mindless robots, but because this is the life we know.

We live in the older brothers’ world, most of the time. We’re prudent, we’re reasonable, we don’t seek attention. As the Boy Scouts say, we do our best to do our duty to God and our country.

And that is a good way to be.

But every now and again, if we’re so good and practical and solid, I get what the older brother says; wouldn’t it be nice to be recognized for not being an idiot? For being pragmatic and reasonable? Like the older brother says, not necessarily a big blowout down at a downtown hotel, but maybe a little cake and coffee in the church basement? You know what I mean?

We work, we buy groceries, we try to buy good food for ourselves and our children, we worry about fat and cholesterol and trans fats and fiber in our foods, we live in houses that are warm and safe, and when they aren’t we work as best we can to make them so. We come to church, we volunteer on committees, we show up for mission projects, some of us have even gone on mission trips. We take time on Friday nights to come practice music. We try to study the Bible, we try to pray.

We are the Congregation of the Older Brother. And sometimes, the hullabaloo that’s made over people who aren’t living right makes us angry. Sometimes we want to say “So, you’re an out of control popstar. Would have been better had you not put yourself in that position in the first place.” Every now and again, we speak up like the older brother does (again from The Message): “Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends?”

And what is the Fathers’ response? “You are always with me”.

At first glance you might say, I am always with you? Whoop de ding!

But think about it. Being all of those things, prudent and reasonable and practical, providing for our families, doing the work that is expected of us, including homework and practice if we go out for sports, that is what this story tells us being with God is like. Not getting addicted to things is what being with God is like. Providing safe space for our children to grow and thrive, that is what being with God is like. When we are with God, we construct a mesh of safety that benefits all of us. With God’s help, we construct the very thing that the younger sons (and daughters) among us leave. And when someone leaves that mesh, it is cause for sadness and concern. It is indeed our love for them that causes us sadness, and that love (another aspect of the character of God) drives us to seek their return.

And when they return, love is what they need. This is what Jesus tells us by having the father react so extravagantly; someone returning to God is indeed cause for celebration!

So don’t get bent out of shape when you don’t get congratulated with a big party for living like you should.

It is then when you are the closest to God.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Trusting in the Major Keys: On The Unneccesariness Of Being Reminded Of One’s Mortality This Year.

Psalm 130

One of the blessings of growing up a choir kid is that I was able to hear and sing some fine music, growing up. One of my favorite all-time composers is a twentieth century Englishman named John Rutter. Several times, I have had the pleasure of singing his Requiem.

Now when I was younger, I gravitated toward the prettier bits, the bits that sounded like movie themes. Like most callow youth, the music that is not immediately accessible, the stuff in minor keys, is “boring”. Rutter’s main theme, the Requiem theme, is exactly one of those prettier bits. In singing the Requiem in choirs, I always assigned the second movement, called Out of the Depths, into the boring bin. It begins with a pretty intense cello solo, but what I remembered most about that solo was the intensity of the soloist at the concert I sang in.

I am many things, but I am no longer callow. In talking with my colleagues Monday about preaching texts for Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, the phrase “out of the depths I cry to you” came to me, and I’ll choose to credit the Holy Spirit for that. It is the opening line of Psalm 130, and that boring section of Requiem came to mind again.

It is no longer boring.

If music is the speech of emotion, I get that cello solo now. I can see the musician that played it so long ago in the chancel at Newark UMC, working so hard to express the emotion of the music. I get the low voices singing “Out of the Depths”. I’ve been there. When you are in the depths, screaming and crying is sometimes too much to muster, and all you can manage is a low rumble, but one should never mistake a low rumble for a lessening of emotion over a scream. God knows the groans too deep for words.

I listened to this piece while writing this, and where it breaks into major key at verse 5, the text says “in the Lord my soul trusts” (they are using the King James for the text). From then out, it stays major, stays hopeful, stays trusting.

