Friday, January 28, 2011

But the Bible Says...

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I love hearing that. I absolutely love it when someone, passionately and in the context of what is usually a heated discussion on what is usually a hot button topic, throws it out there; "But the bible says!" Ok, actually I don't love it. Actually, it makes me cringe.

Paul is usually the go to. Much of the time we skip over all of that Jesus stuff because Jesus says "love your neighbor...", "take care of the poor...", (yada, yada, yada) and we'd much rather use Paul in our arguments because he can be a little vague sometimes. Or, and I love this one, we'll jump back to the Old Testament (which I love, by the way. I don't always like what it says, but I love it as a whole.) because the person we are talking to or about really isn't worthy of the grace we see so much in the New Testament. We'd much rather they be on God's "smite" list.

Over the past year I have really been watching scripture, probably more than I have at any other time in my life. I have also been watching what's going on around me more than I have at any time in my life, and what I see is that the two are sometimes, many times, worlds apart.

What I see is that conversations between Jesus followers are many times filled with passion, but are lacking in love. What I see is that we, as Jesus followers, will love our long as they're not Muslim, South American immigrants, homeless, or poor (and there are several other groups I could add to the list). What I have seen is that we are quick to call someone out about what we think they should be doing if we can hide behind anonymity. What I am seeing is that we in the church will be glad to follow the rules in the bible, as long as we can pick and choose which ones...and for the love of all that's good and holy don't ask us to mess with the Samaritans of today. But, what I'm not seeing, is how any of that is scriptural.

This morning's readings are from Exodus 21 and 22. There are a whole lot of rules in there. I've even used one that I didn't realize was found in Exodus also. I knew it was in Deuteronomy, but not Exodus: "But if the servant declares, 'I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,' then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or door post and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life." (Exodus 21:5-6)

See? Even I do it. The bible says it's ok for me to have a pierced ear because I'm a servant for life. My uncle, whom I love, disagrees vehemently and tells me that I'm interpreting that passage poorly.

So, for me, and this is just Jamie, I'm going to try to limit my use of "But the bible says..." As a pastor, that's going to be a little tough, since part of my job is interpreting for my folks what the bible says to us today. I think that I, and again this is just me, will try to not pick out the scriptures that I can use as a weapon. Really, that's what we're doing when we say, "But the bible says...we're just using it as a weapon so that we can get what we want...the concession of the other person. I think, instead, I will take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

"The Bible says" in Genesis that I am created in the image of God, loved by God, and accountable to God. The prophets say that God really does care about how we treat each other, and how we respond to God's call. The gospels say that God realized that we were in a world of hurt, things weren't going to get better on their own, and that God needed to step in. Acts says something about how we live in community and gives us all kinds of examples of what a disciple looks like...and it all says something about hope, grace, faith, and love.

So, my prayer is that we no longer use "but the bible says" as a weapon against each other, but that we use the grace and love we read about to do all we can to bring God's kingdom right here.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

How About a Little Help...

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I'm blessed to get to work one or two youth retreats a year. They are three days long, and the kids come in on Saturday morning and stay until Monday night. It never ceases to amaze me how the relationships are formed during those three days. Some of the kids know some other kids that will be there, but most of them don't.

We have a five person clergy team that is there during the weekend for the kids should a need arise, but for the most part, we pretty much stay in the background. We try to take some time to get to know the kids, but most of the work is done in and most of the support comes from their micro-communities of about 6 or 8 people. The clergy talk with the kids and focus on letting them know that they are loved of God, but something happens about halfway through the weekend that never ceases to amaze me. Usually by Sunday night, the kids stop coming to us with their questions or difficulties and start taking care of each other. I think it's actually pretty cool to watch.

Now, if we as clergy were insecure, or had huge egos, we could hover over the groups believing they couldn't get along without us...or we can let them know we are there if they need us and let them be.

What I have found over my years in the ministry is that a lot of us feel that Jesus isn't the only Messiah our folks need. We think that they can't get along without us and therefore we have to micromanage every aspect of church life. What I have also found is that it will absolutely wear a person out.

