Wednesday, February 27, 2019

General Conference Response

Here is the letter I sent to my congregation in response to the actions of the called General Conference. We are the only reconciling congregation in the New Mexico Annual Conference.

When I recognized the 100th birthday of Jackie Robinson a few weeks ago in worship, I mentioned that while he and Branch Rickey, the owner of the Dodgers who brought him to the majors, were both Methodists that they could not worship together because of our own church’s history of racial animosity and division. That division line of having separate churches for blacks and whites, and not allowing black pastors to serve in white congregations or to have authority over white pastors, which was argued from a scriptural basis, existed until 1972. That also happens to be the year that the General Conference added what came to be known as the restrictive language to our Book of Discipline which said that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

As some of you are probably now aware, the special called General Conference ended yesterday. The Traditional Plan passed with 53% of the vote, while the One Church Plan, which is what I had been advocating for, was rejected. There were many different amendments being offered to the plan, and I have not yet seen a final copy of the approved plan, but here is what I know at the moment: The plan retains the restrictive language and continues to forbid “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from being ordained, clergy from performing same-gendered marriages, or allowing them on United Methodist property, and puts more “teeth” into enforcement of these rules, including penalties for Bishops who refuse to enforce these rules.

The original plan called for clergy and churches to be forced to take an oath of allegiance to follow the Book of Discipline in all its parts including teaching and saying that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”  If clergy or churches would not take that oath, they would be (kindly) asked to leave the denomination. I don’t know if that language was retained, but as I said before, that is not an oath I am willing to take because it is not one I believe in. It is not who I believe that God is, and my allegiance is not to the church but to God. Because of our statement of reconciliation, I am also assuming that Mesa View would not be willing to take that oath.

So, where does that leave us? The answer is no one really knows.

The original Traditional Plan had 17 parts, of which the judicial council, which works as the Supreme Court for the church, ruled that 9 of those parts were unconstitutional. The Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA), which is a fundamentalist caucus in the church, reworked portions of those which was then presented to the General Conference in 15 different parts. The Judicial Council ruled this weekend that 9 of the 15 parts were unconstitutional, but that did not stop the conference from passing that plan. There were amendments made, but no one knows if they will pass constitutional muster.

Additionally, while there was a motion made to hold votes on each of the separate parts of the plan, that motion was rejected, and the plan was voted on in its entirety. That is important because the plan has now been referred to the Judicial Council, which will meet at the end of April, and most people believe most of the plan will still be found unconstitutional. If that is the case, there are some bishops who are saying that if some parts are unconstitutional the whole plan has to be thrown out since it was voted on as one piece of legislation. No one knows for sure how the judicial counsel will rule on that, so we will have to wait. If the plan is found constitutional, it will go into effect January 1, 2020.

There was also one plan for allowing churches to “graciously exit” the denomination that was passed, but it too had been found unconstitutional, so we don’t know the status of that either. Again, there were amendments made so I don’t know what the final language of that proposal is now.

The WCA had already said before the General Conference that not only would they leave if the Traditional Plan was not passed, but, even if it was passed, many of their churches would leave anyways. They are meeting this week to discuss their next steps, and I suspect, although I could be wrong, that many of those churches will seek to leave the denomination even though the Traditional Plan passed.

There had been no talk amongst centrist and progressive churches of leaving the denomination, because the vast majority believed that being in a connectional relationship was important, and that we could have unity without uniformity, which is what the One Church Plan was. But, now that the church has swung even farther to the right, and with every indication that it will continue to move in that direction in the future, we are not sure what that means. But, as Adam Hamilton said on the floor yesterday, the centrist and progressive churches have been united in a way that they were not before. He also announced today that there will be a meeting at the Church of the Resurrection, which is the largest United Methodist Church, after Easter to discuss where Methodism goes from here.

So, does that mean we will leave the United Methodist Church, or that we will be kicked out? I don’t know and don’t even want to speculate. But here is where I find hope.

According to the WCA’s own estimates, 2/3 of the delegates from the United States supported the One Church Plan. At a gathering of the youth of the church from around the world earlier this year, the One Church Plan was supported by more than 60% of the youth. More than 15,000 young adults signed a petition from the end of the conference on Monday evening to the beginning of conference on Tuesday in support of the one church model.

