Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Sermon I Won't Get To Preach This Christmas Eve.

So it's almost 2am, and I've been sick, and my wife has a routine medical proceedure at 6am tomorrow that has required a day of misery for her, so of course I can't sleep and all I can think about is Christmas Eve and church, so over the past 10 min in an attempt to clear my head, I've typed up the "Sermon I Won't Get To Preach This Christmas Eve" (not that I want to preach, just a fact that there is no reason for me to write this sermon). And since it won't get preached, I thought I'd just share my thoughts this Christmas:

There has been a comic working it's way around this Advent, and between that, what my confirmands have written for a Christ Candle Litany and our Children's musical, there is a sermon that is preached time and again. The comic shows a modern day Mary and Joseph who have just arrived to find no room in the inn. That's simple enough for us to picture, but what's important about the comic is that this isn't the Ramada Inn where people have called ahead to reserve their rooms and where there will be a continental breakfast in the morning, no it is the highway hotel with the $250 a week sign, the worn down single story hotel with bars and bullet proof glass separating the night shift manager from the customers, the place not found on your phone app, where you wouldn't want to have to stop for a night even when it's the only choice available, except in this comic even it shows NO VACANCY on it's broken neon sign.

So here are Mary and Joseph looking much like those who you might think to find looking into such an establishment across the street at the former gas station that now is just a “convenience store,” a last oasis of questionable humanity. And outside here sits Joseph thumbing through a phone book, not a smart phone, or even trying to call for help, looking at a phone book, desperately seeking something, anything that will allow some sort of peace on this night. And there sits Mary, impregnate as can be in clothes not made for someone who is with child, but just what she had available. If we saw them today most of us would be more concerned for ourselves than for their safety. This is important to remember, that God did not just come to the common folk, but to those at great risk, those who are desperately outside the social norms. Those who are so far on the edges that we prefer not to think about them. But God doesn't care who we want to think about or about who we're comfortable being around, God is always around the outcast, the hurting, the homeless, the shunned, the degraded, the ones we call sinners, and all those who we view as lesser than ourselves.

That didn't start with Jesus, it just was made crystal clear when Emmanuel, God with Us, arrives in such a way that we can't deny it. It was true when God called the old man with no child in Abram, when God's people had no land and were slaves in Egypt, when they rebelled time and again and God did not disown them, but kept claiming them as God's own. And then there is Jesus. The one whose birth we celebrate tonight. Jesus who personifies those things we've talked about throughout Advent: Hope, Love, Joy, Peace.

Jesus, the bastard child born outside the dirtiest place in the city of David, is God with Us. The provider of Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace is nothing like who we expect. We take that so for granted now. We think of 33 year old Jesus who has performed miracles and shaken the world he was part of and we think we're the decedents of this God who came to earth and WON! The problem is, God with Us is only the example of what can be, and we are called to live into that holy night when Hope became flesh, Love took on our form, Joy was fully possible, and Peace began to be understandable. We are called to shake up a world full of comfort and full of stuff. Full of packages and things we think WE need. Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us doesn't come to give us some sort of prosperity gospel, no that good news isn't good at all. It's not enough to come out a winner, God with us means we have to work for so much more.

Our confirmands reminded us that we have to be the examples today of those attributes we assign to Jesus in this season. We must provide Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace for all, and that means living with Grace and Mercy. Grace for those who we may not agree with. Mercy for those struggling with things we may not understand. It doesn't matter what labels we want to give someone, all that matters is that we see them as created in the image of God, that we see others as God with Us. Our children's musical likewise reminds us that in a world where we often see things through a lens of what we want, that Christmas brings about a change in what is real. Never do we truly have no room, truly there is always “Room for everyone in Bethlehem this night.” That is the story of Christmas. There is room for all, hallelujah, amen.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sermon Outline

I don't usually write down anything when I preach, but due to feeling sick today, I decided to have an outline if I needed it.  Since many have asked me for a copy of today's message here is that outline:

