Sermon June 28, 2015

We continue our adventure with David, who, as you recall, has been anointed by God to become the new King of Israel to replace Saul. Last week, we watched as he found victory over Goliath of Gath. Now, this week we enter a new phase of David’s life as he prepares to ascend to the throne as the new king of Israel.

It has been a long, and dangerous journey. When David killed Goliath, he was hailed far and wide for his heroism, and this was a threat to Saul. In the meantime, David and Saul’s son, Jonathan, became very close friends. In fact, they became inseparable, almost like twin brothers from different mothers. They became closer than family… as close and dear friends can become… and their closeness bothered Saul too.

Saul wanted to keep David close at hand in order to keep a watch on him as his popularity with the people of Israel continued to grow. So, he brought David into the royal household to keep an eye on him. But Saul’s plans went awry very quickly. For one thing, Jonathan’s fondness for David grew quickly, and Jonathan could sense that his father did not have the best intentions for his friend.

Long story short, David ended up running for his life once Jonathan got wind of what was up with his dad. Jonathan did his best to protect his friend.

In the meantime, the Philistines regrouped and attacked the army of Israel and in the battle, Jonathan and his brothers were killed and Saul was gravely injured. His injuries were so great and his fear of being killed by the Philistines was so strong that Saul ordered his armor bearer to kill him so that he would avoid the indignity of death at the hand of his enemies. When his servant refused to kill him, Saul took his sword and committed the first act of suicide recorded in the Bible.

That is the backstory leading to our Old Testament text for this morning.

Once David has received word of the death of Jonathan and Saul, he leads the nation in mourning and lament over their death.

In the Jewish tradition, there is a prescribed period of mourning… it is the minimum amount of time that is expected for propriety sake, but it serves as the official time of mourning for all of the family and friends of the deceased. There is nothing that limits the time of mourning for as long as it may take, but the minimums are designed to give the family time to process their grief and hopefully work through their loss.

One of the problems that we have in our society today is that we have forgotten how to grieve. When a loved one is lost, there are many who try to comfort the survivor with platitudes that, all to often, don’t bring comfort, but bring more pain and sorrow upon them.
One of the best ways that we can help someone who is grieving is to give them the space to grieve. Give them the space to be angry at God, if necessary, and stand by them and support them in their grief.

I remember my Aunt Vola Mae and my Uncle Mac. They were married for 52 years. From what I understand, they argued incessantly for about 50 of those years. Imagine if you will, that Aunt Vola was Aunt Esther to my Uncle Mac’s Fred Sanford. If you get that picture, then you can understand what I’m trying to describe here.

When Mac died in 1986, it was after a brief illness, I seem to recall that from diagnosis to death was only about 2 weeks. And during those 2 weeks, Vola never left his side. Constantly caring for the man that I had only heard her refer to as “that old fool”… and that was when she was being nice to him.

I will never forget very early in the visitation at the funeral home, a long time neighbor of theirs told my Aunt Vola, “well, he’s in a better place” and my Aunt Vola lit into her “And you think that is supposed to make me feel better? Right now there is a hole in my heart that he filled ever since Olivia died (Olivia was their daughter who died shortly before her first birthday). All of the fussing that we did over the years was our way of coping with the death of our baby. You don’t know squat and I wish you’d just leave.” My aunt Vola died less than 2 weeks later… from a broken heart that had been held together for all those years by “that old fool.”

The book of Lamentations and the Psalms give us a window into the human condition. Alternate readings from Lamentations and the Book of Wisdom remind us that “God didn’t make death” that “God takes no delight in the ruin of anything that lives” and that “death entered the universe only through the devil’s envy” (Wisdom 1:13, 2:24 CEB). We are also reminded that in hardship and in death, “certainly the faithful love of the Lord hasn’t ended; certainly God’s compassion isn’t through” (Lamentations 3:22 CEB). Psalm 130 reminds us that God hears us when we cry out from the depths of our despair and our anguish, in the midst of our pain and our sorrow, and delivers us from all of that if we seek his face and rest in his amazing grace.

