28 February 2008

Bubba is in RI

Although I prefer the formal addresses of people I do not know on a first name basis, I could not help typing in Bubba.  I remember after he was first elected I went into the newsstand in my hometown and saw a magazine called Our Bubba, an entire magazine based on President Clinton.  I do not know if it was a multi-issued publication or a once in a lifetime publication, shortly after my stop in the newsstand, it closed.  

While writing my sermon I heard a jet go over the church, I ran outside and easily identified the private leer jet as the one carrying former President William Jefferson Clinton.  So I hopped in the truck and drove three minutes due north to the North Central Airport to see him and the plane.  The secret service detail, which was not all that strong, would not let us stand at the fence. I then drove to the main entrance and through a crack in two buildings easily had a nice view of the plane and the exiting steps/ramp.  I just wanted to see the plane and secret service detail, I'm not that interested in hearing President Clinton speak.  Although I would have liked to have seen him at the New Baptist Celebration event in Atlanta.

President Clinton is going to speak at Bryant University, a private business college in Smithfield, RI.  When I read that he was going to speak there I couldn't figure out why, then it hit me, the close proximity of the airport.  All the events in RI thus far have been at stops near the airport.  Although all have gone into Providence for a meeting of some sort.  Saturday Senator Obama will be here, where and when have yet to be released.  

I am predicting that RI will vote for Obama, even though all the polls say otherwise.  Why do I say this?  The only signs I have seen in my town, which has and is a traditionally Republican town, are Obama.  I know it is a great jump to extrapolate from my town to the entire state but I think I am onto something here.  If the college kids, unions and other Dems vote Obama I cannot see Senator Clinton winning here in this state.   I also make this prediction based on #1 going around the house practicing her correct annunciation of Ba-rak O-ba-ma.  

25 February 2008

Amy Sullivan Returns

During the 2004 election I enjoyed reading Amy Sullivan's commentary, but after that I hardly ever saw any articles by her.  This morning RealClearPolitics had a link to an Op-Ed piece that was in The Post, check it out for yourself.

Review, Eggs, Flags, 10 down 90 to go, and Kids

The Sigg Metro Mug is a big hit. It accompanied me to my Providence office. I also snuck in some contraband (a homemade scone) to make sure I had the right ambiance.  
While driving around town today I noticed that the local RCC had three Lenten flags flying. I think that is a pretty cool idea.
On Sunday our neighbors, The Sausage Eating Vegetarians, stopped by and gave us a dozen eggs.  As the sun rays continue to straighten out the hens have started to lay like crazy.  Have you ever wondered what is the difference between farms fresh eggs and store bought, well you are in luck:
This afternoon I finished #10, 90 to go. It looks like I will not get my targeted 8.333 books for the month. However, I may get five if I am lucky. I am happy with this number considering it is a short month, #3 was up for more than 1/2 of the month, and I was down sick for a good week. The book, Wondrous Depth was a good choice - a short review can be found on library thing to your immediate right.

The kids were out today riding their bikes in the church parking lot.
Finally, the other day while we were walking over to the church lot, the kids love to play in the mounds of snow after the lot is plowed, #2 noticed all of the limbs the last storm blew over. The snow, about four inches, covered up enough of the ground to cause great consternation stated in his voice when he looked at his mother and said; Mommy when did all these trees come up out of the ground, this is crazy! Judge for yourself:

24 February 2008

Sermon as Mystery Novel

Last week I developed a sermon as a three part whole, or three acts. I think it was a good approach, that I will revisit soon. This morning I approached the sermon from the vantage point of a mystery novel. I had four clues, paid close attention to details in the text: Matthew 4:5-7 which led to Deuteronomy 6, which led to Exodus 17, which then led to Numbers which I then closed with Romans 8. I did not expect that journey but that is what happened. I was surprised how the method kept the attention of people, I did feel folk were brought along and journeyed with me through the text. I will hope to post the script tomorrow, I ventured off quite a bit and the last part was largely a work in progress.

Tomorrow I hope to submit a review of my newly arrived Sigg Metro Bottle, blue (the VOR has the smaller pink version). My weekly trip to the coffee will provide an excellent arena for experience. BTW, last week at the coffee shop a fellow who is a member of FBCIA sat next to me and we shot the bull about church goings, baptist history and other stuff you talk about when you are trying to avoid work. While we were talk a fellow next to us joined our conversation, turns out he is a pastor of an emergent church in Providence. The dude was a nice guy, good heart and great approach to ministry. He has a problem that many of us mainliners would love to have: too many people. But we have something they would love to have: space. Somehow there should be a meeting of needs here.

