Moving On

4 09 2018

I, like many , have watched the tributes for Senator John Mc Cain. The last venue I saw was at The National Cathedral in Washington, DC.

I listened to  the comments make by former Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama. and others who spoke. A few observations.

They did not speak , sing, play from the pulpit.  Liturgically speaking they spoke from the ‘ layperson ‘s place’, behind the lectern.  Note: One stands behind the lectern and in the pulpit. . Resurrection hope is proclaimed  from the pulpit by the priest, pastor.

But most noteworthy,  was how his casket was carried from the place of repose during the service by people wearing national and military uniforms. We watched as his flag draped coffin turned 180 degrees clockwise, to symbolize the passing of time.  If the casket would have placed “on its feet’ during worship he would be facing the front with the cross and the light of the world as represented in  the candles.  So, upon leaving, again if ‘on his feet’, he would have followed the cross and the light going before him into the future. He was,  in the choreography of the church,  involved  in a sacred dance of  adoration and hope.

This same ‘dance’ of an about-face was a part of the early Christian rite of baptism and profession of faith; a turning away to turn toward, moving from to move on.

I was also struck with the music played for the recession. I racked my brain and google for the source. Finally, seeking wisdom from friend John Wimmer, a trumpet player from day’s gone by, I learned it was Gustav Holst’s music, a brass ensemble arrangement  of the Jupiter Hymn from The Planets. But for this ‘hymn guy’ …the hymn source… was I imagining it , what was it?  Using my new-found information I did another search. Isn’t the internet marvelous!!

The hymn using Holst’s music is , “I  Bow to Thee my Country. Click to hear and see the text:

The text is a poem written by Cecil Spring Rice. Click the link to learn more. 

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice

And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace

For those who know me, you might find my post a bit odd for several reasons. Primarily because I believe worship has only one Sovereign, Country/Kingdom  and Allegiance.  However, in this instance it was moving as the love and service to country was punctuated with this beautiful hymn of text and music  as Senator Mc Cain’s body did a 180 and turned toward the hope of resurrection.

A place where spears become tools for fruitfulness , swords plow fields and the study of war is not on the curriculum…a place of peace. It was as if the first stanza was about his life here and the second about a life and place to which  he was in hope and faith moving;  a  house not made with hands but eternal in the heavens, where soul by soul  gather and “all her paths are peace”.

President Bush quoted John Mc Cain when he said in his book ,  “I have moved on.” Somehow that  echoed in my head as the solemn march into the daylight of a September day progressed , as the text bid us to move on to where ” her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.”

May we pray “on earth as it is in heaven” and strive for the same.

 

 

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How Can I keep from Singing

25 06 2018

I ran into a friend from undergraduate years at a dinner celebrating our retirement as United Methodist pastors. Well, “untiement” , as I have said before. We both sang in the University Chorale and were a part of introducing the ‘new’ UM hymnal. So, we have a love for music and singing… and the UMC and the Lord of the Church.

That night the program included a song I first heard in the 60’s. That version was from Pete Seeger. My new favorite is from Audrey Assaud,. But Chris Tomlin seems to capture my mood at this moment. How can I keep from Singing . Click the link to hear. And sorry for the ads:-(

The closing worship of the Western NC Conference included  two hymns;  I love to tell the Story. Spirits and voices soared with “I love to tell the story of Jesus and his love….” ;  and Blessed Assurance with the refrain, ” This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long…”

In my last post, I wondered Who and what and where might reach out catch, capture me in retirement, err,  untiement as I couldn’t see myself not singing the song of the Divine Troubadour.

I look forward to being a great dog sitter but Rosie is not fan of my singing. Cleaning and cooking may be in  my future, … I said may. I am not sure they are on my Spiritual gifts inventory!  I hope to share a way of understanding poverty as the year unfolds. I might even learn more that 3 chords on the guitar or get my golf handicap in single digits.

But  the most recent and exciting blessing is that I will telling the Old, Old Story of Jesus and His love with the people of God at Faith UMC in Waynesville, NC as Bishop Leeland ‘fixed’ this appointment during the closing worship mentioned earlier.

