Sunday, February 12, 2012

What Is The Race You Will Run?

1 Cor. 9: 24-27

Paul is writing to the church at Corinth, and trying to exhort them to stay faithful to the gospel they have received from him and from others-he planted, Apollos watered, and God is trying to give the growth. Problem is, the Corinthians live in a town that is a major trade cross roads, and there are always new ideas coming in, from the west, and from the south, and from further east.

Some of those ideas are far far out, like the understandings about faith and practice that come into the area from India and the countries east of Israel, and those coming up from Africa with Arabic traders.

Some of those ideas are very close to what it is that Paul has taught, like those about what sort of practice followers of Christ should have, that he rails against in Galatians.

When Paul writes in his letter here that he is running a race, the race he is running is not a physical one, one that makes him move around the Mediterranean like a madman, never resting. It’s not that kind of race. When paul writes that he is running a race, it is a symbolic race. And he is not racing anyone but himself.

You see, I think he’s talking about the discipline of the racer, more than the act of the race. It takes training, stamina, and perseverance to train for a race, any race. Cyclists ride long hours, developing saddlesores and backaches as they ride up and down mountains. Runners develop blisters and sore joints. Swimmers deal with dry skin and brittle hair.

All athletes have to wrestle with the effects of their chosen sport on their body. Paul is saying that to be a fit follower of Christ, we must find the same self-discipline. He says in verse 25 that everyone who competes practices self discipline in everything. And while athletes compete for a crown of leaves, which was the prize for athletic accomplishment in the Original Olympics and is associated contests. (The Original Olympics was still an active event while Paul was writing, still being held in Olympia, Greece, which was in the same part of Greece as Corinth. So it was an apt image to use for Corinthians.)

Just as those Olympians needed to train for strength and endurance and quickness, so too do Paul’s Christians have to train for the trials they faced. And so do we have to train for the trials we face.

What are our trials? Living in the United States, living in Northeastern PA, we have it easy. Bibles are on sale for a dollar at Ollie’s, though the theology in their notes may be suspect; bibles are available as an app on our smartphones. WE have available to us Christian radio of various outlooks. We have 5-6 churches within about 5 miles of where we sit.

One can certainly claim that Christianity doesn’t need to work hard around here. But we are not called by God to sit comfortably by and let our faith grow weak in comfort. We are called to find new ways to show God’s love, and to train adequately for them. There are always new ministries to tackle, new ways to serve a community that is always changing, even if it isn’t as obvious in a rural area like this as it would be in a city. It’s still constantly moving, changing, and new needs are still being uncovered. We are not called to demonstrate the faith of our fathers and mothers. The pictures on the wall are there to remind us not of our failure of numbers, but of our heritage of strength of faith, and it is our duty to demonstrate our own strength of faith, by serving the people in our midst, no matter the circumstances or our cultural perspectives, and we are certainly called to overcome our prejudices in order to serve God properly.

Lent is two weeks away. I would certainly encourage you to begin to think or pray about what special discipline you might cultivate during those six weeks. Lent is a time of repentance and renewal. It is a time that reminds us of our frailties, our clay feet. But it can also be a time of training and awakening. So pray over these next two weeks, and seek out what it is that god would have you do to help serve him better. This is the goal. If it means giving up something that distracts you from God, so be it. If it is something that empowers you to serve God better or in a new way, so be it. Don’t just give something up so that you can say you did it, but be able to say that what you are doing is a way to strengthen your faith, your resolve, and your ability to serve God.

Form a training plan, like novice runners do by using a program such as “Couch to 5 K”. And share it with me. Let me help you train, let me be your teammate, urging you on even as you urge me on.

Let us be competitors not against each other, not against God, but against anything that keeps us from serving God. Let us practice the self-discipline that Paul writes about, that God needs for us to have in this world.

Think, Pray, and let’s talk again next week.

What is the race that you will run?

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Doing What You Know

Mark 1: 29-39

Today is a fun day in church, a far from humdrum, ordinary day, a unique day. We’ve celebrated and participated in the Feast of Our Lord of Football by bringing together food for those less fortunate and celebrated service by having Scout Sunday, as well. And rather than choosing patron saints, some of us have chosen to wear our chosen favorite football teams’ gear. It’s a fun day!

It helps to remember that our model and teacher in the faith, our Savior and Lord, was not always solemn, either. Remember that in John, his first miracle was at a wedding when the wine ran out!

Faith and service need always been a solemn occasion, and indeed, we have made today a celebration of service, not just of food and football and television. Oh, make no mistake, I will be in front of my TV later, just like most of us, and I will have cooked a special meal beforehand. I am celebrating the Feast of our Lord of Football just fine, thank you!

