Sunday, May 27, 2018

"Ask the Pastor" Sunday "Sermon"

Sermon 5/27/18

Ask the Pastor

About Theology: 

I have heard it said that we are not to worry, as God has everything in control. I also heard that to worry about anything is a sin against God. However, being a parent...I just can't help but worry about how my children are doing sometimes. When they hurt, I hurt. Is worrying a sin?

Matthew 6:25-27: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”
I think this is the main passage where we hear in the Bible that we shouldn’t worry. I don’t think Jesus talks about worry as a sin per se, and I don’t think the passage is so straightforward as it might seem (as is the case with most passages!) Jesus is tying his words about worry back to his opening comments in this passage today about having more than one master. We can tell this because of how this section about not worrying starts. In our New Revised Standard Version bibles, we just get “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life.” But the original Greek is even more specific. It says, “Because of this I tell you do not worry.” So the whole section reads: “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other; or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. Because of this I tell you do not worry.” So, in context, what does this passage mean for us, that because of not being able to serve two masters, Jesus tells us not to worry?
            When Jesus talks about worry, the word used is merimnate, which means more literally to “be preoccupied with or be absorbed by.” (1) When Jesus speaks of worry, he’s speaking of something that preoccupies us, absorbs our attention, takes our effort and energy and heart’s direction. In fact, in this way, Jesus is equating worry to something that’s very close to idolatry. Idolatry is when we take anything that is other than God, and give it the place of God in our lives. That is what Jesus finds problematic: when we give anything other than God what should be God’s place in our lives. Now, I think we still do this pretty frequently: give over God’s place to other things in our lives – and we definitely should always be careful. But what you say in your question: “When they hurt, I hurt,” sounds more like compassion than like giving concern for your children the place of God in your life. And compassion is something Jesus demonstrates all the time. He wants us to cultivate that feeling in fact, and extend it to all people, so that we are unsettled in our spirits whenever we see others hurting, and are moved to respond in loving action. 

How do we sit patiently for God to show us what he has in store for us? (I am not a patient person, so this is difficult)

Oh boy – this is a tough one! I am not always very patient. And God’s sense of time is clearly so different than ours. You’ve heard me talk before about kairos and chronos. Chronos is the Greek word for regular time, but kairos is the word that means “just the right time,” or “in the fullness of time” or “God’s right time for action” we might say. When God acts in our lives and in the world, it is always in kairos time – at just the right time. I have seen what happens in my life when I try to force my timing onto God’s plans. I always planned, for example, to do my doctoral work at Drew, where I went for my seminary work, after I had been in ministry for five years. I would go back to school and get my PhD. It was my plan. I did not really consult God about this, to be honest. I just kept doing whatever I could, taking the opportunities I could to make this happen. It finally took a trusted advisor of mine at Drew asking me some hard questions about what I wanted to study to realize that going back to school wasn’t the right thing for me at that time. Later, years later, I went back to get my Doctor of Ministry – a different degree than I had planned at a different time at a different school, and it was so right then. I only hope that I can learn from past experiences to strengthen my patience by remembering that I can trust in God. I don’t think that means we have to be passive – sometimes when we are being patient, we can also be doing things that make our hearts and lives more ready for where God will lead us. And sometimes, I think impatience can be holy too! I think, for example, about the work of Martin Luther King in the civil rights movement. Perhaps Dr. King was patient with God, but he was not patient with injustice, and he was not patient with white people who kept suggesting that he was trying to rush making changes. And I think that his call for us to be more impatient with injustice was a prophetic call. 

God's Sovereignty - I think folks would benefit from hearing something about this concept.  I have observed that those with deep faith when faced with life circumstances that are very difficult (parents of a child with cancer, losing a spouse at a young age, etc.) find comfort and acknowledge God's sovereignty. So, what is it? How does one come to claim it? What difference does it make?

