Lenten Discussion: God’s Promise and the Meaning of the Cross

The Meaning of the Cross and the Help Which God Promises Us
Lenten Discussion
Led by Stan Culy
RUMC Library
7-8:30 pm

Monday             March 6             Inspiration Out of Disaster

Monday             March 13           God Reconciles Us to Himself

Monday             March 20           God Comes in the Nick of Time

Monday             March 27           An Inner Peace

Join us for four nights of discussion led by retired Reverend Stan Culy, March Mondays in the church library from 7 pm to 8:30 pm. The discussions will deepen our understanding of the meaning of Jesus going to the cross and the help which God promises to bring to us. Come for some or all of the classes. Everyone is welcome.

Sermon: Who’s Right?

Who is Right?
Luke 10:38-42
17 July 2016

Let me present to you this hypothetical situation. Let’s pretend that after this morning’s church service, you get into your car and go home.  For the sake of my illustration, let’s assume there are other family members who live with you.  When you get home, to your shock and amazement, Jesus is waiting outside your front door.  He explains that the purpose of his visit is to spend some time with you and the family and share some spiritual truths.

Since it is close to the noon day hour, one family member is given the task to entertain Jesus and make him comfortable while you work fast and furious to prepare lunch.  And once the meal is served, Jesus begins to eat and share the many wonderful truths about the Kingdom of God.

While this is going on, you who did the bulk of the food preparation are still on the job. In order to be a good host, there are other things that must be done, but you miss out on what was said.

What happened in my scenario is a lot like what happened in today’s scripture text. Martha was upset with her sister Mary.  The issue at hand was the question of service versus personal devotion.

My text is Luke 10:38-42. Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

This story took place in a small village called Bethany, which was about two miles from the capital city of Jerusalem. From what we can gather from the other gospels, Martha, her sister Mary and her brother Lazarus all lived under one roof.  There is some speculation that Martha might have been a widow and was the actual head of this household.

Of all the places Jesus had visited in the three years of ministry, this was a place where he could rest and relax and be himself. But it was in verse 40, where we find the first hint of trouble.  It seemed in the midst of all the food preparation; Martha reached the boiling point.  Martha felt she was doing all the work and her sister did not pull her fair share.

Now in Martha’s defense, perhaps she had done everything to get Mary’s attention. I think we all have certain ways to get a loved one’s attention.  We clear our throats, we make attention getting motions.  We make certain facial expressions, perhaps kick a leg under the table.  But I assume in Martha’s case, none of the things she tried worked, so she went directly to Jesus and complained.

Our Lord’s message to Martha and to all of us is this. Life is a series of choices.  There are good choices and there are better.  Martha served and worked in the kitchen.  That was a good choice.  Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and that was better.

Down through the ages, many have questioned the fairness of Jesus on this. And it all boils down to the issue of good choices vs better.  Again it was service versus devotion.  Actually you need both.  You can’t run a church without both, but it is knowing when.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church had many duties and responsibilities. In his 50+ years of ministry, he had ridden some 250,000 miles and preached some 40,000 sermons.  He had the oversight of thousands of Bible societies and lay preachers

But despite his many responsibilities, he felt his first and foremost duty was devotion. Every day before the sun came up; Wesley had his private time with God.  It was the only way he could experience the fresh presence of God.  After filling his soul, Wesley was able to serve.  For all of us Methodists, Wesley set the standard.  Devotion to God then service.  It worked for Wesley and it will work for us.

In our scripture text, what Martha did was a good and necessary thing; however in Jesus’ eyes, what Mary did was better. It is commendable to be busy for God, but it is not so noteworthy when we do not spend time with him.  The point is that we all need to make time in our relationship with God just as we do with other family members or spouses.

I think my natural inclination is to be like Martha. I find it hard to sit and reflect when lots of things need to get done.  Knowing that I am this way, I try to spend the first part of the day in personal devotions; otherwise I would never get around to it.  I would find something else to do and before you know it, it is already evening.

Several years ago, we took a three day trip into Canada to get a taste of a real Canadian winter. We drove up to Pittsburg, NH to cross the border.  I was a bit nervous knowing that the temperatures would plunge well below zero, and I was afraid our car would not start in the morning.