We are reminded that in the midst of our grief, God is with us. Ready to hold us. Ready to allow us to rest in God’s presence. Ready for us to rage and cry out and exhibit our grief in whatever way that we must so that healing may begin… so that wholeness may once again be ours. Our God is our help in ages past. He is our shelter when the stormy blast of life’s struggles and heartaches threaten to consume us in our grief, our anger, and our despair… and God in Jesus Christ is our hope for things to come.

Jesus tells us “I am the resurrection and I am life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. I died and behold I am alive forevermore, and I hold the keys of hell and death. Because I live, you shall live also.”

David placed his hope in the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. When we are faced with uncertainty, when we are faced with a changing culture, and when we begin to face tremendous change in our lives and in the society surrounding us, we don’t need to fear… we don’t need to hunker down in our silos and act like we’re under attack… we don’t need to waste our time lamenting the fact that things have changed and perhaps not to our liking. In times like these we need to get to our knees, seek God’s will in our lives and then step boldly into the world, not to condemn the world… even Jesus didn’t come to do that (cf John 3:17), but to engage the world with the love of Christ… a love ordered by God, exemplified by Christ and enlivened and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Instead of getting on our soapbox and crying woe is me and woe to you who disagree, we should be bearers of Christ’s love to all people. And we should show them that we are Christians by our love, not by shouting out what we are against.

For too long, the church has been in a comfortable position. It was pretty much accepted that people were Christians, whether they were part of a church family or ever even attended church or not. Ever notice how many times you see in an obituary that someone was of the “Methodist faith” or the “Baptist faith”… pretty much a declaration that the last time that person set foot in a church was well beyond anyone’s memory and probably beyond several folks lifetimes.

For too long, we’ve had it easy, whether folks were in the pews or not. And for too long we have let cultural hot button issues as defined by the folks with the biggest and loudest mouths, especially here in America, define what was or wasn’t Christian… what sins were important and what were not. We’ve had too many voices shouting out about the unborn while turning a blind eye to those who are born, not caring about poverty, or justice, or mercy.

We’ve singled out homosexuality to be a major sin while ignoring the other things that Paul lists like gossip, slander, gluttony, and divorce. And in the process of all of this, we have made the church look hateful, intolerant, and irrelevant in the lives of too many people.

We have emasculated our witness by shouting about what we are against instead of lifting up what we are about. We have forgone the love of Christ and the idea of doing unto others as we would have them do to us, to become nothing more than crybabies who throw tantrums if we don’t get our way. It’s been our way or the highway, instead of pointing to Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life for far too long and it has got to stop.

We are called to love… period. Jesus declared that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church, but we have abandoned the message of Jesus for a message of condemnation and the world has seen the hypocrisy that is evident in such a stand.

So, as society changes around us, we don’t need to abandon Christ, we need to hold on closer to Christ with both hands and boldly share with others the risk taking love of Christ. We need to look to Christ for our inspiration and we need to love others as he loves us.

It might not be easy. It might even be painful. But no one has ever said that following Christ would be easy or painless. We may not agree with someone’s lifestyle, but that has never given us permission to act in a hateful way toward them.

Friends, if we live out our lives seeking to exemplify Christ’s love in all that we say and do, we will do more to change lives and hearts than we can ever begin to imagine. Our protests against what we see as another’s sin will never lead that person to Jesus. Our living as though Christ makes a difference in our life can make all of the difference in the world. Thanks be to God…

A Prayer for June 28, 2015

Gracious God,  as we gather together this morning, some are dejected, some are celebrating, some are confused and some wonder what is happening to the world that we have known.

It seems that all that we have held dear is in flux, that things and people that we don’t understand are somehow gaining an upper hand.  Some of us are frightened and agitated.

Yet, you, O God, are in control.

When situations occur that we don’t understand or that we disagree with, it is easy to lash out in anger and fear, yet you call us to react with love.

It is easy to react with language of persecution, until it is called to our attention that some of our brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering from real persecution and sometimes even dying for their faith as they proclaim Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life.  We grieve with them and for them and for their families and in the light of real persecution, we see how pathetic our concerns are.

