Monday, May 25, 2015

By the Power of the Holy Spirit

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Acts 2:1-21:

On May 24, 1738, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, had a remarkable experience.  John had been struggling with his faith, and in particular with the claim made by some that after accepting Christ into his life, he should have been filled with continual joy, never experiencing any doubts about his faith, which is not what was happening in his life.  And so listening to those same people he believed that he had not actually been saved.  And so on May 24, , and let me remind you that today is May 24, John wrote in his journal, “In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”  This event, known as the Aldersgate experience, was preceded three days earlier by a similar experience of his brother Charles, who on the one year anniversary wrote a poem, the 7th verse of which begins “O for a thousand tongues to sing my great redeemer’s praise,” which became a hymn of the same name and has been traditionally the first hymn found in any Methodist hymnal, from the first to the present day.

Although John and Charles had already really put into place many of the pieces that would lead to the formation of the Methodist movement, many people consider John Wesley’s heart being strangely warmed to be the date when the Methodist church was really begun, that without that event, we would not be sitting here today.  John himself in writing a letter to his much older brother Samuel said that before this event he was never a Christian.  To give some perspective, Wesley was already an ordained minister, spent more than two hours in prayer every day, plus private devotion, he fasted a minimum of two times a week, received communion 4-5 times a week, and engaged in service to those in need, so if Wesley wasn’t a Christian prior to this, then I would say none of us are Christian, and Wesley himself would later back off that claim.  He came to believe that people could have instantaneous conversion experiences, but for many, if not most, it was an experience that happened over time, and our faith continued to deepen and grow throughout our lives.  Now personally, as a church historian who studies Methodism, I think the Aldersgate experience is a little overdone in importance.  Not to say it’s not important, but I’m not sure we can claim that today, or this moment, are really the birthday of the Methodist movement.  Why Aldersgate is important, however, was because the transformative effect it had in John’s life and because of the power of the Holy Spirit which became present for him in that moment.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Mary of Magdala

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was John 20:1-18:

As many of you know, it is said that the best-selling book of all time is the Bible.  The 13th best-selling book in any language is the Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, which is also the tenth best-selling book in English.  So, it is perhaps not surprising that when I began asking people what women in the Bible I should preach on, nearly without exception, the first name that came up was Mary Magdalene.  Although people have had a fascination with Mary Magdalene for a long time, and within recent memory, she has played a significant role in Jesus Christ Superstar and in the novel and movie The Last Temptation of Christ and Mel Gibson’s The Passion it is The Da Vinci Code which has driven resurgence in interest and thinking about Mary.  But most of this has been more speculation and fiction, than reality.

Now I don’t have a very high opinion of Dan Brown.  I think he is a great suspense writer, and I have, in fact, read most of his books, but the problem is he includes facts that could be disproved with just two minutes on Wikipedia or ten minutes in the library, and then passes those off facts as the absolute truth, and this is especially true in The Da Vinci Code.  So for example, he says that the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the 1950s and contained the earliest Christian writings, when in fact they were found in 1947 and do not contain any Christian writings at all.  But the claims he makes about Mary, and what we can claim about her are even worse, and I strongly suspect have influenced what many of you think about Mary Magdalene.  And so to begin we are going to spend some time deconstructing some beliefs of Mary, looking at what we know about her from the Bible, and then because Dan Brown focuses a lot of his material on non-canonical texts, that is books that were not included in the Bible, we will look briefly at those as well, and then we will discuss what she means for us and why she is important.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The MLB Is Doing The NFL's Job

This week Major League Baseball announced that although the umpires are already the ones who prepare all the game balls, and mark them as such, before every game.  Now the umpires will have control of the balls until the game begins, rather than having the ball boys taking them to the dugouts. In addition, if more balls are needed during the game, an official will go to the umpire's locker room, which is otherwise locked, to retrieve new balls.  They announced these changes in the wake of what is happening in the NFL.

Of course I am glad MLB is making such moves, but why is no one asking the NFL why they aren't doing similar things?  Why are they going to continue to allow different teams to play with different balls?  Why are they not taking steps to make sure the officials have control of the balls until play begins?  Or even more, why they don't hire their own staff to control the balls during the games, rather than leaving it up to the teams?  Why does it seem like their pressure gauges don't work the same, since they got two very different readings at different times using different gauges?  Why, for all the broohaha about this, does the NFL not seem to be taking the "integrity of the game" seriously when they have been shown to have a significant problem?

Well, at least the MLB is doing the NFL's job, now if only the NFL would act similarly.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Mary, Blessed Among Women

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Luke 1:26-45:

There was an event that happened this week here in Albuquerque, that I thought was sort of appropriate as we celebrate Mother’s Day.  Some of you may have seen it on the news, and maybe some of you were even impacted by it, but somehow a dog made her way onto I-40, and decided, well maybe decided is the wrong word, but was forced to deliver her puppies on the side of the road, and so people were slowing down and causing a back-up and then someone called the city and animal control and the police showed up to make sure she and the puppies were safe, and everything worked out well, except for the fact that the police felt the need to issue a ticket to the dog for littering.


Today we continue in our series looking at the story of some of the women in the Bible, and if you missed any of those I encourage you to pick up a CD as you leave today, or listen to them on our Facebook or YouTube pages.  But as I was putting this series together I was asking my wife Linda, and the wonderful mother to my own children, about the order I should do things and to help me narrow down some of the stories.  As I listed off some of the women I thought we might cover today, I didn’t have Mary, the mother of Jesus on the list.  And Linda’s response was “It’s mother’s day, don’t you think you should do something about Mary?”  To which I foolishly responded something along the lines of “well I could, but I don’t have to.  I think there are other women I could discuss and give a message that also applied.”  And she said, “Its mother’s day, you should talk about Mary.”  And quickly realizing that I was not going to win this argument, and since I had already dismissed the idea that women should listen to their husbands, I did the prudent and smart thing and said “yes dear,” and so today we look at Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Now in the Protestant tradition, we haven’t really done a lot with Mary as a figure.  For those who grew up Roman Catholic or Orthodox, you heard a lot more about Mary and did a lot more with her than we Protestants do.  The primary reason for that is because at the time of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther sought to return to a scriptural basis for everything the church did.  By scripture alone became one of the rallying cries, and much of what the tradition holds about Mary is not found in scripture, and so her story was predominantly removed.  Now there were some other reasons as well, but that was one them, because in Mary is simply not talked about all that much in scripture.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

At Least The NFL Is Investigating Something

Yesterday the NFL released its much anticipated report on "inflategate."  After more than 100 days, and who knows how many millions, a lawyer, and that is a key piece of information, found that it is "more probable than not" that the New England Patriots tampered with the air pressure in the balls before a game.  More probable than not.  Are you kidding me?  What law school did this guy go to?

Lawyers have to do a better job than that. There is no standard of justice that can be placed on "more probable than not," and while Goodell will certainly try and enforce some "justice" on Tom Brady and other employees, I don't know how he can when the information is only circumstantial at best, and thus is only "more probable."

One other key piece of information that was glaringly missing is that they did not evaluate all the footballs that the Colts were using, but of those that they did, 3 out of 4 were also underinflated.  So by the standard the NFL itself has set up, isn't it "more probable than not" that the Colts were also "tampering" with the balls?  Besides for the fact that after this came out plenty of quarterbacks came out and said they did nearly the same thing, and we won't get into the fact that Brady shredded the Colts defense after the balls were back to regulation.

And finally, why is the NFL letting teams control the balls at all?  Does this happen in any other sport?  In basketball, the officials, or representatives there of, control the balls.  In MLB, while the ball boys have them during the game, it's the umps who prep all of the balls before play begins, not the home team.  And none of the sports allow the teams to use different balls/pucks, etc.  They all come out of the same pool.  So why does the NFL allow teams to do anything with the balls?  There is some explaining that still needs to be done.

But, at least the NFL spent some time and money conducting an investigation into something.  It certainly seems like more than what they did in the Ray Rice case, or about Jameis Winston and certainly much more than the Seattle Seahawks did to investigate Frank Clark, who was their second round draft choice.

Clark was kicked off the University of Michigan football team last November following an arrest for domestic violence against his girlfriend.  There had been prior incidents of criminal behavior that also led to the dismissal.  In this case, there were several witnesses who testified that they either saw the victim attacked and hit, or saw her laying unconscious on the ground, and the police took pictures of some of the wounds.

But the Seattle Seahawks, in doing their "due diligence," only talked to Clark himself about this incident.  They did not talk to any of the arresting officers nor to the victim or any of the witnesses.  Now I can understand why they might not talk to the victim, but not to any of the witnesses?  And then for the GM to have the temerity to come out and say he did not believe that Clark had actually ever struck the victim, that takes some nerve.  To me it means either the GM is lying or they didn't actually care because they needed a pass rusher, and so only conducted a cursory look so they could say they did an investigation.  I'm going with more of the second because as I said in an earlier post, plausible deniability is easier and better than due diligence, although I'd also believe the first.

So congratulations NFL.  You did a terrible investigation that found nothing, and proved nothing, against a problem that you yourself caused and should fix, but you did a much better job than any of your teams are doing to investigate violence against women.  At least you have some standards.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

One Of These Riot Pictures Is Different From The Others

One of these pictures is of the police in Baltimore. Which one?









If you guessed the first picture, you were correct. And where are the others from? Ferguson? New York? Cleveland? Oakland? No, no, no and no.

Instead they are from the University of Arizona, the University of Kentucky, the University of Maryland, Ohio State University, Penn State University, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and the University of West Virginia during riots following sports victories, losses and the firing of a coach.

These riots are explained away, if they are covered nationally at all, as being done by "drunk" students who got a little out of control, a little rowdy, but it's okay.  But the riots in Baltimore, that was thugs who need to be dealt with accordingly.  What is the defining difference?

Surely race and class have nothing to do with it.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Canaanite Woman and Baltimore

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Matthew 15:21-28:

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly. (NRSV)

The theologian Karl Barth once said that preachers should work with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.  Now whether than still holds or not is up for debate, the biggest problem being that the number of people who actually read a newspaper is greatly reduced, and I am not one of them.  But as we were watched the events unfold in Baltimore this week, I couldn’t help but think of everything that I was seeing and hearing through the lens of the story of the Canaanite woman.

One of the commentators who lives in Baltimore said that what made him most sad was that the scars and destruction of the race riots from 1968 had not yet been overcome, and his fear was that in nearly 50 years this destruction would also still be present.  And my initial response was that the reasons for those riots in 1968 had not yet been overcome either, the wounds were still there, but I pray that will not be the case 50 years from now.  That we will begin to do something as a nation to change how we live together, but that requires us to look at ourselves, our culture and our country in profoundly different ways.  The Rev. Dr. George Hermanson says “social conventions develop over centuries and, by definition, are never explicitly discussed or agreed upon.  A crucial aspect of ‘convention’ is that it is unspoken and taken for granted.  Indeed, so taken for granted that we are by and large completely unaware of how much these codes are embedded in our most deeply held sense of what is true, right and just.”  It is that level of social convention that not only drives what we witnessed in Baltimore, but also drives the interaction between Jesus and the Canaanite woman.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Due Diligence Versus Plausible Deniability

Last night in the NFL draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted Jameis Winston with the number one pick.  This was not really a surprise since it's what everyone expected from the time it was said that Tampa Bay would have the first pick.  There is no question (or little question) that Winston can play and can be a franchise quarterback.  The issue has always been his off the field behavior.

Lots of scouts and other retired executives have said they wouldn't take him number one because of the off the field issues, and since he would be the face of the franchise that risk is even greater.  They weighed the risks as being greater than the reward.  And I think you could easily say that had he not been a quarterback that his draft stock, because of those issues, would have been a lot lower (although Florida State and others probably would not have tolerated as much either, or enabled him the way they did).  But the Bucs considered the risk to be smaller than the reward, and everyone kept saying, including the team, that they "did their due diligence" in checking out his background.

Except, it doesn't appear that they did.  Outside the Lines reported on several occasions that NO team from the NFL, or the NFL league office itself ever contacted the district attorney in Tallahassee to talk with him about the rape investigation.  Someone from Tampa did briefly talk to an assistant DA, but that incident was never brought up.  I never heard anyone ask if they talked with the Tallahassee or Florida State Police departments, although I'm guessing that if they did it was only cursory. Winston's former high school coach, who said that Winston needs a tight, strict environment, said that he had meetings in person with several NFL teams lasting as long as 4 hours, but only had a phone conversation with the Bucs and it was less than an hour.

Lovie Smith, the coach of Tampa Bay, said they choose him because they didn't see a "pattern" of negative behavior.  Smith and the Bucs might be the only people who haven't seen a pattern of behavior.  And it really makes me think, contrary to what they said, and what the media repeats, that they didn't do their due diligence, because they didn't want to.  They wanted Jameis Winston and they didn't want anything to derail that, and so what they did was enough to make it look like they did their work, but not enough so that if something comes out later they can say "we didn't know, he fooled us" and have plausible deniability.

