Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Wisdom from Helen Fielding

Just finished reading Helen Fielding's (Bridget Jones author) latest book, "Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination." That's right, it's not even out in the US yet, I ordered it on EBay. It is, like her other works, great fun, but I didn't expect to be quoting it on this site!
But I came across this passage near the end (ignoring gendered language):
"The corruption of the good by the belief in their own infalliable goodness is the most bloody dangerous human pitfall. Once you have conquered all your sins, pride is the one which will conquer you. A man starts off deciding he is a good man because he makes good decisions. Next thing, he's convinced that whatever decisions he makes must be good because he's a good man. So you've got Bin Laden hitting the Twin Towers and Tony Blair invading Baghdad. Most of the wars in the world are caused by people who think they have God on their side. Always stick with people who know they are flawed and ridiculous." (pg. 260-261, UK version)
An interesting little bit of theology . . .

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Post Easter

Transitioning out of a season that has taken so much time and preparation is difficult, both for the pastor and for the congregation, I think.
As hard as it is to be with Jesus on the journey to the cross, as hard as it is to watch or take part in the denial, the betrayal, the trial, the supper, the beatings, the crucifixion - we can do that part, we can manage it.
And we might even be able to get through the joy of Easter Sunday itself, to really experience the Resurrection.
But the season of Easter lasts 50 days! 50 days . . . We say we are "Easter People." Well, what the heck does that mean? How do we do that?
I don't know about your churches, but after a record Easter attendance, church on the 18th was pretty empty. Everyone seemed tired out - enough God, enough challenges, enough resurrection. It's discouraging to me - did they not get it after all? Or, perhaps more accurately, they got exactly what it all means and found it too difficult!
I don't exempt myself. I learned this year why most pastors vacation right after Easter. I've been exhausted! I just mostly want to sleep all day. So it is a struggle to be in this Easter season. Maybe that's right where we should be . . .

Thursday, April 15, 2004

John 20:19-31 - Second Sunday of Easter

I've had such a hard time with the sermon this week - not sure why exactly. I think I can't get over the two seemingly separate pieces of this passage from John 20:19-31 that are both so important but hard to tie together.
The first part really throws me: "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." Most of my exegesis and research so far has found pastors skipping over this section altogether in favor of the familiar "Doubting Thomas" vignette. But I can't - I get hung up right here. "Preaching Peace", one of my favorite sites by Jeff Krantz and Michael Hardin, seems to offer the best insights on this section, talking about being made free to forgive.
Who do you need to forgive? What does it mean to forgive someone? I don't think we can take God's place here as ultimate possessor of forgiveness, but it's actually as much for us as for others when we forgive. Is there someone who has not forgiven you for something? Whether or not you were at fault, how does that make you feel?
The Thomas section is all about faith and believing. In a way, I wish the segments had been switched. Because the question of faith is a question of responsibility: What does it mean to have faith? Faith and consequences. I think faith implies action, responsibility, direction of behavior, as James likes to suggest in his epistle: Faith without works is dead. We have faith: enough to act like Jesus acted? Forgive even those who would crucify us?

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Maundy Thursday

the phrase that keeps jumping out at me in the john 13 text:
"share with me" - that will be the title of my message.
jesus says, "unless i wash you, you have no share with me."
we are called to share wtih jesus during holy week - share in the resurrection, yes. but first we have to share in this dark night of betrayal and abandonment.

Monday, April 05, 2004


I'm currently preparing for our Maundy Thursday service at St. Paul's. As I was reading through the United Methodist Book of Worship, I was surprised to see that a service of Tenebrae was included as an act within the Maundy Thursday liturgy. I have always thought Tenebrae was only part of Catholic services, perhaps much like my congregants thought Imposition of Ashes on Ash Wednesday was only for Catholics. You learn something new every day...
Anyway, I think I might try to include this in our worship on Thursday. I like the poignant symbolism of stripping the sanctuary of the banners and the candlesticks, etc., draping the cross. I think visuals communicate so loudly sometimes. Not sure how the congregation will react, but I think they will appreciate it. I'm looking for a different Tenebrae liturgy than is in the Book of Worship however. They have the reading of the Passion narrative accompanying the extinguishing of candles, but we just heard that in church on this Palm/Passion Sunday, so I'd rather try a different approach. Let me know if you see one out there somewhere!

**update: read my most recent post on this topic here, complete with resources i've found since originally posting this message**

Thursday, April 01, 2004


reading How Much is Enough? Hungering for God in an Affluent Culture by Bread for the World's Arthur Simon. I'm really enjoying it. It's not complex - very readable, very straight-forward. But it doesn't need to be complex to be challenging and convicting. I feel very convicted after reading a few pages at a time. Simon quotes Reinhold Niebuhr: "the most natural expansion of the self is the expansion through possessions." (pg. 67)As I sit here in my HUGE parsonage, wondering how to fill the half-empty rooms, wondering what things to buy simply to have it seem more full, I find I am, even at my self-given middle-class label, exactly who Simon directs this book at.

Some other excellent excerpts:
"The average U.S. child watches three to four hours a day [of TV], engaging that child for more time than any other daily activity except sleeping. If you do not think the gratuitous sex, violence, humor, language, and coarse behavior shown on television have a formative impact on your children, then the tobacco industry want you to know that smoking odes not cause cancer, the NRA that guns don't kill people, and advertisers that commercials have no impact on consumers." (pg. 55, emphasis mine)

"so the problem is preoccupation with mammon more than the amount of mammon. Poor people are apt to worry about food and clothing, rich people covet much more." (pg. 62)

And finally this gorgeous poem Simon quotes, written by Pamela Stephenson. (pg. 71)

Always a barrier,
Preventing me from loving.
Little boy standing by my side,
Beautiful hair, hideous sores on his legs,
Open wounds, I don't want to pick him up,
Yet his arms reach up to me, asking to come.
I let him struggle, hoping he would go away.
But he persisted, until I could no longer refuse.
Reluctantly from behind, I pulled him to my lap.
Only then
I saw that he was blind.
My heart went out to him, my shell was cracked
As he clung desparately to me.
Close as we were it was not close enough.
I help him tightly and resting my head on his,
Wept in despair.
Blind in Calcutta - waht hope for him
With me so blind?
Observed in him, the child in me
And wept again
With joy and pain
Experience the mystery of a Love that overcomes.