28 May 2010

I spent last week in Nashville for the Festival ofHomiletics, a preaching conference I try to attend every year.  Roughly 1300 preachers from acrossNorth America come together for four days of lectures, workshops, and worshipservices.  I had never been to Nashvillebefore, so I was more excited for the Festival than usual.  The one place I had to visit was the Parthenon-the only exact size duplication ofthe Athens Parthenon in the world.  Ihope to go to Greece someday; Nashville will have to do for now.

 


The Parthenon was originally built for Nashville'scentennial celebration in 1897.  It was atemporary, plaster structure, meant to inspire the public to appreciateart.  The Parthenon was so popular that apermanent one was dedicated in 1931.  Asa history guy, I loved walking through the exhibit of the pictures of theoriginal exhibition.  Hundreds of people,all well dressed, were packed around the Parthenon, taking in all the differentexhibitions.  The pictures of thatturn-of-the-century era reminded me of the pictures I see whenever I visithistoric churches.  Often panoramic, theblack and white pictures feature children dressed all in white, the men wearhats, the ladies gloves and print dresses. Hundreds of people, sometimes.  Thepictures may hang on the wall or they are encased in glass.  Our church has a wonderful display of itshistory next to the elevator.  Have youever stopped there to check out some of our church's story?  Did you know that in 2012 we'll celebrate our110th anniversary?

Last Sunday was Pentecost, the anniversary of the birth ofthe Church, when the Spirit descended upon the original disciples as theygathered in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. The disciples were transformed at that moment to apostles-from studentsto teachers-and immediately began to share the good news of Jesus Christ.  God added more and more people to the mix, andtheir witness expanded from a neighborhood to the city to the world.  This is what we celebrate at Pentecost: theenduring witness of the Church, from its beginnings to today. 

It's fun to walk through history, whether a huge structurelike the Parthenon or a few bookcases in a hallway.  Checking out the pictures, reading theletters, inspecting the memorabilia, is great. But the past is not all there is. There's the future to pray about-where is God leading us?  And there is the present-what is God doingtoday?  Sometimes it's easy to get stuckin the past-or the future-and ignore the good things already happening.  I am so proud to be part of a church with agreat past.  A great present.  And a great future.   The Spirit continues to blow!

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on all of us!

14 May 2010

Endings/Beginnings

I love endings.  I usually get very excited as the end of a big project, or class, or... fill in the blank.  I guess the reason for this is the opportunity to celebrate some achievement.  For example, last Sunday was Confirmation Sunday.  We confirmed ten youth-- three by baptism-- as official members of PUMC.  It was the fulfillment of more than six months of classes, field trips, prayers, and holy conversations. 

Two nights ago we celebrated the end of Disciple Bible Study.  The class began meeting weekly in mid-August, and me for 34 weeks together.  At the end of the class we shared the gifts we perceive in ourselves and heard from others their thoughts.  Then we shared goals for continuing in ministry at PUMC over the next year.

Last summer Christy and I traveled to Washington, D.C. for my graduation for my doctorate.  As wonderful as the three years together with my classmates were I could not wait to get to the commencement ceremony-- at the National Cathedral, no less-- and when the service was over, I was ready to move on to the next thing.  I didn't want to hang around too long.  I bet most of our graduating high school and college seniors are feeling the same way!

This Sunday is the day we commemorate the Ascension of Christ-- when he was lifted to heaven after commissioning the disciples to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.' When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, 'Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven'  (Acts 1:6-11).

We affirm the importance of Christ's Ascension every time we read together the Apostles Creed: "he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God..."  The Ascension is an ending of Christ's ministry on earth.  He was born, grew up, taught, healed, and loved, died, was raised, an now he returns to his rightful place with God, where he intercedes on our behalf.  It is the ultimate fulfilling of God's will and Christ's gracious life. 
Why do I love endings?  Because most of the time they lead to new beginnings.  Disciple ended the other night; a new class, and possibly a second course, will be offered this fall.  Confirmation Sunday marked an end to the class, but a beginning in the confirmands' relationship with Christ.  Lots of our regular programs are facing endings for the summer: Faithful Friends, Mission Possible Kids, PUMP... but there is the promise that they will begin again in a few months.  If Christ's ascension is an ending, it is also a beginning for the disciples: they are commissioned and sent into the world in ministry.

As we face this "season of endings," let's ask ourselves a few questions: What is God calling us to begin?  What are our expectations for the new thing(s) God is doing?  How do we see ourselves-- and our church-- as part of the ongoing creative work of God?  What role will you-- yes, i am thinking of YOU-- play in PUMC's upcoming new beginnings?

One last thought on the Ascension: The Gospel of Luke (24:44-53) tells us that Jesus took the disciples out to Bethany, and before returning to God, he blessed them, and as he was blessing them he was carried from their sight.  How do you think they responded to his Ascension?  Sorrow?  Nope.  Luke uses words like: worshiped, joy, and blessing God.  The disciples somehow understood the Ascension not as just an ending, but also as a beginning.  And not for someone else-- they understood their place in the ongoing work of God.

Do you? Do I? Does PUMC?

(Say "YES!")

07 May 2010

Iron Us!

The summer movie season gets in to high gear today with the release of Iron Man 2.  As a kid, I was much more interested in Star Wars than just about everything else, so I never got involved with comics of any kind, least of all Iron Man.  So I was as surprised as anyone at the phenomenal success of the movie Iron Man, which was released two years ago to tremendous reviews-- from comic geeks, general moviegoers, and critics.  It's nearly impossible to bring all those opinions together.  But Iron Man did it. 

I saw Iron Man in a wonderful cinema in Washington, D.C., a one-screen movie house from the 1940s.  I sat in the balcony and was just blown away.  A year or so later, Christy and I watched in on DVD-- her first time.  We both loved it.  She then issued an edict: you may not see the sequel without me Now, it's out.  And as millions go to see it today and over the weekend, we'll have to wait until both of our calendars match with an open date.  Who knows when that will be!

 
Iron Man is the story of Tony Stark, a billionaire arms dealer who supplies the military with their most high-tech and lethal weapons.  He lives a reckless lifestyle, without discipline or boundaries.  He flies the globe in his personal jet, has no real relationships, lives from moment to moment.  And this is just fine with him, until he is kidnapped by insurrectionists, who use the weapons he designed to further their own ideology.  To escape, he creates a suit of armor loaded with guns and bombs.  Upon returning to the US, he develops the suit further and becomes a super hero.  Every guy's dream!

Makes for a great movie-- and I'm sure Iron Man 2 will be fun too-- if you see it, keep your opinions and thoughts to yourself!  But here's the real deal: as Christians we have access to our own super suit, that gives us power:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil... Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:13-17).
So faith in Christ, not our own abilities, is what we need to be strong and powerful.  If only we take up what is offered to us.  Knowing this, what exactly is a Christian powerless to do?  As each of us continues in our own journey down the road of faith, how do we confront the challenges we face?  With fear and anxiety?  By relying on our own abilities?  Or with faith in God, who gives us power to withstand anything?

Iron Man makes for great entertainment, but Tony Stark can only go as far as his own ability takes him.  If anything he builds fails, he's out of luck.  I think each of would hope we'd live in faith, remembering the scripture: "I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13). We won't be superheroes, and movies won't be made about us.  But lives will be changed-- starting with our own, then spreading to others. 

Then we'll be real iron men, women, and kids!