Sunday, June 26, 2005

Sermon for West Salem UMC: Welcome in Christ's Name -- Bienvenidos en el Nombre de Cristo

Matthew 10:40-42

Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.

Quien los recibe a ustedes, me recibe a mí; y quien me recibe a mí, recibe al que me envió. Cualquiera que recibe a un profeta por tratarse de un profeta, recibirá recompensa de profeta; y el que recibe a un justo por tratarse de un justo, recibirá recompensa de justo. Y quien dé siquiera un vaso de agua fresca a uno de estos pequeños por tratarse de uno de mis discípulos, les aseguro que no perderá su recompensa."

Sermon Text

Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Quien los recibe a ustedes, me recibe a mí; y quien me recibe a mí, recibe al que me envió.

We're very different people, aren't we. Not one of us is the same. There are many things that make us different. We're different ages, and people of different ages and generations have always seemed to have a hard time understanding each other.

And we're in different life stages. Some of us are students, some are working, some are retired. Some of us are single, some are married, some are divorced, and some are widowed. Some of us have children, some of us will, and some of us never will.

And we come from different sorts of families. Some of us were raised in very domineering households, some of us had to take care of our parents more than they took care of us, some of us never knew our parents the way we had hoped.

We come from different nations and cultures: Native American, Anglo-American, German-American, Spanish-American, Italian-American, African-American, Asian-American, Irish-American, Mexican-American, on and on.

We speak different languages. Hablamos diversos lenguajes. Wir sprechen unterschiedliche Sprachen. And we don't always hear or understand each other.

We have different political beliefs. US politics are so polarized right now that sometimes it is hard to find anything that we have in common.

We have different theological beliefs. Even though we are all Christians here in this room, it might be difficult to find even one theological point on which we would all agree completely.

We have different kinds of spiritualities. Some of us respond well to sermons, some would rather sing, others find God more easily in nature. Some like to meditate silently, others pray out loud, others pray best in community.
We are all very different people. Somos gente muy diversa.

Jesus says, "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me." Jesús dice, "Quien los recibe a ustedes, me recibe a mí; y quien me recibe a mí, recibe al que me envió."

People were just as different in Jesus' time. In first century Palestine there were people from all over the known world. There were Jews, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Arabs, Persians, Sudanese, and many others. The Roman Imperial system depended upon a wide variety of people at all different social stations in order to function. It was often a very harsh and oppressive system, requiring much from the majority of poor people at the bottom in order to give luxury to a few rich people at the top. The empire had conquered many peoples in order to continue to bring wealth and power to the Roman elite.
Because of this, there were many ways that people were alienated from each other. There was great difference between those who had power and those who were powerless. Only a few people had Roman citizenship and all others were under a different set of laws. Most people spoke only their own local languages and couldn't communicate in Latin or Greek, the languages of the empire. And there were still many racial animosities, such as the mutual hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans.

Jesús dice, "Quien los recibe a ustedes, me recibe a mí; y quien me recibe a mí, recibe al que me envió." Jesus says, "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me."

It's easy to let our differences divide us. It's all too easy to let our divisions become animosities, and to let our animosities mature into hatreds. It happens when we think that everyone should be the same, when we become afraid of difference. When we start to worry that our own way of life is going to die when change starts to happen around us. And when we start to be afraid, we become defensive and protective. We develop an us-or-them mentality that pits us against our neighbors, instead of with them.

Jesus says, "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me." Jesús dice, "Quien los recibe a ustedes, me recibe a mí; y quien me recibe a mí, recibe al que me envió."

Jesus offers us a different way of seeing things. Even in the highly segregated and divided world of the Roman Empire, Jesus told his disciples that whoever received them, whoever welcomed them, had in fact welcomed and received him and the God who had sent him. Jesus broke the traditional barriers that divided the people of ancient Palestine and provided them a way to come together in unity around him and around God.

Jesús dice, "Quien los recibe a ustedes, me recibe a mí; y quien me recibe a mí, recibe al que me envió." Jesus says, "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me."

