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My heart beats for love. I want to be different. I want to be who I am called to be. WORTHY and LOVED!

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Pastoral

   I've been thinking a lot lately about how no one really knows what it means to be pastoral anymore, including some pastors. Based off of conversations I, as well as some of my colleagues, have been having lately, it would seem that the assumption of some laity is that being "pastoral" is equated to giving them what they want. Even when we can't. Even when it isn't the best thing for the entire body. And that is hard. Because many pastors, including myself, want to give people what they want, even if we know the most pastoral thing we could do is not cave into peoples preferences and demands.

  Hence the dilemma. What is being pastoral? I think many of us go through life currently with blinders similar to what they put on horses in a parade. We can see what is in front of us and we want it no matter what. But to be a pastor is to see the whole picture, or at least as much of the picture, as we can. We have to think about how our decisions and actions will effect not just one person, but the entire flock. We have to think about how what we do today could influence not just the church here and now, but the church in the future. Being a pastor also means that we are accountable to more than just our local congregations, which is important, but to our denominations, and most importantly, to God.

 I'm finding that more often than I would like, being pastoral means saying "no". Saying "no" so that the pastor coming after me will be blessed. Saying "no" because in the scheme of the whole picture saying "yes" isn't very responsible. And saying "no" because sometimes what is being asked is simply not feasible or won't bless the church as a whole.

  But I also confess that saying "no" is hard. I really want to be able to say "yes" because the ramification are much nicer in the present. What can we do as pastors and congregations to encourage our pastors to truly be pastoral, even if it means we won't get exactly what we want sometimes?

