“Trust in the Slow Work of God”

the-heavens-2012.jpg… and I heard him murmur…

         … “am I ever gonna catch a break?”

 Seems like life goes non-stop.  Catch a break?  Sure.  Take a break? A must.  Give someone else a break?  Duh! But, as long as we’re living and breathing, there will be just one more thing to do.  Even if that thing is…  ‘stop.’

I’ve always liked Martin Bell’s quote about the church being God’s ‘rag-tag’ army… his words stretch out over the eons from the beginning of all things ’til now…

“I think God must be very old and very tired…. God’s been on the march a long time, you know.  And look at God’s rag-tag little army! All he has for soldiers are you and me.”

 [The Way of the Wolf”]

Ministry never ends, then.  It’s a reflection of God… the one who has no beginning OR ending!  It’s hard work.  For all of us!  We all count! We all are involved.  For better for worse, in sickness and in health, etc, etc.  Someone said, ‘you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink.”  True.  Someone also said, ‘you can lead a horse to water and make it awful thirsty.”  True as well.  We live in a world where so many know where the water is.  Yet, so many now are hesitant or down-right refuse to drink.  Ministry IS hard work.  But, as the baptized people of God, we are the “water-bearers” for the thirsty world we reside in and are part of.  Are we part of the solution or perpetuators of the problem?  Do we carry our water jugs into the world?  Do we know where our water jugs are?  What’s in it for us?  Who has tossed their water jug into the streets… now broken into a thousand pieces?  Do we know the ‘source’ of the saving water we bear? It runs shallow to deep! From time to time, there are questions that need to be both asked and answered.

One of my favorite ministry lines is the one you find at the top of this page… from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin… “trust in the slow work of God!”  We must.  I do.  It’s what keeps me going; and it’s the ‘good news’ of Jesus that does this rather than the ‘bad news’ I get bombarded with day after day.  True?  Yes! And get this… on any given Sunday, less than 20% of America is in a house of worship.  That doesn’t seem to be bad news for the 80+%. They claim to have found something more meaningful on those days. On any given Sunday about 2/3 of the members of New Life (the congregation I serve) are not at worship.  But, that’s not news, good or bad… just a reportable fact, as it reflects a major trend in most churches in America like ours. People attend when it’s seems right for them with little concern of God’s commandment of keeping the Sabbath a ‘holy’ day and the rhythm and focus on the balanced life we’re promied.  So, we have to ask… ‘is this helping God’s mission?’ and JFTR… I know where they live.  God does, too!

Our Gulf Coast Synod leadership has adopted a strategy for growing our congregations… one by one… for the sake of our own selves and the world… and that is how it must be… because we will never get the world together, if we can’t get ourselves together first.  This is key to our collective and corporate future… in just a 2 page document…

This is my synopsis…

  •  God desires all people to come into a life‐giving relationship with God and one another.  Christian community is God’s hope for the good of the world;
  • God desires our congregations to grow both in spirit and numbers!  We are led by the embracing of the life of Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit.  God is making this growth happen.
  • The time is now for God’s people to embrace the urgency of our purpose in calling men and women into relationship with Jesus, for the good of the world. If not us, who? If not now, when?
  • The diversity of people is a great gift of God who wants to grow congregations that are inclusive and representative of the communities in which God has planted them.
  • Every person has an important “God story” to tell: both the good news of God’s love in Jesus for all, and the story of our own personal faith journey.
  • Effective evangelism is responsive, not intrusive. Listening closely to others guides us in effectively sharing our faith with them.

SEE LINK:  http://worshiptimesmedia.s3.amazonaws.com/gulfcoast/files/2013/01/STRATEGIC-PLAN-FINAL-simple1.pdf

Where I live, New Life Lutheran Church starts its 10th year of ministry at the end of this month. But, our roots are deeper… 1961 and 1969 and 1930 and the 1800’s and the 1500’s and all the way back to Jerusalem… JFTR…   and each person has come with God’s ‘new life’ within them or this ‘new life’ is something to be discovered and treasured as ‘gift!” So, this is our time… in Christ we’ve caught a break… come… someone else is looking for a break… come often… you may miss out on the break you’ve been looking for… and invite…invite relentlessly… and together we will trust in the slow work of God!