I also saw an article in the NYTimes the other day about a new generation of stay-at-home employees creating their own work spaces together. I saw the picture of a bunch of young people sitting around a folding table with their laptops and coffee cups. I then had an idea, what if church basements could be used as alternative work spaces? Most church space is unused throughout the week, the space is already heated/cooled, plenty of folding tables, plenty of coffee urns, plenty of bathroom space. It is easy to provide wireless connectivity. I think churches ought to give this some thought as both good stewardship of resources and possible funding of ministry.

The sausage eating vegetarians dropped off a dozen eggs yesterday - since the sun has reckoned to stay up longer the hens are a-laying. Was it all the extra time and creative freedom that produced a better than average sermon this morning, or was it the fresh eggs? I'll never know...

18 February 2008

Latest Addition

Yesterday the VOR opened up her own blog!  Go here for a gander.  She is also having her grand opening of her Etsy Shop.

The Best and The Brightest? Maybe so

One of amenities of living so close to Providence, RI is being near Brown University.  I love to attend lectures, the bookstore and even enjoy a picnic lunch on the green.  I used to think only the best and brightest were able to attend the Ivy League Institution but after hanging around the campus I quickly realized that my thinking needed some adjustment - especially when I see the outfits of the students when it is around 4 degrees and there is a foot of snow on the ground.  

On Saturday I looked at the Lifebeat section of The Providence Journal and found this article about a student from Brown who has compiled a Chuck Norris webpage and book.  I thought, perhaps the kids there at Brown are the best and the brightest...

Take a gander at this and you tell me:

Here are the top 10 Chuck Norris “facts,” as two years ago.

10) When Chuck Norris does push-ups, he doesn’t push himself up, he pushes the earth down.
9) There are no steroids in baseball, only players Chuck Norris has breathed on.
8) Rather than being birthed like a normal child, Chuck Norris decided to punch his way out of his mother’s womb.
7) Chuck Norris once shot down a German fighter plane with his finger by yelling “Bang!”
6) Chuck Norris doesn’t churn butter, he roundhouse kicks the cows and the butter comes straight out.
5) When Chuck Norris sends in his taxes, he sends blank forms and includes only a picture of himself crouched and ready to attack. Chuck Norris has not had to pay taxes, ever!
4) In fine print on the last page of The Guinness Book of World Records, it notes that all world records are held by Chuck Norris and those listed in the book are simply the closest anyone else has ever gotten.
3) When the boogeyman goes to sleep every night, he checks his closet for Chuck Norris.
2) Chuck Norris is currently suing NBC, claiming Law and Order are trademark names for his left and right legs.
1) Chuck Norris’ tears cure cancer. Too bad he has never cried, ever.

17 February 2008

The Longer they are, the harder they are to write

For the past eight years I have operated with the assumption that shorter sermons are harder to write than shorter ones.  This assumption states that it is harder to reduce an complicated idea down to its essentials than it is to expand.  Over the past few weeks I have experimented with longer sermons, 2100+ words (usual 15 minute sermon is around 1200 words), and I think it is harder to elaborate than it is to be brief - when it comes to biblical sermons.  

It is, however, easier to hold the attention of folk with shorter sermons than it is with shorter sermons.  I have noticed folk squirm in their chairs like they never have before over the past few weeks.  I struggled with this concept while going over the 3rd draft of the sermon on Saturday night.  Then I thought about breaking the sermon up into three parts, rearranging it and presenting almost as three short episodes.  I think this will work but did not this morning - I needed this idea to emerge on Wednesday not Saturday.  I will use it, nevertheless, this coming week.   

The other challenge has been the operating questions behind the sermon: What is the purpose of preaching?  What do I want folk to experience/discover?  What questions really grabbed me?  Or over the course of the month what message do I want to convey to folk?  

15 February 2008

Perhaps if I had a DV recorder and more time on my hands

Last night it occurred to me to check youtube to see if they had any Thomas the Tank Engine episodes, of course they did. I watched this one with the kids, lemme tell you if I had more time on my hands and a dv recorder I would definitely make a few of these.

14 February 2008

Someone Else Who is on a Reading Spree this year

Area Eccentric Reads Entire Book

The Onion

Area Eccentric Reads Entire Book

GREENWOOD,IN—"Instead of spending hours on YouTube every night, Mr. Meyer, unlike most healthy males, looks to books for gratification," said one psychologist.