Sunday, May 22, 2016

What We Believe - Holy Communion

Very rarely does this happen - but as I was reviewing the sermon composed for this week - I felt the Holy Spirit leading me to scrap it. To start all over. And when the Holy Spirit leads, its best to follow.
We are now in our fourth week of our sermon series on why we do what we do as United Methodists. Last week we talked about why we celebrate the sacrament of baptism. Just as last week, we discussed baptism without celebrating the sacrament of baptism together, so this week we are talking about the second sacrament that United Methodist Celebrate (there are two total) - Holy Communion - but not gathering around the table together, as we just did so two weeks ago. Specifically we will be asking ourselves a difficult question: “do we really know why we celebrate this sacrament?” 
The Apostle Paul finds himself addressing a plethora of issues in the church of Corinth. Remember that Paul would come into an area and plant a church - usually starting in the synagogues, when there was one present, and then preaching to the Gentiles - until he had a group of people who wanted to hear more about the message of Jesus Christ. He would raise up leaders and train them in the teachings of the Way, before eventually moving on to the next town. But the churches wrote to him. When he received the letter from the Church in Corinth, he was not happy. They were not conducting themselves as a church should. So he wrote them a long letter calling them out. This letter was probably received by one the church leaders, most notably the person who reported the problems to him in the first place, and then read to the entire body. 
In this particular section of Paul’s letter, he is addressing a very serious issue - Holy Communion. Over my years of being a pastor I have heard several complaints about communion - not practicing it enough, practicing it too much, not liking the words spoken during the liturgy, the presence of germs, not liking it being served in the pews, only wanting it served in the pews. The list goes on and on, but you get my general point. The complaints we have are generally about how communion is practiced. Paul is upset because the church has forgotten why communion is practiced. 
We celebrate communion as a community of faith. As United Methodists we practice an open communion table. This means that we believe that the table is Christ’s table - not ours, either as the United Methodist Church or even this local congregation. Therefore, anyone who wants to seek a relationship with Christ and responds to Christ’s love in their heart can come. 
Paul was furious because people were being excluded from the table. When Paul is writing this letter to the church of Corinth, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was part of a great feast, sometimes referred to as the Agape or Love Meal. Each person brought what they could to the table to share. Only class divisions quickly sprang up and the rich were seated at better places at the table, given the finest food, and had more to eat and drink on the whole, while the poor starved. While we may not try to exclude today based off of class, do we truly invite all to the table? Or are those in your heart that you feel should be uninvited, treated differently, or excluded?  If so, are we any bette than the church in Corinth? 
While most United Methodists would strongly say that they don’t see anyone being excluded from the table - I keep thinking back to a church one Sunday where a young woman couldn’t go forward to receive because of what was being served. She suffered from cillicas diseases and couldn’t eat gluten - most often found in bread. She was excluded from the table,. We need to remember that one of the ways we celebrate as a community is by thinking about what we serve. I’ve been asked several times why most Untied Methodists use grape juice while some other traditions use wine. Starting in the 19th century grape juice was used so that recovering alcoholics could come to the table without fear. More recently, many congregations are realizing wheat allergies prevents some from coming to the table, like that young woman, so they offer gluten free bread. We must always be attentive to how we can unknowingly exclude some from the body by what we offer.
We celebrate because we believe hearts can be changed at the table. John Wesley believed that communion was a means of grace, a way to experience God’s love for us, and that we should celebrate it as often as we can. We believe people can be covered at the table, come to relationship with God here, and grow in their relationship with Christ. Because of that belief, we do not require people to be baptized before they can receive the bread and the cup. Because of that belief, we believe that children are welcome to receive, if the parents so wish. Because here is one of the places Christ’s love can be experienced in a tangible way. It’s a mystery - we can’t put into words how it can happen, we only know that it does. That being said, we never force people to receive, or shame them for choosing not to partake in communion.
We celebrate to remember. Different denominations believe different things about Christ’s presence at the table. Some believe that he is truly present in body and blood. Other’s believe that the bread and the cup serve as symbols. Others believe that it is a memorial mean. We believe that the Holy Spirit is present at the table and nourishes all who partake as we remember what Christ has done for us. We are called to remember the night that Christ was betrayed. That the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me’. In the same way he took the cup also, after supper saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ We are called to remember more then the meal itself. Communion is not an event made to be administered in solitude. It’s about the body of Christ coming together to collectively remember the sacrifice of the personal, yet communal Savior. So as we gather at the table we are also called to remember our neighbor. We are called to keep in mind those who couldn’t be with us at the table. To think of our brothers and sisters around the world who don’t have the privilege to worship God publicly.
One of my favorite ways to celebrate communion is around an actual table where the pastor encourages everyone to look into the eyes of the person across from you and to pray for them. As you partake you remember your neighbor and thank God that Christ died for them. We remember the meaning of the meal together. 
We celebrate because we are forgiven. At the table, where all of our sin has been laid at the feet of the cross, we find forgiveness. Forgiveness cannot be separated from confessing our sins, admitting that we are in need of Christ, or remembering the sacrifice made. When we kneel at the table we come broken, but we arise remembering that Christ has made us whole and has deemed us his worthy children.
While I get the pragmatic nature of serving communion in the pews, I think sometimes we lose the sense of forgiveness when we don’t come forward to the rail to receive once in a while and hear those words “arise, you are forgiven”. We lose something we don’t celebrate by dipping the bread into the cup and hear the words spoken just for us, one by one. Words have a powerful way, when combined with this sacrament, of reminding us we are forgiven.
Finally, we celebrate with thanksgiving. For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. The Lord’s Supper prepares us to celebrate in Heaven someday. It’s supposed to remind us that we are going to be at banquets in Heaven with the Triune God when he deems the time to be right. And as we leave the Lord’s Table, the table we approached so somberly remembering and confessing our sins, we can celebrate because we are forgiven. At the Lord’s table we face a spectrum of emotions. And we can be thankful for each and every one of them, because God has created us to be so emotionally complex. When I was in seminary, we received communion with both wine and grape juice, which is allowed in our United Methodist tradition. Each was clearly marked and we had a choice of what we were to receive that day as we dipped our bread into the cup. I would always access my heart asking inwardly if I was in need of confession for the bitterness of sin - in which case I would choose the bitter wine - or celebration of the sweet love of Christ - in which case I would choose the juice. No matter what I choose however, it was done in a spirit of thanksgiving and gratitude. We have so much to be thankful for as we leave the table.

