Monthly Archives: April 2014

Sermon 27 April: “Welcoming Church” – John 20:19-31

At Seminary, we were told to avoid giving what’s known as the “3-point” sermon. That’s a sermon where the pastor makes three bulleted points that are supposed to tie to a common theme.  It’s informative, logical, easy to follow….and easier to prepare.  Well, considering it’s the week after Easter Sunday, I figured, let’s go with a 3-point sermon. That was a lot of church last week! Besides, you probably came here expecting a bit of a return to normal; after all, it’s hard to top Holy Week and Easter, since they are the high point of the church year.

And so, here are your three points from the text today:
Point #1: “the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews.” The disciples, even though they heard the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, chose rather to lock themselves indoors even in the face of persecution from “the Jews,” or really, the Jewish religious leaders that had plotted to put Jesus to death.

Point #2: After Jesus breathed on them, he said to the disciples, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any they are retained.” Something to understand here: “sin” in John’s gospel doesn’t mean immoral acts or wrong behavior. “Sin” in John’s gospel is understood as a broken relationship with God, or “unbelief.” In other words, the disciples weren’t so much ordered to go out and judge moral sin, but rather to be a community of people who witness to Christ in the world, for the sake of belief in him, so that they might have abundant life.

Point #3: “Doubting Thomas.” Actually, he’s not really doubting as much as he’s “unbelieving.” He’s unbelieving because he hasn’t yet seen what the women and the rest of the disciples have seen – the crucified, resurrected Jesus in the flesh. Jesus shows himself to Thomas so that he might believe – he cries out, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus’ response “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” is the statement that visual proof isn’t the marker of faith, but belief in the risen Christ is.

Ok, let’s be honest here….who’s bored? Who’s checked out? Some of you might find this all interesting, but I have a suspicion some of you are thinking: “Where is he going with this?”  You might be thinking, “I guess it’s back to one day a week worship, 10-15 minute sermons by the pastor…..Lent, Holy Week, and Easter Sunday are over. Back to business as usual.”

I wonder how many of us simply expect the post-Easter letdown…..just 7 days ago, the pews were full, people were dressed up in their best clothes, we had special music…..and for a moment, everyone seemed to be “Christian” – Jesus mattered, worship mattered, church mattered. For just one day, people “got it.” I talked to another pastor this past week, and he remarked how at one of his Easter services, they filled the sanctuary to capacity. “Now if only if it was like this every week; if those people would keep coming,” he lamented. But so often, things return to “business as usual” in the church.

I think about that, and that bothers me, and maybe it bothers you too….and not because I’m frustrated with people who only come irregularly or only on Easter, or just don’t take church attendance seriously. It bothers me because….I don’t want to go back to business as usual church. I don’t want to be post-Easter letdown church, and I definitely don’t want to be part of the church of the 3-point sermon.

And I’m guessing……you don’t want to either.

Speaking of business as usual…..I should probably ditch the 3-point sermon thing. In fact, maybe it’s enough to just consider one thing this morning. I mean, we have enough stuff swimming around in our brains these days, with how busy our lives are!

  I’m interested in the fact that just after the women told the disciples that Jesus was risen, they’d seen him alive, and that he’s waiting for them out in Galilee, the disciples lock themselves into a room out of fear.  And I’m interested that Christ breaks through those locked doors, shows himself to the disciples, and breathes his Holy Spirit on them.

I started thinking about this, and I thought: this has to do with being church. It has to do with being a “welcoming” church. What does it mean to be a church that welcomes like Christ, going into those locked spaces, showing them his wounded hands and feet, and breathing his Holy Spirit on them? And as I thought about that, I realized that this text tells us that being a “welcoming church” isn’t about gathering and attracting people into a building and locking them into set of routines and beliefs.

What that means we have to move past a notion of welcome that’s simply being friendly or “nice.” It goes beyond simply giving people a welcome/house-warming gift and inviting them to come back next week. It goes beyond the pastor simply sending a letter, email or a phone call. And it goes beyond a welcome – welcome for the sole purpose that they’ll quickly become members at OUR church, so they’ll carry on OUR ways.

            What a welcoming church recognizes is that those newcomers….they’re the very presence of the crucified and risen Christ among us, showing his wounds.