Books, Veeps, and Chocolates

Last night #8 was finished - now only 92 more to go.  I believe next week I should be able to wrap up at least three more.  Hopefully by the end of the month I will have 16 read, it will be close (after all Feb. is a short month).  #8 was A Painted House by John Grisham.  I have  never read any of his works; I was pleasantly surprised to discover such a wonderful novel.

The other day the third volume of Gary Dorrien's The Making of American Liberal Theology arrived in the mail for review.  It is a whopper, some 450 pages.  But 15 pages a day and one can knock it out in a month.  

I have no idea whom Senator Obama will pick for VP.  There are plenty of choices but I think it will be a non-traditional person.  If he were to call me and illicit advice I would advise him to ask Ed Asner first, you know Mr. Grant.  In a Classics of Religious Literature course at Marshall University we sat down to discuss Surprised by Joy, the spiritual autobiography of C.S. Lewis.  The professor asked who we think should play Mr. Lewis in a biopic.  I said Ed Asner, my corner of the class got quite a chuckle out of it.  I repeated my choice three times but the prof. prudently ignored me.  Ever since then I wait for opportune times to inject Ed Asner into a conversation.  This works especially when you have a group of people at a party and eventually someone starts to ask who should play who if we were ever in a movie.  If you want a good choice for a woman:  Bee Arthur.

But back to the topic at hand.  This article gave me the willies, if McCain were to pick Rice as his VP then he would have a formidable ticket.  I had never thought to Secretary Rice as the possible #2, heavens she would neutralize any Democratic combination.  I wonder if he will choose her though?

The other day I ordered the VOR a box of assorted truffles from Holls, they arrived yesterday. We absolutely love their products, but for some odd reason they thought we would enjoy orange truffles, come on, orange truffles...

12 February 2008

New Title

As a Baptist minister with an Anglican Oversoul I always look with envy on the titles bestowed upon the Anglican hierarchy.  But today while recovering from the flu I have discovered a new title that supersedes any Anglican title; from now on I am referring to myself as a "Superdelegate."  

11 February 2008

Almost Persuaded Sermon for 10.February.2008

Almost Persuaded
First Sunday in Lent
2 Corinthians 4:1-12 & Matthew 3:1-17

Here is the audio link.

I wonder if Jesus ever had doubts? I wonder if Jesus ever had second thoughts? I wonder what his temptations were? I wonder how strong the temptations were not to live out his life’s calling? Think how different life and history would be if Jesus could not have mustered up the courage to journey out into the wilderness of Judea and be baptized by John in the Jordan?

We begin our Lenten journey with the temptations of Jesus by pondering for a moment as he stands on the banks of Jordan before he steps into the water to be baptized by John. In due time this season we will journey with Jesus to the wilderness for a second time when he fasts and is tempted by the tempter, but for now let stand on the riverside as he looks out over the muddy stream.

Jesus was not the only one standing on the bank of the Jordan; he was joined by people from Jerusalem, Judea and all over the Jordan River valley: hill people and city folk, business men and day laborers, woman with their servants and servants of without their masters, all sojourning out to the muddy river. They were responding to the message of John the Baptizer, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” He was preaching the advent of God, the coming kingdom of heaven on earth; folk by the truckload responded by submitting to an act of ritual cleansing known as baptism.

For the moment place yourself in Jesus’ sandals: you have realized that the time has come, it is time for you to fulfill your calling, it is time for all those stories your mother told you about you and how you were destined for great things to come to fruition, it is time to unite with the movement of God. As you prepare to approach John what are the temptations sneaking in? What fears are about to overtake you?

-Are you tempted to turn away?
-Are you tempted to say the heck with it and go to Nazareth?
-Are you tempted to think what a mistake this is?
-Are you tempted to think that it will never work?
-Are you afraid folk will laugh at you?
-Are you afraid folk will not pay one iota of attention to you?
-Are you afraid folk will not be moved by your actions, words and presence?
-Are you afraid you have no idea what is next?

Facing all these temptations and more Jesus stepped into the waters; walked to John and presented himself for baptism. And he is met with great words of assurance! No, instead he hears an ancient version of You are more, I am less. Jesus needed words of assurance and he received words of doubt: I should be baptized by you. John’s words may have caused Jesus’ knees to buckle but another temptation only made his resolve stronger. “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus’ ancient way of saying just do it.

I wonder about Jesus’ temptations and fears. We know he was tempted and had fears. I cannot imagine a time in his life as presented in the gospels or imagined in my mind when was not tempted, did not have doubts or fears. If Jesus cannot escape temptations then surely we cannot either. But what does it mean to be tempted? What role does temptation play in our lives?