It's an interesting word, that word that is translated "welcome." The Greek word is dechomai, and it is a word that has many meanings. La palabra "recibe" en Griego tiene muchos significados. It can mean: to welcome, to take, to accept, to receive, to hear, to entertain, to greet, to worship, or even to expect. Significa: para dar la bienvenida, tomar, validar, recibir, oír, entretener, saludar, adorarse, o aún esperar. So Jesus could be saying, "Whoever greets you greets me," or "whoever receives you receives me – whoever accepts you accepts me – whoever entertains you entertains me…" the meanings go on and on. Jesús podría decir, "quienquiera le saluda me saluda, o quienquiera le toma me toma, o quienquiera le entretiene me entretiene." The point is that however you treat one of Christ's followers is how you treat Christ. La punta es que la manera que ustedes tratan a uno de los discípulos de Cristo es cómo ustedes tratan a Cristo. If we want to accept Jesus, and we talk so often about how we are supposed to accept Jesus, then we have to accept Jesus' disciples. Not just a few of them, but all of them. Si deseamos validar a Jesús, después tenemos que validar a los discípulos de Jesús. It's not easy. It's not supposed to be easy. But nevertheless, we are called to see the Christ that lives and dwells within each one of us. We are called to honor the Christ that is in each of our neighbors. To reject a disciple is to reject Christ.

Jesus says, "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me." Jesús dice, "Quien los recibe a ustedes, me recibe a mí; y quien me recibe a mí, recibe al que me envió."

We are all welcome here, in Christ's name. We are all adopted into the same family of God through Jesus' gift of grace to us. We are all one in the Spirit of God. Isn't that a wonderfully miraculous message? Do any of us deserve to be here? It doesn't matter – Christ welcomes us anyway. Christ calls each one of us into his family, a family in which we are all brothers and sisters. Somos una familia en Cristo. Welcome. You are welcome. We are welcome. Welcome in the name of Christ. Bienvenidos en el nombre de Cristo.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

New Plan

Well, we think that we've figured out our new plan. At least, this is the leading candidate at the moment. We're going to put the adoption process on hold for the moment. Instead of staying in Denver for two more years, we'll stay just one. New rules in the 2004 Discipline mean that I can be eligible for probationary membership by the next annual conference. I'll accept an appointment somewhere in Oregon (I'll ask for one in Oregon). Melissa might look for a permenant position, but will likely substitute teach. We will then continue the adoption process with Holt in Oregon.

I like this plan because it seems to have nice smooth transitions and quite a lot more stability for the child.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Homeland &*$#@* Security

I'm a little down this evening. There are two reasons. Reason one is that my dad got a poison pen letter from some unknown person at church that contains all sorts of conpletely false charges and claims. That kind of letter is the act of a coward, and it really upsets me.

Reason two is that the Department of Homeland Security is putting in all kinds of new requirements that are making our adoption process really difficult. We were already on hold in the process because DHS requires that everyone in our house (there are three other adults living in the same house with us) to get retinal scans, DNA testing, and another round of fingerprints ($700). The problem is that DHS will simply assign us a time that we all have to come in to get them. Since everyone is in and out of the Denver area this summer, we need to wait until the school year starts again, since we'll have no choice about when we have to go in. Now, however, they're also requiring that everyone in our house have a complete physical ($500). That's just something that's really hard to ask of our friend who are living with us. Asking them to get finger prints is one thing. Asking them to get criminal background and credit checks is even worse. Asking them to have DNA testing and Retinal scans is just plain ridiculous. Asking them to get pap smears and HIV tests might just be a little over the line. We won't even be getting a child by the time that we all move apart. It's ridiculous. We thought we had it all worked out, and now it looks like we might have to put everything off for another year, or move out this summer, or who knows what. ARGH!!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

My Theological Worldview

This was a pretty interesting quiz that I found over at Gavin's site. It says that as a Postmodern that I feel alienated from older forms of church. I don't. But I do agree with good chunks of the rest of it.



Roman Catholic


Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan


Modern Liberal


Classical Liberal


Neo orthodox




Reformed Evangelical




What's your theological worldview?
created with

Preaching Schedule

For the like 3 people who are interested in this, here is my preaching schedule for the rest fo the summer:

June 26, Matthew 10:40-42, "Welcome in Christ's Name -- Bienvenidos en el Nombre de Cristo" -- West Salem UMC
July 3, Romans 7:15-25a -- Englewood UMC; Salem, OR
July 10, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 -- Seaside UMC
July 17, Genesis 28:10-19a, "I Did Not Know It" -- First UMC; Salem, OR

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Sermon for McCabe and Dundee UMCs: Sarah Laughs

Genesis 18:1-15
The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. 2He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. 3He said, ‘My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. 4Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. 5Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.’ So they said, ‘Do as you have said.’ 6And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, ‘Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.’ 7Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. 8Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
9 They said to him, ‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ And he said, ‘There, in the tent.’ 10Then one said, ‘I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.’ And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. 11Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. 12So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?’ 13The LORD said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?” 14Is anything too wonderful for the LORD? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.’ 15But Sarah denied, saying, ‘I did not laugh’; for she was afraid. He said, ‘Oh yes, you did laugh.’