Yes, it is part time and involves a drive from the westernmost part of the State. But in the spirit of the Methodist Circuit riders, I’ll get in rather that on my Mustang and ride off to the  east , toward the sunrise  and new day,,  across a mountain each Sunday to sing the greatest song ever written and to share the Savior of the world.  And  to keep the metaphor going…The old grey hoss ain’t what he used to be but he is not ready the glue factory quite yet !!

And for those who might be wondering if you still have a voice…. when the call to serve comes, use the warm up exercise that helps place and focus the voice and belt out, “me, me, me, me ,me” !!

Isaiah 6:8

How can we keep from Singing!

 

 

 





Untie-ment

2 05 2018

Many of my United Methodist colleagues are announcing their next chapter in life and ministry. In that spirit…

My father had a way of making up words that were often better than real ones. My sister and I called them, Daddy- isms. Yes, it is in the genes. One of his gems was ‘ untie-ment’. I looked it up. It is not a word. But many do it, if they are fortunate.

I first heard it used in a sentence when someone asked him about retirement. He said, ” I didn’t retire, I just untied.”  As I approach the end of my calling in  appointive ministry as a United Methodist pastor, I like Daddy’s phrase.

Retire sounds to me like something you do for an evening’s or eternal rest. It’s too close to expire for comfort  as the calendar pages turn, again and again and again!  So, I am not retiring but I am untieing, Spell check says that is not a word. So, …

What does one do in untiement?  When asked, I have joked that I plan on becoming a professional amateur golfer.  That is a joke! My creaking bones may have something to say about that option. And then there is this whole talent thing…But for a while, a season, it sounds like something to consider.

In a more serious mood, when asked, ” What will you do”? I have said I am like the trapeze artist who let go of the bar high above the big top. I’ve turned around in anticipation for Someone to pluck me out of thin air. Much like  the call  I heard decades ago to let go of the safe and stable  and fall into the arms of the One who bid me to trust,  there is a feeling of being untethered, free-falling.  Maybe you know the feeling? Life is a series of leaping from a safe  perch to the anticipated and unknown. Such is faith. Such is hope.

My friend and colleague, Delmer Chilton refers to clergy as ‘”Professional Christians.”  It is a profession as well as a calling. So, if that is so, I am left with the primary calling of being a Christian.

But I leave the calling into the “profession” with a great sense of awe as I have seen God at work for almost 40 years. Our God really is an awesome God! I untie from the rigors of the local parish but remain grounded in the Church that birthed me in baptism. I no longer have care for the souls on board the little skiff of Zion I have helped row ashore while  remaining grateful for the folks who have allowed me to share The Life Boat, Good News  and abundant life; those who have allowed me to journey with them in life and to death. You are not named here but are not forgotten.

I  look forward to Untie-Ment like a kid anticipating the  bell announcing school is out for summer.

And finally, I get to type a word that spell check allows. I am moving into Untiement while we remain United in the Spirit’s tether. Blest be the tie that binds.

Agape’,

Rob





How Big is Your World?

8 03 2018

For almost 40 years, I saw and see the process of proclamation of God’s Word as a cycle and rhythm the a congregation and preacher live into continually. A way I tried to keep ‘ the process going’ was to write a piece during the week that began the prayer, thought, reading and conversation that would come to some apex during worship. Music, visuals, prayers, scriptures and the sermon/homily would all be a part of the proclamation.

As I approach the ‘last days’ until retirement, I wanted to do that again. So, maybe look for one each week until mid June, or not:-)!

In that spirit, this is  for the folks I serve and any others who might like to join in as the beginning of reflection on John 3: 16-17, as we prepare for worship this Sunday. Audio and Live Streaming is available if you can’t be here in person,. If desired, just go to: murphyfirstumc.org

All of the readings are:
Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

Not too long ago I saw an interview of a story of a woman who was in an relationship that threatened her. She went into great detail to describe’ her room’ in the house; wood to give her a feeling of being in nature, soft colors to offer a sense of calm, music to soothe the savage beast in her, some favorite pictures to connect her to a pleasant past, scents to speak to the spirit – all to  give a sanctuary in the wilderness  that was her life and the address at which she received her mail.

She beamed and her demeanor was different from other conversations about her life in which her face was tense, eyes flashed and her voice’s rhythm and pitch were more intense.

The other person in the interview calmly said, in a tone that matched the feeling of the moment, “ You have made yourself a very nice prison.”

