Avoid Becoming the Pastor you Swore You’d Never Be – Part III

From the Book, The Unoffical United Methodist Handbook for Pastors. p. 23-24

“You are priest. (“Faithfully administering the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion; by leading the people of God in worship and prayer…”)  Ever since God set apart Aaron and  his sons to be priests (Exodus 28:1), the people of God have understood that God calls some men and women to a representative ministry from the priesthood of all believers.  It is like what happens at Christmas when the entire family receives a gift but asks one member of the family to open it.  Sacraments are finally about the work of God.DON’T·         Think you are especially pure and holy because you have sacramental authority.  Robes and albs and stoles do not make you better than anyone else; they are sings of what God is trying to do through you. (LOVE THIS!!)

·         Hesitate to offer prayers in homes, hospitals, highways, hedges, helicopters, headquarters (and even places that don’t begin with ‘h’).  It is better to leave a situation mumbling to yourself, ‘I wish I had not prayed aloud’ than to leave saying, ‘I wish I had prayed aloud.’
DO·         Find times when you can worship and receive the Eucharist under someone else’s priesthood.
·         Make the sacraments life regularly (John Wesley said ‘constantly’) available to your people.”

The greatest joy I have in ministry is the gift of sacramental authority.  It is a privileged to lead and offer up the sacraments to the people of God.  John Wesley saw these as a means of grace or a real and tangible place we come in contact with God.  What an honor and joy it is to share real ways people can be in contact with God.
Every time I give communion to my kids and my wife I kiss them on the forehead.  It is funny to watch the person behind my wife look at me with fearful eyes that say, “Are you going to KISS me too?”  I kiss them because I find that the sacrament is the most intimate moment we share.  Yes, even more intimate than other husband and wife things.  It is intimate because in that moment I am offering them the body and blood of Christ.  I have been almost knocked over by the Holy Spirit twice, each time is when I placed water on my son and my daughter’s head and then choked out the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”  Those are intimate moments, wonderful moments, spiritual moments, JOYFUL moments!
To all clergy out there, never lose the ability to be fully present in the moment you pass out the body and blood of Christ or place water on the heads of God’s children.  God is in those moments and we should always be aware of that.  “Robes and albs and stoles do not make you better than anyone else; they are sings of what God is trying to do through you.”

Matthew 26:26-29 – Sermon – Traditions

Matthew 26:26-29
Christianity 101:The Basics

John Wesley left his followers some guidance on how to make theological decisions. He never summed it up the way we do now but what he left us with is what we call the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. We Methodists love our weird long words but what this means is there are four parts to making a faithful witness. “Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason.” That is basically the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. When we attempt to make sense of issues in our day or how we as United Methodist should react to the world, we go to these four sources for answers, Scripture, tradition, experience and reason. Scripture is the primary sources and stands above all the others. Tradition helps back it up and it is made effective through experience and reason.

We understand experience and reason. We will be using those two personal tools today as we watch those commercials which are only broken up by a football game tonight. As we watch those we will experience them and use our own reason to determine which were effective, funny, or went too far. We understand Scripture too. Okay, we may not understand Scripture completely but we do understand why it is supposed to be the most important thing and why it is set up as our primary source. One that seems to give people a little trouble is tradition. But tradition is one of the basics of faith and without it our faith would seem empty.

Tradition comes from the Latin word trado which means to hand over, to deliver or to bequeath. Tradition is the belief or customs passed down from one generation to the next. Where there are two or more humans gathered together two or more times, there are traditions. Let’s face it, today is an American Tradition. Today is Super Bowl Sunday and millions upon millions of people will watch players who get paid millions upon millions play a game in a stadium that cost millions upon millions and in between we will watch ads from companies that hope after spending millions upon millions they will earn millions upon millions. It is the great American Tradition.

But there are other American traditions out there; barbeques and fireworks on the 4th of July, and Thanksgiving is another huge one. Most communities have their own traditions too. Here we have Everybody’s Day and the Thomasville/East Davidson football game. In Oriental, North Carolina, a little town where the Neuse River meets the Pamlico Sound, they have the Oriental Cup Regatta and the Crocker Festival. In Concord, NC the week before Memorial Day is always busy with something known as Speed Week. It is the week between the NASCAR All Star Race and the Coca Cola 600. Almost every community has some sort of traditions.

Families are the same way. We all have family traditions. Growing up we had to open stockings first, eat breakfast and then open gifts on Christmas morning. When my grandparents still lived in Huron, OH, they had a Backyard Bash every summer and the whole family would go up and all their friends would come over for a huge backyard party that somehow always ended with catching fireflies and drinking way too much orange soda. I am sure I could walk through this sanctuary today and learn about all the great traditions that are out there that you and your family or hometown keep. Traditions are what we pass to the next generation to help them know who they are and where they have come from.

