I intentionally shy away from sports metaphors when preaching. Too often they only serve to reinforce the winnings-the-only-thing and the ends-justify-the-means obsession of American unspirituality. Hebrews, like Paul (I Corinthians 9:2, Galatians 2:2), uses the image of a foot race to speak about the spiritual commitment needed in our personal lives.  She writes, “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1) and remember that we are being cheered on by an invisible crowd of witnesses (the saints of old). The flow of the unknown author of Hebrews’ thinking, reminds me how Jesus called us to pick up our own cross daily (Luke 9:23). We each can have a race, or a cross, of our own.

 

For: 
August 18, 2013
Hebrews 11:29-12:2

The Pope has been saying some un-Catholic sounding things lately. Relating to gay priests, he has voiced a reluctance to continue any policy that ostracizes a whole class of people. He’s promoting practical and individualized, case by case, judgements about policy issues. Similarly, he’s opening the door to women in a ‘deacon order’ that may have priest-like functions. I’m translating that to the American church where the shortage of priests is leaving rural and small membership parishes critically underserved. The day will soon come when these folk rejoice, “Hey, we got our own priest again. She’s saying mass this week.”

The definition of faith as the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1 KJV), has always felt to me like an algebraic equation. You just plug in faith as the unknown ‘x’ and the math leads to saintly people doing dangerous things. So you read on in the chapter and you find that by faith: Noah builds a really big boat, Abraham leaves Ur and sacrifices his son, Moses leaves the palace and splits the Red Sea, and Rahab the prostitute commits high treason. All this seems a bit mysterious until you circle back to the word hope.  Hope, not faith, defines the passage.

 

I write fiction, from time to time. Call me Ishmael, but the greatest challenge to writing a best-selling novel is not making up the words. It’s developing realistic characters. And, what makes characters believable and interesting is their hopes and dreams. The author of Hebrews understands this. He or she, begins with the most basic hope we all have. In verse 3, we read that by faith we know that the world is not a meaningless collection of random events. Our lives have purpose. The creator of all that is, did it with a plan. God set us into this particular time and place, did so knowing that by faith we would come to glimpse his plan and find hope for our lives. 

 

For: 
August 11, 2013
Hebrews 11
Summer

Church transitions are like airplane crashes. When things go wrong, it’s good to look back and see what decisions were made when. A congregation is unhappy with their new pastor. It is tempting to say, “Oh, they just chose not to accept her.” But, if you pull out the little black box you can often find places where the group could have been taught to make better decisions. Good group decision making is a learned behavior. Congregations need to be better informed about the available options and how to make those decisions with transparency and an openness to the new future that the Holy Spirit is providing for them.

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).

 

For: 
August 4, 2013
Luke12:13-21
Hosea 11:4
Summer

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?

 

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.

 

For: 
July 28, 2013
Genesis 18:20-32
John 15:15
Summer

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.

 

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).

 

For: 
July 21, 2013
Luke 10:38-42
Amos 8:1-12

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).

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.

 

For: 
July 14, 2013
Luke 10:25-37
Pentecost 9
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

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.

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:

+ 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.

 

For: 
June 30, 2013
Psalm 16:9-10
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Pentecost 7

Pages