Monday, June 27, 2011

Final Blog Post

I have been giving this some thought and prayer for several months now.... the time has come to end my blog. When I first began blogging, I would have all kinds of creative ideas for blogging. It felt very Spirit led and inspired. Over the past year or more, I have felt more burdened than blessed by this; it has become a chore. So... that means my blogging, at least now, will come to an end.

As I transition out of Chesapeake City and into Wesley in Dover, it seems like a natural time to make the transition. I still need to copy off some of my older posts that I want to save.

Thanks for sharing the journey with me during this time. I am honored that you have read what I have written.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Holy Communion, Lord's Supper, Eucharist

Many times I have considered posting my sermons here, and have even had some requests. Truth be told, its a bit of vanity that keeps me from doing so. The outline notes I have don't feel to me as though they convey the sermon well. That's because they are simply notes, not a manuscript of a sermon as many preachers use.

But today, as I was sitting in the sanctuary praying, I felt led to post this outline. It is one that I created years ago, based upon Larry Stookey's book Eucharist, so really he gets the credit here.
All I have done is outline his concepts, and put them into an acronym. To my memory, this is the only acronym I have ever created. There are some who are gifted at these...I'm not one of them.
Also written here are some excerpts from John Wesley and his preaching on communion.

I will be using this outline again to guide my preaching on the Last Supper this Maundy Thursday.

STRAFE- sacrifice, thanksgiving, remembrance of Jesus’ death, action of the Holy Spirit, fellowship, and eschatology. All of these are conveyed through the sacrament.

A. STRAFE- the foundation of this mystery. Strafe means to scatter widely…a way that God delivers grace.

a. S: Sacrifice- Christ’s life, death, and resurrection make God’s grace available to us. We also present ourselves as sacrifice in union with Christ (Rom 12:1, 1Peter2:5) to be used in the work of redemption, reconciliation, and justice


b. T: Thanksgiving: expressing joy for God’s acts in history. Creation, Covenant, Redemption, Sanctification

c. R: Remembrance: of Jesus’ death for us. A re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice for us. Christ is risen, and alive here and now.

d. A: Action of the Holy Spirit: John 14:26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.

i. Great Thanksgiving: “Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world that body of Christ, redeemed by Christ’s blood. By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry with all the world.”

ii. This meal nourishes and strengthens our faith. It sustains us through trial, tragedy, temptation

e. F: Fellowship: celebrates the body of the faithful coming together, reveals the nature of the church, and the model God would have for the world

f. E: Eschatology: looks to the end of time, and God’s purpose for the world

i. “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.”

ii. Commune with those here, and with all the saints

iii. A foretaste of the future, a promise of heaven, “until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet.”

iv. When we eat and drink at the Table, we partake of the divine nature in this life and for life eternal.

v. Anticipate heavenly banquet celebrating God’s victory over sin, evil, and death (tragedy)

It is a plain command of Christ (John Wesley)

A. If we don’t take it to mean that we are do it constantly, than how often are we to obey? Of course it would be at every opportunity, otherwise we are being disobedient

B. People who complain that it detracts from reverence- suppose that it did. God commands us “do this.” When able to do it now, but will not, by making the excuse “if I do it so often, it will abate the reverence with which I do it now.” Begs the question: Has God ever told you that you when obeying his command diminishes your reverence, then you may disobey it? If God has said this, then you may avoid communion. If not, then diminished reverence is no reason to avoid the sacrament

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Let America be America Again

A friend of mine shared this poem with me and I found it as moving as she did. It was written by Langston Hughes, who was a black, gay, liberal, pro-union man.

Let America be America Again

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
...Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!

Langston Hughes

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Invitation to Observe a Holy Lent

On this Shrove Tuesday, as we prepare to begin the Lenten journey on Ash Wednesday, I invited you to observe a Holy Lent.

May this traditional invitation bless you as you reflect upon it:

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
the early Christians observed with great devotion
the days of our Lord's passion and resurrection,
and it became the custom of the Church
that before the Easter celebration
there should be a forty-day season of spiritual preparation.
During this season converts to the faith
were prepared for Holy Baptism.

