The Methodist way of preaching


DrTony:

This is a fascinating piece and brings to question what each of us does when asked to present the message.

Originally posted on John Meunier:

By 1751, John Wesley had become concerned about a new kind of preaching that was taking hold in some Methodist societies. The men who were preaching this new way called themselves “gospel” preachers. The preached only the promises of Christ and none of the law. In Wesley’s account, indeed, they even mocked the original style of Methodist preaching that was careful to preach both law and gospel as warranted by the state of the hearers.

In his “Letter on Preaching Christ,” Wesley describes both the methods by which law and gospel were to be preached and decries the damaging effects of the gospel preaching. He points out that in several cities that once had thriving societies, the numbers had been seriously eroded by the gospel preachers. Without the starch of the law, Methodist zeal and discipline waned.

In contrast, Wesley highlighted the contrary example of a society in Yorkshire, which…

View original 356 more words

Accidental Witness


DrTony:

I am reblogging this so that it shows up on Facebook.

Originally posted on United Methodeviations:

As Epiphany closes the Christmastide once more, a few incidents stand out in my mind as symbolic of the current state of the church and our faith in the present day:

  1. At a hotel where I stayed this week, a manager was giving instruction to her maintenance crew — at full voice in the lobby: “I want every decoration down and stored.  I want Christmas totally and absolutely GONE by the end of the day!”
  2. Two gentlemen were taking the nativity scene down from in front of a local church.  There was a plastic bucket sitting on a wheeled cart.  One of the men grabbed the plastic baby Jesus by his ankle, tossed him underhand, and deposited him headfirst down into the bucket.
  3. Another crèche scene obviously outlived its usefulness — the church put it on the curb in a jumble of bits and pieces, Mary and Jesus and animals…

View original 445 more words

“What Is Around The Corner?”


We stand at the beginning of a new year, not knowing what it will bring. It is as if we are at a corner and we must make go around the corner if we are to go anywhere. But it seems quite comfy where we are and there is no need to go anywhere at the present time. So why find out what is around the corner?

I had the opportunity the other day to hear part of a conversation and read the transcrip of the conversation between Amy Goodman and Daniel Ellsberg a few years back that related to the publication of the Pentagon Papers. It was interesting to review this story because of one point that Ellsberg made about the difficulty in getting this information out into the public (something that we need to consider in light of the Edward Snowden revelations).

Ellsberg pointed out that he spoke to a number of high ranking Senators, all of whom were publically opposed to the Viet Nam war, about helping him and to a person they all were willing to do it, provided Ellsberg could get someone else to do it as well. In other words, despited what they were already doing, they were unwilling to do more by themselves, choosing to “follow the herd” rather than lead. It was quite clear that disturbing the status quo was not part of being a United States Senator, especially if you wanted to keep your leadership roles. Ultimately, of course, the Pentago Papers were released and it was one of the Senators for Alaska, Mike Gravel, who would help in the process.

This came at a time when I was trying to fix in my own mind an explanation for what is happening in American politics. Here it is, the first day of 2015, and some of the news is going to fix on the presidential election of 2016, something just under two years away. It is most likely that 1) it will be a nasty campaign by both sides, 2) fear of what the other candidate might do will be the dominant theme, and 3) it will seem that the status quo will again be chosen, even when such a choice is not in the best interests of so many individuals in this country.

I got to thinking about something written in one of the books in my collection. The book focuses on the speeches of President John Kennedy when he was a candidate for President and then while he was President. In the book, the authors make the comment that President Kennedy was the last President to speak in complete sentences and expect his listeners and readers to know or understand what it was that he was saying.

I am not saying that those who occupied the office after Kennedy were not smart or literate but it sometimes seems that way. I also know that efforts begun when Eisenhower was President and continued under Kennedy (exploration of space and the development of new science and mathematics curricula) began to be phased under when the cost of the Viet Nam war became to great. Our problems today are as much or more a result of the change in focus of this country as they are anything else. Ir really does not help things when the means and motivation for thinking are systematically eliminated. And when you begin to eliminate thinking skills, it become much easier to maintain the status quo because one is no longer questioning things.

In his memorable good bye address to the country and the American people, President Eisenhower warned us against the growing danger of the military-industrial complex. It is clear today that this relationship has grown beyond reason and we have failed to heed the warning. And while we may feel that it is needed, why is it that we created weapons systems that cost in the trillions of dollars to produce and may or may not work, we cast aside as damaged equipment those who fight the wars the politicians create, and we refuse to cut the spending on the programs that sustain the complex? It goes back to something I said earlier, we seem to have a desire to maintain the status quo, even when it works against us.

I cannot help but think that those we elect are more interested in preserving the status quo and the power they have than they are in preserving or maintaining this country.

We have arrived at a point in the history of this country where we are unwillingly to venture into the unknown, to peak around the corner and see what is there. We have forgotten that this nation was created on the basis of an untried political idea known as democracy and, while there have been times where we didn’t think it will work, it has provided a basis for doing things that have never been done before. We have become a nation unwilling to take risks and we are incapable of peeking around the corner so that we can venture into the unknown.

