Monday, August 29, 2016

State of the Church

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 and Luke 14:1, 7-14:

Normally in June I preach a state of the church address to celebrate the accomplishments of the past year, talk about where we still have room to grow and to set out a vision for where we are going in the coming years. I was set to do that message in June, but I instead preached about the shooting in Orlando, and so today I am going to deliver that message, even as we mourn another senseless killing except this time it is in our backyard.  But, I am now into my fourth year serving here at Mesa View, and we have seen some large highs and some large lows, and I am hearing two different themes about my tenure here recently. The first is that since the last two pastors to serve here were only here for four years, people think that I too will be moving very soon. It’s always a possibility, but I don’t think a very strong one, at least not at this moment, and the other thing to remember is that the two pastors before them were both here for ten years each.

The other thing I am hearing a lot of recently is that people want me to stay another 20 years, which is often followed by “so that way you can do my funeral.” I appreciate the vote of confidence, I think, but two problems with this. The first is that it sort of says, “stay here until I’m gone, and make sure to turn off the lights when you leave.” But the bigger problem is that 20 years would only get me to age 63, and I don’t really want to have to move to a new church to get me to retirement, so at least say you want me to be here for 22 more years.  But here is the real truth. If you want me to stay, we have to do a lot of work to make that a reality, and the biggest ones are to be financially stable and viable as well as to be growing spiritually, missionally and numerically. The Bishop is not inclined to move clergy from churches that are doing well. So keep that in mind for today’s message as well as for the coming years.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Run The Race Before Us

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The texts were Hebrews 12:1-11 and 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:

Tonight many of the athletes will gather once again will gather for the closing ceremonies of the Olympic games, not including those who fled the country with the police on their heels.  At tonight’s ceremony, the head of the International Olympic Committee will declare that the Rio games are officially closed, and then the flag of Japan will be hoisted up in the stadium, as they will be the host nation of the next Olympic games, and the race to the next Olympics will be begun with stories of cost overruns, of the inability of the city to host the Olympics, of the worries of terrorism, and as we get closer the reality that many of the facilities are not yet completed, just like we hear every single time the Olympics come around.  We move from what has just happened, and we move forward to the next games. In some sense this is just one big relay race, one nation passing the baton on to the next, and on to the next, with everyone hoping the baton doesn’t get dropped, or perhaps with a little glee at the spectacle hoping the baton does get dropped.  But regardless, the athletes and Tokyo are now all working hard to prepare to be ready come back in four years to do it all over again, to run the race that is before them.  And so today we conclude this series looking at what we can learn from the games about our faith in how we run the race that is before us.

Last week when we looked at wrestling, I said that it was believed to be one of the oldest sports in the world and one that is found in every culture.  But, since walking is an Olympic sport we would have to go with walking as being the oldest sport, something we have been doing for some 4 million years, but running probably comes in as the second oldest sport in which we undertake. Although my guess is that the earliest races were not about being the fastest person, but instead only about not being the slowest person, because when you’re being chased by a wild animal intent on killing you, you don’t have to be the fastest one, you merely have to outrun the slowest person in order to survive.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Wrestling With God

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Genesis 32:22-31:

We are now one week down in the Olympics, with one week to go. Some of the things that were expected to happen, happened, and some things not expected to happen, also happened, just like life, and so we continue looking at what the Olympics can teach us about our faith, and today we look at one of the oldest of the sports, wrestling.  Wrestling was one of the original sports found in the ancient Olympic Games, as well as those of the Isthmian Games, which took place in Corinth. But, of course, the sport is even older than that.  It’s said that wrestling has been found among every culture in the world, and thus may be one of the original sports in which humanity participated. Since somehow walking is also an Olympic sport I’m going to have to say that it’s probably the oldest.  There is a Sumerian wall carving from around 3000 BC which depicts a wrestling match, along with what appears to be a referee overseeing it.  In a carving from the tomb of the Egyptian Pharaoh Ptahhotep, around 2300 BCE, it shows six different wrestling holds, five of which we still use.

