The Quiet Mind – No Condemnation

Quiet Mind Master.001The Quiet Mind: No Condemnation (Part two of a two-part series. Part one is here:

23rd Sunday After Pentecost – November 17, 2019

Romans 8:1-17 

Under the old system of ordination in the United Methodist Church, one could be ordained while still a seminarian, and then be appointed by the bishop to return to seminary for the third and final year to complete one’s degree. This is how I came to be an ordained United Methodist pastor at the ripe old age of twenty-five. I was ordained in 1996 and then returned to Duke University Divinity School, which is when I completed my clinical work which I did as a hospital chaplain at Duke University Medical Center.

Up to that point, my pastoral care experience was limited to visiting members of my field education church in rural western North Carolina, either in their homes or occasionally in the hospital. Yet none of it could have prepared me for my Clinical Pastoral Education course: the life, the death, the grief, the profound hope, the diversity of people and experiences that would permanently shape my future ministry, and in so doing, would shape me.

The pager would sound and I would respond by reporting to the physician who had called me and given instructions as to what I needed to do. The patient is a woman whose heart keeps stopping. She is not going to survive, and I need you to go to the waiting room and support her mother and son until I can join you and speak to her.

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Four Virtues of a Joyous Life – Humility

Screen Shot20th Sunday After Pentecost – October 27, 2019

Luke 18:9-14

One of the convictions that shapes my life and ministry is my firmly-held belief that our God has a sense of humor. To wit: I chose to preach on the text I just read almost a year before I had any idea that this would be Reveille Day, and I would preach one time. In the sanctuary. Thirteen steps above where you are seated. At the end of the stewardship campaign. Using a text where the guy who tithes is actually criticized by Jesus. All in a sermon, on the virtue of humility.

I am convinced that there are certain things, sisters and brothers, that only happen to me.

The Academy Award-winning actor Brad Pitt was once asked what keeps him humble, and he told the following story: “I telephoned my grandparents the other day, and my grandfather said to me, ‘We saw your movie.’ ‘Which one?’ I said, and he shouted, ‘Betty, what was the name of that movie I didn’t like?’”

He goes on to say “I thought that was just classic. I mean, if that doesn’t keep your feet on the ground, what would?” (1)

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The Four Virtues of a Joyous Life: Week 3 – Persistence

luke19th Sunday After Pentecost – October 20, 2019

Luke 18:1-8

Our current sermon series is called “The Four Virtues of a Joyous Life.” I thought that for this year’s stewardship campaign we could focus on the elements of our living that help us to be the most alive, the things that bring us joy and that cultivate in us a sense of generosity that makes us want to share the good things in our lives because we are so grateful for them. So far, we have covered the virtues of gratitude and faith as facets of a joyous life. Today, we will examine persistence, and we will conclude next Sunday, Reveille Day, with humility and how it can enrich our lives and fill them with joy.

Screen ShotThe 1967 Academy Award-winning film Cool Hand Luke is a prison movie known for for many things including its Christian imagery. To name but a few examples, there is a scene where Luke, on a bet, attempts to eat fifty hard-boiled eggs in an hour and afterwards lays abandoned on a table in a crucifix pose. There is the closing scene where the camera pans away from two rural roads in the shape of a cross, and there is a scene towards the end where Luke, desperate and out of options enters a church and prays to God, who he refers to as “Old Man.” 

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Four Virtues of A Joyous Life: Week 2 – Faith

spockAudio is here.

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost – October 13, 2019

Luke 17:5-6

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

Dr. Benjamin McLane Spock was an American pediatrician who lived from May 2, 1903 to March 15, 1998, and who in 1946 published The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, one of the best-selling books of the twentieth century, selling 500,000 copies in the six months after its initial publication and 50 million copies by the time of Spock’s death. As of 2011, the book has been translated into 39 languages.

Before Spock, pediatric care was permeated by rigid schedules, especially for feeding and  potty training. Spock’s predecessors in the late nineteenth century also believed that, in order to avoid spoiling children or making them “fussy,” parents should only kiss them on the forehead and limit hugs and other displays of affection. Yet Spock found these methods cruel and believed that they neglected the emotional needs of children. As a result, he encouraged flexibility and affection in caring for children.