It was also a time when persons who had committed serious sins
and had separated themselves from the community of faith
were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness,
and restored to participation in the life of the Church.

In this way the whole congregation was reminded
of the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed
in the gospel of Jesus Christ
and the need we all have to renew our faith.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church,
to observe a holy Lent:
by self-examination and repentance;
by prayer, fasting, and self-denial;
and by reading and meditating on God's Holy Word.

United Methodist Book of Worship

[This text is public domain and comes from the Book of Common Prayer]

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Theology and Protestors

A friend of mine sent me a link to a youtube video from the Lawrence O'Donnell show. A Wisconsin state senator was interviewed saying that they are trying to keep protesters out of the building because the building is becoming a "pig sty." The person on the other side of the interview countered that the folks spending the night are not slobs, as the senator calls them, but police officers, nurses, and firefighters. The senator then responded by saying they are "college TAs, college students, and hangers on." Later he says there are also unemployed people looking for something to do. They are just there to have a party according to the senator.

We human beings don't learn do we? No matter how many times history and theology teach us that people are people... no matter how often we hear our nation's declaration of independence quoted "we hold these truths to be self evident: all men are created equal" many of us just don't believe it, do we?

It would seem that in this example college TAs, college students, unemployed people, and "hangers on" are not welcome, not worthy, and cannot exercise their right to free speech without creating a pig sty. They are somehow less.

I understand that at the root of our desire to categorize, stereotype, and dismiss people who are different than we are is fear. We fear what we don't understand. We fear what is different from us. The senator said he would not bring his children to the state capital building with it in this state. I find that telling. The only antidote I know of for this spiritual problem (it is a spiritual problem) is the gift of compassion and the freedom from fear that comes through faith.

Two of the great testimonies of the saints through the ages are
1. perfect love casts out fear (1John4:18)
2. The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion (Psalm 116:5)

These are two of my favorite things about my relationship with Jesus: I am taught how to become increasingly free of fear (its a life long journey), and I am taught compassion by the One who knows all about love and compassion. The saints testify that the more we know, love, and serve Jesus, the more compassionate the Holy Spirit makes us. This is because the Spirit works within us to make us more like Jesus.

Here are some beautiful excerpts from the United Methodist Social Principles. It's good to be reminded of what we teach and believe, I think.

We affirm all persons as equally valuable in the sight of God. We therefore work toward societies in which each person’s value is recognized, maintained, and strengthened. We support the basic rights of all persons to equal access to housing, education, communication, employment, medical care, legal redress for grievances, and physical protection. We deplore acts of hate or violence against groups or persons based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, or economic status. Our respect for the inherent dignity of all persons leads us to call for the recognition, protection, and implementation of the principles of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights so that communities and individuals may claim and enjoy their universal, indivisible, and inalienable rights. para. 162 The Social Community

We claim all economic systems to be under the judgment of God no less than other facets of the created order. Therefore, we recognize the responsibility of governments to develop and implement sound fiscal and monetary policies that provide for the economic life of individuals and corporate entities and that ensure full employment and adequate incomes with a minimum of inflation. We believe private and public economic enterprises are responsible for the social costs of doing business, such as employment and environmental pollution, and that they should be held accountable for these costs. We support measures that would reduce the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. We further support efforts to revise tax structures and to eliminate governmental support programs that now benefit the wealthy at the expense of other persons. para. 163 The Economic Community

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Missional Church

I am part of a facebook group that turned me onto this video by Alan Hirsch. He is a gifted missiologist- that is the fancy term for student and teacher of the mission of the church.

It is worth 18 minutes of time to watch.

Favorite quotes...he is rephrasing Einstein in the first one:

"The problems of the church cannot be resolved with the same kind of thinking that created those problems in the first place."

"If we want to dig a hole over there, its no good digging deeper here."

"Part of our problem is the death of imagination."

God has no grandchildren comes to mind. How the church responds to the truth that Christianity is in decline will have enormous import for the future. I am praying that creative, life giving ministry will flourish.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I just read this blog post, which I found here and thought it worth sharing.

My Faith: Suffering my way to a new tomorrow

Editor's Note: Rob Bell is the Founding Pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His latest book and DVD are called Drops Like Stars.