Sarah has had a pretty tough time of things. She's been married to Abraham for quite some time now. He's dragged her all over the known world with him, far from home and family. Once, while there was a famine, he took her with him to Egypt, but he forced her to say that she was his sister, not his wife. She was taken into Pharaoh's harem and Abraham received a huge dowry for her. If God hadn't put a curse on Pharaoh, Abraham might have left her there, but as it was, they left Egypt together along with the dowry Abraham had gotten for her.

Time went on, and Sarah was still childless. This was no small problem in the ancient Middle East, where women were mostly seen as property and their worth was determined by their ability to bare an heir. To make matters worse, Abraham kept telling her that God had promised that he would be the father of a great nation, that he would have more children than the stars in heaven or the sand of the seashore. No pressure, of course.

By the time she was about 75, she'd had enough of it. She had a slave girl named Hagar. Hagar had been a part of that enormous dowry that Abraham had gotten when he gave Sarah to the Pharaoh. In any case, Sarah was tired of not being able to measure up, of not being able to give Abraham a son, so in her desperation, she told Abraham to have a child with Hagar.

Well, life in the household became a regular soap opera when Hagar had Ishmael. How could there not be jealousy and rivalry in such a difficult situation.

Now, it's much later. Sarah is 90 years old. She has long given up her dream of ever having children. She's given up on ever being close to Abraham. After all, he already has the son that he wanted. No, she's gotten used to the idea that she's just waiting to die. There's nothing much for her.

So when those three visitors show up, and Abraham asks her to prepare an enormous feast, she does it, in the same way she always has, from the seclusion of the tent. What else is there for her but to keep kneading bread until her bony fingers finally give out?

And when she overhears one of those strange visitors telling Abraham that the two of them are going to have a child in the next year, what else can she do but laugh. Sarah laughs. If for no other reason, she has been past menopause for quite some time now. I don't know if there are any 90-year-old women in the congregation today – I won't ask you to raise your hands – but I'm guessing that it's been a while since you've tried on any maternity clothes. So after all of these years of trying, of hoping against hope, now after it's impossible, someone she doesn't even know tells her that she's going to have a child. Laughter was a rather gracious response on Sarah's part, I'd say.

You know, this story reminds me a bit of our church, especially at this particular point in history. It seems like a lot of United Methodists feel like Sarah did. You know, once upon a time, Methodism was the largest and most powerful denomination in the country. We were on top of the world.

But lately, our numbers have been dwindling. We have fewer members. Attendance is lower. We're taking in less money. Our preachers are getting stretched thinner and thinner across more churches. It's really easy to start thinking of ourselves as a dying church. Especially in smaller churches (and I grew up in small churches), it's tempting to just settle in for the inevitable closures that must be coming sooner or later. We start to feel like Sarah, who was once a queen of Egypt and now feels rejected, abandoned, and worthless, just waiting for time to pass us by. It will never be like it used to be, and we're so withered now that it can be hard to imagine any hope for the future.

If someone were to suggest that we were going to give birth to something completely new, wouldn't we be tempted to laugh? If one of God's messengers told us that we were going to be the mother of a great movement that would bless all people, wouldn't that deserve a chuckle?

It's interesting to see how God deals with Sarah's laughter. So far as I can tell, there doesn't seem to be any condemnation of Sarah's laughter. Now, Sarah had only laughed quietly to herself, but God must have been listening to her soul, because the messenger let's everyone know that Sarah's laughter has been perceived. Sarah is frightened, and quite rightly so, I would think. It's more than a little disconcerting to come across someone who can look into your soul like that. So she denies that she laughed. But God simply says, "Oh yes, you did laugh." No harsh words, just an honest statement of God's awareness of her shock and surprise. And God says, "Is anything impossible for me?"