… and I heard him murmur…

                           “… am I ever gonna catch a break?”

Sure!  We’re all travelers… sojourners for a brief moment in time… all of us… and all God has for the time being… and  all God needs…

Brian

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Me and Johnny Ringo— filling the holes in our souls

    Bullet hole                           … and he heard him murmur…

                                                     …“I’m your huckleberry…”

 Don’t believe everything you see in the movies.  Hollywood can embellish a good story.  Old John Glenn did go back into outer space but the Space Cowboys (Dirty Harry, US Marshall Sam Gerard, President Coriolanus Snow and Brett Maverick aka Eastwood, Jones, Sutherland and Garner) probably didn’t have to as we have no evidence the Russians ever placed nuclear warheads on a satellite.   And there’s that moment Martin Luther was to have given Duke Frederick a copy of the Bible in German in person.  They never met face to face to speak (although he did dedicate the translation to him!) Even now, others are trying to disprove Noah had Transformers help him build the ark.  The crowds rise and fall on embellishment, don’t they?  We buy the tickets; the movie companies produce the stories!  Yet, as we trust the fact our hearts and minds are being seduced just a bit, we still look for that thread of truth which runs through the stories of our lives.

 In the last 20 years of cinema, the movie Tombstone remains one of my favorites.  It’s an inviting story filled with saints who are sinners and sinners who are saints!  But, despite my affinity to this saga, I rarely yearn to have lived in the days of a wild west and the carving out of the nation this side of St. Louis.  Please understand, however, how much I appreciate the folks who turned deer trails into roads, moved the rocks to clear the land, plunking post oaks in the ground and especially for all those who perfected air conditioning back in the 1920’s. Living in Texas?  YES!  Tombstone?  Not so much. It’s the steady unfolding of life and its details that makes the difference.  Couple that with an invention or two and everything’s up for grabs!  Time tells the story… not the movie makers!

Back in the 1800’s the west was more than wild; it was rugged, dangerous and deadly.  Every day was a struggle, working another pre-dawn to sunset shift to make it to the next. Just one more day; that was the goal.  That was the hope. No one was ‘working for the weekend!’  No wonder why people were hung for stealing a horse;  shot for cheating at cards and even fined for spitting on the street. (Note:  I think the person who first got that ordinance passed had an uncle or cousin who owned and operated a cuspidor and spittoon factory!) The movie, Tombstone depicted the best and worst of the west.  People came to that mining town for opportunity and chance.  A chance for a better life and people coming to that mining town to earn a living from those who were earning a living.  Economics 101.  Quality of life stuff.  Law and order stuff. Gospel and grace added in. Not much has changed.  Sounds like the town where I grew up.  And, Tombstone, like my town and yours, was filled with saints and sinners!

So, who would you be in that drama?  Old Wyatt, a reformed drunk and horse thief turned town Marshall whose name would be unknown had he lived in this generation?  The state police would have nabbed him before he ever left Arkansas.  What about Doc Holliday?  He was raised a Georgia red clay gentleman , whose teen years were interrupted by the war between the North and the South.  His move west was one of necessity and choice as his dentistry practice declined due to his patient’s dislike of him coughing in their faces with his onset chronic tuberculosis. Gee.  Then there was Ike Clanton, a ruffian who ran with a group of thugs called ‘the Cowboys,’ living by a set of rules known only to them.  Yet, there was aspiring actress Josephine Marcus living in Tombstone, too.  She was the daughter of some pretty wealthy Prussian immigrants but ran away as a teenager and was living with the local county sheriff before she met Marshall Earp!  Finally, Johnny Ringo’s name lands on the page.  He was related by marriage to the Younger brothers (cousins to Jesse James!) and solidified his ‘bad boy’ street cred with the Cowboys as well. I find a bit of myself in all of them.  But, here’s where my grumbling unfolds…

 Our world is quick to point out the good guys and the bad ones.  Rarely, do I hear people on the news talk about the good exploits of a rotten person or the perverse dealings of an illustrious squeaky clean do-gooder.  Have you? It’s always one or the other.  Never both.   And why is that important even?  Keep reading.  We all have a beginning and we all have an end.  It’s what happens in the middle that makes the difference.  So, let me get personal.  What makes you do what you do?  What is it that drives you through the day?  How does your list of motivations bring clarity to your hours and moments?  What do others see? We all have holes in our hearts.  They come and go.  Some are larger than others.  What’s that all about?  Maybe there’s a thread of truth here… maybe that’s what makes us more like one another than not.

