Sunday, July 27, 2014

Death Sometimes Brings Clarity to Life

Dr. John Rusco was my campus minister when I attended college at OSU.  He was a serious man whose eyes twinkled when he smiled.  He often saw the humor in life and enjoyed the students.

But at the same time, he could often ask serious questions that penetrated to the heart of the matter.

Once when we were studying the feeding of the 5,000 (where Jesus feeds a multitude with only a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish), John told me about one idea of interpretation that said that as the example of the boy's willingness to share what he had, others began to come forward and share what they had until they realized that they had enough for a feast!

This is similar to the idea of stone soup.

Naturally, the inclination is to be scandalized by this interpretation.  It seems to take away the miraculous intervention of Jesus into the world.  This interpretation feels kind of like seeing a magic trick explained.  We want to believe in the impossible - if only rarely.

The brightly colored stole you see me wearing during
Ordinary Time was one that John often wore and was
given to me by his family after he died.
Did Jesus physically multiply the loaves or did his teaching inspire sharing among humanity?

Whichever interpretation you favor, the feeding of the hungry as well as sharing what we have with those in need are both Christian values.

On some days, I prefer the miraculous but on others I see the true miracle is when a heart feels compassion and gives up precious resources so that someone else may live.

John had a way of keeping things stirred up and keeping us talking about different ways in which we might live out our faith.

Years later, when I found out John had cancer, I went to visit him in the hospital.  We shared Holy Communion and in this way, I was able to share the bread of life with him just as he had done with me.

When he decided that the cancer wasn't going to go away, he asked me along with another minister, Scott Sharp, to meet with him and to plan for his funeral service.  We shared in his life until he grew tired and needed to sleep.  It was a good afternoon but it was kind of bittersweet.

His death was sobering to me.  It really made me examine my own ministry and look at what God was truly calling me to do.

As we look at the feeding of the 5,000 this Sunday, we see that Jesus has just learned about the death of the man who baptized him, John the Baptist.  Jesus truly believed that John was a great man.  He was upset and sought to withdraw - maybe to examine his own ministry in light of John's death.  But the people followed him and this may have validated his own sense of identity.  He begins to teach them.  Instead of sending them away when he is finished, he feeds them.

This tells us much about the identity of the one we call Lord.

It gives us an idea of who we are to be for the world as his followers.

I'm looking forward to being back in the pulpit this Sunday and hope you'll join us for worship Sunday morning if you're in the Edmond area!

In Christ,


Picture taken at Edmond First United Methodist Church on 7/27/2014 by Robert Bost

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Kingdom of God is like a... weed?

Mustard plants are not trees.
This Sunday's lectionary scripture for the Gospel focuses on a lot of the smaller parables in chapter thirteen of Matthew which includes the famous parable of the mustard seed.

I know, I know, being faithful in a small thing can lead to something large.


But as we look at the parable, there may be more there than this particular truth.  In fact, the mustard plants were seen as weeds by the Hebrew people at that time and they tried to get rid of them.   They were not trees as Matthew mentions so why would he name them as such?  We can see that Matthew has included Mark's definition of the mustard plant as a shrub and evolved it into a tree.

It could be that this is a play on the comparison of Israel to a mighty cedar in Ezekiel 17:22-23.  It is also mentioned as a home to various living creatures.

But if the mustard seed was seen as something invasive - something that was hard to get rid of - does that change the reading of the parable?

What if Jesus had said, "The Kingdom of God is like crab grass that someone deliberately spreads in your Bermuda lawn and it takes over and you can't get it out!"

Have we let the Kingdom of God invade our lives like this?  Or do we use too much spiritual Roundup to keep our lives neat and tidy?

I'm looking forward to this Sunday as we explore these particular parables as told by Matthew.  Steel-toed boots might be appropriate wear in case Jesus decides to step on them a little.

In Christ,


Picture By Amit Kaushal via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

I'm Not Opposed to Separating Out the Weirdos Until I'm One of Them

There's a great dichotomy among Christian parents when it comes to values raising their children.

On one hand, we like to stress that we prefer our children to be surrounded by friends whose parents have similar values to ours.  We prefer their friends to be clean-cut with good manners and even better grades.

Then at church, we often remind children that a Christian value is to include those on the outside looking in.  We talk about befriending the new kid at school or sitting with the one who is left out.

We often assume that these are just the lonely nerds - the different ones who are awkward socially.  But what if they are the kids who get in trouble?

What if they are the kids whose parents don't give them curfews?

What if these are the kids with an extended vocabulary or, worse yet, an extended knowledge of all things R-rated?

Then we begin to stray away from this value.  The biggest difficulty comes in trusting that our kids will be the ones doing the influencing rather than being influenced.