One other person and I have been very vocal on this issue in the annual conference, but we were supported by many clergy who were silent allies. Many of them are not silent anymore and have now publicly stated their support of changing the church’s position. I wish they had spoken out earlier, but I’ll take their support now. All those things give me enormous hope for the future.

What I also know is that this action has done and will continue to do significant damage and hurt to those who are LGBTQ. There were many organizations last night posting the number for the suicide prevention hotline to help those who were being told again that they are not worthy, that they are less than, and that they are not loved by God.

Now, more than ever, we need to be advocates on their behalf. This is where we must move beyond mere words on paper that we are welcoming of all, and actually live it out. We have posted a message of welcome on our Facebook page and I would encourage you to share that and reach out to friends and family who are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgendered, queer or questioning, whether they are in the church or not, to let them know that they are loved and beloved. That they are children of God and they are worthy. If you are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgendered, queer or questioning, please know that you are loved and beloved. That you are worthy. You are not less than. You are welcome here.

We cannot know the pain this is causing to many people, but we hurt with them, and I hurt. I hurt deeply and have shed many, many tears over the past few days about what is happening to my church. But, because it is my church, I also know that I still have a say and I can claim with integrity that what 53% of the church said on Tuesday is not who I am, it is not what I believe, and it is not who Mesa View is either. We can be the proverbial light on the hill proclaiming the good news, because if the good news is not for the least, the last and the lost, then we have missed the point entirely.

Let us remember that God is not the church and the church is not God. Sometimes the church and God are in alignment, and sometimes we are not, and we see plenty of examples of that in scripture, many of which we will hear in Lent.

I have to be honest and admit that I am struggling mightily with people I considered friends who have said that I cannot be in their church. I want to be like Diotrephes as we heard about in 3 John last week and not extend hospitality. I don’t want to be in prayer for them. I don’t want to even talk with them or associate with them. I know that many of you are probably there as well. But God is love and we are to love our neighbors, all of them, because God first loved us. As Edwin Markham once wrote about those who want to draw narrow circles: “But love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle and took [them] in!

We are an Easter people, but to get to Easter we have to go through the darkness of the cross and the tomb. That is where I believe we are now. I don’t know what the resurrection will look like yet, but I have hope, and so do millions of others, because God is not through with us yet, and in the end love wins. God wins.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

