Monday, June 24, 2019

The Difficulty of Oncoming Suffering

Lectionary Reading: Luke 9:51-62

Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

This is what most people believe about Jesus maybe because we learned it through singing about it at a very young age.  Through John Wesley, as Methodists, we believe that Jesus seeks us out even when we have strayed (prevenient grace).  We also get this through parables like the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan.  We understand that love is a difficult task and yet, we believe that the love of Jesus tries to overcome the barriers that we put before it.

So when we examine today’s reading, Jesus may seem a little foreign to us.  At least at first glance. 

Sometimes we have to contemplate what
our discipleship looks like.
Jesus has his face set toward Jerusalem.  We are not sure what this means but it carries a harsher tone to it.  It could be that Jesus had to steel himself to the difficulties of facing the cross.  It would not be an easy thing to embrace.  Whatever it meant, we see that the Samaritan village doesn’t receive him because of it. 

As we think of it today, we like to imagine that we would whole-heartedly embrace Jesus in the here and now.  If Jesus were to show up at our church, we would throw wide the doors and give him our best!  But if his face were set toward Jerusalem – if he had prepared himself to suffer and die – I’m not so sure he would be such good company.  He would likely challenge us to say the least and while some may be up for the challenge, there are likely those who would find something “better” to do with their time.

We do see Jesus rebuke his disciples for seeking to punish the town.  He hasn’t lost his compassion, he’s just not as warm as he has appeared earlier in his life.  Then we encounter three people who seek to follow Jesus to Jerusalem.  Jesus either discourages them or breaks down their excuses.  The death of a parent seems pretty valid and we wonder at the tact of our Lord in this instance.

We want to excuse Jesus for this and so we invent back-story that is not in the text:

               The man’s father wasn’t dead yet and so his commitment was vague

               The man’s father lived in another town and this was a way for him to beg off

               The man’s inheritance would add duties that would never allow him to leave

It is not a bad thing to speculate on the text.  I make a living at it.  But we must be careful not to read into it what it doesn’t actually say.

What we do know is that following Jesus must be prioritized for it to be effective.  There are times when the call of our Lord is convenient and it fits with what we want to do anyway.  There are also times when it is the opposite of convenient.  I think the difficulty of the text (and why we sympathize with those who fall away) is that we are not entirely sure that we would be able to pursue discipleship during these same moments.

Join us for worship on Sunday as we wrestle with this scripture!  And yes, Jesus loves you!

In Christ,


Photo by Sandy via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

When We're Complicit in Demonic Possession

Scripture Reading: Luke 8:26-39 (NRSV)

What happens when we look at this story from a Family Systems Theory perspective?

Within this view, groups and relationships achieve homeostasis or balance.  Sometimes this is healthy balance and sometimes it isn't.  Sometimes our balance unduly rests upon the backs of others, creating injustice.  Slavery in the southern United States is an example of unhealthy balance.  Their economy was dependent upon the sinful practice of keeping other human beings in chains.
When this practice is called into question, there is resistance from those who benefit the most from the status quo.  Slavery was argued from moral, philosophical and religious standpoints as a reasonable way to live in relationship with people.  While we would find such arguments sad today, they were accepted by many of that day because the system was balanced.

Within today's scripture, at first glance, I find it odd that the townspeople react so negatively to Jesus curing the demoniac.  It is almost like they prefer him to be possessed and live outside of their town.  They had tried to keep him bound and living among them but that didn't work.  He would break out and go to live among the tombs.  Sometimes our possessions cause us to seek death rather than life.

The demons may have formed a kind of triangle between the man and the rest of the town.  When systems seek homeostasis or balance, we often will find the balance in triangles of relationships.  Whenever there is too much tension between two people, a third will often be brought in to relieve the stress.  Ever seen two parents arguing and then in walks an unsuspecting child?  Sometimes the wrath or ire is then diverted to the child who finds him or herself confused by why there are suddenly more chores to do!

Sometimes a parent and a child may have difficulty relating and so the parent enlists the other child to talk to the sibling.  Find out what's wrong!

Triangles can be unhealthy or they may also be healthy.