This morning's readings come from Exodus and in those texts is a beautiful nugget of fatherly wisdom from Jethro to Moses. Moses has sat as judge over the people as they come to him all day long with their disagreements. Jethro notices what's going on and says, "Moses, what are you doing? Let somebody help you, for crying out loud. Pick some guys whom you trust, and let them take care of X number of people or you're going to burn yourself out." And by golly, Moses listens.

It's a beautiful thing to watch, you know, folks helping other folks out. It's also mutually edifying. I've watched this happen not only with our Chrysalis kids on the 3 day retreats, but also with my folks at church. Over the last couple months my folks have taken on some pastoral care even though they aren't pastors. What they are, though, is part of the priesthood of all believers and have really begun taking on that role. Which, right now, is a huge help to me.

I'm neck deep in preparations for ordination, so knowing that my folks are keeping an eye on each other while I'm in the books more right now allows me to focus on what I need to do to get through the next few weeks. I get an email or a text keeping me updated on what's going on with my flock, I have a great trustee chair who takes care of the building, a great finance chair who takes care of that aspect of things, and right now, I am very thankful for the help. I'm also blessed by watching them take care of each other.

It was a tough lesson for me to learn. I had always thought that I was the only one who could do those things that needed to be done. It was a control issue for me, or maybe I knew that I was ultimately responsible for getting it done. What I have learned though, is that God knows we can't do it all by ourselves. If only we could figure that out.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Seriously, God???...

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Can you imagine what must have been going through their minds? I mean, seriously. The Yam Suph (Sea of Reeds) lay in front of them and Egypt's army was closing in behind them. They knew that there was no way for them to get across the sea, and even though hundreds of thousands strong, were probably no match for Pharaoh's charioteers and foot soldiers.

Then God said, "What are you waiting for? Go!" I would have wanted to ask, "And God just where exactly are we supposed to go? Have you noticed what's going on here? Seriously?"

...and poor Moses, bless his heart (You can say just about anything about just about anybody in Western KY if you follow it with 'Bless their heart.' At least that's what I'm told, bless my heart.) Poor Moses, if you remember, didn't want to do this in the first place; but no, God said that he was the one. Remember the whole burning bush scene? Now, here he is...600,000 angry men and their angry wives and kids...Pharaoh behind them, and a sea in front. Now what, God?

Moses tries to comfort the folks and calm them down some, but evidently it's not working very well. Then God does it, and I love this..."What are you crying to me for? Tell them to move on! Here's what's going to happen; you're going to raise your staff over the water, the wind's going to start blowing, the water is going to separate so that dry ground appears and you...and all of them...are going to walk across on dry land. Then, check this out. I'm going to put it in Pharaoh's mind that he still has a chance, he's going to chase after you. After you get to the other side, you're going to hold your staff up again, the wind's going to stop blowing, and bye-bye army."

Here's what bothers me, though. We are separated by this story by several thousand years, so it has become almost tame, and we have lost the "Wow!" factor of what went on there. What amazes me is that we have just about convinced ourselves that God just does not move like that anymore, so we don't expect it.

We say to God, "You know, that's a really cool story and I'm proud that it worked out for them...but let me tell you what I'm going through." Then it's not Pharaoh's army that swallows us up, but instead it's doubt..."what if"..."I can't"..."but you don't understand"..."those things never work for me"...and, "I just don't see how."

What if that first Israelite had not taken that first step onto that dry sea bed? We say we believe, but we don't always act like we believe. Saying it is one thing. Doing something about it is totally different.

Here is my prayer. I pray that God asks you to do something you absolutely don't think you can do. I pray that God places just enough obstacles in the way so that you (and I) will be totally dependent on not what we can do, but what God can do with us, through us, and even in spite of us. I pray that as you (and I) yield to God's will, the impossible becomes the possible.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Flipping Coins...

