Monday, July 30, 2012

Faith Beyond Visible Resources

John 6: 1-21
One of the most precious memories I have of Donna is the mission trip we took together to Guatemala. She went twice as part of a medical team, and I went once, with her, and went to Guatemala another time, driving through Mexico. Doing a mission trip is an expensive proposition, true now, but true then, too. The plane tickets were, I think, about $1500 each, and there was also the medicine that needed to be bought, and the equipment that needed to be brought with us. We each were responsible for 2 suitcases, but our clothes and stuff only went into one. The other bag was medicine or eyeglasses. And all of that gathering took money. I was a starving seminary student, and both Donna and I were going, so we were in some need of help. There were 10 or so people on the team, and while some of them were able to pay their own way, by no means did everyone have the ability. So we had fundraisers. The biggest one was an auction of items donated by supporters. We all were responsible for the finding of items, and came up with things like gift baskets, a handmade quilt, gift certificates to Dallas area restaurants (and Dallas is a GREAT restaurant town), and the like. Then we got a call from someone who wanted to donate their boat. Stuff came from places we didn’t expect, and the auction was a great success. Now, when we went to Guatemala, I was darn near useless. We had an optometrist, the leader was a dentist, a doc, and a Nurse practitioner, who would do the women’s medicine behind held up shawls. The dentist had limited tools, and couldn’t fill cavities the way he would back in the U.S. so he had to just pull really bad ones. He “slicked up” quite a few people that week. We took sunglasses to help with the UV-induced blindness the farmers in mountains that high that near the equator suffer from, and prescription glass for those who were tested by the optometrist. We had a pharmacist who dispensed lots of Bactrim and sulfa drugs, the cheapest meds we could take. It was a wonderful trip, and for the people we met, we helped. Did we help every Indian in the Guatemalan highlands? No. But we were mighty important to the ones we met. None of that trip would have been possible if there hadn’t have been an idea, and a trust in faith that our resources did not control our ministry. We had faith beyond the visible resources, and through God’s grace, it got done. And Phil, the dentist and leader, did this trip about 6 times before finally moving down there. Jesus is the epitome of trusting beyond the available resources. Philip’s eyes get all big and saucerish when he sees all of these people coming to hear Jesus and be healed by him. Jesus is almost teasing when he asks Philip, “well, how are we going to feed all these people?” Andrew pipes in saying “well, there’s this kid with five loaves of barley bread and two fish.” So Jesus takes one and breaks it in half, and hands one half to someone. Then he breaks it in half again, and hands that away. Then he breaks it half again, and then again, and then again. And so all of these 5000 people are fed. And remember: in Biblical times, those counts actually counted just men: there were more, because there must have been wives, and children along, too! So they discover that, out of lunch for 5 people they have fed thousands. And the crowd wants to make Jesus king right then and there. And he disappears up the mountain rather than allow that. Later, when the disciples are crossing the lake, he’s walking along on top of it, and they want him to get into the boat with them. He makes the boat go immediately to the far shore, like Josiah will sometimes open automatic doors in grocery stores with his “Jedi” powers. God will not be controlled. So the story is for us that we can do great things in the name of God, through the power of God, if we will follow God. If we trust beyond our available, visible resources, we can do great things. Imagination is one of our greatest gifts from God. What are the needs of this community? How could we creatively address them? Do not think first of budgets, or resources. We know from this story that if it is of God, the resources will come. So what is needed? What can this church do to serve the Kingdom of God? --Pastor Drew, 7/29/12.