Is anything impossible for God? Apparently not. Sarah's doubts, even as reasonable as they were, were proved to be unnecessary. A year later, at 90 years old, after a lifetime of barrenness, Sarah gave birth to a son. Sarah, the old woman who had pretty much given up on life, who had resigned herself to her unhappy and fading existence, who was just waiting to die and be forgotten – Sarah gave birth to a son.

And do you know what she named him? She named him Isaac – in Hebrew that means "he laughs." And she said, "God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me." God turned her laughs of disbelief into laughs of joy; and Sarah laughed at the incredibility and absurdity of what God's grace h
ad done. I have a feeling that God laughed with her.

And it makes me wonder. I wonder if when we are visited by God's messengers, and when they tell us that we are going to give birth to something completely new, that we will be the mothers of something that will be a blessing for everyone in the world, I wonder if when we are offered that kind of absurd news if we will have the grace that Sarah had, not to resist, not to deny, not to despair, not to give up, but simply to laugh… to laugh with Sarah at the absolute absurdity of God's miraculous and surprising plans for us? I wonder if we will be able to carry on and see to what kinds of unbelievable places God will lead us? I wonder if we will be able to laugh with God until God turns our laughter of disbelief into laughter of pure and unexplainable joy at what God has done in, and with, and through us? Are we ready to have God create something new in us? Are we ready to let God make a way where there is no way?

Are we ready to hear the words, "Is anything impossible for God?"

Friday, June 10, 2005


Well, I missed this morning at the conference. I was feeling pretty darn sick. I don't think that lack of sleep felt. All I've heard about this morning is that we worked on legislation and that we got behind. Big surprise.

In the afternoon, we passed the nominations report with no discussion. Awesome.

Now we have a report from the cabinet.

Okay, I'm still not feeling very well. I'm going home.

Thursday, June 09, 2005


I was in Legistlative Committee A and we were dealing with Proposition H-9, entitled END ILLEGAL DETAINMENT, IMPRISONMENT, TORTURE, AND DEATH. We passed a vastly ammended version. Here is the committee text:

"We call upon the US government to discontinue immediately detainment of foreign nationals and combatants and US citizens without legal recourse and provide detainees with legal representation, speedy adjudication and access by humanitarian aid organizations in accord with international and US law; to restore the Constitutional rights of all US citizens and the respectful treatment of non-citizens; to discontinue the policy of ‘outsourcing torture’; and to begin the practice suggested by President Bush in his first term of having a ‘humble’ foreign policy."

We passed it 25-1.

Then we had a wonderful Commissioning Service in the evening. Rev. Dr. Peter Storey from South Africa. It was a terrific service. He talked about the wind of God and how it is continually moving us to knock down more barriers.

Then we started a 9:00pm Plenary for the Connectional Ministries report from Scott Harkness.

We discussed our impressions of institutional racism in small groups. Racism is our unfinished adgenda.

We heard a not-so-brief report from Campus Ministries. it was good, though.

We had a report about the Liberia project.

We heard about a Salem Area food drive.

I'm sure that these reports are important, but it's getting really close to 10:00 pm and I'm not really in to this any more. It's really a little ridiculous. This is not promoting wellness at all. Breakfast is going to be at 7:00. It's just some informational stuff about various things going on throughout the conference. It's not really going as fast as it might, even though everyone says that they're trying to keep it short. They're going to keep on reporting for a while, I'm sure, but I'm signing off now.



Results are in on the Constitutional Ammendments. If the national votes end up at 2/3, they pass. The results of our voting on the numbered ammendments are as follows:

1. 390-5
2. 391-5
3. 393-3
4. 383-11
5. 378-15
6. 387-8
7. 395-5
8. 224-188

Again, those can be found here.

We have a report from the United Methodist Publishing House -- Cokesbury. It was presented by Lynne Kersten, who's the manager of Cokesbury Seattle. We're giving their check to the Central Conference Pension Fund.

The Board of Pensions reported. We passed the the initial recommendations of the Board. We then discussed the releasing of names for a mailing from John Hancock. This would be in conjuction with the General Board of Pensions. The General Board has agreed to work with John Hancock. We are having a hard time getting the vote on this. Tellers had to be called in. It was 184-171. We adopted the Ministerial Pension Plan.

