Friday, November 25, 2011

Doxology for Advent & Christmas

To the tune of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen"

"Praise God, from whom all blessings flow,
on every hill and coast!

"Praise God above, all angels who
comprise the heavenly host!

"Praise to the Father and the Son
and to the Holy Ghost!

"O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy!
O tidings of comfort and joy!"

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Something to ponder in light of the Call to Action...

"In the end, the church cannot endure without a body of systematic and coherent doctrine. This was not the problem Wesley faced two centuries ago. His challenge was to take the doctrine the church already possessed in her canonical traditions and make it accessible to the masses of his day. Hence, he did not make doctrine a high priority in his efforts to renew the church of his day.

"Two hundred years later, the situation is radically reversed. We have become so doctrinally indifferent and illiterate that the church is starved of intellectual content. Indeed in many quarters the church has become internally secularized. It has no shared public discourse of its own, other than that borrowed from the secular world, to think through its pastoral care, its mission in the world, its evangelism, and its internal administration. Hence pastoral care is reduced to therapy, mission to sociopolitical action, evangelism to church growth, academic theology to amateur philosophical inquiry, and church administration to total quality management.

"To be sure, only a fool would claim that we cannot learn from the best secular inquiries of our day. Yet it is patently obvious that the Christian tradition has its own special way of thinking about its healing care, its mission, its evangelism, its internal structures, and the like. That special way of thinking is inescapably doctrinal. The recovery of doctrinal identity is not then some abstract exercise in constitutional archaeology; it is integral to the deep renewal of the life and work of the church in the current generation."
William J. Abraham in
Waking from Doctrinal Amnesia:
The Healing of Doctrine in the United Methodist Church
pp. 104-105

Monday, September 05, 2011

Labor Day 2011: Prayer for the Unemployed

Heavenly Father, we remember before you those who suffer want and anxiety from lack of work. Guide the people of this land so to use our public and private wealth that all may find suitable and fulfilling employment, and receive just payment for their labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
- from The Book of Common Prayer

Thursday, August 25, 2011

What is doctrine?

"Christian doctrine is unique in that it is an intellectual response to the historical activity and revelatory disclosure of God. Doctrine is rational reflection upon God’s saving activity in Jesus Christ. Foundational to the idea of 'doctrine' is the fact that we need to be told what God is like. It is not ours to determine what kind of God we will believe and obey. It is God’s to determine to show Himself to us. Doctrine is our effort to articulate what He has made known. Doctrine is the divinely authorized attempt to describe God in accordance with how He has revealed Himself in creation, in history, in Jesus Christ and in the Scriptures. In doing so, doctrine also serves to expose false interpretations of reality, false concepts of God. It is the aim of doctrine to make sense of the individual’s and the church’s experience of God as He has made Himself known in Jesus Christ."
Alister McGrath,
Understanding Doctrine:
Its Relevance & Purpose for Today

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Trinity Sunday 2011

"Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth:
Set up your kingdom
in our midst.

"Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of the living God:
Have mercy on me,
a sinner.

"Holy Spirit,
breath of the living God:
Renew me
and all the world."
- prayer by NT Wright in
Bringing the Church to the World (1992)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Western PA Annual Conference 2011 in Review

We had a fine Annual Conference last week. From June 9-12, the people called United Methodist in western Pennsylvania gathered at Grove City College in Grove City, PA for our annual gathering. It was a time filled with grace, peace, and joy. For me, it was once again a time of challenge, renewal, and great affirmation. The week was unusual for me in that I left Conference for about a day and a half in order to preside at a wedding in Pittsburgh, but the overall feeling in my view was still positive.

Clergy session saw the approval of some fantastic colleagues in ministry, which is always exciting. Once again, I am blessed to call most of this year's Elders class friends, and I am grateful for that (the few I haven't met, I hope to meet soon!). There were also some painful moments in our clergy session, as sometimes happens, which demonstrated for me afresh the great integrity of Board of Ordained Ministry chairperson David Morse and the members of the board, who seemed to prayerfully and diligently struggle over serious issues in a sincere effort to be fair, just, and faithful. Navigating troubled waters while seeking grace is not easy; they lead us in remarkable fashion and I am blessed by their efforts. I am also renewed in my love and appreciation for my clergy sisters and brothers in our Conference, who continue to be women and men of extraordinary character and steadfast passion. It is without question one of the great honors of my life to be counted in their hallowed ranks, unworthy sinner though I am.

The primary feature of this year's session was the election of delegates to the 2012 UMC General Conference in Tampa, FL and to the 2012 Northeast Jurisdictional Conference in Charleston, WV. The voting went relatively smoothly, and great credit is owed to Conference Secretary John Wilson and his staff as well as to the patience and calming nature of Bishop Tom Bickerton. It is difficult to understand, however, in this age of technology, why we still cast our ballots using 1970s era Scantron cards; surely in future years we can find faster, more efficient ways to perform this simple task. (The EmergingUMC blog has a few suggestions here.) Several good friends of mine were elected as delegates, and I rejoice, even as I begin to pray for their stamina and courage as they face the mountains ahead of them.