Lent, and especially Ash Wednesday, is usually an exercise in the reminder of one’s mortality. It is the beginning of a six week suite in a minor key. It behooves us to be reminded periodically that we are not the be-all and end-all, that there were people thousands of years ago who experienced the sorrow and angst we feel. As long as there have been clans and tribes, there have been mothers and wives and children who are consumed by anguish at the loss of their loved ones who have gone off to be soldiers. It is only a minor change in that to say that husbands and fathers now feel that angst, too. As long as there have been families and lovers, there has been pain and suffering because of the loss of loved ones because of disease.

Ash Wednesday is usually a prudent reminder that for all of us, the end result is not immortality. It is death. And we are all headed over that waterfall. And for Christians, historically, death does not bring oblivion, but union with Jesus Christ in heaven. But it does mean the end of all that we know and love.

There will be Ash Wednesdays in the future when I will be caught up short by the reminder that I too will die and no longer be present on earth. This wonderful existence of music and food and love will cease to exist. So will this horrible existence of disease and suffering and war and prejudice and hatred. Our lives on earth are mixtures of all of the above, and sometimes the juxtapositions of good and bad give rise to awareness of the absurd.

But this year, I need not be reminded of the shortness of life, the value of real life over counterfeit. Because of Donna’s disease, I value things differently. I’d like to say that I will be changed forever, but I am not that optimistic. I know that I will still be drawn into things that feel important at the time, but ultimately aren’t. I know that I will be unable to escape 3 hour meetings and political arguments and the ethics of steroids in baseball, and I might even find that stuff important. Shame on me, then.

Let Ash Wednesday always be a rebuke. May it always yank my leash back to the truth that love, tangible and demonstrated, is all that matters. We live a life of the senses, our experience of the world is only obtained through our senses.

This Ash Wednesday, 2010, the most important thing in the world, right now, is making sure Donna is comfortable, loved, clean and fed. The most important thing in the world is that Josiah is learning how to be successful in the world-not “rock star” successful, but able to love and take care of himself by himself in the world. Can he cook for himself? Can he clean for himself? Will he have the emotional aptitude to love well and support, emotionally and materially, those whom he loves?

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Let Donna know her worth and value in my life as long as she lives. Let Josiah grow up to be a true man, emotionally grounded, capable and giving.

Let the cello play those groans too deep for words. They need not be ignored, any more than a minor key should be avoided. To live life perpetually in a major key is to live a lie. Stuff happens. But let me always be able to be hopeful and trusting of what comes, trusting in God, even in the face of death, the ultimate unknown.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Luke 9: 28-36

Since I have become such a homebody, and because I am trying to eat better, I decided to make bread this week. I used a recipe that calls for a three day process. The recipe even said that “you would hardly notice that you were making bread, because you do so little each day!”

So, the first day, I gather up the ingredients-some yeast, some flour, and water. The expiration date on the yeast says April 2010, so I think I am ok. I mix warm water, yeast, and a little bit of flour, and as per the directions, put it somewhere cool. The recipe said that a cool rise helps get a better textured bread, so it goes down into the storeroom. I go down to check it several times, but not having done this recipe before, I have no idea what to look for.

The next day, I bring the bowl up to the kitchen, and add some whole wheat flour and some regular bread flour, more water, and some salt. I mix it all up and put it back into the storeroom.

The third day is supposed to be baking day, but when I go to get the dough, it has hardly risen at all. I’m pretty bummed, but I get distracted with having to take care of other things for Donna or Joe or something, and leave the bowl on the counter overnight. I’ll just toss the dough when I get back to it, I think. But there it sits.

And the next day, which is now the fourth day of a three day recipe, what do you think happened? The dough did rise after all! So I went ahead and finished the adding of the rest of the flour and the kneading, forming it into two loaves and letting them rise for 3 hours (the recipe calls for a half to one hour). And I put both of the loaves into the oven to bake—15 minutes at 500, 35 minutes at 350. Putting both loaves in puts one too close to the top heating element, though, and the top burns. I pull that one out, and finish the other one, then put the burnt top one back in.

The first loaf comes out, and it is a very nice loaf—pretty yummy, in fact! Dense, almost a meal in itself. The second one, the burnt top one, when it cools, I think is too hard to cut into.