Next came the Northwest House of Theological Studies Report by Dick Francios, Kempton Hewitt, and Lane McGaughey. Dick thanked us for financial support. He thanked us for prayers. He thanked us for students. He thanked the Bishop for being on the Board of Directors. He thanked Willamette for use of space and library free of charge. NHTS is working hard on an ecumenical consortium. They're working on more programs for laity education. Lane honored Kempton as he is retiring from the House. Kempton spoke for a few moments about the history and vision of the House.

Rev. Bill Gates then presented the Denman Evangelism Award. They were awarded to Bob and Rachael Chavez, working with Klamath Native American communities, and Noel Morfin, pastor of Magic Valley Hispanic Ministries.

Ned Miller presented the Torch Award for adult leaders of scouting programs to Marvin L. Wolf from Witney UMC.

Jay Rundell brought greetings from Bishop Warren and the Rocky Mountain Conference, from Iliff School of Theology, and from President Phil Wogaman.

Amy Edwards gave a report from Young Adult Ministries. She asked the Conference to Intentionally include young adults in all parts of Conference life. We're ready and waiting. Just Ask!

Bishop Hoshibata asked for names of those we know who are serving in Iraq and environs.

We prayed for the Oregon Legislature on our way to legislative sessions.


Equitable Compensation reported. They recommend 2.96% increase in minimum salary for new appointments, which is $27,000 (Elders in Full Connection), $25,650 (Probationary Members), $24,300 (Local Pastor), plus $100 boost per year of service up to 10 years. They also want to increase some of the stipends, etc.

Now it's time for the UM General Constitutional Ammendments. They can be found here. We voted on them each individually and by paper ballot.

Then we had the report from the Episcopacy Committee. We re-welcomed the new Bishop. He got a round of applause. The committee is excited about Bishop Hoshibata. Pat Breen (sp?), the Bishop's Administrative Assistant was also honored.

Next came the Board of Trustees report, by Brian Nelson-Munson. They are seeking confirmation of the selling of Church property at Estacada. District Superintendent Kate Conolly explained that there is no longer a congregation at Estacada. There don't seem to be any options for that property at this time. We voted to sell and to give the proceeds to the Western District for emerging ministry in Estacada. We offered a prayer for the hard decision and for all the ministry that has happened in Estacada.

Now we are moving to a time of worship. We sant Out of the Depths. We heard the story of Lazarus. We had a ritual of naming our fears, those things that bind us. And we had a ritual of unbinding. Then we continued in worship to with the reading of Extension Ministry appointments, starting with the District Superintendents.

The Bishop introduced his wife, Greta. She got a standing ovation before addressing the Conference. She seems like a wonderful, strong woman.

Then the Bishop presented The Bishop's Award for overall laity service. It was awarded to Marilyn Outslay from First Church Portland. She's sitting right next to me. She has quite a list of accomplishments and has been quite a servant of the church.

Then, other award were recognized. Three were given from UMW to Bonnie Knight, Teresa Salier, and Carol Brown. The Jason Lee Award for Excellence in Media Communication was given to Computer Ministries at Rose City Park in Portland. They have a community computer lab. They've been instrumental in getting working computers to every church in the Conference. Finally, Church World Service gave awards to three local churches.

We got out for lunch several minutes late at 12:20.


The Conference Lay Leader, Tom Wogaman (Brother of Iliff President Phil Wogaman) opened the conference in prayer.

Next was the report of the clergy session. This included the introduction of the ordinands. There are 6 this year. That's got to be a record for quite a little while. Very exciting.

Next was the report of the Council on Finance and Administration (CF&A) led by their chair, the Rev. Jim Monroe. He talked about the tasks and goals of CF&A. He talked about common perceptions of CF&A and how those stack up to the reality.
He stated these as the major challenges facing the conference.

1. Depleting Conference Reserves -- we're at one-third of goal.
2. Reducing staff -- major decrease in program staff.
3. The "Big Ticket" budget items are not a very big part of the budget.
4. Apportionment support has declined (while the budget has remained the same)
5. One-third of operating budget is raised outside of apportionments.

It was very honest and provocative report. Jim deferred to each of the CF&A sub-committees.

We heard about the apportionments formula. Basically, it's based on local church expenditures. Each church reports their expenses each year. We add all those together. Then, each church is given a sort of ratio of their expenses in context to get a Grade Figiure. The grade figure is then multiplied by the conference budget in order to determine the fair share, or apportionment, of each church. It's all based on the amount of normal church expenses.

