Monday, August 25, 2008

This past Saturday, Len Sweet came and spoke to a gathering of New England United Methodist about ministry in this new culture, and about how to navigate the Perfect Storm of postmodernism, post-Christendom, and post-scale. I'll admit, it was nice to have one of my favorite professors on my home turf and experiencing good New England culture, and it was great that some folks up this way could start getting a handle on how we can enjoy the ride as we face these opportunities for ministry here in New England.

One of the metaphors we played with was that of a football team. A football team needs to huddle before a play to make sure everyone is on the same page and ready for the play. The point of the huddle is to make it as quick as possible because the point of the game is to move the ball downfield to score a touchdown, and you can't do that if you are spending all of your time in the huddle.

Within this metaphor for the church, we definitely have a huddle situation; so much so that I think we've forgotten that there's a game going on. It reminds me of watching T-ball, where adorable kids sit in the outfield, making dandelion chains for each other, totally oblivious to the face that there's a game out there that they're playing. When the ball comes their way, they seem surprised, and not quite sure what to do with it. Or when a kid gets a great hit and is a bit astonished and everyone starts yelling "go home!" what does she do but...start running home instead of toward home plate.

We've got to get our heads back in the game -- go back to the play book (no...that doesn't mean the Book of Discipline) and get our signals straight from the coach. That is, if the church wants to continue playing on the field.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Balance

I like to think sometimes that I have a wide fan-base who wait with bated breath for every new post...but who am I kidding? Right now I'm posting because at heart, I am forever a procrastinator -- not because you are particularly interested in what I have to say right now.

I've been back from vacation for a few days now, and am starting to wonder how the heck I'm going to manage seminary and church and commuting this next year. I ordered books yesterday, and it was like my eyes were opened: "Shoot! I really am going back for another year! Dear Lord..." I still haven't managed to finish my incomplete class this summer, and am half-tempted just to retake it. Bleah. My advice to all of you: never, ever take an incomplete if you can help it.

After seven weeks of ministry, I've realized just how much you have to do in a church. There's work, and then there's....work. On the one hand, there's the Sunday morning ritual and preparing for that, the meetings to go to and the pushing paper around. On the other hand, there's getting folks motivated to study the Bible, to follow Jesus more passionately, to take their discipleship to the next level. I'm struggling to keep the balance tipped more in the latter direction than the former. It sounded so much easier to do in theory than in practice.

Part of it may just be a function of my own level of intense discipleship. I'll admit, some days it's all I can do to get through saying the morning offices instead of praying for the city, my congregation, and my world. And some weeks, my personal Bible study is limited to what I do for sermon prep (which, as they teach us in seminary, is perfectly alright, but I beg to differ). And I have yet to dig myself deeply into the fabric of this community, though both Ben and I have had some great conversations with a few of the local small business owners.

It's a process, of course, but I'm impatient. So is Ben, which makes putting things into perspective difficult. So I'm left with trying to channel this impatience into prayer and into something constructive as we get to know our congregation and this city that God has called us to. I fear that seminary is going to be one more thing to get in the way (time-wise and otherwise) of what God is trying to do through us.

So we'll be juggling a church plant, seminary, church, and sabbath this year. Pray for us!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Olympic Christians

As I prepare my sermon on Matthew 13:44-46 (the treasure hidden in the field and the pearl of great price), my mind keeps getting drawn to the Olympics. In Beijing, athletes from around the world will gather to push themselves to their limits in order to compete for their country, and bring home the gold. Many competitors have been training for this one event for their whole lives, working with single-minded passion and determination to make the cut, make their country's team, and win it all. The gold medal for these people is their pearl of great price, something they've sacrificed for and worked for in an effort to attain.

What is our pearl of great price? What drives and motivates us? Many would say our families, perhaps our jobs or success. But what about the kingdom? How many of us would be willing to sacrifice like that for the kingdom of God - to make God's dream for this world become a reality? Do any of us have that single-minded devotion that drives and compels us to serve God and neighbor with heart, soul, mind, and strength?

But I think that there's more than just this focused drive to achieve that spurs the Olympic athletes on toward winning the prize. There's a love of the sport involved. They enjoy what they do because it brings satisfaction and joy. There's beauty to it as well that motivates their efforts to achieve.

Pearls in ancient Palestine were appreciated not just for their value, but also for their beauty. It's not just that we are driven by need or calling to bring forth God's dream for the world, but that there is something inherently beautiful in it; that God seeks human efforts - as broken and messed up as we are - to create a world characterized by joy, peace, mercy, justice, and love. There is beauty in touching and transforming the life of another, in witnessing two old friends having coffee together, a child playing with her friends, or a man stopping to talk with a homeless person. There's beauty in the small acts that show how God's dream is working to make all things new.

So there is the value of the kingdom - something we are called to invest ourselves in fully, orienting our lives completely around God and neighbor; and something deeply beautiful in being able to witness to and participate in God's designs for creation.

I think we're called to be Olympic Christians - striving and training and giving all we have so that God's dream for the world can come true and appreciating the beautiful ways God works in us and in others to make this a reality.

Both strands are probably too much for one sermon, but we'll see what happens.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

In church this morning, Ben led a community exegesis of the Good Samaritan text, and then we did a little skit modernizing the characters. We took the new characters from the suggestions of the congregation:

The Jericho Road? I-495

Priest and Levite: a respected member of our church community and Jimmy Carter

The Samaritan: Manny Ramirez (though it was between him, Derek Jeter, and we heard some people suggest A-Rod as well).

Only in Massachusetts....

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Friends? Please?

So - question for those of you who have been pastors for awhile...or just know how to get out into a community:

How do you make friends with people your own age when the city doesn't seem to offer any services for that demographic (especially when you aren't living where the young adults are)? Do you just hang out a lot at coffee shops and pray someone sits down at the table next to you and is reading something interesting? Do you go to the music events and hunt people down? Do you scour facebook for people living in your area and pounce on likely candidates and scream, "I need friends!!!!!"?

Ben and I went out last night; the local arts district was holding a mini-street festival of sorts. The stores were open, there was a band playing (although they bowed out early since they had a more important gig elsewhere), and there was food and ice cream. Some folks were dancing in the streets, having a great time. But most people came in groups, so there wasn't a chance to really mingle and get to know folks.

So far, our best time of connecting with people has been the shopkeepers in the downtown. We go in, talk about how we're new to the area, and most of the folks have been very willing to help us out, get us oriented to the community and whatnot. Perhaps the next question to ask these people would be - "what is there to do to meet people my own age here?"

Perhaps I'll have to make "making friends" a spiritual discipline...