But I have made bread! I would have loved to take the second loaf, lacquer it or something, and keep it on the wall as a reminder of the value of a little bit of work each day getting the job done, as a lesson about not throwing something away too quickly, a lesson in patience.

But it is after all, just a loaf of bread. It is not a sculpture that took months and years of work and is meant to stay in a city park. It is made as food, is meant to be food, and will spoil, even though it has such a hard shell.

But making this loaf of bread as a symbol of my experience is very tempting. I understand Peter a little better now when he wants to build three little altar-sheds for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah up on the mountain. He is the first, along with John and James, those old Boanerges boys, to see what Jesus truly is, who he truly belongs with. And he wants an altar built, something that will have people come to that spot and know what happened, maybe even make it a pilgrimage spot. It’s a normal human impulse, to memorialize significant events in someone’s life. Women keep roses from long ago dances in their Bibles, pressed between the pages for 60 years. The baseball that Barry Bonds hit into the stands which gave him the home run record became the focus of bizarre court case, all because the ball itself was important.

We all have, somewhere, mementoes of the things that are important to us. And that’s Ok. But Peter James and John witnessing Jesus dazzling white, and up in the air talking with the two greatest heroes of the faith those four men share is an even that is really like bread. Neither are supposed to be lacquered and kept like a museum piece. Bread is the staff of life—in it is everything that keeps us alive. It’s not meant to be kept. Jesus as a man who is of the same importance as Moses and Elijah is a fact that is meant to be told, and Jesus becomes more important to us, because he is not just a teacher or a miracle worker. It’s not meant to be marked like a roadside historical plaque, or even like that grotto on Pierce Street across from Kings’ College. It’s meant to be talked about the story shared, and the importance of the event is not where it happened, it is that it did happen. Just like learning how to make bread.

We don’t know where the moment of the Transfiguration was, on which mountain. We don’t know where Moses is buried. But we remember both people anyway, because of the importance of their stories. What they said and did and what happened to them are central to our faith. Something had to have happened for there to be a story about it, but what separates this from a legend, what separates it from stories we tell and retell, like Paul Bunyan or Pecos Bill or Dwight Clark’s catch in the end zone from Joe Montana, is that we expect to be changed by the telling.

It doesn’t matter where it happened, just like it doesn’t matter which loaf was the first one. It’s still food, and it is only as useful as it is edible. It’s ability to be used is what makes it important. We say to each other What Would Jesus Do, because we point to his life and his example as our goal in life. How can we be like Christ? How can we imitate Christ? We do it best when we imitate the story and tell the story.

We give it away.

The next sermon will be posted on or after Feb. 28.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Strong Proclamations in Quiet Tones

1 Corinthians 15 1-11

In this whole experience that my family is going through, I have had cause to think about work. My trade, if you will, is “preacher”, but the modern day minister also has a large amount of administration that must be handled, and there are also demands to counsel, to provide care and spiritual guidance, and to teach.

None of us do all of these things excellently, there are always things that are less interesting to preachers than others. Sometimes, even, people prefer the pastoral counseling and do not enjoy the preaching bit. But we are called to it all when we are called to the job, and where we are not good or talented, we find ways to get the job done, or ask others to do it.

I expect that every job is the same way. I expect that there are aspects of farming that people do better than others, and some aspects are more enjoyable.

Plant work?

Dog sitting?

Serving in the military?

My work by training is as a minister. In seminary, people take great care in saying that it is a professional career, and must be minded as a career. Indeed, I do think of it as a career.

But right now, I am not ministering to a congregation. At least not in any way I visualized when I graduated. I am ministering to a very small group of people, which by any professional standard is a failure. I spend my daily work in service to two or sometimes three people. And the service I provide is a very mundane one; driving to school, picking up from school, cooking. It is a very earthy one; laundry, trash, helping with personal care.

Seminary did not train me for any of these things. Seminary did not teach me how to love, and what sometimes we must physically do because we love. It did not teach me that I needed to set myself aside in order to be able to do what is necessary in this situation. It did teach me that I am supposed to be the “expert” in my field. It did not teach me that asking for help is necessary and vital to survival.
And yet, despite all of my training, it is the work that I do now that shows love. It is the help that I ask for that shows love. It is the things that I cannot do, the expectations I cannot meet, that show God’s love for us in the most important ways. I hope that, by making the choices I’ve made, using the help that has been given to me, that the love of God is shown most clearly to those who need to see it most.