As 2015 starts, let us hope and pray that we can regain that ability to take risks and venture into the unknown. Let us begin to peak around the corner and boldly go into areas we have been afraid to go before. Let us move from the safety of the status quo and into the uncertainity of tomorrow. If we do not, then I am afraid that there will be no future and civilization will come to an end.

We can stay here, where we are, perhaps safe and secure in the status quo or we can venture into the unknown of tomorrow and begin a new adventure. The choice is ours.

“Christmas Eve, 1968″


For one brief moment on Christmas Eve, 1968, we on the earth began to understand our relationship in and with this universe. I have even used a copy of the recording of the reading from Genesis that Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders read as the orbited the moon that evening to illustrate that relationship. Earthrise - 1968 And yet, in that moment of enlightenment and understanding, there were those who felt it was highly inappropriate and possibly illegal for three astronauts to read the words of Genesis while watching the lifeless void of the moon and the darkness of space. The documentaries of that time tell us that it had not been a very good year and it probably wasn’t. After all, Martin Luther King, Jr., had been assassinated in Memphis in April and then, Robert Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles in June. The Democratic National Convention was a disaster in more ways than one and the sum total of violence throughout that year pretty well made sure that Richard Nixon would be elected on a law and order platform buttressed by the “silent majority”. It seems to me that, with the singular exception of the Apollo program, all 1968 did was set things in motion for where we are today. And with the landing of Apollo 11 the following summer, even our exploration of the universe began to shut down. In the years that have come and gone since we first saw the surface of the moon up close, we have moved backward from the ideals that lead us to seek knowledge beyond the stars. And the violence that threatened to tear this nation apart then has not left and, perhaps, is even more present today. So on this Christmas Eve, I hope that we will pause for a few brief moments to ponder the birth of a child born far away from His home in a time of oppression, then think about the possibilities that we saw when three men from Earth saw the surface of the moon and reminded us from where we came. Let us take the time today to make sure that the Christmas story is told and that we will work for peace and understanding in the coming days.

“The Meaning Of The Christmas Story – 2014″


Here are my thoughts for Christmas this year.

If we are to give meaning to the story of Christmas that we tell this year, we ought to start with what we know.

For some, the idea that Jesus Christ was ever born is a fantasy or superstition. But something happened some two thousand years ago that caused some people to write down some stories and tell them to others and risk their lives in doing so. And while it may not always be possible to factually verify everything, that we are still telling the story today should tell us that there is a certain degree of truth in the story.

But let us start with the knowledge that we know Jesus probably wasn’t born on December 25th or in December for that matter. With the statement in Luke’s Gospel that the shepherds were in their fields that night, we can surmise that Jesus was most likely born in either March or early April.

But if we were to celebrate Jesus’ birthday at that time, there would inevitably be a conflict with Easter and that would probably not be a good idea.

We also know that those involved in the early church coopted a pagan holiday that occurred during the winter solstice as the date for Christmas. One supposes this was done to change the focus but, as we will see in a few moments, there was at least one other compelling reason.

But let me just say at this moment, if you profess to be an atheist, why are you disturbed by all of this? By your own declaration, you do not believe in any sort of god or gods, so the actions of one group to “steal” another groups holiday should have no effect on you.

And as an atheist or even as a pagan believer, if you participate in any sort of gift exchange because it is Christmas, then you are in it for yourself and that is not nor has it ever been the story or meaning of Christmas.

I would also add that those many self-righteous individuals who call themselves Christian but lead a life that does not contain Christ are also in it for themselves. Just because you put a sticker on the right side of your bumper that proclaims “keeping Christ in Christmas” doesn’t make you a Christian if you haven’t kept Christ in your heart as well.

You see the story of Christmas begins with an invitation, not to the rich and the powerful or members of the political and religious establishment, but to the outcasts of society. The announcement of the birth of Jesus was given to the shepherds, who by the very nature of their work, were considered ritually unclean and no self-respecting citizen in Jesus’ time would have anything to do with them.

Despite the profession as their King and his beginnings as a shepherd, the shepherd profession was not very well appreciated. I can only imagine what parents back then might have thought if one of their children were to come home and say that they wanted to become a shepherd or that they were going to marry one.

I don’t think much has changed in the past two thousand years. The people and professions change but we still exude an aura of exclusion when it comes to the people we bring to Christ or to whom we take Christ.

Yes, we have a food closet at our church; we hold food and coat drives; yes, we give food baskets at Thanksgiving and Christmas and we do all of that in the name of Christ but what happens the other days of the year. If we truly felt that no one should go hungry or naked, homeless or sick, why are we not doing something about that? Is that not what Christ said He came to this world to do and is that not part of the Christmas story?

Now, the one thing that I don’t want to do is mix up the Christmas stories in the Gospels but then again we have done a pretty good job of that on our own anyway. It may be that most people don’t know the reason for celebrating Christmas in December but they also don’t know that the story that is told is a combination of stories and that there really is no Christmas story in Mark or John.