For some clues I want us to fast forward past Jesus life on earth a couple hundred years to the time known as the era of the Church Fathers and Mothers. Present in Christian teaching are the seeds of an alternative society. Once Jesus called the disciples and retranslated the meaning of family and friendship Christians have struggled how to properly place our feet and straddle the line between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of earth. Different eras of history reveal different models of how to accomplish this struggle, some are ill and some are healthy. One model that Christians are rediscovering is the one offered by embryonic church, the early church fathers and mothers.

Roughly 1700 years ago a twenty-year-old man named Antony of what is now Egypt lost both of his parents. He inherited their possessions and one day in church heard the gospel read: If thou wilt be prefect, go and sell all you have. He responded by selling all of his inheritance and took up residence in an abandoned village and began to practice the presence of God. At first one or two individuals went to the wilderness seeking solace and direction. But soon more and more seekers sojourned. What began with an impetus for deeper and truer prayer transformed into an alternative society.

They sowed the seeds of what we now know as monastic life. Folk went to the early communities for varied periods of time so they could gain instruction on the inner life. They went out seeking spiritual guidance, seeking answers, and seeking to fill the God shaped hole in their heart and some went for no plausible reason. When people wayfared out to the desert a certain pattern emerged, there were certain questions that everyone seemed to ask. One of the core questions dealt with temptation. The questions and conversations were passed down and collected as The Sayings of the Church Fathers and Mothers. Roberta Bondi, professor Church History at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta wrote two accessible books on the fathers and mothers or Abbas and Ammas as they were called. In her book To Pray and To Love she quotes several illustrative stories about temptation. In one:
  A brother came to see Abba Poemon and said to him, “Abba I have many thoughts and they put me in danger. The old man led him outside and said to him, “Expand your chest and do not breathe in. He said I cannot do that. Then the old man said to him, if you cannot do that no more can you prevent thoughts from arising, but you can resist them.

Temptations are part of our everyday existence. We cannot escape them no more than we can escape the air we breathe. And if you think that only if you could get away from all the crazy people in your life then everything would be okay, then there would be no temptations, then listen to another story recorded by Dr. Bondi:
A brother was restless in the community and often moved to anger. So he said I will go, and life somewhere by myself. And since I shall be able to talk or listen to no one, I shall be tranquil, and my passionate anger will cease. He went out and lived alone in a cave. But one day he filled his jug with water and put in on the ground. It happened suddenly to fall over. He filled it again, and again it fee. And this happened a third time. And in a rage he snatched up the jug and broke it. Returning to his right mind he knew that he demon of anger had mocked him and he said… I will return to the community. Wherever you live, you need effort and patience and above all God’s help.

If we cannot escape temptations then what are we to do? We can simply ignore them (which probably means we are already giving into them). We can be overcome by them and paralyzed by our guilt. Or we can creatively incorporate them into our daily lives. If God is constantly present and if we can constantly practice God’s presence then we can look at all of our experiences of life as creative encounters with God. Viewed this way, even temptations can be seen as valuable, to our growth as disciples of Christ. In our live with God, nothing is ever wasted.

In his book Heat the former fiction editor of the New Yorker, Bill Buford, chronicles his time as an amateur kitchen worker at Mario Baltai’s Baboo restaurant. One day while Buford assignment was to chop leeks, he did, then tossed the green tops in the trash. After working for a good hour Mario came over and shouted what are you doing? Buford looked up rather quizzically then saw Mario dive into the trashcan only to pull up handfuls of the green leek tops, then shouted “These are great for stock!” In a restaurant we buy food and make into dinners which sell for a profit, we cannot make any profit if you are throwing my goods in the trash.

In our lives with God nothing is wasted. Instead of impending our inner growth temptations can be aides to growth, they can be valuable experiences which push and hone our souls. Again quoting another church father, Take away temptations and no-one will be saved. We will be tempted, we are tempted, we will fail miserable but we will also have wonderful triumphs and we will have wonderful growth by being tempted.

Although the gospel story does not explicitly state that Jesus was tempted before his baptism by John we can all easily imagine it. With this imaginative insight we can also see how Jesus creatively incorporated the temptations to strengthen his soul and will. Let it be so for now for you baptism in proper for us in this way, here in the Jordan, to fulfill all righteousness. Then Jesus was baptized and as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were ripped open and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, This is my Son the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.

