Ash Wednesday Reflections

“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Ash Cross

      These are the words that echoed the sanctuary as I placed an ashed cross on the foreheads of each who came to recognize their own mortality and sinfulness. The two times in life that the cross is traced on the forehead is in the anointing with oil after baptism, and the ashes that are traced on Ash Wednesday. Both which remind us of our death to our mortal selves. The only thing is, in baptism, we are in the liturgy reminded that although there is a death in the mortal body, there is a shared resurrection in the spirit.

      Yesterday, I worshiped in two Ash Wednesday services. One I felt uplifted and although penitent, was ready to be sent back out into the evil world to serve the only Being that matters eternally. In the other service, I simply felt penitent. The services were alike in many ways, but in the latter we foregone the time of Holy Communion. I believe it was this Grace that was missing from the “dismal” service. The closest resemblance I felt to this uplifting Spirit was the people’s response to these words: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”  as they responded: “In life and in death, I belong to God.” I believe that both services focused on the dual themes of sin and death, but it was the one with Holy Communion that it did so “in the light of God’s redeeming love in Jesus Christ.” (United Methodist Book of Worship, p. 321) My hope and prayer is that those who attended with me leading last night does not find themselves in the dark despair of hopelessness in our own sinfulness and evil, but rather heard that even in our sinfulness and despair God loves us so much that he sent his Son and that is where we will be focusing our time during this Lenten Journey at Red Valley for worship as we focus on the 24 hours of Jesus’ life around the crucifixion.

         In this regards may we be reminded of the words of Invitation from last evening: “I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to observe a holy Lent: by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word.” (United Methodist Book of Worship, p. 322)

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Letting Go of the Strip Pole and Clinging to the Cross

Recently I have come across a blog of yet another Preacher’s Kid, PK as I have been so long referred. As I have been reading her story I am amazed at her honesty and openness, a story that maybe would make many in the Church “Uncomfortable” or “Uneasy”. And it is her story that grabs my attention because it is a story of taboo. We as a church when made felt to be uncomfortable or uneasy tend to say, “Let’s not talk about this” or “She’s not meant to be here.” And sadly, as Joy is so desperately trying to inform the Church is that Jesus says otherwise. Jesus says bring to me your sick, your desolate, your abandoned, your hookers and prostitutes, and let me, who is God, show you how God loves. How God forgives. How God’s grace is sufficient for ALL things. ALL people are welcomed to the Church and if her story makes you a bit uneasy or uncomfortable, then maybe we as the Church of Jesus Christ need to remember once more the purpose of his death and resurrection. Thank you Joy for sharing your story and my hope, my prayer, is that the church may learn how to better represent Christ to a very broken world.

You can follow her blog at:

http://joymorgan1.wordpress.com/  

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The God of Impossibles

Click Here to hear from Elizabeth, the wife of Zechariah and our Sermon from last week. Elizabeth was played by Beth Hathaway.

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Just Added to the Blog

Just added the Newsletter for the Henry Fork Mission Center!!!

Check under the links on the side, under the Danville District to find the Newsletter.

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Sexism is alive in the Church

12 Reasons Why Being a Male Pastor is Better

priestA few days ago I wrote about the issue of women in ministry. While I don’t think I have ever hidden my views on the topic (I married a female colleague, after all), I also have never written about it on the various blogs I have maintained over the last few years. And maybe recently, I didn’t see it as my place to comment on women in ministry. I am still not sure… I don’t see it as my place to comment on anyone’s “right” or “place” to be a pastor. If anything, I think it is my place to talk about my experience of being a Lutheran pastor or a millennial pastor or a Canadian pastor. It is also to my place to talk about being a male pastor.

So let’s talk about that.

Being a male pastor is kind of likeLouis C.K.’s description of “Being White”. (Warning: The video contains offensive language).

Like Louis C.K. says, male pastors aren’t better. But being a male pastor is clearly better.

Like all the advantages of being white and male in North America, there are advantages when it comes to being an ordained pastor. Here are some of the obvious ones:

