Friday, May 31, 2024

A Better Potter

 



A Better Potter

 

2 Corinthians 4:5-12
4:5 For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake. 

4:6 For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 

4:7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 

4:8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 

4:9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 

4:10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 

4:11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 

4:12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

 

 

II Corinthians 4:7 is one of my favorite scriptures in the whole Bible: “But we have this treasure in clay jars…” The treasure is the gift of God’s forgiveness, redemption, and grace as delivered to us by Jesus Christ, during his time “camping” among us. WE are the clay jars—clay, because we are both malleable AND fragile, but also because we can be “shaped by the master potter. The problem is, we WILL be shaped, one way, or another, and the resulting “pot” may not be something we—or God—would be proud to display in public.

 

Making pottery is not an easy process, believe me. Discounting commercial operations that use computerized machinery to mold them, glaze them, fire them, and package them for mass distribution, making pottery is more of an art in our day, than something we do because we need a pot to hold something. Most of us buy pottery to display, and those who make it, are artists. My first effort at making pottery was in public school, where, as one who enjoyed art, I took several art classes. The first thing I learned was that I wasn’t very good at drawing things, especially living things. Then came “pot week.” My instructor was one of our public school art teachers who had a major side business selling incredible, hand-make pottery. Not only was he a master at creative use of the potter’s wheel, but he had a great eye for innovative shapes and eye-catching decorating, including mixing some of his own slips and glazes. The good news for his students was that he liked to teach others how to throw a pot, and he was good at that, too. A number of my peers were soon rather expertly wedging clay, throwing simple pots or vases, and preparing them for firing in the large, “community” kiln that was filled each day for firing at night when electrical rates were lowest. I never got much beyond the wedging.

 

Wedging clay is basically what bakers do when they knead dough. It smooths the clay, giving it a consistent, soft texture, and helps identify and extract any dried/hard impurities. It also exorcises any air bubbles, which are murder when encountered on the wheel, and may burst and destroy all in the community kiln, when they survive to that stage in the wall of a pot. I could expertly wedge clay. Beyond that, the potter’s wheel won each and every time. After wedging the clay, the budding potter slams an appropriately-sized slug of it onto the center of the wheel. The wheel is turned on and begins to spin. The potter starts applying a little water (actually a very thin slip of clay and water) to the lump of clay with a small sponge. Then, in a kind of clay-oriented Karate move, arms and hands are braced against the body and applied to the spinning clay in a move called “centering.” The goal is to gently nudge the clay into the very center of the wheel, and flatten it into a perfectly round, flat mound of clay ready to be “opened” by the thumbs of the potter. This step was my Achilles’ heel. No matter what I did, I could never successfully center the clay. “Success” in clay centering was marked by the “hump” of clay being so perfectly centered that, as it is spinning, it literally looks like it’s stationary, with no wavering at all. I could never make it do that. My teacher tried everything to help me learn this step, but to no avail. He gently encouraged me, while counseling that I was “fighting the clay.” There was a three-way battle going on, actually, between me, the clay, and centrifugal force, and apparently I was never able to balance these forces. The clay lump always wound up with a slight waver in its rotation, and believe me, even the slightest waver will ruin the amateur’s effort to open and “bring up” the walls of clay to form a pot. I should state that an experienced potter can throw a pot even with a warpy clay slug, as they have learned the art of “centering as they go.” This requires a REALLY gentle touch, and almost building an “empathy” with the clay. Expert potters also “feel” the texture and moistness (or lack of) in the clay, adjusting their touch and technique to compensate. The rank amateur, working with a decently-centered lump of clay, is often successful at bringing up a simple pot or vase, usually only running into trouble when they try to get too fancy or ambitious, early on, or applies too much moistening slip to the pot as they go. Me? Not getting the darn thing centered in the first place is a dealbreaker. It was even worse than that, though. Feeling pity for me, my instructor would center a lump of clay for me, leaving me with the “raw materials” to throw a pot. I could sometimes succeed at “opening” the clay, using my thumbs to turn the lump into a centered “ring” of clay, which could then be “brought up” using the fingers of the left hand inside the ring, and the right hand fingers on the exterior. Nope, not me. Each and every time, I was again diagnosed as “fighting the clay,” and a half-formed pot would begin to waver when about half-formed, and would eventually fall back down onto the spinning wheel. Because my art experiences in school were relatively short-term, we had to move on, and Yours Truly never—NEVER—successfully executed a pot on the potter’s wheel (or maybe I should say I did “execute” quite a few, as this term is used in capital punishment?). 

 

Don’t cry for me, Argentina. My creativity emerged when we were to draw “thumbnail” sketches of pot designs, or later, jewelry pieces. Turns out, I’m a pretty “out of the box” thinker when it comes to designing at this level, and my teacher gave me an “A” for the pieces of jewelry I designed and made (I’m not bad with tools). He also picked a couple of my pot designs he fancied, and showed me how to “hand build” them using the coil and scorew method, avoiding the potter’s wheel, altogether. I got a good grade for a couple of these hand-built jobs, and carried one around as a pencil and pen holder for decades, until it was broken in one of our clergy moves. Many years later, while in college, my daughter had the same luck I did with throwing pots, and my “wall-seum” is home to an incredible hand-built pots she made that looks like it was excavated in some ancient Mayan digs.

 

This extended story illustrates why I like II Corinthians 4:7 so much! Pottery is hard stuff! When the hymn echoes this text with the words, “Thou art the potter, I am the clay,” it totally gets the story right! I already know what happens if I try to form my “own clay” of my life: I’m OK with “wedging” the air out of it; however, I’m lousy—let’s say unsuccessful—at getting it centered, and will throw it out of kilter, even if I let GOD do the centering; and my personal efforts to “bring up” the clay [my life] to look anything like God’s plan will fail. God is the better potter for all of these metaphorical processes. And God has the “right touch” for the consistency (or lack of it) and texture for the “clay” of my life. 

