I recently had to do this assignment in a Preaching class in school. I had a lot of fun trying to be creative. I hope this story offers a modern look at a very well known story.
Just then a Methodist pastor stood up to test Jesus. “Jesus,” he said, “what exactly do I have to do to go to heaven?” He said to him, “Well, what’s written in the Bible? What did your Sunday School teachers tell you?” He answered, “Love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “that’s right. Do that and you’ll be saved.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who exactly is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was traveling from Buckhead to Downtown Atlanta, and was jumped by a bunch of gang members, who mugged him, beat him, took his wallet and car, and left him half dead. Now by chance a prominent lawyer from the city was riding by; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Then there was an influential minister of a very large church passing by. When he came by the place where he lay in pain and saw him, he also passed by as though he didn’t see him. But then a Muslim man of Arab descent, while traveling to the nearby Mosque for prayer, came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. He went to him and bandaged his wounds as best as he could to stop his bleeding. Then he put him in his own car, brought him to an emergency clinic, and sat all day with him until he was seen by a doctor. He didn’t leave his side all night. The next day he took out his credit card, gave it to the lady at the desk of the clinic, and said, ‘I’ll pay whatever his medical costs are; if he owes anything else just send me the bill.’”
Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who was mugged and left for dead?” The pastor looked at him, hung his head dumbfounded and responded, “The Muslim man who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
September 16 marked the 1-year anniversary of my blog. It’s strange to think it’s been a year now of banter in cyberspace about life, faith, God and all the things I don’t get about it. I do want to thank those who stop by from time to time to read my stuff. It really does mean a lot. Below I’m posting an edited version of my very first blog post from Sept. 16, 2009:
To be “Covered in the Master’s Dust…”
This was an ancient idea that an apprentice used as an illustration of how close to follow behind a master. The thought was that you were to follow so close behind your master in an attempt to mimic their every move and thought that you would be, literally, covered in the dust the master kicked up as they traveled along the road.
I have been a fan of blogs for awhile now. Make no mistake though, I’m not a fan of those weirdo blogs where some guy is sitting in the basement of his mother’s house ranting and raving about the President or some sports team using logic only he and his cat can understand while the rest of the world thinks he borders on certifiable. No. I am a fan of the idea that aspiring writers can practice in this new, 21st Century way of journaling.
The purpose of this blog is to help me find a place to take those thoughts and ideas and feelings that seminary life conjures up. Also, now that I’m working in the local church and move toward graduation thoughts about life in the local church will be a popular place of inspiration. I hope to discuss topics of faith in an honest and open fashion. I’m a life long member of the United Methodist Church and now an Associate Pastor at a United Methodist Church. I’m also a self-appointed critic of the UMC. I’ll talk about issues in the United Methodist Church under the category called “Church.”
I’m a self-labeled Evangelical Christian. Again, don’t be confused. I’m not one of those weirdo, turn-or-burn, judgmental fruit cakes the mainstream media likes to portray as Evangelical Christians. I believe in the Kingdom of God. I believe we all have a role in fulfilling its eventual coming. I believe it is also our job to recruit others to be apart of this Kingdom building project that, for better or worse, God has entrusted the Church to undertake. It’s not our job to be intrusive with our faith so as to shame or rebuke another who believes different but we are also not called to apologize or hide Who we are serving. These, among many other ideas, are what I will discuss regarding faith in the 21st Century.
God. Where do I begin there. Just as the subtitle of the blog suggests I have more questions than answers. There’s not much to expand on there. I believe the tenets of the faith-God is the Creator who was revealed in Jesus Christ, etc. But how God acts in our lives today and where God is is a big mystery to me. More than likely posts on God will serve to raise more questions than offer answers. We all have experiences of God ranging from the big and dramatic to the simple and sublime. Seeing and interpreting these experiences is what’s so tough about faith.
So there you have it, sports fans. The beginning of a blog-life. I hope you enjoy. Raise your questions, enjoy my links, but don’t expect many answers. I’m still figuring all this out for myself with each day…
And so a year later we’re not much closer to answers. But I’ve got a pretty good list of questions compiled now-1 whole year’s worth to be exact.
I stood there dumbstruck. I thought, ”what do you mean you haven’t felt good about your experience visiting with us?!” This was my experience at about 10:50am this past Sunday. It was right before the service began and I was making my way around the sanctuary greeting folks and enjoying the empty small talk. I’ve been at my first appointment for about 3 months now. I’m growing more and more comfortable with my job, surroundings, and all the pressures that come with the vocation of ministry. You could say that I’m getting ready to switch things into a cruise control mode. That is, until my encounter Sunday.
As I made my way to her pew I recognized that she was a return visitor to our congregation. I couldn’t remember her name so I asked it. She smiled and told me her name. I proceeded to ask her how her experience as a visitor had been since she had been visiting for a couple of months now. Keep in mind that we’ve been very busy establishing a process of keeping up with visitors and following up so as to not lose track of them. As I stood there expecting the colloquial response of “fine” I got more than I bargained for. “Well…” she began, “honestly it hasn’t been that good.” She might as well have kicked me in the shin or taken my lunch money.
Then she rattled off her points of disconnect. “You don’t tell me how to get involved. You do a great job advertising yourself but you don’t tell me how I can be active here.” Aha! It hit me! How often do we bemoan the fact that we want new people in our churches? How often do we complain that it’s so hard to get new people to join us much less get involved and active in our ministries? Now here’s the kicker: How often do we put up barriers (even without meaning to) around our various activities and leadership positions treating them as though we operate off some system of seniority where you have to put in the years before you can be involved?