  • Mark 1:29-38
    • Typical Jesus Text
      • Heal
      • Care
      • Provide Hope
    • Unexpected
      • Doesn't stay still
      • Cares for insiders
      • Cares for who comes to him
      • Goes to Care for those who don't come
    • Church
      • Should be likewise, equal care for all, don't just stay inside.
      • Nice encouraging sermon done.
  • 2 Timothy 13-18
    • What is scriptrure good for?
      • Initial learning
      • Testing the logic
      • Improvement
      • Living
    • NOT “Bible Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It”,
      • Rather “learn from these examples, and find new ways to do new things in a similar way”
      • Scripture like Jesus shows us “ways” to be, not “how things are to be”
  • Example: Korah
    • Under taught story
    • The story ends with vindication for Moses
    • The point of the story isn't don't question, but HOW Moses responds
      • Risk, what if he is wrong
      • Hope, God will still be focused on the “creative benefit” of all things regardless
      • Moses doesn't KNOW he's in the right
        • Regardless of how much he believes it, he is willing to be shown wrong
        • Thus will accept the consequences if he is
        • He doesn't fear, because of HOPE, and thus can RISK
  • Back to Mark
    • What are we willing to risk to follow the way of Jesus?
    • Where are we being called to go, even though we may be doing well where we are?
    • Are we willing to step away from good work, hear the spirit call, and go into the unknown?
    • Do we see ourselves as a place, a people, and/or a movement? Are we being what we're being called to be?
    • What happens to Jesus if he doesn't do all the things he does here? What might happen to us?
  • The Big Question
    • The last question is based on a problem in this world: Fear and Blame have great power in the world.
      • Can, and more importantly WILL the church be a place where living out the ideas of living by HOPE through RISKing ourselves creates a different narative for the world where we truly GO an d CARE for ALL, just as we would those closest to us?
      • Let us let go of FEAR, in our spirits, language, and living so we can grasp HOPE.
    • For scripture tells us that HOPE in the God who is LOVE changes everything if we will RISK. AMEN.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Word on Roanoke and the Church

My newsletter article changed after talking with a couple of people affected by the events in Roanoke VA today. A word about being church. This is not the only words that need to be said right now about how to be counter-cultural (speaking about violence and how we carry it out should also be forefront, as well as how to help heal a world isolated and divided) but it is A word that God has given me to speak.


There have been other words in this space, but the events of this morning, August 26, have caused me to change the words to fit something that has hit home once again today.

 The world we live in often feels on the edge of chaos. Some events seem to make no sense, and we as a culture are often afraid that this chaos will one day affect us even more directly. Some people even feel so overwhelmed by this that they do things that seem to make no sense to us in attempts to feel in control themselves. This is core it seems to our culture, "I must gain control over the things that are important to me and protect them."

There is value in being smart and measured with the things that matter to you, but when it comes to being a community of faith, the people of God, a church there is a different call.  As I've talked with a few friends this morning who are ministers in the Roanoke, VA area, our conversations about the shock in their community and resources that may help to talking about the events here in Charleston back in June. All of these conversations have included some form of "I get the impression that they've truly forgiven and are moving forward and aren't changing the open door policy that allowed this to happen. I'm not sure we'd trust outsiders so much if it was us."

Interestingly though, a couple of the conversations moved to talking about a crossover point of these two horrible events and church life. What do we do inside the church that helps people see that trying to maintain power and control isn't getting us anywhere near God's intent for us? How do we present the alternative to "protect this house," "seize what's mine," "I/we have to win," etc?

The big question that hit time and again was "What does a community of people who feel they have nothing to protect, but just everything to give, really look like, and how do we help churches become that?" I've never been in a church where everyone was like that, and we pondered if it was possible or if human nature meant that the systemic issues would always just keep coming around and "people being people" would always keep us from ever realizing what it's like to truly be church doing what Jesus asks of us and what Acts says the first church did.

Since then I've been thinking and praying around Jesus' teachings in Luke 6:27-36 and Matthew 5:38-47. In this time, I came to ponder if really requires everyone to create what church is meant to be, or if part of the issue is that thought itself. What if we each tried to be a person who feels (s)he has nothing to protect, just everything to give? What if each of us lived out these teachings and let the chips fall where they may? What if like Abraham, we risked sacrificing everything we love to God, knowing God and trusting God to be Love and to provide perfectly? We may never do it always or perfectly, but what if we tried?

We claim to worship a God who's actions throughout our scripture are based in Manna and Mercy. Can we as the church be the place where those things live? Can we risk our own desires and our own place, so that the Spirit can move freely? Can we be what our culture is not, a place and a people who do not seek vengeance, who do not seek recognition, who do not seek power or control, but exemplify what it means to freely give as God asks?
We're all in this together
"A"

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Choice of Purpose

Okay, I admit it, I thought I was done with this subject a couple weeks ago, like most blog posts that make the rounds with my friends the various "Let/Don't Let Your Kids Choose To Not Go To Church" posts came in a bunch and then we'd move on to whatever else someone thought was killing the church.  But NO, another round of "Get your kids into Sunday worship" posts are showing up. 