 

The text says much more to us “clay jars.” Here are a few of the key “treasures”:

 

*We are proclaimers of the Good News of Jesus Christ

 

*We are the recipients and vessels of the “light of God” as revealed in Christ Jesus

 

*Like an old Timex watch, we can “take a licking and keep on ticking,” thanks to our commitment to a higher power and a higher purpose.

 

*Through our experience as “ambassadors for Christ,” we learn the difference between being “perplexed” and despairing. Despair leads us to sadness, depression, even grief. Being “perplexed,” when responded to properly, leads to curiosity, learning, and self-discovery. THIS is truly a treasure in the “clay jar” of our life!

 

*We know we carry around “death” in our earthly bodies, for it is the natural order, but as ones who have yielded to the redeeming and transforming grace of God in Jesus Christ, we ALSO carry around the seeds of resurrection!

 

The fragile, clay jar of our existence may never be “brought up” to something that holds water unless we offer our “raw materials” to the Better Potter. My experience of attempting to throw a pot on the potter’s wheel is a great metaphor for the senselessness of “picking oneself up by the bootstraps,” a practice WAY too many wielding “horse sense” say is the remedy for human suffering. Grace, forgiveness, opening oneself to the illumination of the light of Christ, and offering God some well “wedged” clay, truly IS a healing balm. Yielding to the Better Potter will not just raise OUR “pot,” but will also “bring up” other pots, as well. Christ didn’t come just to save your SOUL, but to restore and reconcile all of humanity! This is also why we need the Better Potter to mold the clay—with superior knowledge of its texture, empathy for its “feel,” and the creativity to form something outstanding! So, we are being called by this text to “Wedge, yield, rise, and shine” by putting ourselves in the hands of the Better Potter. Amen! 

Friday, May 24, 2024

The Sending...

 



The Sending…

 

Isaiah 6:1-8
6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.

6:2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.

6:3 And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory."

6:4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.

6:5 And I said: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"

6:6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs.

6:7 The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out."

6:8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I; send me!"

 

 

Isaiah Six begins with one of the Bible’s most famous call stories—that of the prophet, himself. What are call stories? At their broadest definition, they are our personal recollections as to how we wound up doing much of what we “do” in life. They may be stories about how we wound up in the career we are in, to how we “discovered” our partner in life. From a religious perspective, call stories are about how persons discerned a call to “do something” in service to God. This may range from going on a mission trip to entering the ordained ministry. We all have call stories; we just may not think of them in this way.

 

I have a number of personal call stories in my life. The first one that really shook things up happened during my first month at college. I had sailed through high school as a decent student. I could have had a much stronger academic career, but SO enjoyed the other activities such as the various bands I was in, the school plays and shows I was involved in, and even a brief foray into high school sports. Then, along came dating and hanging out with good friends, especially as my high school time was winding down. In the midst of it all, I had decided I would become a journalist, since English and writing were my academic strengths, along with the sciences, and mathematics brought up the rear. Since physics and space science were extreme areas of interest, and my math skills were so pedestrian, I figured I’d be able to “cover” them as a science writer/reporter. I chose a college based on this goal. I distinctly remember getting “oriented” into college life at Point Park College, which was a really good journalism school back in 1972, and settling into my bunk one night, quite pleased with myself and my choices. As I began to say my evening prayers, which I did as a matter of being a “church-raised kid” and the habits I developed from this experience, something quite unusual happened. As I began to say my “rote” prayers to God, I suddenly got an answer back in a “voice” that was so real, I thought it was my roommate speaking. When it became clear that he was fast asleep, I started asking “the voice” questions, and a “conversation” ensued that lasted for the better part of half an hour. During this dialogue, I never doubted that I was “talking” with God, nor did I ever think I had lost my mind. The content of the “rap,” as we might have called it back then, had a few key points:

 

*I had made some important decisions about my life without much consultation with God.

 

*God may have a different plan for my life than I had begun to carve out.

 

*I should start taking my “walk with Christ” much more seriously.

 

*I should stay tuned for further guidance, down the road.

 

Considering this “encounter” had the potential for really charting a different course for my life, I remember thinking I might NEVER get to sleep that night…and then I fell asleep. Waking up the next morning, I felt that some kind of weird “transformation” had occurred in me, and had a compulsion to read the Bible. While I didn’t pack a Bible to bring with me to college, I opened my footlocker and there was a “Good News for Modern Man” New Testament, which I found out later had been packed by my Mom. I was alone in the room, as my roommate had gone off to an early class. The sun shone brightly into the room, as it was a beautiful day outside. I sat down on the edge of the bed, popped open the “Good News,” and began to read where it opened, which just happened to be the Gospel of John. As I started to read, the little hairs on the back of my neck began to stand at attention. The “voice” I was reading—about Jesus, and even OF Jesus—was the very same one I had heard “interrupting” my evening prayer the night before! I will never forget that feeling, and frankly, I STILL hear that voice every time I read the Bible. “The voice” has never gone away, since that encounter. 

 

So, what was my reaction to this first “call story” in my life? 

 

*I began reading my Bible every day, as I had a new hunger to learn about Jesus.

 

*I thought maybe this was some kind of “call” into the ministry, and away from my goal of becoming a journalist.

 

*The transformation that had began with “the voice” continued, and continues to this day.

 

*I hopped a bus for home that next weekend, both to share with my parents what I “thought” was going on, AND to speak with my home pastor, the Rev. Dr. Hugh D. Crocker, who was serving Grace UMC in Oil City, at that time. 

 

My parents were thrilled that I might be called into the Christian ministry, as being good church folk who were raising us “in the church,” this was certainly considered a noble profession. However, after a long session with Rev. Crocker, during which he affirmed that this “could” be a call—and he also affirmed that he felt I would be GOOD at being a pastor—he CAUTIONED me about jumping to this conclusion, given “the voice” had said I should await further instructions. Dr. Crocker explained that a call to the ordained ministry must be affirmed at many levels, and was NOT to be taken lightly. I remember him saying, “If God calls you into the ministry, you DON’T want to ignore it, but until you are SURE, you don’t want to pursue it.” He also said something like, “There are two kinds of miserable people in life: those who GET called into the ministry and who choose to ignore it; and those who GO into the ministry WITHOUT a clear calling.” 