Yet Jesus didn’t always agree with traditions. In the seventh chapter of Mark’s gospel Jesus is confronted by some of the Pharisees and other teachers of the law who see Jesus’ disciples eating with unclean hands. They had not gone through the traditional hand cleansing ritual. Jesus looks at them and replies back, “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” Jesus goes on to rail on them for depending too much on their traditions. Traditions can be huge brick walls within communities to that end up being bigger problems than effective tools of passing down meaning and purpose.

“William Poteet wrote in The Pentecostal Minister how in 1903 the Russian Czar noticed a sentry posted for no apparent reason on the Kremlin grounds. Upon inquiry, he discovered that in 1776 Catherine the Great found there the first flower of spring. “Post a sentry here,” she commanded, “so that no one tramples that flower under foot!” For the next 127 years a sentry stood there without question. Some traditions die hard.” We all know those types of traditions, the ones that we always do because that is what has always done. They have lost their purpose and are more done to simply do them than to convey meaning and purpose.

In the book The Vindication of Tradition it says, “Tradition is the living faith of those now. Traditionalism is the dead faith of those still living.” This is what Jesus was angry about when he was confronted by the Pharisees. He was angry that for them, they were holding up dead faith. When we see the word “tradition” in the New Testament it usually “means laws and regulations handed down orally from one generation to another and forming the Oral Law of the Jews, which Jesus frequently denounced when it was against the real law of God.” Jesus has a problem with traditions when they become traditionalism, when they go against God. When the tradition itself becomes more important than the reason for doing it we are in trouble. So we have to walk carefully because there is a small line between a meaningful tradition and a golden calf.

The opening lines to the 1964 musical Fiddler on the Roof goes, “How do we keep our balance, they can tell you in one word…Tradition! Without traditions our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on a roof.” Tradition brings meaning to life and color to who we are. This is why it is so important. Without traditions the next generations can lose focus on what is really important.

We have great traditions in our Christian tradition. There are things we do in worship that are to build up and teach all of us why we do what we do. We sing hymns that have deep meaning and can bring back vivid memories. As we sing them they dive into our souls and stir us. The first hymn we sang was written by Charles Wesley in 1739 and is a very traditional Methodist hymn. At each Annual Conference, in all the United Methodist Conferences around the world, they start by singing the hymn, “And Are we Yet Alive.” This was a tradition started by John Wesley during annual meetings and is one that continues to this day. For many, our last hymn will resonate deep in our souls because of something from our past or simply the tune itself stirs up meaning of a deeper walk with God.

Beyond singing we also have creeds. Each week we say the Apostle’s Creed. This is said to be taken from what the early apostles were teaching and some believe the earliest time this was actually written down was in 180 AD. In 325 at the Council of Nicaea they took this creed and clarified some of the theological loose ends and created the Nicene Creed. The main purpose of these creeds is to give the theological foundation for our faith. It is the yard stick for our belief and something we can measure things against. It is a place where we can look to and say this is what I believe, what my grandparents believe and what everyone who called themselves Christian has believed. It is a grand tradition passed down to us which we participate in every week when we say it and teach it to our children.

The same thing is true for our sacraments. A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace. We in the United Methodist Church have two sacraments, baptism and the Eucharist, or Holy Communion. There are other denominations that have more. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Traditions have seven sacraments and other denominations have somewhere in between 2-7. But for us it is the sacred rites of Baptism and Communion. Here it is where God bestows on us grace and where we participate in forgiveness, remembrance, and the sacrifice that our Lord did.

In Matthew’s gospel text today Jesus and his disciples were gathered together to eat the traditional Passover meal. Jesus then takes a very traditional meal, one passed down from generations to generations of the Jewish faith to tell the story of their ancestors and transforms it into a tradition for us to remember God’s love for humanity. This is a tradition we participate in traditionally on the first Sunday of every month. We do so to participate in this salvific act of God and to remember who we are and whose we are. This is what a true tradition should do.

Traditions are wonderful when they point to God and teach who we are and whose we are. They become deadly, at least a form of hospice, when we lose sight of that. When traditions are done for the sake of doing them and not for the meaning behind them they are transformed into golden calves. Then our loyal participation is actually an act of idolatry. For a tradition to stand the test of time, it has to start with God and end with God. That is what our sacraments do. That is what our creeds do. That is what our hymns and worship should do. Traditions hold us accountable and give us purpose. They bind us together in community and grant us our identity. Without them we can be lost and alone. Without them we can forget who and whose we truly are.

And all God’s people said…Amen

Germs at Holy Communion

With all the talk of swine flu and how to protect yourself, the UMC has offered up some advice of their own. There is a ton of talk also about how to control continuation during Holy Communion. I have known some germ-a-phobes who won’t take communion because of the risk. It is nice to see that there is scientific proof that Communion is as risky as being around people. In a study done by Anne LeGrange Loving and written about in the bi-monthly Luther Partners magazine backs this claim.

