Monday, January 29, 2018

Is a Chameleon Faking It?

Lectionary Reading: 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 (NRSV)

Sheryl took this picture of the octopus under
a rock (to the left) with David looking on.
One of the most fascinating creatures I've observed in the wild was an octopus while snorkeling off the coast of St. John's island a few years ago.  The water was only about four feet so we could really see it moving around.  Sheryl captured it on video and you can see the octopus changing colors like a chameleon.  It was captivating!

As we think about this ability to adapt to one's surroundings, we can see Paul's attempt in Sunday's epistle to be "all things to all people" so that he might convince them of the importance of faith in Jesus Christ.  Would this be perceived as "real" by others or is Paul just marketing himself as a means to an end?  

We have a need to be authentic in today's culture.  If a pastor is judged to be fake in some form or fashion, he or she is quickly cast aside.  I've heard evangelists tell pastors to explore hobbies or interests so that you have an opportunity to meet people outside your church.  Some churches pay for country club fees in order to expose their pastor to others in this setting.  The idea behind this is that the relationships formed on the golf course might translate into the salvation of the rest of those teeing it up.  Unfortunately for me, I struggle to be a Christian on the golf course so rarely play!

But if I only engage in my hobbies in order to get in closer to you, it seems a bit contrived.  Most people don't see you as truly interested in them but only as another number in the heavenly tally.  It appears disingenuous.    

But for Paul, his real interest is your salvation in Jesus Christ.  It supersedes anything else for him including his personal hobbies or interests.  Paul's hobby is salvation.  Along with his main work and his leisure activity.  

So for today, we might look at salvation not so much as the moment of personal epiphany but as the relationship we have with God through our lifetimes.  So in this sense, meeting people where they are conveys the salvation that is more of a process than a moment.  

As we see God's grace pervading all of life, we can recognize the variety of ways that people can encounter it.  And so for some in Paul's day, it was discovered under the law.  For others, it was realized outside the law.  And for still others, it was portrayed even in their weakness.  Paul became all things to all people in order to share the universal application of God's grace.

This Sunday, I'll continue to explore this idea in my sermon entitled, "What is our Common Ground?"  We'll look at God's call for us to relate to one another in Christ.  If you can't join us in person, check us out online!

In Christ,


Monday, January 22, 2018

Me Versus All Y’all

Lectionary Reading: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 (NRSV)

Our country has long been a champion of individual rights and freedoms with the Bill of Rights leading the way.  Individualism is a big part of American culture.  There is a growing sense that acting outside of socially acceptable norms will be corrected by those who come into contact with this behavior.  Of course, sometimes the offensive actions are ignored.  Those who are lazier more tolerant may think, “Let someone else police this jerk!”
There are certain freedoms we curtail individually on behalf of the common good.  Probably the most well-known example is yelling “Fire” in a crowded building.  We set a limitation on our freedom of speech and expression.  Falsely setting off panic among a group of people is not deemed acceptable!
Laws insuring clean air instill the good of the 
people over factories that manufacture goods or
create energy.  We are not against production, 
we just research cleaner methods of doing so.  This
is long-sighted rather than short-sighted.
So the common good is an important part of society as well.
A good society balances individual rights along with the good of the community.
This is what Paul is trying to do when he writes to the Corinthians in today’s scripture.  We may not understand the whole “don’t eat meat” concept.  Basically, most meat purchased in large metropolitan areas in Paul’s day had been gleaned from animals that were sacrificed in pagan temples.  Some who were “weak” would have had difficulty eating this meat because they would see it as participation in the worship of a deity other than God. 
Paul’s solution?
Some would argue that this actually penalizes those who were strong in the faith – in other words, those who didn’t see pagan influence over their dinner plans.  Why should we be punished for the ignorant?  It is not fair!
And yet, we abstain because we have compassion for those who would struggle with it.  Paul is indicating that our relationships are more important than our diet.    
Individually, I would have the theological rationale or the right to eat the meat.  But Paul is bidding us to curtail our appetites for the common good.  In a church, we band together to help one another.
A modern look at this might be how United Methodists serve grape juice for Holy Communion instead of wine.  Jesus did use wine and it was fermented.  However, we refrain from the alcoholic version of grape juice in consideration for those who need to have total abstinence from alcohol.
For those who declare that it is a more spiritually validating experience to use real wine, using the logic of Paul from today’s reading, he would say, “Get over it!”  To be spiritually strong is to be compassionate toward those who are having difficulty.  We give up our individual rights out of a position of strength rather than weakness. 
So if we think about it this way, if we are complaining about something in church, does that mean we are spiritually weak?
In Christ,

Photo by muffinn via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

This is the Gate of Heaven

Lectionary Reading: John 1:43-51 (NRSV)

What is it like to be known?