 

This is a really long “call story,” so I’ll cut to the chase: I continued my pursuit of my revitalized faith, began a career in communications, and later got the VERY clear call from “the voice” to pursue seminary education and eventually, ordination. I now write this “retirement sermon” as a retired pastor, having served for 36 years as an itinerant minister in The United Methodist Church. And just a few weeks ago, another “voice” get my attention, but this time it was a District Superintendent over the phone, who asked me to consider being re-deployed—part-time—into parish ministry again. SO, I’m back in the pulpit, come July 14. I should add one additional “take” on this call story. Some have suggested that my “voice” experience that night at Point Park was a “conversion” story, too, but I disagree. I had made a commitment to Jesus Christ as a young person growing up in a gospel-teaching church, and had sincerely reaffirmed this commitment numerous times, at mission festivals at our church. I would have gladly stated that I was “a Christian,” if someone had asked, and understood that my “commitment” was genuine. However, the “fire in my bones” that this college experience lit has never waned. When, years later, I read of John Wesley’s “Aldersgate experience,” I deduced that he and I had shared a similar kind of “fire-starting” encounter with “the voice” that “super-charged” our faith, and changed the direction our lives were headed. 

 

Our friend, Isaiah, is relating exactly the same kind of “meeting up” with “the voice” here in this text. His calling to be a prophet of God launched a whole new “career” for the young man, and the “coal to the lips” via the seraph not only “sealed” the call story, but “ordained” him as a mouthpiece for the Almighty. We preachers all hope our lips are similarly “touched,” especially when we write and deliver a sermon each week. What this meant for Isaiah was that what he had to “speak forth” would not be HIS words, but would be a message from God to God’s people. As a preacher, this is what I have wanted my messages to be, as well. In order to do my part to make sure this would be the case, here are the steps I take each week, before I write a sermon:

 

*I choose a scripture VERY early, on which to preach. As a lectionary preacher, I consult this tool, to do so. When serving a church, I would plan my preaching six months at a time, choosing the scriptures and writing a simple paragraph as to where I saw that week’s sermon “going.” I was always open to changing any message (or scripture), if the Spirit so led, but rarely did that happen, as the Holy Spirit is GREAT at “running on ahead” and helping light a path long before it is “needed.”

 

*I open a file on the computer a few weeks before the message is to be preached, and begin studying each text in advance. This allowed me to “add” items to each sermon, depending on what I was reading, and/or what was “happening” in the world, the culture, or the church. 

 

*I keep each message in prayer, going forward, as well as my “study steps” in forming the message. God is generally a better author than I, so such “consulting” with an expert is most helpful in attempting to write a pertinent message that might both catch the attention of my audience AND meet their spiritual needs!

 

*I always leave “wiggle room” for last minute “updates” by the Holy Spirit. This is why I compile preaching notes from my messages and present them loosely from these notes, keeping me from being locked into a specific text. This method also affords me excellent “eye contact” with my audience.

 

*I never preach “from the barrel.” Every message is new, never repeated. Oh, some illustrations or stories may certainly be used more than once, but it has always been my conviction that each message is an “event” for that time and place. This my personal practice, however, I do realize that the Holy Spirit may use a well-crafted, biblical message more than once, so for those of you who DO repeat your “greatest hits,” that’s not problem! DO what God calls YOU to do!

 

Since I’m going to be back in the pulpit at Faith Community UMC in Rochester, PA, I have been working on my preaching plan, which is now finished through the end of 2024. My practice of planning so far in advance has resulted into a long career of exciting experiences in preaching! I was so often amazed by how a message planned MONTHS before it was to be preached wound up being the PERFECT message at JUST THE RIGHT TIME, when it was time to present it! Again, all the credit and glory goes to God and the Holy Spirit for this, as I obviously would have no idea what might be “going down” in advance. Unlike Isaiah, I am NOT a prophet!

 

I’ll bet that as I recall my “call” experiences, you are revisiting your own—this the “magic” of call stories! And I KNOW that you all have some wonderful ones, as I have heard a great number of them from colleagues, friends, and parishioners, over the years. Call stories are so powerful that I could easily turn this sermon into a veritable “tome” by recounting some that I have heard from yinz! Unfortunately, I also heard a few who, when it came to respond like Isaiah, “Here I am—send me!”, turned and walked away. Their stories were often very hard to hear, and their degree of personal regret was worn like a millstone around the neck. Thankfully, even most of these “I didn’t go” stories have a happier ending, as the Holy Spirit is ALWAYS “running on ahead” to illuminate an alternate path to both service and blessing! Many of the folk who responded in the negative to the initial calling, later were led to wonderful ways to live out a calling in compassion for others and in service to God. Isn’t God GOOD, in this way?

 

“The Sending” can be the hard part of responding to God’s call. A calling to serve God would be so much easier if it could be carried out without leaving places, people, or “stuff” with which we have grown either dependent upon or comfortable with. While some HAVE been able to carry out their “calling” in an existing venue, most of the time God asks us to “be sent” in some way. Why? Partly, I suppose, because the work of God is everywhere God’s people are, and the gifts we possess may be needed elsewhere, or even in numerous locations, over time. When I answered the call to ordained ministry in The United Methodist Church, I knew that this meant vowing to be a part of an “itinerant” ministry. Over the course of 36 years, we served five churches, each in different parts of our Conference. It meant physically moving my family, which always meant my wife losing her job and our children, changing school districts. All this to say that answering God’s call OFTEN involves personal sacrifice and dependence UPON God for God’s provision. I remember hearing “missionary stories” during those mission festivals I mentioned earlier whereby some were called to make the “ultimate sacrifice” in answering God’s call.

 

This coming Monday we Americans are celebrating Memorial Day, when we remember those who were “sent” in service to their country, and who, in many cases, made the ultimate sacrifice. We remember them for their patriotism, citizenship, and service to preserve our freedoms. We are all thankful for their service. 