And maybe, we’d do well as a “welcoming” church to accept them, to see them not as a threat we need to be locked in from, not as people we need to make members quickly, not as people who will learn and carry on our ways….but rather as a gift….a gift of the Holy Spirit breathed on us. And as a gift of the Holy Spirit, they’ll challenge us, move us, and change us in ways we never thought possible. Their ideas, their doubts, their experiences of life, and their questions about this thing we call church….perhaps they’ll breathe life into a “business as usual” church. If only we’d open the door of our hearts and minds and lives to love, listen….and let them have ownership, or leadership, in this thing we call church.

Those are what I call the 3 “L’s” of a welcoming church – love, listen, and leadership -and they’re in this month’s newsletter. I invite you to read them to get a better sense of what I’m talking about (hey, a plug for the newsletter!). And over the course of the next 6 weeks of Easter, we’re going to explore further what it means to be a “welcoming” church – a church that lives into the Easter good news: Christ is risen, he lives! And because he lives….we can unlock those doors we’ve created. Fear and threat of change don’t have to grip us. Because he lives….we can open ourselves to the very presence of Christ among us, breathing his Holy Spirit into us, into this church. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Because He Lives” – An Easter Project

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow…..
Because He lives, all fear is gone……
Because I know, He holds the future…….
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives.

You may have heard of this song before.  It was written in the 1970’s by Bill Gaither, a gospel singer-songwriter.  I prefer the David Crowder version. It’s a favorite of one of my two congregations.  It’s a pretty powerful song really, and you can probably see why it’d be a powerful Easter song!  In fact, we sang it at all of our Easter worship services.

I thought about the power and hope in the Easter story.  In fact, it’s not just a story, it’s something that I experience, something that completely shapes my life.  And I took it one step further: what if this became my confession as a Christian?  What if, because He lives……

….I can trust that I’m not such a crappy pastor and wrestling coach after all.
….people, not things, matter.
….life is a gift.

I thought of a few more….but then I thought: what if people were invited to make this confession as well?

And out of that: The “Because He Lives” Project.

On Easter Sunday, I invited folks to fill out notecards that had “Because He Lives” on them.  And then we posted those notecards up.

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If you want to understand in full what I was doing, you can read my Easter Sunday sermon.

Here’s my invitation to all of you:  Join the “Because He Lives” Project.

Over these next couple weeks of the Easter season,

1. Find a blank piece of paper.
2. Write “Because he lives….” on it.
3.   Complete the sentence.
4.  Write that thought on the paper.
5.  Hold the paper up, take a picture, and post it on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.  Use #becausehelivesproject

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If you want, you include me in it:
Twitter handle: @luthhoneybadger
Instagram handle: Lutheranhoneybadger

Invite others to join in!  I’d love to hear your confession why this Easter story matters to you.  Let’s keep the Easter good news going!! Said another way, STEAL THE IDEA. Besides, you never know who else is watching…someone who might hear a word of hope in your confession. Someone who needs to hear a word of hope in that Easter story.

Just like you do.

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“Being something different.”

I was driving around Portsmouth the other day – making my usual trip between the churches.  I took a different route, taking the usual main roads instead of hitting the backroads.  And I noticed all the churches around and how much they all looked the same.

They’re all brick, the majority of them have red doors (I wonder if folks there know what that actually means?).
They all seem to have a preschool attached to them.
They all have that changing sign out there with some “clever” saying which usually comes across as cheesy.

I guess they all look the same – other than the fact their name and affiliation is different.  Baptist, Methodist, Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian, Lutheran LCMS, Lutheran ELCA……what the heck does it all mean?  Because they all look the same.

And I think that’s a good question: “What makes us different?”

I wonder sometimes if we asked ourselves that question – at both churches – what our answers would be.  Or, would we even come up with an answer?

We often say things like “we’re welcoming and inviting,” or “we’re family,” or “this place has been like home to us.”  But honestly, every churchgoer says that about their churches.  And that’s not wrong…..but it’s not what makes us different.  Because to give that answer assumes that other churches are NOT that – they’re not welcoming; they’re not family; they’re not like home.