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Four Virtues of a Joyous Life: Gratitude

Davis_Chick_1541-300x400Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost – World Communion Sunday – October 6, 2019

Luke 17:11-19

We were moving towards the end of the spring semester of our senior year at Emory & Henry College, looking forward to graduation and, honestly, little else. So much of what had been glossy and new at the outset of the fall term was now dull and faded, evidenced by the attendance of members of the chapel choir for pre-worship rehearsal on Sunday morning. Emory & Henry has a large, Reveille-like United Methodist sanctuary on its campus who worships each week and who draws people from both the campus and the wider community in Washington County. During the school year, its choir is comprised of students and back then, was directed by its founder, an alum named Charles “Doc” Davis.

Doc was a legend on campus and had been dating back to his days as a student when he was was the handsome young quarterback of the championship football team, the man who would return to campus to teach and found a remarkably talented touring choir. Yet on this Sunday morning in 1993, as but a handful of weary, sleep-deprived students entered the basement fellowship hall that doubled as our warm-up space, he could barely contain his ire as he realized that the students standing before him were all he was going to have to work with as he helped lead worship that morning.

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Invited: Living a Hospitality-Filled Life

invited master.001Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost – September 29, 2019

Acts 8:26-40

In Bill Watterson’s beloved comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, the protagonist is a boy named Calvin who is perpetually six-year-old and who serves to represent some of the worst aspects of human nature. Calvin tends to be an immature, impulsive, short-sighted, easily distracted loner who is alienated by his peers and who spends most of his time playing in the forest with Hobbes, a wise, thoughtful tiger who appears to the world to be a stuffed animal but who to Calvin is very much alive.

Calvin and Hobbes ran as a syndicated cartoon in as many as 2,400 newspapers from 1985-1995 and throughout that time, Calvin’s time with other children always involves his exclusion from them or bullying by them, especially the bully Moe, or as Calvin calls him “The six-year-old who shaves.” Calvin is not athletic. He is often lost in his thoughts, a daydreamer who is a poor student and has a difficult time relating to others.

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Invited: The Hospitality of God – The Lost and Found Department

invited master.001Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

September 15, 2019

Luke 15:1-10

I am not the kind of guy who takes excessive pride in himself. My humor is self-deprecating humor. My stories are self-deprecating stories, stories where I always seem to be the stooge, everyman stories where if I end up going the right thing, it is either by accident, or hopefully most often, by the abundant grace of God. When I had been serving this congregation for a short while, I know that at least one of you remarked of the stories in my sermons “I wonder if he ever does anything right.”

Yet one thing about myself that I do take great pride in is my almost unfailing, incredible, pigeon-like sense of direction. Even without modern conveniences like GPS, I rarely ever get lost. In fact, I can only recall three times in my life when I have gotten lost: the first time I tried driving in Washington, D.C. (surprise), once when I first began driving, and once when I was in my teens and cycling alone in Goochland. In light of this morning’s text, I would like to say a word about stories two and three.

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Invited: The Hospitality of God

invited master.001

Week 1: “So Loved”

Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost – September 8, 2019

John 3:13-17

No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

“What you need to do,” said my wife Tracy last Sunday afternoon, “is to go and help your daughter learn to drive. You need to let her drive for thirty minutes. Write it down.” Then, she suggested her favorite large parking lots. This would be the first such adventure for Ellen and me.

The thought of driving in circles around a parking lot for a half-hour was more than I could handle, yet I wished for somewhere safe, away from other cars and pedestrians, so we decided for Ellen to practice driving on the paved, rolling pathways of the Westhampton Cemetery. The cemetery backs up to the neighborhood of my childhood, and my brother and I used to ride our bikes there, never dreaming that one of us would travel those same roads with a teenage daughter taking those first frightening steps towards adulthood, freedom, and a life without dependence upon me.

So as that afternoon, as the shadows lengthened, for the first time, I sat in passenger seat while my child, my firstborn, drove. Again and again, we circled the cemetery, the living among the dead, the living among the resurrected.

I was so proud of Ellen and the job she did, yet to my surprise, I was almost equally proud of myself, specifically, the remarkable calm I was able to project, almost like some cool, hipster, smooth-jazz DJ: That’s right baby, just turn to the left. Very nice. Careful now, turn a little more—we don’t want to drive on that grass. Not too fast, not too slow. Wait, that’s the parking brake not the regular brake, baby. We are going to turn just a bit so we don’t hit that parked car ahead of us. That’s an intersection, so we are going to stop.