Holy One, help us to love as you have loved us.  Help us to live our lives as if you make a difference in ours.  Help us to see your image in everyone that we meet and help them to see you in us.

We pray for our leaders, that they will lead in humility and not hypocrisy.  That they would avoid inciting fear in order to gain votes.

We pray for our nation and all of her people.  We pray that instead of finding things that divide us, that we may seek those concerns that bring us together: that we might take better care of the earth that you have given us and not rape and pillage nature in the vain pursuit of profit; that we might seek to care for those in poverty, especially those who are working hard yet still fighting to keep their heads above water as they struggle to provide for their families; that we might welcome the immigrant as Scripture so often challenges us to do.

We pray for our active duty and reserve military, our veterans, and their families and we pray that all of our leaders will tread carefully before committing our troops to battle, and then may we as a nation live up to our promise and moral obligation to these men and women to help them transition from the horrors of war back into civilian life, an obligation that we have failed to keep to our sorrow and shame.

We pray for the sick and those who care for them, for those who mourn, and for those who struggle with addiction, rejection, and all things that devalue life.

We pray that our witness may be strong and that in all things that we will seek to live by the words that we proclaim when we state that you, Jesus, are our Lord and Savior.

O God, you are our help in times of trouble and times of confusion.  Hold us in your strong arms and guide us and direct us as we seek to discern your will for us and our community.  Most of all, empower us to do all that we are called to do in a spirit of humility and love.

We ask all of these things in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Tinker Toy Model – reblogged

Note: Seeing that someone had selected to follow my blog, a space that has been fallow for a while, I thought that it would be nice to post something for them to follow.  Alas, this post is a reblogging of a post that originated while I was at Emory for classes in July 2013.  In light of recent conversations, it is appropriate to my mood.

The following is part of a reflection that I wrote for a class in Personal and Social Ethics that I am taking at Emory University…

The three dimensional matrix demonstrated by the “tinker toy” model has certainly given me pause as I try to establish where I fit within the matrix.  From a political perspective, as shown on the vertical plane, I self identify to the far left.  On the vertical plane of denominational hierarchy, I am a local pastor, treasurer of the district ministers association, and a member of the Board of Buildings and Locations.  That places me not quite at the bottom, but on the lower end of the spectrum.  The third axis to determine where I fit in the modern to postmodern spectrum is the most difficult one for me to figure out.  I tend to be highly skeptical of what is perceived to be truth and certainty.  My BS meter is pretty sensitive and I prize authenticity above correctness.  I tend to search for grey amidst a worldview that seemingly demands black or white answers.  However, I do hold fast to the idea of an Ultimate Truth that is found in Christ and Christ’s revelation of the God of creation.  So, I guess that I will place my self somewhat to the postmodern side of the plane.

The rub in all of this self-identification, though, is that these points are not fixed.  They change as my life experience changes, as I become aware of new facts, as I interact with others, believers and non-believers alike, and they can change in response to specific situations at specific points of time.  They can also change depending upon where I happen to be in my understanding of God, my relationship to God, and my relationship to God’s people.  Does this make me “wishy-washy” in my views?  No, I believe that it makes me human and that it makes me true to myself and not just some arbitrary sets of rules and regulations that offer no flexibility and through which there is no place for grace.

Within the denomination, I shun the activism at both ends of the spectrum as I try to hold fast to the middle ground.  I believe that we do the Gospel a disservice when we are so dogmatic and rigid in our positions that we lose sight of the fact that we are dealing with people who are made in the image of God.  In a blog post that I read this week, Dr David F. Watson of United Theological Seminary questioned whether we were living in a time of “cultural cold war” in our nation and in the church as well.[1]  As the polarization becomes more pronounced, it is my hope that the voices of moderation, of which I feel I am one, would not be drowned out.