This is a complicated question! Sovereignty, when we use it in everyday speech means “supreme power or authority” or “the authority of a state to govern itself or another state.” When we apply this term to God, we mean most basically that God is the supreme ruler, the supreme authority. To that basic premise, I think most Christians agree, but beyond that, there are some wildly different feelings about God’s Sovereignty. The crux of the dispute is about whether God, as supreme ruler, is controlling everything that happens in our world or not. Is everything determined? Is there a fixed outcome? Or do things happen that God is not controlling. We touched on these issues earlier this year in our “Why” series when we were asking about why suffering happens, and we were talking about the gift we believe we have of free will – God gives us the gift to make choices, even when they are choices that are not what God hopes for us, and even when those choices end up hurting ourselves or others.
In our Wesleyan tradition, we believe in the Sovereignty of God insofar as we’re talking about the ultimate triumph of good over evil. We believe that goodness triumphs, that love wins, that God’s redemption of the world cannot be stopped. But day to day, our Methodist heritage points us toward careful consideration of how we talk about the causes of the suffering we experience. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, deals with this by speaking about God as a loving parent. In his sermon “On Family Religion,” Wesley writes, “It is [God] that makes the grass green and the flowers grow; that makes the trees green, and the fruit to come upon them!  Think what [God] can do!  [God] can do whatever [God] pleases. [God] can strike me or you dead in a moment.  But [God] loves you; [God] loves to do you good.  [God] loves to make you happy. Should you not then love [God]!” So, is God sovereign? Yes, but we give thanks that God who could do anything chooses to love us, and choose to let us choose in return. 

About the Bible: 
What does scripture say about women leading/pastoring a church. I get asked this by some fellow Christians that believe only men should pastor a church.

        First, asking “should women be pastors?” requires us to think about how we interpret the Bible. We have to ask two initial questions to interpret passages that speak to women in ministry: what does the author of a text mean? Where they speaking about a specific situation or giving general advice? That’s part 1. So when Paul says things like that women should “keep silent” in churches, is he reacting to a particular situation he was encountering? He was writing a letter to the Corinthians and telling them a lot about how to be a better faith community, correcting a lot practices that weren’t building up the body of Christ. Was there some specific incident of women speaking up that had caused division? We can’t know for certain. We don’t have all the information. But we wonder. Notice – Paul doesn’t say there that women just shouldn’t be pastors, preachers. He says they shouldn’t speak in worship services. Even traditions that don’t support women as pastors usually incorporate women into worship leadership. If we’re basing no women as pastors on these verses in Paul, how can we let women be heard in worship at all? 
Part 2 is asking if something is contextual and bound by the cultural limits of the day, or if it is meant to be an eternal truth. For example, elsewhere Paul says that women shouldn’t have their heads uncovered, or wear gold, or wear braids. We’ve (in most traditions) decided that these were cultural instructions, rather than God’s eternal word on something. We wear braids, and gold, and have uncovered heads, and think nothing of it. How do we decide what is cultural and what is timeless? It’s not easy! We do it carefully, with study, with discernment, with prayer, with wisdom from people of faith, etc. John Wesley, founder of Methodism, said that we have to look to the whole scope and tenor of the Bible to interpret individual verses. So when an individual verse is hard to understand, we look to the main message of the whole Bible to figure it out.
         So what does the whole Bible tell us about women? That men and women are made in the image of God. That in Christ there is no longer male or female – Paul says that too. We ask: Are women preachers in the Bible? Well, who was the very first to announce the gospel, the good news that Jesus was not in the tomb but alive, the news that is the cornerstone of our faith? Well, of course, it was the women! The first messengers of the good news. Paul frequently refers to women who are leaders in his community in the early church. The Bible names several women as prophets. We see Deborah leading the whole military as a judge in Israel. Clearly, women have authority and can lead in a variety of roles, even if it was not common. 
         Women have been serving as full elders in The United Methodist Church for more than sixty years now, and as preachers for long before that. I think another way we answer this is by “looking to the fruit.” Under the leadership of clergywomen, is the gospel being preached? Are people meeting Jesus Christ? Are they becoming disciples? Are they growing in faith? I’d like to answer that with a resounding yes! 