Soft like butter, smooth like silk. Everything is going to be alright.

All of which is utterly amazing because on the inside, I was freaking out, surprised Ellen could not hear all the screaming inside my head.

As I think about it, the screaming does not simply come from the fact that I am belted and locked inside a two-and-a-half ton minivan with someone only beginning to learn to drive it. Instead, it comes from what it all symbolizes, what it all means. It comes from the dawning realization that the new freedom my daughter is newly discovering is freedom from, well, me.

There was a time in my life since I have been at Reveille where I could speak at a baccalaureate service and make light-hearted comments about what a milestone high school graduation is for not only the students but their parents as well. However, as I did so this year at the service in our sanctuary for the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School, it hit me all at once: next year man, next year. Next year, Tracy and I get to be the parents at Freeman’s graduation, and it is all getting so very real.

I have seen this from a certain distance in the lives of so many of you, especially lately, as I have heard stories and seen Facebook posts where young people are dropped off at college. And not only that, but first days of kindergarten, first days of middle school, even those first days of preschool when you take that last look as you leave the room, and you feel that hard, hollow feeling you get when your baby gives you that confused look, wondering why you are leaving, wondering if you realize that you have forgotten something, someone.

From the moment children learn to roll over, they begin that process of moving away from us. Throughout their lives, we hope to release them into the best, safest, most wholesome of environments. We bring them home for the first time into safe houses. We do our best to raise them in safe neighborhoods. We trust that we have dropped them off at the best and safest of all schools. We encourage them to choose the best careers and best life partners, all of it because we ache with love for them we pray for them the wisdom, the strength, all of the equipping they could ever need because as we learn to give them to the world, we wish for only the best of all worlds for them, for the rest of their hopefully long, long lives.

John writes in today’s text “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” In these short verses, words which Martin Luther referred to as “the gospel in miniature,” we encounter such a stark contrast to the ways in which we raise and release our own children. It is difficult enough to watch them move into the best of all circumstances. And yet, God’s child comes to us, comes to our circumstances, comes to our world.

Heralded by angels at his birth and showered with gifts in his infancy, yet still born into a world that will ultimately reject him, a world that will question his family of origin, a world that will question his motives at every turn, a world that will witness his signs and wonders and see in them only fearful threats to personal power and the status quo, a world that will ultimately reject his vision of a world of peace and justice, that will ultimately reject even physical healing and the forgiveness of sins, a world that would nail him to a cross to just make him stop once and for all.

All because our God regarded and regards us in all of our depravity, brokenness, injustice and sin and somehow sees a world worth loving, not because of who we are, but because of who this God is. 

The remarkable thing about this morning’s text is not merely how generous it reveals God’s love to be, but how expansive God’s love is. It is pure grace, all of it unearned. I wonder if sometimes we unconsciously believe that God gave us Jesus hoping against hope that we would somehow rise to the occasion and become perfect saints instead of the sinners we are, as if God was somehow surprised by the cross and how it all turned out, as if God did not know what God was getting into when God gave us Jesus.

Yet that is not the God we have.

In a few moments, we will celebrate Holy Communion and in our hymnal, there are words of pardon that come after the prayer of confession, words penned by Saint Paul in his Epistle to the Romans, words for Christians in the city where he would lose his life, words that say “Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, proving God’s love for us” As such, we know that God’s love for the world was not and is not predicated upon what we can someday be. Instead, God’s love embraces us where it finds us, as we are.

The problem with the expansive nature of God’s love is that by loving the entire world, God has somehow found a way to love all of the wrong people. Sometimes, if I am honest, I find myself wanting to believe that God works like a fisherman, scooping up a gigantic harvest from the sea, the nets nearly bursting from the immense load of diverse aquatic life, knowing that there are creatures in that net that God will certainly throw back, opting for only the finest catch— the slimy eels, the stinging jellyfish, the ugly sugar toads, and of course, those deadly sharks—all to be returned to the sea. Still, God throws back nothing, nothing at all, for God wants all of it, every last one.

This is who God is: the God who, by deciding that God indeed loves the entire world enough to release God’s only child into it, that this God will settle for nothing less than gaining the whole world, will settle for nothing less than everyone.