We heard about personnel, briefly.

We heard about investments. Our investment objective is to exceed or meet annual inflation rates, plus to generate returns in excess of certain benchmarks (stock indexes). We're trying to more clearly define socially responsible investing. We're trying to more clearly define how much money we have in different classes of investments. We defined what we meant by each class. We will be holding our investment firms accountable for these goals.

We heard about the Interpretation of Apportionments. We heard a little bit about how Mission Churches are defined. We heard a bit about encouraging the "New Consecration Sunday" stewardship programs. The committee has also come out with a history of apportionments going back to the 18th century. It can be found on the stewardship website. There's also good information under Nuture. They're encouraging churches to give quarterly reports on finances, because the congregation needs to know. The committee would like to hear about our ideas about apportionments.

Then, after CF&A we heard a report from the Board of Pensions. In addition to pensions, they handle health insurance. Health Insurance, as you know, is really out of control. Prices are increasing and benefits are decreasing. Participants are strongly encouraged to take annual physicals. This helps with costs because it helps with health. There is an incentive for those who do.

Then we took a break.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

OIAC Part III: Seize the Booty

So, we had Laity Session this afternoon. I was sitting in Smith Auditorium with a few other young adult seminarian types while we had the Laity Worship. Someone was reading, quite animatedly I might add, from one of the epistles, I think of Paul, out of the The Message translation by Eugene Peterson. (Props to anyone who can find the exact sitation I'm about to mention). Anyway, we were listening when all of a sudden we heard the words "seize the booty." We all snickered. You have the admit, that's friginilarious. It was so distracting that now I can't remember anything else about the passage. Anyway, I think that's definitely going to be our in joke for the rest of Conference. You know, it's just a great slogan: Seize the Booty!! Oh my. Eugene, what possessed you to think that it was okay to say that? I don't know.

Anyway, then I went to a Laity session on Young Adult Ministry. Another good opportunity. Ministering to Young Adults: Seizing the Booty. It was a pretty good session led by my friend Amy Edwards. The most interesting that I heard was this: if you're thinking about starting a young adult ministry, the first thing you need to do is evaluate you intentions. Why do you want young adult ministry? Because your church needs new life? Or because you truly want to meet the needs of young adults and want to be in ministry WITH young adults? Don't use us to boost your numbers, please.

Then I went to a second session on gays and lesbians in the church. It was called "Breaking the Silence." I am so sad that we can't get ourselves together enough to make a way for gays and lesbians who have been called by God into ordained ministry. We are losing so many good, good people because we aren't attuned enough to God's continuing movement in the world. And we're not doing anyone any favors with this don't ask don't tell policy. It's not good practice to encourage your clergy to live a lie. We need help.

Then was the Willamette Dinner. I got a sweet Willamette calculator. I had to bug out early in order to make it to choir rehearsal.

We had a pick-up choir for the Memorial Service tonight. We sang Seasons of Love from "Rent". Pretty challenging for a pick-up choir, but I think we did okay. My friend Roberta Egli was very involved in the service and did a wonderful job. We also celebrated communion with sung responses from The Faith We Sing. That was nice. And I'm really impressed with the conference musicians this year. There's been quite an improvizational style, which I love.

Okay, got to get to bed. More tomorrow.

And don't forget: Seize the Booty!!


Well, it was definitely an evangelistic message. And I don't think that's a bad thing. Liberal Christians are so scared of the very mention of evangelism that we, as Bishop Hoshibata said, "hide our light under a bushel." He said that United Methodist Christianity is a gift to the world, one that we should be joyful to share. A difficult thing, but not a bad thing. We had discussions around the tables about what it means to be a disciple. The Bishop introduced the question by quote Discipline paragraphs 120-122. Their worth a look. In any case, we talked about people who apprentice themselves to the master, set Christ as the north star of their lives, and are committed to a lifetime of working toward being a better follow and living out one's faith in the world.

The MFSA lunch had a guest speaker talking about nuclear disarmament and resistence to the US Nuclear Bunker Buster program.

Now I'm off to Laity Session.

Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference 2005

Well, I'm on the floor here at Annual Conference. We're in the Cone Field of the Sparks Center at Willamette University in Salem, OR. Conference is just about to open. This year we have wireless internet in most conference venues, so I can stay connected while I'm here.