 

Friends, may we always be listening for “the voice” to rejuvenate our faith, call our gifts into service, and be willing to be “sent” in service to God and others! May we echo the great prophet, Isaiah, with the simple, yet profound words: “Here I am; SEND ME!” Amen!

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Father, Son, and Bruno


 Father, Son, and Bruno

 

Acts 2:1-21
2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.

2:2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.

2:3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.

2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

2:5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.

2:6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

2:7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?

2:8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?

2:9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,

2:10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,

2:11 Cretans and Arabs--in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power."

2:12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?"

2:13 But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine."

2:14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.

2:15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning.

2:16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

2:17 'In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

2:18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

2:19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

2:20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord's great and glorious day.

2:21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'

 

 

A couple of years ago, we were visiting with our daughter’s family and the grandchildren wanted to take in a movie that was just debuting that weekend. Called “Encanto,” the film wound up winning an Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film. Musical numbers for “Encanto” were written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the genius who took a slice of American history and turned it into the mega-hit, “Hamilton.” The story features a magical Colombian family called the Madrigals, and their daughter, Mirabel, the only member of the family not given a magical gift, or so she thought. When the family is in danger of losing their magical gifts, Mirabel stumbles across her uncle, BRUNO, who had put himself into exile, because the family saw his gift as “too dangerous.” His gift was that of precognition, or seeing things that might happen in the future, including the crisis that Mirabel is now trying to help evade. One of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s best songs is, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.” One of its lyrics goes:

 

We don’t talk about Bruno, no, no, no!

We don’t talk about Bruno!

 

Grew to live in fear of Bruno stuttering or stumbling,

I could always hear him sort of muttering and mumbling,

I associate him with the sound of falling sand.

It’s a heavy lift, with a gift so humbling.

Always left Abuela and the family fumbling

Grappling with prophecies they couldn’t understand.

Do YOU understand?

 

No, we don’t talk about Bruno…

 

Today, as we yet again come to Pentecost in the church year, a time when we “celebrate” the Holy Spirit, we are kind of faced with the BRUNO of the Godhead. We talk a lot about “God the Father,” or “Creator God, and as Christians, we blabber on and on about Jesus, even praying in his name, just like he said we could. But where does the Holy Spirit fit into all of this? As “trinitarians,” we believe in the great “Three-in-one, One-in-Three” understanding of God. I have often referred to the Trinity as “God the Community,” as this theology postulates a deity that is WITHIN Godself, a community—a “family,” if you will, just like Mirabel’s, full of love, and magic, and empowerment. But somehow, BRUNO just doesn’t fit.

 

Think about how we “imagine” God. Thanks to Michelangelo and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, we have a “picture” of God the Creator, don’t we? And thanks to a wide variety of artists, from classical to abstract, ancient to modern, and a narrative or two from questionable ancient sources, we have myriad “images” of Jesus, not the least of which is Sallman’s “Head of Christ,” which is probably the one burned into our brains. Tell me, what do you “imagine” when the Holy Spirit is mentioned?

 

The Bible isn’t much help here. In the Hebrew Bible, the Spirit is described as a “wind” or “breath” (ruach), both of which are a kind of force or action. In the New Testament, the word is pneuma, which likewise has to do with moving air. Neither of these give us much of an image of a “person” of the Godhead, do they? The New Testament gives us two symbols for the Holy Spirit—the “tongues of flames” that danced over the heads of the followers of Jesus at Pentecost, and the descending dove at Jesus’ baptism, often depicted in art and stained-glass looking more like a Peregrine Falcon diving on its prey. The “Cross and Flame” logo of The United Methodist Church has the flames symbolizing the Holy Spirit, as well as the two denominations that came together in 1968 to form the UMC. I guess now, after the disaffiliation, we need to keep the two flames, don’t we? Or turn it into a single “tongue of flame.” At least our pilot light is still lit…

 

Some of you who have sat under—or slept under—my preaching previously, know that I always tried to pitch the Holy Spirit as the “feminine” person of the Trinity, given that we are all made in God’s image, and our depictions of the other two people of the Trinity are traditionally male. Of course, with an enlightened understanding of human sexuality as something on a “spectrum” or continuum, maybe we should go with different pronouns for the Holy Spirit—They and Them. It really makes good theological sense, don’t you think? If God in Godself is a community, and we humans are made in this “image,” why NOT include all of us on the human “spectrum”? I always liked Rev. Chad Bogdewic’s benedictions: “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Mother of us all…” 

 

Need an image of the Holy Spirit as a person? Imagine the Spirit as the woman who has had the greatest influence in your life—or still does!

 

Are you beginning to see why we don’t talk about Bruno? The popularity of the King James Bible version among many Christian believers may be partly responsible for our “fear” or misunderstanding of the Holy Spirit, given that it dubs the Spirit as the “Holy Ghost.” I don’t know about you, but beyond Casper, ghosts were not my friends, especially when I was a kid. 

 

 It gets even more interesting. Jesus promised that when he “went to the Father,” he would send the Holy Spirit, who would “lead us into all truth.” He also said:

 

“The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

 

Jesus also said the Holy Spirit would be a “comforter.” These SOUND like “person things,” and are nurturing, caring things, at that. Then along comes Paul, with his lists of gifts the Holy Spirit would dole out to the followers of Christ, thus “empowering” the church to carry out our responsibilities as the “Body of Christ.” This all makes sense until we read a little further into Paul’s letters and see the chaos often resulting from infighting over the “gifts of the Spirit”--who gets what gift, and which ones are the most important. Infighting over gifts—not THAT starts to sound like a family! The gifts of “speaking in tongues” and “interpretation of tongues” is a divisive thing, even into the present time. We don’t talk about BRUNO, just like Mirabel’s family, possibly because we: a. don’t understand; and b. we are afraid of the gifts. 