This question came up at a pastors’ conference I was at this past week.  And in the discussion, I blurted out that I think that what makes us different as a Lutheran church is that we’re called to be a church of the cross – the cross of the crucified, risen Christ.  We’re called to be a church that “calls things what they are,” a church that doesn’t avoid the presence of sin, suffering, pain, and brokenness in the world – but rather acknowledges it exists.  It exists and it affects people – real people – and in real ways.

The cross is a place of godforsakenness…..and it’s in this place, where God is seemingly not present, that God is most definitely present.  God’s most present in God’s son, Jesus Christ.  And God’s present in such a place so that we might know that life can come out of those places.  God bears those things so that we might know God loves….and because God loves, God promises to breathe new life and hope into such places – those godforsaken moments of our lives.

And to be a church of the cross is to be a church that follows Christ into those places.  The church is a place that bears the suffering and brokenness people experience with them….and waits in hope that in bearing such things, new life will be breathed into those experiences of suffering and brokenness.  The church of the cross is open and honest about such things – and isn’t afraid to boldly proclaim God’s presence in such godless moments and places.

I asked, “what if the church became that, the church of the cross?” The reply I got from another pastor was, “We’d be a whole lot smaller Aaron.  People would stop coming.”

Maybe he’s right.  I mean, who wants to be honest about the ways we’ve been hurt, felt isolation, or screwed up?  Who wants to come to church and not only hear about those things, but actually accept the people who those things happened to?  Who wants to come to a church where it seems no one wants to just “forgive and forget” and be one big happy God family?

I think, perhaps, a lot of people.

I think about our two churches, and it’s what’s on the inside that makes us different.  Because on the inside there’s a whole lot of broken, messed up, crabby, and imperfect people.  We are a really weird bunch, and probably even weirder when you get to know us.  Heck, we’re probably even a little dysfunctional if you stick around to notice enough.

But we still love each other in spite of those things.  We still try to find grace for each other when we piss each other off and drive each other up the wall.  We still struggle to stay together as a community when conflict and real hurt rip our congregations apart.  We love….we forgive….we stick it out – because God in Christ has done so for us first.

We’re people of the cross.  We stick it out in moments of godforsakenness……waiting and hoping and proclaiming up and down that God will do something new with us.  God will make us whole.  And in sharing such things so deeply, we might not grow, but we’ll witness to what Christian faith is really all about – a God who enters into and speaks deeply into the real experience of human life, and a God who acts and loves for the sake of it.

That is different.  And I think my people kind of rather like being that.  I know I do….and I like serving them because of that.

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“Because He Lives”: Easter 2014, Matthew 28:1-10

Easter Sunday. It’s just one of those days…..a day I have good memories of. Memories of Easters past – a beautiful spring morning, the flowers in bloom, the sun shining, the smell of plowed fields just outside the church doors.

Perhaps it’s a big family gathering day for you – a big dinner, your own traditions. Perhaps you remember going to church – getting dressed up….girls in bright-colored dresses, boys wearing ties or even suits, along with their tennis shoes (that was me!) and Easter breakfast, maybe an Easter Egg Hunt, and going for worship. The church pews are full of all sorts of people – friends and family that moved away and are in town for the weekend; the regulars; and those in the neighborhood that don’t frequent the church much.

But among all those memories….do you remember the strange story that’s told?

You know, the story about an earthquake, caused by an angel who flies down from heaven, rolls the tombstone away and plops his butt down on it. Oh, he’s glowing too….and he speaks to the women there: “Good morning ladies….Jesus isn’t here, he’s alive and running around the countryside. Nothin’ to be afraid of.”

And the women leave – still in fear, not rejoicing mind you – and Jesus appears to them in the flesh – not a ghost – and they start worshiping him and holding onto his feet – the feet of a deadman walking, who is now alive.

You know, the Easter story…..you don’t think it’s strange? Just a little?

Think about it: what Christians tell people is that we believe that this 1st century Jew was God in the flesh, died on a cross for the forgiveness of sins and so that we might know God stands with us in suffering and death, that he has taken on the reality of our humanity because he loves us. And then he raises from the dead to prove it.

And not only do we believe it, but we also believe that it has something to do with dealing with our lives – raising kids, our jobs, how we relate to our family and friends, how we deal with suffering, struggle, tragedy, and death. We allow our lives to be shaped by this story because we believe it matters – not just for a life beyond this one, but in THE HERE AND NOW – IN THIS LIFE.