Instead of giving into the temptation to turn back and head home, Jesus flipped the temptation around and went into the water. His simple actions pleased God. Could we ask of anything more than to live a life that pleases God? How do we please God? Do we ask God to bless us and our actions?

At the 2006 National Prayer Breakfast, President Bush invited Bono, the lead singer of U2 to deliver the address. As he drew his message to a close he told a story of how for a long time in his life he asked God to bless his work. One day a wise friend to him to stop. Stop asking God to bless what you are doing. Get involved in what God is doing because it is already blessed.

We please God, not by asking God to bless us but by perceiving what God is already doing and hitch onto that train. This is exactly what Jesus did. John was in the wilderness baptizing people in preparation the advent of the kingdom of God. Jesus perceived God’s blessing on John’s work and chose to unite his life with that work. He went into the waters and when he came up the heavens ripped open, the spirit descended and God spoke.

Let us close by placing ourselves on the banks of the Jordan we can see God’s blessing in John’s work, we will cave in to the temptation that tell us our actions will not matter; will we believe the temptation that God doesn’t have time for us? Or will we unite with God’s blessing already evident in this world? True, to unite with God’s movement on this earth will require a radical shifting of our daily lives, our outlooks, how we spend our money, how we treat others, how we view ourselves and what we do with our time on earth. But we know the hard work will be worth it, we know that by following the way of Christ on this earth will reveal the abundant life. We know that a life that pleased God is a goal for all of us to integrate and strive for.

The Jordan River, isn’t just in Israel – it is in our homes, where we work, at the grocery story, it is anywhere and everywhere we are when we are confronted with temptations to live or not to live out our calling as disciples of Christ. We will fail at times in our attempt to live out our calling but our resolve will not change. Christ has called us and we will follow. Will you step into the water and become soak and wet following God’s blessing, uniting with God’s blessing or will you remain on the bank high and dry?

Living God, softly and tenderly you are calling us to follow you onto the way of abundant life. Open our eyes that we may see your blessing and strive to unite our whole selves with you and your continual revelation of your movement/ your kingdom here on earth. Amen.

08 February 2008

Friday Free for All

1.  With Romney out of the picture for the presidential race Obama and Clinton can focus in on McCain.  I cannot see Senator Clinton winning a national race against McCain.  I can see Obama winning against McCain but I don't think it will be easy.  

I would still run the race, if I were Obama, as the candidate who can unite the country.  Then he would have to develop a some different notions of what we are going to unite the country to do.  I think McCain could also run a campaign that he is the candidate to unite the country.  McCain could also run a campaign that could significantly change the party's future projection.  I would like to see him as a Nelson Rockefeller without the affair that devastated his run for the White House; I would like to compare Rockefeller's policies with McCain's - my hunch is that they are not too far apart, I would say Obama's and Clinton's are not that far a part from Rockefeller's either.  

2.  Tomorrow is #1's 7th birthday party; it is a kitten tea party.  How one is to combine a kitten and a tea party no one knows, however, we are doing it.  I am making some peach ice cream, #1 requested it.  

3.  Last night #3 mounted a major a skirmish in the going to sleep theatre.  The VOR started around 7:30 with the usual nursing accompanied with gentle rocking routine.  #3 would not go to sleep.  The VOR put him to bed and he jumped up crying.  The VOR tried to put him back down but no go.  The onus was then put on me.  I tried for an hour, no go.  Back to the VOR she tried, no go.  Back to me, I had to resort to Operation Lock Down; a method I have perfected.  I hold both hands (if not he wiggles his fingers) in one hand, with the other hand I cradle his head against my chest (if not he will turn his head left and right) and I hold both legs in my arm (if not he wriggles his toes).  This will get the child frustrated but eventually he goes to sleep.  This method is based on a story my father once told me about how the break in horses in the west.  They dig a large hole, back fill all the dirt then soak it down.  They then take a wild horse and place it in the mud.  The horse kicks for a short while then eventually gives up and is broken in. Only it seems that you only have to do this to a horse once in a lifetime; I have to resort to Operation Lockdown at least once a night.  

Yet I know the is coming when #3  will sleep all night by himself, right now his nightly tussles are just the minor battles - for the war has been won, he knows it but he still puts up a valiant effort.

4.  When you have young children you miss all kinds of stuff: the latest movie, concerts, plays, television shows, etc.  Yesterday while writing my sermon I was looking for a quote by Bono when I realized that I missed his address at the 2006 National Prayer Breakfast.  If you have young kids and totally missed this too, take a gander - worth you time.

And go here for a transcript.