So, I've made my points on choice previously, but my issue with these are that they tie into everything I'm struggling with regarding this whole "church survival" culture. There are lots of points where this culture goes astray, but this recent series of articles hits two main ones.  1) Church = Sunday Morning Worship (or at least that large corporate worship is central to the idea of Church).  2) The objective of Church is to survive, and that means indoctrinating kids into the culture so that (maybe, hopefully) they'll find it essential to their adult lives. 

So let's talk about this: The church built around a large corporate worship as the only, best, or even "right" way to do church is dying.  Not for every congregation or context, but as a whole it is.  This is NOT what church is or what church needs to be in the new paradigm.  Worship will happen, but it's quite probable that it will happen in smaller groups, or at special times of the year, or both, or connected to mission and other parts of "Church," or who knows exactly, it should based on the new paradigm be contextual, organic, and relational.  And to be quite honest, for most churches, large corporate worship is not, and quite probably can not be that sustainably. 

So why then is this the drum that so many beat when it comes to the ideal of "helping our children be Godly?"  Probably in large part because it's what they know.  For many, Sundays at church was the norm, but it also was rarely (and most of the posts I've seen state this) the only way faith, religion, and/or spirituality interacted with their life.  The problem is that having spent most of our life in the Postmodern Transition, we create a false duality and over emphasize the roles of institutions which support our "truth."  This is not where we are today, and certainly for kids who have spent most of their life in the new paradigm is actually completely illogical.  Not saying that all kids who go to a Sunday large service of worship will turn against it, but coming to that will NOT keep anyone involved in the church or with their faith by itself.

If anything, for those who have spent most their lives in this relational paradigm of convergence, the separation of the world at the "worship hour" is going to present large issues with finding purpose unless it is supported by a connection to the rest of the world around us.  At some time in the near future there will be a tipping point where this struggle to maintain and survive will be the very thing that brings about an inevitable ending.

It is though the fear of this ending that I think causes us to write so many of the posts, to spend so much time reflecting on how to survive. Yet, it seems too often rather than being willing to risk letting things that we've always known and make us feel safe and connected to our ideas of "God," we think that we just need to focus on making others think the same way we do.  This is especially risky (in my opinion, as if everything we right isn't based on our opinions) when it comes to our children.  I struggle a lot with parenting, the ideas we ask our children to accept just because we hold them close to ourselves aren't always ones we should impose on our kids.  I started struggling with this with sports.  So often I see babies dressed in school or team colours, told to cheer on "our team" just because it's "mom's team" or "dad's team."

The thing is we don't stop with sports (and even if we did, I'd have lots to say, but that's a different post), we basically tell our children for years who God is, what God thinks, and sometimes go as far as to turn God into the global boogie man without meaning to.  We want our kids to think like we do, and we do it to the point of indoctrination.  That's a problem, I see it time and again at confirmation age.  There are kids who have never asked questions, they come to church because they're told to, they answer questions with certainty because they've been told what the right answer is, but when faced with realities that conflict with these answers, they don't know how to doubt, they don't know HOW to make a CHOICE! 

We've created a world filled with anxiety because these children have never existed within a world where there was a "right" path to a "single" truth.  Their world is relational and every thing that happens adds to the book they are doodling in (see previous blog posts for more on this) creating new understandings.  But we want faith not to be in THAT book, we want faith to be already written.  We want them to memorize the text book and never deviate from or question it. 

Have you looked at a GOOD children's educational book recently?  Many have more questions than answers.  Most new one's I've seen aim to put kids into the world their studying and then leave them room to go find more about the questions that matter to them.  We just finished our first youth literary circle here, they read the BFG by Dahl and they had so many different thoughts on the BIG stuff (Fear, Hope, Pain, Life, Ethics) that came from the reading it was hard to keep track of who asked what and who answered what and what all that lead to. 

We cannot indoctrinate our kids and expect them to survive in a world where the constant stream of information means that their reality is ALWAYS changing.  They need room to figure it out.  The things church provides are useful and important in that formation, but the idea that the other things of life are somehow less important, or even unequivocally less Godly than that Sunday morning thing is very misplaced.