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Casting lots...drawing straws...flipping a coin... we've all done it. Just the other day, I walked into the living room and asked my oldest, "Heads or tails?" She said, "Heads." I flipped the quarter, and heads it was. She had no clue what I was trying to decide, but I needed a little help with the deciding.

I don't know why we do that, do you? Maybe, personally, I'm just that indecisive. I don't think I am, though. Never really have been. Usually I can make up my mind and stick to it with the stubbornness of a thousand mules, just ask my wife.

Maybe it's an easy way to make a tough decision. If the coin makes the decision, then maybe we are released from any liability? That way, if things go bad, which they often do, we can say, "Well, we flipped a coin. It's not my fault." It's good to have an out, you know, just in case.

We are all, at some point, in a season of discernment. We all have to make decisions, eventually, that will affect us and those around us for years to come. Hopefully, those decisions have been bathed in prayer, and God's will, not ours, has been sought. Hopefully, we have prayed for guidance, and not just left those decisions to chance.

In the Book of Acts, right in the very beginning, Jesus has ascended and temporarily left the scene. Oh, the man in white said he'd be back, but didn't say when. Judas, (You remember the traitor, right?) had been disposed of in a rather graphic way according to Luke, which left only 11 of the 12 remaining. Someone had to take his place.

Peter, as Peter always seemed to do, took the lead and began the discussion. He told the group of followers that someone needed to be chosen to take Judas' role in the leadership of the movement. Then they nominated two out of the group; Barsabbas and Matthias. Seems pretty simple at this point. Just flip a coin: Heads it's Barsabbas, tails it's Matthias, and that's basically what they did. Notice what happened first, though.

They began to pray. They prayed that God show them which one to choose, and then they cast lots. Now, I'm not sure what that really looked like: maybe it was dice, or straws, or sticks, maybe they did flip a coin, who knows? What impresses me, though, is that what appears to be a decision of chance was actually very prayerfully considered, and the results of the casting of the lots left up to God.

I have never prayed over a coin toss. I guess if I were more of a sports fan I might have, but I can't remember ever praying over a coin toss. I have made lots of decisions by waiting to see which side it landed on, and some of them probably fairly important decisions, but I'm wondering now if it's really a bad thing. I think I need to look at this one a little more.

If God's will has been sought, and if we have been prayerful beforehand, is it ok to make a decision that might affect us for the rest of our life by simply flipping a coin? I'd like to hear what you think on this one.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Didn't Know It Was Him...

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I don't remember exactly how the discussion was going but the best I remember, it was centered around the needs of others. Looking back, it was about doing for others in Christ's name, and the story of the sheep and the goats in Matthew. The question that was asked went like this: "Was the 'goats'' lack of service a result of not wanting to serve...or not seeing the need...or of something else?" Then I was asked what I thought and here is what I said, "It is amazing what we can't see when we don't want to."

This morning, the reading from the Life Journal texts was from Luke 24, which is one of my favorites in Luke (aside from the birth narrative). It's a beautiful story, really. Jesus had been crucified. Maybe the disciples were witnesses, maybe they weren't. Fear has a funny way of making one run and hide. The movement was over as far as they could see, I mean, it had to be. How can a movement continue in such an early stage once its leader has been killed?

There was nothing else they could do, except go back home, and go back to what they were familiar with. At least that would be fairly comfortable. They could go back to their trades, back to their families, and say things like "Well, it was a good run..." or, "It was fun while it lasted..." But then he shows up. He always shows up.

"What are you talking about?" Can you believe this guy? After everything that has happened in the last few days...and small town can he not know what they were talking about? They didn't know who he was, and they didn't know where he came from...only that he hadn't heard what had happened.

I love the way Luke tells us why they didn't know who he was, yet at the same time, it disturbs me more than just a little. Luke says that they were "kept from recognizing him." They saw him, but they didn't SEE him, if you know what I mean.