So, here we have Wyatt and Doc talking about their nemesis Johnny Ringo.  They are all broken in some way.  Fear and death are just up the road. You may remember the conversation from the movie…

Wyatt Earp:  What makes a man like Ringo, Doc? What makes him do the things he does?

Doc Holliday:  A man like Ringo has got a great big empty hole, right in the middle of him. He can never kill enough, or steal enough, or inflict enough pain to ever fill it.

Wyatt Earp: What does he need?

Doc Holliday: Revenge.

Wyatt Earp:: For what?

Doc Holliday: (long pause) Bein’ borned.

 Video link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Joi2F60Veqo  (at the 1:00 mark of 1:50)

“Revenge?  For what?  For being borned?”  That’s what they said… or at least that’s what the script writers said they said.  How’s that for motivation?  How’s that for perspective? Regret being born?  Well, it was tough times.  It was a live or die world.  But, so is ours.  It’s still tough.  It’s still live or die.  Time hasn’t altered that reality.  It’s just our turn and with the perspective we bring to it!  Is there a line in the sand here, then?  A point of clarity?  A defining truth that helps me be less like Johnny Ringo?  A posture for life that helps me be more than what he seemed he could not be?  A way to live that evades self-destruction? Let me get personal here. Yes.  But, it comes with a price. It would have been better if Doc Holliday would have been an optometrist in order to give Johnny Ringo a new set of glasses rather than a new choppers.  Well, at least that’s how I’m seeing it.

When I was born, I came into the world with nothing.  But, I was born into a world that has everything I need.  Thus my life was full already.  At the core of my baptismal posture is my understanding that in the grace-filled waters of Jesus and the Word and promise of God attached to that water, I have been given everything I need to live well for the rest of my life.  Did you get that?  I’ve been given everything I need and the benefit of walking a life of faith and seeking to be a disciple of Jesus is knowing I have a lifetime to discover all that has been given to me and to experience joy in that journey … a joy Jesus called complete, overflowing and a joy that cannot be taken from us (see John’s gospel)!  No wonder why St. Peter called it ‘inexpressible’ joy (1 Peter 1:8)!  So, then who needs revenge?  Why would one regret being born? If my purpose in life is to be self-fulfilled then I will be in trouble.  If my life’s task is grasping for everything I think I need and in turn holding on to those things which are really not needed at all… then I won’t have much time or space for others.  Can you picture that?  Arms filled with all I don’t need?  A daily pre-occupation with protecting it all?  This only leads to a paralysis of purpose as our hearts and minds cling to all that seems to now be ours vs. a freedom of giving away everything God has provided already.  Could it be that simple?  Perhaps.  It’s battle proven, I think.  St. Augustine put it this way… “Lord, our hearts will remain restless until they find their rest in you.”  I’ve always liked that… like what my old mentor Rev. Dr. Arthur F. Haimerl preached often… “we discover ourselves as we give ourselves away!”  Carry that around a while… then let go!

At the end of the day, Wyatt Earp didn’t have the showdown with Johnny Ringo.  Hollywood said, Doc Holliday showed up instead.  But, even that re-vision is not worth trusting as records show old Doc was 500 miles away in court with his lawyer the same day Johnny Ringo died.  Gee.  But, Ringo did die…  and he died from a single bullet shot to the head.  Ringo’s pistol was in his hand as the body was found under a tree in Turkey Creek Canyon on July 13, 1882.  He was 32 years old.  Wyatt Earp lived with Josie Marcus for 42 years.  He died in 1929.  Time tells the story.