Wrestling also has had spiritual ramifications as well. According to Shinto legend, the ownership of the Islands of Japan was established when the thunder god Take-mikazuchi defeated his rival in a wrestling match, and in Greek myth, Zeus and his fellow Olympian gods wrestled the older Titan deities for ownership of the universe, ending with Zeus defeating his own father Kronos.  So perhaps it should not be surprising that we also have the story from Genesis we heard this morning of Jacob wrestling with a mysterious stranger, whom we come to see as God. But perhaps, because of its prevalence and apparent importance in the ancient world, we should be surprised that wrestling is not found more often as a theme, or an event within scripture, but what is even more striking that of the places in which wrestling does occur, all of them, except one, which is a passage in Colossians about Epaphras wrestling in his prayers on behalf of the Colossians, all of the other references are found in the story of Jacob.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Opening Ceremony: Celebration

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Philippians 4:4-9:

For the next two weeks, a large majority of the world is going to have their eyes turned towards Rio and the Olympic games taking place there.  This is the first time the Olympics have been held in south America, which is like America, but south, and also the first time the summer games have been held in the winter. And so I thought it might be a good time for us to turn our eyes to the idea of sport, and Olympic sport in particular, of what it can teach us about our faith, or how we might apply what we see in the games to our faith.  Now this idea is not really as far off as it might seem, because, in fact, there are several different illusions to sport to be found in scripture. Jacob wrestles with God, something we will grapple with next week. Moses served in the courts of the Pharaoh, so there is tennis, and of course baseball, the greatest sport, is mentioned twice when we are told that God did things in the big inning.  But on a more serious note, we do see this specifically in the writings of Paul.  While we are much more familiar with the ancient Olympic games, which also took place every four years, they were not the only games taking place in the ancient world.  There were also the Isthmian games which were held the year before and the year after the Olympic games. The Isthmian games were named after their location, which was on the isthmus of Corinth, a city in which Paul spent plenty of time.  And so when we hear him say to the Corinthians, run the race before you, that is not just some generic statement, he is making a reference to an activity with which they would have been very familiar.  So as Paul used the games for his illustrations of living a Christian life, so we too are going to use the games for the same purpose, and we’re going to begin with where the Olympics begin and that is with the opening ceremonies.

Now I am aware that there were actually some games that started even before the opening ceremonies started on Friday night, but that is really seen as the kick-off, the beginning of the Olympics. It draws the largest number of people both in terms of participants who will be there, but also in drawing the highest television ratings of any of the events that will take place at the Olympics. Consider that for a moment. The biggest event, the biggest celebration, the thing everyone wants to attend and to watch is not the celebration at the end, but instead a celebration at the beginning. A celebration to begin things. That’s sort of the opposite of how we normally do things. We normally have a party at the end of events as a celebration that it’s all over and to celebrate what was accomplished. I was trying to come up with some other things that we celebrate before they actually begin. I think the first would be Christmas, which we celebrate on the 25th of December and then act as if Christmas is over, when really it’s only just begun as it runs for another 11 days. But I think that’s more out of ignorance than an intentionality of celebrating at the start. There are New Year’s Eve celebrations, but those really end with the stroke of midnight, so we’re celebrating the start of something, but also, and maybe to a larger degree it’s the saying good-bye, and perhaps good-riddance, to the prior year.  We celebrate ground breaking for new buildings, but those usually still pale in comparison to dedication celebrations.  There are baby showers, celebrations before the baby comes, but I think that’s because new parents need the items to be ready, and also we know they will be too exhausted to do anything after the baby comes. There are bachelor and bachelorette parties, but that’s more to mourn the loss of singleness to a degree, then to actually celebrate the wedding. Perhaps the wedding itself is one area where we truly celebrate an event when it begins, to kick off the marriage rather than celebrating some other time.  But again, that is by far the exception to the rule. Is there some other event I’m missing where the celebration at the beginning is bigger than the celebration at the end, or at least the same?