 

So, today, as we “celebrate” Pentecost, or the “birth” of the Holy Spirit fully into the world, the church, and our souls, how can we “visualize” and/or reclaim the Holy Spirit as more than a “function” sent forth by God, and as a “relatable” person of the Holy Trinity? This is the challenge, isn’t it?

 

Today’s text is the classic description from the Book of Acts about how the Holy Spirit descended upon those first Christ followers waiting in the upper room in Jerusalem. The three prevalent signs of the Holy Spirit’s arrival were the “violent” wind, the “divided tongues of fire” resting on the believers, and the “speaking in tongues,” which here means they were witnessing to the gospel in the native languages of those who were eavesdropping on the occasion. (This “gift of tongues,” while a miraculous event, clearly was also a practical one, initiating the first “evangelism crusade” of the newborn church, unlike the “gift of tongues” typically practiced by Pentecostal and/or charismatic Christian assemblies. This latter “glossolalia” is an ecstatic “gift” that is touted to be a kind of private “prayer language” between the person and God.) But I suppose the REAL evidence of the arrival of the Holy Spirit was how she prepared the hearts of the gathered “audience” to hear Peter’s simple sermon and respond to it in droves. For me, this latter happening is still the big miracle—that in a day of multi-media, the Internet, smartphones, streaming, and social media surrounding us like an artificial skin, people still LISTENT TO and RESPOND to the Christian sermon given from the ancient “soap boxes” we know as the pulpit. If that isn’t the working of the Holy Spirit, I don’t know what is!

 

So, let’s talk about BRUNO. In the movie, Bruno not only becomes a key to healing all that ails the Madrigal family and little Mirabel, but he is re-woven into his family. May it be so with the Holy Spirit in the church on this Pentecost Day! So as we seek to go a little more mainstream with the Spirit, let me share a few things to help us see her “practical” side.

 

I spent some time re-reading “The Spirit of Life” by a great theologian of the Christian Church, Jurgen Moltmann. In this volume, Moltmann did something that not many top-flight theologians and scholars have ever tackled—explain and elucidate on the Holy Spirit! Moltmann reminds us that the Holy Spirit IS the third PERSON of the Trinity, and that as such, shares ALL of the attributes of God the Father (Creator) and God the Son (Jesus/Redeemer). It is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit that “feeds” and sustains the church, and even the individual believer such as you and me. And while the Day of Pentecost saw lots of special effects, the work of God the Holy Spirit is often quiet, even unnoticed, yet essential AND practical. 

 

The Holy Spirit lavishes God’s grace upon humanity.

 

The Holy Spirit provides the wisdom EVERY believer needs to grow and serve in faith.

 

The Holy Spirit comes alongside us when we’re troubled or grieving.

 

The Holy Spirit inoculates us against hate and is a carrier of God’s steadfast love.

 

The Holy Spirit empowers the church to be a witness, even when it is floundering and humanly ineffective, such as The United Methodist Church, leading up to and in the wake of the disaffiliation movement.

 

In all of this, though, we must remind ourselves that she is the very PRESENCE of the Living God, in our midst, in our institutions, and in our hearts. Like Peter, our message doesn’t have to be profound to touch the human heart—THAT will be the Spirit’s doing. 

 

Jurgen Moltmann suggests that Reformed theology got so caught up in the intellectual rubric of understanding “The Word of God” and just how Christ redeems people that they pretty much ignored the Holy Spirit, or in some cases led to the generally shared “sin” of viewing the Spirit as a TOOL or “accessory” of God, rather than as God, Godself. 

 

Moltmann also urged us to understand that it is the practical task of the Holy Spirit to BE GOD IN OUR MIDST, including living among us just like Jesus himself did. Moltmann stresses in his book the “experiential” nature of numinous experiences—the Holy Spirit is available to EVERYONE, is capable of using ANYONE to carry out the work of God in the world, and yet can be as personal as our own heartbeat. He questions why we rarely—if ever—address the Holy Spirit directly in our prayers. We often “pray to God,” and follow Jesus’ unction to “pray in my name”—in fact, how many of our prayers begin, “Dear Jesus”? But when was the last time you directly prayed to the Holy Spirit? We ask GOD to “send your Spirit,” or to “empower us by your Spirit,” but why not directly address her sometimes when we pray? I never really thought about it in this way, but my first thought when Moltmann mentioned “experience” was about John Wesley’s focus on it as a basic element of Christian action and discernment. After all, is not the Holy Spirit God’s “direct interface” with humanity in the here and now?

 

On this Pentecost weekend when we again remind ourselves of the “decent” of the Holy Spirit upon the church and humanity, let me share four things about the Holy Spirit from Moltmann’s book that I thought brilliant:

 

The Holy Spirit is UNIVERSAL—no one is shut out from being transformed by the “Spirit of Life.” In fact, the aim of the Holy Spirit is to bring every BRUNO back into the family! AND the Holy Spirit is working in “other” faiths, in people who don’t yet have ANY faith, and in ways we may never understand until we are “on the other side,” so to speak. 

 

The Holy Spirit is TOTAL—everything we need about God and from God is available and present in the indwelling, surrounding, all-embracing Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit IS God, not a “tool” of God, a force FROM God, or an “accessory” to our faith in Christ Jesus. Without the Holy Spirit we could HAVE no faith in either God OR Jesus Christ.

 

The Holy Spirit is ENDURING—the Holy Spirit, as a person of the Trinity, and as God with us NOW—will ALWAYS be with humanity. Since her descending upon Planet Earth, the presence, power, and pardon of God are forever with us!

 

The Holy Spirit is DIRECT—no “mediator” is needed between the Holy Spirit and any of God’s children. Remember, the Celtic symbol of the Holy Spirit is the Wild Goose, not the “gentle” dove. Why? Because like a Wild Goose, the Spirit will DO what the Spirit will DO. She cannot be tamed, and she goes where she will. While the Holy Spirit CAN be gentle when comforting us, she is a powerhouse, and quite capable of being all the God we need for now and forever. It is through her agency that we fulfill Jesus’ promise of “greater things you shall do because I go to the Father.” And we have!