 Don’t believe everything you see in the movies.  Hollywood can embellish a good story.  They always do.  But, my story is mine and yours is yours… So, I’m going to get on with my life now and look for the thread of truth that flows through all of our stories… trusting that some days I will be more of a sinner than a saint and other days trusting God’s grace to keep alive the saint I’ve been made to be already.  No ticket required.  I’ll trust that for you as well…

And may your hearts be filled with joy…

   Brian

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GOD WORKS– even on holiday weekends

God Works CoverAnd I heard him murmur…

“there he goes again… blowin’ his own horn!

 

 

Forgive the self-promotion… I have no publicist.  So, this bit of grumbling is for the good!

First, it’s Memorial Day Weekend… have a care.  Give some thought to all those who sacrificed life and limb to provide for all of the freedom to live out our Christian faith with little fear of repercussion.  Give a care… as I have the freedom to write these words and to ask you to give a care without anyone in the government tracking me down to burn down my house.

Second, I have no publicist… so, happy Summer time… well, in Texas it’s summer…

At the encouragement of one of our New Life Stephen Ministry Leaders… I’ve been asked to put a bit more passion in promoting this book… “God Works“… it’s out, and available… it took so long… 2005 – 2013 to finally take the shape of a devotional guide… the story is in the Introduction… and what I like about it is that the book can be read and used by individuals on a daily basis… 40 days and you’re done, a couple can read it for devotions at meal time, morning or evening… or in a small group of 6-10… as good conversation emerges…

You can get it a number of ways…   here’s 4 of them…

1) from the publisher… Xulon Press     http://www.xulonpress.com/bookstore/bookdetail.php?PB_ISBN=9781628714968&HC_ISBN=

2) for Nook from Barnes & Noble             http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/god-works-brian-k-gigee/1117780985?ean=2940149008445

3) for Kindle from Amazon           http://www.amazon.com/God-Works-Brian-K-Gigee-ebook/dp/B00HFUXFXC

OR

4) Just send me a note…  here or via email…. godworks247365@gmail.com I have some copies here at my office.  $20 will get it to you… shipping included! Just send me an land address and I can put one in the mail to you…

Please feel free to share this with your friends…

Have a blessed Memorial Day weekend… God works… even on holidays!

Watch the road… this song will tell you why…

Brian

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“MY FINAL FOUR”– on hoops and Holy Week

           And I heard him murmur…

                  … Wow!  Who knew it would turn out like this?

Peace be with you!  I mean it!  I don’t write these words or ever say them frivolously…  as for some… these simple words are powerfully needed … as in something’s missing…  as in they know… something’s awry…  as in the mystery of life…  now too, too fragmented… so, to hear the words… ‘peace be with you…’ and may they BE the blessing you oh so need to hear!  OR … perhaps the words a friend of yours desires!  Timing IS everything… some say…

Image

God’s a gamer…

As I write this I recognize I am running out of time… It’s March 30th… My article for The Lifeline goes out on April 1 and that means there’s just one day to finalize the news at New Life Church for April and beyond! And if timing is everything, then I recognize, too, it’s the end of March Madness in NCAA basketball tourney and people are now all about the Final 4!  What a tourney for hoops purists!  Bracket busters did their job in the first two rounds… lots of games-down-to-the-wire… and many have agonized (except, perhaps, the Vegas betters!) there is only one #1 seed in the last weekend … but, now the big event is at hand… with a #1 vs. a # 7 and a #2 vs. a # 8.  Who knew it would turn out like this and maybe that’s why it’s ‘madness’ and  as of right now… God only knows who will win!  So, timing is everything here, too!

And as I recognize I’m running out of time… I recognize that Lent is winding down and so I’m risking here some liturgical, evangelical ‘bracketology’ and picking my FINAL FOUR for the last days of Lent and Holy Week!

The last weekend of Lent rolls into Holy Week and the crescendo there is known as THE GREAT THREE DAYS… but I need to add in a 4th…  so, here are my picks…

     #4 Palm Sunday                                                                     #1 Easter Sunday

   vs.          —–>        Good Friday   vs.    Easter  <——           vs.