  1. No one ever defines my ministry by my gender. No one says, “wow a male pastor or a man in ministry, good for you.” I always get to be just a pastor. I don’t have to constantly live with a qualifier in front of “pastor”, and I am not forced to bear someone’s inappropriate shock that I am my gender and I am a pastor.
  2. People expect me to be direct and tell them what I think. They want me to lead them somewhere. I am rarely challenged or expected to defend or make a case for my ideas. I don’t have to apologize for having strong opinions or constantly defend my ideas.
  3. People think twice about fighting with me. I always have a leg up in conflict, bullies find it harder to push my buttons because I have fewer to push. I am never automatically second class because of my gender, so conflict is on equal terms or tipped in my favour. I don’t have to suffer being called “boy” or “son” as way of dismissing my point of view, and I am not accused of being divisive if I disagree with something or anything.
  4. People are used to pastors of my gender. There are no congregations that are unsure of male candidates for ministry, no parishioners who think it is alright to say something like, “I will never be buried by a man.” I don’t have to endure questions about whether I will take paternity leave, or what will happen when I have kids.
  5. People almost never assume that I have a particular gift for ministry before they know me. They don’t automatically think that my gender is suited to particular areas of ministry like preaching or administration. No one assumes that I am not good at pastoral care or being nurturing. People don’t say that I have the gift of speaking with a voice that men can relate to.
  6. I don’t have to worry about my safety. I don’t think twice about being alone in the church or if I am safe on my own. If a man asks to meet with me one on one, I don’t have to question my physical safety or his motives. Men don’t try to share the peace with me by hugging me (or grabbing my ass).
  7. No one assumes that I am the church secretary or the pastor’s spouse. I am never told, “You don’t look like a pastor or you are took young to be a pastor” even thought I am built like a football player and at times have had long hair and a beard like a hell’s angel. And I have a tattoo. And I am 30 (two decades younger than the average age of pastors in our denomination).
  8. Churches are built for men. Pulpits, altars, pastor chairs, vestments are all designed my size and body type in mind. I don’t look ridiculous because the standard garb of my profession is made for my gender, and I don’t look like a cross dresser in a clergy shirt.
  9. All the pronouns are for my gender. God is a he. Jesus is a he. Pastors are almost always referred to as he or him or his. I don’t have to correct people because they never use the wrong pronoun to refer to me.
  10. Being male is the norm in the church. I didn’t have to take classes in seminary about men’s issues, there is no post-modern male theology, male pastors where never brought in to speak about being male pastors as if it was special or odd or a novelty.
  11. I could join the Old Boys Club if I wanted to. Leadership in the church is still overwhelmingly male, and there are no glass ceilings for male pastors in the church. No one pretends it is, “all in good fun” to make sexist jokes about my gender, and none of my colleagues treats me like I am second class because of my gender.
  12. I don’t have to walk on egg shells in ecumenical situations. I don’t have to justify my position and call to my conservative colleagues, because they all have male pastors in their denominations. I am not an oddity or the token male at ministerial events.

Hopefully, by now you have realized that this list is facetious. All the advantages of being a male pastor are only advantages because women suffer the opposite. So many of my colleagues have to contend  with these annoyances, insults, and frustrations each day because they are the reality of life in the church. This fact makes me very angry. I pray for the day when these will not be male-pastor advantages, but the reality for all pastors, regardless of gender.

*** Special thanks to my wife, Courtenay, for helping me write this post, since she knows much more about the struggles women in ministry face than I do. You can follow her on twitter @ReedmanParker ***

So what do you think? Are these true? Are there more advantages to being a male pastor? Share in the comments. 

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C&E Christian

This morning I gave a sermon on our need to serve as Christ served. In my sermon though, I had talked about how if we give of ourselves, our time, our money, our talents; if we give of our full selves we must take time to receive. Otherwise we will burn out. Well this afternoon, as I was driving home from lunch, I had yet another epiphany. I was thinking about the sermon I had given this morning and had thought about this relationship of “receiving” and “giving”. I had talked about the need to receive God’s grace, give the grace we have recieved, and then repeat. Kind of like the slogan for RISE UMC, “Receive Love, Give Love, Repeat.” As I was meditating on that it hit me why we have so many C & E Christians. If you don’t know what I mean by a C & E Christian, I am talking about those who say they believe in Jesus, but only show up to the services for Christmas and Easter. I thought about the proclaimation at these services and it made so much sense to me why they never seem to return.

The Candlelight Service

       If you have ever been to the Christmas Eve service you know what I am talking about. The candle light service is a service that many look forward to each year. It is the service that I especially was drawn to as a young boy, especially one who liked to watch the fire burn. During this service though, we would hold our candles and the pastor would talk about how the light of Christ had entered into the world on that first Christmas. And how as we share that light we are to not force it on others, but offer it. By the end of the song, typically “Silent Night, Holy Night”, the room is full of light from the many candles burning brightly. This is truly a great testament to the light of Christ that enters into our lives when we see Jesus on that Christmas Eve, but it becomes problematic when we fall trap to the understanding that I receive this light and then am done. It becomes problematic when we feel as though Jesus is a one stop shop. Our relationship with God is more than a one night stand, but it is something that is on-going and must be brought back again and again. John Wesley preached a sermon on the duty to constant communion and I believe what Mr. Wesley meant by this is that our relationship with God is on-going. It is a relationship of receive and give, and repeat. It is counter intuitive to the receive the light of Christ and be done. We must receive the Spirit day to day, hour to hour, and minute to minute. We also then must give the fruit of that same Spirit day to day, hour to hour, and minute to minute. Our Christmas goers in this candle light service often leave thinking, “Huh, this Jesus thing is simple, I received the light of Christ and now I am complete.” But in reality, that relationship needs ongoing attention.