The triangle of the demoniac, the demons and the townsfolk is interrupted by Jesus.  He breaks the triangle by exorcising the demons and now the man is in his right mind.  The people are afraid.  When the man wants to leave and go with Jesus, Jesus has him stay and to relate to the people.

We have to stay in connection with others.  It may be easier to cut-off ourselves from others but for healing to happen relationally, we may need to stay connected.

When we find that we are free from what possessed us, we must be careful not to fall into old habits that put us right back in the same fix.  And so, while it may sound like the healthy option for him to leave with Jesus, it may also be that to really find healing, we must confront those behaviors that led us down the dark path in the first place.  We can't change how others treat us.  But we can change how we react to that treatment.  When they find us free, they may find this scary at first.  The system is not what they expect!  But as we live into our freedom, they may find the courage to change how they treat us as well.  As they begin to act differently, our transformation may be contagious.

I'll be exploring this passage on Sunday.  I hope you'll join us either in person or online in one of our many formats!

In Christ,


Photo by Peter Miller via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

What's in a phrase?

Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church
Last week, there was some stir as to Pope Francis changing a phrase from the Lord's Prayer.  The line, "And lead us not into temptation" was changed to "do not abandon us to temptation."

This has garnered some attention and some anxiety for those who hold the prayer dear to their hearts.

To be specific, Pope Francis did not change the language.  It was proposed by an Italian bishops' conference of the Roman Catholic Church and this was approved by the Apostolic See which includes Pope Francis but may also include other Vatican officials.  For United Methodist context, this would be like a theological study of the church similar to Wonder, Love and Praise proposed by the Faith and Order Committee but then approved by the General Conference.  Of course, a big difference here is that this new United Methodist study has not been used in worship for generations!

Pope Francis in the past has called into question the theological stance of asking God to "lead us not into temptation" in that it might lead us to believe that God "pushes me toward temptation to see how I fall."    If we believe that God does lead us into temptation as part of a spiritual experiment, this seems to stand against the fundamental notion of God's grace and love that we receive in Jesus Christ.

Some may wonder if this will cause us to change how we utilize the prayer in our local worship.  This particular change is Roman Catholic in scope and is specifically for churches that speak Italian.  The English speaking Catholics have not addressed this particular phrase in their liturgical use.  Protestants use their own liturgies that are approved by their own bodies.

While I utilize the United Methodist version of the Lord's Prayer from our hymnal (#895) that includes the phrase, "lead us not into temptation" we actually have an Ecumenical version approved for our use if we wish (#894 in our UM Hymnal) which states "Save us from the time of trial".

Some have berated Pope Francis for changing the prayer but if we look back to the original prayer of Jesus, we have to look at two similar but not identical prayers.  Our liturgical prayer is patterned after Matthew 6:9-13 from the Sermon on the Mount.  But we also have a shorter version found in Luke 11:2-4.  Liturgical worship is the work of the people.  How we express ourselves to God may change with the generations (our worship today is different from a service 100 years ago).  We may hope that some of the ways we express our devotion and worship would be constant.  There is a comfort we take from constancy in the midst of all the change we experience.  But the ideas we express in our worship vary just as human language varies.  I would say that this is why theology matters.  How we communicate about God matters for the people who still need to hear.  If I am only communicating about God in ways that I understand but have no regard for my neighbor's hearing, then I may be doing a disservice to the Good News by placing my own need for familiarity above God's call upon my life.

This Sunday, the liturgical church will recognize Trinity Sunday.  This is doctrinal in nature in how we understand God from the basic Christian confession of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The default for doctrinal sermons is frequently lecture, more lecture and then is followed by even more lecture.  As a narrative preacher, I try to tell a story that leads us to understand doctrine more fully.  You'll have to let me know if I've succeeded or not!

We'll be looking at Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 from the lectionary.  I hope you'll join us either in person or online (and you can always go back and listen to the sermon later if you are unable to be present on Sunday).  Worship should be familiar as the familiar gives us spiritual comfort.  But Spiritual comfort should then give us strength to fulfill our mission to fully love God and our neighbors!  Tightropes are all about balance and moving forward.

In Christ,


Photo by PaoNu via  Used under the Creative Commons license.  

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

A Pentecost Dream

Scripture Reading: Acts 2:1-21 (NRSV)

Pentecost is really the birthday of the church.  We see it emerge in this Sunday's reading and we look to celebrate who we are as a part of the body of Christ in mission to the world.

