Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Balance Between Confidence and Repentance

Townshend shown smashing his guitar
which violently celebrates assurance.
This may also show the need for reflection!
Robert Frost once said, “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.”  I wonder if Pete Townshend of The Who was thinking about this quote when he wrote the Baba O’Riley lyric, “I don’t need to fight, to prove I’m right.  I don’t need to be forgiven.” 

The Townshend quote seems to speak about self-assurance and may have been influenced from the anti-war movement of the late-1960’s and early 1970’s.  I think it challenges basic ideas of worth and value from that era.
It also simultaneously supports and opposes Christian theology:

  Violence is not necessary when debating ideas. 

   Forgiveness is necessary by everyone.

This speaks to me of balance within the Christian tradition.  Christianity would certainly support self-assurance as lifted up by Frost (and Townshend).  We speak of being made in God’s image.  The psalmist writes that human beings are “a little lower than the angels.” (Psalm 8:5)  We seek to become Christ-like in our actions within the Wesleyan tradition.

Yet, we also recognize that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  The doctrine of original sin places humanity in a state where all people are in need of God’s grace.  I have argued that evolutionary science agrees with this stance with the idea that the reptile brain or more primitive brain that is present in mammals contains the fight or flight mentalities that people revert to when stressed.  In other words, science points out that we all have selfish tendencies that we need to overcome.    

So I would argue that in order to become more Christ-like in our actions, we do need forgiveness.  More importantly, we need repentance.  While confidence is important to achievement, confidence without reflection is dangerous.
As I continue to preach on “Preparing for Presence,” what does the Incarnation have to do with repentance?  Our lectionary reading for the Gospel is Matthew 3:1-12 and John the Baptizer certainly emphasizes the need for our repentance.  How does this help us to prepare for Christmas?

My sermon title for Sunday will be “Yes, I’m Okay and You’re Okay.  But Not All the Time.”  We’ll broadcast it via Facebook live or you can review it later on the church’s Facebook page if you can’t join us in person.  My hope is that the sermon won’t cause you to lose either your temper or your self-confidence!

In Christ,


Photo by Heinrich Klaffs [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, November 21, 2016

If Only Cool Whip Could Cover My Sins

Thanksgiving will be here before we know it. 

That's about half of the amount of whipped cream
that Sheryl likes on her pumpkin pie!
My son, David, and I have a tradition that we’ve started where we bake a couple of pumpkin pies.  They are the opposite of baking from scratch in that we buy canned pumpkin along with a frozen pie crust.  We call it “Dump, Bake, Done” in that we dump all the ingredients in a mixing bowl, pour it into the pie crust, bake it and then we are done. 

Let’s face it, when you slather a warm piece of pumpkin pie in cool whip, the best piece of pumpkin pie you ever had was probably not all that different from the worst piece.

It also has the added teasing bonus of driving David’s sister Kyla crazy in that she has baked from scratch before and insists that we aren’t doing it right!

Following Thanksgiving will be Black Friday when the retailers go in the black.  Of course, now you can start shopping Thursday night if you don’t mind making people work on Thanksgiving.  I’ve done the Black Friday thing before, waking up super early to get to the big box store.  While some people may really enjoy the competitive shopping and make this an annual rite, I've discovered it's not for me.

All of the feasting, wrangling with relatives and Christmas shopping leads us to the first Sunday of Advent over the weekend.  This year, I’m preaching a four-week series entitled, “Preparing for Presence” as we think about the doctrine of the Incarnation.
The first Sunday’s lectionary reading is Matthew 24:36-44 and it deals with the unexpected intrusion of God in our lives.  It has kind of a negative connotation.  I know many people who defend it, saying, “If you are right with the Lord, you have nothing to fear.”  Of course, many of these same people often espouse a dim view of humanity and a high regard for our capacity to sin.  So according to them, while it might not be difficult to get right with the Lord, it is often difficult to stay right with the Lord. 

So while the connotation of this passage is often seen as negative, could there be a silver lining to an unexpected visit?  As we think about preparing for the presence of God during Christmas, maybe we need to think about how we treat one another.  I know that many will want to think about this after Thanksgiving but respect and civility is not lost on our relatives.  Hmm.  Maybe David and I will not loudly proclaim “Dump!”  “Bake!”  “Done!” so enthusiastically around Kyla this year.

In Christ,


Photo via, used under the Creative Commons license.  

Monday, November 14, 2016

The End of the (Christian) Year is Already Here!