I am not sure why you came here today. Perhaps it’s out of habit; perhaps it’s out of obligation as a regular churchgoer and a Christian. Perhaps you came because you do have a lot of those fond memories of Easters past. Perhaps you came because well, it just seemed like a good thing to do today.

And there is certainly nothing wrong with any of that, or any other reason you came today. But you’ve come, and you know that certain things are a very real part of your life. Things like….

Depression and other mental illness;
battles with addiction;
struggles in relationships – family, friends; spouses, parenting, kids;
struggles with health as we age and our bodies and minds can no longer do what they used to;
struggles with the reality of suffering, tragedy, and dying in our lives…..
or struggles of the human heart, where hate, fear, indifference, and pride keep us from loving and being gracious towards one another.

And you know these things….they suck the life out of you at times. They leave you exhausted. Frustrated. Fearful. Helpless. Hopeless. Dead inside.

As Christians we say – we confess – that such things, while they are a real and powerful presence in our lives, they do not have the final say. What we also confess is that the tomb is empty, “he is not here, for he has been raised,” Christ lives – life comes out of death. God overcomes death with new life. And when it comes to this life – this makes all the difference. It matters….BECAUSE he lives.

[SING] Because he lives, I can face tomorrow. Because he lives, all fear is gone. Because I know, he holds the future. And life is worth the living, just because he lives.

Because he lives…..No matter what stage of life, no matter what doubt or uncertainty you have, no matter if living is a piece of cake or a constant battle for you….. life – YOUR LIFE – is worth living. Life is a gift, that while sin and death seek to diminish it, God constantly nourishes and raises us up to new life.

If you look in your bulletin today, you will notice that there were two notecards in them.

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On one of those cards, I want you to finish the sentence “because he lives” with your own confession – something you know to be true about your life because this God raises up his Son from the grave…to new life. Write it down on the card, sometime between now and communion. When you come up for communion, you can attach your card to the board right here on the easel.

And it’s in this way, we’re being the church – God’s church. Whether you’ve been in the church your whole life or if you’ve never set your foot in the door of one, whether young or old, member of this church or non-member, no matter your race, social status, lifestyle, belief or unbelief…….You belong to the community of all God’s people who confess in faith that suffering, sin and death is a real part of our lives. But also confess that out of death….comes life.  Out of pain comes healing. Out of broken pasts and relationships…God holds a new future. Out of The cross & Good Friday….comes resurrection & Easter.

And we bear and proclaim and live that out – TOGETHER.

As for the second card, put it in your pocket or your purse and take it with you. Do what you want with it. Put it up somewhere in your house, on your car dash, or at work. Keep it for yourself, or give it away to someone else. Whatever you decide, let this card serve as a reminder of this strange story you heard today, and this confession Christians have….. that life comes out of death, and because he lives, this strange story is a source of hope, a gift from God, that makes life worth living…today, tomorrow, and in the weeks, months, and years to come.

But for now, let’s create a new Easter memory…..being the church, all of us together, singing and confessing our hope in this strange story, the Easter story, a story that matters….”because he lives.” Amen.

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“Because I love you” Maundy Thursday Sermon on John 13

Kelly’s brother Russ is in California this week, taping and competing on the game show Jeopardy!  He won a few games in 2003 and then won a Tournament of Champions a year after that.  He’s playing in another tournament, this time against some of the best champions from the 90’s through today.  If you’re not familiar, the point of the game show is that “answers” are given to the contestants, and then they have to come up with the correct “question” to that “answer.”

So in the spirit of that……let’s play our own round of Final Jeopardy.

The category: “How well were you listening to the reading of the gospel a minute ago”

Here’s your final answer: “Because I love you.”

So, what would your response be? 

Tonight is Maundy Thursday.  The meaning of Maundy comes from the Latin word maundatum, which means “commandment.”  Jesus gives this new commandment “that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

And things like foot washing, the last supper, they are certainly signs of this new commandment in action, examples for us to follow.

But I think they’re more than that.

It is in these signs, Christ communicates to us: “because I love you.”

Think about it: in the midst of the disciples’ misunderstanding and doubt, knowing that he would be betrayed, abandoned, and denied by those he loved most, in the midst of powerful people coming to interrogate, torture, and eventually kill him….

Jesus washes feet.