If I have one criticism of this year's session, it has to do with the way we elect our delegates. No speeches are permitted, no campaigning of any kind is allowed, and the sharing of any information is to be kept to a minimum. Our well meaning Bishop frowned on any efforts of voters to coalesce around a slate or any pertinent issues. His rationale was that by removing this kind of conversation and dialogue from the process, we might be more open to the movement of the Holy Spirit and less attuned to the politics of the day. This is puzzling in light of moves at the General Church level to encourage campaigning and organizing, as evidenced in this UMNS story, which - ironically - shows a picture of our Conference delegation in years past. I'm not quite certain why we're so out of step with the denomination on this one.

The result of all this, sadly, is in my opinion to create a hyper-political atmosphere in which everyone knows the issues but no one talks. It means that our laity delegation - good people all - is composed primarily of names who work for the Conference, not necessarily a more diverse group of leaders from across the region. It means that for laity and clergy important issues of justice, holiness, and inclusiveness are ignored in favor of fame and popularity. My honest prayer is that in future years our Bishop does not stifle conversation, but is more open to loving dialogue and the challenging means of grace that is real "Christian conferencing".

I often complain about Annual Conference and, to be fair, there are some things we could do better. The endless "commercials", both onscreen and onstage...the tremendous area of opportunity that is "time management"...the failure year in and year out to raise up leaders of color...all of these are areas in which we must improve. I often dread spending a week in Grove City. I've come to the realization, however, that I need to reject that sense of dread. Annual Conference for me has been for several years now an amazingly affirming time, as I reconnect with colleagues, laugh with them and break bread with them. I leave physically worn out but emotionally and spiritually energized, and that is really at least part of why we gather.

So I am thankful to God for Barb Moore, Mark Goswick and the Sessions team, for their commitment to service and excellence each year...for Renaye Hoffman and the Youth Ministry Team for their tireless efforts to minister to the rest of us...and to Bishop Bickerton, for whom Annual Conference is like Christmas; may the joy that he holds for God's people remain with all of us throughout the challenging days of ministry ahead.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter 2011

"After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

"There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

"The angel said to the women, 'Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: "He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him." Now I have told you.'

"So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. 'Greetings,' he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, 'Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.'"
(Matthew 28:1-10, NIV 2011)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday 2011

"A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
'Save us,
Son of David!
Blessed is he
who comes
in the name
of the Lord!
Save us to the
highest heaven!'
"When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, 'Who is this?'

"The crowds answered, 'This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee!'"
- Matthew 21:8-11 (NIV 2011, adapt)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

On the Lenten Lectionary

"The temptation for this Sunday and the next several Sundays will be to omit readings and/or to shorten the lengthy gospel readings. Resist that temptation. These are the church's stories. They are not yours to dismiss because they are inconvenient and invade the time concerns you have. When you entered the covenant of ordained as deacons and elders or when you signed your paperwork as a local pastor or pastor from another denomination, you affirmed that you were persuaded 'that the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain all things necessary for salvation' and you promised loyalty to The United Methodist Church, 'accepting its order, liturgy, doctrine and discipline . . .' (United Methodist Book of Worship, 689, 695). Therefore, read the entirety of these readings out of your persuasion and your acceptance of the liturgy, trusting the Spirit of God to do what God wants to do in the hearts of the people."
- Taylor Burton-Edwards,
Director of Worship Resources for the
General Board of Discipleship of
The United Methodist Church

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Devil in Disguise

"...the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him. After Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was starving. The tempter came to him and said, 'Since you are God’s Son, command these stones to become bread.'

"Jesus replied, 'It's written, People won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God.'

"After that the devil brought him into the holy city and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, 'Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down; for it is written, I will command my angels concerning you, and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.'

"Jesus replied, 'Again it’s written, Don’t test the Lord your God.'

"Then the devil brought him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He said, 'I’ll give you all these if you bow down and worship me.'

"Jesus responded, 'Go away, Satan, because it’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.' The devil left him, and angels came and took care of him."
- Matthew 4:1-11 (Common English Bible)

One of my favorite Lenten practices is watching a few of the several movies made about Jesus. We are blessed to have so many films at our disposal thanks to DVDs, Netflix, and TV cable offerings.

One of my favorite Biblical films is 1965's The Greatest Story Ever Told. Not a critical success and a bit dragging in parts, this movie nevertheless has one of the best portrayals of the devil ever portrayed on film. British screen legend Donald Pleasence plays the devil as a hermit who seems almost an "everyman" figure. He is polite, soft-spoken, and seemingly kind...which makes this performance absolutely terrifying.

Were the devil to appear to me in all his dread - surrounded by flames, holding a pitchfork, hooves and tail apparent - I might be a bit frightened but not fooled. In Pleasence's hands, the devil becomes a figure easy to sit with, converse with, even befriend.

This is the devil of Matthew 4. He's not some monster from a Hammer horror film; he's not some superhuman demon from the infernal pits; he is...well, he's us. This is what makes the account of the temptation of Jesus so real.

Jesus may be tested by the offer of big dreams, but they are camouflaged by the commonplace, the ordinary, the everyday. What tests us are not typically outrageous schemes, but familiar, mundane habits - perhaps even with the approval or encouragement of an unbelieving world - which appear to be harmless but in actuality may have devastating effects on our souls, our witness for Christ or on those around us.

As we embark on the holy season of Lent, my prayer is that disciples of Jesus across the world are able to reflect not simply on the large issues of life, activism, and service, but also on the banal, the routine, the daily habits which prevent us from moving forward in holiness and in faithfulness to our crucified and risen Lord.
This post is part of the 2011 Lenten Blog Tour
sponsored by the publishers of the Common English Bible.