Fortunately, we were okay. However I noticed at the hotels where we stayed, many of the cars were hooked up to a trickle battery charger, which kept the battery charged and warm; the cars were able to start right up in the morning.

I see a correlation in the spiritual realm. If we do and do and do and do, but neglect the devotional aspect of our spiritual lives, we will eventually gradually grow cold in our relationship with God.  However if we stay active in our faith and have personal devotions, which is like having a trickle battery charger, then our faith will remain vibrant and alive; then our service will not seem like a chore.

Like I mentioned before, I have a tendency to be like Martha. Because there is always someone to visit, to call and to email.  There is always a newsletter article or sermon to write.  But in light of the many ministerial tasks, I need also to be like Mary.  If I don’t do that, I will become stagnant in my relationship with God.

So I would encourage all of us to keep the fires of God’s love burning. Don’t just rely on the Sunday morning worship service as your own spiritual connection of the week, but schedule a time for personal devotions.  If you have to, put it on your calendar and see what happens.

Prior to my ordination, I met with Bishop Peter Weaver and he gave me a framed inscription of a Covenant Prayer that John Wesley used for his personal devotion. It is in our UMH.  Consider this your prayer.

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

Let me close with this thought. In the Kingdom of God and in the church, we need both sisters.  Actually we cannot have one without the other.  If we keep the perspective of Mary first, then Martha second, then we won’t become burnt out with our service to the Lord.  When we spend time with God and make it a daily habit, it will be a time we can look forward to and it will become the best part of the day and our service will be a joy.

Sermon Luke 1:39-45 “Christmas Comes to a Back Fence” December 23, 2012

It seems so appropriate to place the story of Jesus Christ at a back fence, in the care of a maiden and a carpenter, and within the walls of a dilapidated stable with a stain-encrusted manager. Christ came into the world bridging the huge space between humanity and divinity, pulling the seams of heaven tighter so that a thread or there might be accessible to the simple, the quiet, the needy and the poorest among us.

We know the story of Mary at least somewhat. We have her witness and her song. We know of her trip to Elizabeth’s home and the confirmation by Elizabeth and the yet unborn baby in her womb, John, who, at the sight of Mary and her condition instantly responded with a leap of joy. We know of Mary’s questions and her fears and the moment when fear became joy and uncertainty became witness. But of Joseph and his story, his song, little is known. What did he feel when he knew that the child that Mary carried in her womb was not his. [Let’s watch this-Joseph’s Song –Michael Card as seen on YouTube].

Joseph is only mentioned in the New Testament in the opening chapters of Luke and Matthew and unlike the Old Testament maiden/virgin references as to who would bear the Son of God, Joseph was not mentioned at all in the Hebrew scripture. We could wonder if Elizabeth and Mary voiced a concern for the peculiar circumstances in which God had placed Mary and, by virtue of a marriage contract, Joseph too. The unfairness of it all is overshadowed by how fairly and kindly Joseph responds to Mary as he first contemplates “dismissing her” but then, guided by God’s angel, stands protectively with her preparing the way for birth, for hope, for life…Joseph living out the image and character of God the father in this greatest story ever told.

In some ways, Joseph seems just the right person to assume the duties of caregiver and of earthly father to the baby Jesus. In fact, it all seems plausible, a gently laid out plan for assuring the world its needed savior…three ordinary individuals two of whom meet at a back fence and a third who enters the story through the door of a wood filled carpentry shed – all coming together in some glorious and mysterious way to insure that God’s foretold promise of redemption will be fulfilled.

So this is what we celebrate, this meeting of the ordinary with the extraordinary, this melding of human and divine natures coming together in hope for a better tomorrow. But, like every life changing experience, this one came with the pain of life itself…the pain of fear, the pain of birth, the pain of death. These human realities are most familiar to us too because of our own frailities. We know what this pain feels like. Into our world with all its anguish, illness, and evil, Christ chose to come to us. God came in a form we would understand and recognize, a form we would, at least initially, embrace, that of a child, an infant. God came to us to be with us, to offer us a comfort in life’s distresses and to give us hope when despair threatens to overwhelm us. Most definitely, with the horrific and latest gun slaughter in Newtown, we need to know that God is with us…Emmanuel. We are not alone.

And then we take one more step…from the comfort of just knowing God is with us, we are being called beyond this to ask the question, “what can I do? What are you calling me to O God? Where can I find my place in your story…what note in the song you sing shall I intone?” As Joseph might have sung, “Father, show me where I fit into this plan of yours.” Perhaps that is our prayer as well, “Father, show us where we fit into this plan of yours” – the message we will leave with today; the message whose answer might give us a clearer understanding of our purpose in God’s picture of life. This is the season of the ordinary becoming quite extraordinary – when God enters our world in Christ and invites us to be more than we might imagine we could be, but then again, look to Mary, a simple maiden in a backwater village, to Elizabeth, a barren woman who bears a prophet, and to Joseph whose faith song guides the first steps of his child, on loan by the hand of God, to be with us so we can be with God forever. Amen.

Sermon Mark 13:1-8 “When the Stones Come Tumbling Down” November 25, 2012 PentB

To say that this past week was an extraordinary one seems almost redundant given the many world changing events and after weather-breaking stories of courage and hope we’ve lived through in the last several years. This week is just another among many. Can this week top the many other event-laden weeks that have preceded it?   So what’s happened? Well, we’ve seen tensions increase and armed missiles fly between Palestinians and Israelis and then a truce; Storm Sandy victims still displaced due to their homes destroyed – nearly a month after the storm and yet expressing deep appreciation for the hot Thanksgiving meals they received; a 100 car pile up on Wednesday in Jefferson County, Texas that claimed at least two lives and injured more than 80 people; U.S. service men and women eating their Thanksgiving feast in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

That’s just a bit of what we’ve heard this week. We get the news instantly – good, bad, or indifferent. Whether we want to hear the news from around the world or not, we get it. Information moves at lightening speed globally and we’re caught in a spin of tech-driven communications that may leave us with a deadened response – a ho-hum…pretty mundane, “been there done that” kind of attitude. We’ve seen it or at least, we think we’ve seen it all.

If the world is coming to an end, and at times it may feel that way, we’ll know it but I do wonder, have we become so jaded by all we hear and all we have lived through that if the world were ending, would we know enough, care enough to react? If you and I have heard it all, seen it all, witnessed to the extraordinary, is there really anything that could surprise us, alarm us, ignite our “fight or flight” response?

Well, there’s always something. Every generation has it moments of revelation – that end-time speculation. We see this message in today’s gospel from Mark. The first audience to hear these words would have been Jews in conflict with Rome. The period is between 66-70 C.E. The Jewish Temple, symbol of Jewish authority and hope would fall at the end of this period and by the hand of Jewish enemies…the Roman Empire. The conflict was a last ditch effort by the Jews to restore the power of David’s kingdom. But it wasn’t to be; Rome would not let this happen.

By the time Mark wrote his gospel, the Temple might have already come down…”not one stone…left upon another…” It was, for the Jews, a time of fear and despair…for them, the world did seem to be coming to an end. Their symbol of national pride and glory lay in ruins. This was Mark’s audience and so he writes Jesus’ words, prophesying the end of one age and the beginning of another, assuring the fearful Jews that God knows of the destruction of the Temple, that God knew it would fall and that this must happen in order for the birth pangs of new age to be generated. One thing must happen in order for another to result.

Commentator Bryant writes:

“All of chapter 13 [in Mark] is rooted in Jewish apocalyptic thought [end time prophecy], and central to such thinking is the belief that God controls history, that the world has become so evil that only God can save it, and that God will rescue the world from evil at the time of God’s own choosing, establishing a new creation in which righteousness characterizes everyone in it.”[1]   

What has always puzzled me is the transition we make in our church calendar from this dire prediction of the end time to the preparation we make, in just another week, as we begin our journey to Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus. And now I get it. It makes perfect sense. Christ is the means by which God will rescue, has rescued the world from the results of perpetual evil. There is hope – the hope of the world lies in the coming of Christ. In Christ, there is eternal life. We come full circle. From life, to death, to life again. It is as it should be.

The Berlin Wall came down in 1989. That same year, my grandmother died and I entered my first appointment as an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church. I have pieces of memories from each of these events: a small remnant of the Berlin wall sits on a shelf in my kitchen china closet and in that same closet, I have some miniature cups and saucers my grandmother collected and left me. In yet another closet hang the stoles I was given the year I was ordained by the very church that initiated my ministry and nurtured it. Just pieces of a lifetime, stone upon stone held together by Christ’s life in me.  You have memories as well and without too much thought each one of you could put a version of your own story together out of the pieces of a life lived and perhaps, like me, you could gather those remnants of life and recognize that in all, Christ is present and that God has always been in control of your history too. We all come to the sure knowledge that in the most difficult moments of our lives, something new waits to be born. Out of the pain of a dying nation, a Temple destroyed, a people scattered, and stones tumbling one upon another, Christ came and still comes to us. We give thanks and put our trust in God’s eternal life in us.   Amen.

 



[1] Feasting on the Word, Robert A. Bryant, Year B, Volume 4, 309.

Sermon Matthew 6:25-34 “God’s Gracious Gifts” November 18, 2012

When I was growing up, Thanksgiving was always a family affair.  It was one of the few times during the year when all my family on my mother’s side would get together.  I didn’t see my two cousins very often even though we lived only a town apart from each other.  But, at Thanksgiving, we came together as a family; we shared food, laughter, and stories and we gave thanks to God.

Now, I didn’t grow up in a particularly religious family.  Prayer in my house was a rare event.  I never heard my parents pray and the Bible – we did have one- wasn’t opened very often.  We did go to church but back in the 50’s and 60’s pretty much all families went to church.  At home, the subject of faith was seldom mentioned; praying was not something any of us felt comfortable doing.

Thanksgiving was one of those infrequent occasions when we did pray together.  I vividly remember the moment when we bowed our heads at the table and offered God our thanks, asking that God bless the food we were about to enjoy.  Sadly, it was always an awkward and foreign experience for me…an uneasy moment, more so perhaps because my cousins, both my cousins seemed so comfortable with it.  They inevitably would be asked to lead this time of prayer and even my cousin Carol, the youngest of the two could offer the grace very well.  This was in contrast to my brother and I who would breathe a sigh of relief when our names weren’t lifted up as potential prayer leaders. Not sure what we would have done but I was grateful I never had to find out.

Now many years later, I look at the roads we all took.  My brother, who at one time directed church choirs and still leads a community choral group with a bent toward religious music, now never begins a meal without a member of his family leading a prayer of thanks.  And me, a United Methodist clergywoman, who not only prays regularly but also, leads others in prayer.  Life holds its own ironies, doesn’t it?

I regret now that the simple act of asking God’s blessing over our food was a once or twice a year occurrence in my childhood.  Giving thanks to God is such an essential part of my life and of your lives too.  When we pause during our day to offer up a thank you to God, it reminds us that God meets all our needs and that God can be relied on for every good thing.

Giving thanks to God is rooted in the memories and the stories of God’s people. No doubt even before words were put to paper, the people God created gave thanks to their Creator.  Those burnt offerings that we hear mentioned in the Old Testament represent a portion returned of the bounty God had bestowed on the people Israel.  To give back to God a portion of what God had given was, for those who lived then, not a mindless ritual performed without meaning.  It was the Law by which one existed, no more oppressive than our words of grace said before each meal. It was a Law entered into willingly, eagerly and gratefully, the highest form of praise and thanksgiving to the God who gives life and sustains it. It was a way of affirming that in God we need not worry about receiving the necessary things that give life. God will provide. We could quibble with that simplistic thought recognizing the pain and injustice of hunger and need throughout our world, but I suspect that if we opened our hands and our hearts, we would open the way for God to meet all those needs. Are we the ones that stand between God’s promise to fulfill the needs of all God’s children simply by taking more than we should, holding on to more than we need. It’s a thought and one I often find puzzling.

The New Testament understanding of thanksgiving went a step further.  A blessing over the food was offered when the early churches gathered to share the common meal and to remember as one community of faith the death and resurrection of Jesus.  They did this by the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup.  That’s why our word “Eucharist”, which is derived from the Greek word thanksgiving means just that: we gather to thank our God for the gifts we have received, especially the great gift of Jesus Christ. Eventually, as the common meal became less frequent in the life of the church, the elements of bread and wine were retained and offered in the ritual meal of the Lord’s Supper.  The Christian church was making Eucharist or giving thanks.

What astonishes me about the many instances we read of, when people offered God thanks, is that more often than not, it is done in the midst of great uncertainty.  The Hebrews of the Old Testament existed alongside hostile nations.  They had to scrape out their living and find ways to feed their families under the trying conditions of war, famine, drought, and disease.  The early Christians were persecuted and killed without mercy simply because they were Christians.  Yet, in the midst of possible death, huddling together in the dark, dank lower regions of the catacombs, they would pause and they offer their gratitude to God.

In this country, those who braved an ocean to settle here have passed down our Thanksgiving celebration to us.  They wrestled with the rigors of an unfamiliar terrain and climate.  They starved and struggled and some of them died, but when the harvest was in and the long winter lay ahead with all its unknown dangers, the pilgrims paused in prayer and they offered their thanks to God.  They didn’t know what tomorrow might bring. Their prayer wouldn’t eradicate the potential dangers in this new home of theirs, but they prayed with grateful hearts to the bountiful God who had saved them and would continue to do so.  Perhaps, as they were praying, they remembered this passage from Matthew – not to be anxious over their lives, not to worry about what they would eat or what they would wear.  Perhaps, even though their future was uncertain, they believed in the God who clothes the lilies of the field and who feeds the birds of the air.  Perhaps they knew that they must first seek God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness and all the things necessary to live would be theirs. Perhaps they knew all that giving us the legacy of faith lived out in a time of adversity, of uncertainly.

Thanksgiving did not become a national holiday in this country until 1863.  In 1789, Congress authorized and requested that President George Washington proclaim a day of Thanksgiving for the nation.  In a message to the people, Washington set aside November 26, 1789 as National Thanksgiving Day.  For about a hundred years after this, there were local celebrations but no national holiday.  It was not until 1863, that the editor of the then popular magazine, Godey’s Lady’s Book Sarah Josepha Hale, raised the issue of the need to make Thanksgiving a national observance to be celebrated annually.  Still shuddering under the conflict of the Civil War, yet another time of adversity and uncertainty, it was time for the nation to give thanks to God as a nation.

So, on October 3, 1863, President Lincoln declared a national Thanksgiving holiday to be held on the last Thursday of November and it has been so, with one minor exception, ever since.

We come now into another period of our history, fraught with uncertainty, laced with fears about the future of our nation and the potential for world peace. We are again, in the midst of a period of war and crisis, social and economic upheaval; on the other side of another fractious political campaign so once again as we gather together we are reminded of our connection to each other. We are one family, God’s family.

As we sit with our families and friends over Thanksgiving feasts this coming Thursday, our thoughts will no doubt stray to the many families around our nation and beyond our nation whose lives have been irretrievably changed by the events this past year. The world still struggles under the burdens of death, disease, famine, and war.  There are still people hiding in their own dark, dank, catacombs of fear.  Nations and families still gather on the battlefield of life, still tote weapons of anger and distrust, still wage civil wars. We may not know what lies ahead of us.  We may never fully understand what the pain of the last several years have left us as a legacy.  Only God knows how the past will affect the future. Yet, in spite of all the uncertainty … No, because of all the uncertainty, we must give thanks to God.  For God is the giver of the inexpressible gift of life.  God has created life in and for us. We have received the promise of God’s grace, which will sustain our lives with all the things we need.  We look to the birds of the air and see the hand of God as it holds them up.  We look to the lilies of the field and see the hand of God as it clothes them in splendor.  We are promised that our God who cares for the birds and the lilies will surely provide for us.  It is to this God that we give our thanks this day and to this God that we will offer our thanks tomorrow and all our tomorrows.  In God’s grace and through God’s gracious gift of Christ in us, we give thanks.  Amen.

 

Sermon Mark 10:35-45 “Service with a Smile” October 21, 2012

This morning’s scripture from Mark is one that speaks to our age and to our circumstances certainly as much as it spoke to the age in which it was written. Two of the disciples, John and James, defined as the Sons of Zebedee vie for a prestigious position of respect and authority when Christ comes into his glory one at the right hand and the other, at the left hand of Christ. Once again, Christ must correct the misconception of the kingdom of God and what this kingdom will be like. Once again, Christ is faced with the sadness that his message given repeatedly to his disciples isn’t getting through; these men who ought to be catching on by now have missed the point yet again. Christ’s frustration with them is apparent and he turns to them to question them about the discussion challenging them to give thought to what they are truly asking, knowing full well, they are not up to the hardships of discipleship. In fact, all twelve of the disciples have missed the point; if it weren’t so sad, it would actually be a bit comical.

Biblical commentator Charles Campbell notes: “On one level this text seems to be yet another example of the disciples – and not just James and John – as the fumbling, bumbling Keystone Kops who simply cannot get anything right. Jesus has just predicated his passion for the third time. But James and John immediately request the places of honor when Jesus enters his glory…”[1] One on the right; one on the left, we’re told. We know that Christ comes into his glory when he is crucified. We know the cross is a necessary means by which redemption, healing and life becomes possible and so, shouldn’t the disciple be aware of this also? Shouldn’t they know too?

Christ has told them not once, but three times in this gospel alone that “the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes and they will condemn him to death.” Mark’s gospel has Christ telling the disciples directly he will be turned over to the Gentiles and will suffer the humiliation of being mocked, spit upon and then killed, killed on that cross with a criminal crucified with him on his right hand and criminal crucified on his left hand the very same positions James and John request thought not with the same intent. What are James and John asking for? Do they even know what it will take for Christ to come “into his glory”? Do they understand? No, they don’t, but maybe, well, maybe we don’t either. We think we do but how comfortable are we to walk in the way of Christ? How comfortable are we to bear the crosses given to us, to give our own lives for some one else and help shoulder their burdens too? How comfortable are we to be servant to all as Christ was made servant, slave for us, for our lives? Perhaps that was John and James’ error in judgment. They had Jesus’ ear, his attention, a position among his chosen twelve; they wanted the accolades that go with choosing a winner. Christ was plainly telling them his way was not what they imagined it should be. His life wouldn’t end on a throne. His mission wouldn’t lead to hidden material treasure. His plan and purpose wouldn’t bring victory over a nation’s oppressors. His way wouldn’t lead to crowns but rather to thorns. Christ was leading by example: his way was to teach his disciples, all who were determined to follow him; all who followed him then and all who choose to follow him now to servant-hood, to selfless giving…to the cross, to death and only then, only, only then would there be new life.

John and James really can’t be faulted for their assumptions or their presumptions. Preacher Caroline Westerhoff explains it with these words,

 

“In our day, as in the day of the twelve, what counts is being up front, applauded, recognized, cheered, leading the league, head of the class, beating out all competitors by a mile. So what the price of stress? So what the damage to relationships? So what our loss of integrity? Back to our promises; Continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? Ok, but what do they really have to do with anything that matters?”[2]

 

But, it must matter. Christ was willing to die for those promises and for our lives. Christ, who was willing to lay it all on the line for those willing to follow him. Christ was willing to deal with the ignorance, the foolishness of his disciples who just couldn’t get the point, and he is still willing today…we still don’t get it. We don’t want to called servants. We want to be leaders, to get ahead and be top of the heap. Canon Westerhoff responds to our inclinations this way: “We hurry on past Jesus’ words about suffering and serving, not because they are obvious or naïve but because they indict and offend us. They startle us and whirl us around. We are afraid they just might be true. So we go back to fighting among ourselves for position, spinning futilely on our merry-go-rounds, unwilling to make them stop, unable to get off.”[3]   I hate to admit it but I think she might be right. And she may also be right…Christ can quickly put us in our places.

