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.