            #2 Good Friday                                                                      # 3 Maundy Thursday

   V

                    Image

WINS

 I know this is a good bet!  Palm Sunday brings the hope and humility of God as Jesus rides into Jerusalem to face the powers of the synagogue and the perennial presence of the Roman government.  Good Friday wins. It’s ugly dual. Some will mock. People will cry for sure.  One soldier even changes sides!  Maundy Thursday serves up a whole new attitude as the Passover Supper is transformed into Lord’s Supper and yet the sacrifice of foot washing doesn’t hold up to the power of new life that comes from what is now Easter’s empty tomb!  It seems like forever; but it all happens in a flash!  So, then we have the #1 vs. the #2… the power of evil vs. the power of God!  Some scoff.  Some cheer!  Good Friday seems to have it won… gets out in front and darkness is all around and just when you think Good Friday gets the ‘W’… there’s a final breath… there’s an overtime… and another… and the diligent, over-powering grace and steady presence of the glory of God shows its stuff on the third day… and you knew it would happen… and EASTER WINS!

 And now… the risen Christ says to each of us… “peace be with you… I mean it… let the world know…”

 Brian

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The New N Word

Image                  “… and I heard him murmur…

( expletive term with either ending not worthy of typing here)

Forgive me for interrupting here.  I have an opinion about this.  It’s historical.  It’s not a simple topic; but in the end, necessary to address.  And not just for me; this is for all of us! It’s the “N” word.  Lots of chatter.  Thousands of tweets. It’s about our future.  I want to suggest a new one.  After all, our experiences never come in a vacuum; they are the result of the collective moments which have already occurred.  And if each day is new and our world is being transformed instant after instant, I don’t think it’s too late to help the NFL tackle this!

Here’s a bit of history.  My father.  Howard … to most he was “Bud”.  He had no father to speak of and grew up in the ‘projects’ of Youngstown, Ohio’s north side.  He had a group of best friends.  Stan was an Irish buddy.  Carmine aka “Chow” was obviously Italian. Bob had the last name of Skibo, but most remembered his grandfather scratched off the ‘inowtiz’ when he passed through Ellis Island decades before.  The other friend was Charles.  He was black.  These guys played Jr. High and HS basketball together.  They hung out.  They laughed and smiled!  I’ve got pictures to prove it!

Bud and Charles grew up in the same housing project and neither had a dad to look up to.  Charles told me that it was their HS basketball coach who saved their lives and became a ‘father figure’ to them both.  That was from about 1944-48.  Charles went off to play college basketball and became a Methodist minister.  Bud went off to San Antonio to the USAF  landing back in Youngstown for the remainder of his short but productive life.  Charles served the church in NE Ohio. My dad raised his family in the Lutheran Church and the two remained life-long friends. My dad died in 1987.  Charles died in 2012.  I had the good fortune of introducing my son to Charles over a breakfast together in Cleveland, OH in 2003.  It was a holy time, as my son was born three years after my father’s death.  It was the next best thing I could offer… to know his grandfather’s good friend…  we all learned much that day; and now you are getting a picture of what happened and why this is important.

You see, my father exhibited a certain kind of color-blindness and an acceptance of those who looked, spoke or acted different from himself… a posture carried over now from a humble childhood into the neighborhood I grew up in.  That would be 15 years later and you could smell the nationalities at dinner time all up and down the block.  The names were from all over… England, Germany, Ireland, Ukraine, Greece, Scotland and Poland, etc. … short, long, in between names and many hard to pronounce.  And yes, we didn’t always get along and yet, even as children we learned to work through our differences one way or another and no one died over it!  My father didn’t know a stranger and somehow that has rubbed off on me.  After his playing days were over, we attended many more high school basketball games.  Some of my earliest childhood memories were at the South HS Field House watching triple-headers on Friday nights!  I watched his alma mater; the Rayen Tigers win the 1966 Youngstown City Series basketball championship.  And just for fun, sometimes, and for some crazy reason, in an instant, I can still recite the names of the starting 5 players on that team.  Their names?  Dennis Gomez, Bill Nadel, Homer Warren, Danny Piluga and Donald Graham.  That would be one white guy, one Latino and 3 black players.  That was 1966.  I was in grade school! Ok, you’re getting a clearer picture still.

