26 February 2006

Sermon Feb. 26, 2006

The Possibility of Worship
Last Sunday after the Epiphany
Transfiguration Sunday
Genesis 8:13, 19-22 ; Psalm 5:1-6; Mark 9:2-9

You woke up this morning, had a cup of coffee, ran outside in your pajamas to pick up the paper, after warming up you had second thoughts about going back outside until June, but you decided to chance it, got all gussied up and made your way to church. In the midst of your rituals what went through your mind in regards as to what will happen this morning in worship? What expectations do you have? You ought to have expectations of being moved by God, by others; the expectation of the rebirth of your true self. The possibility of Christian worship as an open promise for transformative change for your life, the life of this congregation, this world and even the Lord God Almighty.

Imagine this scene: the ark is gently rocking, the lapping waves occasionally rise above the bow and spray, yet the moment is still and you can hear the flapping of wings – you cant see the bird due to the glaring reflection of the sun. You hope it possess’ a sign, a promise of land, but you have been let down before. Then the white dove approaches, a single white feather gracefully floats down, in the her beak is an olive branch! Imagine the jubilation all on the floating city experienced at the sight of the olive branch.
-Finally the could touch and feel land.
-Finally they could swing from a branch.
-Finally they could roll down a hill.
We cannot, however, imagine the sight of the land once the waters subsided. We can not imagine the sight of the carnage, the mud or the unpleasing odor of the death, rot and destruction.

Upon exiting the ark, in the midst of all the death, rot and destruction, Noah, the Bible says, built an altar. He built an altar and took every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offering to the LORD. Noah worshipped.

The boiling frog theory states: “If you drop a frog in a boiling pot of water it will instinctively jump our. But if you place a frog in a pot of cool water and gradually increase the temperature, the frog won’t notice that the water’s getting hotter. It will sit there until the water boils—and will boil with it.” Primal Leadership. (p. 126) My hunch is that most of us in our spiritual component of our lives are in hot water and are totally unaware of it. We are complacent, comfortable and stale; when we God is calling us to a deeper, truer and more authentic life.

So what do we do about it? Do we enjoy the sauna of warm water, rest on our laurels, languish in style or do we jump out to the possibilities of challenging discipleship, justice works and advancing the kingdom? As Christians we jump out saying enough is enough; we are sick and tired of being sick and tired. God in Jesus Christ has and is calling us to a deeper, truer, and more authentic life. We got to jump out.

We got to jump out.
If we decide to jump out we do so with the possibility of worship. We brought this morning to worship all of the events of Monday-Saturday, and then some. Worship offers us the possibility
-to take all of that stuff, both beautiful and painful, and reform it all.
So that we can:
-gain a new and healthier perspective of our true selves and the world.
-and engage in the constant and ongoing beautification of our souls.

No two people here are on the same point on their spiritual journey, their Christian pilgrimage to the heart of God. We all participate in the frustrating venture of one step forward and two steps back, accompanied by intense mountaintop experiences and bleak times in the valley, along with sideways, swirling adventure known as spiritual growth. Yet we all gather to worship together and to aid each other in this walk, to receive a vision of our true selves. We are never complete creatures, we constantly change, bend, contort and expand, and shrink. The possibility of worship is that it is the glue that holds us all together.

Are you boiling or jumping out?

We don’t know much about Noah, the Bible records this about him: he was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; and he walked with God. I don’t know how Noah conversed with God but I only know that he had to do it often and that was pretty good at it. His constancy, his focus and sticktoitivenss kept him from being a boiling frog. How do I know this? Because when the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat he lowered the ramp from the ark and immediately built an altar, before he danced and kissed the earth he worshipped; he built an altar and made burnt offerings to the LORD.

The story does not end at the burnt offerings. When the aroma, pleasing odor, rose, reached and filled the nostrils of God something remarkable happened. The LORD was moved, the LORD repented and changed: “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the heart of the human is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creation as I have done.
The next part was so beautiful the translators had to set it as pure poetry:
As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
shall not cease.
This great movement all because Noah’s act of worship.

The last Sunday after the Epiphany or the last Sunday before Lent is called the day of the Transfiguration. Before we descend into the pain and crossbearing journey of Lent we ascend to hike up a mountain with John, James, Peter and Jesus. While on this mountain Jesus is transfigured and his clothes are dazzling white.