Jesus breaks bread.

Jesus shares wine from a common cup.

Let’s go back to our little game of Jeopardy! we were playing earlier.  Because when I think of all the stories and things going on around us, if they were “contestants” what kind of responses would they give?  Let’s see…..

Why Russia is attacking the Ukraine?
Why political leaders continue to refuse working together on complex issues that affect real people?
Why tolls were imposed on the downtown and midtown tunnels in Hampton Roads?
Why everything happens for a reason – even sudden or difficult illness, injury, and death?Why I insist on controlling things and excluding others?
Why I’m quick to point out the sin and shortcoming of another, but not be honest about my own?

“Because I love you” just doesn’t seem to fit, does it?  If that’s the answer, then those responses don’t seem to make any sense.

And I think in a similar way, if we lose the “because I love you” behind Jesus’ commandment tonight, then none of this makes sense.  The master washing the disciple’s feet makes no sense.  This meal of bread and wine that embodies Christ’s body and blood seems complete strange to us.

But when love is behind it, washing feet becomes a powerful moment of vulnerability and grace.  This meal becomes a sacrament – a visible sign of Christ giving himself away so freely and deeply – for us.  They become sacrificial acts of self-giving love in which Christ makes the love of the Father known – “For God so loved the world that in this way he gave his only Son, so that all who believe may not perish, but may have eternal life.”

You know that verse…John 3:16.  And you know, if you re-phrased that in the form of a question, you’d have the correct response to our “Final Jeopardy!” answer:

“Because I love you.” Your response?

 “Why God gave his only Son?” Alex.

Christ’s new commandment tonight is a call to be motivated by sacrificial, self-giving love.  It’s to take our actions from being self-serving examples of our own goodness and morality, a way of proving to others we’re being Christian, and to transform them into incredible moments of shared vulnerability, honesty, humility, and grace…..with each other, for each other, so in those moments when we feel so unloved and alone, when we wonder why injustice, tragedy, and suffering are a real part of our world, when we fall short & miss the mark, and when others do the same, we might always know that….

God. loves. us.  Full-stop.

“Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”  Let us keep that in mind tomorrow, on Good Friday, as we hear the story of Christ’s suffering, crucifixion, and death.  Because perhaps the only way to make sense of that story – are Christ’s words tonight. “Because I love you.” Amen.

 

 

 

 

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“God shall Overcome”: Palm Sunday Sermon, 13 March 2014

Rather than read Passion Story, we read Matthew 21:1-11 as the Palm Sunday Processional Gospel, and then 21:12-17 as the Gospel before the sermon.  You’ll see why by reading the sermon below!

I remember Palm Sunday as a kid, we didn’t have the full palm branches like we have here today.  In my church growing up we used the ones that looked like reeds – long and thin coming to a point at one end.

Well, I found out palms like that were good for one thing: tormenting other people.  Probably no different from any other boy growing up, I’d get bored in my pew and then I realized that I could use the end of the palm to tickle the necks and ears of people in the pew in front of me, trying not to get caught.  Super fun game!

I also discovered that if you swung those palms hard enough, they made a great whip….and they stung like crazy when you got hit.  So that became my other favorite Palm Sunday activity…..trying to whip other boys – and some adults – while trying not to get hit myself.

Palms….signs and symbols of a Messiah’s triumphant and peaceful entry into the city of Jerusalem, became instruments of torture and violence in the hands of church boys.

4 years ago, I got to travel to the Holy Land as part of my seminary education.  We were in Jerusalem, and visited Bethphage – the spot where today’s story tells us Jesus began his entry into the City of Jerusalem.  The landscape forms a “V” with the Mount of Olives being one side and the City and Temple on the other.  So imagine if you’re everyone in the City – especially the Roman governor in the garrison tower – and you’re watching this mass of people coming down the Mount of Olives, shouting and singing, waving their arms in the air.  You can’t quite make out what they’re holding, but you do know this: usually a large crowd, shouting, waving their arms…..it looks like a riot.  And if you’re trying to keep your empire intact – it’s a threat.

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In light of this, the words of verse 10 of the processional gospel “When he entered Jerusalem, the whole City was in turmoil” make sense.  Because it looks like war is a-comin’.  And these people want to know……”Who is this?” Who is this one who comes with shouts, who people are calling a king, a Messiah who will set the people free?  Who is this Jesus….and what kind of threat is he?