The first time I saw a homeless person, I didn't want to see Jesus, so I didn't recognize Jesus. I saw the dirt and the ragged clothes, and knew that MY Jesus wouldn't look like that. The first time I saw a woman wearing sunglasses on a cloudy day I didn't want to see Jesus, so I didn't look. I saw the glasses and knew they were covering bruises, but MY Jesus couldn't be the victim of domestic violence. The first time someone knocked on the parsonage door needing food I didn't want to see Jesus, so I didn't look for him. I saw the look on the face and was too concerned about being taken. Then the "What if they don't really need food?" questions started, and besides, MY Jesus would never ask me for food.

MY Jesus would never look like a teenage girl, trying to decide between adoption or abortion... MY Jesus could not look like the kids in the mall with their pants hanging down...My Jesus would never get a tattoo or a piercing...MY Jesus would never ask for help with a utility bill...MY Jesus would certainly not rap...nor would MY Jesus ever struggle with addiction.

My Jesus, our Jesus, or at least the Jesus most of us want to see is a gainfully employed, middle aged, middle class, white man with a wife, 2 kids, a dog, and a newspaper in the driveway. The Jesus we want to see is self-sufficient, self-respecting, and clean. He has everything under control, never stresses, never cries, never raises his voice, never asks for anything, and never asks us to do anything uncomfortable.

Unfortunately, the Jesus we're not looking for sometimes sneaks up behind us, comes out of nowhere, and catches us completely off guard.

"They will answer: 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and not help you?'" He will reply, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me."


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Going Barefoot...

I love going barefoot. I love feeling the grass, or the sand if I happen to be at the beach. I don't know if it's a leftover from my childhood, or what, but I just really don't like wearing shoes. From the first warm day of March until almost the end of October, if I'm outside and I can, I kick my shoes off.

This summer, my wife got a little upset at me because I wouldn't wear shoes while I was working in the garden. I planted the garden barefoot. I hoed the garden barefoot. I tilled it barefoot. I just love the way it feels, and there's the added bonus of not getting my shoes dirty.

There's another time when I love going barefoot...when I preach. I couldn't get away with kicking my shoes off in most pulpit settings, in fact, I've only had one venue in 12 years where I could preach barefoot and no one minded. For me, it's a holy moment and a holy place, and being barefoot at those times and in those places is scriptural. One of the stories we have has God commanding one of our ancestors to take his shoes off because the ground he was standing on was holy.

For Moses, the moment he was told to kick his shoes off was a huge moment in his life. It was at that moment, standing barefoot in the desert sand, watching a bush on fire but not burning up, that God said to him, "Go." Moses was barefoot when we was commissioned by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. How cool is that?

It's a small thing, really, kicking your shoes off on holy ground; but we take ourselves way too seriously today. We are so afraid of looking silly in front of the people around us, that we won't allow ourselves to kick our shoes off in front of them when we stand on holy ground.

Many times, when I get to come to the table without presiding over it, I'll kick my shoes off before I walk up. It's something I do quietly, and I don't even tell anyone what I'm doing or why. For me, that is a very holy place, and approaching the table barefoot reminds me of that.

So, here's the challenge from what some consider just another smart aleck preacher. The next time you go to church, remember you are on holy ground, and if you want to kick your shoes off in the presence of God, go right ahead.


Friday, January 21, 2011

The Upswing...

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I'm not a physicist, let me just go on record as saying that. In fact, if it hadn't been for the constant sailboat examples by my physics professor in college, I probaby wouldn't have even passed. For some reason those images stuck with me long enough to take the exams. Like most everything else, I know enough about physics to engage in conversation for a minute or two, and that's about it. One thing I remember a little about, though, is the pendulum. It's a great invention, and we've used it over the centuries for everything from determining the direction of an earthquake's epicenter to taking a human pulse.

This morning, as I was reading the Life Journal texts, I ran across Psalm 88. It's one of the ones that wasn't written by David...we think. But within it are found some very powerful words and images. Here are a few:

"I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death."
"I am counted among those who go down to the pit."
"I am like one without strength."

...and then there's this one...

"You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths."