For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle. But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and His grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is within me.

I will expect that when I look back on my career as a minister, the time when I was the least available to my congregation was when my witness was at it’s strongest. That the work that I did, completely domestic and out of the view of my community, out of newspapers and denominational magazines, that was my strongest witness.

That the love of God was seen at its sharpest light was when I was the most invisible, when I needed the most help.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians that his work was his witness. Sure, he taught them the proper way to think about Christ, what he did for all of humanity, but he hoped that he would be remembered for how the work he did reflected the God and the savior he believed in, even though he had persecuted them in the beginning.

My wish is similar-that somehow, in ways that I cannot even imagine, the love and the grace of God has been shown through this experience to you. By the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace to me has not, I hope, been in vain. I am working harder than I ever have in my life, and so little of it has been on what Seminary told me was the professional aspects of ministry. But the grace of God, the love of God is at its’ clearest right now, and I call your attention to it. I also pray that, by the grace of God, it can be seen strongly enough to matter.

And I invite you to think for yourself; How is the work you do, how is the life you lead, showing the love of God? There are no better or no worse ways. Each way is individual, and half of the witness is realizing that it’s there.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Love Never Ends

1 Corinthians 13: 1-13

I hear this scripture differently than I used to. In my mind, as well as the mind of many others, this is the “wedding” scripture, because it very handily talks about love. And even though hearing it just at weddings is a little disappointing, sometimes for many people this is the only scripture they hear for months and months. It’s not too bad a one to hear, if that is the case.

But in the context of the letters Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, love is more than romantic, more than starlight and roses. Love is to be our way of operating in the world. To all whom we meet, we are to love. Not get all starry-eyed for everyone, not to leave love notes or buy them those little Sweetheart candy hearts with the little sayings, but love in the tough-to-do, lunch-pail and hard-hat, hard-to-do-but-we-do-it-anyway sort of way.

Loving everyone you meet is hard work. We have to overcome prejudices, first impressions, and sometimes just pure fatigue.

In First Corinthians, this passage is placed very strategically, addressing issues that the Corinthian church is struggling with. Before it comes the “One Body with Many Members” section, the reminder that, in all their individuality, each member of the church in Corinth is valued and a child of God with no classification above or below anyone else. After the love section, Paul talks about Spiritual gifts, and specifically the gift of tongues, which is a gift not practiced in this church to the best of my knowledge.

That a discussion of love is connected between these two tells me that love, to Paul in these letters, is something not fallen into, but bonded with and worked at, like any other relationship with people, be it a union, a club, a place of employment or a family. Or, as in Paul’s original meaning, a church. We are all bonded together here, we come together to worship God in this place and these people, and those who grew up here and have known no other church are of the same importance as those who are recent move-ins to the area. Indeed, those who may visit us are of the same importance as the life time members. To all, patience and kindness should be the rule, not the exception. There should be no boastfulness, and we definitely should not be rude to each other. Disagree, sure, but do you know what you call a group where everyone agrees with each other? A cult.

Of course we’re doing to disagree with each other. But this is a church, a part of the Body of Christ. And everyone here has value in the eyes of God. Everyone from the oldest and most infirm member all the way down to the newest baby. Everyone from the longest standing member, someone who knew someone who knew the founders of the church, all the way to the person who just stepped in here today.

Now, that is the Bible study portion of this sermon. I said at the beginning that I hear this scripture differently than I used to. Especially verses 4 to the first part of 8.

I have not referred to my family’s current struggle in my recent sermons in any particular way, because I am not willing to make that struggle constant fodder for sermons. My sister quotes the Greek philosopher Plato as saying we are to be gentle with each other, because everyone we meet is fighting a hard battle. The seriousness and horribleness (if that is a word) of what my family faces together, as singular and exceptional as it is, does not demand that I speak about it constantly. Others in this church have had this experience, some very recently, and some are in it now.

