Thursday, February 26, 2009

Pastor's Perspective, March

The Feeling of a Season

March is usually characterized for us by vacations, freakish weather, and basketball tournaments. Will it also be characterized for us by lent? Lent is a season when, guided by Jesus’ example of forty days in the wilderness, we adopt a spiritual discipline (such as fasting, as Jesus did) and struggle with the temptations which confront us. It is a season in life when some of us give up some element of our lives as a sacrificial discipline. Many of us examine ourselves and ask, as we did this past Ash Wednesday, “What do I want to burn away from my life? Some think of bad habits or luxuries we’ve grown too accustomed to, and decide to practice going without.

I’ve found that my Lenten disciplines are more effective and have the potential for long lasting change in my own behavior if I also think of some positive action or thought and replace the negative with the positive. When my mind turns to the old thought or practice I am asking God to help me abandon for at least a season of discipline, I’ve found it empowering to simply pray, “With your help God, I can….” Followed by the name of that thought or practice you are attempting to abstain from during Lent.

Also important is replacing the “time spent” typically on that previous thought or action, and fill it with time spent in devotion or practicing our discipleship. You have access to many ideas for spiritual disciplines on our linked websites on the church weblog If you’ve never been to the church website, give it a look

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel spoke of the Sabbath as a “cathedral in time.” I think this is a great way for us to imagine what we are doing with lent. We are tearing down the inner strip malls and brothels and building gardens and sanctuaries. Two of the groups within the church that have real potential for formative spiritual practice that creates a “cathedral in time” are the Covenant Discipleship group and the confirmation class.

Covenant Discipleship is a group of people who hold one another in “covenant accountability.” Each new group creates a new covenant around the four areas of worship, personal devotion, justice and compassion. A pilot group met every week from late 2007 until the end of 2008 to speak with one another about the covenant and how we had lived up to it or not. The process of sharing your struggles and victories with living your discipleship helps to strengthen it. If you are interested in participating in such a group, talk to Kim Davis, Donna Haggard, Shirley Miller, Nathan Mattox, Linda King, Karen Morris or Jackie Vaughn. We are looking expanding the gift of this ministry within the church.

Also embarking on a new course is at least five young people who will be exploring the life of faith and the story of our scriptures and tradition. They will be staying after church several Sundays to participate in discussions, mission trips, tours of other faiths’ houses of worship and even an outing to explore the caves at Devil’s Den State Park in Arkansas. During the first weekend of March, several of them will be attending a Confirmation retreat with youth from around the conference. I’m in charge of the final worship service, which is a real life experience of the Prodigal Son story (excluding the dissolute living, of course.) Be praying for Charlsey, Lee, Travis, Colby, and Rhoen, and if you know of any other 6th-8th graders who would like to participate in confirmation over the next 3 months, a list of our activities is (guess where!) The website!

Also at the church website, you’ll find a link to the “examen,” a prayer tradition from Ignatius, a man who rose to prominence as a fierce soldier, and turned away from that life to instead practice prayer and worship. His daily prayer of sharing with God (and a community) our greatest struggle and joy of the day guides many to a rich spiritual life. A good book about the examen that is very accessible (it even has cartoons) is Sleeping with Bread, by Dennis Linn and his family. I suggest it to you if you’re looking for a spiritual discipline.

I hope Lent is a cathedral in time for you. If you need any guidance in deepening your walk of faith, that is why I am here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday Service Tonight at 7pm

Come mark the beginning of Lent by being marked with the symbol of our mortality and Sin.  

Monday, February 23, 2009

Confirmation Retreat Registration

Hey parents and youth.  Things are shaping up for us to have a great confirmation class.  We'll kick things off with a retreat with many other youth from the area on March 6-7.  We'll leave the church at 4:15 on Friday and return here at 9:30pm on Saturday.  If you're going, we need a registration form as soon as possible.  Print it out here, then drop it by the parsonage or the office.  Call Nathan if you have any questions.  Thanks!  
Other dates for confirmation events can be found here.