Annetje talks about covenants in the Bible, ending with this: The Davidic Covenant is the one I am really confused with. I am not going to be belabor the details. I know that it an unconditional divine promise with King David to establish and maintain the Davidic dynasty on the throne of Israel. At what point was the covenant with David made? Why was the covenant made with David?

There are many covenants in the Bible, from Genesis, through the time of Jesus. A covenant in the Bible is an agreement – with legal overtones – between two parties, and primarily between God and God’s people. In the covenants of the Bible, God says to an individual or group: if you promise to do this ________, I will do this _________. The this of our part is almost always that we promise to follow God and God’s commands and God only. In return, God promises different things. To Abraham, for example, God promises that his descendants will be more numerous than the stars. God is always faithful to covenants made, but humans don’t have a very good track record. The biblical record shows that we often break our covenants. God responds to our covenant breaking in anger, frustration, and sadness, but God always wants to try again.  
God’s covenant with David comes shortly after David solidifies his kingship. David has his house, and now David is about to build a temple for God, a house for God, since to this point, the law, the tablets of God’s commands for the people, which represent God’s presence and are stored in the ark of the covenant, to this point they’ve been kept in a tent. David wants something more permanent. But God isn’t interested in that. God has always been on the move, God says, and is doing just fine without a house, thank you very much. 
God continues, promising to David to give the Israelites a time of rest, and promising that David’s line will be established forever. Why does God do this? Well, this is hard to answer! It’s hard to know why God would make this promise in the first place. Frankly, David is not more holy than any other figure in the Bible. He makes a lot of mistakes, and he can be spiteful, and he acts in selfish ways that hurt others more than once. But the Bible does show that David seeks to be faithful to God’s commands. He listens to God, and worships God, and serves God. So that might be part of the why. Of course, it is not always descendants of David who end up ruling Israel. But instead, as Christians we understand that God is faithful to the covenant through Jesus, who the gospel-writers take great pains to show us is a descendant of David. The reign of Jesus is eternal, not bound by any earthly limited-time kingship. Again, why does God do this? As usual, the answer seems to be grounded in God’s love for us. For our good, of course, God sends Jesus and gives us a ruler of heaven and earth who will never fail.   

In the New Testament Jesus promises everlasting life, but don't see this in the OT - is this a promise in the OT too?

*I answered this question without specific notes. 


About Ministry: 
What is your least favorite task of being a pastor?

        There’s not a lot that I truly dislike that’s part of my work as a pastor. Maybe spending long hours at meetings where we feel like we aren’t getting anything “done” and where we leave frustrated – I imagine you all don’t like those either! 
         I also am, at heart, a conflict-avoider. I’ve worked really hard to be better at managing and confronting conflict when it is necessary for a healthy church. But I really hate it when people are in conflict, especially when people are hurting each other and being hurt by each other. I don’t like it when something that I have to do or say or some decision I have to make as pastor will cause hurt and pain. So, I try not to avoid conflict, but I also try to find ways to manage conflict that can be nurturing. 

My question is do you personally share in the joys and hurts of your church members? How has your experience and education as a pastor factored into this? Do you need to distance yourself at times to renew your pastoral strengths and skills? 

Yes, absolutely, I share deeply in your joys and hurts. It is one of the most sacred parts of being a pastor that I get invited into peoples’ lives in such a deep way. People share their highest highs and lowest lows with me, and it is the absolute most holy part of being a pastor. But it is also true that to lead as pastors when people are in crisis, we have to also be able to set the emotions aside in some ways, in order to be able to comfort, lead, share wisdom, help with discernment. I know that nurses and doctors and counselors go through this kind of struggle too. There is a difference, I think, between practicing compassion, the deep-gutted responsiveness to the lives of others that Jesus calls us to, and making the experiences of others into my own. The time I spent in a program called Clinical Pastoral Education, CPE, where I interned as a chaplain at a hospital, was key in helping me do this. 
So, yes, self-care is so essential! Jesus models this, finding time to pray, or be with his closest disciples. I give thanks that you all are so supportive of my vacation time, my renewal time, my days off, my time going to continuing education events or spent with colleagues. These times renew my spirit and give me strength to share in all that you experience. 