But these verses ring a different note for me then they always have before, a much more minor chord.

Love is patient; when you’re tired, and the one you take care of is tired and gets confused and walks into corners without reason, and can’t get out of them, love has to be patient.

Love is kind; gently redirecting her with words and hands, sometimes, saying the same thing a lot of times, love has to be kind.

Love isn’t rude. Love does not insist on its own way. Of course my way would be that this all not have happened, but a tantrum isn’t going to solve it. Stamping my foot and holding my breath in the face of a terminal illness is futile, anyway.

Love is not irritable or resentful; Hogwash. In this case, sometimes it is. You just can’t avoid it. You are tired all the time and things just don’t go the way you want. Children are going through their own sadness and fear processes; they sometimes just don’t have the energy for homework, even when it is the only thing they have to do. Thank goodness the teachers get this better than I do, some days.

Love rejoices in the truth. The truth, told judiciously and with clarity, truly is freeing for us all, and takes much less energy to pay attention to than secrets. Never mind lies told to “save someone’s feelings”.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never ends. True enough. But love marks you, scars you, changes you, and it is something you need to recover from. Loving and care-giving in these situations takes a toll, and sometimes people don’t recover from the price they pay.

I’ve spoken once or twice before about miracles with regard to Donna. I’ve said that I will play my part, and not expect the miracle of healing; so that if it would happen, it would indeed be the unexpected event miracles are. All too often, people pray for miracles, and our limited imaginations demand one kind only-full restoration of health of our loved one, and a return to the life we knew beforehand. Didn’t happen that way for Job, and it won’t here, either. When that doesn’t happen, our faith is crushed, and we are mad at God.

I never wanted to be in that position, so I did not pray for that; it didn’t seem wise to test God. Rather, I wanted to watch and wait and see what God would do, because God has never forgotten Donna.

Last night, Donna and I talked about this, and we agreed; though we know the tumor is spreading and growing now, she is able to be more closely herself than at any point in this whole journey since last July. This is God’s work. This is our miracle.

Love indeed never ends.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Acts 8 14-17
Luke 3 15-17, 21-22

As far as I can tell, Jesus never did perform a baptism. For all of the language that we use concerning baptism, as in becoming member of his body, he never did bring anyone into the body of believers. There was not a body of believers in that sense when he was on earth, that came at Pentecost, when the believers were all gathered into one place in the Temple, and were baptized by the blue flame of the Holy Spirit.

I don’t even know if everyone who was there that day, and are indisputably part of the original church, were ever baptized, even by John the Baptist and his baptism of repentance.

One does not need to be baptized to believe in Jesus, but one who believes in Jesus should be baptized. Why? Because it is the symbol of the joining of our community. To be a member of the Body of Christ, one should have been baptized. Does baptism guarantee salvation? Is a baby safer from the fires of hell because they have been baptized? No.

I can say that because of the wide variance about how baptism is practiced. Some churches will baptize infants, put them into big frilly dresses, and pass them over to the pastor who holds them as he or she sprinkles water on their heads. Some will baptize only adults, or people who have reached a certain age of majority. Some re-baptize people every time they join a new local church.

Some will re-baptize someone coming to them from another denomination of Christian sect (we don’t, though there is an expectation from the denominational tall cotton that we will baptize those coming from Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons. Actual on the ground practice seems to vary from Pastor to Pastor.) Are there some methods that are unacceptable to the Lord? We’ve not heard back, yet, and so we, as Methodists, are willing to accept a wide diversity of practice, both of people transferring in and the practice of our own practitioners.

Some will sprinkle water on the one receiving it, some will have water poured over their heads, and some will be fully immersed, and churches will actually have small swimming-pool type appliances installed in their churches, up behind the altar, that are heated and have a glass wall so you can see the whole thing happen. Others will only baptize in “living water”-lakes and rivers. I saw a few pictures posted a while ago by a childhood friend of mine who now is a pastor in Santa Cruz, CA, and their baptism ceremony on the beach, with the people being baptized in the Pacific ocean. That looked amazing!

So, some of you can remember your baptism, some of you were too young when you were baptized to remember.