How different, how much easier would it be if God’s love was as exclusive, or at least as conditional as yours and mine? How much easier it would be to embrace an exclusionary gospel, one that could be instead miniaturized into a verse that read “For God so loved the world except…” or “For God so loved the world except for those who won’t toe my line,” or “except for those who fail to meet the strict qualifications that I will helpfully provide to God. We humans have been trying to make God into our own image, with our own likes and dislikes since before the ink on the scriptures was dry, and it never, ever works. There is a story demonstrating this in the Gospel of Mark, chapter ten. It tells of a blind man named Bartimaeus who the disciples thought was not worthy of God’s attention.

It didn’t work for them, either.  

  Anne Lamott writes of this kind of love saying “This drives me crazy. That God seems to have no taste, and no standards. Of course, by the same token, on most days, this is what gives some of us hope.”

I was driving home from worship one Sunday several months ago and listening to a radio program featuring social scientists who study religious practices and trends in America, and they were sharing how their research shows that the congregations that tend to be growing right now are ones who do not preach and teach of a God of grace and mercy. Instead, these congregations preach and teach of a fearsome, judging, punitive, damming god. These researchers gave no indication that they saw any change on the way to this reality.

And yet, in the verses just before the ones I just read, Jesus tells a leader of the Pharisees named Nicodemus that the world was already condemned before Jesus, God’s only son, God’s child got involved. There was already plenty of judgement to go around and no way out, so God acted, for you, for me, and for this world, a world loved when it was, and is, completely undeserving of that love.

The sermon series we begin today is called “Invited: The Hospitality of God.” It seemed like a good theme for a new program year. I began this series with this beloved text because the challenge for the church throughout the ages, today, and into the future is for the people of God to fully offer hospitality that reveals the kind of love we hear in today’s reading. But not only that, for us, for you and I together to covenant to be the kind of church, both when we are together and when we are apart, who reveals the kind of sacrificial, generous, expansive love we have read about today so that we can offer this community nothing less than the hospitality of God.

What would that kind of church look like, feel like, speak like, pray like, and act like, and do we together have the courage to birth it into being, for the sake of a people, a city, a world that our God gave God’s own and only son to save? What then?

Gloria In Excelsis Deo.

What is Faith? A Sacrifice of Praise

Hillman12th Sunday After Pentecost – September 1, 2019

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

A group of us sat there in the freshman dormitory one night in the autumn of 1989 when the conversation unexpectedly turned to religion. We were all still getting to know one another, and this was the first time this particular topic came up. After some sharing of our respective religious histories (or lack thereof), my new friend Clint asked this question: “Why would God create humans just to worship him?”

Without realizing it, Clint was in good company in asking that question. It turns out that when C.S. Lewis returned to the Christian faith of his youth sometime around 1929 or 1930, when he was thirty-one or thirty-two, this was his primary objection, one brought into stark relief as he perused the psalms.

In his 1958 book Reflections on the Psalms, Lewis writes about how he came upon God’s commandment to praise God. If none of us cares to be in the company of a person who demands congratulations praise, how can we stand this behavior from God? He says, “We all despise the man who demands continued assurance of his own virtue, intelligence or delightfulness; we despise still more the crowd of people round every dictator, every millionaire, every celebrity, who gratify that demand… Gratitude to God, reverence to Him, obedience to Him, I thought I could understand; not this perpetual eulogy.” (1)

In this morning’s text, the author of Hebrews writes “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.” In these two sentences, this epistle asserts the faith in Christ and the worship of God are inextricably linked; the “sacrifice of praise” comes from the lips of those who believe in him, who “confess his name.” Worship, therefore, is the natural posture, the ordinary means of communicating to God for all Christian people.

There is a very old fable that tells the story of a scorpion and a frog that goes like this: “A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” The scorpion says, “Because if I do, I will die too. The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp “Why?”

Replies the scorpion: “I am a scorpion. It’s my nature.” (2)

And this is how it goes for those of us who believe as to why we worship. We are Christians. It is our nature. And yet, as Lewis did, we to find this answer facile and unsatisfactory. We, too, find ourselves like the frog, asking “Why?”

Why do we worship, anyway?

Like just about every other person in my field, I find myself observing the modern decline in worship attendance and wondering what, if anything can be done? At Reveille, our clergy and program staff are our worship’s fiercest critics. Each Monday, we dismantle each of the week’s worship services to see what could have been improved. How was the sermon? How was its interplay with the lyrics of the hymns, as well as the rest of the liturgy? Were there problems with the sound? How was the flow of the service itself? Were the transitions good? Was the worship immersive? Did it communicate the central thrust of the biblical text? Did the service go more than an hour? What could we have done wrong to cause this (a question the pastors of our partner churches in Swansboro find hilarious).