In light of Wesley’s sermon, “Catholic Spirit,” I believe that it is incumbent upon us to strive for the via media in all things.  We should hold fast to the values that strike at the heart of Christianity, but we should let grace abound and “think and let think” on those things that do not.  I admire Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter’s attempt at General Conference 2012 to amend the stance on homosexuality as stated in the Discipline to admit that we United Methodists are not of one mind on this issue and on others.  I despair that we cannot agree that we are in disagreement on these issues.  Dean Snyder, senior pastor at Foundry United Methodist Church, used to have a blog entitled “Untied Methodist.”  Unfortunately, I believe that we are becoming more untied than united.  With that in mind, I do wonder, if a split were to occur, what would this liberal, evangelical do and where would I go?  Would I stay with a more conservative church as a liberal voice in a place that would probably respect my status as a local pastor?  Or, would I choose to be a moderate to conservative voice in a more liberal church that would probably discount my calling as a local pastor?  Not an easy place to be.  So, I will continue to love God, love neighbor, and proclaim the Gospel as best I can.  I can do no other.


[1] Watson, David F., “A ‘Cold War’ in the Church?” at http://drwatsonselementaryblog.blogspot.com/2013/07/a-cold-war-in-church.html, accessed 7/27/13

The Times, They Are A’changing

It seems that I will be attending several high school graduation ceremonies over the next couple of weeks.  Four seniors, three different schools, 2 churches… and none of the ceremonies are in conflict (yea!).  I’m proud of their accomplishments and wish them all the best on what will be an important night for them.  What I’m not looking forward to are the inevitable idiots who will hoot and holler, perhaps blow an air horn, and generally “act a fool” as my momma would say.  This attitude denies the graduate the dignity of the death that is occurring at that moment.

Let me explain.

Graduation marks an ending and it marks a new beginning.  The graduate experiences the death of what they have known and what has been, for many of them at least, a comfortable existence.  High School becomes a memory, not a presently lived experience.  For some, it will be a memory best forgotten for it was a time of brokenness or missed potential.  For others, it will be a time of fond memories.  It won’t matter if they are going off to college, specialized training, the military, or directly into the working world, their lives are irrevocably changed and life begins anew.  This cycle of death and life, new life, resurrection, if you will, will be repeated over and over throughout the journey that we all take on this terrestrial ball.

Those of us who are followers of Christ should be familiar with this concept.  Death and resurrection are all part of our experience, even if we would rather not experience them.  The thing is that we don’t have to face these realities on our own.  Indeed, we don’t face them on our own, for God is with us.  God never leaves us, even though we might not be feeling God’s presence or even wanting God’s presence at the time.  For me, that has brought a sense of comfort, a sense of hope, and it brings the strength to carry on in spite of what may be going on around me.

To the Class of 2014: May your sails be unfurled and the wind always at your back.  Dream big and never let your dreams be compromised.  Godspeed as you sail off into a new life and a new world.  Never forget, you are not alone.

Waiting… for what?

Well, it’s been a while since I have blogged about anything.  I’ve waited to have something to say that I think that the few folks who visit here would be willing to read.  By waiting as long as I have, most folks who have cared about my thoughts have probably given up waiting.  And, those who have stuck around might be wondering why they even bothered after they read what I’m about to write.  Oh well, it is what it is.

Here we are in the season of Advent, a time when the Christian church and the followers of Christ are reminded that we live in a time of “expectant hope” (I know that I should attribute that phrase, but for the life of me, I cannot find where it originated).  We live with expectation of the coming of the Christ and the hope that he brings, at least we should.  But sometimes I think that our “expectant hope” gets lost in the busyness that marks this season.  By allowing the busyness and the cultural expectations of Christmas to crowd out the reflection and wonder of Advent, I believe that we truly lose all that is special about this time on our church calendar.

In this fast paced world of ours, I think that we need Advent more than ever.  We need to set aside time in our busy schedule to pause, to reflect, to listen, to seek, and to be.  And, if we take that time, even if it is just for “one brief shining moment,” we can find the strength that we need to move through this life.  Strength that comes from the One who was, who is, and is to come.

“For unto us a child is born.”  May we make time for Him to be born in us today.