And I think that’s an accurate read of this Palm Sunday scene, based on the second half of the story that I just read.  Because when Jesus jumps to action – driving out the corruption that took advantage of the poor and started healing people in the temple – I think the threat became very real to the Priests and scribes and Roman government.

Today is Palm Sunday…and it’s also known as Passion Sunday in the church.  Typically the Passion story gets read today – Jesus’ celebrating the passover with the disciples, his betrayal and arrest, his trial and conviction before the High Priest and Pontius Pilate, and his crucifixion, death, and burial.

The church does this because people started skipping out on Holy Week services between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. (Ok, maybe that’s a stretch….but I’m a realist and a cynic!) And if that happens, all you get is today’s triumphant story and the celebration of Easter….and none of it really makes sense without the story of the cross.  And people smarter than I said, “We can’t have that!”

But I’d rather not rush through the passion story – because it’s powerful.  In fact, I strongly encourage you, if you are able, to take two extra hours out of your week to worship with us on Thursday and Friday.  Come, not just to hear words read, but to experience this great story for yourselves.  Come and experience God’s great love….present a meal of bread and wine shared in community; present in his Son suffering and hanging on the cross….a story, that I think speaks deeply to the need we have for a God who comes down to us into a world of brokenness and sin, because he loves us.

And I’d rather not rush though the passion story because this story – the Palm Sunday story – raises an important question for us: why are things like peace and love –  and those who come in the name of them – considered a threat?  

For some of you, this will be a pretty vivid memory…..recall August 28th, 1963… the March on Washington DC.  About 250,000 people – both black and white – rallied to call for civil and economic rights for African-Americans.  They rallied…..peacefully.  These people came peacefully, spoke and announced a desire for peace, and pushed for the powers and decision-makers of this country to ACT on behalf of African-Americans in the name of justice and love.

And I can’t help but think that as these people marched into our nation’s capital, shouting, singing, clapping and waving their hands as they marched into the city…..that there were those looking on from their ivory towers and buildings who viewed this whole scene….as a threat.

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Here’s the thing: things like peace, love, justice, and healing always sound great when they exist as strictly ideas and words.  But when such things take the form of action – for some, they do become threats.  Acts of healing and justice become a threat to the entitlement and privilege of the chief priests and the scribes.  A march of peace into a city that stirs everyone up becomes a threat to the power of the Roman Empire.

A march into a city in the name of peace and love for a people who were shut out of society by laws that discriminated because of their skin color became a threat to the same establishment that held power and privilege then as well.

And I believe, when things like love and peace and grace and forgiveness go from words to actions – they pose a threat to us because they force us to be honest about the state of our hearts and the attitudes towards others and ourselves that lie within them.  

But to those that have need of them – those who suffer, those in need of healing, those who are brow-beat by perpetual guilt and shame over past sins, those who are shut out of belonging to a sense of community simply because of who they are – such love and grace in action….it not only sounds like good news.  IT IS GOOD NEWS.

I think we’re in a time where people actually prefer war to peace.  We prefer hate to love.  And it’s not because all the world and humanity has gone to hell and we have no moral/ethical compass, it’s because we’re simply fear just how good life could be if words like peace and love and forgiveness and grace became real – actions we did for each other, over and over, without end.  

And while our actions on behalf of such things don’t completely save us or this world, our fear of acting is actually a lack of faith that God can and will overcome the sin and brokenness we feel in our hearts, that affects our relationships and our lives, that out of death…God raises to new life.

And in such a time, this story of Jesus’ death and resurrection needs to be told over and over, without ceasing because more than anything, it’s a story of HOPE.  Christ will overcome all – suffering, sin, death.  Peace, love, justice, and grace will reign.