This strange tension is what we'll be looking at in worship this Sunday.  Our lectionary passage will be from the parable of the weeds and the wheat as told in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.

What do we do when the weeds are allowed to grow among us?

And what if (with apologies to Pogo), "we have met the weed and he is us?"

Monday, July 7, 2014

Cast Your Seeds Indiscriminately

One of the best seeds Sheryl and I ever planted was by accident.

We were in Drummond at the town park for the annual watermelon feed.  It was a lot of fun and I think I ended up getting into a seed spitting fight with the youth.
Does anyone else see ammunition when you look at this picture?

In the summertime, everyone loses when this happens.  You end up sticky and covered in watermelon juice and this attracts mosquitoes like nobody's business!

Before all of this, we would mingle around the park with the residents, meeting new people.  I remember running into John and Tammy Curtis and visiting with them for quite a while.  They were members of the First Baptist Church in town and quite active.  I didn't even think of them as prospects since they already had a church home.

Imagine my surprise when they showed up at our church that January unannounced. Their daughter Ashleigh was a sixth grader and we had a large contingent of her school class enrolled in our confirmation program.  It was starting and they declared that Ashleigh was going through it with the other students.

I was a little stunned.  I didn't want to take active Christians away from a smaller church that needed them.  But if they were determined to give us a try, I was not going to make it difficult!

They soon became active members of our church and discovered that The United Methodist Church was a better fit for them.  They were at the church whenever the doors were open and John eventually became our Lay Leader.  As we shared in Bible Study together, John answered God's call to pastoral ministry and began to serve as a Local Pastor in some of our churches in Oklahoma.  His daughter Ashleigh went on to work as a Youth Minister in our conference as well.  This seed has sprouted 100 fold and I didn't even know I was planting it!

But God knew.

I didn't think of our conversation as sowing seeds.  I didn't think of our activity in the community as sowing seeds.  I didn't think about going to school functions as sowing seeds.  I didn't even think (ironically) of spitting seeds at kids in the park and allowing them to return fire as sowing seeds.  But all of these things work together with God to speak to people about our church.

The culture of a church is impacted by how you speak of it to your neighbors.  It is impacted by how you let it influence the way you treat others.

The thing about the parable of the sower is that he is not sensible at all in spreading the seed.  He tosses it this way and that as if he has an endless supply.

Maybe the point of the parable is that it is sometimes difficult for us to identify what is good soil and what is rocky or thorny.  What looks like a hard path might just be receptive to what we are planting.

Only God knows.

So spread that seed far and wide.  You never know when a conversation will make a world of difference.  Maybe even 100 fold!

In Christ,


Picture by Caroline Ford (Secretlondon) - Own work, used under Creative Commons

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Baby, We Were Born to...Sin?

Okay, the title is a take-off from the old Bruce Springsteen song, "Born to Run".

But my spoofed title speaks to the Christian doctrine of Original Sin.  Sometimes this is called Birth Sin in that it is inherited as human begins pass it down from generation to generation.

It is the sin of Adam and Eve when they disobeyed God and were exiled from the Garden of Eden.

As the archetypal humans, they then pass on this exiled or fallen state to the rest of humanity.  The "cure" is that those in Christ are as without sin before God.
"The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise" by Benjamin West

This was the doctrine of the Church for a long time.  Within the United States, this has taken hits from two major schools of thought: the Enlightenment and Democracy.  The former in the way we know and the latter in the rise of the individual.

As we are used to the American court system, we can't imagine the injustice of being found guilty for what someone else did.  Why must we bear the sin of Adam and Eve?

Although derived from the Bible, the doctrine of Original Sin is not spelled out in the Bible but comes from theologians and church councils.

Augustine was a chief proponent of original sin.  He carried this to another level altogether.

In fact, Augustine believed that the souls of babies that died before they were baptized went to Hell.  This was a belief of the Roman Catholic Church for a number of years before the church decided on a theological position that did not reflect so poorly on God.

As United Methodists, our Book of Worship states that "...United Methodism does not teach that infants who die before they are baptized will be denied full salvation.  United Methodism has always strongly affirmed the biblical teaching that Christ died for all, and that God's prevenient grace is available to all and is sufficient for such children." (The United Methodist Book of Worship, p. 83).

Is sin a state that we are in or is it merely something we do?

How does being "in Christ" make a difference with regards to sin?  Certainly, Christians continue to sin after baptism and after justification.

This is an important topic that comes from the epistle reading in this Sunday's lectionary: Romans 7:15-25.

I'll be dealing with this in my sermon on Sunday entitled, "Sometimes This is the Message We Hear from the Church: 'You're a Really Horrible Person but Luckily Jesus Loves You Anyway'."

What do you think, are people inherently evil or innately good?  Or something in between?

In Christ,


A little musical reflection on the topic:

Benjamin West [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons