Archive for March, 2010

About that bread and wine

March 30, 2010

Despite the ecumenical progress that Christian churches, communions, and denominations have made over the past 75 years or so to become more unified, our understanding of Holy Communion—including what to call it (Mass, Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, Eucharist, Divine Liturgy)—and who may participate in it remains a large and heartbreaking obstacle to greater Christian unity.

This shouldn’t surprise us: at the very least, we are talking about powerful symbols—the most powerful symbols I know of. I’m often surprised when someone trivializes a controversial subject by saying something like, “It’s only a symbol,” or, “It’s only a symbolic gesture.” In other words, “Why get bent out of shape? A symbol isn’t a real thing.” Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon for 03-28-10: “Putting the Method in Methodist, Part 4: The Lord’s Supper”

March 30, 2010

Sermon Text: Luke 22:14-23

The sitcom How I Met Your Mother is a pretty funny show for grown-ups on CBS about five very close friends—Lily, Marshall, Ted, Barney, and Robin—who live and work in New York. In last week’s episode, Lily is looking forward to celebrating her birthday with her husband Marshall and the other three. She becomes very angry, however, when Ted shows up to the party with a date, whom none of the other four have met.

What bothers Lily about it is that for years Ted always shows up at these intimate and important life celebrations with these very temporary, short-term girlfriends—who are a part of Ted’s life one moment and gone the next. It doesn’t feel right—it doesn’t seem appropriate. Lily gets out her photo album and flips through its pages: year after year, Lily shows pictures of the five friends posing alongside one of Ted’s girlfriends whose names he couldn’t even remember. These women didn’t belong; they didn’t fit in. Read the rest of this entry »

Losing a part of ourselves

March 26, 2010

I had three “best friends” in elementary school. That’s how I viewed them. They never competed for the title, and I know logically that only one person can be “best” at anything. But I guess what I’m saying is that each was best in his own way: each friendship was profoundly important in its own way. I am very grateful that two of the three friends are still in my life (though one only through Facebook, but that’s better than nothing). The third friend, Geoff Sanders, died on December 29, 2009. I found out yesterday.

I’m trying to make sense of my feelings. Can I say, first of all, that it just sucks? I’m surprised at how sad I feel about it—about him—since I haven’t communicated with him in any way for 25 years. It isn’t entirely for lack of trying. I periodically made an effort to find him online (without spending money on the search!). There was no sure sign of him—no picture or corroborating biographical detail—until yesterday, when through the magic of Google I came across his obituary. Read the rest of this entry »

Nice book about the Bible and its authority

March 24, 2010

Last week, I read an excellent book called The Last Word: Scripture and the Authority of God—Getting Beyond the Bible Wars, by N.T. Wright. I intended to share one or two of its insights in my sermon on “searching the scriptures,” but, well… you know how that went.

One of Wright’s main points is that the Bible must be read and understood not as a list of rules, a collection of moral teachings, or even simply as a way of conveying important information or guiding church doctrine, but primarily as a story—an overarching narrative describing God’s action through Israel to save the world. The story reaches its climax through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, Israel’s Messiah.

When we understand it this way, we can easily make sense of the ways in which Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament.

When [Jesus] spoke of the scripture needing to be fulfilled (e.g., Mark 14:49), he was not simply envisaging himself doing a few scattered and random acts which corresponded to various distant and detached prophetic sayings; he was thinking of the entire storyline at last coming to fruition, and of an entire world of hints and shadows now coming to plain statement and full light. This, I take it, is the deep meaning of sayings like Matthew 5:17-18, where Jesus insists that he has come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it.1

Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon from 03-14-10: “Putting the Method in Methodist, Part 2: Fasting or Giving Something Up

March 24, 2010

Sermon Text: Matthew 6:16-18

In part 1 of this sermon series, we talked in general about what John Wesley and much of the universal Church call the “means of grace,” practices or disciplines such as prayer, Bible study, Holy Communion, worship, and fasting. As I said last week, in the early days of the Methodist movement, John and Charles Wesley and some of their Oxford classmates began meeting in small groups to practice these disciplines and hold each other accountable. Some of their classmates who didn’t approve of what they perceived as religious fanaticism called them “Methodists” because they took very seriously these methods of living out the Christian life. But “method” isn’t a good word: it’s not about simply employing a technique or following a plan or developing some kind of spiritual skill whereby we can grow closer to God. No, we call them means of grace because it’s about grace, not what we do but what God the Holy Spirit does through these disciplines to transform us into the people God wants us to be. Read the rest of this entry »

I’m way behind!

March 23, 2010

My normal blogging (and life) activities were rudely interrupted by a brief and violent illness over the weekend from which I’m only now emerging intact. Larisa graciously pinch-hit for me last Sunday, and knocked it out of the park, of course. (Thank you!) All is well now. Carry on.

This Sunday in Vinebranch

March 19, 2010

We’ll continue our sermon series on what Wesley and others call “the means of grace” with a sermon entitled, “Putting the Method in Methodist, Part 3: Searching the Scriptures.” Our scripture will include John 20:30-31 and 2 Timothy 3:14-17.

As Christians, why do we read, study, and emphasize the Bible in worship and private devotion? How does Scripture shape our lives today? Why is it still relevant? How do we deal with difficult questions that the Bible sometimes raises? And what does our Wesleyan tradition mean when it says that the Bible is the primary authority guiding Christian faith and practice? How do we read the Bible for all its worth?

We’ll explore these questions and more this Sunday. See you then!

Follow-up on fasting

March 17, 2010

Last Sunday’s sermon on fasting was informed in part by Richard Foster’s contemporary classic on spiritual formation, Celebration of Discipline. I read it while I was still an impressionable Baptist in college 20 years ago, years before joining the Methodist church, going to seminary, and starting ministry. I revisited the book last week and was amazed at how much I still liked it—how rich, challenging, and relevant it remains.

Foster is aware he’s writing to an audience that doesn’t have much experience fasting, and he gives some practical insights on how to do it. He recommends starting with a partial fast of 24 hours, abstaining from all food and drinking fresh fruit juice. He writes that many people find a lunch-to-lunch fast the easiest—eating lunch, abstaining from dinner and breakfast and then breaking the fast at lunch the next day. In other words, you skip two meals (not to mention all snacking in between!) and drink juice. A “complete” fast means abstaining from food and drinking only water. (And always drink plenty of water while fasting!) Read the rest of this entry »

“Evening Prayer,” attributed to St. Patrick

March 17, 2010

I’m not wearing green today—I wore the only green shirt in my closet yesterday—but I’m not unappreciative of St. Patrick’s example and legacy. We can use this prayer in our prayers this evening.

(O.K., I’m sure Patrick didn’t make this rhyme neatly in modern English, but it surely reflects his prayer and thought. On that note, I’ve also always wondered how Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” rhymes in English.)

“May your angels, holy Son,

Guard our homes when the day is done,

When at peace, our sleep is best:

Bid them watch us while we rest.

Prince of everything that is,

High Priest of the mysteries,

Let your angels, God supreme,

Tell us truth dressed as a dream.

May no terror and no fright

Spoil our slumber in the night;

Free from are our eyelids close;

Spirit, give us prompt repose.

We have laboured through the day:

Lift our burdens when we pray,

Then our souls in safety keep,

That our sleep be soft and deep.”

Michael Counsell, comp., 2000 Years of Prayer (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 1999), 76.

“And like Goliath, they’ll be conquered…”

March 14, 2010

Here’s a cover of a great Dylan song by the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, a popular Irish folk group of the ’50s and ’60s who helped to popularize Irish and Celtic music in America. Sadly, the last surviving Clancy brother, Liam, died in December 2009. Here is one of their last performances as a group, from 1993.

This is a very happy apocalyptic song (if you can imagine such a thing), which celebrates, in my view, the coming of God’s kingdom. Enjoy!