Taste and See

 

Third Sunday of Easter

Acts 3:12-19

Psalm 4

1 John 3:1-7

Luke 24:36b-48

The cover story for the April 16, 2012 issue of Time Magazine was entitled “Rethinking Heaven.”  In the article, the author contrasted the popular conceptions of heaven (as most recently found in the popular book “Heaven is for Real”) with more full bodied accounts of the afterlife as recently put forward by N.T. Wright and others.  Most people within the average congregation think of the afterlife and heaven as a realm filled with disembodied souls all hugging and congratulating each other on their arrival.  This is the place where we walk down streets of gold with our long deceased Aunt Sally and where God sits in a “reaaally big” chair (this according to Colton Burpo, the child author of “Heaven is for Real”). 

This week’s lectionary text from Luke challenges our common conceptions of life after death. Read more

Wade in the Water

6th week of Epiphany

Feb. 12, 2012

2 Kings 5:1-14

Psalm 30

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Mark 1:40-45

 Eighteen years ago, the Mississippi Annual Conference planted the next “mega church” in a small but rapidly growing community just outside of the state capital of Jackson.  The congregation started with an average worship attendance of around 90, a number that has dropped slowly but consistently over the years.  When I was appointed there 4 years ago we averaged about 35 on a Sunday morning.  This past Sunday we had eight.  As a worshiping community, it is getting harder and harder for us to have hope for our future, not to mention paying our utility bills. 

In an effort to encourage our struggling church our District Superintendent assured us that if there was even one family who could say that they were genuinely called by God to continue to worship and witness as New Covenant UMC then he would do everything he could to help us stay open and pursue that calling.  So it is that in the last few weeks, we have begun to ask each other very seriously and very concretely “What is God calling you to do?  What is God calling us to do as a Church body? Who is God calling us to be?” 

“Now Naaman was a commander…” Read more

From Where Does Our Help Come?

1st Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 64:1-9

Psalm 80:1-7, 117-19

1 Cor. 1:3-9

Mark 13:24-37

On the first Sunday of Advent, we enter into a new year with joyful expectation of the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Advent is a time of waiting and longing for God’s presence, which means that Advent is a season well suited to many churches in North America.  I serve a small church in Mississippi that has slowly, over a period of years, dwindled to an average worship attendance of about twenty people.  This past week our congregation met with our District Superintendent about the vitality of our church, its future, and the possibility of closing the church.  During the meeting my parishioners lamented to the D.S. that ‘it wasn’t always like this.’  They remembered the days when the sanctuary was packed and the halls were filled with noisy and rambunctious youth.  In some ways the meeting was a communal lament for the lost ‘golden years’ of the congregation’s life. 

 As a leader in the church it can be tempting to view these sentiments as a modern day version of the grumbling of the Israelites who idealized their past and failed to trust God for their future.  (Ex. 16)  However, what I heard in these conversations was not so much grumbling as groaning.  “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, grown inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:18-30).  With church membership and worship attendance in decline all over North America, I am sure that my small church is not the only one groaning inwardly, longing for the redemption of their body.

In this week’s lectionary text from Isaiah we encounter the prayer of one groaning over a past filled with loss, and a future that has already taken too long in the coming.  The lectionary reading is part of a larger prayer of lament that begins in 63:15 and ends with the troubling question of 64:12 “After all this, will you restrain yourself, O Lord?”  The preacher should strongly consider using the entire prayer during worship.  The lection opens with a request for God’s presence: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,” which flows much more naturally following the lament of God’s absence that begins the prayer in 63:15.  Read more

Bread from Heaven

14th Sunday after Pentecost

Exodus 16.2-15, Psalm 145.1-8, Philippians 1.21-30, Matthew 20.1-16

I’m the oldest of four lively children. As an adult I’m very aware of the strain that my siblings and I put on my parents. Raising children does not come with a “How To” guide and the four Wilson children found every kind of way to put parents to the test. Growing up, my father could often be heard to say in both frustration and resignation, “with you kids if it’s not one thing it’s another!” I suspect that something very much like this sentiment could be heard in the grumblings of the Israelites. As they left the Red Sea they immediately encountered a trial in the form of draught. The scarcity of water was overcome by the gift of Elim, where “there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees.”(Ex. 15.27) In Exodus 16 as the Israelites set out from Elim they are once more confronted by scarcity. This time it’s a shortage of food. As my father would say, “if it’s not one thing it’s another.” On the surface of the reading, the occasion for such grumbling is yet another occasion of lack. However, the real problem the Israelites face in the Wilderness of Sin is one of memory and identity. Read more

Jacob, Despite Jacob

JacobIn Preaching and Reading the Lectionary: A Three-Dimensional Approach to the Liturgical Year, O. Wesley Allen Jr. advocates for a what he calls a cumulative preaching strategy that focuses more on the sweep of a year’s worth of preaching than any one particular sermon.  As Allen explains “all pastors know (or at least hope), deep in their hearts, that the great power of preaching lies less in the individual sermon and more in the cumulative effect of preaching week in and week out to the same congregation, to the same community of believers, doubters and seekers…sermons offered Sunday after Sunday, month after month, year after year weave together to have an immeasurable cumulative influence on individuals’ and the congregation’s understanding of God, self, and the world.” (ix)  To that end, Allen examines the patterns of the lectionary and the way the lectionary can be used a whole year at a time.

Read more