During the simulated Eucharist services, samples were taken of participants’ fingertips, the wine, the wafers before and after being dipped into the wine, and of the “dregs” of the wine that remained at the end. Bacterial cultures were performed on all of these samples.

The findings revealed that bacteria are indeed transferred into the wine when a person’s fingertips are submerged, and these same microbes can then be absorbed onto the wafer of a subsequent participant, in a sponge-like fashion. Not surprisingly, some individuals in the study had small amounts of fecal and other potentially dangerous bacteria on their fingertips, and some of these were recovered from the chalice samplings.

However, the statistics in this study showed that although intinction is by no means completely microbe-free, it does seem to reduce the risk over that of sipping from a common communion cup.

Having completed this investigation, I realized that my findings could be added to the large pool of previous studies that all showed the same thing: Holy Communion is like any other activity in which humans have close contact — microbes are exchanged.

Being in contact with people will always produce germs but aren’t those germs worth being in contact with the grace of God?

Wash Away My Baptism

I need to work through this because thinking about it makes me very upset. I mean it consumes me. I found out a loved one of mine had to be rebaptized to join her church. They would not except her as a member until she was submerged. This church was the place that her husband decided they were going to call home and that is the reason she went through with it. Her husbands parents came up all excited about her (re)baptism and wanted to celebrate it. She told them she was doing this to join the church and that was the reason, (I’m guessing not because of some conversion experience like they may have thought).

This is what really gets under my skin. I mean deep down, infuriatingly type of stuff. The main reason is that a church told this person, and persummably more, that their baptism doesn’t count. That some how it wasn’t holy enough to really matter, because less water was used. When congregations do that they negate my baptism as well.

This loved one was baptized as an infant, as I was. Saying that she didn’t get it right the first time means I am not right. It means my wife, my son, all the people and children I have baptized are not right with God because a handful of water was used and not a tub full. That hurts, to the deep center of my being. Rebaptism states that God didn’t get it right the first time and I find that offensive.

As you could probably tell this church is not a United Methodist church and it makes me so proud to be in this denomination when stuff like this happens. I got the pleausure of having three baptizims in a row in as many weeks. I baptized an infant, a four year old and an adult. Each one was special and God was present.

Thank God the blessing, love, grace, and joy found in that sacrament is not our responsibility. God got it right for me, for my loved one (both times), and each and every time. Putting samantics on the style or amount of water is handcuffing God to a pole and saying God can only work a certain way. The God I worship, the God present at the sacraments I have witnessed, is SO much bigger than that.

Homebound Communion 2 (Bird Cat)

My second visit today, to bring the sacrament to a homebound woman, provided another wonderful story. This visit was not full of tears, like the one this afternoon, but one of laughter. Still a wonderfully enlightening and enjoyable.

I went to visit this woman (B) with her daughter and son-in-law. My parishioner had been in this nursing facility for two years now, suffering from Alzheimer’s. The same diseases that has ripped my grandfather’s brilliant mind from him. She was not as far along as my grandfather. She could still talk, although understanding what she is getting at is another issue.

We had a nice visit and I learned more about her and her husband, who still attends church regularly. After about 40 minutes of visiting I asked if I could do communion. B looked at me and said, ‘sure whatever you want.’ I started to pull the elements out of the plastic Walmart bag I carried them in. I showed her son-in-law, a real fan of our communion bread, the three remaining Hawaiian bread rolls. He perked up and said yum! We went through the liturgy and B partook in the of the bread and juice. She loved the bread and ate the whole piece. This made an opportunity for all of us to have seconds.

As I sat back down to visit for a couple minutes longer, B’s daughter asked me if I had any funny stories about communion. I dazzled them with a couple I always have ready. The 5 year old not wanting to drink blood. The older woman dipping the bread into the cup after she placed the bread on her tongue. Then I started to pack up to head home, B looked at me. She said in her forceful and raspy tone, ‘You have nice buns.’ I simply stood there and smiled while her daughter and son-in-law all started howling in laughter. I laughed as well (and still am while typing this).

I told B that I will take it that I have nice buns in the Walmart bag in my hand. Ahh…communion, got to love it.

Homebound Communion

Today I have matched my entire number of homebound communions. Before today I went on two other communions for those who were homebound and that was almost six years ago. I am in the middle of two today. I came back from a couple who have gone to the church for years but are dealing with physical and health issues now. This evening I will accompany a family to visit his wife/her mother who is in a nursing facility because she has Alzheimer’s. I was moved by this experience and I wanted to post the tiny service. I am not sure what will be in store tonight but after this afternoon I know God’s prevenient grace is awaiting me and the family for their arrival this evening.

