Mar 29, 2013

The Big Surprise

Most of us think we are pretty good at predicting the outcomes of events in life. For example, political polls indicate the relative strength of particular candidates if an election were held today, plus or minus a margin of error. For another example, in some school systems guidance counselors are given the task of funneling students into programs which will help them be either academically or vocationally successful in “the real world.” These predictions are based on indicators from tests measuring the student interests and inclinations. When candidates are selected for college or university or when applicants are chosen for a job, interviews and letters of recommendation are all used to make judgments about the likelihood for success in a particular school or job. These are all ways of predicting. Most of us feel confident in our predictions and that is why we continue to use various measures in making decisions predicting success or failure of certain individuals in certain settings. But, sometimes we are surprised!

I was in a church several decades ago in Ft. Worth that had been relocated about three or four years previously. When the church rebuilt, the Central Texas Annual Conference urged them to build a church that was considerably larger than their sixty to sixty-five person attendance on Sunday morning warranted. They expected that the church would always be about the same size as it had always been and resented the Conference making them build a larger facility.

Then a young pastor came to their church and within two years they had nearly 200 persons for worship. Needless to say, they were really crowded. They brought in chairs for each worship service. Today this church resents the Conference suggesting they build such a moderate sanctuary. They have been surprised by the new life in their newly reconstituted church.

Come on Easter Sunday morning and hear about the biggest surprise yet!




Mar 22, 2013

Maundy Thursday 2013

We church folks sometimes get confused about what is the nature of the church. Just today I was reading about a person who said something to the effect that she would begin “attending church again when it was more entertaining.” Frankly, this is offensive to those who have given their lives for the mission of Jesus Christ lived out through the ministry of the church. It is offensive to the martyrs of the faith who have either spilled their blood or devoted their lives to advance of the good news. Perhaps people do need to be entertained. But most of us have been so sensory-bombarded by music and visual stimulation that many people simply can’t take any more. Bluntly, I think there needs to be at least one place in our world where people can go to think and pray without a lot of distraction, commotion, and noise. Surely we already have enough of that! So what is the function and purpose of the church? One is to come and listen and hear the voice of God—and one holy day is called Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday.

Next week, during Holy Week, we will observe Maundy Thursday. It is the day and night when we remember Jesus and the Last Supper he ate with his disciples before he was betrayed, denied, and crucified. People sometimes wonder why we call this day “Maundy Thursday.” The word we translate as “Maundy” is a Latin word from which we get our word “mandate” or “command.” At the Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus gave a command that, just as he had washed the disciples’ feet so they should also serve others by washing their feet.

So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you (John 13:14-15).

Jesus also says at the Last Supper:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35).

On Maundy Thursday we remember that Jesus gave us a “mandate” or “command” to “love one another just as he has first loved us.” Just as Jesus humbled himself and washed the Disciples’ feet, we too are to offer ourselves in humble service to on another. So on this coming Thursday—Maundy Thursday—we invite you to come and live under the mandate of Jesus.




Mar 15, 2013

The Journey

image by Zach Ennis via CreationSwap

As we move toward Holy Week, we travel in faith toward becoming the people God created us to be. This is our “end game” and perhaps God’s as well. What do preachers and lay folk as leaders have to do with this journey? Below is part of an interview with my favorite preacher, Dr. Fred Craddock who helped me with my graduate work.
We today, no less than those biblical leaders of old, God charges with the obligation to lead God’s people on a expedition of faith. The journey or a pilgrimage is but one metaphor for the Christian life. It remains as potent today as it was for our forebears.

Many knowledgeable commentators on church life have noted the power in the “pilgrim” or “sojourning” image for the Christian faith. For example, in a Christian Theological Seminary interview with Dr. Fred Craddock, an interviewer remarked, “You talked a little bit about metaphor this morning and you probably indicted most of us in a nice sort of way to say that the most common metaphor used in American preaching is ‘journey.’ ” The interviewer then asked Dr. Craddock, “What’s your most common [preaching] metaphor?”