Reflections on Coming Away

Mark 6: 30-34
It may surprise you to know that your preacher spent last week in a monastery. It may surprise you to find out that your preacher considers himself a Benedictine. I was in Kansas last week, attending the yearly retreat of the monastery I am a member of, which is called St. Brigid of Kildare Monastery. It’s not like what you may think of-there is no brick and mortar, there are no monks or women monastics in the traditional sense—there are certainly no nuns. The members are both men and women, are married, are in committed relationships, and single, and we are located all around the country, and even one guy in the Dominican Republic. We are mostly Protestant and mostly Methodist, and about half clergy. What we do hold in common, though is an interest in and a desire to structure our lives, as best we can, according to a 1700 year old document called the rule of St. Benedict. That document tried for a balance of prayers, work, and rest. Some over the years have tried for a literal balance of three equal parts, and some have tried for a more dynamic flexibility. When we think about our lives, here, in this church today, we can usually s say that we have the work part down. We may not be very good at the rest part, many people in our culture are chronically sleep deprived. But the prayer part? Honestly, other than the occasional snap prayer at a red light, a meal grace, or a halfhearted Lord’s prayer as we go to sleep, one we don’t even finish as we fall unconscious, prayer is not a part of our lives. It would be hard, however, to really believe that anyone who doesn’t pray is Christian. Prayer is how we talk to God. More importantly, prayer is how God talks to us. One of the monks who came to talk to us said something interesting about prayer. As he was talking one morning, he didn’t actually refer to the psalms or the songs as prayer, that which the monks do every day, four or five times every day. That’s not the prayer part, he said. The praying comes in the silences. To pray is to listen. Silence is one of the things that is the hardest to obtain in our world. We are deeply uncomfortable with silence. I would experiment with silence in worship, decide that I am going to stay in silence for a minute before a pastoral prayer, and after about 30 seconds, there are already people getting restless, looking at their watches, rustling their bulletins, or looking at each other with desperation in their eyes! (that’s just a slight exaggeration.) But silence is where the soup gets cooked. Prayer, and silence, is at such a premium in our lives that it may actually take the discipline of putting it in your calendar, like going to the gym, or scheduling a date night with your significant other. Then, once you’ve done it, you may not know what to do. That’s where you could read “The Upper Room”, or “Our Daily Bread”, (ODB also has a phone app), or Oswald Chambers “Our Utmost for his Highest”, or anything else you find that is spiritually meaningful to you, including, of course, the Bible itself! Read it, then set it down and be quiet. This is where the things of your rushabout life will begin to crowd in; the grocery list, the sudden memory of a child’s uniform that’s still in the dryer, the bills you need to pay, the lawnmower calling to you. Don’t feel bad about being distracted. It happens to everyone-it happened to Jesus, too. He had asked the disciples to come away to a quiet place, after running here and there, doing the work of God, and the people ran around the side of the lake to meet him on the other side. Set the distraction aside in your mind, and return to the nothing. And listen. If someone pops into your mind, maybe you need to call that person. If an issue that’s troubling you pops up, maybe you can be honest about your feelings about it, and find a way to resolve it. Like working out, it takes practice. It takes time. But in prayer is where we can hear God. And if we are serious about being Christians in the real sense of it, what else is there but trying to hear God? So this is my challenge to you this week. Carve time out, schedule time in for prayer. It can be in the morning, it can be at night, but probably not a good idea to do it after you’ve turned out the light at the end of the day. That’s a good way to only get half of what God might say; you’ll miss the other half because you’re sawing logs! And be quiet. And listen. -Pastor Drew, 7/24/12

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Power of Belief

Mark 6: 1-6 I have a hero in the faith, whose name is John Bell. He is a Scottish musician and member of the Wild Goose Worship Group, the worship leadership and experimentation team attached to the Iona Community. Iona is a Scottish island that you take two ferries to get to, and is only three miles long. There is a restored ruined abbey on the island, restored in the 20th century by seminarians and craftsmen from Glasgow working together. One story I remember being told about John was about a Christmas when the BBC had come to Iona to televise Christmas Eve services from the abbey. John made this experiment. He divided the congregation into four parts; then he went to one, and taught a very simple musical phrase with what seemed like nonsense syllables. Then he went to the second and taught a different melody, but with the same syllables. He did the same with the third and the fourth. Then he made a short speech to the congregation about how God designed the human throat to give praise to God, and to not use it is a sin. Just because you may not sound like Placido Domingo or Beverly Sills (or Adele!) doesn’t mean you can’t sing, and if anyone has told you that, they’ve sinned against God and against you. So sing out! Then he put them together, building one part on the other, until they were ready to sing in their four groups at the same time. What they discovered was that they could now sing four part harmony, and what sounded like those nonsense syllables was revealed to be Latin. The BBC television audience heard a very natural sounding, competent choir that also just happened to be the congregation. Any single melody played on an instrument can be pretty. Any one voice can exhibit great power and emotion. But when there are many instruments playing together, the power and nuance and subtlety is increased. Think of the difference between one flute and an orchestra. One guitar versus a whole band. The same is true for choirs, versus one voice. The same is true in Christian discipleship. Today’s scripture tells us that Jesus was unable to work miracles in his hometown, because of the disbelief of the townspeople. These were people who had known Jesus since he was brought by Mary and Joseph to Nazareth. They had seen him running around with other boys at festivals, they’d perhaps seen him get into fights, perhaps some mothers had had secret dreams of him marrying their daughters before he went all crazy and religious. In other towns and in other situations, Jesus was able to be a channel for God’s power. In one story we told just a few weeks ago, a woman was even able to be healed without even Jesus’ control, just by touching his garment. But here, he can’t do anything “other than heal a few people.” It takes belief to do the work of God. There’s a strong lesson here, that not even Jesus can do the work of God alone. There needs to be belief that things can be done with the presence of God. Just as it was true of then, so it is true now. We can do all we want as individuals to work in soup kitchens, donate old clothes to the Salvation Army, donate food to the food pantry. But what can we do as Christians together at this church? What is it that we can do, through Christ together? My mission to you is to think and pray about that. I’m serious. What is it that we can do together in this community in God’s name? Amen.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Preachers Don't Make You Grow!