Maybe I’m more fortunate than others to have grown up in a literal “melting pot” community.  Sensing we are different really makes us all the same.  And I find it all being a gift and asset now living in an international community in Texas 40 years later.  Just ask my family.  Ask my friends.  Have you ever heard me use the “N” word?  Try hard.  Have I?  Ask any of my melting pot fraternity brothers from college.  We were from all over Texas and all over the country… and even around the world!  The Brotherhood of Omega Tau included Germans, Swedes, Danes, Poles, a Korean, Iranians, Mexican-Americans, Texians, Browns and Blacks. Seriously, and that was just in my four years (1972-76) attending Texas Lutheran University then College… and somehow that rubbed off on my son 35 years later, during his years at TLU, having roommates who are Latino, Black and Anglo.  Check out his Facebook page.  And maybe, for some, this is just a bit too much to consider for three generations of Gigees, but it is true.  No “N” word.  Why? Simple.

The “N” word is learned.  Sure, all words have a history, but the original N word has been corrupted.  A result of fear and ignorance.  Thus, racism is taught and perpetuated.  Prejudice is modeled verbally and with actions that reach many levels.  So, in my world, the “N” word is always derogatory.  It does not build up.  It seeks to separate. It is hostile and an outright violation of old Martin Luther’s understanding of God’s commandment to ‘not bear false witness against a neighbor.’  Now, there, I’ve brought God into the whole thing.  I did say this was historical. Have we forgotten the ‘ancients’ knew you could bury a hatchet but words have a greater power and once spoken they don’t ever go away? Have we forgotten?  The power of word?  So, I think Luther got it right when he pointed out our respect for God is what fuels our respect for those around us and we do that by building up names and reputations rather than tearing people down.  Staying in touch with God, then, is key!  It is the way we honor the lives of those around us… who also have been created in the image of God!  Thus, to rely on name-calling only demonstrates our failure to love God, self and others.  [ side note: I guess that would be a good rule of thumb for our politicians, too.  Huh?]

So, I’ve tried to listen to the voices of the NFL… I’m glad they are doing something… whether a penalty flag should be thrown or not… or whether a verbal warning should be handed out… or whether there should be a distinction between the N word ending in ‘ger’ or ‘gga’.  That last part may be a stretch but, at least they are trying to do something about this!  I’ve tried to listen, but somehow, more us will need to and more of us will need to speak out. There are no winners here and in football or basketball or politics … or wherever and be it the N word or the B word or the F word… when spoken… when the name-calling persists… we all lose!  All of us!

So, let’s ask ourselves, what good comes of using derogatory and labeling language when it comes to establishing and maintaining friendships?  Strengthening community?  The N word… or any other term…  Any good?  Any?  Even in jest!  The old adage, “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is … well… just not true. Words do hurt.  Sticks and stones do for sure… but sticks are kindling for a warming fire and stones can be used to build a home… after the bruises go away… But, again, let us listen to the ancients… that once a word is spoken… it stays out there…  and as the good words which build up linger… alongside them the cutting words do, too! The pain bounces off one after another… bringing wound upon wound regardless of one’s color, age, sex, education or economic status.  And trust me; I can make a long list of nasty names if I want. Just give me moment as the melting pot world has tried to coach me on being racist and derogatory.   I just choose not to.  My choice.  My moment of self-regulation.  So, is that the clue?  Just not using the N word?  Keeping one’s mouth shut? Refraining from engaging in the wounding of others?  Tending to one’s own heart and mind and making a choice that benefits others, honoring their hearts and minds rather than choosing to tear them down?  Perhaps.  Perhaps, it’s a start.  What do you think?

So, I’d like to add this to the conversation… and here’s what’s real… whether one is the CEO of the company or the one who empties the CEO’s trash can.  Whether one has the status of a Trump, a Gates or a Buffet (Jimmy or Warren—take your pick!) or is the one who rides the back of the garbage truck hauling off their trash… when a person gets cut… the color is red… blood red… for all of us and it hurts… and when the CEO’s 10 year old daughter is diagnosed with cancer, the pain is just as profound as the custodian’s news of his son being arrested. Or, when a Trump or a Gates or Buffet buries his mother, the loss is equal to the death of the mother whose son picked up the trash.  Pain is pain and in life it comes on its own terms.  So, we need not go around inflicting it on each other as that’s what we really have in common… the pain of life… a pain deeper than any N word or other hurtful term can produce…  a pain that life dishes out with no respect to any of us, diminishing our togetherness in ways, at times, we have no words for at all. And just as racist remarks and derogatory comments seek to separate and divide … and we experience the human groans and trauma of our souls, maybe the NFL should hand out penalty flags for all of that… for all the moments we have failed to address the deeper pains of humanity, and for our daily neglect to love God with everything we got and to love our neighbors as ourselves… to let the penalty flags fly for our individual, corporate and global lack of respect toward others refusing to believe we have all been created in God’s image!  Thanks, NFL… really!  This isn’t a simple thing!  And thanks to all seek out the best in others and lifting up the good results that come as we respect the God-image within our own selves and the God-image within others… so more will see the larger, more important moment at hand…

And that brings me to the new ‘N’ Word.  Or words…  Never.  No.  Nope.  Nah.  Nein.  Nada.  Nyet. Nary.  Not worth repeating. No word at all!  Take your pick and know our silence and refusal to repeat it won’t be the only way.  But, it’s a start and now is the time.  It is a new season for the NFL and hopefully for us. It’s the future I want to be part of.  “Teach your children well” is not just a song by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young! It’s a message we all need to sing!  I’m proud to be my father’s son and I’m proud of my father’s grandson.  We all have a choice. They’ve made theirs.  I’ve made mine.  Let’s tell the world… now

    Brian

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St. Nicholas Was a Sinner and Saint!

St Nick 2012adapted from a previous post for 2009   
 

And I heard him murmur…

         “Yeah, I heard him preach that sermon before…”

No, that’s really not the case.  Not this one at least.  In over thirty years of parish ministry have I ever repeated a sermon from before?  Yes, only once… by request… that “pumpkin seed” sermon with all the different sized orbs of orange for the end of October and Reformation Sunday about the “size” of faith needed… but most only heard it once.  But, maybe I will again… if enough people ask… and while I don’t do sermonic do-overs, I don’t regurgi-blog either… but as this week comes to a close, Black Fridays have turned to gray, the Texans are getting a new coach, and the fact that I’ve got a huge case of the Advent/Christmas “blues”  ( a good thing for me to report by the way…) I share this adapted version of a previous exposition as St. Nicholas remains one of my favorite sinners and saints of the church… and may he now be an inspiration to you!

Are there lessons for life and faith we can learn from the image of our cultural Christmas? You bet… and if you look deeply enough, you will find the face of Jesus behind that long, white beard…

So read on and may the true message of Christmas find itself creeping up on you as these Advent days wind down! The 12 days of Christmas will mean all that more as you do…

  • Pray, giving thanks to God for life, family, church & the world in which we live and serve;
  • Reflect, taking count of blessings and opportunities to share what is first given to us;
  • Thank, using that time of reflection to make a list of those who have helped us along the way…in recent days and even in years gone by and then to actually…THANK them;
  • Build Up, not being content with the way things are, but observe where and why life is the way it is and then chart out a plan to add on and build up that which is good…

And here’s a bit of inspiration to carry you into the end of Advent and the 12 days of Christmas…

Most adults are aware of the decades long crossing of traditions of Pere Noel, Weinachtsman, Kris Kringle and Sinter Klaus in order to get to the jolly of elf we’ve come to call Santa… and some are even aware that much of the early traditions flow from the events recounted in the 9th century by church historians on the life and acts of Nicholas, Bishop of Myra in the 4th century. In our day, he is now known as St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra, a city in Turkey and today known as “Lycian.” In fact, St. Nicholas’s Church still stands in the ancient area of Myra dating back to the 9th C A.D. and built over the original church in the mid-500’s A.D. His story remains a household treasure there and so allow me to share 3 things that I think St. Nicholas can re-teach the church of this 21st C generation… he was indeed a saint and a sinner…

  1. GENEROSITY—-Nicholas’ parents died when he was young. His father was a merchant in Patera (nearer the coast) and with his parent’s inheritance he went to live with his uncle who was a priest and Nicholas began studying for the priesthood. And one of the vows of a priest is to take on a life of poverty. Nicholas’ actions here are memorable as he forged ahead.