The comment seemed was an Aha moment for the woman.

This is not to judge or be anything negative about the woman. Everyone needs a safe place. The survival instinct of flight with the need to feel safe are good things, for a while. The retreat she made in her life was her survival necessity.

The Church uses a word, Sanctuary, as a place of worship and retreat. Often that is a building or space  that is set apart. We build them of sticks and stones. It is a place when broken lives may come to be mended because the rhetoric and reality of life is we are broken.

Tragically, the Church and churches may be  places where stones are hurled. It can be a place where the wounded are executed or not made whole or holy  by the balm of Gilead. Such is the dilemma, the wounded growing whole enough to be wounded healers. The world is full if those stories. So is the church.

So, what does all this have to do with John 3 in our readings?

There is hymn text written by Fred Pratt Green that is in our United Methodist Hymnal. The title is , “ When the Church of Jesus.”

It reads:

1 When the church of Jesus shuts its outer door,
lest the roar of traffic drown the voice of prayer:
may our prayers, Lord, make us ten times more aware
that the world we banish is our Christian care.

2 If our hearts are lifted where devotion soars
high above this hungry suffering world of ours:
lest our hymns should drug us to forget its needs,
forge our Christian worship into Christian deeds.

3 Lest the gifts we offer, money, talents, time,
serve to salve our conscience, to our secret shame:
Lord, reprove, inspire us by the way You give;
teach us, dying Savior, how true Christians live.

So the questions for this week? Has big is your world? I confess that sometimes, maybe because of my profession, my world is about the size of the Church and  regretfully, the church and community I serve.

Maybe you are like me. We can retreat into the church and forget that the world is bigger than a place we worship or the place we live. John Wesley said, ” The world is  my parish.”  So, how big is your world?

“ …Lord, make us ten times more aware
that the world we banish is our Christian care…
Teach us, dying Savior, how true Christians live.”

See You Sunday!!

Rob





Father’s House

27 02 2018

In preparation for this Sunday’s sermon, I rediscovered Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary. As a youth of the 60’s I loved his and others’ ability to inspire me to think beyond the conventions of my time.  Since music was a second, well perhaps first language for me, I found the meanings and melodies working soul deep.

Like many of the troubadour prophets of the day, they sang and called us to a be a better nation, people and persons and I  think Christians.

What was lost to me was the amount of work Paul Stookey devoted to songs of the faith. I recently learned of his involvement in the Jesus Movement. One such song is called  My Father’s House. Please click to listen.

That song spoke to me. Being ‘raised’ in the church, I saw so much of my journey in those lyrics.  How about you? If so, our number is legion.

Our Scriptural patron Saint’s story is found in Luke 15: 11 and following.  In that story a adolescent child  is feeling his oats and soon gets from his father ‘ what is rite-fully  his’    ( not a typo) and heads off to sow some wild oats. Folks, that story never ends well.

His Aha moment comes while looking at the south end of a north bound pig.  Daddy’s house is looking pretty good, right about now.

To his credit he understands his colossal mess up. But the choice of a pig pen or Daddy’s table is a no brainer. So, no award for junior grasping the obvious.

So, who gets the award? Daddy.

In my  rural NC version,   it is a late one summer afternoon. The supper dishes were washed and put away  and the cool southern breeze made that after dinner glass of sweet tea taste more refreshing. The front porch gave Daddy a full view of the long dirt driveway surrounded on either side by green pastures.  It stretched out like a ribbon between two parallel white rail fences. He had been coming out here after supper in the cool of the evening since his young sons played in the front yard .

As he sipped and rocked , he saw a lone figure enter from the paved road and began to walk toward the house. Stopping  in mid sip,  he leaned forward in his rocking chair to look closer. He thought, “Who in God’s green earth would be coming to visit at this time of day and  on foot?!”

He watched as the figure came closer.  While the stranger was still too far away to make out the face, the old man thought that gait looked familiar. He squinted and watched for a few more steps before leaping from his seat with tea spilling over the grey painted porch.

Daddy shouted, ” It’s him! He’s home!”

Helmut Thielicke reminded us that story has the likes of us in it but it is really about the Waiting Father.

Like many good reads, this novel has many possible endings. It seems well-established where the Father is. He is home. He is waiting.