What I Read In 2018

Here are the books that I read in 2018. This list is more for me, but I would recommend nearly all of them.
  1. (((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump by Jonathan Weisman
  2. [Re]designing Worship: Creating Powerful God Experiences by Kim Miller
  3. 30 Days a Black Man: The Forgotten Story that Exposed the Jim Crow South by Bill Steigerwald
  4. A Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes
  5. A Little History of Economics by Niall Kishtainy
  6. A Mouth is Always Muzzled: Six Dissidents, Five Continents and the Art of Resistance by Natalie Hopkinson
  7. A Song Flung Up to Heaven by Maya Angelou
  8. Adam: God's Beloved by Henri J.M. Nouwen
  9. America: The Farewell Tour by Chris Hedges
  10. Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives by Gary Younge
  11. Behind from the Start: How America's War on the Poor is Harming Our Most Vulnerable Children by Lenette Azzi-Lessing
  12. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  13. Beyond the Worship Wars: Building Vital and Faithful Worship by Thomas Long
  14. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcom Gladwell
  15. Bloodline by Claudia Gray
  16. Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life by Steve Martin
  17. Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet by Claire L. Evans
  18. Camino Island by John Grisham
  19. Catalyst by James Luceno
  20. Clear and Present Danger by Tom Clancy
  21. Code Talkers by Joseph Bruchac
  22. Confessions of Nat Turner by Nat Turner (reportedly)
  23. Cross-Shattered Christ: Meditations on the Seven Last Words by Stanley Hauerwas
  24. Crucible by Troy Denning
  25. Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe by Lisa Randall
  26. Darth Plagueis by James Luceno
  27. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
  28. Dear Committee Members: A Novel by Julie Schumacher
  29. Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to the Women Who will Run the World by Jennifer Palmieri
  30. Death on a Friday Afternoon by Richard John Neuhaus
  31. Detour from Normal by Ken Dickson
  32. Discrimination and Disparities by Thomas Sowell
  33. Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton
  34. Everything Trump Touches Dies: A Republican Strategist Gets Really About the Worst President Ever by Rick Wilson
  35. Experiential Worship by Bob Rognlien
  36. Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward
  37. Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy by Michael Lewis
  38. Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, A Life Reclaimed by Michelle Kinight and Michelle Burford
  39. Finding Words for Worship: A Guide for Leaders by Ruth C. Duck
  40. Friend of Sinners: Why Jesus Cares More About Relationship than Perfection by Rich Wilkerson, Jr.
  41. God: A Human History by Reza Aslan
  42. Good Grief by Granger E. Westberg
  43. Good Things Happen Slowly: A Life in and out of Jazz by Fred Hersch
  44. GoTell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin
  45. Hard Contact by Karen Traviss
  46. How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt
  47. If You Bite and Devour One Another: Biblical Principles for Handling Conflict by Alexander Strauch
  48. In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History by Mitch Landrieu
  49. Is Eating People Wrong?: Great Legal Cases and How They Shaped the World by Allan C. Hutchinson
  50. It's Even Worse than You Think: What the Trump Administration is Doing to America by David Cay Johnston
  51. Leading Causes of Life: Five Fundamentals to Chaneg the Way You Live Your Life by Gary Gunderson and Larry Pray
  52. Leading Worship by Taylor Burton-Edwards
  53. Making Friends with Death: A Field Guide for Your Impending Last Breath by Laura Pritchett
  54. Meeting God in Mark by Rowan Williams
  55. Millennium Falcon by James Luceno
  56. Money Problems, Marriage Solutions by Ann and Chuck Bentley
  57. Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Girl Tells You What She's Learned by Lena Dunham
  58. On Being Raped by Raymond M. Douglas
  59. On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler
  60. On Inequality by Harry G. Frankfurt
  61. On Your Mark: Reading Mark in the Shadow of the Cross by Megan McKenna
  62. Patriot Games by Tom Clancy
  63. Planning Worship by Taylor Burton-Edwards
  64. Rebel Rising by Beth Revis
  65. Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West by Benazir Bhutto
  66. Redesigning Churches: Creating Spaces for Connection and Community by Kim Miller
  67. Say to this Mountain: Mark's Story of Discipleship by Ched Myers, Cynthia Moe-Lodeda and Stuart Taylor
  68. Seven Last Words by Timothy Radcliffe
  69. Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher
  70. Shoot Like a Girl: One Woman's Dramatic Fight in Afghanistan and on the Home Front by Mary Jennings Hegar
  71. Sometimes Amazing Things Happen: Heartbreak and Hope on the Bellvue Hospital Psychiatric Ward by Elizabeth Ford
  72. Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair by Anne Lamott
  73. Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights by Ann Bausum
  74. Talking to My Daughter About the Economy, or How Capitalism Works - and How it Fails by Yanis Varoufakis
  75. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  76. The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict by The Arbinger Institute
  77. The Apocalypse: Controversies and Meaning in Western History by Craig Koester
  78. The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America by Michael Eric Dyson
  79. The Butler: A Witness to History by Wil Haygood
  80. The Case for Impeachment by Allan Lichtman
  81. The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer
  82. The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel
  83. The Last Words of Jesus: Meditation on Love and Suffering by Daniel P. Horan
  84. The Legend of Colton H. Bryant by Alexandra Fuller
  85. The Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World by Abigail Tucker
  86. The Making of a Racist: A Southerner Reflects on Family, History and the Slave Trade by Charles Dew
  87. The Making of Donald Trump by David Cay Johnston
  88. The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography by Sidney Poitier
  89. The Origin of Creativity by Edward O. Wilson
  90. The Partner by John Grisham
  91. The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
  92. The Rooster Bar by John Grisham
  93. The Secret World of Sleep: The Surprising Science of the Mind at Rest by Penelope A. Lewis
  94. The Setup Man by T.T. Monday
  95. The Seven Last Words by Michael H. Crosby
  96. The Trouble with Reality: A Rumination on Moral Panic in Our Time by Brooke Gladstone
  97. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
  98. The Worship Workshop: Creative Ways to Design Worship Together by Marcia McPhee
  99. The Worshipping Body: The Art of Leading Worship by Kimberly Bracken Long
  100. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
  101. The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story by Diane Ackerman
  102. Think Like a Filmmaker: Sensory-Rich Worship Design for Unforgettable Messages by Marcia McPhee
  103. This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkins
  104. To Be Where You Are by Jan Karon
  105. Toughtest People to Love: How to Understand, Lead and Love the Difficult People in Your Life - Including Yourself by Chuck DeGroat
  106. True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society by Farhad Manjoo
  107. Uneasy Peace: The Great Crime Decline, the Renewal of City Life and the Next War on Violence by Patrick Sharkey
  108. We Wear the Mask: 15 True Stories of Passing in America edited by Brando Skyhorse and Lisa Page
  109. We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  110. White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson
  111. Who Cooked Adam Smith's Dinner? by Katrine Marcal
  112. Why Read Moby Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick
  113. Why We Worship by H. Grady Davis
  114. Worship Matters: A United Methodist Guide to Ways to Worship, Vol. 1 edited by E. Byron Anderson
  115. Worship Matters: A United Methodist Guide to Worship Work, Vol. 2 edited by E. Byron Anderson
  116. You Don't Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir by Sherman Alexie

