Monday, October 29, 2018

When Those Saints Go Marching In

Lectionary Scripture: Mark 12:28-34 (NRSV)

Mark's reading for Sunday is what I consider one of the key passages of the Bible.  Sometimes, we play the game of "God, what is it you want me to do with my life?"  We just want to know.  Just tell us and we'll do it.


If you could ask Jesus, what is the most important passage in scripture, this one pretty much wraps it up.  However, loving God with all our being is not original to Jesus.  He gets it from the Shema which is partly from Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

Loving our neighbor is also from the Torah.  It is found in the second part of Leviticus 19:18.  So while neither of these was unique to Jesus, he does combine them in a way that helps us to focus our faith.  It was the original mission statement for the church!

This Sunday, many churches will celebrate All Saints Day and we are no exception.  Within the Protestant tradition, we refer to the saints as those who are in Christ rather than those especially good people who are now deceased.  So within this understanding, we honor and remember those members of our local churches who have passed away since the last All Saints Day was held.

One of our local traditions has been to have cards available to write down special people or relatives who have passed on but were not a member of our local church.  These are left at the altar rail following Communion and we pray for these families.  It is especially helpful for us to share in Communion on this day because of our eschatological understanding of the sacrament.  We are sharing in faith with one another in the congregation but also with all those Christians who share in the meal together.  Furthermore, we extend that understanding to all those Christians who have passed on to the life eternal.  This Holy Mystery, the United Methodist doctrine on Holy Communion states, "We commune not only with the faithful who are physically present but with the saints of the past who join us in the sacrament."  As we share in Christ, we connect one to another.  And so this remembrance is a way that we seek to connect with our neighbors as we love them just as we love ourselves.

Here I seek to walk as my dad walked at 
an early age.  I later learned there was more
to it than this!
As I consider my own saints who have gone on before me, both my parents have passed on this year.  Since they were not members of my local church, I will be writing their names on cards and leaving them at the altar.  Both have epitomized the Christian faith for me each in their own way.  I stand taller and see farther because I stand on the shoulders of these giants that have preceded me.

I hope you will consider this week those who have impacted you but no longer walk this earth.  May we give thanks to God for their examples.  And may we seek to follow as best we can!

In Christ,


Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Take Heart, Get Up, He is Calling You

Lectionary Reading: Mark 10:46-52 (NRSV)

How we find a relationship with Jesus presents itself in today's reading.  Blind Bartimaeus is a good representation of you and me.  We are generally unenlightened until we are called forth by Jesus to a new life of discipleship.

Of course, this doesn't apply nearly as well when a person has been raised knowing Jesus within a church culture.  It is hard to repent of a lifestyle if that lifestyle has always included elements of worship, study, prayer, service and repentance.  Can you be blind if you have always known Jesus?

Sometimes, we can be so comfortable with our faith that it is no longer challenging and we adapt Christianity to mirror our lives.  In the old days, churches would hold revivals so as to wake people up (or let them see again).  Often, someone other than the regular pastor would be brought in to preach - likely so the preacher could assume the role of the prophet rather than the priest.  

Within these roles, the priest is often the one that brings comfort to the listener while the prophet is the one who seeks to bring transformation.  Of course, no one likes change.  The prophet is likely as not to step on some toes.

My particular role dips back and forth between the two hopefully in a way that moves the congregation forward while keeping the majority from deciding that my style is not too abrasive.  It can be a bit of a tightrope at times.

As we remind ourselves of our vows to give, this is an area where we may all need some movement.  I know of plenty of examples where pastors have flubbed the stewardship message.  It is not too difficult to offend people by talking about money.  And so, many pastors ignore the subject all together because they may decide that it is too risky.  However, Jesus talks quite a bit about money.  If I am to be faithful, it needs to be addressed.

Giving is about our priorities.  When we talk about our priorities in life, we usually rank God first (at least when we're talking in Sunday school).  Then comes family and maybe country or work or school depending upon the person.  But if God were really first in our lives, wouldn't our spending better reflect this?  As we pledge, there may be too many years where our pledge remains the same.  Occasionally, our income may go down and so keeping it the same is a sacrifice as we are giving a greater percentage of our income.  It may be that our resources have largely remained the same in which case, this might also be appropriate.  Most people grow in their earning capacity and so our giving capacity should also reflect this.

One of the most common reasons for a lack of increase has to do with whether or not one likes the pastor.  If the pastor is well-liked, the giving may increase.  If the pastor is not appreciated, sometimes people begin to withhold their money.  Their hopes may be that if the church begins to tank, this will put pressure on the powers that be to send a new pastor.  Unfortunately, people are confusing their gifts to God with gifts to the pastor.  If you go to a restaurant, you may skimp on the tip if the service was bad but you still have to take care of the bill.  And so, if you withhold your gift, it is kind of like giving God a bad tip.