The conference theme this year is "Boldly Making Disciples," so we'll see what that means soon, I guess. I've got an awesome seat. I'm right up front and facing directly toward the worship center. I can turn just a little to the right to see the platform.

I'm quite a conference junky, so I'll probably be reporting on this quite a bit.

So far, I've just been enjoying catching up with old friends. It's really nice to see everyone.

I also met with the District Committee on Ordained Ministry this morning. It seemed to go well.

Most later.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Graduation Sermon at Salem First United Methodist Church

Matthew 10:5-10, 16
(5) These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, (6) but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (7) As you go, proclaim the good news, 'The kingdom of heaven has come near.' (8) Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. (9) Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, (10) no sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.

(16) "See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves…"

Today's text is really Jesus' graduation address to his disciples. You see, they've been enrolled in the Jesus of Nazareth Vocational School for Spreading the Good News of God, – on the summer intensive program, so far as I can tell – and now it's graduation day. It's time for them to move out and enter the "real world," so Jesus has some parting words for them.

But it's not really a very good commencement address, is it? I mean, graduation messages are supposed to be positive and affirming. Like: "you can make a difference" or "You can change the world if you put your mind to it" or, in the immortal worlds of Rob Schneider, "You can do it." Graduation speeches are supposed to be happy.

Clearly, Jesus has not been to many of these events before. I mean, he's got it all wrong. Far from happy and affirming, this speech is downright terrifying. First, he tells the disciples that they're going to have to do things that they certainly haven't been trained for: cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Come on now… their supposed to raise the dead? Then, he tells them not to take any money with them on their trip. Now, we know that most new graduates don't usually have much money, but does he really have to rub it in? And finally he says, "I'm sending you out like sheep among wolves." What is that?!? That's not affirming, it's frightening.

No Jesus' remarks are completely inappropriate. It's no wonder his school wasn't open long. Inadequate training… terrible conditions… and now he nearly scares the graduates to death with this… I don't know… doom and gloom.

No, this is a problem. Let's look at the facts. First these disciples have already left their homes, and their jobs, and their families. They've given up everything that is comfortable and normal and familiar just to follow this Jesus character. They've got no kind of security whatsoever. All they have is their trust in Jesus that he'll take care of them. Second, they haven't been with Jesus very long. I mean, we're in Chapter 10 and the Gospel of Matthew is 28 chapters long. They've hardly even met the guy. All they've done so far is follow him around and try to figure out what he's up to. No training. No experience.

And what does Jesus do? He jumps right to the graduation. He kicks them out on their own to do all of the work, and they don't know how to do it. No, this is simply too much change in too short a period of time. It is not possible. What kind of crumby leader is this Jesus guy, anyway? He is expecting too much too soon!

But in truth, don't we all have times when we're asked to do too much too soon? At times, don't we all feel hung out to dry, abandoned, vulnerable, even like sheep among wolves?

Think of those transition points that you've had in your life – those times of change. Were you really prepared to leave your parents behind for the first time and go off to school? Or were you really prepared to leave your elementary school and go the big kid school with lockers, and bells, and passing times? Were you really prepared when you left your family home to go out into the world as an adult for work or college? Were you prepared for that first real job? Did you know how to deal with your first great love? Your first broken heart? Did you know what to do when you lost your job? Were you prepared for marriage? Were you prepared for divorce? Did you know how a child would change your life forever? Did you know how to deal with illness when it came? Were you ready to let your children grow up and live life on their own? Were you prepared for death when it came knocking? Were you prepared to live long enough to see all your friends die? Will you be prepared when you come to die? Are we ever prepared?

About a year ago I had my first experience of Field Education. I was assigned as a student chaplain in a nursing home, working mostly with residents who suffered from dementia. Now, I didn't have any experience that qualified me for this work, not a single course in pastoral care. So I met with my supervisor and shared with him my fear about not being adequate, about not knowing what to do or how to do it? I said I needed some training before I could possibly be expected to go out there and face people. He agreed and said that we would work on getting me some training. Then, as our meeting ended, he said, "I've got to go now. Why don't you go and introduce yourself and visit with some of the residents?" Had he forgotten what we had just talked about? I wasn't ready to do that. I didn't know how to talk with residents who had dementia. It was too much too soon.