So let's sum this up before the few people who have made it this far move on:
Going to church as a kid WILL NOT mean that they'll come to church as an adult.  This NEVER should have been our intent. I've seen in a number of posts the idea that when we have kids, people come back to church.  There were once statistics to support this, but that was mostly part of a modern way of thinking that became paramount in the postmodern transition to the idea that our truth was a truth based on a singular path.  The fact though is: if we're not going to be the kind of place that an individual thinks is important to THEIR OWN LIFE at any certain time, there was never anywhere to go but down, because as we are more able to see the complexities of the world, we look for places to engage our passions, and those places and people become most important.  The church CAN be that place, but we have to make it that place.  We have to let go of the idea that getting people in the door is our purpose, we have to let go of the things that make us comfortable, we have to stop trying to survive and become whatever it is our context needs most.  If we allow ourselves to be moved by the Spirit that envelops all things, WE will find our passions, our children can find their passions, and God's reign will move ever closer. 

<End Rant>

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Trinity Sunday Sermon

Nicodemus has a question for Jesus, one he never gets to ask, but the setup suggests a common theme:
The question is likely something like “Who are you really, Jesus?” or “What's going on here, Jesus?”
Regardless of the question that never get's asked, Jesus obviously wants Nicky to think, not to just give him an answer that he can agree or disagree with. I think that's true most of the time we come to God with “big” questions, we don't get an answer, but rather new challenges and questions that make us think, work, create, and move from where we're comfortable.

Today is trinity Sunday, and while we see the words, Jesus, Spirit, and God in today's text, the idea of trinity isn't as simple as seeing the words and believing these three beings, who are also a single being are sitting around a table talking about life like on our bulletin cover.

A discussion of the trinity is best done in a similar way to our text this morning. A look at what we know, what connections are to be made, and most importantly how that affects us going forward.

The base question behind the trinity is “Who is God, really?” or “What is going on here, God?” We ask these questions hoping to understand the world and our place in it, hoping to be let in the mystery that seems beyond our understanding. At the end of the day the trinity is a mystery, but searching for information and understanding is obviously part of this walk of faith, even if certainty never can be.

So where to start: The best place to start is the Abrahamic understanding of God as ONE, we cannot be faithful to the God we claim to follow if we do not understand God as a singular entity. With that in mind, we have to seek what is most universal about God. The one expression we have that seems most universal is:

God is Love.
God is Love, we see lots of meanings behind this, God provides, God saves, God seeks Justice, God is I AM, God is filled with Mercy, God provides Manna, God is Love. Love, another of those words that we think we understand, but time and again we can't seem to fully express love. We build beautiful monuments, both physical and in our lives, we sing and study with all we have, we through all our emotions into what we believe, but just like in scripture, the monuments fall, the songs and learning are for naught as God calls us to actions, and the emotions change as God calls us to Grace, Justice, Manna, Mercy time and again, challenging us to move further towards our intended image of Love. We always seek to live in the Image of Love, yet we fall short time and again of our created intent.

Jesus Is The Word.
The Word is Love fully expressed.
God on earth can only be one thing, Love expressed in human form. The Word of God brings all things into being, and this same word walked a human life in the form of Jesus. The Word is the stuff that we're all made up of. When we are made in the image of God, we're also told we can move mountains, we can create, we can walk the life of The Word. We often get caught up in what we think scripture says, and pick and choose what we want to use within this book, but when we speak of The Word of God, we need to remember that it is not words on paper, but the life of Jesus, and the eternalness of that life continuing to interpret scripture, life, and all of creation just as The Word did when it created every part of existence, and created us in that very same image. The Word is always creating, recreating, and living within each and every one of us, seeking universal reconciliation that will resurrect God's reign, as it conquers even death.

The Spirit Is The Wind of Wisdom.
The Spirit is Love moving throughout all things. The spirit may have landed on the church at Pentecost, but The Spirit has always been here. The spirit blows through the world enveloping all things, changing them like the wind. Jesus has some great wordplay in our text today, as the word for spirit and wind are one and the same. Yet, it is fitting to compare the two, because the wind cools us on a hot summer day, but it can also move trees, bridges, and even mountains. When we talk about faith, we really are speaking about listening to and discerning what the spirit is doing and joining in that. That's why we are able to move mountains, because they are going to be moved, we just get to join in. This means though that we don't get to choose which mountains move, or where they move to, the Spirit is doing that, because the spirit isn't a single flame on my head giving me wisdom, but it is spread out among all of creation, enveloping ALL parts, and filling the world with Love irresistible.

We often speak of the relational nature of God, how these three parts relate with each other and how that means we're also relational by nature. Humans, always seeking to escape aloneness because we were created to be relational in the image of a relational God. Yet, when we see God as ONE, it goes deeper than that. We are created in the image of LOVE, Love that creates ALL, provides for ALL, connects ALL, gives ALL, reconciles ALL, and moves ALL.