Back in seminary, at the end of my first year, I went to the annual gathering in which graduating students and others were presented with various merit and grade awards. Kathy, one of the students was called up to receive a $100.00 prize award for being the top grade point average achiever in the school that year. The gathered group of students and professors gave her a rousing show of support, standing and clapping vigorously. At that very moment, I made a commitment to myself to be that award winning, top achieving student in the coming year and I was, three years running. But the year I graduated, I needed a church appointment in Maine, full time with a parsonage. There were none. I was top a student three years running but I couldn’t get a job and as one fellow student/minister said, “Grades don’t mean much when you don’t have any experience Ricki.”  She was right, of course. I had focused on the wrong priority. I hadn’t taken my learning into the field. While attending school, I should have served a church.

It really is all about serving as Christ served us. We take membership vows that remind us to live out our ministry through the United Methodist church we join by offering our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness, essentially, our lives. That fourth promise…service…may seem a bit unglamorous but Christ believed it was essential and he hoped that his life, his teachings, his own intentional servant role among his disciples would guide them to accept their role and purpose to be servants to one another. With Christ’s help and by God’s grace, we’ll get it yet…just as John and James did….just as the other disciples caught on. They finally figured it out. With God’s help, we will too. Some of you already have. Amen.



[1] Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4, Charles L. Campbell, 189.

[2] “The Merry-Go-Round” Canon Caroline Westerhoff, TEC. Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, retired. www.day1.org/

 

[3] Ibid. Westerhoff on website www.day1.org

Stan’s Corner, Monday, April 9, 2012

I have just read a book about C.S. Lewis who wrote two famous children’s books—The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, and The Chronicles of Narnia.  But he was also a layperson who wrote religious books as well.  Here is a quote from one of them: “The more we obey our conscience, the more it seems to demand of us.  Lewis argued that the Christian way is quite different, both harder and easier.  Half measures will not do.  Christ wants us.  In Lewis’s typical no nonsense way he describes the attitude was one that says ‘ I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it’.  Christ sometimes said the way was hard, sometimes easy.  Lewis draws upon the worst wartime analogy to drive the point home.  Lewis says:

“Christ says, ‘Take up your Cross’—in other words, it’s going to be beaten to death in a concentration camp.  Next minute he says, ‘my yoke is easy and my burden light’.  He means both.”  This is one of life’s puzzlers.

 

 

Stan’s Corner, Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Fifteen years ago, when I first did the Good Friday Walk with Judie, I read her this poem written by a friend:

Lord Christ who rulest from undiscovered realms

Yet walks the earth

To make us wholly Thine

Again.

Re-claim our soul-gates, our homeward winding hearts

Win-clasp our spirit with Thine own

Gathering all our fragments into a shining whole

With pardon’s light bestowed

In every part.

Make us Thy book, Thy song,

Thy gladsome child-would-be

Till all our fluttering hopes rise up and soar

Hint-shadows of a fuller splendor

Found in Thee:

Our Holy-wide

Thrown-open

Door.

 

Stan’s Corner, Monday, April 2, 2012

O March 26, I served lunch at our local soup kitchen and sat down to talk with a man with long white hair and a beard whom I had seen on the street several times.  He was very thoughtful and interesting to talk with.  Eventually, he said that he had written a poem and put it on the soup kitchen bulletin board.  His name is “Bones,” and here is what he wrote:

May you find serenity and tranquility in a world you

may not always understand.

May a kind word, a gentle touch and a warm smile be

yours every day of your life.

May you find the time to see Love and Beauty in the

world around you.

May you have enough inner strength to determine your worth.

May you always feel loved and  Be Well.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stan’s Corner, March 30, 2012

A friend of my brother’s, in Arizona,  writes a daily blog and always includes something interesting.  Here is one of his latest:

“THINK ABOUT IT . . .

MINDS ARE LIKE PARACHUTES —

NOT MUCH GOOD

UNLESS THEY ARE OPEN!! . . .

 

FAILURE

If you don’t learn from your mistakes,

there’s no sense in making them!! . . .  “