Wednesday, December 29, 2010
When I was a new graduate of one of the schools that instructs people about doing ministry, I went to work like I had been taught. Over and over we heard people telling us that we were going out into the world to be resident theologians in communities. We heard people who were supposed to know telling us we were going out to be the professional religious person in the community in the same manner that a doctor is the professional medical person or the teacher, the professional education person. I bought the package being taught and went out to my first churches with this attitude that resulted in detachment more than anything else.
I should have gone to see the Chicken Man. Actually, I did not know him back then, but I am sure he must have existed somewhere. Where I have seen him most recently is at the local Chick-fil-A. He is the first shift manager. Since it is one of our most frequented fast food joints, I have had the opportunity to watch him a lot. While I am sure he spends time behind the counter, in the kitchen, or in the office, I mostly see him out in the store taking care of people and the stuff that needs attention. During the noon rush hour, he can be seen bagging trash and taking it to the dumpster. He cleans tables, always friendly and always asking if there anything he can do. I have even caught him cleaning the bathroom. All those young college students working there may be learning how to serve food, but they also have an opportunity to see a great example of servant leadership.
A lot of clergy and lay leaders at churches should go and watch. Good leaders serve. Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, modeled servant leadership. Constantly, He put aside personal needs to care for the needs of those around Him. His servant's heart finally took Him, not the head of the table, but to the cross.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
As I attended the Christmas Eve Communion Service at First Church, Albany, it was hard not to reflect on the difference a year can make. For the first time in what seemed like a lifetime, I was not preaching a Christmas Eve sermon and serving a church family the holy sacrament. Instead I was kneeling on the outside of the rail with my wife, Lynn, on one side and my oldest grandson, Will, on the other. With hands outstretched and open, I waited for the robed one to place the sacrament in my hand. When it was all done, I listened to the table dismissal which called upon the God who never changes to be a Helper to those whose lives were filled with much transition and change. As I heard the prayer, my own heart was warmed and stirred.
Over the years there have been many times when a departing passer by at the door told me, "Preacher, what you said was just for me." It always pleased me to hear such words, but I also always knew that if it happened that way, it was more about God than the preacher. On Christmas Eve such a moment came again, but this time I would have been the one speaking them had I had the opportunity at the door.
It should not have been a surprise to experience God at work on Christmas Eve for it was the holy moment of celebrating that God is with us. Understanding it is impossible. It is as mind boggling as the theology of the Trinity. What we know, we know more by faith than anything else. Through Jesus being on earth, it has been clearly made known that God is with us. His physical sojourn on earth was brief, but now we know we are not alone. No matter where we are and regardless of the changes, God is with us. Always.
I saw them yesterday and then again today on the journey home from Albany. It was one of those small towns which dot the South Georgia landscape. One yard after another had a red manufactured road side sign which read, "Happy Birthday Jesus." Now I must confess to attending a few Birthday Parties for Jesus complete with cake. In December someone decides a birthday party for Jesus would make for a good children's event at church. I have never planned one, but have walked in on more than a few. To be honest is to admit that there is something inside which screeches like a finger nail scraping a chalk board whenever this birthday for Jesus business shows up.
It has never seemed like good theology. The "Happy Birthday Jesus" signs are trivializing. People have birthdays, but I am not sure it is appropriate to use the human method of calculating years when speaking of the One spoken of with the sacred words, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God" (John 1:1-2). For those who might wonder about the identity of "the Word" John later goes on to proclaim, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:12). No one really questions the fact that "the Word" and "Jesus" are one and the same.
All this birthday stuff is like saying, "Let us make Him in our own image." Folks have done such for a long time. When we talk about Jesus we use words such as Transfiguration, Resurrection, Ascension, and Glorification. Christmas does not call us to celebrate His birthday, but the Incarnation, the news that God has chosen to be with us. No matter how much we might try, it is not a human event to be celebrated with a party, but a divine event which should be remembered on our knees.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Guess it could be called a stowaway. A "Stowaway Card." It showed up the other day in a book not opened for awhile. Clergy business cards often were used to let people know I had stopped for a visit, but also to write down things I wanted to remember later. On some occasion I came across some words from the ancient church father, Augustine. On the back I wrote a quote I wanted to remember later. "Be always unhappy about where you are. If you want to reach where you are not, if you are pleased with what you are, you have stopped already. If you say, 'It is enough' you are lost. Keep on walking, moving forward, trying for the goal."
Perhaps, Augustine had been meditating on the Apostle Paul's letter to the Philippian Christians. To them he wrote words like, "I do not consider that I have made it my own, but this one thing I do; forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:13)
Both Augustine and Paul speak volumes in a few words about this journey we have undertaken. We need not be leery of those whose words speak of a different place on the journey. The only ones to worry about are those who speak words which speak of arriving. There are a lot of folks on the road with us. The backs of others ahead can serve the same purpose as our back does for those behind. They can provide an invitation to "Keep on walking" and to "strain forward to what lies ahead."
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
For the first time in over 15 years there has been no Advent Cactus to alert me to the approaching season. My Advent Cactus was given to me anonymously while pastoring the Vidalia Church and sat in my office as long as I did. It was watered ocassionally, neglected most of the time, yet, a week or two before the Advent Season it would always start showing pink buds which would soon blossom. Each year I watched in amazement and gratitude for its faithfulness. When I left Richmond Hill for retirement, I gave the Advent Cactus to a staff member as a parting gift. It was for me more than just a plant. It was a treasure.
Perhaps, the plant never made it to this Advent Season. Maybe it missed its owner of all those years and wasted away! Or, maybe it could not stand the shock of an owner who looked after it. Nonetheless, I have found myself wondering about it during these early days of Advent. Without its pink announcement to alert me, Advent almost slipped up on me. So, here I am wondering. Wondering. Not a bad thing to be doing during a holy season of waiting and expectation.
This Advent season will surely be different for me as I have journeyed from a place behind the rail to a place in front of it. Yet, this growing awareness within that something is about to happen is so present with me. The Advent hymns are rising out of my spirit as surely as they do from the pages of the hymnal and there is once again the deep desire to read and hear the sacred readings of the season. Instead of seeing pink buds, there is a sense that the Spirit is stirring within me, saying, "Something is about to happen!" And I find myself waiting, expecting, and wondering all over again!