God in Jesus Christ had no intention of creating poached disciples. The gospels always keep us on out toes, Jesus thwarts our attempts to fully understand, comprehend and control him. He didn’t use logical stories; he taught in riddles. When the sick approached him; he healed them. When the crowd had only four fishes and five loaves, he fed 5,000. The One who guides this spiritual pilgrimage will not let us boil.

Next week we will embark on our Lenten journey; Lent is a natural time in the rhythmic journey of our souls for growth, transformation and deepening. On Ash Wednesday I am going to ask you set a goal for the Lenten season for spiritual or inward growth. In preparation for your response ponder these questions to evaluate where you are at this point in your life:
-Do you awake each morning excited about the day, not wanting to sleep any more than absolutely necessary?
-Do you laugh much?
-Are you having as much fun in your personal life as you have in the past?
-Are you finding much meaning in your spiritual life?

Now don’t interpret these questions to mean that all the time we are supposed to be happy, jolly Baptists, always wearing what my Episcopalian and Lutheran friends call the Baptist smile. Pain is real and central to the Christian life, but has the pain in your life made you numb? Or has the experiences of your life kept you hope?

If so and we are finding that work, relationships, and life in general doesn’t make you feel energized and hopeful about the future, that’s a good indication that we have probably lost touch with God and with our true selves.

Lent is the time to wrestle with who we are at this moment. Sunday mornings are times to open our hearts, minds, and bodies to the possibility of worship that we can change, that God will hear and smell our prayers, that God is still active and participating in this life despite all of the pain, tragedy and despair. Sunday mornings are simply an opportunity to remind us that the numbness is not infinite, that we can notice and jump out of the increasingly warm water.

The possibility of worship is that we just might start to feel the temperature of the warm water around us and decide it is time to get jumping. We have a mission to embody. Noah’s sons had work to do: be fruitful and multiply the earth the greatest blessing of intercourse in the history of humankind. The disciples were told to keep what they saw on the mountain a secret. But the transfiguration was important and life changing they couldn’t. They saw and experienced good news that burned in their bones they had to let it out. So when Jesus died and was resurrected they went from cowardly nobodies to proclaiming somebodies. Look at this world we live in we all know it is desperate need of some good news. We have disciples to make, wars to end, people to feed and clothe, a creation to mend. We aint got time to boil, we got to jump out and grab the first person we see and tell them about what God has done in our lives.

We aint got time to worry about what folk may think. We have this possibility of worship to share. We got to get people moving that something as mundane as building an altar or a hike up a mountain can and alter our lives forever. We are transformed people with a history at least 175 years old, who cannot be satisfied with the status quo.

Brother and Sister frogs, JUMP OUT.

22 February 2006


This afternoon the 1000th visitor to the blog happened. more than likely it was my nephew/family member/argamenmon.

tip one up in celebration.

20 February 2006

Gentle Warning

If any of you out there in webland ever see this man, give him a hug. he is a great guy and likes hugs.

Town 4 Me 0

Last week's Noreaster was great, lots of snow, no church and great drifts. However, the mail box, once again didnt make it. On of the town's plows knocked it right off. In a rush I ran outside to tape it up - it was below 0 with windchill; in fact I thought I had frostbite on a couple of fingers.

While at the hardware store the other day I saw a mailbox brace. hmmm. I bought one and put it up, the hardware about drove me crazy with its holes and bendy metal and the wind again. oh well. i put it up. but will it last? lemme know your prediction.

A Report of a Pistol

What a day - when one can commerate America's only ordained president and remember a Johnny Cash song. How? Easy, look to none other than James A. Garfield, the 20th president of this great nation.

Garfield was a Disciple of Christ pastor and the only ordained president, that I know of; subsequently he was also the second president assinated.

Johnny Cash commerated the assination in a fantastic song: Mr. Garfield of the Johnny Cash Sings Ballads of the True West LP. It is a fun song but one that will stick in your head for days on end, not as bad at the Toe Jam Puppet Band.