Friday, August 17, 2018

Why Trump's N-Word Tape Doesn't Matter

There is lots being made, again, about the possibility of a tape existing with Trump saying the N-word repeatedly. But, I believe the existence or non-existence of this tape doesn't actually matter, and here is why:

First, such language will not prove that Trump is a racist. If we don't already believe that from the numerous other things that he has said about minority groups, then what is finally going to prove the point? The use of the N-word is not the end all and be all of racist statements. It's truly attrocious, but so is everything else derogatory he has said.

Second, pay attention to his actions. He called for the death penatly, and took out an ad for such, against the Central Park Five, the attack on a white women, supposedly by five black teens. He still believes they are guilt, even though they have now been fully exonerated. (For a great accounting of this read The Central Park Five by Sarah Burns) Additionally, we was charged twice with housing discrimination by our government, and regardless of what he says, he did not win those cases. He simply paid the fines without having to admit guilt.

Finally, and most importantly, he is unlikely to lose any more support from his "base." First because those were borderline have already left. I do not believe this is going to be the straw that breaks the camels back. Secondly, it's because many of them already use this word. I have family members who are Trump supporters and they use the N-word: repeatedly and out-loud (and yes, they are racists). Hearing him say it will only reinforce for them that he is their man, and someone just like them. That is, rather than hurting him with his core supporters, which is the only group he truly cares about, it will only help him.

We have been talking about having a heart of peace in worship, and Jesus says that what comes out of our mouth is what defiles us because it reveals who we truly are. Hearing Trump on tape saying something that he shouldn't be saying, things that we don't want to hear the president saying, won't make him worse, because he has already revealed who he is by everything else he has said.

Monday, August 6, 2018

State of the Church

Here is my message from Sunday. The texts were Numbers 13:1-2, 17-21a, 25-28, 30-33 and Matthew 14:22-34:

I want to start with a story this morning. At our prayer breakfast in May, rather than sitting in a room talking and praying, we came out onto the property and prayed, with some of us walking circles around the property and praying, although only a few of us got all seven laps done, and the laps did get smaller and smaller as we progressed. But we were praying for big things, including the elimination of our mortgage debt. That was a Saturday. On Tuesday afternoon I received a call from Rev. Randall Partin, who is the provost for the conference, which is a fancy way of saying he is the bishop’s assistant and runs the conference office and staff. Now Randall had been in conversation with us about some of the things we have explored for doing with the eastside of the property, and he wanted to know if we were interested in having a conversation with a Methodist organization who was looking for some property. That led me into a conversation with Saranam, which runs a two-year residential program for homeless families. They were begun when Central UMC received a several million-dollar gift in someone’s will, which serves as a reminder that you too can make gifts to Mesa View in your estate planning, and one of the things we are beginning the work on is an endowment committee and policies and procedures for the reception and use of endowed gifts. So, I met with Saranam for an initial conversation, which then led to a meeting with some of their board members and some representatives from Mesa View, and this week the Trustees voted to approve conversations about the potential sale or lease of the back piece of the property to move forward. But, before I say any more, I’d want to show a shortened video about Saranam…