I remember mine.

I was not baptized in the United Methodist Church, and I was not baptized as an infant. I came to Christ as a man in my early 20’s. 23, to be exact. My baptism date is October 11, 1991, and it was in an independent, semi-charismatic church in Napa, California that no longer exists. I was baptized with at least 2 other people that day, one of whom I still am in contact with. It was in the backyard of a parishioner, and there was a barbeque and music playing from the praise band of the church. The actual baptisms happened in a swimming pool, an above ground one, and we wore, men and women both, board shorts and t-shirts. It seemed to go without saying that modesty was expected.

But what did it mean for me?

At the time, it meant that I belonged to something. I had made a decision. California, then as now, is a place where almost every spiritual expression is available to you, if you look hard enough, everything from straight up Roman-Catholicism to native American peyote ingesting. You can easily find, especially in the cities and the suburbs around San Francisco and LA, Muslim Mosques, Hindu Temples, Jewish Synagogues, and Christian churches of so many stripes and flavors you begin to wonder if each person isn’t their own church. By my being baptized, I was signaling to the world that I had chosen a path. I was going to express my experience of the divine as a Christian; I was going to find my wisdom and my tools for solving the problems of life in a Christian language, using the Christian religion and Holy texts.

That was the first of many decisions, because as it turns out, I was not in that church for very long at all. I moved from Napa back to Delaware in January 1992, and I did so for other reasons than religious. It was a convenient way to leave a that particular congregation, which had become very rigid and not amenable to where my mind was growing. When I got to Delaware, I was despairing of what I should do. I was a newly baptized Christian who did not agree with many of the positions and attitudes that I had been taught. What I needed to find was a group that agreed with that I was reading in the Bible, or at the very least a place that would allow me to work out my questions freely, without feeling like I was “getting in trouble” for every question I asked.

I found that in the Wesley Foundation campus ministry at the University of Delaware, and in a very real sense, they kept me from falling away. I am not Christian because of the Methodists, but the Wesley Foundation is why I am Methodist. And the original baptism I received, from what was essentially a personality driven storefront church teaching doubtful doctrine, was still good enough. No one’s hands are perfect enough to truly convey the Spirit of the Lord, but all hearts are worthy to receive it, so as Jesus said to John, “let it be so for now.”

To me, the Christian church should be all inclusive; as one author named Eric Elnes writes:
The label “Christian” should stand for people of extravagant grace and generosity; people of unusual courage and compassion, who stand for justice and are known for being far more loving than the norm; far more forgiving. Instead, being a Christian seems to have become synonymous with (being ignorant and selfish).

I’m pretty sure that when Peter and John showed up in Samaria, hearing that Samaria had received the word of God, they didn’t come looking for statistics about numbers converted, souls saved, numbers on rolls. They came looking for people practicing exstravagant grace and generosity, they came looking for people being far more loving than the norm. They came looking for the spirit already moving, and when they did see fruits of the Spirit, they laid hands on them. “they had already been baptised into the Lord Jesus”. Now, through Peter and John came the Holy spirit. I assume that what came with Peter and John was the permission to act as the people of God with the leaders’ blessing.

Baptism may just be that and nothing more-permission to act far more generously and with radical grace, who stand for justice, God’s justice in this world. But what it certainly means is that when you do act, you do so in the name of Jesus Christ.

(The next sermon from Fryer Drew will be posted on or aftar January 31. for updates on Donna, please continue to use this web address.)

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Keeping After It

Colossians 3: 12-17, Luke 2: 41-52

I’m in the middle of a book right now called Three Cups of Tea, which is about a man named Craig Mortenson’s efforts to build a school in the Pakistani village that nursed him back to health after a disastrous attempt to climb K2, the second highest mountain in the world. Every class in Joe’s school is reading it in some form by the end of the year, and I want to be in the loop!

It’s a very interesting story. Like most climbers, Mortenson idolizes the man who was the first Western man to climb Mt. Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary, (a Sherpa man named Tenzing Norgay, one of the local tribesmen, accompanied him) and Mortenson quotes him at one point from a speech as saying this: “I was just an enthusiastic mountaineer of modest abilities who was willing to work quite hard and had the necessary imagination and determination.”