The Tinker Toy Model

The following is part of a reflection that I wrote for a class in Personal and Social Ethics that I am taking at Emory University…

The three dimensional matrix demonstrated by the “tinker toy” model has certainly given me pause as I try to establish where I fit within the matrix.  From a political perspective, as shown on the vertical plane, I self identify to the far left.  On the vertical plane of denominational hierarchy, I am a local pastor, treasurer of the district ministers association, and a member of the Board of Buildings and Locations.  That places me not quite at the bottom, but on the lower end of the spectrum.  The third axis to determine where I fit in the modern to postmodern spectrum is the most difficult one for me to figure out.  I tend to be highly skeptical of what is perceived to be truth and certainty.  My BS meter is pretty sensitive and I prize authenticity above correctness.  I tend to search for grey amidst a worldview that seemingly demands black or white answers.  However, I do hold fast to the idea of an Ultimate Truth that is found in Christ and Christ’s revelation of the God of creation.  So, I guess that I will place my self somewhat to the postmodern side of the plane.

The rub in all of this self-identification, though, is that these points are not fixed.  They change as my life experience changes, as I become aware of new facts, as I interact with others, believers and non-believers alike, and they can change in response to specific situations at specific points of time.  They can also change depending upon where I happen to be in my understanding of God, my relationship to God, and my relationship to God’s people.  Does this make me “wishy-washy” in my views?  No, I believe that it makes me human and that it makes me true to myself and not just some arbitrary sets of rules and regulations that offer no flexibility and through which there is no place for grace.

Within the denomination, I shun the activism at both ends of the spectrum as I try to hold fast to the middle ground.  I believe that we do the Gospel a disservice when we are so dogmatic and rigid in our positions that we lose sight of the fact that we are dealing with people who are made in the image of God.  In a blog post that I read this week, Dr David F. Watson of United Theological Seminary questioned whether we were living in a time of “cultural cold war” in our nation and in the church as well.[1]  As the polarization becomes more pronounced, it is my hope that the voices of moderation, of which I feel I am one, would not be drowned out.

In light of Wesley’s sermon, “Catholic Spirit,” I believe that it is incumbent upon us to strive for the via media in all things.  We should hold fast to the values that strike at the heart of Christianity, but we should let grace abound and “think and let think” on those things that do not.  I admire Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter’s attempt at General Conference 2012 to amend the stance on homosexuality as stated in the Discipline to admit that we United Methodists are not of one mind on this issue and on others.  I despair that we cannot agree that we are in disagreement on these issues.  Dean Snyder, senior pastor at Foundry United Methodist Church, used to have a blog entitled “Untied Methodist.”  Unfortunately, I believe that we are becoming more untied than united.  With that in mind, I do wonder, if a split were to occur, what would this liberal, evangelical do and where would I go?  Would I stay with a more conservative church as a liberal voice in a place that would probably respect my status as a local pastor?  Or, would I choose to be a moderate to conservative voice in a more liberal church that would probably discount my calling as a local pastor?  Not an easy place to be.  So, I will continue to love God, love neighbor, and proclaim the Gospel as best I can.  I can do no other.


[1] Watson, David F., “A ‘Cold War’ in the Church?” at http://drwatsonselementaryblog.blogspot.com/2013/07/a-cold-war-in-church.html, accessed 7/27/13

Sunday Morning Coming Down

 

Week 2 of my annual sojourn to Emory University for the Course of Study is complete. I want to thank Steve Galyon for preaching for me today and Mike Feely for preaching for me next Sunday.  It is a nice change of pace to enjoy Sunday as Sabbath instead of work.

 

I am going to admit something that will probably come back to haunt me, but today is a day that I have “skipped” church.  I’ve spent time in my devotions and I had every intention of heading out to worship this morning, but there was something about just another cup of coffee as I sat in the silence of the room that was just so appealing.

 

 

So, I have listened to some folksy-bluegrassy-gospel music in the background while I have been reading, washing clothes and just relaxing.  So there.  I admit it.  And maybe I won’t have a whole lot of credibility the next time I give someone a sideward glance when they offer an excuse for missing worship, but this morning this is what I needed.  Sometimes it is necessary for us to just rest in the arms of the one who gave his life for us “while we were yet sinners.”

See you in a couple of weeks.