Friday, April 27, 2012

#GC2012 Musings (Thus Far)

We are now four days into our 2012 General Conference of the United Methodist Church.  I'll admit, I've never paid this much attention before.  I think part of that is because in Summer of 2008, the last time General Conference occurred, I was entirely secure in the standing of the UMC.  It'd been around for a long time, and things were going great, right?  I was a seminary student at the time and had seen the data on the decline of mainline denominations in America, but I'm an optimist, and that problem was really too big for me to grab ahold of when I was worried about going to class and learning and practicing the craft of worship leadership.

A lot has changed since then. 

For starters, I've gotten married and had a kid.  That has changed my perspective significantly.  I'm more concerned than ever that the church I've grown up in be the church that my son lives in to.  My wife also works in youth ministry at the conference level in the UMC.  We love this church and feel it has so much potential to be God's love incarnate and transform the world.

Secondly, maybe the biggest news to me, is my calling to pastoral ministry.  I don't mean ordination as an elder of the UMC, but likely a deacon, mostly the realization that worship is intended to be one's whole life not just an hour on Sunday morning.

In that spirit, here are some observations on some of the big things happening at GC2012 

If you're a twitter fan, and a Methodist, you've probably seen a twitter explosion in the last few days, in the coolest way.  The UMC has really taken on social media and is using it as Methodists should, as a connectional system.  Making connections is the strength of our denomination, and the great uses of Twitter and Facebook, plus livestreaming of main conference events really makes people feel like they are there participicating.  My wife and I have been nerding out every night watching the plenary sessions and closing worship.  It's been cool.  I myself have already made some great new tweeps.  Really good stuff.  But it's clear one of the definiciencies of this conference is the lack of inclusion of young people (young adults on down to youth) ...

If you've been on Twitter at all following #GC2012, you've probably seen #GCYP bounced around as well.  The hashtag was created for "General Conference Young People".  It's been a great tool to spread relevant news to young Methodists as well as make connections between people.  My hope, though, is that somebody higher up than me and at the GC is checking this stuff out, collating the data and opinions, and thinking about what myself and my fellow young Methodists think about the proceedings.

Last night, composer, teacher, and worship leader Mark Miller took a stand against what he and others took to be bullying behavior in holy conferencing toward those in the LGBT community, of which he is a member.  He asked for a point of personal privilege, for which he was 'out of order' when he asked everyone to stand with him in opposition to bullying.  He then asked the presiding Bishop to pray in a very beautiful moment ... Thus began #standwithmark and #standingwithmark.  I stand with him.  And hopefully the rest of the UMC will too.  Christ calls us to love our neighbors.

Term limits?
One theme has popped up again and again in conversations around the GC this year ... The same people are always going to the GC.  There are people that have been delegates from their conferences for the last 8, 12, even 20 or more years.  Is there any wonder that we're voting down the same issues to progress the denomination again and again?  We complain there aren't enough young people included at the GC ... are they even aware they have a chance to go?  "Term limits" or limiting the number of times and individual to attend the GC is one solution tossed about.  I agree with it.

That's all for now!  I'm having fun nerding out and watching people work together at the GC and on the internet.  Are you?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Baptizing My Boy

Yesterday was an amazing day, an occasion my wife and I had been waiting for for what felt like an eternity. 

We baptized our son. 

I use the term 'we' loosely, though.  The Holy Spirit does the baptizing.  But, as parents we did answer this question from our pastor in the affirmative:
Will you nurture this child is Christ's holy church and that by your teaching and example he may be quided to accept God's grace for himself, to profess his faith openly and to lead a Christian life? 
We formed a pretty serious covenant yesterday with God, in front of our church as witness, raise our son in the church.  Which brings me to my favorite part of the UMC baptism liturgy, where the congregation covenants with us.  It goes something like this:

Pastor:  Do you as Christ's body, the church, reaffirm both your rejection of sin and your commitment to Christ?

People:  We do.

Pastor:  Will you nurture one another in Christian faith and life and include this child now before you in your care?

People:  With God's help we will proclaim the good news and live according tot he example of Christ.  We will surround this child with a community of love and forgiveness, that he may grow in his trust of God, and be found faithful in his service to others.  We will pray for him, that he may be a true disciple who walks the way that leads to life.