Transfiguration Sunday Sermon: Out of the Shining of Remembered Days

Sermon Texts

Transfiguration gives us a template for worship

Important not to try and pitch our tents at one hallowed experience. 

He went downhill.  There is more to faith than having experiences.


My sermon today has basically been an adaptation from the Interpreter’s Bible Reflection of Halford E. Luccock


Transfiguration may remind us of what worship may mean—a shining hour, high and lifted up, when Jesus and his revelation of God are luminous from within, their own self authenticating evidene, with a glow such as no fuller on earth can supply. 


Life’s best hopes and highest aspirations are validated. A poet has written of old age and the “last song” he would make “out of the shining of remembered days.”  Worship may be this steady “shining of remembered days,” a sustaining power.


Paul, besides being scourged and imprisoned, remembered in Acts 26, “a light from heaven, brighter than the sun. shining around me, and hearing a voice.” 


Does worship have that sustaining power for us?  That despite the difficult periods of our lives be reminded of God’s presence and power?


Poem byu Eunice Tietjens,

But I shall go down from this airy place, this swift white peace,
  this stinging exultation.
And time will close about me, and my soul stir to the rhythm
  of the daily round.
Yet, having known, life will not press so close, and always I shall feel time
  ravel thin about me;
For once I stood
In the white windy presence of eternity.


A life which has no transfigured hours of worship is poor, no matter how rich the furniture.


Mountain top experience. 


Science and biology attest to something actually happening in our brains when we are truly at worship or at prayer or meditation. 

We are given the ability to see beyond or within. 


However, this scripture also speaks about the danger implicit in every complete satisfaction.  Getting life pegged at that point. 


Think of the many areas in which the mood of Peter, when he said in effect “let’s stay here and build,” blocks the possibilities of life.


Always a tragedy when a person moves on everywhere else but leaves his religious thinking behind, pegs his spiritual experience at a point away back in the past.


A life which might have been a voyage of discovery is chained to a spot reached before any genuine exploration could really begin. 


Also is sometimes the result of a faith which has refused to grow, and so no longer is able to fit an expanding world of experience and need.


Sometimes underlies that penchant for “the way we’ve always done it.” 


It was good for Peter to have the experience, not good for him to try and prolong it.  He had to go on to new experiences of understanding and discipleship.  The voice said, “Listen to Him!”


((((( Take these words into your imagination.  Let them run freely over time and space.  Consider how many occasions there have been when the words “This is my beloved son, listen to him” have been and are the supreme wisdom. 


When a life looks out on the world in the early years, when it is choosing its goals and its way, its ambitions and aspirations, then listen to him who rejected the proffered kingdoms of this world for the larger kingdom of God.


Many years ago Rudyard Kipling gave an address at McGill University in Montreal. He said one striking thing which deserves to be remembered. Warning the students against an over-concern for money, or position, or glory, he said: “Some day you will meet a man who cares for none of these things. Then you will know how poor you are. 


When life goes into eclipse, when darkness covers the face of the sun, in sorrow and failure and despair, then listen to him who was a man of sorrows, and whose revelation of God brings the sustaining word of comfort and the enabling word of hope. 


When life waxes in might and gathers power or riches, when the siren song of self-indulgence are sounding, then listen to him who can save life from going to pieces. 


Raphael’s picture of the transfiguration.  Shows the strking contrast between the mountaintop and what awaits the disciples down the hill. Above, the beauty of that high vidsion; beow, tragic need and suffering, the impotence of the disciples, and the fruitless discussion about it. 


We commonly hear the phrase “going downhill” applied to a person in a condemning or pitying manner.  When we say someone is “going downhill” we mean that he has seen better days, that he is descending to an anti-climax. 


But there is a nobler sense of the words as well—the sense in which Jesus spent his whole life going downhill from the high and lonely places, where he held communion with God, to the level, crowded palaces of human need.


