Mar 30, 2012

The Irony of Holy Week

Irony is a word that simply means, “Things are not as they appear.” An example of irony might be for us to hear that “the firehouse burned” or that a well-educated politician failed to spell “potato” correctly. Over the years, several ironic situations have raised their heads. One such example involved, strangely enough, President Regan. In 1964, a United Artists executive, dismissing the suggestion the studio offer Ronald Reagan the starring role in the movie “The Best Man," said “Reagan doesn’t have the presidential look.” 

There is a lot about both Holy Week and Easter that brings to mind the concept of irony. For example, the term “Good Friday” is one of the most ironic names for any day we might imagine. From the perspective of justice, we find nothing "good" about the execution of an innocent Messiah-person on a cross in front of hostile crowds and his own fair-weather friends.

Whatever else we think about the irony of Good Friday and Easter, they do provide the liberation of human beings from the bondage of sin and death through the crucifixion of God’s only son. But it is an irony freely given us by God, and in which we stand. Come help us celebrate the irony of giving the dead new life in Christ.

See you during Holy Week and on Sunday at the “Resurrection Place”—FUMC of Arlington.

Come early, or come late, but come—we are expecting you.

Mar 23, 2012

Is It All About Celebrity?

Not long ago, one of my colleagues telephoned with a question. She called because she knows that I know more preachers than most people (“Let no one inquire whether it is good or bad”—Leviticus 27:33 a). She needed a preacher who could preach a first-rate set of sermons for a clergy gathering.

After tossing out six or seven names of those I considered to be top-quality and faithful preachers, both men and women, she dismissed each one in rapid sequence. I was getting a little annoyed and felt like Jesse, who watched as each successive son who was paraded by Samuel was not the one to be Israel’s next king  (1 Samuel 16:1ff). Finally out of annoyance I simply asked her, “What is wrong with these names?”

Then the caller came clean. “I’m sorry,” she said, “none of your names is famous enough.” It struck me as an odd thing.

Can you imagine if Paul or John Chrysostom or Peter Cartwright or Charles Haddon Spurgeon or Martin Niemöller would not have had enough of a reputation to elicit an invitation to preach the gospel? In fact, in our 21st century, sometimes what is most essential is the status of the presenter rather than the person’s competency or that the person is a faithful gospel witness. At times, it seems like it is all about celebrity.

As we move into Holy Week and journey with Jesus toward the cross, may we remember Jesus as the New Testament remembers him. He was not famous for being famous. Rather: “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest . . ." (Hebrews 5:8-10).

Mar 20, 2012

Why Dying is Important

When I was a young child, my brother and I liked to go down to my father’s office building and hang around with John Shelby. John and his wife, Naomi, took care of the building and often stayed with us children when my parents went out of town.

The year I was nine years old, my grandfather died. This was a great mystery to me, and to my parents' credit, they allowed me to go to his funeral in Hiawatha, Kansas with burial in Morrill. I did not understand much about it, but I did know that something very strange and mysterious had happened.

A few months later, Scarlet Bates, our teenage baby sitter, died after complications in open heart surgery. In those days, around 1961, open heart surgery was a considerably greater ordeal than it is now. Everyone was in shock and grief-stricken. I think it was the only time I saw Scarlet's father or my own father cry. My brother and I asked Naomi Shelby, "Why do people have to die?” Since Naomi went to a church where everybody shouted, danced and cried every Sunday we were pretty sure she would know—she knew everything.

She said, “Children, everybody has to die. And dying is so important that Jesus had to do it too.” In the intervening years, I have never heard anyone say it any better.

Mar 9, 2012

News and More Good News


A few weeks ago we had an infant baptism. As I looked into her eyes she looked back—and began to cry. Usually I have better contact with the young. But as we go forth through the rest of winter and into spring I note that we have several baptisms coming up—and these will culminate in the baptism of new members and the reception of our new confirmation class of 2012!

Sometimes people ask me why we only celebrate the sacrament of baptism during sanctuary or celebration worship. They want to know why a pastor cannot simply come over to their house and have a small ceremony in the family living room with a few close friends in attendance. This is, no doubt, not an odd question and may be a question that many church people have on their minds.

Baptism is many things, but baptism is at least the occasion for a person (whether that person is nine months old or ninety-nine years old) to enter the household of God. Consequently, baptism is an occasion for the whole household of faith to celebrate together as God’s people. If we baptize an infant, then the parent’s make a public profession of faith to raise the child in a nurturing and Christian environment. If the person baptized is an adult, then that individual makes a public profession of faith to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

When we baptize people, then baptism grafts the person into a whole family of Christian sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, and even grandparents. It is these congregational “relatives” who nurture us and encourage us in the faith. Thus, we celebrate baptism in the sanctuary so that everyone may get into the worship act, make promises to those baptized, and to renew their baptismal vows as well.

In one of Augustine’s works, based on Romans 6:4, he wrote (English translation from Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopedia, page 88):

Paul spoke of the great mystery of holy baptism as bound up with the cross of Christ; and this he does in terms that make us understand that baptism in Christ is nothing but an image of Christ’s death, and the Christ’s death on the cross is nothing but an image of the remission of sin. Just as his death was real, so also the remission of ours is real; and just as his resurrection was real, so also our justification is real.

Baptism helps all of us understand how God claims us in Christ.

Mar 5, 2012

Our Youth at FUMC of Arlington

When I see what our young folks do for out 8:15 AM worship service under Greg Haugen’s leadership and how strong the Youth Group is with Nick Scott’s guidance, it makes me brim with pride. To that end, I continue to encourage our congregation to help support our teenage youngsters in their many church pursuits and mission activities.

For but one example, on March 4–8 and 18–22 we will hold our annual “stock sales.” Our hope is that we can raise about $22,000+. It is a big push for the Youth, as it is the lone fundraiser they have each year to benefit the mission trips they take. I would rather people give a tithe (10%) to the church to avoid fundraisers, but alas this is not the world we now live in. This fundraiser is vital to make our trips affordable for many families, especially those with two or more participating youth. Not only that; a portion is set aside to fund some scholarships for those who could not otherwise go.

The three trips that will benefit are the Junior High mission trip, Senior High mission trip and the Testament Choir tour. The Junior High group will be traveling to Waco to help on a variety of projects for people in need there. The Senior High will be helping with the 2011 (and maybe 2012) spring storm recovery effort. The exact location is not yet known.

The Testament Choir tour is taking 60+ youth to Denver. In Denver, and along the way, they will perform in retirement homes and assisted living facilities. In addition to scattering the love of Christ between Arlington and Denver and providing for people’s real needs, these trips also help our youth grow closer to God and to each other.

I like to bear in mind what John Wesley taught the early Methodists:

Gain all you can;
 Save all you can;
Give all you can.

Let’s keep our youth in our prayers!

 
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