Now a few points. The first that is that Saranam is a Sanskrit word that means refuge. There’s actually a song in the hymnal entitled Saranam, Saranam. The second is that at this point we are only in conversation. We have not made any agreements, we have signed any documents, we haven’t even agreed on any terms. We are now waiting for their board to meet and approve moving forward in conversation with us on the possibilities. I believe we are still a few months away from that conversation, and even farther from a deal. If we do move forward, we will have presentations on who they are and as well as what it might mean to be working together, as well as listening sessions to get feedback. Right now, this is just so you are aware, and hopefully some, or most, or all, of you are as excited about this possibility as I am. Not only will this help us in our mission of serving our community and making good use of our property, but it will also greatly help us financially.

Monday, July 30, 2018

The Richest Man In Town

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Mark 10:35-45 and based on the movie It's a Wonderful Life:

Today we conclude our Christmas in July worship series by looking at what many people consider to be the best Christmas move of all time It’s a Wonderful Life.  But, if you may have noticed in all the films we covered up to this point, and this is true about most Christmas stories, none of them are actually about faith or religion or God. But, It’s a Wonderful Life is different, because it does actually involve all of these things as being a part of the story, and it’s also the darkest of all the movies we have seen.

It’s a Wonderful Life, directed by the marvelous Frank Capra, was released in December of 1946, to only tepid reviews and performance. Although it was nominated for five academy awards, it lost money, and the only award it won was a technical one for the creation of a new way to produce snow on a movie set, which was also done during shooting in what was then one of the warmest summers in California history. The release of the movie was pushed up so that it would qualify for the 46 awards cycle, but it was widely trounced by The Best Years of Our Lives, which went on to win nine academy awards. And since everyone if gung-ho to remake films these days rather than coming up with original ideas, The Best Years of Our Lives is probably a film that deserves to be remade in a modern telling about soldiers returning home from war who have a hard time readjusting to society, especially those who were injured physically and mentally. So, if any of you know some big Hollywood producers, you should mention that to them.

Monday, July 23, 2018

I Believe... I Believe... It's Silly But I Believe

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Mark 9:14-24 and based on Miracle on 34th Street:

While the movies we have looked at so far in our Christmas in July series are on their way to becoming beloved Christmas classics, today’s film, Miracle on 34th Street, has long been there, and is probably only surpassed by just one other film, It’s a Wonderful Life, which we will cover next week. It’s also one of the oldest films we will cover, having come out in 1947, and again is only surpassed by It’s a Wonderful Life, which came out in 1946. Surprisingly, Miracle on 34th Street did not come out at Christmas, but instead was released in June of that year, and went on to receive five academy award nominations, including best picture, and winning three awards for writing and for best supporting actor for Edmund Gwenn, who plays Kris Kringle and had been a principal actor for the playwright George Bernard Shaw. As most of you are probably aware, the movie takes place in New York City, and begins at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and seeing that in person should be added to your bucket list of things to do, as it’s a lot of fun, and New York at Christmas time is a magic place to be. But, anyways, the main character, Doris Walker, played by Maureen O’Hara, oversees the parade, when it is brought to her attention that the man playing Santa Claus is drunk, but fortunately for her, the man who tells her is Kris Kringle, believes himself to be the real Santa. After quickly firing the drunk Santa, she hires Kris not only to be Santa in the parade, but also in the store, another thing that you should add to your bucket list because you haven’t seen Santa until you’ve seen Santa at the original Macy’s in Herald Square.

Meanwhile, Doris Walker’s daughter, Suzie, played by a young Natalie Wood, is watching the parade in the apartment of their neighbor, Fred Gailey, who is an attorney, which becomes important as the movie progresses. And as they are watching the parade, Fred, and we the audience, begin to learn something important both about Suzie and her …  As we hear in that, Doris’ husband left her after Suzy was born, leaving her embittered and closed off to the world, wanting to be a realist because as she says about Suzy she wants a prince charming to come to her, but when he does, she’ll find out that’s not who he really is, which is, of course, not about Suzy at all, but about Doris. And so, both Fred, in trying to woo Doris, and Kris set out to try and change their outlooks on the world, to help them to again, or for the first time, to experience magic, and majesty and awe, let alone trust and love and kindness. Doris’ wants to keep everything to be about rationality and common sense, and yet, as she finds out, that’s not the way the world works. It also turns out that it’s not the way that Kris Kringle works either. He has told Doris that he is taking her and Suzie on as a test case, because if he can’t convince them that he is real, then he’s lost, he’s through. But it’s not just them that he must win over, to move away from just thinking about rationality, or themselves, it’s also changing the culture of Macy’s, as when Kris starts he’s given a list of toys that the store has overstocked, and so he’s supposed to push to kids who don’t know what they want. But, instead of doing that, he does something radically different…