And that makes the inclusion of the Magi all the more important. We also speak of the three wise men but we really don’t know if there were only three or if more may have been on the trip. We make the argument for three because three gifts were given. In fact, we don’t even know if they were all men (I think that we make certain assumptions about the nature of the position that are necessarily true). And we have to go to sources outside the Bible to get their names.

The Magi are in the story because they have seen signs of Jesus’ birth, signs that were available to the scientific advisers of the Israelite political and religious authorities as well. How is it that they missed them? Could it have been they were more interested in preserving their own positions than advancing knowledge? Why was it that the signs of Jesus’ birth were given to individuals outside the religious and political establishment? Could it have been that the knowledge of Christ’s birth was meant for all and not just a select few?

Even today, there are those who seek to limit our knowledge, telling us that there is a limit to our knowledge. But if their counterparts two thousand years ago couldn’t get it right, how can we trust them today?

We know that Jesus will grow in wisdom and stature so learning had to be important to Mary and Joseph. So should it be today. And just as the Magi looked beyond the horizon, so should our learning process push the envelope as well. Say what you will about the science of the Magi, it was the foundation for the science of today. They sought answers to questions and that is what we need to be teaching today. The answer to the question will always be in what we do, not what is in some book.

It was never made clear to me when I was growing up what sort of society Jesus was raised in or what the nature of that time might have been. But I have come to know, because I have sought to find out, that though the time may have been called the “Pax Romana”, it was a peace enforced by brutal force and oppression.

Are these times any different? We still seek to establish peace through force and oppression but we are finding that it does not work. To paraphrase Patrick Henry, there can be no peace as long as war is used to accomplish it.

We are also reminded that even one of Jesus’ disciples questioned the validity of Jesus’ message because He was from Nazareth. Our own ability to understand people is often clouded by our own preconceived notions of time and place. We struggle each day to judge a person by the content of their character and not their outward appearance.

We live in a dark time, in part because the relationship between the earth and its journey around the sun. But the darkness that envelopes our lives is brought on as much by our indifference to the conditions of others and our own self-interests.

I would hope that when the early church authorities decided to co-opt pagan winter solstice ceremonies, they did so because they understood that there was more to the darkness in the people’s lives than just the position of the earth around the sun.

Christ’s birth was meant to be the light that could overcome the darkness and allow people to know that, no matter who they may be or where they come from, there was hope in this world. He came to this world to bring light to a darkened world and that is the Christmas story.

It was never meant to be a one-day event. It was meant to be the beginning of a story that lasts a lifetime and one we live each day. It was and need to be a story told by all and told to all. So, as you tell the story, remember how it began and how lives were changed.

That is the meaning of the story this year and in the years to come.

Missing Letter “R”


DrTony:

It is an old joke, told many times, but it is well worth retelling. :)

Originally posted on A Pastor's Thoughts:

A young monk arrives at the monastery. He is assigned
to helping the other monks in copying the old canons
and laws of the church, by hand.

He notices, however, that all of the monks are
copying from copies, not from the original manuscript.
So, the new monk goes to the Old Abbot to question
this, pointing out that if someone made even a smallimage
error in the first copy, it would never be picked up!
In fact, that error would be continued in all of
the subsequent copies.

The head monk, says, “We have been copying
from the copies for centuries, but you make a
good point, my son.”

He goes down into the dark caves
underneath the monastery where the original
manuscripts are held as archives,
in a locked vault that hasn’t
been opened for hundreds of years.

Hours go by and nobody sees the Old Abbot.
So…

View original 76 more words

“What Can I Do?”


Mediation for November 16, 2014, the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Judges 4: 1 – 7; 1 Thessalonians 5: 1 – 11; Matthew 25: 14 – 30

I started this, then hit a “road block”, then got started again. I don’t know how good this one is.

A colleague and friend, in preparing her sermon for today, asked a very simple question, “What would you do if you only had one talent?”

Had a chance to think about what you were asking and came up with my own question, “What can I do?”

Do we do as the one individual in today’s Gospel reading did, take it and hide it away? Or is there some way that we can do something with what we have?

When I looked at the Old Testament reading for today, I saw that Deborah made one choice. Her single talent was to make the right choices; that’s why she was a judge.

Paul’s words to the Thessalonians speak of not knowing when Christ was coming back and that we probably shouldn’t be preoccupied with that notion but focus on what it is that we can do right now.

Each person has at least one talent; sometimes they know what it is, often times they do not know. But there are others whose primary talent is finding others. And that means that there isn’t a problem that cannot be solved.

But it also means that there comes a moment when our preconceived notions about time and space have to be cast aside. If we live in the present world, we will see things in only one sense. What was that George Bernard Shaw quote that Robert Kennedy so often used when he campaigned for President in 1968, “You see things; and say ‘why?’ But I dream of things that never were and say ‘why not?’”

That is where we are. We as a people are faced with many challenges and sometimes we think that we are unable to do anything. But we have been given the opportunity through Christ to see new ways to solve those problems. It changes the question from “what can I do?” to “when do we start?”