We must always remember, that no one sees God except in expressions of love, that to be born of the spirit is to be born of this love, and love, and thus life, is made up of Grace and Justice, Manna and Mercy, the universals of God's reign. We must though also always remember that no matter how much we know, how much we remember, how much we learn, that God is always there challenging us to move beyond our selves, beyond our understanding, and into the newness of Love, continually being born again via the spirit that is always changing the creation of LOVE.
Amen

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Simple Comissioning Liturgy

The call of Christ is to a willing, dedicated apostleship. Our apostleship is a manifestation of the new life we enter through baptism as we travel through the world. It is both a gift and commitment, as well as an offering and a responsibility. Today Alex Gilbert comes before us, as she begins her role as intern at the CROSS ministry of Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC. At this time I invite Gail Gilbert and Brooke Bazemore forward to join me in commissioning Alex.

Alex, we commission you, representing your family, your friends, and your church:

We send you with the knowledge, the grace bestowed on you in Baptism is sufficient for your calling because it is God’s grace. By God’s grace we are saved and enabled to grow in the faith and to commit our lives in ways that serve Christ. God has called you to particular service. Show your purpose by answering these questions.

Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, showing his love in word and action?
I will
Do you welcome the responsibility of this service, To love neighbors, And to work for the reconciling of the world?
I do
Will you serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love,
Relying on God’s mercy and rejoicing in the power Of the Holy Spirit?
I will
Do we, the congregation of Harbor View Presbyterian, confirm the call of God to our sister to this service?
We do
Will we support and encourage her in this ministry?
We will
We send you not away from us, but as part of us, loved by family, friends, and faith. We send you with prayers, with promises to be here as you need us, with our blessing. Go forth and do that which God has called you to do. Amen.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

No Choice

There is so much wrong with the recent posts making the rounds about kids and choosing church over sports and other things (or not letting it be a choice at all).  Issues include a twisted focus on family in faith, unhealthy parenting, and even some mixed signals regarding child development theory.  The biggest issue though is the focus on church or no church as a CHOICE, or a singular way. 

I have to say that the fear written into the post in question seems to be that of someone who spent most of their life in the modern paradigm and the post-modern transition.  The way the world works is not the same as those time periods and the fear of the author is one that echoes the anxiety of our culture that has yet to come to terms with how the world now works.

So, before we get into how the world works now, let's look at how the term "choice" came to be at the center of this issue.  For the sake of simplicity let's look at life as if it was literature.  In modernity we acted as if we were all in one story, one great novel, where all things were working towards one great end and all we had to do was find our place in the novel and play our part.  The problem is that at some point it became clear that there wasn't just one single ending, and we weren't all really working on that same story.  This is where Post-Modernity stepped in.  Suddenly we were all in choose your own adventure books. The choices we made created a story and once we made a choice we had to play out that story before starting over, or finding out what our ending was.  We were each working on our own story and those who chose like we chose were on the same path to the same ending. 

Of course, you can see where I'm going, can't you?  The thing is that the idea of this bianary choice (this or that) or even other limited in the moment choosing (this, or this, or this, or that), doesn't work when put to the test.  Life isn't about the choices we make.  Yes, they play a part, but the road we take isn't what gets us places, it's the traveling.  So as we travel we create the world we live in, that is the definition of the new paradigm, it is a place of convergence, a relational paradigm where whatever we create relationally defines our world.

That means that it's not about choosing something over something else, and that's hard because that means we have even less control over the outcome than we thought we did.  Yet, God time and again reminds us we're not in control, nor should we try to be.  We live, we interact, we create, we relate, just like a God who does the same things.  The fact is that the world is not a choose your own adventure book for each of us, nor is it a novel where we must find our place, it is an endless sketch book, full of blank pages. Each page we start working on may get finished or it may not, we may come back to it or we may rip it out, but each page we work on influences what we work on later, but there are no rules as to what we are to work on, we each get to create that, with the help of the Spirit of God. 

There is great freedom in this, and even greater faith.  We've treated faith like something akin to anxiety for so long, we've created a world where we compare stats, ask for choices to be made right here and now, and remove all context from everything we do.  Life isn't about this or that, it's about whatever we create and the God within that creation.  We need to stop worrying about the church's place in that creation.  Stop worrying that God can't create in ways we don't understand.  We need to embrace the beauty of a paradigm where a Creative God's image in each of us can come through without fear, without anxiety, without bounderies, but instead filled with the confidence to risk, to fail, to have to rely on grace, manna, and mercy and not on our own "Choice."