It was an enlightening experience to say the least. It’s easy to get comfortable in one’s success and praise. Even the most well-deserved success should always inspire an unsettling persistence to continue growing. In ministry our mark is high. Our standards should be even higher. We can always get better and improve on what we do no matter how successful we see ourselves. Needless to say, I had plenty to chew on for the rest of that worship service.
A funny thing has happened to our notion of Worship. When did worship become solely about style and personal taste? Have you ever talked with anyone who labeled themselves either in the camp of “traditional” or “contemporary” worship fans? Many of those who like to adamantly support one style normally do so with a distaste of the other. “We don’t do that kind of music here,” I was told by someone who cherished traditional, liturgical worship. “Worship has to do something to you, and I’m sorry but that kind of worship is just boring,” said a friend who was gun-ho for contemporary style. Isn’t it funny how the easiest way for us to dislike something is when we have a heightened love for something else?
Dictionary.com defines worship as the reverent honor paid to God or some sacred personage or to any object regarded as sacred. Many Christians pride themselves on attending worship on a weekly basis. So why is it then, after so many years of “contemporary” worship being an alternative to “traditional” worship, do we still seem to have this dividing line between Christians regarding style of worship?
**an aside: I use quotes because contemporary really is a useless word once it reaches about 20 years of being in our vocabulary. I mean really, how long is something allowed to be called contemporary before it’s just another tradition?**
As far as traditional worship goes, it has a rich history that should be observed. Too often we as modern people look to throw away that which is old because we have this strange notion that we exist in some sort of historical vacuum. We don’t like older things because, whether we want to admit it or not, we often think our way is better because we’re so much more “advanced.” We have liturgy in the church that is hundreds of years old. These are the words of people who actually died for their faith. To throw away liturgy would cut our churches off from its vital connection to its past. It kills any possibility of our past guiding and inspiring our present and future.
That being said, we have to take worship seriously. We can’t offer the same old tired orders of worship. This style can get stale and fast. We have to find ways to help breathe life into our worship with the guidance of the Holy Spirit that through our songs, liturgy, and prayers we can indeed experience the presence of God. This means we can’t look down our noses too far at contemporary worship. There is a creative and impulsive quality often found there that traditional worship organizers can learn something from.
As far as contemporary worship goes, creativity speaks volumes when talking about how worship can form our faith. Legend has it that Charles Wesley put many of his hymns to local bar tunes. These powerful words about God and His grace were able to speak to a demographic who otherwise may have never heard and been impacted by Wesley’s words. Contemporary Worship, when done effectively, offers intimacy and freedom in the worship space. And this opens the door to opportunities of personal conversion, community building, and other formative activities of faith.
That being said, contemporary worship walks a fine line between being powerfully formative and powerfully self-serving. Worship is not Prozac. It can’t be viewed as our pick-me-up. We can’t depend on the adrenaline rushes of a good song to carry us when the winds of life howl all around us. We can’t go to worship looking to cry or be uplifted or even brought to the mountain top of euphoria and call that the extent of our faith life. Dean of Duke Divinity School, Dr. Richard Hays, says it well …often our churches have in fact acquiesced to a lowest common denominator religion that offers faith without discipleship, inclusivity without transformation and blessing without mission.
At the end of the day the best traditional worship will offer a community that challenges us to be better disciples. In doing this we seek out newcomers who may not understand the strange liturgy of worship and help guide them and, in the end, help open the doors of faith that the Holy Spirit might form them into disciples. On the other side of the equation, effective contemporary worship will do more than just worship. It will offer small groups and accountability circles to delve into the life of faith so that the power of the music might translate into powerfully formed disciples of Jesus Christ.
A funny thing happened to our worship alright. It somehow, somewhere became about us. Worship is not worship unless its about the Triune God. Worship isn’t some sort of evangelistic tool meant to coax people into our churches either. It’s what forms us as Christians. It makes us think about odd things like loving each other, forgiving folks who’ve wronged us, and making peace when it’s much easier to make war. It forms us into something we otherwise wouldn’t be. Anything short of this just isn’t worship.
I admit it: I hate change. My grandmother accused me of being born a 70-year old man. I’ve never liked change. Sure, it sounds good when you talk about it. But when the time comes to actually act, change scares me. It stresses me out. I don’t really know why it’s this way for me. Is it one more reminder that I don’t have total control in life? Is it some manifestation of some childhood baggage? Who knows.
Last week my wife and I packed up our little apartment in Atlanta and moved our lives and everything we own to Macon, GA. As I watched the movers slowly take our boxes and furniture it occurred to me how odd it was that rooms that were being emptied had, only 2 weeks earlier, been perfectly in place (well as perfectly as I can keep things). These rooms and the placement of these objects held in the middle of their bond very fond memories. And within minutes, I realized that these memories were different-things were no longer bonded in their place as they were meant to be. Did I mention I hate change?
I am in the process of ordination as a United Methodist pastor. With this ordination comes a vow to uphold the itenerancy of pastors within the United Methodist Church. This means this particular process of moving isn’t the last time we’ll ever move. The bad news for a “change hater” is that stuff will be removed from its proper places again. Life will be disturbed and we’ll do this stressful process all over again. But the good news is, before all of that takes place, memories will have to be attached to where my stuff is placed in our new place. Life will happen here. We’ll have good days and bad days and many more days just in-between.
As we walked out of our little apartment we didn’t say any sentimental words. It was hot outside and we were ready to eat some lunch. But I walked down our stairs toward our cars for the last time in that apartment complex with the best part of this moving process-an amazing person to share the stress with. And I remembered that we made friends in Atlanta we’ll keep forever and we’ll inevitably make friends in Macon that will join our small club of “life-long friends.” So maybe change isn’t so bad? Well it still is! But if coping with that which I hate is made better with people, then I kind of like my odds of getting through this ordeal over and over and over again.