I truly hope that Jameis Winston is the quarterback that everyone thinks he can be on and off the field, most importantly for his own sake.  But with what the NFL just went through last year you would also expect that the team and the league would do a better job in their investigations. But it doesn't appear that's happening, because plausible deniability is always easier and simpler than doing the job the right way in the first place.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Challenging God: Zelophehad's Daughters

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Numbers 27:1-11:

Many of you know that I am a number person.  Give me an excel spreadsheet, especially if it’s one I can make longer and more complex, and I am a happy person.  But if you had asked me when I began my ministerial career if there was one book in the Bible that I thought I might never preach from I would have probably said the book of Numbers, because these are not good numbers of excel spreadsheets, these numbers are census reports.  It’s not that there aren’t some good stories to be found in Numbers, but to get to them you have to wade through these lists of names. If you get bored in the genealogies found in other parts of scripture, you are going to fall asleep reading Numbers.  Now, I’m sure that there are some people who find these lists exciting, but I am not one of them, and so I rarely even think about Numbers, but then I came across this remarkable story of Zelophehad’s daughters.

At another church I served, someone asked me to preach about the proper role for women in the household; and while I knew what I thought I wanted to say, I didn’t really know how to approach it, and to be honest I was a little afraid to approach it, but then something remarkable happened.  Within a short period of time, two different people made mention of this story.  The first was someone with whom I went to high school who is now an atheist, although knowing something about the church he grew up in I can certainly understand how he ended up the way he did.  I don’t know how he heard about the story, but he found it exciting and definitely wondered why it had never been covered in his church growing up.  Then shortly thereafter someone else passed on info on a blog being done by someone who was reading the entire Bible and then blogging his thoughts about each story and what made her pass this blog on to others was when he got to this story.

So within less a week, two different people had commented on this rather remarkable story, which I had to have read it because it’s not just found here, but instead is actually mentioned five times in the Bible, although I didn’t even remember having every encountered it. So I thought that having this appear had to be more than just a coincidence and so I began learning more about Zelophehad and his remarkable daughters.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Women: Be Silent And Subservient

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was 1 Timothy 2:8-15:

Today we continue looking at some of the difficult passages we find in scripture as they relate to women.  Last week we heard from 1 Corinthians that women should be silent in church, and I said that many scholars do not believe that passage was original to the letter, but instead think it came in as a margin notation based on the passage we just heard from 1 Timothy.  Just as a brief summary, scholars don’t think it’s original first because it doesn’t match what says about women, and their participation in church, in other parts of 1 Corinthians.  Second because it is not consistently found in the same places in the manuscripts we have giving some indication that the scribes were unsure where it properly belonged, which leads to the third point that the section of chapter 14 in which it is found is actually easier to read if it is removed because it interrupts what Paul is talking about otherwise.
So that leads us into today’s passage, of which there is no doubt is original to this letter.  Now where the doubt lies is whether Paul wrote 1 Timothy or not.  Although the letter says it is written by Paul, the vast majority of scholars do not believe it is written by Paul, and when I say the vast majority I’m talking close to 90.  Instead, this is a pseudepigraphical work, that is a work written by someone else in Paul’s name.  We have lots of different pseudepigraphical works as this was fairly common in the ancient world.  The main part of this is really a defense of Paul to say that I don’t think Paul ever said that women should be silent in church.  But even if Paul didn’t say it, it is still there, so how do we approach these passages?

The easiest thing to do would be to say that we are going to ignore it, pretend as if it doesn’t exist and go on to something else.  And the simple truth is we all do that all the time, we even do it with these passages.  So for example, the vast majority of churches that want to argue that women should be silent, and certainly should never be ordained, don’t require that women cover their heads when they come into church, as required by the rules Paul does stipulate in 1 Corinthians.  Nor do they stop women at the door of the church and tell them they can’t come in, because their hair is braided or they are wearing gold, pearls or expensive clothing.  So why is it that we ignore the rules that come right before choose not to ignore the one that comes after?  Is it because we often come to scripture looking for things we can use to justify our own biases while ignoring those that don’t?  And I’m not attacking a particular group, because all of us do exactly the same thing.  We all pick and choose what parts of scripture we want to follow, or force others to follow, and which we’re going to ignore or explain away to make our own point.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Women: No Talkin' In Church

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36:

Today is one of those days in which saying after the scripture reading is done, “this is the word of God,” leaves many people a little bit queasy.  This is one of the passages we find in the Bible with which many in the church don’t want to have to deal or even admit is there.  So, for example, this passage is not included in the lectionary, which are the recommended readings for each Sunday of the year.  But we don’t have to go very far in order to to find churches that still use this, and other passages to justify women not only leadership positions in the church but most especially ordination.

