Sunday, May 27, 2012

Pentecost, 2012

I knew going into worship today that our pianist was going to be absent.  And, I also knew our regular substitute was unavailable.  So, I planned to sing a chorus or two that I knew I could lead without any musical assistance.  But, what really surprised us as we were getting ready to start worship was the absence of the piano.  No one really had the answer for that one, but we could only figure someone had it picked up for some work.  And, oh yes, Memorial Day weekend took its toll and we were six instead of our usual dozen. 

Then, a few minutes before the hour, good things started happening.  Four more folks showed up.  Since it was Pentecost, we took some time for sharing personal testimonies and both of those who shared were uplifting and encouraging.  Laying the normal order aside, we sang our songs, shared the words of witness, had prayers, read the Word, and heard the sermon.  When we finished, no one had the feeling that our worship was diminished by all the obstacles. 

This has been the surprising thing about leading worship in this season of my life at a church with fewer resources than I had grown accustomed during the years of my active ministry.  All the bells and whistles are nice.  I still wish for a few of them, but I have learned they are not necessities for folks to experience worship.  I am grateful it does not depend on what I do.  If such were the case, we would leave with no desire to ever return.  What also give me a grateful heart is the way the Holy Spirit keeps showing up, reminding us of the presence and the power of an Almighty God even when there are so few heads to count.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Flag or Cross

When we walked into our weekly accountability group on a Wednesday before some big secular holiday like 4th of July, Mother's Day, Veterans Day, or Memorial Day, we could count on Ron, my friend and local Episcopal rector in Vidalia to ask the question,  "Ya'll going to preach the secular holiday or the lectionary gospel lesson for this Sunday?"   Those of us who had decided go the secular holiday route instead of the gospel would find ourselves squirming with what seemed to be a compromise before we even sat down. 

For the preacher there is some tension in the question.  It is always hard not to extol the Mothers on Mother's Day, or those who have sacrificed their lives for freedom on Memorial Day because such is what is expected of the preacher on such Sundays.  I always remember one irate parishioner who came  by the door at the end of the service and said, "That was the worst sermon I have ever heard.  I came here today for you to honor our mothers and you totally messed up!"  What raises the memory and the issue is the coming together of Memorial Day weekend and Pentecost Sunday.  What is going to take precedence?   Do I extol the sacrifice of soldiers or preach about Pentecost?

Now, please understand, I am patriotic and understand the supreme sacrifice made by so many.  I do not take it lightly.  My own father was in the Air Force when his plane collided with another during a peace time training exercise.  I understand the risk.  I understand the loss.  But, still there can be only one object of our worship.  Sometimes with flag and cross both present, folks get confused.  This Sunday I will remember families who have suffered loss in prayers, but I will be preaching Pentecost. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Turkey Buzzards

I watched them the other morning for a long time.  I first noticed them flapping wings and circling across the way.  And then, one by one, they strectched out those long black wings and started floating effortlessly through the air. The circling took them higher and higher and higher.  Finally, one of them, now just a dark speck in the bright sunlight shot out of the circle and headed straight as an arrow in the direction of the rising sun.  I knew it could all be explained by words like "thermals" and "drafts" and "invisible currents of air," but still I watched as if some great mystery was unfolding before me. 

The wind was holding them up.  The wind was moving them along.  No effort was required.  All they had to do was do what they were created to do and allow the wind to do the rest.  As I watched and thought, it sounded like a great formula for spiritual wholeness.  Of course,  Jesus talked about the wind and Holy Spirit in the same breath as He spoke to Nicodemus.  Since then we have used the imagery of the wind to speak of the movement of the Spirit in our world and in our lives.

We expend so much needless effort in our spiritual journey.  We are too much "do-ers" which puts us at odds with how we were created to live.  Maybe all we really need to be doing is to let the Holy Spirit get under us, in us, around us, over us and then cease our frantic spiritual motions so that we can be taken where He would take us.  I only wish those turkey buzzards could have been eagles, but, alas, maybe I and some of you are more like turkey buzzards than the great majestic eagles which soar through the high places.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Baptismal Imagery

Those who love fiction know that with every page turn there is the possibility for experiencing a surprising unexpected moment.  Such a moment came in my recent reading of Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry.  While I am not sure of the author's intent at that point in the story, there was on page 346 a powerful image of baptism.  As a way of encouraging you to read the whole book and as a way of being blessed as was I, let me share it with you.

In the story Jayber is talking about his new life at the edge of the river.  "And then I take clean clothes, soap, and a towel, and go down to the water.  I lay the clean clothes and the towel on the bow of the boat and strip off my sweaty things.  Carrying the soap, I wade out until the water is up to my chin.  I soap my head and face.  As I wade back toward the shore, I soap the rest of my body as it emerges.  I sit on the gunnel of the boat and soap my feet.  Then I put down the soap, stand up, take two steps, dive, and swim down into the dark to the limit of my breath.  When I wade out again, I am cool and clean, delighted as a risen soul."

When I read it, I thought of the imagery of Paul as he wrote about, "taking off...putting on."   I thought about some of the great moments shared with folks at the baptismal water.  I finished the words and said "Amen...and Wow!"

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Pastor Persona

People have stories they need to tell.  Wearing the role of pastor for a lifetime has probably facilitated the story telling.  Pastors are perceived as people who can be trusted, people who care, and people who will listen.  In the last couple of years I have learned that it is not all about the preacher persona.  There are stories people need to tell and that need transcends the role of the pastor.

I have been reminded of this often in these years when folks do not see me first as their pastor.  It happened again the other day in the most ordinary of conversations.  One moment the talk was about a business and the next moment the conversation was filled with words about the change of a job, death of  husband, and past struggles with cancer.   And then came words about the difference faith in Christ had meant through all these things.  She did not know me as pastor.  Instead I was the "someone" with her when the need to tell her story overwhelmed her once again. 

It  happens like this over and over for all of us.  Sometimes we are the story teller needing someone to listen and care.  Sometimes we are the caregiver and listener.  God has a way of bringing the two together in His time.