05 February 2008


If you go here you can listen to an audio version of Sunday's Sermon.

All 18 WV delegates go to Huckabee.

What I am Watching for today

My main concern today is the Volunteer state. I want to see how many votes Barack Obama receives there. Why? In 2006 Harold Ford, Jr. ran as the first African-American Sentor from the South since Reconstruction. He almost won against Bob Corker. The primary numbers from the 2006 Democratic primary are not that reliable, Ford ran against two lightweights. If Obama can receive a good number of Democratic voters I think that bodes well for the rest of the primary season this day. I also want to see how Obama and McCain do in upstate NY. I think Obama may even win some congressional districts in upstate. I think McCain wins big in upstate, but I wonder how wide the margain will be.

After Pancake Supper/Mardi Gras/Shrove Tuesday party, feast, gala event I will be glued to the tv and laptop watching returns come in.

03 February 2008


While I was preaching this morning I believed I heard the church phone ring. After the service one of the Sunday School teachers told me she answered it and that it was the post office with a special express package. I *69 the number and called the postal work back, she said she could drop the package off later this afternoon. I had a hunch what it was, my hunch was confirmed at 2:52 this afternoon.

The robe from England is here. Pictures will be forthcoming after the First Sunday of Lent.

Here is something the post master and mistress may be interested in. A package mailed from Exeter England was shipped on 30th of January and arrived here on the 3rd. Granted the USPS went out of their way to deliver it on a Sunday, quite impressive. Last week the VOR shipped a package to WV, priority, and it took the same amount of time!

Stomach Says Yes, Heart Says No

The other morning I looked into the cupboard and nothing looked good for breakfast.  I was craving some granola but had yet to make some.  So I looked in the frig and saw four slices of bacon and one egg, alright I said.  I fried the bacon and then discovered the iron skillet (which I love to fry and egg in) was dirty  I, true I could have washed it - but it is an ordeal.  So I just fried the egg in the bacon grease.  Then I went to toast a piece of bread but I didn't want to have to wait for the oven to warm up, so I just dropped the toast in the bacon grease and fried it too.  It was a delicious breakfast, but it probably took at least 45 days off of my life.

Abiding Presence: Sermon 3.February.2008

The Last Sunday after The Epiphany
The Sunday Next before Lent

Scripture Lessons  Psalm 139 and Jeremiah 23:23-32

Abiding Presence
{A few notes about worship.  First of all, the longest sermon to date in my life: 27 minutes.  Second, there was communion, #3 was very excited, he kept trying to lead his mother down the aisle to "pick up some communion elements,"  he could not understand why he could not just walk down the aisle and  help himself.   Finally, a woman who is legally blind in the congregation always has interesting comments, noted this morning how the sermon made her want to retrieve her audio tapes of the psalms to listen to.  Furthermore (a word I always want to use more but do not) I have for the past few months been trying to figure out how to end a sermon with an invitation, not an altar call per se but an invitation.  I am getting close, a book of Howard Thurman sermons have helped.  Enjoy...

Over the course of Lent we will center on the temptations of the Master and how the Lord endured and creatively overcame them by incorporating them into his life. This morning I want to lay the groundwork for the proper placement of temptations. I do not want to define temptations or even reveal how they operated in Jesus’ life and in our lives. I want to, instead, lay a foundational primary experience: the constant and abiding presence of God. The practice of the presence of God is the most difficult thing we will do as human beings and it is the hardest temptation to overcome and incorporate into our lives.

As far as I know no one here has seen God; no one knows exactly what God looks like, smells like or sounds like. We do have some words and actions of Jesus recorded for us in the gospels but no pictures, audio files or descriptions about his appearance or looks. Folk 2000 years ago did see Jesus, i.e. God incarnate, they did hear him, they did smell him, touch him and even tasted him as they kissed or greeted him. Jesus was a specific person with a specific mom and dad, with a specific name from a specific time and culture. Jesus had an accent, walked a certain way, laughed at some things and cried at others. Nevertheless, despite the specificity and limitations contained in the descriptive designation: Jesus of Nazareth. The designation of Jesus of Nazareth tells more who he was not than who he was; he was not Jesus of Athens, Jesus of Rome, Jesus of London or Jesus of Montreal. Jesus of Nazareth is a scandalous doorway to God. Jesus presents a picture and a presence of God. Jesus of Nazareth allows us to form a picture of God in our imaginations. The picture of God is the doorway to our spiritual life transforming God from and vast and vacuous word to a living reality. Our pictures of God cannot fully contain God but they allow us in our individual ways to meet and practice the presence of God. Regardless of the primacy and life changing magnitude of our pictures of God we constantly forget about and fail to practice the presence of God.