Well, we are already to the end of the year.  I know, you're thinking, "We haven't even celebrated Thanksgiving yet!"

And of course, you're correct.

Liturgically, the Christian calendar ends this Sunday with "Reign of Christ" or "Christ the King" Sunday.  As we tell the story of Jesus in worship throughout the year, we are getting ready to begin again, looking toward the birth of Jesus with the four Sundays of Advent.  So at the end of the Christian year, we look toward how Jesus is Lord of all creation at the end of time.

As we finish with Year C, we've been looking primarily at Luke's Gospel (we do jump around with John's Gospel in each liturgical year).  We will begin Advent back in Year A with the emphasis on Matthew.  But we have to finish first with Year C and this week's reading will be Luke 23:33-43.  For those who don't have the Bible memorized (I realize there are a few of you) or don't have time to click the link, this is a recount of Jesus on the cross.  He's having a conversation with the two bandits crucified with him.

Did I mention that this is Reign of Christ Sunday?
Altötting, Panorama Kreuzigung Christi von Gebhard Fugel, Detail

This may seem like an odd passage to emphasize. Out of the whole of Luke's Gospel, this is the one we feature for how Jesus is in charge of the universe?

If it were me and the leaders were mocking me, I sure wouldn't forgive them of their sins.  Or if a bandit kept taunting me, I would have a quick word of rebuke in response. Yet Jesus remains silent.

Maybe he is in charge after all.

He doesn't let his outrage or vengeance rule over him.  He doesn't force belief on those around him.  They have a choice to behave - just as we all do.

Yet, Jesus gives the example of one who serves the world, giving his very life.  I think this shows that God was not the one who demanded the sacrifice in order to forgive. Jesus forgives them before he's even dead.  This shows us that human beings demand blood from time to time.  In that time, a sacrificial culture linked blood sacrifice with forgiveness.  Christian theology showed that if this is what people needed to accept forgiveness, then God is willing in Jesus Christ to die as the sacrificial lamb (O Lamb of God that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me.).

Of course, the resurrection adds to the suspension of evil and injustice winning out.

We see resurrection taking place even here on the cross.

With God's help, I can forgive those who injure me.  I have this wonderful example of a Lord who is not worried about accolades.  He doesn't even feel the need to defend himself because love is stronger than hate.

That's a reign that is difficult to comprehend.

But it is a reign I can get behind.

Happy New Year!

In Christ,


Picture by Allie_Caulfield from Germany [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, November 7, 2016

Make America Great Again or Stronger Together?

This is a difficult time in our country.  No matter who wins the presidential election, there will be a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Congress will likely continue to stall out with regards to legislation as it becomes increasingly difficult to work across the aisle.  

There are lots of negatives in this election cycle and the system seems broken.

Yet it is a privilege to live in this country.  We have freedoms that are guaranteed to us by law.  We have the right to vote on leadership who will represent us – even if our particular choice does not prevail.

We have the freedom to worship as we choose.

In our weekly staff meeting, we addressed the rending of our nation’s morale over this election.  The question was posed, “As we acknowledge the political divide in our country, what are things you think the church could do to help the nation heal?”

We had some good discussion but unfortunately, we didn’t come up with any revolutionary programs that would be a magic fix. 

We did remind ourselves that Christians are a people who are respecters of others – even if they have differing views.  We encourage civil discourse.  We cast a vision for people who think differently to come together under God.

Within worship, when we pray a prayer of confession, we acknowledge that none of us gets it right all of the time.  Furthermore, we recognize that God’s grace is freely available to all human beings.

Regardless of political persuasion, most Americans want security and freedom.  They want possibilities and potential.  They want these things for their loved ones.  They want satisfaction for a job well done and they want the work they do to make a larger difference in the world. 

These are things that Christians want as well.  Only we don’t just want them for ourselves or our family members.  We want them for all people because we are taught to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  This is what allows us to help with the healing of our nation. 

This Sunday, we will look at the lectionary passage from Isaiah 65:17-25.  It is very timely, I believe and I hope you’ll take a moment to read it.  Join us as we continue to lead our community in both “making America great again” and being “stronger together.”  After all, these may only be political slogans and we may be jaded by our leadership but the people make up the character of a country.  If we decide to make them our reality, we may find the leadership is trying to catch up to the people!

I hope you'll pray for our country and our elected leaders (no matter who wins) - that you'll pray for our church and our people!

In Christ,


Photo by Memphis CVB via, used under the Creative Commons license.