I sort of hope an archeological dig in Israel might discover a parchment entitled, My Long Journey Home, An Autographical Travelogue by a Wandering Child. But we don’t really have them to find one. We are writing it. While we are not the main character, we are one of them.

Now for those who have never been looking at the wrong end of a pig, been down, out or think this is a pretty good place to be…Well, remember that ” In my Father’s House are many mansions….” I understand it is out of this world and no one can imaging how great it is. No eye on this side of the veil of death has seen it.

But in my southern version, as the day in dying in the west, we turn off of the steaming  black top and wind down a  driveway stretching out before us that ends at the grandest white marble mansion ever made, a house not made with hands and eternal.

And that is not the best part. The best part? Daddy says, ” I’ve been waiting for YOU! Welcome home! Your room’s ready, the covers are turned down and supper is on the table.” You are home.

 

 

 

 





Jesus Wept

23 02 2018

In my hometown there is a shop that raised a billboard over the skyline of the most traveled highway to promote their business with this caption, ” We lubricate our guns with liberal tears.”

I went by today to include a photo in this blog but it is gone.. However, a quick google search brings t-shirts, cans of gun oil and much more with the same caption.

I hope it came down after the reporting of parents’ and a nation’s wailing over the shootings in Parkland, Florida. Surely the poor taste of the billboard seemingly mocking grieving parents and frightened children would cause any to feel embarrassment. But then, it went up after Columbine, Sandy Hook, so…

I wonder, for those who claim a personal relationship with Jesus and all the eternal benefits thereto assigned, what do you think Jesus was doing last February 14?

I think Jesus wept. I wondered if he has stopped.

This week’s sermon is from a Mark 8:27-38 where Jesus tells Peter, ” Get behind me Satan. For you are not mindful of the things of God but of men.”

I haven’t figured out how this all fits together but, I think it does. And if I told you then where would the suspense  of Sunday be?!

But a question. Were you a bit like Jesus last February 14? I was. This old man shed more than one tear at the thoughts of a wounded soul shooting the innocent and heroic.

I will be honest. I continue to grieve. For the one’s whose lives were lost in the school shootings that seem part of the news cycle. And equally  for those who think tools and acts of violence are part of the solution.

Which is worse,  those who die in it and those who are dead to it?

Part of the lyrics of a song from my youth goes, …
” Where have all the flowers gone…
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?”

I somehow imagine Jesus singing this, maybe with Pete Seeger, as a holy tear falls to earth.

Jesus wept.

 





How Many Straws Does it Take?

15 02 2018

I am a United Methodist pastor in a small westen NC town. This is written for those members  and friends of the church I serve and any others who might like to overhear.

Malcolm Gladwell in his book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference,  reminds us that every pot reaches a boiling point, every scale reaches a point when even a feather will change the balance, and even enough straws will break a camel’s back.

As I saw the news reports of the murders at a High  School in Florida,  I wondered if this was the last straw. Had the heat gotten high enough? Would this be the tipping point? Have enough children been killed?!

My Facebook account and the media has been full of excuses and finger-pointing. I hope this is not seen as such. Many of them have placed blame on others or granted personal absolution to themselves. So, I’ll not even go there.

Sure, I have strong opinions and I hope you do, too. But rather than ask, ” What should They do?” What if we ask, “What can I do?”  Rather than point fingers away from us, maybe we might ask a soul deep questions of ourselves.

This is not to suggest that anyone person could hope to solve such a problem that seems embedded in the core DNA of the human species. Yesterday’s Valentine’s Day Massacre, as it has been called , also happened on Ash Wednesday,  a day the Christian Church has set aside to remind us our mortality, sinful nature and need for repentance. That is not lost to me and I hope not to you.

Calls for prayer for the victims and their families are well-timed and I urge you to join me in prayers for them. One can only imagine the loss and devastation.

But as I do, I am reminded of a quote from Thomas More, ” The things we pray for, good Lord, give us grace to labor for.”

I hope that this will the tipping point for we who follow this Jesus, the Price and Prince of Peace. Will these most recent deaths of the brave and innocent be the last straw? And for those who see the reality that we are  somehow connected and as we share this finite planet we have responsibility to and for one another, have you had enough?

I wonder, how many will be too many? How many straws does it take?

It’s not a rhetorical question.