There are those who spend much of their time on the fine art of “going uphill,” climbing to some height of advantage, position, power, or wealth, and pay no attention at all to this much finer art, the art of going downhill.  It is the lifelong descent from the place of vision to the place of deed, from the hill of privilege to the plain of need. 


This is the trajectory of the life of our savior attested to in the Kenosis passage we read earlier.  It is a hymn from our earliest history, and means “emptiness” or “poured out.”  Jesus didn’t stop going downhill.  He went all the way down the hill through another uphill climb to Golgotha.  After dying on the cross, our creed states that he even descended into the land of the dead. 


We should glorify this man, because he went all the way downhill for the sake of us.  So that we may be lifted up and transfigured along with him.  

Friday, February 20, 2009

Ash Wednesday, Feb. 25 at 7pm

Come mark the beginning of Lent in worship.  At 7pm, we will gather for Ash Wednesday and the imposition of the ashes-which come from the burned palms of last year's Palm Sunday as a reminder of our frailty and mortality.  

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Have you been to our new prayer chapel?

I've included some photos before of a project we are working on in the former storage room off the sanctuary.  Though it has been a pastor's office and a choir room in the past, the little room right off the sanctuary had been in use for a number of years as a storage area.  The worship committee felt the room was too pretty to "store stuff, " and began work on a prayer chapel.  Harvey Grundman made the altar for the room and recently cut a pew in half to use in the room, and we've made other additions to offer an area for prayer and contemplation.  Come in and read a copy of Alive Now, use the finger labyrinth, sit by the fountain, or kneel at the prie dieu and light a candle on the altar.  Each Sunday communion is available in the room, and during business hours, the chapel is open from an outside door for your use.   Our prayer is that the congregation finds the chapel to be an encouragement to observe a "cathedral in time."  Thanks to everyone who contributed to the project and who contributed to the memorials fund of the church.  We believe we have turned storage space into sacred space.  

Feb. 15 Sermon: Run, Christian Run

I'm sorry for those of you who like to listen to the sermon--I've had Ipod trouble lately. Once again, the sermon notes are all I can provide.

Texts: Isaiah 40: 28-31

Paul appealing to a culture steeped in athleticism.  Athenian and Isthmuthian games (which were played within 10 miles of Corinth, less than a year prior to when this letter was written.) 


Paul was writing to an audience who had sports on the brain.  I’m not just interested in looking at what this passage says, but also how it is said.  Paul appeals to the culture.  He knows what they find compelling, and he uses that language to describe the good news. 


Coming soon will be the NFL draft.  This could be an equivalent metaphor.  Darren McFadden blew them away at last year’s combine (where scouts from NFL teams examine a player)  4.3 40 yard dash.  What was he competing for?  Millions of dollars. 


Maybe not what we would compare to a crown of glory, but definitely is perishable.  Especially when you consider he ended up picked by the Raiders, which is owned and dominated by a crazy man.  As he found out this year, plagued by injuries and on a team that fired its coach midseason, that glory if fleeting. 


Running the race as though you will win.  Not because there is only one prize to be had.  Paul distinguishes between an athletic race and the spiritual quest in that way.  But, he admires the athlete’s model of self-control. 


Reading “Outliers” The story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell.  He says in the book that in study after study, those who show virtuoso talent in one area have one thing in common: they have all practiced around 10,000 hours to get to that point. 


We must train hard because we have been given the chance to live the life of discipleship.  There are those in the world who desperately want to express their faith but are kept from doing so by repressive governments or cultures of exclusion. 


Scene from Rudy—he struggles to make ends meet in order to get into Notre Dame.  Tries for 2 years in jr. college across the street improving his grades.  Finally makes the practice squad, which the coaches describe as, those people " who will never have a chance to dress for a game and who we don't care get hurt. "


Would we approach our faith life with less determination and focus?  If we have only one opportunity to “play the game,” are we just going to go out there and kick the grass? 