As we reflect on the fact that we celebrate communion as a community of faith where hearts can be changed in light of remembrance, forgiveness, and thanksgiving, the Lord’s Supper can shed the trivial nature that we sometimes treat it with. We see that the table means so much more then we give it credit for. May we approach the table with an open heart, seeking the Lord, and the grace Christ bestows upon us. Amen. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Joyfully

   I was reading today Psalm 95 and was struck by the word joyfully. Let us sing for joy to the Lord. Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation. (Psalm 95:1)
   I found myself wondering how often we actually live joyfully as a church. Yes, we may share our joys and concerns during prayer time - but most congregations I've visited or have been a part of have far more concerns than joys. Further, that is not the same as living joyfully.
   I am the first to admit that we are living in a difficult age for the church. There are financial struggles for both individuals in the congregation and parishes as a whole. In many congregations there aren't as many people worshipping as there were in years past and some of the defining ministries of local churches, historically, are no longer preset. But the question is can we have hope in the midst of this situation? Can we have joy that springs from hope eternal?
   Maybe, just maybe, the reason people aren't filling the pews and entering the doors is that we haven't made a very compelling case to come. We haven't went out to people and shared with them the authentic joy we have in Christ. We haven't sung joyfully to the Lord, and people outside the church know it.
   We need a better witness - not just of our faith in Christ but of our joy in Christ. And that may look different for each of us. For some of us its going to be a complete change in our way of thinking - looking for the blessings instead of the trials. For others its going to mean proclaiming how Christ is redeeming difficult situations. Still, for others, its going to mean sharing what you are grateful for because of your relationship with Christ. Let us reflect on what it means to live joyfully as a church, in order that Christ may be proclaimed and in order that our God may be glorified.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Appreciate

"But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work." - 1 Thessalonians 5: 12-13a

     It has been a hard week. A week of uncertainty and unrest in a denomination that I love. Even viewing from afar I have watched and heard of some of my Christian sisters and brothers engaging in behavior that makes be weep as we have put our arguments and sides over honoring each other. 
    Even as General Conference ends today, the work of our leaders, the Council of Bishops, is far from over. While others are flying home, they will meet to continue to instruct, lead, and pray for the United Methodist Church. I want to take time this day to reflect on the above verses from 1 Thessalonians and ask the following questions: 
   - Do we act as if we appreciate the work of the bishops for our Church?
   - Do we give them the space to actually have charge over us and instructing us?
   - How can we esteem them in love?
   This General Conference something unprecedented happened - a call came from the floor and was affirmed by the majority of the delegates to actually let the bishops lead. To model for us what it means to move forward as a divided Church on difficult issues. Normally our bishops call and preside at General Conference, but we actually gave them space this year to be our spiritual leaders.  May we continue to give them space to lead. May we hear the words they preach and let them convict us - or as I tell my congregations - may the Word preached so deeply sink into us that it transforms us from the inside out.
    Now, do not misunderstand me - I know our bishops are human. But I also know them to be a people of deep spirituality and prayer. I know that we don't all agree with them or with the proposal they made - but it seems to me that Paul's words, at their heart, ask us to trust those who lead and labor among us. Maybe we need to have a little more trust - of God and of our spiritual leaders. If I want my congregations to trust me as their pastor, I need to trust my DS, the cabinet, and the Bishop, as my pastors.
    Further, presiding over meetings is not the same as spiritually leading. There were some very difficult moments to watch this week, where bishops fumbled over parliamentary procedure and leadership. Guess what - that isn't spiritual leadership. Let us forgive them for those errors and let us give them a clean slate to lead by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. 
   As the Council of Bishops lead let us esteem them. Let us hold them in prayer. Let us send them words of encouragement and support. Let us appreciate them, fully, for the hard and tireless work they do for God's children in the United Methodist Church. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Did We Forget our DNA?

