Tag Archives: Methodist

Claim the Name

It’s pretty funny how much work lawyers have found in the world of rock music.  Lots of legal battles about money and copyrights, and names.  Several years ago 4 members of the group Yes reunited to tour together, but weren’t allowed to use the name Yes, because another former member was using the name.  There were renegade Doobie Brothers who tried to tour using that name, and were sued by other members of the group.   Even the Beach Boys have found a lot of “Fun, Fun, Fun” over the years by suing each other over the use of the name.

Names come with certain expectations.  When we see our favorite band’s name on the marquee, we expect to hear their big hits done well.  And when it’s not who we expect, and they don’t do a very good job, it tarnishes the reputation of everyone associated with the name.

So, it’s frustrating as Christians when we see or hear of things done by others who call themselves Christians , things that we would never do.  How can we respond?  Shouting “that’s not us!” doesn’t seem to help much.

The best we can do, is to work even harder to do the truly Christian things that cannot be disputed:  offering hospitality that welcomes people as they are, offering healing without judgment, advocating for justice and mercy without concern for our own success.  And then, don’t keep it a secret that we, too, are Christians!  Give people a chance to see that what they experienced elsewhere with “Christians” isn’t what they will experience with us.

And pray for healing of the spiritual blindness that afflicts us all.  We might see it more clearly in those we disagree with, but we experience it as well.

Holy Week Schedule

Holy Thursday (April 13):  7:00pm service with Communion and footwashing or handwashing if you wish.

Good Friday (April 14):  7:00pm service AT ALLEN AME CHURCH (788 Market St).  Reflections on the 7 last words of Christ.  The church van will shuttle back and forth between the two churches, beginning at 6:45.

Easter Sunday (April 16):  Community Service on the green in front of Oxford Presbyterian at 7:00am.    8:30am worship service as usual.  9:45am egg hunt for children during Sunday School.  10:55am service will feature our Quarter Ringers.

 

Burden of Proof

We have been watching a TV show where the two main characters have diametrically opposed views about God. One is a devout Catholic; the other believes God does not exist, that Christianity is a mythology. The primary focus of the show is not the differences in their faith, but it does come up fairly often. Sometimes they have some fun with it, like in an episode where the atheist said the story of Jesus’ birth in the manger was a little too convenient, and then she went into labor while they were on the road and, you guessed it, gave birth in a stable.

In another, more serious episode, one of their colleagues was shot and killed. In her grief, the atheist said, “If there was a god, he would have let Vincent (the victim) stay here with us.”

I know I am risking offending my atheist and agnostic friends, but in some ways this quote gets to the heart of people’s unbelief. However we imagine God, there ends up being some kind of contradiction, which becomes an obstacle to believing in God. Perhaps the biggest obstacle is reconciling the idea that God is loving, with all the pain and misery that God appears to allow to happen.

When we hit this particular obstacle (something terrible has happened and our loving God has allowed it), we have a lot of choices. We can try to discover what might have been merciful in what has happened. We can try to determine why God might have allowed it to happen, even though it was bad (which is tough to figure if you believe God is also all-powerful). We can go around it, or work through it and trust that God is as pained as we are. Some people simply go no further: this terrible thing is proof that God doesn’t exist.

Did your parents ever say no to you, when you were a kid, and not give you what you wanted? Because they didn’t love you the way you wanted, did they no longer exist? Did your parents ever allow you to get hurt when you were a kid – let you try out for the baseball team, even though it was obvious to everyone but you that you were terrible? When you were stung by the rejection that your parents allowed you to experience, did they cease to exist? Or did your parents express their love for you in a way that you didn’t understand at the time?

I’m certainly not equating the loss of a loved one, or a building collapse with being cut from the cheerleading squad, but one painful truth does not negate the possibility of other truths. You might find it hard to find proof that God is real, but you can never firmly prove that God doesn’t exist.

The burden of proof falls on us: those who already believe. We can provide proof of God’s love by loving all we can. When people cannot see a loving God in the circumstances of their lives, we must show them a loving people of God through our actions.

Before my aunt died, touched by all the kindness shown by people from my mom’s church, she said, “I don’t know if I believe in God, but I believe in the people who believe in God.”  Wouldn’t you want words like this to be said about you?