Monday, July 16, 2018

You'll Shoot Your Eye Out

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Matthew 6:19-21 and based on the movie A Christmas Story:

Today we continue looking at what some of the great films of Christmas can teach us about our faith tackling the ideas that come to us from one of my favorite Christmas moves, A Christmas Story. Now, last week I said that this was one of my favorite movies, and after worship my daughter Abigail said, “how can this be one of your favorite movies if you never watch it.” To which I had to replay, “well it’s one of my favorites, but mommy doesn’t like it at all, and so I don’t get to watch it.” And that’s true even though every year TBS shows this film for twenty-four hours straight, which I don’t think can be said for any other Christmas movie. Now, one thing in Linda’s defense, and that is that she does allow me to watch Hallmark Christmas movies, even way outside of the Christmas season, and for that I am grateful.

A Christmas Story for those poor unfortunate souls who have never seen the film, tells the story of Ralphie who is obsessed with wanting to receive a bb gun for Christmas, but not just any bb gun, but the holy grail of Christmas gifts, a Red Rider Carbine Action 200 shot Range Model with compass in the stock and a thing that tells time. The film takes place in 1940 in Indiana, and is narrated by Ralphie’s much older self, looking back on the events of this particular Christmas. It’s based upon a novel by Jean Sheppard, who actually is the narrator of the film, and Ralphie is played by Peter Billingsley who many of you also know as Messy Marvin from the old Hershey Syrup commercials, which really begins to date us. As an aside, Billingsley is an alum of Phoenix College, as am I, so we have something in common, and he also escaped the curse of childhood actors and is now an Emmy nominated producer and director, including producing the Iron Man films which were directed by Jon Favreau, who directed the movie Elf, which we talked about last week, and so there’s another connection too.

But Ralphie goes to extraordinary lengths to try and convince others to try and get him his red rider gun, but before we delve into that, there is one other key place to start with A Christmas Story. We all like to think that we know a lot, and that can often get us into some tough spots, and so one of the rules of faith and life, is to know when to back down when you in fact don’t know what you’re talking about, take a look… Now that really doesn’t have anything to do with my message for today, but the triple dog dare ya scene is so famous, and so funny, that I just had to include it. So, learn your lesson that before you go spouting off about something for which you don’t know anything about, remember it can get you into a situation you would rather not be in, like with your tongue stuck to a pole.

Monday, July 9, 2018

I Love You. I Love You! I LOVE YOU!

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Luke 15:1-10 and based on the movie Elf:

Today we begin a new worship series entitled Christmas in July, looking at some of the great Christmas films and what they can teach us about faith, and we begin today with the movie Elf. This is the newest film we will see, coming out in 2003, and it has already become a Christmas classic for many people, largely because of the goofy portrayal of buddy the elf, played by Will Ferrell. Now if you haven’t seen the film before, I do want to warn you that it does have some sophomoric humor in it, and just as an aside, why do we call it sophomoric humor? Why not freshman humor or senior humor? And if it’s sophomoric because it’s juvenile, that perhaps kindergartenmoric would be better. But I digress.