Many had tried to climb Mt. Everest before Hilary, and all had failed. I remember an article a few years back about the recovery of the body of man who had made an early attempt about 80-90 years ago.

A mountain climb is an effort of singular significance. Elsewhere in the book it is said that a mountain climb of the sort that Hilary and others mount is like planning a war. And like most projects, things have to develop over time. People have to get used to the idea, and if not see the need, at least understand the reasons for the project. Awareness and understanding sometimes has to mature or develop, like a tree has to grow for a few years before it can yield fruit.

Our Gospel story this morning is one that parents can sometimes chuckle at. Jesus, who is 12 years old in this story, goes missing after a family pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the holy feast of Passover. He’s not immediately missed because of the large body of people traveling together for safety, his parents just assume he’s in with the scrum of children running around the caravan. But a day goes by and he’s still not around, they do get worried, and return to Jerusalem. And, after three days of searching the city, there he is, in the temple, asking questions and learning. Asking really good questions, according to Luke. So, of course Mary and Joseph are a little tense about his being gone and all, and Mary says, “Boy, where have you been? We’ve been worried sick!”

Now, as I’ve gotten older and now have a intelligent son of my own, I hear Jesus’ response differently. No longer is it the pious tone of an angelic voice saying “Why, of course, I was in the temple the whole time. I am Jesus, the Son of God, where else would I be?”
No, what I hear now is: “Jeez, mom, of course I’d be in the temple. Duh! Where else would I be?”

Our only story of Jesus as anything other than a baby or an adult is a story of rebellion. That phase really is inescapable, isn’t it?

Isn’t it interesting to note that Jesus stayed back in Jerusalem, without his parents’ knowledge, to learn. Not to go to some shop or bazaar that his parents wouldn’t let him go to, not because of a girl he met, but because he needed to learn. Is it odd for you to think that Jesus, the son of God, needed to learn? That there was something that the elders of the temple could teach him? That Jesus wasn’t ready to go right out of the box? That he needed to learn and mature? Even Jesus needed to grow into his job?

If it is true for Jesus, then how much more so is it for us? This first Sunday of 2010, what is it that we are growing into? What is it we are maturing toward? And let me ask this; if you don’t feel like you are maturing toward anything, what would you like to do? And how does coming here every week or however often you come, help that?

I would submit that people come to church for all different reasons. Not everyone comes because they need to refresh their souls at the well before continuing to evangelize the world for Christ. Some come just to hear something good or positive in a very hard life, some come just to be with people. It’s not always about preaching Christ for those who are lost for everyone; for many of us, it is “can I get a word of encouragement and confidence in my life?”

Yes. But I will also say to you that hoping for a word of encouragement about a life that is standing still isn’t going to be satisfying for long. Life is change. Life is learning. Life is planning and attempting to climb a mountain.

What is the mountain that you need to climb? Is it to build a school in a town halfway around the world? Is it to preach the gospel? Is it the ambition of promotion at a job? Is it to work in order to be a good provider to the children that have been entrusted to you by God? Is it to leave an abusive relationship? Is it to provide a comfortable loving environment to a loved one who is sick or dying?

Whatever it may be, such efforts take time, and choices must be made. In writing his commentary for the gospel passage, John Wesley writes this:
“It plainly follows, that though a man were pure, even as Christ was pure, still he would have room to increase in holiness, and in consequence thereof, to increase in the favor as well as the love of God.”
Though this is Jesus we’re talking about, he was a twelve year old Jesus. He still smarts off to his mom. He came to be human, and stages have to be passed through. Growth still has to occur, even for the Savior of the Universe.

Your personal goal may or may not be growth in Christ. But you are still here, (or still reading this), so let me suggest this as a goal, no matter what else you have in mind:

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

I’m pretty confident in being able to say that this will help you, no matter what your goal is. No matter your resolution for the New Year, clothing yourself with love will help you be successful. Allow yourself to grow, and to have time to grow. Just keep after it, with an attitude of forgiveness and patience.

It takes time to climb a mountain.