The girls and I were recently at the famous Irish restaurant McDonalds, and the guy at the next booth was talking on his phone with someone about the terrible decision that the church was considering at their next general church gathering, about the possibility of allowing women to be ordained.  And to this gentleman not only was this an abomination, but it was the work of Lucifer himself to try and bring down the church.  Now based on what he was saying I was able to find out that he was a member of the 7th day Adventists, and the great irony is that the 7th day Adventists was cofounded by a woman.  So although we don’t talk about these passages much, if at all, in the mainline churches, we ignore them and others like them at our own peril, and at the peril of the greater church.

Now today’s sermon is going to be a little different than what I normally try to do which is to try and make the scripture applicable, so that we might learn something from it and live that out in our lives.  I know that I do not always accomplish that goal, but that is what I at least try to do most of the time.  I’m not going to do that today, so if you want to hear some good illustrations, be uplifted and look at how to apply the scripture to your life, please come back next week, because today I am going to try and unpack this passage, to provide some background and some perspective on this passage, and then next week we’ll look at possible interpretations and how we can learn from these passages.  A good place to start is with the simple understand that there are some things in scripture with which we are going to disagree, and to recognize the lens through which we read scripture has as much to do with our understanding of scripture as the words on the page do.  So, for example, if we were to read the passages found in scripture that relate to slavery, we read them very differently today than we did just two hundred years ago. Our understanding and interpretation of those passages, and the lens through which we read them, has changed radically in the last few centuries.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

I Believe, Help My Unbelief

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Mark 16:1-8:

When the bracket came out for the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament, better known as March Madness, after a 64 year hiatus, my Harvard Crimson were making the tournament for the fourth time in a row.  But their first game was going to be against the University of North Carolina.  While Carolina is not the team this year that they have been in the past, they were still a superior team to Harvard.  The not only played tougher competition, but they had all around better players.  And so when I went to fill out my bracket, did I pick Harvard?  No, I chose North Carolina.  It was sort of easy pick, and yet it wasn’t.  Because it’s not like Harvard hasn’t won in the tournament before.  In fact, they had won their first round games the last two years including beating a heavily favored and much better New Mexico team in 2013.  But I still picked North Carolina.  I did believe that Harvard stood a chance, but I didn’t actually believe it enough to pick them, or I might say I said I believed, but I wasn’t willing to actually live that belief out in my life.  And so as the game began, I wrote on facebook “I believe that Harvard can win this, help my unbelief.”  And then Harvard came as close as a last second three point shot, which would have won the game, clanked off the back of the rim.  “I believe, help my unbelief.”

That quote comes from a healing story we find in the gospel of Mark.  A young boy has epilepsy, although it’s not called that in the passage, and the boy’s father asks Jesus to help the boy, if Jesus is able.  And Jesus responds, “If you are able! – all things can be done for the one who believes,” and the father immediately cries out, “I believe, help my unbelief.”  That is he believes it in his heart, but not in his head, or perhaps that’s reversed, he believes it with his head but not his heart, and so there is that modicum of doubt there, that piece of unbelief.  He knows that 9 times out of 10, North Carolina is going to beat Harvard on the hardwood, but he’s hoping for that one upset, that one miracle to occur, but while he’s hoping for that miracle, he’s not really ready to bet anything on it.  He wants desperately to believe, to act as if it is true, and yet he hesitates.  We can see the same thing happening with the disciples and with the women who go to the tomb.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Bread and Stones

Here is my sermon from Maundy Thursday.  The text was John 13:31-35:

In her autobiography, Wait Till Next Year, Doris Kearns Goodwin recounts how growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950’s she and her friends acted out the hearings being conducted by Senator Joe McCarthy.  “We had begun by transforming our living rooms into a counterpart of the Senate chamber,” she said.  “We set up a table facing a single chair in the middle of the room.  The person designated as the accused sat in the chair while the rest of us asked questions and made charges from behind the table.  As our accused fidgeted uneasily on the stand, we grew increasingly hostile, interrupting explanations with points of order, claiming we had documents and proof to back up our accusations.  We shouted and argued just as we had seen the counsel do on television,” she said.