 

I learned in seminary of the perichoresis or the “divine dance” as to how the three persons of the Holy Trinity share the fullness of God with us and each other. I really like this idea of the “divine dance.” Like all good musicals, the film “Encanto” ends with a “happily ever after” and a good song and dance. IMAGINE the Holy Spirit saying to YOU and the CHURCH, today in these lyrics:

 

Look at this home, we need a new foundation,

It may seem hopeless, but we’ll get by just fine.

Look at this family, a glowing constellation,

So full of stars, everybody wants to shine.

 

But the stars don’t shine, they burn,

And the constellations shift,

I think it’s time you learn.

You’re more than just your gift.

 

The miracle is not some magic that you’ve got.

The miracle is YOU, not some gift, just YOU!

The miracle is YOU—ALL of you!

 

Okay, so we gonna talk about Bruno?

 

    Amen!

 

 

 

 

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Twisting God

 


Twisting God

 

Psalm 1
1:1 Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers;

1:2 but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night.

1:3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.

1:4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

1:5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

1:6 for the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

 

 

Twisting God or trusting God?, that is the question. At least that’s what comes to mind when I read a psalm like the Psalm 1 that talks of "prospering," and well-rooted trees vs. sinners and scoffers. It’s such a short Psalm, but it lays out one of the fundamental paradoxes of faith—do we trust God? Or are we “twisting” God to be our personal “genie in the lamp”? Do we find our delight in the Lord? Yield the fruit of God’s nurture? Or are the ways we attempt to manipulate the divine leaving us twisting like chaff in the wind? 

 

The easiest interpretation of this psalm would be to see it as a “righteous vs. sinful” dichotomy, but instead, let’s skip the indictment of the “wicked,” and focus on the difference between the “trusters” and the twisters of God, starting with the “trusters.” 

 

Psalm 1 describes those who genuinely trust God as ones who do not follow the advice of the wicked--not a very flattering qualifier, is it? The Hebrew word translated here as “happy” is ashrei, which may better be expressed as “fortunate,” as in “Fortunate are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked.” Fortunate, indeed. And the original word for “wicked” may be rendered “foolish,” as well. Again, this different angle on the translation brings us back to my suggestion that the Psalm is more about the foolishness of manipulating ("twisting") God vs. trusting God to deeply root and nurture us as people of faith. In taking this tack, we are not reducing the harm to the human condition made by “wickedness” and “sin,” we are simply nuancing the psalm's meaning in order to extract a more practical lesson from it. After all, do any of you want to advance a defense of "wickedness" and "sin"? I thought not...

 

Those who are the most “fortunate” are the ones who put their trust in the Lord and seek to follow God’s precepts, believing that God will illuminate their paths and “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” with them, as we read 22 Psalms later. Trusting in God, as a practice, will inherently lead us away from the counsel of the foolish, and ultimately away from the temptations OF wickedness and sin. Trusting in God leads to prosperity, saleah in Hebrew, which may also be translated “to advance” or “to make progress.” These latter meanings sound very Wesleyan—“going on to perfection,” remember? Of course, libraries of books and seasons full of sermons have been written on what it means to “trust” God. For me, trusting God means living my life guided by Mr. Wesley’s “quadrilateral” of scripture, tradition, experience, and reason, all of which help us hone in on what God expects of us, desires of us, hopes of us, and tries to love us into being, as a person of God. When you get enough "persons" of God together, we become the PEOPLE of God—a group that can change the world, bring about peace, justice, and the fulness of the Kingdom of God, with the help of God. Trusting in God also leads to a life enriched through contemplation, prayer, and seeking the presence of God. Trusting in God means being willing to rest in the arms of God during times of suffering, rather than striking out violently against our tormentors or wallowing in self-pity. A famous proverbs text says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not into your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge God, and God will direct your paths.” Jesus stated it thusly: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” Follow this advice, and you WILL “advance” and prosper (sounds a little Vulcan?).

 

Trust between two people takes time to develop and must be earned. So it is with trusting God, only in this case, it’s because it takes practice on OUR part, not because we have to “earn” anything. Grace is a gift, but putting it into practice is what builds our trust in God. This psalm says such wonderful things about what develops when we DO trust in the lord: we become “happy,” fortunate people; we don’t fall prey to the foolish and the ideologies and schemes they proliferate; we learn to “delight” in the Lord, like a well-rooted tree gathers in water, sunlight, and nourishment; and we won’t so easily “wither,” which sounds good to me! We seem to be living in an age of “withering,” with everything from the environment, to the church, to our politics languishing in a state of “withering,” similar to leaves falling off of the life-giving branches of the tree and blowing around like chaff in the wind. Give me the “streams of water” that God offers to quench our thirst and nourish our “roots” in, when we trust in God!

 

The “foolish” we are warned against in this psalm may BE foolish because they are attempting to TWIST God. We all do this, to some extent, but it is just too easy to “make our bellies our God,” so to speak, meaning we make OUR desires a higher priority, and our PERSONAL prosperity the aim, rather than seeking the Kingdom of God. When we set these as our “A-list,” we must then manipulate—twist—our theology in such a way that God, as we conceive God, exists to meet OUR needs. The twisted God is the God of our own design, the God who we turn into the genie in the lamp, summoning him to grant us our “three wishes.” If we twist God enough, this is exactly what we turn prayer into—making our demands before God, and expecting that the results will be the fulfillment of these demands. If we “twist” too far in this selfish direction, we may then quickly become disillusioned with our faith AND God when too many things on our “prayer list” go unfulfilled. 

