Tuesday, August 30, 2016

What the Open Table Says about God's Grace

I caught the tail end of an interview with Tom Hanks on Fresh Air yesterday.  He started speaking about all of his various exposures to different denominations including Catholic, Mormon and Nazarene.  Currently, Hanks is Greek Orthodox.

He mentioned his difficulties with each brand claiming that they had it correct:

And every single one of them were presented to me as the only way to go. This is - we are the only ones that have this right. And when you have had four versions that are very, very different from each other of this brand of spirituality and theology, and four of them have all said we're the only ones that matter. Well, you kind of think at the age of 13, 14, well, you know, it's not the only one.

One of the things that I appreciate about The United Methodist Church is that we are ecumenical.  We believe that God is working through our church but we also would claim that God is at work through other churches as well.  We see God at work beyond our own walls.  

This comes from following Wesley's understanding of prevenient (preceding) grace.  If God is at work in our lives before we realize or understand it, then God is at work in others' lives before they know it as well.  God who is active may work through a variety of ways.  As a pastor, I may have an appeal to some in my preaching while others may find me lacking.  They may find greater meaning in another preacher's sermons.  This is not threatening but natural that God would speak through a variety of people in a variety of ways because we are all created differently.

This sense of God seeking us out no matter where we are in our faith journey is a primary reason we offer the open table for Holy Communion.  By this, I mean that all are welcome to receive.  This differs from some denominations that restrict the Lord's Supper to only those who are members of their church.  The restriction is because the sacred nature of the meal is seen as presented for the faithful (those who have taken the proper vows and bring the proper understanding).  The wider nature of the meal may be lost on those who are not believers.

Our open table looks at it differently.  John Wesley thought that this sacrament was a converting ordinance meaning that people could come to faith in Christ through receiving the elements.  If God is drawing all people into relationship, then what better way to come to faith then to commune with the Body of Christ?  The open table reminds those who are members that God's grace is available to all people.  This theology is missional in that we are renewed in our belief that God is working beyond our own walls.

The next time you receive Holy Communion, may it be a reminder that we are also sent out beyond our walls to share God's grace with the world!

In Christ,


Picture used via Flickr.com through Creative Commons.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Extraordinary Love

"...we can say with confidence,

'The Lord is my helper;
    I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?'”

                        Hebrews 12:6 (NRSV)

Of course, people can do lots of horrible things to us.  They betray us and lie about us. They harm us in ways that can be substantial.  

Unfortunately, we learn our lessons well.  If someone hurts me, I may not trust them again.

If I encounter enough people who harm me, I may develop a wariness for people in general.

Some call this practical and it may be to an extent.  

But this is not how God sees people.

One time, after preaching a funeral, one of the children of the deceased came to me afterward, clearly upset, and exclaimed, "That was not how I knew her at all.  You painted too rosy a picture, pastor."

I usually don't speak of a person's ugliness at a funeral, even if it was pretty characteristic. Because no matter how bad a person was, there is good in them too.  Of course, with some people, we may have to hunt a little longer!

After a fit of anger, I often regret my behavior. How
often do we let circumstance dictate our response?
But when a person is in Christ, God forgives their sins and sees them as righteous. And so for a funeral, I am preaching about them as God sees them.  

One might say, "But, you're not telling everything you know!" and this would be correct.  Revealing all we know for the world to see is usually not a kindness and it rarely corrects behavior that is problematic.  Especially if the person is deceased!

The author of Hebrews asks the question, "What can anyone do to us?" and when it comes from a position of faith, we answer with confidence, "nothing!"

Even though this is not always true, it is paradoxically true because our faith moves us beyond injury.  What else is the ability to forgive?  God allows me to rise above my wounds.  They no longer define me.  Once I allow them to define me, I become a victim.  


But in Christ, we are strong enough to love a world that is much of the time unlovable. We can do it because the Lord is our helper.  With God's help, we don't even have to wait until they die!  And so we keep trying to love in spite of the hurdles.  And even as I tremble with fear, I will rise up and proclaim, "I will not be afraid."

May it be so for you.

In Christ,


Photo from Flickr.com, used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Defining God

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.
                                                                                                   Hebrews 12:28-29

One of the most difficult tasks I have is to identify God at work in the world today.  This is difficult because in a way, this is defining God.  I recognize that I am limited.  I am shaped by my environment, my culture, and my family each of which are not mutually exclusive.

As a preacher, I have to be aware of bias.  Am I reshaping God in my own image?  Does God care about the things that I care about or do I care about the things that God cares about?  Although this question seems like it ventures into the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin, it is actually a little more profound.  My hope is that I continually allow myself to be shaped by God even when it is difficult.

For instance, when we started Worship on Hurd at 10:50 am, it would have been a lot less work for us to simply continue with what we were doing.  Traditional worship comes more easily to me.  It would be easier to only have one worship space.  It would be simpler to have only one worship style.  One bulletin.

Offering different musical styles requires different leadership as well.  This means more people to work with.

So if God were not part of the equation for me, we would have two services in the sanctuary (I realize that this statement is highly ironic).  However, God calls us to reach out with our faith to all people.  In order to be effective in this and to effectively utilize the space we just built, I felt that God was calling us as a congregation to offer something new.  This doesn't mean that our sanctuary worship was broken.  It doesn't meant that it is ineffective.  It does mean that we recognize that God creates a diverse humanity.

Sometimes, we remake God into our own image.  This is the height of idolatry.  All people participate in this from time to time - we repent of it. We repent of trying to put God in a box.
Sometimes our theology looks a lot like a "selfie"

A box that we are comfortable with.

A box that is not so dissimilar from who we are at this very moment in time.

A box that when we gaze inside looks more like a mirror than a window.

Worship requires that we look through the window.  We look at the mysterious, infinite God.  We try to define God in snippets and bits of experience and revelation as it relates to the biblical witness.  And then we invite God to change our own natures and behaviors to fall more in line with the mystery.

This Sunday, we'll continue to see how our faith is a source of strength to us through Hebrews 12:18-29.  How could God as mystery be a source of strength?  We'll share in this together at 8:30, 10:50 or 11 am!

In Christ,


Photo used under the Creative Commons license via Flickr.com