         Easter Service

      And then, these same Christmas goers, for one reason or another come back on Easter Sunday. Although they have missed the whole week before of the Sunday Jesus comes into Jerusalem with the praises of the people, the Monday of Jesus in the temple courts teaching against the marketplace temple, the foot washing and the last supper shared with his disciples on Thursday, the Friday morning that Jesus was hung on the cross, and the Saturday of observing a time of silence and mourning while Jesus is laid in the tomb. They miss all that. The week of the dying love that Jesus shared in order to have a relationship with them. But yet they come to the Easter celebrations where the message received is that because Jesus is alive so will also you too for eternity if only you accept Jesus in your heart today. Forget your past, and who cares about what you do in the future, but if you accept Jesus and the resurrection, you’re done!

              What a similar message to that of the Christmas candlelight service. There is no receive love, give love, repeat. It’s all about receiving! It is true that the receiving is vital, we must receive God’s divine grace. BUT, “We LOVE, because Christ first loved us.” There is a response to receving that love. And that response always is a response of sharing those gifts, those treasures, that love that we received in Christ. AND THEN, we must receive and give, receive and give, receive and give. Hence the reason weekly worship with our faith communities is so vital to our relationship with God, brothers and sisters in Christ, and the world around us. If we as pastors happen to talk about that response of giving, we more than likely forget to include the repeat. We need to be again receiving that gift of God’s grace over and over again. And in the C&E Christian sermons, we as pastors forget to talk about that repeat to our receive and give relationship with Christ!

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Where are you God?!

An all too common theme that we see throughout the Psalms is this congregational cry of,

“WHERE ARE YOU GOD?! WAKE UP FROM YOUR SLUMBER!”

It is a cry that for one reason or another in this day in age we do not hear from the lips of our 21st century congregations. Are we too proud to cry out to God? Are we too afraid that God could not handle our true feelings and emotions? Are we just not mature enough in our faith these days to really lay down the laments of our people. I certainly know that each day I read the news there seems to always be something that had happened that qualifies the church to cry out to God on their behalf! Are we afraid of being complainers to the Lord of Creation?

This line of thought came to me one early morning, about 4:30 or so as I heard my 8 month year old son crying out for help. He had stuck his arm through the railing of his crib and had awoken with fear that he could not get his arm back out. As I heard his cries through our video monitor, I immediatly sprung into action as I crossed the room in the dark, went through the hallway, and entered his room. The expression on his face was an expression of relief. I un-trapped his arm and placed him back in the middle of his bed. He immediatly rolled over, and feeling the safety of being watched over, went back to sleep. The crying out, as I sat there and looked at him, was instinctual. He was not taught to cry out, but being made in the fashion he was by our creator he was made to express his needs in a lament.

As we grow up, somewhere along the way forget how to cry out. We are afraid to awaken our guardians or parents. I don’t know about you, but I for one was the child that would walk into my parents room at about the age of 10 and just stare at my father until he woke up. If my staring didn’t do it, then I would begin to whisper as softly as I could, “Dad.”

<Nothing>

A little louder, “Dad.”

<Nothing>

And this conversation would continue until finally I surely terrified him. Apparently I am not the only child who has had this experience as well known comeidan Bill Engvall tells a bit of his own experience of being the father who is awoken in this manner.

(Start at 3:37 till the end)

This is where I though believe many of us are in our relationship with our sleeping Father. We are for some reason just too scared or too immature to let our Heavenly Father know that we are in need of him. We have forgetten how to cry out like the Psalmists of the past. Maybe we think that God can’t handle it…but until we learn to become real with our Father in heaven, never will we be able to mature in our faith. Until we allow God to respond to the real needs of our lives, we will have to settle for a metiocre relationship that is superficial. It is in our crying out the with the deep hurts that we experience do we begin to let God into the stuff that makes up who we are. And it is then, and only then, does God really allow the Spirit to transform our lives. Because our lives are not made up of the superficial things that go on at skin level, but the real stuff that keeps us alive is deep within.

I believe this is why a true sign of maturity in a person is the ability to ask for help when it is needed. To be able to cry out, “I need your help!” This is precisely what the mature in faith have done and have shown so well to us in the Psalms of lament.

Psalms of Communal Lament:

  • 12, 44, 58, 60, 74, 79, 80, 83, 85, 89*, 90, 94, 123, 126, 129

Psalms of Individual Lament:

  • 3, 4, 5, 7, 9-10, 13, 14, 17, 22, 25, 26, 27*, 28, 31, 36*, 39, 40:12-17, 41, 42-43, 52*, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 59, 61, 64, 70, 71, 77, 86, 89*, 120, 139, 141, 142

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