As tedious as this process of review can be, it is important that we do it in this disciplined fashion week after week after week as we plan again and again the worship life of this congregation, yet not for the reason that may first come to mind. At first glance, it may seem like we put so much thought into planning and evaluating worship because we want the worship to be good so people will attend. However, the problem with this thinking is that it is reductive, turning worship into a transaction, wherein your worship leaders are purveyors of a religious product that we hope and pray people like you will continually select, as your increasingly precious worship attendance is sold to the highest bidder, that is to the church with the most appealing product.

It is an awful way to think, one that quickly steals the joy from the rare privilege of crafting and leading Christian worship. In this scenario, the clergy feel like some kind of hybrid of Dale Carnegie and P.T. Barnum, half-persuader, half-showman.

And it is obscene.

We do not plan worship, we do not participate in worship, and we certainly do not pick it apart simply because we wish to give you what we think you want. We do it for the same reason you got up on a holiday weekend and came here this morning to participate in this strange and wonderful thing that we do: because God deserves it, and as such, we can do no other.

The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews writes “let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God.” In this short phrase are two critically important truths that we ignore at our peril. The first is that we do not merely worship God when we are together. We worship God continually. The second is that our worship of God is a “sacrifice,” a “sacrifice of praise.” Let’s consider these in order.

The Episcopalian priest Gray Temple writes of how “Souls that emerge from a worship service in which people actively admire and praise our Lord are in a somewhat fluid, molten state. The issue then is, how will my molten soul “set up”? Will I rush back into my normal routine, to be shaped once again by the world’s mold? Will I sit docilely in some class where a teacher or pastor tells me exactly what to believe and practice and exactly how to do it? That would be like pouring my molten soul into somebody else’s ice tray—and calling it ‘growth!’ Far better to gaze around the coffee hour for eyes equally ablaze and forge relationships with them, letting my self-in-transformation be shaped in our mutual discovery of Jesus’ high adventure.” (3)

Worship, then, is not merely something we do when we are together in the sanctuary. It is also something we do when we are apart as we scatter into the world. Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther wrote about Christian vocation, about a calling shared by clergy and laity alike, and how each thing we do throughout the day can be a little act of worship, if we do it for God’s glory. In such a world, worship is everywhere; in each changing leaf, in each brushstroke on a canvass, in each honest transaction, even in each changed diaper, each kind word spoken, in each act of compassion throughout our customary round.

Now, I can already hear the wise objection: if everything is worship, then nothing is. Not so! The worship we do out in the world as daily we live lives glorifying God are in indeed worship. However, they are all worship that compliments what we do here yet does not supplant it. The author of Hebrews opens today’s text with an entreaty to “Let mutual love continue” and goes on to list numerous ways in which our togetherness matters, and as such, worship is not merely an individual endeavor, just as Christian discipleship is not a purely individual way of life. To be a Christian is to live in community, and the natural posture of authentic Christian community is worship.

C.S. Lewis writes the following about his return to worship as a young adult: “When I first became a Christian, about fourteen years ago, I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and I wouldn’t go to the churches and Gospel Halls; and then later I found that it was the only way of flying your flag; and, of course, I found that this meant being a target.”

He continues, “I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music.” “But as I went on,” he says, “I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.” (4)

Which brings me to the cryptic phrase above: “a sacrifice of praise to God.” If worship is the natural fruit of the confession of our faith, it seems that worship should naturally flow from us. Our faith should inspire us to worship, and as such, worship should be easy, pleasurable even, but certainly not a sacrifice. To understand this, we have to return to where we just were, with this notion of worship being a “product,” and an entertaining product at that. There is a saying that “the greatest trick the devil ever pulled is convincing the world he didn’t exist.” I am not so sure. I believe the devil’s greatest trick may have been convincing the church that worship is all about us, and as such, should be directed to our likes, our desires, our proclivities, our tastes.

If you spend enough time working in a church, the parlance of it becomes second nature. The paper you are handed as you enter worship is a bulletin, not a program. The area where the worship leaders stand is called the chancel and not the stage.