Wow. Now, let me ask this: Have you ever felt that way? Sure you have. We all have. Everyone of us, at some point in our life, has felt as if we absolutely could not sink any lower. Sometimes it's the bills. Sometimes it's our health. Sometimes it's our relationships, employment, loneliness, depression, our could be anything. We have all, at some point, felt as if our pendulum was stuck at the bottom... sitting there in mid-swing... hovering over some unseen gravitational force... unable to swing back up to one side or the other.

Sometimes, we even feel as it is God who has put us there. Am I right?

This morning, I ran across a video clip from a guy named Francis Chan. Francis helped me see how I, as a pastor, can help folks begin to see that their pendulum does not have to sit at the bottom of the swing. In a rhetorical question, he said something like this, "Well, why don't I experience the Holy Spirit?" The answer he gave was, "Well, because you're not suffering. He's called the Comforter, and why do you need the Comforter if you're comfortable?"

I'm still chewing on that one. I think I can agree with him, though. But at the same time, I'm not sure that's a complete answer, and here's why. A pendulum wasn't designed to sit at the bottom. Oh, sure, that is its natural position when at rest, but it wasn't designed to remain at rest. Neither were we. We were not created to remain uncomforted in life. I think I can say that we were not created to remain miserable. Er go... the presence of the Comforter.

I have spent more than my fair share of time at the bottom of the swing, just like most of you have. I have felt as if God had totally rejected me, just like many of you have. I have felt as if there was nowhere else to turn and that life had lost all sense of purpose and meaning, just like some of you have. What I have learned is that when we are at our most uncomfortable, our lowest, the Spirit's presence is the strongest. When we are sitting at the bottom, we are in the perfect position to begin another upswing.

If that is where you are, my prayers are with you. I am easy to contact if you need to talk, and I will tell you that life does not end at the bottom of the swing, it's just getting ready to begin.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

What Are You Going to Do...

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This past weekend, I was blessed to be able to spend 3 days with a great group of folks, from 15 years old and up. It's called Chrysalis, and is the youth version of The Walk to Emmaus. For 72 hours, we were focused on reminding the youth coming to us that God loves them regardless...

It's a beautiful thing to watch, actually. Saturday morning, the youth show up and some are absolutely terrified. Some want to be anywhere but there. Some are actually looking forward to it. But by the end of the 72 hours, very nearly all of them have realized that they are the beloved of God.

At the closing service, they get a chance to stand up and tell what the weekend meant to them. Then...the big question: "What are you going to do with it?" I love that.

I never cease to be amazed by the junk that some of these youth bring with them, and not just the youth that come for the first time, but also the youth that have come back to be a part of the team. Some learn for the first time what it means to be the beloved, regardless of the mistakes they might have made already. Some are simply reminded. What amazes me even more, I think, are the answers that some of them give.

"What are you going to do with it?" What do we do with the fact that we are the beloved? For me, that is what it boils down to. I'm not into works righteousness at all, you know, where you do good for each other to earn God's love. I just don't think that's how it works. I believe, and I preach, that we do what we do as a response to the love that God has already shown us. What we don't do often enough, is intentionally stop and ask ourselves the question, "What are you going to do with it?"

It's not enough to soak up the love of God. That is one part of it, yes, but only one part. We are then called to go and do something with it. For a lot of the kids that stand up and answer that question, with beads of nervous sweat popping out on their foreheads, the answer is something like this, "I'm going to go back to school and tell the other kids that God loves them too." Isn't that beautiful? And we say we don't send out missionaries anymore.

So, beloved of God, what are you going to do with it? Can you dial a phone? Give someone who may be having a rough day a call. Can you type? Shoot someone an email. Can you cook? Volunteer at a shelter or soup kitchen (and no, you won't have to travel very far to find one). Can you fold clothes? Practically every county, locally, has a mission store, and they could all use a little extra help. Can you garden? Teach someone how to grow their own food. Can you drive nails? Volunteer with Habitat for Humanity.

The point is, for 72 hours this past weekend, 57 young people were told over and over again that they are the beloved of God, and when the weekend was over, they wanted to get back to where they came from and start getting MAD (Making A Difference). What are you going to do with it?