Mr Garfield been shot down shot down shot down Mr Garfield been shot down low
Me and my brother was down close to the depot when I heard the report of a pistol
My brother run out and come back in all excited
And I said what was it and he said it was the report of a pistol and then he said
Mr Garfield been shot down shot down shot down Mr Garfield been shot down low
Lord I knew the President was supposed to be at the depot that day
And we just would't believe that he's shot
But we'd run over there and there was so many folks around
That we couldn't see him but some lady was standin' there cryin'
And I said m'am what was it that happened m'am and she said
Mr Garfield been shot down shot down shot down Mr Garfield been shot down low
Well everybody drifted off toward home finally
And they looked like they felt about as bad as I did
But in a few weeks I heard that the President was still alive
And I told my brother I said let's get on that train and go to where he's laid up hurt
Well when we got to his big house up there I asked the fellow
I said who was it that did it who was it that shoot the President
And he said it was Charlie Guiteau that shoot Mr Garfield and I said
Charlie Guiteau done shot down a good man good man
Charlie Guiteau done shot down a good man low
I heard some fellow there that had been in the house to see the President
And I sidled up him to listen to what he was tellin' and he said
Mrs Lucretia Garfield was always at his side
In the heat of the day fannin' him when he was hot
He said that just that day the President said to Mrs Lucretia
He said Crete honey (he called her Crete)
Said if somethin' worse happens to me after awhile you get yourself a good man
And Mrs Lucretia said James (she called him James)
She said I won't hear to that now she said I love you too much but he said
You'll make some good man a good wife good wife
You'll make some man a good good good wife
(Don't pull in single harness all your life good gal
Don't pull in single harness all your life)
That's what he said don't pull in single harness all your life
Well a few days later I come back to where the President was restin'
And it seems everybody was cryin'
The flag was hangin' halfway up to the flagpole in front of the house
And everybody looked so sad and I asked a soldier boy there
And I said is is is Mr Garfield and he said yeah he's gone
Gonna lay him in that cold lonesome ground down low
Gonna lay him in that cold lonesome ground
Well they laid the President by that long cold branch Mr Garfield's been laid down low
Mr Garfield has been shot dow Mr Garfield's been shot
(Mr Garfield been shot down shot down shot down Mr Garfield been shot down low)

19 February 2006

Sermon Feb. 19, 2006

This morning the communication between the ibook and the printer didnt work. I preached my sermon from memory. I was all thrown off from the confusion. Anyway here is the sermon I wrote for this morning:

Within the Bounds of Worship
Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany
Exodus 6:1-6; Psalm 4; Mark 5:24b-34
text: “…Be gracious to me and hear my prayer”(Psalm 4:1)

Our worship on Sundays offers us the once-a-week opportunity to place our hearts on the altar, to put our faith on the line, to plead for God’s mercy, to let God have it, and to get down to the business of authentic religious living. We aint got time to waste; there is no room here for empty promises, meaningless platitudes and dusty words. We are here to connect with God, with each other and our true selves.

Everything about our time together should be completely different than anything we do throughout the week. We mark this time differently, it isn’t just February 19, 2006 it is the Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany; it isn’t just a Sunday, it is the Lord’s Day. By demarcating this day and time we hope that together we will get a foretaste of the glory divine, we hope that we will catch a glimpse of kingdom living that will challenge and inspire us, we hope that our hearts will be changed and mended.

To accomplish this we have to change our attitude, surroundings and expectations. That is why we have an order of service. This order can be rearranged and changed in whatever order, but we have to have a beginning, an invocation, and an ending, a benediction. What happens within those bounds the local worshipping community determines due to local customs and tastes. The order is present to guide and direct us to a real and authentic religious experience. What happens within the bounds of worship should cover the complete spectrum of human emotion; we should laugh and cry, praise and lament, forgive and be forgiven, sing and be silent, bless and curse. Worship is not a preconceived, preplanned, or tame event; it is an open, wild and unpredictable spirit-filled experience.

Our primary objective when we gather is to hear, sing, and pray the good news of God in Jesus Christ. We all long to do this or we wouldn’t be here, yet we have such barriers and obstacles to cross before we experience the good news. Christians have labeled the barriers and obstacles as sin, which causes our vision of God who delivers, proclaims and is good news, to be greatly distorted. The bushes may all be burning around us, the smoke from them may fill the air but we are held back. God breaks through the distortion and numbness on occasion to get our attention.