Our music director Daniel Banke recently taught me another bit of the parlance of Christian worship as we picked apart a worship service at one of our Monday staff meetings: he reminded us that the people in the pews are not the audience. They are the congregation, for God, and only God, is in the audience.

This is not pedantry. It is true and remembering it can help us to reorient how we think about what it means for the nature of the Christian to worship. An entertainment-obsessed culture has taught us that it is the duty of nearly everything, from our work, to our leisure, to even our education and our worship to entertain us. Frankly, our worship spaces tend to be set up so much like the theatre that in many ways, it reinforces this notion; we stand up here and do stuff. You sit out there and take it in.

Yet what if: what if we understood things differently. What if it were our belief that it is not just the people up in the chancel leading worship, but instead, worship was all of us and all we did together? What if the quality of the preaching or the beauty of the solo musician were but fragments of a much larger mosaic, a mosaic incomplete without the beauty of all of our voices weaving together, as we journey through the liturgy, as we sing, as we pray, as we speak, and as we are silent? And what if all of this, all of it, was directed away from us and towards a holy and living God?

It is why our being here matters. Like an orchestra missing instruments, our worship is lacking when we, the family of faith God has established in this place, are missing essential parts as we direct our praise to our audience of One.

It is like the old preacher joke which tells about a young man who became a priest and decided one day, early in his ministry, to call in sick to one Sunday morning so he could sneak away and play golf.  So he told the senior pastor that he was feeling sick and convinced him to say preach for him that day. As soon as the Associate Pastor left the room, the new young priest headed out of town to a golf course about forty miles away. This way he knew he wouldn’t accidentally meet anyone he knew from his church. Setting up on the first tee, he was alone.

At about this time, Saint Peter leaned over to the Lord while looking down from the heavens and exclaimed, “You’re not going to let him get away with this, are you?” God sighed, and said, “No, I guess not.” Just then the priest hit the ball and it shot straight towards the pin, dropping just short of it, rolled up and fell into the hole, a 500 yard hole-in-one! St. Peter was astonished. He looked at the Lord and asked, “Why did you let him do that?” The Lord smiled and replied, “Who is he going to tell?”

Which brings me back to where we began: why would God create people just to worship him? C.S. Lewis writes “It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with . . . “ (5)

The Shorter Westminster Catechism describes the chief end of life as simply “To know God and enjoy him forever.” For Lewis, as for us, our joy in God is incomplete without praise.. He writes “Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.” (6)

To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to be glad for all he has done for us, all of the grace, all of the love, all of the beauty and joy so generously heaped upon us, in times good and bad. As the psalmist writes, “What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.”

It is why we worship. We are Christians, the redeemed, the someday-to-be-sanctified. It is what we do. It is our nature.

Gloria In Excelsis Deo.

[1] C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (1st ed., 1958; reprint, New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1986), p. 80, 91.
[1] http://www.aesopfables.com/cgi/aesop1.cgi?4&TheScorpionandtheFrog (Despite the name of the website, this is not an Aesop fable).
[1] Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 4: Season after Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ) (Kindle Locations 722-727). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
[1] C.S. Lewis God in the Dock.
[1] Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, p. 97.
[1] Ibid p. 97.

What is Faith? Hope For A Better World

FireEleventh Sunday After Pentecost – August 25, 2019

Hebrews 12:18-29

I have recently found myself thinking quite a bit about fire. It started a few weeks ago when all the smoke detectors in my house went off one morning soon after I arrived at work, necessitating a visit from the fire department who informed us that while our house was safe, this was the detectors’ way of informing us that they needed to be replaced, a last hurrah, if you will.

The second reason I have been thinking about fire lately is out of concern for the Amazon rainforest, which is burning at an alarming rate. There are currently nearly 40,000 fires burning across the Amazon, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, the most rapid rate of burning in the last six years, since record-keeping began. The toxic smoke from the fires is so thick that the sky grows dark hours before the sun sets in São Paulo, Brazil, the largest city in the Western Hemisphere. The Amazon is the Earth’s largest tract of rainforest, featuring millions of species and billions of trees, and storing vast amounts of planet-warming carbon dioxide while producing 6 percent of the planet’s oxygen.[i]

All of this thinking about fire led me to learn about what are called pyrophytic plants. Pyrophytes are plants that have adapted over long periods of time to tolerate fire. They fall into three major categories: passive pyrophytes, active pyrophytes, and pyrophile plants.

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