Forsaken Love

I could not choose! In Hosea, God speaks of his constant love for his people with the tender image, “...like those who lift infants to their cheeks” (11:4). In Luke, Jesus speaks right to our Kardashian-crazed country by talking about a rich landowner who builds bigger barns in the hope that he can make his ‘soul’ happy (12:13-21). In both the Old and New Testament, you hear God pleading with those whom he has blessed with luxury to not forget their maker. Jesus speaks of wealth as an extreme impediment. Those with money have as much chance of praying sincerely as I have of winning the lottery. Hosea hears God complaining that He has done everything He could to bring his people into a healthy spiritual relationship, but they have chosen instead to run after Baal (see The Sound of Silence).  For us in 2013, middle-class wealth is the new Baal. We worry more about our 401k than about our spiritual condition. We tear down our old pension barns and build new ones saying, “Soul, now you will be happy in retirement” (Luke 12:19).

 

Sunday, August 4, 2013
Summer

Chicken or the Egg?

Last week’s post on Pre-Evangelism has generated a “which came first...” type of question. Does a congregation spiral down and become incapable of gathering in new people because it lacks Spiritual Passion?  -- or -- Does the poorly led, non-evangelistic, and/or unattractive church naturally become less passionate about spiritual things?

 

Abraham Teaches Prayer

The story of Abraham praying for Sodom and Gomorrah to be spared deserves to be preached, if for no other reason that it demonstrates how to argue with God. When I counsel couples before marrying them, I tell them that our second session will be devoted to the subject of how to have a good argument. “But, we don’t argue,” they say. “Then you can’t be married.” In a similar vein, arguing with God is an important skill to be developed for a long term relationship.

 

The story of Abraham praying for Sodom and Gomorrah begins with God saying, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? If Abraham’s people are to bless all of humanity on God’s behalf, then God will need to be transparent with him. One is reminded of how Jesus during the last supper told his disciples that he wasn’t going to treat them as servants who didn’t know what God was up to, instead he would call them ‘friends’ (John 15:15). This is why I think of the conversation between Abraham and God over the fate of the two cities as prayer taken to the next level. It allows us to say that prayer is not about getting God to do things for us. Instead, it is about relationship. We seek to become the kind of friends with God who can speak honestly and listen deeply.

 

Sunday, July 28, 2013
Summer

Pre-Evangelism

There once was a town that was scheduled to be flooded when the new dam was built. Suits from the government came and explained why and how these people’s homes were to be bought (or taken by eminent domain) and there was nothing they could, or should, do about it. Watch now. Within days, there was a change. Some people stopped mowing their grass. Contractor's signs ceased to dot the yards and nobody was buying wallpaper. Within weeks, a rattier appearance had settled in. It rippled out, even influencing homes distant from the flood zone.

 

Food as Message

Amos gets a vision of Summer fruit (makes you wonder how ‘seasonal’ the Lectionary is in the southern hemisphere) and concludes that religious people can either be very good or utterly rotten. I’ve been picking blue berries as fast as I can this week. Why? Because I failed to keep up with picking the strawberries this year and most of them went rotten. There is nothing more delightful than a strawberry gently culled at its prime.  A day or two later and the strawberry gets soft, then turns black and inedible, unfit even for slugs (fortunately, they prefer beer). So, Amos would say, is the social conscious of our fine church members. Sometimes they can be good and generous and sweet. At other times, they fully blend in with the materialist herd of American culture, “Buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals” (Amos 8:6).

 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Call Me Radical, but...

For the last two weeks I have been writing on the impact that the repeal of DOMA will have on denominations that fail to recognize gay marriage, such as the United Methodist (see What Voice Will I Listen To? and DOMA and the UMC).

Say something different about the Good Samaritan

With cell phones, 911, and AAA Roadside Assistance, the traditional way to preach the Good Samaritan has become a bit threadbare. I believe that Jesus is doing more than simply encouraging us to stop and help those who are in trouble. The story is designed to shine a klieg light (Or should I say halogen light?) on some serious contemporary issues. Have you noticed that both the people who walked by the broken man and the lawyer who invited Jesus to tell the tale were members of the high-hurry professional culture? Jesus, like many postmodern Christians today, is not a big supporter of positional authority. In other words, a person who has a professional title (doctor, professor, boss, reverend, esquire) can’t be assumed to do the right thing just because they have the degree, have passed their exams, or have been ordained.

 

Sunday, July 14, 2013
Pentecost 9

Lake Erie Regional Ministry Support Group, NW PA

Sunday, April 22, 2018 - 5:00pm to Monday, April 23, 2018 - 2:00pm

A fellowship for those working with congregations in transition

Spring 2018 Retreat:   April 22-23rd

Eccumenical Fellowship and Learning time for Interim Ministers in the Western Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio, Western New York region (Around Lake Erie).

Meets twice a year at Olmsted Retreat Center in Ludlow, PA 

Sunday evening meal, worship, fellowship time.