And it’s a story we don’t just tell in words or as a theory – but as action: WE LOVE.  WE FORGIVE.  WE ARE GRACIOUS AND HUMBLE TOWARDS OTHERS. WE DO JUSTICE FOR THE MOST VULNERABLE AND WEAK. And like a great negro spiritual from the Civil Rights era, we tell the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection through our actions because it points to this message of truth and hope people have been faithful to throughout the ages:

[singing] “God shall overcome.  God shall overcome.  God shall overcome, someday….Deep in my heart, WE do believe.  Christ shall overcome some day.”  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

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Multi-vocational Ministry, 6 months in: Wrapup

I got some great responses from friends, mentors, and colleagues on this whole multi-vocational model of pastoral ministry.  The responses were so good, in fact, I feel like I need to respond to them to sufficiently conclude my blog from earlier in the week.  They’re points worth mentioning, because they clarify a lot of things I didn’t say in my initial post.

1.  The connection of relational-“shepherding” in pastoral ministry, Part 1.  A lot of people disagree with my “attack” on the image, or pastoral model of “shepherd.”  I still contend it has serious limitations as a model in our world today.  But one person suggested an important insight: “but deep relationships are formed when people allow us into those deep moments in where they need spiritual care…which happens as pastor.”  

I realize that I’m implying I’m putting things like pastoral care and relationship-forming at the altar of being missional leader.  However, all those “pastoral” roles that we serve in and the things that pastors “typically” do – I’m still doing them.  I make visits to the hospital, to shut-ins.  I take time to visit with folks and getting to know their stories.  And while my face time is certainly limited, I would contend that deep relationships are forming.  

But for me, my role as multi-vocational pastor “sharpens” the relationships.  I’m not their always-available friend who will come by for a chat unannounced, and I’m not the “religious/spiritual EMT.”  It sharpens the relationship, I believe, because it’s something we both mutually have to enter into and be intentional about.  I’m certainly there for them when they need their pastor.  My point is, however, that they can also be there for each other just as I am – they can visit in times of need, they can pray with each other, they can wrestle with tough questions….they can even share the sacrament with each other (within the guidelines of the bishop, of course!).

2.  The connection of relational-“shepherding” in pastoral ministry, Part 2.  Back to the “shepherd” model.  I get that it’s a biblical model.  I get that a lot of pastors identify with it.  I just simply don’t find it helpful.  Here’s my more cynical view.

The image of “Shepherd” to me implies expectation – the congregation always will have an expectation that your primary responsibility is tending to them and to the church.  But what if the “sheep” were empowered to tend to each other and to the church?  How might that foster a different (and I think, better) sense of church as community?

This is my #1 point out of this: there is no one “right” model of pastor.  The context will provide the model needed in each case.  However, this requires critical assessment of existing models and openness to new ones in our discernment.  This reflective process can never be “optional” for anyone serving as a pastor or leader in the church.

3. Pastor as authentic self is important.  As mentioned above, not every model applies across a context, and the same is true across people as well.  That’s what makes pastoral ministry great – different people bringing their different gifts to serve God in many ways.

I’ve learned (and just about every disagreement I’ve had about pastoral ministry and identity) that most people are not comfortable with confrontation.  I prefer direct honesty, and I have experienced both growing pains and wonderful growth with that these past 6 months.  I guess this is who I am, and I don’t think I can suppress it because then I wouldn’t be authentic in my relationships with my congregations.  They wouldn’t be getting an authentic pastor – and I think that’s important.

But the relationship part is important.  There are two things I’ve learned – probably not just these past 6 months, but my whole life – about being a confrontational person as a leader.

One: choose your battles.  Enough said on that one.

Two: I’ll tell them the truth.  I’ll challenge them.  But I’ll tell them why even more, and every chance I get.  I tell both churches over and over the potential I see in them.  I tell them I think God has a future for them – although it may not be what they expect.  I affirm to them the ways I’ve seen them love each other and others, and how they’ve loved me.  I’ll tell them their witness is even more vital than ever before, especially in a religious landscape that is predominantly evangelical.  I’ll affirm and celebrate their gifts…..and push them even further to use them, because God could do some wonderful thing through them, and how awesome would that feel?

I’m critical, I’m honest because I care.  

As I review what ‘ve just written this past week, I realize that much of what I’ve said isn’t unique to bi/multi-vocational ministry.  It really permeates what everyone is doing in ministry.  However, I just think, given the unique demands and balance of vocational spheres for this pastor, these things are amplified somehow.  And I think, that in 6 short months, it’s amazing what we’ve been able to learn from each other and what we’ve been able to do to be healthy, Christ-centered communities of faith.

In fact, I’d invite ya to come visit sometime and check us out!

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