Then love, love, love. Do not shy away from people in their tragedies, but do what you can for them. Don’t try to explain God, but be Jesus for them, by touching them with your compassion. People cannot always see God in the actions of the world, but may they always see Christ in yours.

Painting Others Into the Picture

I have a picture of a painting called The Journey of the Magi to Bethlehem from a 15th century Italian artist named Gozzoli. Even though we know very little about the magi, it is safe to say this painting is not historically accurate, since everyone in the painting looks and is dressed like a mid-15th century European. It does seem a little odd at first, but it is a way for the original audience of the painting to place themselves in the story: they, too, are invited to see the king.

Today (January 6) is Epiphany, when we celebrate the arrival of the magi. If I were to paint a picture of this moment for today’s white church in the USA, I don’t think I would do what Gozzoli did, but rather try to paint it exactly as it occurred, without a single white European in the picture.

We are living in a very unwelcoming phase of our country’s history. This morning’s news reports that there plans to build 700 more miles of wall or fence along our border with Mexico, at the cost of billions of dollars. People aren’t thinking twice about this, because we live in a climate that encourages us to view anyone different than us as a potential enemy.

Epiphany reminds us that every person, whether “different” than us, or “the same” as us, is on the same journey of discovery. Christ calls – and welcomes – all of us, and as followers of Christ, we are called to be the same sort of welcoming people. Every time we refuse to be welcoming, we reveal that the greatest threat to our well-being is ourselves.

We have no real enemies, only fellow travelers. May we give them food, water, shelter, and compassion for the journey.

Did you want to see the painting:  Click here

Thanksgiving…for the Future

Thanksgiving is one of the times of the year that we are in agreement with the cultural mindset around us.   Even most of our unchurched neighbors will doing something that we believe in this week:  giving thanks.   But most people are giving thanks in one direction, while we are called to give thanks in both:  backward and forward.

In Deuteronomy 26, Moses gives the people instructions on what to do when they enter the promised land.  It involves giving thanks to God for what God has provided, but it is also more than that.  The instructions include bringing the firstfruits to God – the first of what is gathered.  That demonstrates not only thankfulness for what God has done, but trust in or thankfulness for what God will do (provide enough for the future).

We celebrate Thanksgiving at the end of the November, when the fields are empty and the storehouses are full.  Real Christian thankfulness is showing our gratitude when the fields are still ripening and the storehouses are empty.   Because the defining feature of our faith as followers of Jesus Christ is our belief in something that has both already happened and not happened yet:  Jesus Christ has conquered sin and death for us, but, while we know that, we won’t completely experience it until later, when we die.

If we don’t push our thankfulness in both directions (back for what has been done, forward for what God will soon provide), we lose the generosity toward others that Christ demonstrated before us, the generosity that moves others to share and grow and follow.  So, this Thanksgiving, don’t only look back with thankful hearts:  look forward with hopeful ones.

Avoiding the Nostalgia Trap

I was out walking last week, and there was a moment, between the sunlight, the temperature, and the smell of the lawn I was passing, that I was instantly transported back to the high school soccer field.

I have great memories of the excitement of the competition, of seeing my skills improve over the years, of scoring a couple of goals from my position on defense, of the close bonds between the 4 of us seniors who formed the back-up defensive line. (There were 3 juniors and a senior who started ahead of us, who called themselves the Iron Curtain, so we called ourselves the Venetian Blinds.)

In that moment last week, I thought how nice it would be, to be back at soccer practice, with Coach Ziogas running us through drills, to be joking with Eric Chamberlain while we waited for our turn, to experience the simple thrill of kicking a soccer ball as far as I can in the direction want it to go.

I thought it would be nice, because it was an incomplete memory. My body cannot make my mind recall the fatigue, the gnats, the taste of the hose water (well, that one, I think my mind can bring back). I certainly don’t want to go back as a 46-year-old, and if I am truthful with myself, there is a lot my 17-year-old self didn’t enjoy either.

Nostalgia is a dangerous obstacle to living as we should in the present. It offers an incomplete view of the past that damages our perspective of the present. As soon as the Israelites were out of Egypt, they had a nostalgic view that made them see the present as worse than it was. Instead of moving toward the promised land, they wanted to re-enslave themselves in a world that was worse than they remembered.