 This is what underlies Paul’s advice to the Corinthians. 

One big thing that just happened in sporting world is signing day.  Futures of football programs are speculated and prognosticated based on what high school seniors will receive the 25 or so scholarships to play football at different schools. 


Number of stars, better the prospect.  Here’s some good news for us—God wants all of us on the team. God give us all a scholarship called grace.   Now we should earn the scholarship we’ve been given. 


You know how a team plays better on its own court?  The players know that the crowd is just waiting to cheer them on, so they want to give them something to cheer about.  Our faith community should be like that. 


Cheer each other on in this faith journey.  Express yourself to others—let someone know that they’ve inspired you or encouraged you.  

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Feb. 8 Sermon: I gotta be me.

No ipod again, only notes.

1 Cor and Mark

I gotta be me. Sammy Davis Jr.

Do we? Paul here speaks about taking on the characteristics of others in order to be able to relate to them.

We privlilege our cult of our own personality to the extent that we might think, “be true to who you really are” is part of the gospel.

This is half true. We are so thoroughly bought by a culture that tries to sell us every reason in the book as to why “who we are” isn’t good enough.

Consumer empire. Difficulty of realizing who we are and being true to who we are.

In a very real sense, God can’t use us until we know who we are and are willing to be true and honest to ourselves and others about that.

Part of what it means to confess that we are a sinner. That we are lacking. That we aren’t self made or self realized. We need rescuing.

Not the end of the road though. Paul is telling us there is something beyond that. It is putting the self aside for the purpose of something greater.

Paul says he’s willing to “become a Jew, so that the Jews.” He is a Jew, is he not?

There is one greater than us, and there is a purpose greater than our own “self realization.” This is where self-help and new age fall short.

Struggle with “being who I am,” and “being all things to all people.” Why—so the good news can be shared.

Perhaps this a gift of the iteneracy. You aren’t served by folks who are just like you are.

King of the Hill, Methodist pastor is from Iowa or something. Obvious that she’s different than the culture. We need to know that that kind of setup is helpful to the Gospel.

Talk about how I’ve had to stretch and learn about my context. How is God calling you to stretch the boundaries of your own personality?

The gospel, the power of God, always encounters and engages people where they are, where they live, in their social matrix. Inevitably, the gospel moves them and changes them, but it always comes to them, engages them, and nourishes them from that very point, as and where they are.

What is the Gospel to you? What is the good news of Jesus Christ? What meaning does that have for you?

Now, think about someone who you think needs to hear that message. That’s an easy way to share the Gospel because you’re just sharing with someone else the way that you hear God calling you.

What does Paul mean by “Gospel” the Corinthians:

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.

Notice that in Mark, just when Jesus seems to be hitting his stride and casting out demons right and left, he goes out into the wilderness for some prayer and solitude, and when his disciples come to him with the message that everyone is searching for him, Jesus says they need to carry on and find other places to spread the message.

Casting out demons was a fine way to spread the good news in one area, but we find Jesus up to other things in other places.

Paul mixes the imagery of being a slave for Christ and being free in Christ because both are true, and because some of us need to hear words of freedom while others need to hear words of tighter binds.

Obviously, Romans 1.1-5 (which proclaims Jesus as resurrected Lord) and Romans 1.16-17 (which proclaims what happens to those who acknowledge Christ as Lord when they hear the gospel, the good news, of his resurrection and exaltation over all) fit together like hand and glove. There should be no tension between them. But it is helpful to notice how they fit together. Putting it roughly, Romans 1.1-5 tells us the content of the Gospel and Romans 1.16, 17 tells us the effect of believing the Gospel.

Others, regardless of their differences from us, deserve to be given the Gospel in whatever way they might understand it. They deserve it because they are children of God.

Ben Harper, Power of the Gospel, (Fr. Fight for Your Mind, )

It will make a weak man mighty.
It will make a mighty man fall.
It will fill your heart and hands or leave you with nothing at all.
It's the eyes for the blind and legs for the lame.
It is the love for hate and pride for shame.