By Rob Bell, Special to CNN

One Friday evening in the fall of my senior year of college I got a headache.

I took some aspirin, laid on the couch, and waited for it to go away. But it didn't; it got worse. By midnight I was in agony, and by 3 a.m. I was wondering if I was going to die.

As the sun rose, my roommate drove me to the hospital where I learned that I had viral meningitis. A neurologist explained to me that the fluid around my brain had become infected and was essentially squeezing my brain against the walls of my skull.

So that's what that was.

The doctor informed me that it would take a number of weeks in bed to recover.

This didn't fit with my plan.

I was in a band at the time. We'd been playing shows in the Chicago area for a while and had just landed our biggest club dates yet in the city - all of them scheduled over the next several weeks.

We had to cancel all of them.

As this reality hit me, laying there in that hospital bed miles from home with a brain infection, I distinctly remember asking no one in particular "Now what?"

I was devastated. This was not how it was supposed to go. The band was my life, my future, my singular focus. We had just canceled our biggest gigs ever. Eventually I recovered enough to return to school but things weren't the same. Whatever had been driving us in the band wasn't there like it had been before and so we came to the mutual conclusion that it had been great while it lasted and now it was time for the band to come to an end.

I don't think I'd ever felt more lost. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I had all this energy and passion and I wanted desperately to give myself to something that mattered, but I had no plan.

I would walk around campus in a daze, muttering the same prayer over and over, which took the form of "Now what?"

Do you know that feeling when you're playing soccer and you lunge for the ball but you aren't fast enough and the player on the other team has already kicked it quite hard and the ball travels with ferocious velocity and force into your groin region and you keel over, gasping for breath, your voice several octaves higher?

It was like the existential version of that.

And then, things took a strange, beautiful turn.

In the days and weeks following the band's breakup, people I barely knew would stop me out of the blue and say things like, "Have you thought about being a pastor?" Friends I hadn't talked to in months would contact me and say, "For some reason I think you're going to be a pastor."

Me, a pastor? Seriously?

The idea began to get a hold of me and it wouldn't let go. A calling welled up within me, a direction, something I could give myself to.

I tell you this story about what happened to me 19 years ago because I assume you're like me - really good at making plans and plotting and scheming and devising just how to make your life go how it's "supposed" to go.

We are masters of this. We know exactly how things are supposed to turn out.

And then we suffer. There's a disruption - death, disease, job loss, heartbreak, betrayal or bankruptcy.

The tomorrow we were expecting disappears. And we have no other plan.

Suffering is traumatic and awful and we get angry and we shake our fists at the heavens and we vent and rage and weep. But in the process we discover a new tomorrow, one we never would have imagined otherwise.

I have interacted with countless people over the years who, when asked to identify key moments, turning points, and milestones in their lives, usually talk about terribly difficult, painful things. And they usually say something along the lines of "I never would have imagined that would happen to me."

Imagined is a significant word here. Suffering, it turns out, demands profound imagination. A new future has to be conjured up because the old future isn't there anymore.

Now I realize that what happened to me - the fluid around my brain swelling up and squeezing it against the walls of my skull – is nothing compared to the pain and tragedy many people live with every day.

But that experience irrevocably altered my life. Nothing was ever the same again. My plans fell apart, which opened me up to entirely new future.

This truth, about the latent seeds of creativity being planted in the midst of suffering, takes us deep into the heart of the Christian faith. We are invited to trust that in the moments when we are most inclined to despair, when all appears lost and we can't imagine any way forward - that it is precisely in those moments when something new may be about to be birthed.

Jesus hangs naked and bloody on a cross, alone and abandoned by his students, scorned by the crowd, and yet defiant, confident, insistent that God is present in his agony, bringing about a whole new world, right here in the midst of this one.

This is a mystery, and one we are wise to reflect on it, because of the countless disruptions we experience all the time.

God is in those moments, grieving with us, shedding tears with us, feeling that pain and turmoil with us, and then inviting to trust that something good can come from even this.