   I have been struggling with watching General Conference off and on this week - at times I've had to simply walk away to pray and reflect. What I'm struggling with is actually not the sexuality issues - I trust that our God is big enough to lead us through this time of tension with one another. What I've struggled with is wondering if we have lost our DNA.
   What some people don't know about me is that I explored other churches before finally deciding on being ordained in the United Methodist Church. I grew up United Methodist but in high school and college also attended a Wesleyan Church. In seminary I was part of an Episcopal Church. While at college I was part of a Presbyterian Church Plant. And whenever I'm worshipping at a church I want to know what they believe. While each of those other denominations had some wonderful pieces of theology, I choose to be ordained in the United Methodist Church because I deeply believe in our theology. I love that we are a church that engages both the heart and the head. I love that we believe in both social holiness AND social justice - not one or the other. I believe deeply in our explanation of grace - that God makes the way for us to accept Christ, but even after that moment, we continue to grow - forever - in our love of God and love of neighbor. I think we have three simple rules that are just as needed today as they were when they were written: Do good always. Do no harm. Stay in love with God. We make decisions and reflect theologically based on God's word, our tradition, reason, and personal experience - because we believe the Holy Spirit engages us as whole people. We believe that the faithful witness to Christ with our words and actions can change the world - just to name a few pieces of our theology and doctrine.
   But too many times during this General Conference we have not been acting like United Methodists. We have not acted as if we are growing in our love of God and neighbor (sanctifying grace). We certainly haven't honored our three rules. We want to pick either social holiness or social justice instead of planting ourself firmly in the middle and seeing how they inform one another.
   Church, what happened? When did we forget who we are as the people called Methodists? And how can we remind one another of what we believe so we can continue to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?

It's That Time of the Year

    It's that time of the year. The time when we pull out the patriotic hymns. A time of year that I struggle with.
    I am American. I love being an American. But above and beyond my national citizenship I am a Christian. Personally, I am also a Christian who has had the deep privilege of traveling and hearing stories from my brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who have different national citizenships, but deeply love the same Lord I do.
    When you break out the patriotic hymns, Church, I start to see their faces and remember their stories. And I lament. I lament for some churches in America, who while I don't think they mean to, have in the words of theologian Frederick Buchner substituted God for one who "sanctifies our foreign policy and our business methods." ("The Gods are Dying" in Listening to Your Life).
   Here's the thing - yes, God is the God of America and we can celebrate that, but let us not forget that God is the God of the world. Let us not forget the words of John 3:16 - for God so loved the world - not a specific nation, but the whole world.
    As we enter into this season of patriotic surge - let us thank God for the privileges and freedom we have been given as Americans as we sing our hymns. But let us also pray for Christians around the world - for blessing and peace to be on them as well, for we are part of a global church, working together for our ultimate identity and home - the Kingdom of God.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

What Happened to the Moderates?

   What happened to the moderates at General Conference? I feel as I look at the depressing twitter feed coming around the screen the last few days that the moderate voice of the United Methodist Church is being drowned out. With rallying cries from the extremes on both sides of some important issues, we forget how to have conversation. And we forget all about the moderates, who could help us see each other's sides and view each other as human.

   Why do we need the moderates you ask? Because one of the proposals presented quite a while ago was that we actually talk, and I mean really talk, about these issues in local churches. Present both sides and let them discern where they fall with all of the facts, not just the assumptions. The proposal in those exact words may not exist anymore, but we still need to be able to talk about a whole issue, not just our particular view. We need the moderates to help us have informed, meaningful, conversation with one another - instead of just picking a side and yelling at each other to change our minds. We need the moderates because they can potentially help keep the church from fracturing.