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Living as the Beloved...

Message presented at Hickman First Methodist January 9, 2011
Matthew 3:13-17

Theme: Looking at the baptism of Jesus and life as one of the Beloved.

In elementary school I was quite the Romeo. More than once I remember saying to a girl, “I really like you.” There was this one girl, oh my goodness…fifth grade…I thought I was going to marry that one, and I’m not sure that I didn’t ask her to marry me in elementary school. I doubt that love ever came into the equation, since I didn’t even know what love was yet, but I was going to marry her. As I got a little older, and moved on to high school I went from saying to a girl, “I like you…” to saying, “I love you,” even though I still had no clue what love was.

Oh, I thought I did. I thought I had it all figured out. Are there any other guys in here that did the same kind of thing? But when it came to the “I love you…” it was always scary to say it that first time, though, wasn’t it? What if she didn’t say it back? That would be more than a little embarrassing. What if what you thought was love was really just a one sided infatuation? It’s a pretty big risk, isn’t it? Especially between a boy and a girl. That’s one kind of love, but there’s another…

William P. Young talks about this other kind, and writing of how God feels about us said it this way… “I’m especially fond of that one.” (Young) I like that. Now, that book raises a lot of red flags for a lot of folks, but to hear God say about any one of us, “I’m especially fond of that one,” just gives me chills. Now, I don’t know that God actually says it that way. I mean, there’s nothing in scriptures to back that up, but there is this… Matthew has God saying it this way… “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Isn’t that beautiful?

Listen in on the story with me.

(Read Matthew 3:13-17)

“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” I don’t know about you, but that still sends chills down my spine. I almost feel guilty for listening in on such a tender moment between Father and Son, but Matthew did record it, so evidently someone was supposed to read it. Why not us? I mean, aren’t there folks, maybe even folks sitting right beside you that need to hear that they are beloved?

There is power in those words, isn’t there? On the surface this story is about the Baptism of the Lord, which, in fact, was a much bigger celebration than Christmas at one point in history, and the theme for the day today. It was one of the Big Three, the “Three Feasts of Light”; Epiphany, The Baptism of Christ, and The Wedding Feast of Cana (Norris). Why? Because it was in these feasts that we see some aspect of God’s nature lit up and illuminated for us. (Norris)

Now, we could get into all of the theology for today, you know…

“If John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance why did Christ have to be baptized?”…or…

“If Christ was baptized to fulfill all righteousness, what does that mean?” …or…

“Was Jesus actually one of John’s disciples for a while since John had baptized him?”…but honestly, this isn’t the place for that. We’ll do that over dinner and a study sometime.

What this story said to me this time was about one word…Beloved.

I wanted a concrete definition for “beloved” to begin building today’s message on and what I found was that Webster’s says it means “dear to the heart,” or “dearly loved.”

While I was wooing the fairer sex in elementary and high school, I might have said that I liked a girl a lot, or that I even loved her, but I never remember saying to one, “You are my beloved.” Well, not in high school, anyhow. There is this one girl that I can say that about now. So, there has to be some difference.

In 1992, Henry Nouwen, probably one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, was asked by a friend of his to write a book explaining the spiritual life in terms that he and his friends could understand. You see, his friend didn’t want any of that heavy theological or technical language, so Nouwen said this: “All I want to say to you is, ‘You are the Beloved.’” (Nouwen)

That was an easy answer. No heavy theology. No earth shattering revelations. Just a simple statement about how God feels about us. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it just couldn’t be that simple. There had to be something else going on.

If you get a chance, read the book; Nouwen’s book, “Life of the Beloved.” The subtitle is “Spiritual living in a secular world,” and it really is a pretty good read. In it he talks about becoming the Beloved, and how in that process we are taken, blessed, broken, and given. Sound familiar? Then he goes on to talk about living as the Beloved. This, for me, was where the whole idea of life as the beloved and the image of Christ at his baptism collided head on.

What happened when Christ came out of the water? What did it mean to be the Beloved? If we are his disciples, and disciple makers for him, what does it mean for us?