Craddock replied, “Well, I think probably that’s it [the journey metaphor]. That’s it. I think the reason that “journey” or “pilgrimage,” biblically, non-biblically, Western literature, Eastern literature, someone setting out on a journey, or the teaching of Jesus—“broad is the way, narrow is the way,” the language of America—‘I’ve come to a dead end;’ ‘Well, I’ve hit a detour’—we all use that language. It is flexible enough, it’s true enough, it’s experiential enough, that I think is has worked for us for a long time. I think it’s probably still very useful.

My point today was for us not to just take from it but accept that. That’s my best metaphor. And therefore be richer with it, more intentional with it. I think it’s great. I certainly prefer the “pilgrimage” or the “journey” to what I’m meeting now in southern Appalachia back in the mountain is that, they don’t call it this but I do, the ‘script metaphor’—‘Her time had come;’ ‘Well, if it were meant to be.’ I call that the ‘script metaphor.’ That there’s a prescript for everybody’s life—‘Well, if it was her time there was nothing the doctors could do anyway’—that kind of fatal fixity. I prefer the “journey” to that . . .” (Walter Scott Society Tape Service, tape # 51, February 1996).
Thus, for preachers and leaders the journey metaphor is an apt one for leadership today as it has always been as received from our biblical tradition. And as Christian believers, I believe we are leaders of people. The journey from Ash Wednesday to Holy Week is an important one. May we appreciate this Irish Blessing:

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
May the rains fall soft upon your fields,
And, until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.
(Traditional Irish Blessing; origin unknown, although some attribute it to St. Patrick)

Mar 8, 2013

“Daylight Savings Time—2013”

On this Sunday 10 March 2013 we will celebrate—actually many will mourn—a rite of passage in our culture that comes twice a year: Spring and Fall. By now, we all know that soon enough it will be daylight savings time. Some like it; others do not, but whatever our taste or preference we have it.

I like what a 4th grade teacher did with his class when he collected well-known proverbs. He gave each child in the class the first half of the proverb, and asked them to come up with the rest. Here is what one came up with respect to daylight savings time:

“It’s always darkest . . . before daylight savings time!”

And not to be outdone, humorist Dave Barry chimes in by writing about daylight savings time in his list of 19 THINGS THAT IT TOOK ME 50 YEARS TO LEARN. Barry writes: “You will never find anybody who can give you a clear and compelling reason why we observe daylight savings time.” Perhaps there are many items like this on your list.

My request is for all of you reading this to please come to worship this Sunday. As you know it is daylight savings time. But it is also the beginning of spring break for many, many schools. I do not want to worship alone this Sabbath, so please come and let us make a joyful noise together to the Lord—despite it being daylight savings time!




Mar 1, 2013

People are Funny Creatures

During this season of Lent perhaps we might take a week and look at the hilarity of some of our fellow citizens. It is often those who take themselves the most seriously that are the most humorous. Sometimes journalists are one such group. Of course, our church has several very fine and kind of famous journalists, yet some of their colleagues can goof from time to time.

Some journalists (not our people) are fond of often discussing the “public’s right to know,” but on occasion their journalistic tendencies often verge on voyeurism. It is often amusing to me to hear journalists defend their work in every case as hard journalism. Hard journalists want their readers to take them seriously. To show the hilarity of people who take themselves too seriously, I offer these fourteen news headlines and allow you to judge the profundity of hard journalism:

* Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead

* Two Sisters Reunited After 18 Years in Checkout Counter

* Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half

* Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors

* Deer Kill 17,000

* Plane Too Close to Ground, Crash Probe Told

* Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures

* New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Groups

* Include Your Children when Baking Cookies

* Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers

* Teacher Strikes Idle Kids

* Prostitutes Appeal to Pope

* Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over

* Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges

I love this stuff—even during Lent.

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