Monday workshop, lunch, worship.  This spring's topic, "The current state of marriage and the roles of the church and the state regarding it." 

Retreat

What Voice will I Listen to?

In last week’s blog I stated that the repeal of DOMA (DOMA and the UMC) is a game changer for clergy who are being asked to officiate at gay ceremonies. While individual clergy may still wish to set higher standards and restrict who they will unite in marriage, the denomination can’t exclude a whole class of people without good reason. It would be like the United Methodist Church saying to me that I couldn’t perform marriages for people over 70 years old because they were unlikely to procreate.

DOMA and the UMC

The Supreme Court’s action yesterday to rule Federal definitions of marriage unconstitutional has profound implications for every American congregation, and especially those who are small fellowships and/or members of the United Methodist Denomination. The United Methodist Church has a General Conference rule -- in a sense a “Federal act” -- threatening those clergy who officiate in gay marriages and civil unions with the defrocking. The word “officiate” is not too well defined and in local circumstances can be extended to mean participation or recognition. I found the wording that Justice Kennedy used to explain the court’s action profound:

What's It Like Not to Die?

+ Swing Low, Sweet Chariot... + + Therefore my heart is glad... because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead +

The good news is, death has been conquered! We shall not sleep away into dust and forgotten-ness. We shall share the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament provides some good places to reinforce the Easter message that people forget long before the dog days of summer. My favorite is Job 19:23-27:

 

“Oh, that my words were recorded,
    that they were written on a scroll,

that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead,
    or engraved in rock forever!

I know that my redeemer lives,
    and that in the end he will stand on the earth.

And after my skin has been destroyed,
    yet in my flesh I will see God;

I myself will see him
    with my own eyes—I, and not another.
    How my heart yearns within me!”

 

Then, there is the story of Elijah being carried off to heaven in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:1-14). Because Elijah does not die, he is allowed to make a cameo appearance in the New Testament. I feel it is my duty in preaching to stitch the New and Old components of the Bible back together. Many in our churches have fallen into the Marcion heresy of dismissing the Old Testament and its, supposedly, wrathful Hebrew god. Such Gnostic gibber-jabber is running amok in today’s church and preventing people from grasping the full joy and mystery of the Gospel we proclaim.

 

Sunday, June 30, 2013
Pentecost 7

What Church Shoppers Want

One of my favorite questions to ask lay people attending my workshops is, “What made you choose this church?” If the person has made a church change in the last few years, I will ask followup questions. I want to get into the mind of church shoppers. I also want the other people at the workshop to hear the factors that real people are weighing as they choose a place to worship. We live in a religious free market. People are no longer required to remain in their parent’s parish and most Christians have one or more occasions to truly church shop.

 

After winnowing out the family and friends factors in church choice, I’ve come down to three questions that I think church shoppers are serious about:

The Sound of Silence

Elijah on Sinai gets earthquake, wind, and fire. Sounds like the Weather Channel this spring. The prophet doesn’t find God on the Weather Channel, but in the soft, "sound of silence" that follows. It's like looking for the holy in the static that used to exist between the channels of our pre-HD TVs. We all tend to look for God is the traumatic. We expect God to do a miracle and prevent the Tsunami from hitting Japan. We expect the tornado to blow around the good churches of Oklahoma. We expect the fires to skip over the worshiping families of California and Colorado. God is not in the earthquake, wind, or fire.

 

Natural events, like terrifying illnesses, are not where God is as a direct cause (James 1:13-17). They are the random occurrences that mark our world’s fallen nature. They happen to good people, as well as, to the bad. They remind us of the heavenly debate that begins the book of Job. If God puts a hedge around his people and lets no fire or flood hurt them, then people will have faith for the wrong reason. 

 

Sunday, June 23, 2013
Pentecost 6

Grief and Church Renewal

Is your church grieving? Recently, I heard a clergy person describe the depressed and change resistant state of her church as a form of grief. It made sense to me. From time to time, congregations become overwhelmed by the loss of  a specific individual or family. I also know of churches that for years have mourned their loss of status in the community. Loss happens. Both individuals and congregations go through periods of grief.

 

A Time to Talk About Values

There is an interesting debate going on these days about whether American public schools can teach values without accidentally or illegally teaching religion. I no longer have a personal stake in that fight, but I do have an opinion about its opposite. I believe that you can’t teach my religion without speaking about values. The story about Naboth’s Vineyard (I Kings 21:1-19) is a good place to climb out on a limb and question the ethical values church goers are cultivating and displaying in today’s world.

 

The story begins with the wicked King Ahab wanting to buy the land that Naboth’s family had passed down from father to son, since the time of Joshua. In biblical times, holding onto inherited land was a sacred trust and a subset of family values. Even though you may be poor, living on and cultivating the same parcel of ground for generations fostered a sense of rootedness and simplicity of life. One thinks of the small family farms that are disappearing from our landscape. What values do we possess in today’s world that are similar? 

 

Sunday, June 16, 2013
Pentecost 5

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