Sunday, May 29, 2016

Holiness or Hospitality?

On Sunday, I started a series on Galatians.  While the lectionary covers most of the letter over the next few weeks, I have decided to deviate slightly from this path and take on a chapter each week.  Chapter one really allowed us to look at the overarching issue of grace and the essentials of salvation.

Technology brings joy and information to us
but also certainly has changed the way
we relate to each other.  Has it intruded
on our hospitality for one another?
As we get into chapter two, it becomes clear that the old arguments of holiness versus hospitality were springing forth in the early church. Those residing within the holiness faction wanted to be very clear on what God allowed from God's people. Because dietary restrictions were not observed by Gentiles, some Mosaic Law-abiding Christians refused table fellowship with them at meals.

Paul notes in the letter that Peter seemed to waffle on this.  This shouldn't surprise those who know of Peter's character from the Gospels.  He often means well.  In fact, it is Peter's wavering that help us to realize that doing the right thing is often difficult when those around us are encouraging us to go back to what is "normal".  When we attempt large changes in systems, the system will rise up in defiance!

If Paul had not been adamant in his table fellowship with Gentiles, it is likely that I would not be writing this blog piece or that you would be reading it!  Hospitality with those outside the mainstream also seems to be a an emphasis of the ministry of Jesus.  In fact, his engagement with those outside the Law is often confusing to his own disciples. This seeming confusion allows some scholars to ponder how much influence Paul's movement had over the recollection of the stories of the disciples as the Gospels were written down roughly a generation after Paul's letters.

How is hospitality related to grace?  Paul definitely ties the two together.

As we take on the character of Jesus Christ as his followers, we are to exhibit grace in ways that surprise those outside the church today.  This is important for us in many ways as we seek to be the church to a society that seems unwilling to hear from the institution but might be open to listening to Jesus.

In Christ,


Picture by Paul Townsend via Creative Commons license. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Heading to Portland

Every four years (known as a quadrennium), The United Methodist Church gathers delegates elected from each of its annual conferences around the world in order to worship, share and re-order ourselves for the purpose of how we might be the best witness to Jesus Christ in the world for the next four years.

As United Methodists, we order ourselves around biblical principles that are codified as rules with which we covenant to abide that are known as The Book of Discipline.  These rules may stipulate how we care for our property or treat our staff.  They line out the process for becoming ordained as clergy.  They offer guidance for social matters in secular society.  They organize how bishops are elected and function.  They provide checks and balances so that power is shared with clergy and laity alike.  The rules provide for reviews and accountability for when a perceived injustice is committed. 
This time, the General Conference will be held in Portland, Oregon from May 10-20.  Seven clergy and seven laity were elected from the Oklahoma Conference to serve as our delegation and I was fortunate enough to be the fifth clergy elected.  I first served in 2004 when we went to Pittsburgh and I was elected as a Juridictional delegate which also serves as an alternate to General Conference.  This means that we can sub in to vote for one of the General delegates since the conference lasts around 10 days.  I served again as a Jurisdictional delegate in 2008 in Forth Worth and then as a General delegate in 2012 in Tampa.
Here I am speaking to the membership issue
 at the 2008 General Conference.  You can see by
the body language of the other delegates
that I have them enthralled!

I’ve written legislation for our Discipline, some of which has passed and more which hasn’t.  One of the pieces had to do with church membership.  I argued that laity should have the final say on whether or not they could join a church.  The current rule is that the senior pastor is the final deciding factor and may choose to deny membership to a person seeking to join the church.  There is the sense from caution that there might be circumstances where for the sake of the congregation’s protection, membership should be denied.  I feel that if we are truly witnesses of God’s grace, this extends to all people and that the Body of Christ should be strong enough to overcome any problems or baggage that people may bring with them.

Other legislation I presented had to do with our online presence as a denomination.  I would still like to see the Discipline available for free online.  Amazingly, we are not there yet.

It is likely that we will argue over issues of human sexuality as has been the case for the last forty-four years.  My own position has been to err on the side of grace rather than judgment.  My prayer is that our denomination will be a stronger witness to faith in Christ than before.  I believe that our Wesleyan understandings of grace speak quite rationally to a world that seems ever more resistant to listen to the Gospel message.

I would appreciate your prayers not only for me but for all of those serving in Portland.  If you would like to watch the proceedings online, you can do so here.  Worship and preaching will be good and you can access the schedule in this pdf file (pages 8-12) here.  Floor debate will begin on Monday, May 16.  What is important to remember when you see United Methodists come at an issue from different angles is that we all love God and want the church to succeed.  We simply have differing ideas on how we best do that as a church.  So you see, the General Conference is not so much different than the local church today or from the early church viewed from the letters of Paul!  

In Christ,


Monday, May 2, 2016

Feeding the Sheep

This Sunday will be the seventh and final Sunday of the Easter cycle for 2016.  During these Great Fifty Days, we have examined how the resurrection continues to impact our lives and our outlooks today.  In worship, we shall continue in the Gospel of John with 21:15-19.

Within this text, the resurrected Christ asks Peter three times, "Do you love me?"

I always kind of felt sorry for Peter in this story.   I've been on the side of being questioned when I was in the wrong and it's never comfortable.  Why does Jesus seemingly badger Peter about this?

One popular interpretation is that this gives Peter the chance to publicly affirm Jesus three times since he denied him three times after his arrest.

Sometimes tending the flock includes keeping them together!
When I was growing up, I heard in sermons that Jesus uses the Greek word agape for the first two times which refers to a more unconditional love.  Then Jesus uses the Greek word philia which is more commonly thought of as brotherly love for the final question.  Sometimes preachers would read into this the idea that Jesus didn't quite buy Peter's attestation of agape and settled for philia.  This kind of shaming seems inconsistent with Jesus and it doesn't make sense for John to end his Gospel on this note.  One of my professors in seminary, Gail O'Day, challenges this notion in her commentary on John as she states that the author simply uses the words for love more interchangeably as he does with the "disciple whom Jesus loved."1

I see these questions as both a challenge and an affirmation.  They come to Peter who leads the church as we move into the next chapter of the Christian story at the end of the Gospel.  And so, along with Peter, we are all affirmed as Jesus charges us with his own mission.  Jesus actually has faith in us that we can do this!  At this same time, it is a challenge in that it is not an easy task.

The church is still working on what it means to feed the sheep of Jesus.  Sometimes we get it right and other times we fail miserably which is also Peter in a nutshell.  Maybe the real point of this story is that Jesus doesn't give up on Peter.  And so Jesus doesn't give up on us as well.

I'm looking forward to exploring this text more on Sunday morning as we put ourselves in Peter's shoes!

In Christ,


Photo by Wayne Seward via, used under the creative commons license.  

1 O'Day, Gail R.  "The Gospel of John: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections", The New Interpreter's Bible, Volume IX.  Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998, 860.