That being said, my current appointment has changed.  I am starting my sixth year as the senior pastor of First United Methodist Church of Edmond but I am also starting my first year as the senior pastor of First United Methodist Church of Guthrie.  In our denomination, this is known as a two-point charge.  They are commonly assigned when neither church can afford the salary and benefit package of a full-time elder.  

We are doing something different.

The opportunity came upon us rather quickly.  Late in the spring, I found out that Guthrie First was facing some financial difficulties which would force them into an appointment change at conference.  We were asked to consider if Edmond First might partner with them in some way so as to provide leadership that would strengthen their congregation.  After we analyzed the situation, we decided that we could offer some ministry that would be helpful to their context.

Starting in July, they will switch their worship times from the current 10:30 am time back to an 8:30 am start.  Our associate pastor, Rev. Trey Witzel, will be preaching this service and will bring musical leadership from our worship band from Worship on Hurd.  They will be back to Edmond in time for Worship on Hurd at 10:50 am.  Guthrie's Sunday school time will move from its current 9:15 am start to 9:45 am.  While an earlier start time doesn't sound ideal, Edmond's 8:30 am service is often the most well-attended of any of our four morning worship services.

They will have a part-time local pastor living in Guthrie with Rev. Kevin "Tank" Tankerson being appointed to this position.  He and his wife Alejandra Rivas-Tankerson will be living in the parsonage and they are expecting their first child in September!  Rev. Tankerson will cover some of the weekly pastoral care and evangelism duties for the congregation.

One of the main problems Guthrie is facing is the graying of the congregation which is happening across the denomination.  Sometimes when we speak of our ever-upward creeping average age, we disrespect those faithful members who remain as the backbone of our churches.  We may do so unintentionally.  We may do so carelessly.  It likely comes out of frustration because we want our churches to fulfill our mission and if we do not reach younger generations, we realize that our shelf-life and relevance to the world are limited.

Our intent is to seek out younger families living in Guthrie and to gather them together.  We would ideally like ten families with elementary or younger aged children.  As we gather, we would seek for them to covenant together to attend this church as their family church.  This mission-mindset would be transformative to their families and it would also be transformative to the church.  Unfortunately, we can't simply pick these families off the tree and insert them!  We are seeking to network in lots of ways to seek them out.   We would invite you to be in prayer specifically for this effort.  If you know of any families that you would like for me to contact, please email me at  But the good thing is just like at Pentecost, God continues to be a part of this effort.  We are not doing this without some very important support!

As with any new thing, there will be resistance.  Notice in today's reading that as Peter reflects upon the vision of Joel that it sounds very egalitarian for the times - young and old, men and women, slave and free - all will receive the Holy Spirit.  But then this movement is accompanied by blood and darkness.  When the Spirit comes upon them at the beginning of the chapter, it comes as a "violent" wind.  No substantial changes come without a significant amount or stress or resistance.

Both congregations will worry about this new arrangement.  Neither have done anything like this before.  Edmond may worry about their staff.  Are they doing too much?  Are they neglecting the Edmond church?  Is this a distraction from their focus?  The fear is the loss of time and energy from their clergy and the possibility that this would curtail the growth we have seen in Edmond.

Guthrie has more to worry about since they have never met us.  How in the world do I relate to a three-headed pastor?  What if this new worship time is too restrictive for young families?  What if the new worship-style seems to foreign to what we know and love?  Will we continue to have a say in the governance of our own church or is this really a take-over?

If we can meet these questions head-on and be honest about our anxiety surrounding them, we will be much better off.  My hope is that the Holy Spirit will flare up in both congregations.  Imagine what an influx of young families would do to a congregation for worship?  Imagine if the sister congregation started thinking about its own mission once again and became more effective at reaching out to its own area?  If we adopt the vision for ourselves, it can become contagious.  We become mission-minded and focus our energy outward rather than inward toward ourselves.  Of inwardly or outwardly focused congregations, to which would you rather belong?

This Sunday, we will celebrate Pentecost.  We will recognize how the church began.  And out of our roots, we will find that the Holy Spirit is not finished with us yet!

In Christ,