1. When did you know that Jesus spoke to you to ensure your Faith was strong enough to make Him a true part of your life? 2. - Test of Faith? What obstacles did you overcome that strengthened your Faith? 3. - With all the hypocrisy in the world, now and throughout life, what did you do to ensure His word was meant to be shared... through you? 4. - How do we as disciples or followers of the Christian Faith ensure that our honest life fulfills our duties as members of the United Methodist Church? 5. - What is your favorite bible verse?

         I would say I still don’t know if my faith is “strong enough.” I relate to the man in the scriptures who says to Jesus, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!” When Jesus talks about faith in the Bible, he says that even with a little faith, faith like the size of mustard seed, that even that little bit of faith is enough to do amazing things. 
         But when I think about faith and my role as pastor, I think about two things: When I was exploring my call to ministry, people would sometimes give this advice – “If there’s anything else you can possibly do, do that.” What they meant by this, I think, was that you should only follow a call to ministry if it is something that is calling to your whole heart, life, and being. If it is sort of a toss-up say between being a pastor and being a teacher – become a teacher. I think they meant this to indicate the seriousness of the work of ministry, but also to help me figure out my call. I think, in some ways, for me, being a pastor was the only way I could continue to explore my faith and grow in my faith. I couldn’t imagine a life where I was doing anything else but spending my whole heart and life trying to figure out everything I could about God and Jesus and the meaning of life, to be grandiose but totally honest. 
         When I was in seminary, at the end of my first year, I had what I would call the closest I’ve ever come to having a crisis of faith. This is a pretty cliché time of seminary to have a faith crisis – I hate being cliché, but apparently I was not immune. In seminary, professors challenge you on pretty much everything you hold to be true about God and God’s work in the world, which is so necessary if you’re going to be a pastor, I think, that testing of your faith, the deepening and broadening of it. One of my professors in seminary casually mentioned – not even in class, but at a dinner with some students – that he didn’t believe in heaven, at least not in traditional terms. He was not the first person I’d heard say this, but for some reason, I was just knocked off my feet by his words, devastated, really, because despite considering myself a person who reflected deeply on scripture and challenged myself, I had just never really wrestled with my own thoughts about heaven. What did I believe about eternity and why? Eventually, wrestling with this question, my faith became stronger because I finally had to reckon with the fact that there were things that I didn’t and couldn’t know about God and God’s ways. What I can rely on is God’s goodness, and my faith that whatever God has in store for us is good. So I can wonder, always, but I don’t have to worry. I’m a work in progress on that though. 
         Martin Luther, leader of the Protestant Reformation, said that we are simultaneously saints and sinners. The church and world will always be full of hypocrites. But the best place for us, hypocrites and sinners, is in the church. As Jesus says, those who aren’t sick have no need of a doctor, and those of us who are perfect – who believe we are perfect – can have trouble finding room in our life for Jesus. So yes, church is a great place to come to be surrounded by saints and sinners all at once. We come, I hope, because we know we need God. And we come so that we can be accountable – to God and to one another. We don’t practice our faith alone, but always in community. It is never just us and God, but us and God and neighbor. 
         My favorite verse is John 10:10. This became my favorite verse one summer in high school. I felt like I “discovered” it. I thought it was just so fantastic that Jesus wants us to have a full life, an abundant life. We can get awfully focused on the thou-shall-nots of the Bible, and less on what we are called to do, and the joy that Jesus wants us to experience.

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