So, not only have my wife, myself, and my family formed a covenant to raise my son to walk the Christian walk, but now the church body, our faith family, have joined in that covenant with us to look after our boy.

I don't know how often the people pay attention to the words we put in the bulletin, the nuance that my pastors and I weave in to get the message across on any given Sunday.  I know that some get it, and I think most people under the surface get it.  But my deepest prayer after the beautiful service we had yesterday was that the words of promise we spoke together at my son's baptism will be taken to heart by every one present. 

If the first gift that Jesus gave us is our salvation through belief, the second must be family.  Christ's body, the church, is a great big family.  And I'm glad to have my son welcomed to be part of it.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Holy Week Recap: Thank God for Good Friday

I've always been of the thinking that Easter Sunday worship isn't as powerful without a Good Friday service.

I know, I know.  How can the message of Christ's, and in turn our, Resurrection be any less powerful ever!?  It's the day of Christ's victory over death for all of humanity.  That's huge!

But ... He had to die an earthly death first.  It was real.  It was brutal.  The Son of God was beaten, mocked, humiliated, abandoned, and executed.  It happened.  And it happened for me and all of us.  It's a night that calls for real darkness, and we were blessed at my church to be able to observe with reverence Christ's total outpouring of his love and life for the world.

For our Good Friday worship service, we observed the liturgy of the Seven Last Words of Christ from the Cross.  I posted the form for this service last Friday morning

We treated the service much like a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, a very popular Advent and Christmas service, where our salvation history is told through nine scripture lessons, from Adam and Eve to Isaiah to the birth of Christ.  In between each reading there's some kind of musical response, an Advent or Christmas carol, or an anthem of some sort.

We offered a brief introduction to start the service to set the stage with an anthem from the choir and then a greeting and instructions from our pastor.  With an opening hymn we started to formal part of the service with the reading of the Seven Last Words.  In between each word reading there was a response of some sort that complemented the reading preceding it.  It wasn't all just music; a member of the church responded to one reading with a poem.  Our pastor also offered his homily before the final word as a response.

We also created an atmosphere of reverence through use of lighting.  The lights were dim at the start of the service in the sanctuary and were brought down as the service went on.  We also lit our narthex sparingly with candle light to encourage a quiet awe from the moment the congregation entered the building.  There were six candles lit in the sanctuary on the altar as well as the Christ Candle to symbolize each Word of Christ.  As each reader (both clergy and laity) read a word the held one of the candles and blew it out and the finish of their verse, symbolizing the dying life of Christ.  The final candle to be blown out was the Christ Candle, by our senior pastor.  As that final candle was blown out, nearly all light was put out in the sanctuary, save two small spotlights on the altar table focused on the Cross in the center.  All of that led to a silent dismissal at the end of the service.

It was a bit of a risky undertaking at this church.  They've been doing a Tenebrae service here on Good Friday for many, many, years.  Which of course meant that I needed to change it up immediately!  We incorporated Tenebrae elements into the service though, with the dim lighting, and the extinguishing of candles.  All that I know is that as we sang the lyric "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?", I felt more and more throughout the night that I was able to go there.  It's not all the time that I'm able to worship as I'm leading it, but I was there on Good Friday.  I thank God for that.

What was your Good Friday experience like?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Holy Week Recap: How holy was your Saturday?

My desire to put together the daily offices for this year's Holy Week actually started when I was thinking about Holy Saturday.  It seems in today's church culture, overall, Saturday of Holy Week is just that, another Saturday.  But as we know, in the form of Holy Week, Holy Saturday is the day that we sit vigil and pray for Christ's appearance.

Just as an aside ... Ever wonder why biblically we know that Christ rose after three days, but we only sit vigil for one?  I might have to do some research on that one for next year.

Anyway, Saturday is the day that we sit and wait.  We pray with those original disciples, who had abandoned Jesus in his darkest hour out of fear, we pray with the women who were hoping to attend to the Jewish burial practices regarding Jesus' earthly body.  We remember our Good Friday, good for us because Christ gave it all to reconcile us with the Father.

I didn't go to a church service on Holy Saturday ... I went to a pancake breakfast, followed by a petting zoo, followed by an Easter Egg Hunt.  And you know what?  It was awesome, and it was indeed a holy time.  You see, this Easter season was different for me and my wife, because now we have a son.  He's just a little guy (he'll be three months old on Wednesday), but you better believe he hunted some eggs and pet a llama.  It was some of the cutest fun my wife and I ever had.  My brother's family with my four-year-old twin nephews and my mom were also there for the fun.

It was a big community affair for our church.  We partnered with our preschool to make sure that word got out into the neighborhood (it was all free, but the United Methodist Men took tips for the pancakes) and the church yard was full of families by the time we got there.  The weather couldn't have been more beautiful, perfect for some fun and fellowship with the church family and families from the neighborhood.  At the end of the Egg Hunt, the kids come to find, that rather than taking home the eggs (which were all empty) each kid got to take home a good bag with candy, party favors, and a little postcard with info about our upcoming VBS and our regular Sunday activities.  There were no unhappy customers.

Sure, you can make a case for the commercialization of Easter in the festivities. ... Easter bunnies?  Eggs?  Candy?  What do these have to do with Resurrection?  I say, the church family gathered in the name of Christ to bring some fun to the neighborhood, and perhaps some disciples were made along the way in the families that had never set foot on our campus before.  If the purpose of the church is to grow the family in the name of Christ and fulfill our part in the Great Commission, then you know what?  I bet God smiled down on us and other faith communities doing the same thing.  

So, I think we could call the day holy, even though there was no church service involved.

I did take some time on Saturday morning to pray on what I saw and heard on Good Friday, but I won't take back the joy I found in the fun on my Holy Saturday.  Liturgically Holy Saturday is a day to be observed, but I chose to celebrate it with my family.  No regrets here.

How did you spend your Holy Saturday?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter!

Jesus Christ, we greet you!
Your hands still have holes in them,
your feet are wet from the dew;
and with the memory of our names
undimmed by three days of death
you meet us,
risen from the grave.

We fail to understand how;
we puzzle at the reason why.

But you have come:
not to answer our questions,
but to show us your face.


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Holy Saturday

Today we sit in vigil.  Christ is in the tomb, and we are waiting for him to appear.  Today we dwell on the sadness of Good Friday, but we remember, as the Psalmist wrote, "The joy comes with the morning."

Before we get there, though, we must remember, that for three days, the world was without Jesus.

To help us remember,  I offer the short Holy Saturday Service, offered in The New Handbook of the Christian Year, of which Hoyt L. Hickman is one of many fine editors.


Merciful and ever-living God,
Creator of heaven and earth:
As the crucified body of your Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy day,
Grant that we may await with him the dawning
of the third day as he promised,
and rise with him in newness of life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 27:57-66
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, ‘Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, “After three days I will rise again.” Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, “He has been raised from the dead”, and the last deception would be worse than the first.’ Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.' So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.
Response to the Word

In the midst of life we are in death;
from whom can we seek help?
From you alone, O Lord,
who by our sins are justly angered.
Holy God, Holy and Mighty,
Holy and merciful Savior,
Deliver us from the bitterness of eternal death.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday

Today is the day that we remember that day Christ was put on the cross.  We've been heading in this direction all week, just as Christ did.

To remember this day, when we were covered over with God's Grace through Jesus, we'll recount Christ's seven last words, which he said from the cross.  Each of the four Gospel's tell the story of Christ's Passion a little differently, and they all deserve their due, but today let's bring the passages together in their customary order.  Take your time reading through these scriptures and pray as you go.

I - Luke 23:34

Then Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.' And they cast lots to divide his clothing.

II - Luke 23:43

He replied, 'Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.'

III - John 19:26-27

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, 'Woman, here is your son.'  Then he said to the disciple, 'Here is your mother.'  And form that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

IV - Mark 15:34

At three o'clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, 'Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?' which means, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'

V - John 19:28

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), 'I am thirsty.'

VI - John 19:30a

When Jesus had received the wine, he said, 'It is finished.'

VII - Luke 23:46

Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, 'Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.'  Having said this, he breathed his last.

Let us pray:

The Word hung between heaven and earth
on a splintery cross. At the place where two wooden
beams intersected, sin and salvation also intersected.
It astonishes us—why would Christ do this?
The Word bled, shouted, and died.
He startled us—what kind of love is this?
The Word has broken our hearts.
The tragic sorrow marks our faces with shame.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Holy Thursday

On this day we meet with Christ, the one who came to serve, not to be served.

From the Gospel of John, chapter thirteen, verses one through seventeen and thirty-one through thirty-five:

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
The Word of God, for all people.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Let us confess:

Loving Christ,
on that night long ago,
you knew that your hour had come.
You knew full well what lay ahead of you.
Your disciples loved you and followed you,
but they had also failed you.
They would fail you yet again that night,
and one would betray you.
Yet you washed their feet, as a servant would.
even the feet of your betrayer.
We have also loved you and followed you.
We have also failed you,
and we cannot comprehend the love that you show us,
the love that is our example,
the love that tells us to do
as you have done for us.
May we be like you, Master, servants of all.
May all see how we long to be your faithful disciples.
May all see how we love each other,
just as you have loved us.
In your holy name we pray. Amen.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Holy Wednesday

The title at the top of this passage is "Jesus foretells his betrayal".  Once again, we meet Jesus in full knowledge of his earthly journey coming to a close and how it will happen. 

From the Gospel of John, chapter thirteen, verses twenty-one through thirty-two:

After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, ‘Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.’ The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot.  After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘Do quickly what you are going to do.’ Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the festival’; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.
The Word of God, for all people.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Please pray this prayer of confession:

Gracious God, you know our every sorrow, our every need. Hear us as we remember the times when our strength failed us, when our distress led us onto paths of hopelessness and despair. Forgive us when we betray you, when we deny you, when we deride you, or mock you.  Awaken in us a new resolve to be aware of your call and presence in our lives.  Help us stay awake, even when the days are hard and the nights are long. Strengthen us to trust in you and to walk with you, even on this path to the cross. Let your face shine upon us, that we may know your steadfast love and trust in your resurrection promises.  In Christ’s name, we pray.  Amen.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Holy Tuesday

Continuing our Holy Week prayer journey, we find Jesus, fresh off of his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  Defying the expectations of that crowd that has gathered (the people that would later shout 'Crucify him!'), Christ is honest and open about where his journey will take him.  At this point, the people working against Christ in the background are gathering strength.

From the Gospel of John, chapter twelve, verses twenty-one through thirty-six:

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.

‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. The crowd answered him, ‘We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains for ever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?’ Jesus said to them, ‘The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.’
The Word of God, for all people.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Let us pray together:

We will remember the soothing,
and not forget the jarring.
We will remember the sweetness,
and not forget the sour.
We will remember the jagged desperateness of Judas,
and own it; it is our story too.

We will remember
the passion of love,
the smell of perfume,
the pain of rejection,
the stench of blood money.

And to help us on the journey,
to help us hold the tensions,
to help us face both the delight and the difficulty,
to God's generosity in creation,
to God's judgment poured out on humankind,
to God's justice in Jesus. [from Stages on the Way]

Monday, April 2, 2012

Holy Monday

Though not commonly observed, there are lectionary texts for every day of Holy Week, where the Gospel readings follow Christ in his final days before the Cross. 

This Holy Week, I will simply post the Gospel passage for the day, and a prayer to help us as we work together to reflect on Christ's journey. 

As alluded to in the Gospel passages, in the days leading up to his crucifixion, Christ knows what is going to happen, and he has chosen to follow the path to the Cross, to pay the price for the salvation of the world.  That is a true and amazing love.

From the Gospel of John, the twelfth chapter, verses one through eleven:

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’
When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.
This is the word of God, for all people.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Please pray:

Almighty God,
  whose dear Son went not up to joy
    before he suffered pain,
  and entered not into glory,
    before he was crucified:
Mercifully grant that we,
  walking in the way of the cross,
  may find it the way of life and peace;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
  who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
  one God, for ever.  Amen.  [from the Book of Common Prayer]