I imagine each one of us could think of similar examples in our own lives when we weren't prepared to deal with the changing world ahead of us. We might have been afraid, overconfident, or completely blind to the challenge that was before us. But we have all had those times when the change was coming too fast for us to handle.

And this isn't just an individual matter. The church itself has these same struggles with change. Are we ever prepared when a new pastor is assigned? Do we know how to live together when political differences divide? How can we work together when sometimes we don't even like each other? What happens when the neighborhood, and the city, and the world change around us? What do we do when "the way things have always been" doesn't seem work the same way it used to? What happens when the things we trusted in start to fail? How can we find our way when everything that is comfortable and safe and secure suddenly dissolves and we are thrust out into a whole new existence, just like those twelve disciples who were uprooted from everything that they knew and thrown into a hostile world full of wolves just waiting to devour them?

Fortunately, Jesus gives us three big clues about this, and the first two come together: be wise as the serpent and innocent as the dove. Let's unpack what that means.

First, be as wise as the serpent. The very same Greek words used here can be found in Genesis 3, where it says, "The serpent was the craftiest of all the creatures God had made." Crafty and wise are the same word in Greek. That serpent in Genesis usually gets a pretty bad rap for being sly and tricky, for fooling humans into disobeying God. But for whatever reason, Jesus tells his disciples to be just as wise, just as crafty, sly, and prudent as that old serpent.

In other words, Jesus tells us to use our brains. We are to keep seeking after knowledge, like the serpent sought knowledge. We should keep thinking rationally about everything that we believe. We should analyze what we do to see what is working well, and what needs to be improved. Most importantly, we should never stop asking questions. So that's the first piece of Jesus' advice: keep using your brains and be just as crafty as a serpent.

Second, Jesus says to be innocent like doves. Another way of translating that is to be whole and complete like the dove. Now, if the serpent is the symbol for wisdom, then the dove is surely the symbol of the spirit. After all, Matthew has described to us earlier how the Holy Spirit descended onto Jesus like a dove.

In other words, we are supposed to keep using our spirits, just like we are to keep using our minds. It's explained more completely a few verses down when Jesus says, "don't worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit… speaking through you." We need to keep being open to the action of the Spirit in our lives. Most of all, we need to let go of all of the fear and folly that comes from thinking life is all about us. When we think that it's all about us, we are slaves to our pride when we succeed and our guilt when we fail. A great saint of the church once said, "Humility is just as much the opposite of self-abasement as it is of self-aggrandizement." Either can block us from the freedom that God offers through the Holy Spirit. But trusting the Spirit can open us up to grace sufficient to carry us through even in scary sitiations. It certainly helped on my first day at that nursing home… words came that I didn't know were there.

So, we are to use our minds like serpents and use our spirits like doves. Both are essential. We need to have both faith and learning.

Third, and finally, Jesus tells us to be like him. Did you notice? All of the things that Jesus says to do – proclaim the kingdom, raise the dead, give without payment – it's exactly what Jesus has been doing for the last six chapters. In other words, Jesus tells his disciples to: Be Jesus. Be Christ to the world.

You might have heard of Double-Predestination, but have you heard of Double-Incarnation? Double-Incarnation is the idea that, first, God's love for the World was incarnated – literally was made into flesh – in Jesus Christ, and second, that we can also be an incarnation, an enfleshment, of that same love that God has for the world. Take a moment with me to hold out your hands and look at them. See the skin and all of its creases and wrinkles. Notice how the muscles work to move the bones. See the little hairs, and the scars, and the calluses and the warts. Your hands are the hands of Christ. So use them as the hands of Christ, the way that Christ would use them. Treat everyone you meet the same way that you would treat Christ. And when people look at you, let them see Christ in you.

When we let Christ live in us, and through us, somehow the worries, dreads, angers, and fears about change begin to fade. We can face with integrity all of those scary things that life puts in front of us. We shed the self-centered false self and blossom into our true selves, made in the image of God. When we all do this, the Church becomes the whole Body of Christ, working together because of our differences, not in spite of them.

So be crafty like a serpent. Nurture your whole spirit like a dove. Be Christ to the world. And as you strive for these things, know that wherever you go, whatever you do, whatever perils are before you, whatever winds of change are blowing, God goes with you. God, Christ, and the Spirit go with us all.

Thursday, June 02, 2005


Well, I made it. I'm in Salem. I'm really glad to be out of the car. More later.