True, we may not have literally seen God but we have in a deeper and truer way the experience of seeing God in Jesus Christ. Despite having the picture of God provided by Jesus, despite having the saving experience of Jesus and despite knowing a more abundant life awaits us if we would practice God’s presence we do not.

Why is this the case? I can safely imagine that most of us here have cell phones. And have you noticed how your ability to remember phone numbers has diminished? This has nothing to do with senior moments, hardening of the arteries or even absent mindedness. You can recall a time, just a few years ago when you had a running list of phone numbers you could recall at an instance, but now you cannot. We were able to recall at an instance phone numbers because we were practicing them, we had to remember them. We sat on a chair with a phone connected to the wall, placed our finger in the rotary dial turned it clockwise and then waited the dial as it tuck, tuck, tuck and returned to the beginning position.

If we do not practice the contents of our memories, the data quickly fades into areas of our seldom used brain. Instead of well greased machines our memories function like a chest of drawers that we cannot open.

The prophet Jeremiah lived during a time of turmoil, he was called by God to warn his people of God’s impending judgment and wrath. Time and time again he offered words he hoped would cause his fellow countrymen and women to change their ways and doings, repent, and turn to the Lord. If they would simply show some signs of remorse God would put a stop to his plans. But folk did not listen, they seemed to have forgotten abiding presence, then the unthinkable happened: Exile, the ground shook, the army invaded, the beloved city of Jerusalem was burned to the ground and the citizens were shackled and led out of the promise land and into the land between the Tigris and the Euphrates.

In our passage from the prophet Jeremiah the curtain preventing us from peering into God’s heart is peeled away and we see the rage forming and God’s frustration with his people who have forgotten him. God sarcastically and rhetorically asks Am I a God near by and not a God far off? Then why do my people continue to listen to the prophets of Ba’al, as if Ba’al is near and I am far off? The prophets of Ba’al plan to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, just as their ancestors forgot my name for Ba’al. God’s melancholy and rage then turns to humor: Is not my work like a fire and like a hammer that breaks a rock to pieces? One day the chickens will come home to roost and all will see the words offered by the prophets of Ba’al nothing more than clanging cymbals.

The emptiness of their words was revealed when the Babylonian army charged into the Promised Land, the moment of realization arrived and the time of reckoning had come for Israel. Living in a strange and faraway land the Israelites gathered by the river and tried to sing but all they could mutter were some words found in Psalm 137: If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem about my highest joy. Not until their homeland, and birthright were taken away by God did the moment of realization emerge. Absence and separation can allow us the necessary detachment to assess the importance and vitality of relationships in our lives – not realizing how needed someone is until they are gone. We easily take others and God for granted. After we realize how vital others are in our lives the possibility of repentance, restoration and deeper ways of living open up to us. Again, however, there is distinct possibility that we will forget again and repeat the same cycle over and over and over again.

Can we prevent this cycle from happening over and over again? One of the surest ways is simple contact, nurturing of a relationship and the practice of the presence of another. The movers and shakers of the Reformation of Western Christianity in the mid 1500s faced a great question: what should they keep from the Catholic faith and what should they dismiss? The English Reformation sought to preserve a Catholic style of worship blended with a Protestant mindset, sometimes called the via media or middle way. The Continental Reformers sought to dismiss a greater portion of Catholic Christianity, and then there were the Radicals, the Baptist, the Mennonites, and the Anabaptists. They threw everything and the kitchen sink out the window with the hope of retrieving a New Testament church. Gone were statues, icons, stained glass windows, no monasteries, no crosses, no religious holidays – no nothing but the Bible, Prayer, Hymns, and Preaching. This radical move looked great on paper but created a practical problems for the practitioners: how to practice daily devotion, daily prayer, how do you daily practice the presence of God without the aid of an icon, rosary beads, or even a simple genuflection? The radicals developed took two teaching pedagogies and intertwined them: imagination and bible memorization. In private devotion disciples developed a way of reading the Bible creatively placing themselves in the story also they memorized large portions of scripture, even whole books!

Laugh at this if you want, but they were onto something, they were seeking to incorporate the Biblical narrative into their narrative. The Bible was not just another book from another time and culture; it was the primary means along with experience to encounter God. The Bible was not a history book but a Living Word. Their practices of scriptural memorization and creative reading allowed our ancestors of the faith to develop a rich depository of living words, they filled their wells with living water till their cups overfloweth.