1 Corinthians 3:4-9

First sermon preached for Dunmore and Throop United Methodist Churches, July 1, 2012.

This is a picture of a circuit rider. Circuit riders were early Methodist preachers, almost always young men, who took the Methodist movement into the American frontier in the early 19th century, forming classes and societies of people who would meet together and support and exhort each other in deepening their faith in Christ as they lived in community in hard conditions. One of the most famous circuit riders was Francis Asbury, the first bishop of the Americas after the Revolution. Tradition has it that he rode about 250000 miles through out an area that stretched from Georgia to Maine to Kentucky and Ohio.
Many modern United Methodist parishes got their starts as Circuit rider societies. These riders would visit perhaps once a quarter, performing weddings and baptisms, and serve communion. In the meantime, the societies or class groups would meet on their own, weekly, to check in, provide accountability for each other in their efforts to grow in Christ, study the Bible, and pray. They were the constant for each other, and the Elder who came through would periodically change—the elder was sometimes moved quarterly.
The United Methodist church is the result of evolution from that early system, as societies have become church parishes, and Elders have become less mobile and assigned to single charges, lots of times of two or three churches at a time. But that system is a visible remnant of the early system, and another remnant is the relatively frequent moving of United Methodist clergy.
As I come to Dunmore and Throop, I am aware hat my predecessor was here for two years, and before that, these two churches were both joined to other UM churches. The adults among you, especially some the more mature adults, can remember there having been lots of pastors in their life. The children I talked to, some as young as 4, already remember two.
The change is not as frequent, but it is still constant. What does not change is the congregation, the people who come to church in all seasons and through all pastors. When one talks about Dunmore UMC, or Throop UMC, or any other UMC, (or any other church, I hope), they refer to the congregation more than the minister. The ministry of the church is the ministry of the congregation, largely not of the pastor. The pastor can suggest, cajole, vision, lead, provide theology for or against an idea, but in the end, it will fail if the congregation does not catch the vision, catch fire with the idea.
Now, as your new pastor here in this charge, I am aware of my limitations. Not only am I the pastor and not the whole congregation, I am appointed here as a half time pastor. There will be even less that I will be able to do.
Suffice it also to say that I am not the savior of these churches either—I do not think either needs saving, but that being said, I am not the messiah. That gig was already taken 2000 years ago, and it didn’t end well for that guy, at least in the short term.
When Paul writes to the church in Corinth in this morning’s text, he is writing to a people who have started picking sides about where their loyalties lie. Some have called themselves Paul’s people, some have chosen to identify themselves with Apollos. There were other allegiances, as well, and the congregation was starting to fracture. We can see this sometimes in modern congregations, especially when a beloved pastor leaves. Some are all for the current pastor, some have nostalgia for those who have gone before. Every church has what I call a PBM-Pastor of Blessed Memory, the one that most of the people who are in leadership may remember the strongest.
Paul would disagree with that phenomenon. The pastors have a limited role, in his wording-some lay seeds, others water. But we should never forget that it is God only who makes seeds grow, God is the only one who gives the growth.
There are no pastors who can make you grow in God. There are pastors who can provide the environment and nourishment so that you may look for God more deeply. But they cannot pry the shell from you and fertilize the seed for you, and tie a rope to you and yank you loose. Only you can push through, and only with the strength God gives you.
Paul watered, Apollos watered, but God gives the growth. Phil planted, Joan planted, Tom planted, Jon planted, I will plant, and we have all watered as well. But none of us have given the growth. Only God does that. I hope my time here is a time of great growth for you, and that we all remember where we are to be focused!