My first real friend's name was Ralph.  He lived in the house behind ours and we had an adjoining chain link fence that would divide our play in the backyard.  This didn't keep us from enjoying our daily time together as children and we invented lots of play together through the fence.

I can remember him calling my name, "Saaaammmy!!" when I was inside the house indicating that he wanted me to come outside.

St Paul's Cathedral in London draws the eyes
heavenward to perhaps remind us of angels ascending
and descending.
I would just as often call out a sing-song, "Raaallph, come out and plaaay!" when I was ready for him to join me in the backyard.

We moved when I was five years old and Ralph was the first absence I remember.

To be known by another and to know that person in kind is significant.

In today's lectionary reading, Jesus seems to know Nathanael.  Nathanael responds in worshipful tones to Jesus, declaring allegiance through his praise.

Jesus alludes to angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man which is a self-reference.  This would call to mind the story of Jacob experiencing God in a dream in Genesis 28:10-22.  Jacob's theophany calls him to cry out, "This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!"  Jesus later refers to himself as the Gate in John's Gospel.

As we context the Genesis reference, we remember that Jacob is fleeing from the homicidal wrath of his twin brother Esau whose paternal blessing he just swindled.  When Jesus tells Nathanael, "Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit" it makes one wonder if he was being sarcastic.  Nathanael had just asked the question, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"  Maybe Jesus was just acknowledging that Nathanael was a blunt individual.  He called it like he saw it!

In any event, we see that Nathanael's response is to being known.

As we continue to look at God's call upon our lives, we also know that sometimes we are not interested in being known quite so thoroughly.  As we get older, there are calls we get from people that make us respond not with joy but with cringing.  We find that, like Jacob, we may end up wrestling with God.  Hopefully, we can discover a truth in ourselves and in those we meet.  Maybe, this realization will cause us to declare that we have entered the house of God and seen the gate of heaven.

In Christ,


Thursday, January 4, 2018

Order Among the Chaos

Lectionary Reading: Genesis 1:1-5 (NRSV)

After Christmas, I was able to go with my daughter Kyla as a chaperone on her orchestra trip to London with Edmond North High School.  We saw a lot of really memorable things: Windsor Castle, Oxford University, the Tower of London, Piccadilly Circus, and the Royal Observatory at Greenwich just to name a few.

However, for me, the most memorable thing was Sunday morning worship at Westminster Abbey.  The grand architecture of this building is almost 800 years old and it's vaulted ceilings draw the eye heavenward in a most impressive fashion.
Our walking group from Edmond
North Orchestra following worship
at Westminster Abbey.

The acoustics were such that the choir sounded angelic as they sang the Gloria Patri in Latin.

As we went into the sanctuary, we were seated in the South Transept which if you were looking at a design layout, would seat us on the right crosspiece (the Abbey is laid out in the pattern of a giant cross with the main entrance at the foot of the cross).

The only difficulty with being seated in one of the Transepts is that you can't see some of the sanctuary, particularly the entrance where the priests bring in the cross and where the choir is seated.

As I looked around, I noticed two television screens placed on columns facing each Transept so that those in the wings could see what was going on.  They did look at bit out of place in this ancient Gothic structure.

After worship was over, I asked one of the ushers about them.  She visibly cringed and said, "Well, they are fairly new.  Maybe a couple of years old.  But they are not very popular with our regulars.  The Queen and Prince Charles are not fans of them."

Knowing how church traditions can be sacrosanct, I wondered how these screens would have ever made it past the proposal stage.  The usher continued, "Well, the BBC used to bring them in every time they wanted to televise a grand event.  And so it became easier to just leave them up."

She did make a concession that "they do allow people to see what's going on which will hopefully improve their ability to worship."

Worship wars happen in every church and changes continue to occur in churches - even in grand structures like Westminster Abbey.  As we consider that worship is for the people to wrestle with the divine whether that looks like praise or questioning, it is natural that worship would adjust from time to time.  It is also natural that people would want to resist major changes to their worship patterns.

As we think about worship this Sunday, we will be celebrating the Baptism of the Lord.  The baptism of Jesus reminds us of the ordering of our lives.  The text from Genesis today also reminds us of the order God brings forth from chaos in creation.  When too many changes happen all at once in life, we often turn to things that are stable - the traditions of the church, for example.  Baptism is central to all Christianity.  It is the reminder of the grace of God available to us in Jesus Christ.  It's message continues throughout history whether people meet in a grand building like Westminster Abbey or in simple homes with fellow believers.  As we begin the new year together, join us in worship as we remind ourselves of the order amid all of the changes going on around us!

In Christ,