It should come as no surprise the book most easily quoted and memorized was/is the book of Psalms. The Psalms are the prayerbook of the Bible, Martin Luther once referred to them as the Bible in miniature. They are timeless prayers. Why are they so memorable? They are poems, songs and heart-words. They were set to music, prayed at sunrise, spoken at meal times, and chanted before folk went to bed. They possess a deep reservoir of language which speaks to our souls in unknowable ways. At a funeral the words of Jesus comfort us, but nothing moves us like a reading of 23rd Psalm. We are comforted in a different way when Psalm 121 states: The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore. When you want to confess you pray Psalm 51: create in me a clean heart O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. When you are moved and want to wring someone’s neck you turn to Psalm 109 possessing the subject of our anger in mind and pray: May his days be few, may his children be orphans, his wife a widow, may the creditors seize all he has. When you feel like God is for far away, when life makes no sense allow Psalm 139 to sneak in: O Lord, you have searched me and known me. Where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence – lead me in the way everlasting.

The Psalms present to a lavish and varied aspect of the practice of the presence of God. They do not present a sugarcoated faith or prosperity gospel. They present a faith stirred up in the blood, the guts and the beer which is sustained only by the abiding presence and steadfast love of God that must be remembered, practiced and not forgotten.

Around 1632 a young man of 24 in eastern France, after fighting in the Thirty Years War and serving as a valet, entered the Carmelite monastery in Paris. He took the name Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, he had no education or standing and therefore sent to the kitchen where he spent the next 56 years baking bread and preparing meals. Covered in a dusting of flour he talked to his brothers in the monastery about his daily practice of the presence of God. For centuries folk had daily practiced the presence of God, but no one described it like Brother Lawrence. He wrote a series of letters/conversations about his practice of God’s presence to an associate. The short letters describes why worship must not stop at 11:00am but must be a continual act, an act that impregnates every thing we do whether flipping an egg or kneading bread. He did not advocate for folk to pray out loud all day or even in quite inner prayer. Instead, as Douglas Steere the great 20th century Quaker commented on Brother Lawrence said we can fix our will and our affections upon God as to permeate all that we do with this relationship. The baker’s words have inspired and lifted up the reality ever since, we can practice God’s presence, we can experience God everyday at all times. We can overcome and incorporate the temptation that God is not present. We can overcome the temptation that God does not really care about you or that God really does not want to spend time and be bothered by me.

The scandal of Jesus Christ coming to earth is that God does want to be bothered by you. God does want to spend time with you. God wants you to have a picture of mind when you pray and practice God’s presence.

I would like to draw to a close with this image/story. In Cremona, Italy the national violin museum is located. For the past 30 years, everyday but Sunday, Mr. Andrea Musconi dresses in a finely cut suit finished with a handmade silk tie and plays the worlds greatest violins. He plays a steady diet of Bach and Tchaikovsky. Many people have wondered why the violins of the Italian masters are the worlds greatest. What make a Stradivarius and Stradivarius? Some say it is the glue and resin, the presence of trees now extinct or the vestige of the mini ice age. No one knows, but there is a secret to keeping a Strat a Strat: they must be played. To keep a world class violin fit and sounding their best they must be played. If you do not play a violin the wood gets tired.

You cannot give into the temptation that God is not present. We must realize no only God’s constant presence but practice it. We have beautiful souls, we are the handiwork of God, how can we keep from singing? How can we keep from practicing God’s presence? We sing because we are happy/ We sing because we are free. We have marvelous souls that need and desire to practice God’s presence. When you face the temptation not to practice, remember and acknowledge God’s presence how will you respond? Will you let your soul get tired?

Living God, daily we are tempted, daily we fail. We will not walk through the pearly gates because of our failures, but because of your grace. But how sad when we choose not to practice your presence, to let our souls grow tired when there was a richer, fuller and abundant life to live. Grant us, O Lord, some time and space to practice your presence. Provide not a cold icy or silent moment but a warm and lively spirit. In the precious name of Jesus we pray. Amen

01 February 2008

A way for Obama to win the primary

Now that Edwards has dropped out of the race, a sad day hear at the theobilly farm/compound/parsonage, I have thought of a strategy for Obama to win the primary: begin a campaign theme of re-uniting the nation or address the American people as who do you think can unite America me or Senator Clinton?  I think if he makes that argument he can win the primary.

If you haven't read Paul Krugman's piece this morning on Edwards it is well worth it.