Although Buddy is raised as an elf, at the north pole, he actually isn’t an elf. When Santa, played by Ed Asner, comes to the orphanage where he goes after his mother dies, Buddy climbs into Santa’s bag and is taken to the north pole, but they aren’t sure what to do with him, and so papa elf, played by Bob Newhart, adopts him as his own and raises him up to be an elf. Except, Buddy doesn’t belong. Not only does he not fit in because of his size, but more importantly he’s just not good at doing any of the things that elves do, like make toys. Buddy tries he best and he puts his heart into it, but he just can’t seem to find his place amongst the other eleves. And so, Papa Elf decides to tell Buddy the truth that he is not really an elf, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to him, and yet in his naiveté, which is one of his redeeming characteristics, it does. Buddy is then told that his real father lives in “the magical land called New York City,” and that his father never even knew he was born. But even worse is that his father is on the naughty list, and so Buddy sets out and travels through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, then through the sea of swirly-twirly gum drops, and then through the Lincoln Tunnel and he enters New York, the city so nice they named it twice. But if he thought he didn’t belong at the north pole, it’s even worse in New York where his kindness and generosity and joy contrast with the gritty reality of the adults around him, especially his father. But he loves his father, and he wants to redeem him and be in relationship with him, but his father keeps rejecting him, until he is called on to save Buddy and to save Christmas after Santa’ sleigh crashes because of a lack of Christmas spirit. But for our purposes today, I want to explore the three rules of Christmas that the elves have and what they teach us about how to live as disciples of Christ.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Here I Am To Worship

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The texts were Revelation 7:9-17 and John 4:19-26:

There is a Baptist church on Louisiana, and their sign says, “Church like it used to be,” and I’ve always wondered by what they really mean by that.One of the 12 different churches that I attended over the past month was the Greek Orthodox Church here in Albuquerque. As we were listening to what is known as the Divine Liturgy, which, other than now being sung in English, although there was also some Greek, that liturgy has been used nearly every week for the past 1500 years or so. But, I don’t really think that is what that Baptist church is referring to when they talk about the way church the way it used to But, even within the Orthodox church, let alone the western tradition, one of the constants about worship is change. The chair arrangement this morning is one of the oldest ways we know that people gathered for worship. Pews as we think of them didn’t arrive in churches until the 14th and 15th centuries. But seeing people across from you is very different, and creates a different worship experience, then everyone facing forward.

In the 12 churches I saw, there were a large range of worship styles and patterns, although some of them were remarkably similar, I think there must be some magazine that gets published that says what to do, especially when it comes to the sound of the band. I don’t know what I was expecting or maybe even hoping to find in other churches, besides just seeing what others were doing. The only thing I was disappointed about was that I’ve always thought it would be cool to have a walk-up song for when I come up to do the sermon, like baseball players do, and if another church was doing it then I could start it here. But, you can all be relieved that no one was doing that, and so I’ll continue to live without walk-up music. The better news is that in seeing what other people are doing, I came away with an even better feeling about the worship services we do every week, especially when compared against the churches immediately around us. But, I also came away with some ways that I think we can make worship better and connect it better to who we are and what we do, and much of that has to do with the very nature of worship itself.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Resurrection: Death and Grief

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was John 11:17-35:

So, let my start by saying that today’s message is going to be a hard one, or at least one that we all cry about, because as we conclude our sermon series on resurrection stories we deal with the issue for which we most want resurrection, loss. After all, the reason for the season in which we started this series, Easter, was because of the death of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead. As an Easter people, our faith is grounded in the reality of resurrection. We believe that hope is possible even in the worst of circumstances, in the darkest moments of our lives, that even in the valley of the shadow of death, that God is with us and that God is there not only to comfort us but to even bring about miracles.

Mary and Martha, who are sisters, send word to tell Jesus that their brother Lazarus is ill. We are also told that Jesus loves Lazarus, but Jesus does not immediately leave but instead stayed on the other side of the Jordan, where John had been baptizing people. Then Jesus tells the disciples they are going to head back to Judea, and he says that he is going to wake up Lazarus, which confuses the disciples as they think he is merely asleep, and so Jesus has to be more direct and tells them that Lazarus has died, and then Thomas makes a usual statement and says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” It’s not clear whom Thomas is speaking of, Lazarus or Jesus, but presumably he is saying that they know Jesus life is at risk, and so their lives are also at risk, and he is making a pledge that they will die with Christ. Which of course they don’t, but they go with Jesus and when they arrive they find that Lazarus has already been dead for four days. Now this little bit of information is significant because it was believed that the spirit, the soul, or someone who had died would stay around the body for three days, for the hope that they were only slightly dead, but by the fourth day the body has already begun to decay and to stink, and so the soul then goes away, and so what we are being told here is that everyone has given up, that there is no hope for a miracle, which is where today’s passage begins.