 

This is a hard thing to write about, or even to ponder, because as I said earlier, we ALL do this, to some extent, and some of this "personalizing" is legitimate. In order to develop a more “intimate” relationship with God, we DO need to imagine God as someone we CAN grow close to, and as our human relationships—i.e. marriages and friendships—show us, we “choose” to be with people we judge to be more compatible with us. So, when we attempt a “closer walk” with God, it is helpful and very human to “imagine” God in such a way that our “comfort level” is reached with the Almighty. If we don’t advance in this direction with God, we may postpone or even eschew growing the kind of closer relationship with God that God invites us to, and may stay on the “outside looking in” like those folk who can’t get beyond calling God “the Man Upstairs.” I don’t believe our personal “conceptualizing” of God in order to grow closer to God is a BAD thing, but it may turn counterproductive, if not downright dangerous, if we give in to the temptation to “keep twisting” until “God” pretty much mirrors US. Twisting our concept of God too far in our direction turns us into spiritual narcissists—the God we worship is a “selfie.” 

 

Ludwig Feuerbach, a 19th Century anthropologist and philosopher, in his book, “The Essence of Christianity,” stated that the most frequent human/divine flaw he observed was precisely the product of this narcissistic twist: Our God becomes US, writ large. In a modern (and a bit more humorous) vein, author Anne Lamott said: “You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” Now THERE’S the ultimate twist! 

 

God is not white or black, brown, or red; God is not a socialist, a communist, or a libertarian; God is not a Republican or a Democrat; nor is God allied with any one nation or religion. In fact, you will find the divine truth in all of these groups, and in none of them, just the same. God is God, and Jesus put “skin” on the divine, both to draw close to us and to understand our plight. God DOES want a closer relationship with us, and has revealed Godself to us in Jesus Christ, and in the teachings of the scriptures and other holy writ. God continues to reveal Godself to us through the Spirit of God, and in the “spirit of the age.” God is providing a "picture" of just who God is, so we may become “comfortable” with drawing ourselves closer to God without needing to “twist” our view of the image of God too far. I believe this is why the Bible says we are “made in the image of God.” ALL of us---ALL OF US have some of the “image of God” in us, and it is THIS image we are to incorporate into our trust, not our twist. God doesn’t need our “spin” of who God is; instead God invites us into the perichoresis, or the “divine dance” of how God “interfaces” within the Godhead, and with the wider creation, including US. It’s a waltz, friends, not the Twist!

 

I could have called this message, “Twist and Shout,” for that may be how we have putted up the world right now. “Trust and Obey,” as the hymn writer has said, may be the better way to get it straightened out! But maybe it is just simpler to do what Jesus said: Love GOD and love EACH OTHER. This week, may the very first of the 150 Psalms recorded in the Bible give us encouragement--that God DESIRES to “delight” us with God’s presence--and the COURAGE to do what WE need to do to run from the fools and the scoffers, and learn to fully trust in God. And no, let’s NOT all “do the Twist”! Amen.

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Love In


Love In

 

John 15:9-17
15:9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.

15:10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.

15:11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

15:12 "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

15:13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.

15:14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.

15:15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.

15:16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.

15:17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

 

 

If Jesus were preaching this sermon in a seminary homiletics class, he would have most likely flunked it. We were taught to “nuance” our ideas and to draw the listener in to what we have to say—make them “work for it,” a bit, don’t just spoon feed the text to them, or be so obvious as to where the message is going that they would quickly lose interest, and get a jump on their daydreaming. Jesus ignores the best of homiletic training. He hits us with a firehose.

 

If you read this text and DON’T get the idea that Jesus wants us to love one another, you need to work on your comprehension skills. At least nine times in these nine verses, Jesus says something about love: as God loved HIM, so he loves us; we are challenged to “abide” in his love, just as he abides in God’s love; then love becomes a “commandment,” that we love one another as Jesus loves us; love means that we should be willing to “lay down our life for a friend.” Jesus really goes overboard on love, here. And for why?

 

I’m guessing because he really wanted us to GET it! It would be genuine, sacrificial, and “abiding” love that would distinguish the faith he was instituting from those that went before. Laws, rules, and other human trappings had distorted the earlier messages God tried to get to humanity, through priests and prophets, and several types of “Moseses.” Human intervention had weaponized the laws God meant for good, and most especially to be used to keep us at peace with one another; rules designed to create harmony among the human community had been sharpened like arrows and shot into the heart of “offenders” who clearly didn’t “respect God’s law,” at least that’s what those firing them, said. The prophetic messages meant to bring folk back toward paradise had instead penalized and paralyzed them. Honestly, things were a mess here. A “new commandment” was needed to get God’s redemption story back on track. What God intended as a great epic had become a “B” movie, quickly labeling the “good guys” from the bad. And the badly cast religious leaders had recomposed the cathartic and salvific lines of dialogue the prophets had given them into really bad writing. Jesus had to fix it, if God’s goal of bringing the human race back from the brink was to be realized.

 

Now, most of the time, Jesus and his messages would have done OK in homiletics class. Remember the parables? Good stories that elucidate on the point of the text were always winners, and Jesus had some really good stories, didn’t he? Who is my neighbor? Answer: the parable of the Good Samaritan. How does God deal with the lost? Three stories in a row: The lost sheep; the lost coin; and the lost son. What is the Kingdom of God like? Pearls of “great price,” or a giant drag net, gathering “fish” of every kind into it—more good stories. Won’t God get mad at us if we keep bugging God with our needs? Not according to the persistent “Friend at Midnight” story Jesus told. Honestly, God comes across as a pretty good character as Jesus tells it. God seems to be willing to “forgive and forget” all that we have done to putt up the creation; God will never turn the divine “back” on us; God will painstakingly pursue the “lost” among us, and not write us off; and like a “good friend,” God will literally lay down the divine LIFE for us, in order to rescue us. Indeed, God doesn’t have it IN for us, as the religious leaders in Jesus’ day seemed to believe, but in the Christ Event, God is CREATING an “in” for us, inviting us back into relationship with Godself, AND into the Kingdom of God. 

