I don’t think you need to go to church to go to heaven. I don’t think you need to go to church to become a “better” person, at least better by the world’s definition. I don’t think you need to go to church to live a “good” life, at least good by the world’s definition. I accept that the church is disappointing at times. Churches can and do suffer from any number of maladies: the worship is half hearted, the pastor is distracted or simply inept, the enthusiasm is sapped, the ministries are inward focused, the priorities are worldly, the people are crabby and grumpy, the risen Christ is hard to see. All of this is to preface what I am about to say, by making clear I am not delusional about the church.
The other day, I had to find a place to eat with a group of strangers. I sat next to this older man, who had said the prayer before the meal. He turned out to be a leader in his small church in West Virginia, where he was from. He knew I was a pastor and he asked me whether we had any young people in our church. I told him that we were not setting any records, but we had some young people in the pews. He replied that one day there will be an accounting and I wouldn’t want to be any young person in our world. Nervously I laughed and said, I don’t know, I am counting on God’s grace revealed in the resurrected Jesus to get me past the day of judgment. He said, God’s grace just gets us so far. After that it all has to do with how you lived your life, good or bad. The way he said that made me afraid. I am not sure how those scales would tip and I am a pastor. Meeting the resurrected Jesus is supposed to be good news, but he didn’t make it sound like good news. Continue reading It’s Good News!
Worship is about storytelling. Every week there is a theme and we unpack that theme with scripture, hymns, preaching, prayers and meaningful ritual that tie all of it together. Worship needs to be good storytelling to be effective. The best storytellers begin their story with something that grabs you and draws you in. Their endings are satisfying, but not too neat. But, the real secret to a great story is what is in the middle. The middle isn’t just a straight road between the beginning and the end. It is the heart of the story, the part that engages the listener, so they can see themselves in the story being told. Worship relies on the middle for us to get the most out of it. What is in the middle makes all of the difference in the world. Continue reading Hear the Middle of the Story This Holy Week
I was driving on Friday and I saw a bumper sticker that said, It’s the Ten Commandments, not Ten Suggestions. It was on the back of a blue Mustang that I had been behind for over ten miles on US 23. We were both going 70 MPH, which is okay except of course it is 65 MPH on that stretch of US 23. This guy seemed pretty sure there was no wriggle room on the commandments, but common traffic laws, those obviously felt like suggestions to him. If we are honest, don’t we all treat commandments and laws as suggestions? Continue reading The Ten Suggestions?
Who do we believe God is? All of us should have some sort of answer for this. And what we say sometimes needs to be more specific than God is love. Often this is more than enough. Especially since so many religious people believe their God is made of love, but for them that means their God loves people that look and think like them, and hates and wants violent vengeance over everyone else. Just to say I believe God is pure love, all of the time, is saying a lot. Continue reading The Promise of God
Four years ago in 2011, we spent time as a congregation dreaming together. In this year long process, we talked with a lot of different groups in the church, had dinners with leaders of the
congregation, and held forums in the church where we heard from people about what would be new additions to existing ministries at Messiah that we would want if money were not the issue. Continue reading From the Pastor’s Desk
All of the thoughts and stories in tonight’s homily and even some of the sentences are taken from the second chapter of Philip Yancey’s book, Vanishing Grace. It is a book about how the one place that should be the great dispensers of grace, the church, is failing at the task. Glenn Harris is leading a study of the book at 6:30 Wednesdays, right before this worship service throughout Lent. My homilies will be taken from this book, too.
All of humanity longs for two things. First, a sense of meaning or purpose for our life. We want to believe our life matters. Second we long for a community where we belong, where we are accepted. We want to believe that our lives matter to someone else. Yet, even though these are exactly the longings Christian faith preaches they fill, the majority of people do not trust us to do this. Why not? It is not because our answers are not “right” or right sounding. It is because our presentation is not convincing. Church ends up turning more people away from God instead of to God. The perception is that outsiders are welcomed if they would make good potential new members. Those who do not fit into our preferred demographic or our sense of moral “goodness” are ignored or made to feel unwelcome. Continue reading Loving strangers, outsiders and enemies