      He heard of a man who had 3 daughters of marriageable age but had no dowry to offer         the father of a suitor. Over a period of time, Nicholas came by night on horseback                 tossing a bag of gold into the window of the man’s home. Soon all 3 daughters were               married and with the last bag of gold landing in a shoe on the kitchen floor, to this day           thousands of young people place their shoes in the kitchen of their parents home on               DEC 6 (St. Nicholas Day) and find their shoes filled with “surprises” in the morning.

2. SPEAKING OUT FOR THOSE WITH NO VOICE —- As Nicholas became a priest, it was by surprise that he became bishop! When the old bishop of Myra died, the area priests and bishops had a difficult time finding a suitable replacement. One of the bishops said to the others, I will go to the church tomorrow morning as it has been revealed to me in a dream, that the first priest to enter the church for prayer, named Nicholas, will be our new bishop. So, unbeknownst to Nicholas, he went to the church in the morning for prayers and when asked by the old bishop, “what is your name?” He replied, NICHOLAS and the priest took him by the arm and led him to the others and announced, “here is the new bishop of Myra, Nicholas.” And so he began his work.

At one time, two men were falsely accused of stealing money by the mayor of Myra but it was the mayor himself and two others who were in collusion for this illegal act. Word came to Bishop Nicholas that these two men were to be executed later in the day and as Nicholas went to see the mayor to confront him of this issue of justice, it just so happened that 2 generals and a large army were passing through Myra at the request of the Emperor. The generals did not know of the two men who were falsely accused and to be executed that day. But, when Nicholas showed up at the mayor’s office (with the 2 generals and the army behind them) the mayor spat out the truth and the two men were freed. Many say, “God is funny…” but others say, “God is at work when faithful people speak up in behalf of those with no voice…”

3. HOLY RAGE —-in A.D 325, Emperor Constantine called a Council of church leaders, bishops and pastors to sort out all of the information going around about Jesus and the Church…much of which was confusing to many besides the emperor. Nicholas, bishop of Myra is said to have attended that meeting. He along with others believed that Jesus and the Father were of one substance, one person and equal to each other.

Also at that meeting was a fellow Christian and priest, Arius. He was insistent that as Jesus was born of a young virgin, and thus being human, he could not be equal to God the Father. Pastors are familiar with this moment in history…”the homoousian controversy” but as Arius was making his case, Bishop Nicholas got up from his seat and for all practical purposes gave Arius a shot to the face that was noticeable enough to get him kicked out of the Council of Nicaea for the remainder of the meeting.

You see, Nicholas did two things that were wrong…A) he struck a brother in the faith and B) he struck that brother in front of the Emperor which was REALLY against the law of the day…and as a result, Nicholas was stripped of his bishop’s robes, and locked up under guard for the remainder of the meeting. However, when the Council finally formed it’s statement of faith, the one we know as the NICENE Creed, Bishop Nicholas’ passion ruled the day as Arius was tagged ‘heretical’ in his theology, Jesus and the Father ARE one and he was given his robes back to return to his work in Myra and became in essence the hero of the Council of Nicaea. HOLY RAGE…something we hear little of these days…

Luther knew holy rage when he nailed 95 statements to the Wittenberg Church door. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew holy rage when he marched on Birmingham and Washington, D.C. Nelson Mandela knew holy rage and did so by quietly living out his time in jail only later to become his nation’s president and an advocate of peace and cooperation amongst peoples. I think most of us can say, “we know it; but we don’t see it that often…”

Aren’t those good lessons and good attributes for our life today? To show generosity for Jesus’ sake; to speak out for those who have no voice and to lay claim to a holy rage that none of us would remain contented until every knees would bow and every tongue would confess that Jesus is Lord of their lives…

May you have a blessed 12 days of Christmas …

And, o yeah… if you want to join me in this time of the “blues”

click here… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbsJds6Tw08

I’m not selling Acura’s… just getting ready for Christmas and willing to preach THAT sermon and tell that story over and over!!!

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

   Brian

 

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