I believe that our gift to God should not be influenced by the likeability of the pastor.  If this is the case, there are always things to be upset about.  The length of the sermon, the color of the carpet, the new programming - all of these variables may or may not please.  God's faithfulness is eternal and deserves better than our gift changing with our mood.

These last few paragraphs were an example of prophetic writing.  As I shift back into the priestly role, I do want to praise our congregation on how we have moved forward in our giving.  Our percentage of e-giving likely leads our conference if not our denomination.  Our percentage of active members who pledge is also outstanding!

This Sunday, I'll finish our stewardship series as we examine our love of our neighbors, ourselves and God.  We've already covered neighbor and self and so this Sunday we'll examine our love of God.  Blind Bartimaeus gives us a clue on grace and our response.  I hope you'll join us on Sunday and I'll do my best not to tromp on any of your toes!

In Christ,


Photo by Mike Schmid via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, October 15, 2018

I Know What's Best For Me (and Maybe You Too)!

Lectionary Reading: Mark 10:35-45 (NRSV)

Many have the drive to lead.  Not everyone has the capacity!  Sometimes you don’t find out until after a person is leading whether or not he or she actually has the ability to do so effectively.  There is a sense in successful companies today that you should not stigmatize failure but should actually allow people to crash faster so that you can move on when something doesn’t work.  This will hopefully foster innovation.

I can think of many services, programs and classes that I’ve instigated that are no longer running.
Sometimes following the leader can get 
you into trouble if you can't swim!
Some of these had a small season of success before dying out.  Others never took off the ground.  I always appreciated congregations for allowing me to try though.  Sometimes we struck gold!

I think we appreciate leaders who will look out after our best interests.  We want to be able to trust them with our livelihood.  If a leader lines his or her own pockets before helping the constituency, we often think less of this person.
James and John are seeking positions of glory.  If one thinks about being at the right and left of the Messiah, these would be earthly leadership positions.   You are not looking toward the heavenly kingdom but one that would be established right here on earth!

Jesus quickly fills them in on what true leadership looks like.  You serve those for which you are responsible.  Ugh.  That is not near as glamorous!

When Jesus has glory and power and leadership offered to him when he was tempted in the desert, he is able to turn it down and point to God.  We get the idea that if we are serving God, we are serving others too. 

And yet, is all ambition wrong?  What if you have a natural gift to lead others?  How can we strive for leadership while at the same time staying humble? 

Whether or not we are leaders, we all have some type of autonomy.  We self-govern.  Most people at least believe that they know what’s good for them.  And yet, how many times do we make ourselves miserable?  If we love our neighbors as we love ourselves, we might really do them some harm!

This Sunday, I hope to explore what it means to love ourselves in a way that is healthy.  How do we enjoy the life God has given us to the fullest?  I hope you’ll join us in person or online!

In Christ,


Photo by rainjelly via  Used under the Creative Commons license. 

Monday, October 8, 2018

Am I My Neighbor's Keeper?

Lectionary Reading: Mark 10:17-31 (NRSV)

One of my favorite shows when I was pretty small was Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.  It came on right as I got home from preschool and I would watch it while my mom fixed me lunch.

He always opened the show by coming in and changing into his more relaxed outfit including some comfortable shoes all while singing his opening theme song.

I think the line that stuck with me was, "I always wanted to have a neighbor just like you.  I always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you."

Fred Rogers taught some important lessons about being a good neighbor such as how it is better to build someone up rather than tear them down.  It is more helpful to point out what a person is good at than to highlight their weaknesses.

"I think those who try to make you feel less than you are - that's the greatest evil," Rogers said in the film, Won't You Be My Neighbor?

I wonder if this is what Jesus perceived to be the fault in the rich man in today's reading.  Maybe he kept all of the laws just like he kept all of his money - to put himself above others.  To truly relate and follow Jesus, he would have to set aside his wealth which became a barrier.

Unfortunately, he couldn't do it.

We don't often imagine that people could turn down Jesus.  When he calls the disciples, they seem to drop everything and follow - almost as if Jesus has this magical sway over them.  But the man in today's reading shows us that this is not the case.  He freely rejects Jesus.

What does it mean for Christians to be neighborly to one another?  How do we love our neighbors as we love ourselves?  As we become more connected online, we also seem to be less connected with the people who inhabit the homes around us.  It could be that we are only really interested in being neighborly with the people who have more in common with us.

As we think about our Christian stewardship, it is interesting that the money we give to the church goes to help us fulfill our call to be good neighbors.  While we can't pay someone to be a Christian for us, we can support ministries that change the lives of people we won't even meet.  Maybe this is how we can be the neighbors that Fred Rogers always wanted to have!

In Christ,


File photo posted via by Rogelio A. Galaviz C. through the Creative Commons license.