Today’s scripture is a great scripture that supports the theme of what we’ve made of this feast, which is a celebration of service. Simon (Peter)’s mother in law is sick with a fever, and Jesus heals her of the fever. How does she respond? She gets up and replies in service. It’s too bad we don’t know her name (it’s too bad there are so many times in the Bible that women are not named), because it would be great to speak of her as a fully human being, this woman who in a sense was saved by God, and responds the way we all should, by serving.

In that culture, in that time, women had very few roles. Rich women had a little more leeway than most, but all women were confined into a strict set of roles. To serve the men, to have children, to raise the children. While it may seem a little jarring to some in our society that her response to Jesus’ healing her was to immediately tart cooking, she was doing what she knew.

For us today, then, the lesson of Simon’s mother in law is not to go cook in response to Jesus taking her hand and healing her. Our actions in response to the saving spirit of God in our lives can be anything we do well, but placing it in the service to the children of God. Some of us can indeed cook, and take our food to soup kitchens in Wilkes Barre, Tunkhannock, or take food to those who are ill or have suffered loss. Some of us can fix things, and some of us can do taxes; some of us can talk, and some of us can build. Some of us can sing, and some of us can play. Some of us can organize VBS, and are good with children, and some of us are faithful shovelers of the church’s sidewalks.

We do what we know. Simon’s mother in law cooked, and our youth group leaders organized and made soup for the local soup kitchen yesterday as a youth group project. One person keeps the church’s books; another plays music for worship; you do what you know, and it is all service, and it is all for the glory of God. Scout leaders do what they know, sometimes stepping in reluctantly, but out of necessity, and they do it, though they may not think of it this way, for the glory of God. It need not always be in service to the church, either, but if it is in service to our fellow children of God, (and they are everywhere, they are everyone); if it is in service to the Children of God, then it is to the glory of God.

Think of the soldiers listed in our bulletin; they do it our of a sense of service; they are doing it to the glory of God, Christian, Jew, or Muslim or whether they believe in God or not!

Think of Hospice workers; it may be a job, they may be getting paid, but that’s not a job you choose out of a sense of selfishness; though they may not think of it this way, it is to the glory of God.

Traveling nurses, rest home nurses, hospital nurses; all to the glory of God.

Everything we do, from plumbing to photography, farming to fiddling, can be placed at God’s feet as gratitude for what Jesus has done for us. It can all be done to God’s glory.

All Simon’s mother in law did was do what she knew, to the glory of God. All Jesus did in this whole passage was heal. Even when he tried to rest, he was called out from it, and went back to healing. And all to the glory of God.

Anything we do, and do well, anything that assists others, is done to the glory of God, in gratitude for what we have been given.

May we always think in terms of giving back, and may we always seek to offer our best to God.

Letter to the Center Moreland and Dymond Hollow Congregations

This is a wordier and more personally focused version of the announcement made today in all worship services of the charge.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Center Moreland Charge:

When Donna first became sick, this charge was very generous with the time and room given for me and my family to cope with and learn how to function with her illness, time at home, time in skilled nursing care, and the aftermath of her death. For this grace, I will eternally be thankful.

During her illness and after her passing, it soon became clear that I needed to serve my family in a different way, a much more involved way than I ever had up until that point. I am now Josiah’s sole parent, sole support, and he is clearly the most important thing in my life, now.

I do not feel as if I am able any longer to serve this charge, or any charge, on a full time basis, because of the parenting I am called to do.

To that end, I have asked the District Superintendent, and notified the PPR of this charge, that I wish to leave the Center Moreland charge and take a part-time appointment. I have asked to be appointed somewhere in what will soon be the newly created Scranton/Wilkes Barre District, within reach of the Wyoming Seminary Lower School, so that Josiah can finish 8th grade, the final year in the school he has attended since Kindergarten. During that year, I will support us with the aforementioned part time church, and I will also be seeking part-time teaching opportunities at the local colleges and at Sem. I will soon begin looking for places to live in the Kingston/Forty Fort area.

I will also spend that time upgrading my academic record, and applying to various universities for the fall of 2013 to pursue a Ph.D. My intent is to become a teacher and chaplain at a small college or independent school. This has always been a dream of mine, and I feel that the changes that have happened in our lives, while they have been terrible and unwanted, do offer the opportunity for new growth.

I will always remember the ministry I have had here, the highs and the lows, the joys and the sorrows, the successes and the failures. Dymond Hollow and Center Moreland churches will always remain in my heart, no matter where I end up.

Your Pastor,