There is power in the sacraments and it was felt to day in their 83 degree third floor apartment. I pulled out a TV tray next to the sink and placed it down in the middle of the living room area. I set on that TV tray a chalice and a plate. I filled the chalice up with a tiny bit of grape juice and placed a single portion Hawaiian bread roll on the plate. The plate engulfed the small roll and the cup looked almost empty with the amount of juice that was in it. It reminded me of the amount of leftover milk that is in my son’s sippy cup when he is done with his evening milk.

The wife slide down the couch to sit next to her husband, who was sitting in his recliner which is on a wooden platform to make it easier for his 6’4″ frame to sit down on. As her oxygen tube ran from her nose to the bedroom, they sat their and clung on every word of the liturgy. I opened the Book of Worship to the Word and Table for those sick or homebound. As I read and we worshiped together they both got emotional. They took the body of Christ and dipped into the blood and partook in the sacrament.

As I chewed on the body and blood of Christ, the husband broke into prayer. He thanked God for what he had and acknowledge his presence in the room and in their lives. As he prayed tears rolled down his checks. His wife took a deep breath and swallowed her mounting feelings. I closed the service with the prayer after communion.

The power of the sacrament is amazing and it is definitely a means of grace. When we do it monthly in the service I always cherish that time, for me it is special and an intimate connection with God. I often wonder what the others think, if they get it or if they understand the power and love that is held in the bread and the wine. Today couple, which misses their church greatly, was connected to THE Church in their hearts and in their souls. The Holy Spirit was in our midst and felt by all. Thanks be to God.

Question #4

If you were putting the four major categories into the amount of time you spend on them what would be the sequence? Word and ecclesial acts? Sacraments? Order? Service?

It is funny that this is the question right after the one about where your gifts lie in these areas because our gifts are necessarily where we spend most of our time. Time wise my current order would look different. Being that I have only been here for 5 Sundays I think this order will change throughout the year, but here we go anyway.

The order would be Word and ecclesial acts, order, sacraments and service. Now some of this might surprise some people but once again and I just starting this new appointment. Word comes first because now that I am preaching every week that is a top priority. Sunday comes no matter what else happens in the week, so I have to prepare.

Second is Order because I am in the midst of committee meetings and learning the people of the church. I am planning on changes I will make in the future and trying to learn how this church works.

Sacraments are third (a change from question #3 because where it was 4th). It is third because I am also doing a lot of sacraments in this month and I have a feeling I will have the opportunity to do a lot of teaching in this area as the year goes on. I have three baptisms coming up and they do communion every month.

Fourth is service. The reason this is last is because we are in the summer and I am still trying to get to know the area. Church members do a lot of service, meals on wheels, our town’s food bank, etc. I haven’t gotten involved in any yet because I am still trying to figure out where I fit in and what I am called to do here.

LIke I said for question #3, this list will change and it will be interesting if I came back a year from now to note where my lists have changed over the year.

Question #3

Still trying to answer all the 10 questions to keep a minister on track, here is my attempt on question #3. If you were putting the four major categories into the order of your gifts, what would be the sequence: Word and ecclesial acts? Sacrament? Order? Service?

The short answer is Order, Word and ecclesial acts, Service and Sacrament.

Longer answer/explanation. I feel I have been blessed with a good mind for administration. I like to plan, organize, vision cast and enable the gifts of others. This all falls under the category of Order. There are things I do not do well in here but all of these categories are extremely full of different aspects of minister thus one could not be an expert in them all.

Word and ecclesial acts is my second. I love worship and I love doing other forms of worship such as funerals and weddings. I feel God has gifted me in leading worship because if I had a choice I wouldn’t speak in front of people. I know every time I am up there preaching (now every week) this is God’s will not mine and there is a great feeling of assurance in that.

Service would be third. I think this is linked into the Order a little but it boils down to inspiring a congregation to be the Body of Christ. Pushing the congregation out of the doors and into the community. I have not had a lot of experience in this area. I worked on the mission and outreach committee before but that was about it and that was mostly meetings. I have plenty of room to grow in this area.

I like to think about this as my fourth of four and not the last because it is one I hold deep in my heart. The sacraments are powerful and truly meaningful. I feel privileged every time I am able to do them. My son’s baptism was one of the special and holy events in my life. I have placed it here because in the BOD it talks a lot about teaching others about the sacraments. Explaining to parishioners what baptism means and what communion means. I have not had a lot of experience with this yet. This is because in my past appointment I was the associate and these matters were dealt with by the senior minister. I look forward to leading confirmation and guiding people into profession of faith. I look forward to the three baptisms we have scheduled in the next couple of months and talking with the family about what that sacrament means for their children.

There is my order. Doing this has taught me a lot though. I hope that in the next couple of years that Sacrament will move forward to the number one or two slot. It is hard to place them in order because they all are extremely important in ministry but doing so shows me where I need to do some work.