As I was reading Kathleen Norris this week, here is what she said about it: “Baptism, then is about celebrating the incomparable gift we receive as creatures beloved of God. But baptism is also about more fully engaging the responsibility that this identity entails.” (Norris) Living as “the beloved” has some responsibilities.

She went on to say that “The baptism of Jesus initiated his public ministry, which led him to the cross. For individual Christians, baptism is our call to the community of the church.” (Norris)

There it is again. Every time I try to get away from it, and try to find some way to have an individual religious experience, or make it all about me, and how I feel, something tells me that there is nothing individual about it. It’s about community, and here’s why:

Brad Braxton wrote about a friend he has who is a very devoted Christian, and who has as his message on his answering machine, “Ready for the Revolution!” Now that may sound odd, and you may be wondering what that has to do with anything, but here it is: it boils down to what Christ was called to be after his baptism, and about our call to become followers.

You see, Jesus didn’t need to be baptized for repentance, like everyone else then, he was baptized to “fulfill all righteousness.” He said so himself. And that is where it becomes real for us. Righteousness is not just about personal piety, or personal holiness, or what a good person we are. Righteousness on a larger scale is about God’s saving action in the world…is about “God’s passionate commitment to set right the things that are wrong” (Braxton).

Christ began that work when he stepped out of the water. In that moment he went from carpenter’s son to revolutionary. He would spend the rest of his life, literally, turning everything that was upside down, right side up. As the water dripped from his hair, he looked through time at you and at me and said, “Follow me.”

Oh my gosh! Do you know what that means?! It means that because we are loved, no because we are the beloved, we get to help other folks realize that they are also loved, I mean, beloved. It really is revolutionary.

In a society that is so focused on “me’ and what I can get, or what kind of job I have, or how much money I have in the bank, or what society owes me, isn’t it nice to know that our very purpose, after the water dries, is to tell other folks that they are beloved of God?

Are you ready? I mean, are you really ready? In a few minutes we are going to have the chance to remember our baptisms, even the ones we can’t remember, because we do baptize infants. We are not re-baptizing anyone, because God got it right the first time. We are just remembering our baptisms. But, as you come down, I’m going to say something, and I would ask that you think about it for a second.

I’m going to say, “Remember your baptism and be thankful. You are the beloved.” Christ will be whispering in your ear, “Are you ready for this revolution?”

Before you say “Yes,” here’s what I want you to think about as you feel the water on your forehead. Jesus didn’t die of old age. John, the one who baptized Jesus, didn’t die of old age. Remember your baptism and be thankful. Embrace your life as the beloved, and know that a life lived as the beloved can really be revolutionary.

Works Cited:

Braxton, Brad Ronnell. “Ready for Revolution.” Christian
Century. January 2-9, 2002. P. 18

Norris, Kathleen. “Marked for a Purpose.” Christian Century.
December 25, 2007. P. 17

Nouwen, Henri J. M. Life of the Beloved. Crossroad
Publishing Company. New York. 1992.

Young, William P. The Shack. Windblown Media. 2008

Webster’s Online Dictionary – “beloved”

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Last Straw...

(photo from
It's a tragic story, really. But at the same time, parts of it are kind of funny. I mean, how many other places do you see someone actually arguing with God? I guess you could say that Job did. After all, he really wasn't very patient. In this story, Sarah laughed when she heard what God was going to do through her and then lied about it. "I didn't laugh." And God said, "Yes you did."

Maybe arguing isn't the best word for this story, negotiating might be a better way of putting it. Haven't we all done that, though? "God, if you will just do this one thing for me, I promise I'll go to church every Sunday." That's usually the first one we throw out, but I'm not convinced that God is really all that concerned about our attendance rate. We treat God like Santa sometimes and hope that if we stay on the "good" list our stack of presents will be awesome.