One day while watching sheep in the field God called to Moses from the bush, but Moses failed to perceive exactly what was going on. All God asked Moses to do was to take off his shoes to mark his experience as holy and different. Look at Moses’ response he doesn’t shout for joy that God has spoken to him; instead he hides his face for he was afraid to look. But God never asked Moses to hide his face, God only asked him to honor the experience by taking off his shoes. As soon as Moses hides his face God doesn’t say “Aha finally a human being who gets it.” God said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt.” God has a message of good news; God has a message of liberation to share. God aint got time for Moses to wallow in self-pity; God’s got some good news to release. In worship we are here to be reminded that God is communicating, stretching out to us to redeem us not condemn us. God still has plenty of good news to share; we are still in need of good news. We cannot afford to let sin define who we are. We are sinners yes, but we are so much more than that, we are redeemed – we have been bought with a price on Calvary.

Sin, however, keeps us from truly living like folk who have some good news to share. So once a week we gather and confess our sins. By praying our confession of sins we are coming to terms with our own sin as we willingly and unwillingly sin. No one, I repeat no one, want to think and label himself or herself as a sinner, but we can’t ignore that we sin. I am not here to call you out as a sinner or name your sins for you. We all know that we sin and we all know that our sinful actions we commit cause us to feel suffocated, alienated and estranged from God, our neighbors and ourselves.

As we take the time to confess in prayer both outwardly and inwardly we are not hiding our face from God but are being honest and open in preparation to receive and deliver good news. We cant have sin holding this mission back; there is no room here to lie, kid ourselves or keep secrets, all of which are pathological and destroy all relationships. By praying and confessing we are naming our sins and releasing sin’s power over us. By praying and confessing we are going dealing directly with God who can and does do something about our sin.

Taylor Branch in Parting the Waters: America during the King Years 1954-1963 describes a scene in the life of the young pastor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. after eight weeks of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. After a negotiating meeting with the town council Dr. King left feeling that all was lost, that the eight weeks were null and void. The whites in Montgomery could and would not budge an inch on the issue and he questioned his own leadership. “King buried his face in his hands at the kitchen table. He admitted to himself that he was afraid, that he had nothing left, that the people would falter if they looked to him for strength. Then he said as much out loud. He spoke no name of deity, but his doubts spilled out as a prayer, ending, ‘I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.’ As he spoke these words, the fears suddenly began to melt away. He became intensely aware of what he called an ‘inner voice’ telling him to do what he thought was right. Such simplicity worked miracles, bringing a shudder of relief and the courage to face anything.”

A prayer of confession pushes to the point where we admit and confess that we can’t do it alone. King’s experience is a possibility for all of us if we will take the religious courage to openly confess and seek God’s marvelous grace.

When we reach the point that we cant change ourselves all by ourselves, when we come to terms with our own sin. When we start calling our waywardness, wrongful actions and reliance on the tricks up our sleeves as sin we have intiated the great change towards new life. Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal priest in Georgia, in her book Speaking of Sin says that when we engage in this process,” We have admitted that something is wrong…that we are sick and tired of being sick and tired, that we cant live with this suffocating ache one moment longer, that we are as ready as we will ever be for a whole new self.”

This new self is what the Bible is all about; it is what Christianity is all about. Contrary to what folk say we were not created to be miserable. We were created to be in full communion with God, to be bearers and recipients of good news.
Not every person in the Bible that was ill was healed. Not every person that came to Jesus was healed. There simply wasn’t enough time for Jesus to touch and heal everyone. One person understood this more than any other person: an unnamed woman who had bled for twelve years. She knew that if she could only touch the hem of Jesus’ garment enough love would emanate from it to heal her. And she was right. Jesus instantly could sense that someone had touched him. When the unnamed woman came forward he simply said, “Daughter your faith has made you well, go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” The healing of the unnamed woman is what we are all seeking here in worship and in the Christian walk. We want our deep wounds healed, our sense of meaninglessness taken away and our loneliness replaced with the presence of a loving Savior. Brothers and Sisters these and much more do happen – everyday!

Burning bushes, the small inner voice of God, and healings of diseases can and do happen each day. We gather on Sundays in worship to remind ourselves, to re-create ourselves, and hone our souls to discern this kingdom reality in our everyday lives.