That's the power of the gospel.
That's the power of the gospel.
That's the power of the mighty, mighty power.
That's the power of the gospel, well.
That's the power of...

Gospel on the water,
Gospel on the land.
The gospel in every woman,
And the gospel in every man.
Gospel in the garden,
Gospel in the trees.
The gospel that's inside of you,
Gospel inside of me.

That's the power of the gospel.
That's the power of the gospel.
That's the power of the mighty power.
That's the power of...
That's the power of the gospel.

In the hour of richness,
In the hour of need.
For all of creation comes from the gospel seed.
And you may leave tomorrow and you may leave today,
But you've got to have, got to have the gospel when you start out on your way.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Feb. 1 Sermon, "To Eat or Not to Eat, Is that the Question?"

Sorry no ipod today. I messed up. But here are notes for your edification.

Texts: Psalm and 1 Corinthians

Speak about going home sophomore year.
Interesting class on the hist of Islamic middle east
Encounter with

A little learning is a dangerous thing. Sophomore: wise fool.

Don’t care what you know till they know that you care

Freedom of being known. Family knows us as we really are. Facebook, friend of mine had a video of her dad dancing around like a fool to the “King of the Hill” theme song. Freedom of being yourself when you are known for who you are.

For Paul the definitive knowing is God’s knowing of us, which, if love for God is properly in place (cf. Deut 6:5), will result in our being known, in our receiving God’s love in a way that not only claims us for God but also engages us in love toward others (cf. 13:9, 12).

Although the word does not appear in this context, grace is at issue here. It is not what believers know that sets them right with God and gives them to one another. The flow never runs that way for Paul. God’s freely given, unmerited love claims the believers and establishes them. It is a delicate matter in Paul’s understanding. One does not come to know God as many Greeks had assumed. Rather, one is known by God (Gal 4:9).

All proper knowing proceeds from God and acknowledges that God’s knowing precedes and grounds what believers know. God’s knowing establishes, constitutes (cf. Exod 33:12, 17) believers, who then must caution themselves that their knowing is derivative and that what they know should function as a guide to love rather than as an index of status and rank.

Love is not just a sentiment, not just a feeling, not merely a sort of disposition. Love works; it acts; it does things; and the chief thing it does is to edify, build up, cause growth in each of the persons who engages in it and who is engaged by it.

Love transforms circumstances and people. The loved one is never again the same; the one who loves is never again the same. Love is thus a transaction but not a bartering; it is not susceptible to bargaining. Love, once under way, takes on a life of its own; like the grace on which it is built, it surprises. Love restores, love enlarges, and love makes whole. Most often that is what happens with love. But love is not a magic wand; love can be spurned and rejected; and sometimes love elicits its nearest of kin, hatred.

an arrogance which idolizes one’s own perspective on the world.
Today that arrogance is on display regarding the interactions of the Corinthians around the decision to eat meat. Though Paul is inclined to agree with the opinion of those who eat meat sacrificed to idols, he thoroughly disapproves of their attitude. So instead of taking the opportunity to take the side of the “leanrned,” he reprimands them. He hones them. Tries to give them the humility that comes with true knowledge.
In his letter Paul resorted to the Corinthians’ own language about the strong and the weak, turning it on its head, saying that those who presumed themselves strong in fact revealed themselves to be weak, reminding them that God chose the weak and the foolish to shame the strong and wise. He Went on to criticize the Corinthians for their opinionated quarrelsomeness, their slippery morality, their unwarranted boasting. They exasperated him by turning the Lord’s Supper into a series of private parties at which some people gorged themselves and became drunk while others got nothing to eat.
And yet it was to these people, to this divisive and anxious fellowship, that Paul wrote one of the most eloquent reflections on what love is, and what it is not. Paul understood that in Corinth the spiritual pride of comprehension had supplanted the leadership of love.