But this story, this story is funny at times, but mostly heartbreaking. "Ok God, what if there are 50 righteous people in town? Will you do it then?"...and God said, "If I can find 50, I won't do it." But it doesn't stop there, "How about 40? 30? 20? 10? If there are 10 righteous people in town, will you not do it?"...and God said, "For the sake of 10, I won't do it."

You know what I'm talking about now, right? The destruction of Sodom. On the surface, the story tells us that not even 10 righteous folks could be found in the city. After all it was destroyed. If we look a little deeper, the last straw was a lack of hospitality. How about that? God really does care about how we treat our neighbors. Hmmm.

Lot's counter-offer to the men of the city sounds horrendous to us today...his two daughters, who have never been with a man, and they could do whatever they wanted to with them...just leave the two men who had come under his roof as his guests alone. This is one of those places in scripture where being separated from the context of the day by over 2500 years changes things. Hospitality. In most places it's not what it used to be.

Yesterday, I blogged about the Eucharist, the feast of Christ, and how everyone has a place at the table...well, ok, the liturgy says something about anyone who repents and desires a new life has a place at the table, but I don't stand up there with a clipboard, checking the list. One of my friends commented on it and said that most folks don't have a problem with an open communion table, but having those same folks at their kitchen table is a completely different thing (thanks for that, Dan). There's a lot of truth in that. He said that he was guilty of the same, and now that I think about it, I probably am too. But why?

Am I, are we, afraid of the "other"? Are we just so busy that we don't have time for hospitality? But what bothers me even more, is God watching us like God watched Sodom, with the same results in mind? "50? If there are 50 righteous people will you not do it? What about 40? 30? 10?"

I'd love your input on this one.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Even Judas?...

(photo from
I have a good friend and colleague serving a church around Memphis. He is a fellow "outside the box" kind of guy. Actually, that's probably putting it mildly, but he's a mentor to me. We've had several conversations over the past 6 months because I feel led to do some of the same things he's doing. He's already cautioned me once to be ware the company I keep because hanging with him could get me into trouble, but that's ok.

I stopped by the church he serves one day this past summer to check the place out. It's different, to say the least. Everything they do there is different, right down to the invitation to the table.

You see, in the United Methodist Church, we have an open Communion Table, which simply means that anyone is welcome at the table. We don't turn folks away from Jesus' feast. As my friend and I were talking about the ministries that take place in that holy place, and how they do some of what they do, he told me that their Communion liturgy is, let's say, a little more interactive than some.

As he extends the invitation on Christ's behalf, he says something like this, "...and who is welcome at this table?" To which his folks reply, "Everyone." Then he asks, "Even Judas?" And the folks reply, "Even Judas."

Now, if you're familiar at all with the gospels, you'll know who Judas was, or at least who this Judas was. If you're familiar with Luke 6, you'll know exactly how Luke felt about this Judas. In the list of disciples called out to become apostles, Judas is listed right there with them, but with a tagline..."...and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor."

Ouch. That is why what my friend does on behalf of Christ is so important...even Judas. You see, his flock is not your usual flock. In fact, he even told me once that he and they belong to a group of folks who are a grateful recovering tribe of knotheads, hotheads, potheads, sots, assorted nuts, and (others who are in denial). I love that. I mean, after all, aren't we all recovering from some things and probably in denial about others? Yet, at that table, there is even a place for us.

Judas was given a bad rap, like most folks we want to exclude. I believe that Judas never intended to get Christ killed, only to force his hand a little. In fact, I kind of feel bad for the guy. He was looking for a messiah that would come in, force Rome's army out of the area, and bring freedom back to Israel. Jesus was a lot more concerned with feeding people and healing them. What's up with that?

But even Judas can be forgiven, and I believe was. When Jesus was being nailed down and said, "Forgive them for they don't know what they're doing," I don't remember reading that he said, "Forgive them...well, except for Judas."

Now, I'm hoping that all of us can find ourselves in this story somewhere. Either we are the one who thinks we are unworthy of forgiveness and will not come to that table of grace, or we are the ones looking down on those who won't come because we are holding something against them. Either way, this is a new year, full of new beginnings, let this be one of them.