“Day after day we played this treacherous game, even though one of us usually ended up running from the room in tears.  We accused one another of being poor sports, of cheating at games.  We exposed statements of the ‘accused’ which denigrated others.  Marilyn… accused Elaine of saying that the new girl on the block, Natalie, was fat; Elaine accused Marilyn of saying that Eileen was a crybaby…  Eddie accused Eileen of complaining that Elaine was too bossy.  Often these charges were true.  We did, indeed, talk behind one another’s backs, but we had never imagined that our slurring words, bad mouthed comments, and hurtful language would be made known to others….

“As the games progressed, they became even more vicious and mean-spirited.  Marilyn said she knew the truth about my family, that my real mother had died when I was born, and that my mother was really my grandmother.  Stung by the attack, I lashed back: ‘How can you say such a thing?  Your name isn’t even Greene.  It’s Greenberg.  You’re the one who’s hiding things, not me.’

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Foot Washing, The Golden Rule and "Religious Freedom"

In just a few hours, many churches, ours included, will gather together for Maundy Thursday services.  Most scholars are in agreement that the name Maundy comes from the Latin word for commandment, “Mandatum”, which comes from the traditional reading from John for this service in which Jesus says that he is giving the disciples a new commandment, that they love one another just as he has loved them.

A commandment, by definition, is a divine rule that is to be strictly observed.  It is not something that people get to choose whether they are going to follow or not.   While we as Christians might, and do, argue about which of the rules from scripture that we are supposed to follow, I don’t think this one is really negotiable for two reasons.  The first is because it comes from Jesus, and the second, directly related, is that Jesus also tells us it is a commandment.

But then the hard part becomes how do we live out this commandment, and that’s where the practices of Maundy Thursday worship come into play.  The first is that of foot washing, which is recounted in the same passage from John just before he gives this commandment.   Jesus gets down and washes the disciples feet, taking on the lowliest of tasks left to the lowliest of servants.  Jesus is living out this commandment long before he gives it to the disciples.  They can’t really ask Jesus what this commandment looks like because he has just demonstrated it to them.

The second part of most Maundy Thursday services is the celebration of Holy Communion, which is what we find instituted on the last night in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke).  There is something radical about eating a meal with another person and table hospitality, because in sharing a meal you open yourself up ways that other things do not.  And who you dine with says a lot about you.  Indeed one of the things Jesus is routinely criticized for is not just the fact that he associates with tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners, but that he has the temerity and indecency to dine with them.  Table fellowship says a lot.

Friday, March 27, 2015

A Servant

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was John 12:20-26:

Today we conclude our series looking at the spiritual disciplines by looking at the discipline of service.  I’ve opened up the other sermons in this series with a joke, but I’m not doing that today not because I think this topic is more serious, but instead for the simple reality that I couldn’t find a good joke to use, as all the jokes I could find had to do with worship services, but that’s not the service we’re talking about here.  The service we are talking about is about reaching out to others, and yet it’s about so much more than that as well.  As part of today’s service we are going to be receiving new members into the church, and that involves vowing to support the church with our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.  None of those things are independent of each other, and all of them go back of course to the earliest days of Methodism.
Methodism began at Oxford University when Charles Wesley, who was a student there, asked his brother John, who was an Anglican priest and also an Oxford Don, which is a fancy English word for professor, to come and help he and his friends deepen their faith lives and spiritual practices.  And so together they formed what came to be known as the holiness club, and they gathered together several times a day to pray and read scripture, and they fasted twice a day, and they asked each other how it was with their soul to have mutual accountability for their lives and what they were doing.  But one of the members, William Morgan, said this wasn’t enough, and persuaded John and Charles to visit one of the prisons in London, which they did, and continued to do so, and so a faith lived out became one of the key characteristics of Methodism.  Indeed, John Wesley was always much more concerned about orthopraxy, that is right action, over that of orthodoxy, right belief, a tradition which carries on today, with some of the most famous organizations helping people in need, like the Salvation Army and Goodwill, originating in the Methodist church.