So keep your eyes and your heart open. Be quick to listen and slow to make rash judgments about how it's "all going to turn out," because you never know when you'll find yourself miles from home, laying in a hospital bed with a bad case of brain squeeze, all of your plans crashing down around you, wondering how it all went wrong, only to discover that a whole new life is just beginning.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rob Bell.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Devotional Guide I Love

While I was on retreat, I began using a new devotional guide for some of my prayer time. The book is Openings: A Daybook of Saints, Psalms, and Prayer by Larry James Peacock. It is published by Upper Room books and came out in 2003.

It is a wonderful combination of daily reflections about great Christians throughout time, psalm reading, and suggestions for various prayer practices. It teaches breath prayer, lectio devina, prayer of presence, and much more. It is a calendared book; the author often uses particular dates significant in the life of a saint to write about them on a particular day. But I think it would be fine to just start at the beginning, regardless of what the actual date on our calendar may be. Better to read it front to back rather than start on the correct date because it builds on itself over time.

It never ceases to amaze me how a good prayer guide can make a difference in my day.

You can find it here at the Cokesbury website (our UM Publishing house) for about fifteen bucks. Or you may find it elsewhere.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Silent Retreat

I had a wonderful experience at the Jesuit Retreat Center on a 7 day silent retreat. For years I had wanted to participate in a silent retreat; it was as much a blessing as I hoped it would be. That said, I went into the retreat with low expectations. I was tired. I don't mean tired in the sense of needing a good night's rest. I mean my spirit was tired, and I didn't expect that a week could do enough for me.

I arrived on Tuesday evening. After dinner, we had worship and entered into silence. The first two days, I spent trying to recover from being physically tired. I slept, I read, I knitted, I got a massage and a pedicure (the least expensive I have ever found, sixty dollars for everything). But my spirit was still tired.

By Friday, I was ready to begin praying with Scripture. St. Ignatius was the founder of the Jesuit order; my spiritual director and the retreat center are in the Jesuit tradition. He is the saint who focused upon praying with Scripture by using all five senses to imagine entering the story. Over the rest of the week, I spent time doing yoga and spiritual direction and worship each morning, walking each afternoon, and praying with a story or two each day. I prayed with one story in the afternoon and one in the evening. I would imagine the story, and see where I felt led to imagine myself participating, and listen for what I was to hear from the story. Afterwards, I would journal my experiences.

I spent time with the story of the woman with the issuance of blood reaching out for Jesus' healing by touching the hem of his garment. At first, I wanted to imagine Jesus getting off the boat wearing Jeans, but then I didn't have a hem to reach out and touch. So I had to change my mental image to the more traditional flowing robe look. It was powerful to place myself in the role of the woman seeking healing and listen to Jesus say "daughter, your faith has made you well."

The story in John 5 where Jesus sees the man lying in the portico was also a great story for me. I was led to it because I had been hearing "do you want to be made well?" for weeks prior to the retreat. I was amused and chastened to find that the man's response was to complain. He complained that he couldn't get to the water because whenever it was stirred up, others stepped in front of him. What I heard being spoken to my heart was to let go of my complaints and to focus upon the healing waters of Grace. I confess I was not immediately able to let go of my complaints. I imagined floating in the pool after my conversation with Jesus (and tried not to think about what gets stirred up in the pool). I was reminded of one of my favorite images of grace. It is picturing grace like a flowing river and seeing whether I am running next to the river, or allowing God's grace to carry me as I float along in the river.

I prayed with stories including Ezekiel and the valley of dray bones, the Samaritan woman, and the images of heaven in Revelation 21-22. Each time, I followed my heart in deciding where to imagine myself in the story, and as I imagined the story unfolding, I listened for what was being spoken to me through the story. Sometimes, I would also follow the Ignatian practice of the 3 fold colloquy. I would imagine meeting with Mary, then Jesus, then the Father. It's amazing how many different ways I can feel led to envision these meetings and conversations, and how much I feel spoken to by God as I listen in this way.

On the last day of the retreat, my spiritual director suggested I spend time with "resolutions," writing down what I have learned, heard, and feel I need to hold onto going forward.

To have time to be silent before God, spend time communing with God in so many ways, was truly a blessing and gift.