It is ironic that the church, who holds as a core belief that the best (Jesus Christ’s return) is yet to come, is so often caught in the snare of nostalgia. It’s ironic, but not surprising: we can easily edit to the past to make us comfortable, but we can’t do that as well with the present. So, we look back with longing, remembering the bread, but forgetting the chains.

Jesus says “No one who puts a hand on the plow and looks back is fit for God’s kingdom.” (Luke 9:59, CEB) You cannot look back and look forward at the same time.

We have to look back to learn, but we cannot move forward by moving backward. Nostalgia provides easy fuel for our racism, sexism, anti-immigrantism, homophobia, and pushes all of us not closer to God, or even closer to the past that we think we miss, but farther from the kingdom of God that we are called to build.

If you want to look back, look back with clear eyes and see not only the sunshine and the winning goals, but the cold rain and the injuries. Then you will see that the present is not so bad, and offers kingdom-building opportunities that you couldn’t have imagined in the good old days. The way to God’s bright future is through the present, not the past.

Daybreak

If you wrestle with the fact that the church isn’t perfect, even though we follow the Perfect One, or if you don’t know how to respond to people who want to know why Christians still mess up so much, consider this quote from Gregory the Great:

The dawn intimates that the night is over, but it does not yet proclaim the full light of day. Are not all of us who follow the truth in this life both daybreak and dawn? We do some things which already belong to the light, but we are not free from the remnants of darkness. It will be fully day for the church when she is no longer darkened by the shadow of sin. It will be fully day for her when she shines with the perfect brilliance of interior light. This dawn is an ongoing process. When the dawn has come, the day will retain nothing belonging to the darkness of night.

Every Day Is Election Day

The conventions are over, and we have three months of…something to look forward to. It is probably going to be very ugly, and I pray we will do our best to rise above our fears. If you are a registered voter, you have the opportunity to vote for the president. Between now and November we will hear and read about many polls, and some of us might even be polled to see whom we are voting for. Now polling is often pretty accurate, but here’s the thing: until you actually step into the voting booth and cast your vote, you are not a voter. You are just a person with an opinion. Your intention to vote for someone doesn’t help elect them: only your actual vote does.

Jesus doesn’t need our votes – he is King. But, every day it is our choice whether or not to demonstrate our support for his kingship. And just like our support for a political candidate isn’t real until we step into the voting booth, our support for Jesus Christ’s kingship isn’t concrete until we move from feeling and opinion to stepping into the world. Love Jesus? Then help your neighbor. Love Jesus? Then gather with fellow believers and worship him.

Every day, the world is wondering: who are the people who believe Jesus Christ is their king? We “vote” for him not with our intentions or opinions, but with our hands and feet. Step into the world, step into God’s world, and offer a caring hand. That makes your love for Jesus real to the world.

The Dark Freedom of Feeling Powerless

We read or watch the news, and we feel overwhelmed and helpless.  What can we do in the face of senseless violence, or oppression in communities that we are not a part of?  In the face of such struggle, our actions could not possibly make a difference.  In seeking justice, we are frustrated at the feeling of powerlessness.

But, here’s the thing:  we are not powerless.  The dark truth is choosing to believe we are powerless gives us the freedom to do what we want, rather than what God would have us do.  There is a difference between being powerless, and not seeing immediate results from our actions.

At the end of his earthly life, Jesus Christ appeared to be powerless as he fought for justice, leaving this world crucified on a cross.  Jesus set aside his power to be in solidarity with those harmed by sin in this world, and was arrested, tortured and killed.  And what was the immediate result?  Was the emperor overthrown?  Did Pilate lose his job?  Nothing appeared to change, but we know everything did.

It might not appear to make much of a difference, but we always have the power to love our neighbor, which Jesus defines in the parable of the Good Samaritan as actively engaging ourselves in the life of someone who is hurting – showing mercy.  The battle for justice is long, but it can begin for you with acts of mercy.  Who is hurting in your world?  You have the power, and Christ calls you, to cross the street and enter into their hurt with them.

From Benedict of Nursia:  “However late, then, it may seem, let us rouse ourselves from lethargy.  That is what scripture urges on us when it says: the time has come for us to rouse ourselves from sleep.  Let us open our eyes to the light that can change us into the likeness of God.  Let our ears be alert to the stirring call of his voice crying to us every day: today if you should hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”