18 February 2006

Toddler Hemorrhoids

THe usual morning routine around goes something like this: breakfast, play then kids on the toilet. I am bit worried about the boy, he loves to sit on the pot and sing and read books for hours on end. He has no signs of irritation but I am sure if this continues that for his next checkup the doctor is going to say that he is the first case of toddler hemorrhoids she has diagnosed in her time as a physician.

17 February 2006

Americans Bad at Math?

Apparently the executives at CBS think that Americans are terrible at mathematics. For seven seasons of Survivor the host Jeff something reads the scores of tribal council as if those watching are complete idiots who cannot keep track votes. Last night after two votes the host read One vote ____ One vote ____. That has always bugged me.

16 February 2006

Sermon Series

Dont tell the Lectionary Police but I am venturing off the lectionary for Lent and doing a sermon series on the Lord's Prayer. Out of seminary I thought the lectionary was the best thing since Buffalo Wing Flavored Pretzels. But after five/six years of the lectionary and greater knowledge of where the congregation is at I decided to break from the guided lections. For Lent I asked folk to submit their burning religious questions. Interestingly they all revolved or directly touched the petitions in the Lord's Prayer, so I am doing a series on the Lord's Prayer. The Lenten-Easter Season works out great.
Ash Wednesday - Our Father who art in heaven
1st Sunday of Lent - Hallowed be thy name
2nd Sunday of Lent - Thy Kingdom Come
3rd Sunday of Lent - Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven
4th Sunday of Lent - Give us this day our daily bread
5th Sunday of Lent - and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors
Palm Sunday - and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil
Easter - for thine is the kingdom and power and glory forever. Amen.

So well see.


A couple of weeks ago I began a class on the Book of Job, taught by Dr. Gregory Mobley. I have always liked the book of Job, maybe because it read more like a play than any other biblical book, maybe because it seems like a work on constructive theology; the speeches by the friends, Job and God all show how theological work is done -that is if you believe theological thoughts emerge mainly from arguments rather than agreements. I would have to believe the arugment clause, that seems where most baptistic thoughts came from.

13 February 2006

An Idea for a Restaurant Commercial

Last week I bought a couple of Sirloin steaks for dinner. tonight I cooked them. Simple recipe, salted heavily and wrapped in plastic wrap for a couple of hours, then rinsed and dried, then oiled with evoo salt and peppered and there you go. I bought 'em because we couldn't go out this week or next week. I knew I could make the steaks as good as the restaurant, if not better. However, I cant replicate the experience. Soon after I cut the steak, dressed my potato and opened a Sam Adams Light the kids came running in wanting a piece of bread, then the boy took a night light out, then the boy bumped his nose, then the girl wanted her shade pulled down. After all of these I looked at the wife and said this is why we go out.

The commercial: You can replicate the meal, show me bringing in the steak on a plate and gussied up table. But you can't replicate the experience, show us at the restaurant eating in peace and quiet (flash the kids running around or wallowing us).

08 February 2006

Switching Teams, Nah

Occasionally, about once a month or so, I entertain the notions of switching from the Baptist team to the Episcopal or even the Presbyterian team. But then there is the whole 2 year process of becoming "re-ordained" which really bugs me then the whole anglicization process, blah, blah, blah.

Yet I keep finding rich resources in my own tradition that stand up and yell "Hey take a lookie over here" I do and am delightfully joyed.

This week at the funeral service of Coretta Scott King I was once again reminded of why I am Baptist and the rich resources of this particular tradition. There on the stage with four presidents, 14 senators, and with a nation watching African-American Baptist preachers, okay Rev. Lowery is a Methodist, kept to the prophetic proclamtion of peace, civil rights and justice. It was amazing, tear-bearing, inspiring. Then there was good ole Jimmy Carter oh so slyely slipping in the importance of the continual fight against racism in this country (I liked watching W squirm.) All of this in a 6 hour funeral service!!

That night I went and picked up Parting the Waters by Taylor Branch and vowed to start from the beginning and finish it. While reading I found another subtle reminder of great baptistdom: Howard Thurman and Mordacai Wyatt Johnson - both Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School graduates.