29 October 2010

Take Comfort in Rituals!

This week a scary thing happened in our home-- just in time for Halloween-- Christy ran out of her coffee.  Let's just say she doesn't drink Sanka or whatever is on clearance at the grocery store.  So I ordered the coffee, which would take a few days to arrive.  The last two mornings I found myself playing the good husband, driving to Starbucks, hoping desperately that the coffee I should have ordered "rush" but mistakenly ordered on free shipping arrive soon.  Thankfully it made it here yesterday.

I am not a coffee person, so I don't get much of the comfort and rush feelings many people get from the stuff.  But Starbucks gets it-- and well.  They've built an empire not on the product itself, but the experience.  So as I drove through to order the grande vanilla latte extra hot, I noticed Starbucks' slogan for their special coffee for Fall-- you know, pumpkin spice, etc.-- "Take comfort in rituals."  And I blinked.  Comfort with coffee, community, relationships... that's part of the Starbucks experience.  But ritual?

Rituals are, in fact, comforting.  We use the word ritual a little too often in place of more appropriate words.  For example, Friday family nights, whatever that may be in your home, is not a ritual.  Watching Cowboys games with the same friends every week is not a ritual.  They're great, familiar things, customs, or practices.  Rituals are different: "the observance of set forms or rites, as in public worship," according to our household dictionary.  When a child is baptized it is a ritual.  Funerals, weddings, regular Sunday worship are all rituals.  They are services/actions/occasions to celebrate together the grace and love of God in Christ. 

Even for those outside of the faith, ritual is still important.  When Christy and I pastored in England many years ago, I officiated at about twenty funerals and as many baptisms-- most of these were for folk who were not a part of the church.  And sometimes they acted as such in worship!  But there was still a sense in the community that having a child baptized is important-- even if everyone knew the parents would not raise the kid in church.  Having a pastor-- even one no one knew-- preside at a funeral, in the church or at the funeral home, was important.  Those services would be packed with people.  Ritual is important.  But Starbucks cannot offer meaningful rituals.

In the early days of the Christian church, every Sunday was dedicated to a particular saint.  Over time there were more than 52 "saints" of the church-- which may surprise some church people!  Ha!  In the fifth century, a decision was made to commemorate the saints of the faith in an annual-- you guessed it-- ritual: All Saints Day, November 1.  Over time the practice changed to include not just recognized saints of the faith, but others who inspired, taught, and led us in the ways of Christ.  Then it expanded further to members of the church and loved ones of members.  When people became too busy to worship on an assigned date-- November 1-- churches began observing All Saints Sunday on the Sunday closest to it.  Which brings us to this week: All Saints Sunday.

The services themselves are rituals-- so they will be as familiar as they are every week.  But some parts will be different.  Our saints will be named during the prayer time, and as they are read a family member, the whole family, or someone from the congregation will place a rose in a vase as a way of honoring this person's memory.  We will pray a litany of comfort and hope.  And a special communion liturgy will reinforce the importance of the day.  Take comfort in rituals. 

Ultimately the message of All Saints Day is for the living-- for us to grow so much in our own faith that someone will one day remember us in such a ritual.  Daniel
7:18: "But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever--forever and ever."  Amen!  Ephesians 1:11-12: "In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory."  Amen!

Today in many churches the word ritual is a loaded word, full of images of formality, emptiness, going through the motions.  And it was more than a little surprising to see Starbucks use it in their advertising!  But ritual is important--we need it-- it offers us comfort and familiarity at times when things feel disjointed.  Join me this Sunday as we once again gather in sacred space for worship.  As we remember and celebrate the lives and continued witness of the saints, and continue to grow in our own faith.   Take comfort in rituals!

15 October 2010

I am the Church. You are the Church. We are the Church Together!

Wow, it's been a full, emotional, wonderful week for me.  It began Monday with a call that Gene Fasnacht, a beloved member of PUMC who was fighting cancer, returned to the hospital.  I visited Gene that afternoon.  He knew his prospects for recovery were bleak.  But he was fine with that.  His faith gave him strength.  He was confident that this was not an ending, but a beginning.  Two days later I returned to the hospital.  Family and friends had been called in to spend time with Gene.  Believing his life was nearing its end, I asked him: "Are you afraid?"  He said, "Oh, no, no, no, no, no.  I believe the Lord will reward me for what I have done in this life."  I told him he was an inspiration to so many, how he faced his illness with grace and hope.  Gene died early yesterday morning.  There will be a viewing Sunday night and the funeral Monday afternoon, both at Turrentine/Jackson/Morrow Funeral Home in Frisco.
When I walked into Gene's hospital room on Monday, the first thing he said was: "So, the big day is coming on Saturday," referring to the Lord's Acre.  He spoke of selling tickets for many years and lamented that he would miss it this year, and someone would have to take his place.  "But that's what it's about," he said.  "We all have to do our part."  I told him he had paved the way for someone to pick up the slack.  Somehow it's fitting that Gene's last days led up to Lord's Acre.  Somehow it makes sense that so many of his PUMC friends and loved ones made it to the hospital to visit, and so many are working tirelessly to bring this annual celebration to us tomorrow.  Many gathered during the week at the hospital; many gathered last night to raise the tent and set up; many more are setting up at this moment and throughout the day; many will gather tomorrow for food, games, auctions, and fun; many will gather for worship on Sunday; many will gather Monday to celebrate a life.  Somehow all of that interconnects.

Connie Miserak, who is this year's Lord's Acre coordinator, has done of wonderful job of keeping everything in its proper context.  It's not about fund raising, it's not about busy-ness, it's not about individuals.  It's about God.  It's a day to recognize and express gratitude for the grace and goodness of God.  It's about community.  It's about church. 

Just before I left Gene Wednesday afternoon, I asked him about his Air Force ring.  I never saw him without that ring.  He said he bought it at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH.  He spoke of the pride he had in wearing it and serving his country.  Gene was also proud of his church and his Sunday school class.  Nearly every Sunday for thirteen years-- thirteen years-- he was the first on site, unlocking doors, making coffee, turning on A/C units, setting up chairs.  Few people knew about it, and Gene certainly never talked about it.  I still remember the standing ovation the church gave him when we recognized him for his service July 4.  We'll recognize him again Monday afternoon, and on All Saints Sunday, October 31.

I am proud to have been Gene Fasnacht's pastor.  I am proud to be PUMC's pastor.  I am proud to pastor a church that cares for one another, always with eyes and hearts open to new people.  I am proud to pastor a church with a mission and a purpose.  I am proud to pastor a church that joys in nurturing and shaping children and youth.  I am proud to pastor a church that honors everyone, from the oldest to the youngest.  I am proud to pastor a church that sees itself as an active participant in God's larger plan.  When we gather in a hospital, under a tent, around a table, in worship, or anywhere else under the banner of PUMC and the grace of Jesus Christ, we are being the church.  It's been a full, emotional, wonderful week for me.