 

I know we say we believe this stuff. I’ve been in a whole host of Methodist meetings where that call/response thing was chanted: “God is GOOD, ALL the time! ALL the TIME, God is GOOD!” And then we dragged out all the old rules that listed just who all this “Good God” would smite because of their behavior, their “unorthodox theology,” or their unacceptable sexual orientation. The “in” God sought to create to save us was too quickly used on some to show them the door because their “authority of scripture” was inadequate, or they had “chosen” to fall in love with the wrong gender. “Sin” became what THEY do, not what WE do.” If the tongue is a minuscule, yet extremely dangerous organ, as scripture says, then the word “they” may be its worst poison, separating the "us" from the "them."

 

This week, at least for Methodists, this began to change. Our 2020 General Conference (yeah, weird, I know—2020 General Conference, thanks to OUR rules...) voted with an oversized majority to remove exclusionary language from our rules that had, since 1972, been used to relegate the LGBTQ community to a prohibited “they.” With the actions of this Conference, a healing of Methodist LGBTQ persons can begin. The “lost siblings” have been invited home. It’s time to “kill the fatted calf” and break out the rainbow robes. Should we celebrate this Good News? Yes, but first, we must cry with them, for their pain and rejection has been legion and long. With the “wave of the hand” (a vote), a “new commandment” has been instituted, but the healing will be slow and long, and no apology will wipe away decades of banishment and disdain. While our LGBTQ siblings were never “incompatible” in God’s eyes, our contrived rules and harmful “interpretation” of scripture originally intended to set us all “free, for freedom,” has done its harm. Now, though, we have a “new commandment.” May the healing begin!

 

In this weekend’s lectionary text I’ve selected, Jesus turns the “in” into a LOVE IN! There is a reason he goes absolutely nuts in the message related in this text to “LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS I HAVE LOVED YOU.” Actually there are MANY reasons, but for Methodists this week, one we may cite is that he must have been looking far off in the future—to a Methodist General Conference in 1972—when we would declare a whole branch of the human family as “incompatible.” So, seeing this, Jesus immediately began to hammer out justice and ring a bell of freedom, and its name was LOVE. Like the hippies of my day, he staged a Love In. And his Love In would be the “in” for all people. It says so, right here in this text: “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends…” This week, we Methodists finally pronounced our LGBTQ siblings, “friends.” 

 

Of course there is a problem with all of this. For it to happen in the Methodist family, the “elder brother” had to get mad and leave. 25 to 30% of our household exited the back door. Even as we welcome our LGBTQ siblings and begin mending our relationship with them, we recognize that someday we will need to find a way to heal the chasm opened up by the disaffiliation of so many churches, pastors, and ones who were earlier disenfranchised and marginalized by the unfair judgment of the church. The healing of the LGBTQ wounds may begin immediately; addressing the issue of forgiving and reconciling with those who left, claiming we are “apostate” and “un-orthodox” in our beliefs, will take time. Most of us aren’t ready to address this, yet. For now, we’ll do our best to follow Jesus’ “Love In” example to welcome those who have, for so long, been on the outside, looking in.

 

In this text from John 15, Jesus is quoted as saying, “You did not choose ME, I chose you.” Let’s think about that for a moment. What does it mean, when held up against the prevailing evangelical message of “finding Jesus,” or “coming to know Jesus”? What of the unction to “give your life to Christ,” or “inviting Christ into your life”? Maybe Jesus really DOES do the “choosing,” and he chooses all of us. I’m not suggesting “universal salvation,” other than to point out that Christ HAS offered it to every human being, and the “ticket” has already been punched. Rather than “coming to Jesus,” Jesus has come to us, has chosen us, and the only “decision” we make is when we wake up to the conscious fact of this. And what if someone doesn’t come to “know” this, are they still “chosen” by Jesus? Frankly, this is WAY beyond my paygrade to call, but it sure sounds like Jesus is the one doing the choosing. John Wesley understood this. His “orthodoxy” was pretty darn unorthodox! “Offer them Christ” is a lot different than “leading people to Christ.” We offer to all what Jesus has already offered to all. Some with catch on with it, others may take longer to “see” it, or may never “come around” before Christ chooses them! Wesley also opened the Eucharist to anyone, including unbaptized, not-yet Christians, because he believed they might come to realize their “chosen-ness” at the Communion table. Many did, and many still do, in my experience. 

This invitation for “any” to come to the table of the Lord was part of my doctoral project and thesis on “Welcoming the Stranger: Assimilating Guests into the Congregation.” I wrote that this is an “un-orthodox” tenet of true Wesleyan theology, but that it is key to the kind of “full welcome” we offer. During my oral defense of the dissertation, one of my readers “objected,” out of disbelief that this is what Methodists truly believe. (His denomination only invites “baptized Christians” to the Communion table, believing it is a restricted banquet.) He reached out to a fellow professor—a Methodist—who assured him that my assertion was accurate. Of course, another reader brought up the fact that my denomination, while offering the open table, closed most opportunities to members of the LGBTQ community. Against that, I could not argue, at least not back in 1998. Today, after this week, things would be different! 

 

Jesus’ command to “love one another as I have loved you” has now opened the door to another group formerly marginalized by The United Methodist Church. Someday, it will lead us to some form of reconciliation with those who have disaffiliated from the denomination, after we get over our pain from it. Of course, our “pain” pales in comparison to the pain our LGBTQ siblings have experienced since 1972. Jesus tried for a Love In. We organized, built hierarchies, and started legislating rules to make sure that the “body” was “pure.” We’ve come a long way from the love command, frankly, and the path we took was most likely the wrong one. At the least, it led to a dead end. 

 

The Good News is what the hymn writer told us: “I serve a Risen Savior, he’s IN THE WORLD today!” Because Jesus lives, and the Spirit of Jesus is among us, always, the Love command can be “resurrected,” too! This week, the “finger” of the Body of Christ known as The United Methodist Church took an important step in again heeding it, and moving closer to “purity.” We are again “welcoming the stranger,” a Bible “code” for building a “love bridge” to someone different than we. May we “reborn” United Methodists begin the rejoicing. The time will come to reconcile with those who rejected us. It has to, for the Love command will take us there. Amen. 

What's Next?

  What’s Next?   2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 6:1 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 6:2 David and all the people...