Monday, July 30, 2007

Wheat, Wine, Water, and Wonder

All that we do is empowered by God and all that we have is a gift of God’s Grace. We need God if we are to do and have anything. The sacraments remind us of this fact. The title of James White’s book on the sacraments explains in a nutshell the meaning and significance of the sacraments: Sacraments as God’s Self-Giving. He states, “Roman Catholics and many Protestants consider sacraments to be divinely given means of grace wherein God’s self-giving occurs here and now… they affirm that God does act anew in the sacraments.” During the moments of sacrament, more than in any other part of the service, God is pouring out God’s grace. God is giving God’s love. God is giving away part of Godself to the individual receiving the sacrament. During these moments we have an opportunity to respond to God’s grace by receiving the elements. They are the greatest acts we truly do “in remembrance of Him.”

The sacraments are rather ordinary. The elements are merely bread, wine, and water. Yet, through these ordinary items God does the extraordinary. (I regret that this is not what I was taught as a boy in the Southern Baptist Church.) Wesley called them “ordinary means of grace.” He wrote, “By ‘means of grace’ I understand outward signs, words, or actions ordained by God, and appointed for this end—to be the ordinary channels whereby [God] might convey to [humankind] preventing, justifying, and sanctifying grace.”

I, like most people, can relate to the ordinary—the plain and simple, not the spectacular or fancy. We are reminded through the sacraments that if God can use common bread, wine, and water, then God surely can use us, humans, to be a means of Grace. God will work through ordinary humans to accomplish God’s perfect will.

Baptism is perhaps the most significant act in the life of the Church. God does much through the gift of Baptism. Baptism signifies the washing away of sins, cleansing of our souls, new birth (regeneration) in Christ, incorporation into the community of faith, and the transformation by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps most importantly, at our baptisms we are initiated into the ministry of Jesus Christ. God not only claims us at our baptisms but God also assigns us a mission.

Stanley Hauerwas and Bishop Wil Willimon write in their book Resident Aliens, “When we are baptized, we (like the first disciples) jump on a moving train. As disciples, we do not so much accept a creed, or come to a clear sense of self-understanding which we know this or that with clear utterance. We become part of a journey…” Rather than being a one time event, our pious ritual, our baptisms are the point at which we join the journey. Jesus Himself makes this point when He explains that He is constrained by His baptism: “I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what a stress I am under until it is completed!” (Luke 12:50) Not that Jesus needs to be re-baptized, but that He has the duty to live out the vow of the baptism which has already taken place.

Because this is God’s gift and because this gift is merely the initiation of a new member on the journey, no one should be rejected for baptism. I affirm the church’s stance on baptism for anyone at any age. Baptism is also an act of the outpouring of God’s divine Grace. It is a communal event that has practical results. Baptism marks the initiation into God’s catholic Church. For a child, it marks the initiation into a process of learning about and participating in God’s Church and God’s Grace wherein confirmation is crucial so that baptized children rightly “remember” their baptism.

Because the sacrament of Holy Communion, like the sacrament of baptism, is God’s gift, all people are welcomed to God’s open table. Everyone needs the spiritual nourishment of Holy Communion. Wesley wrote that, “This is the food of our souls: this gives strength to perform our duty, and leads us on to perfection.” While I affirm our rejection of transubstantiation, in the Eucharist the story of faith comes alive in word and action. We not only remember Christ’s death, we eat of his body and drink of his blood. We remember His ultimate sacrifice for our sins and then, as we pray The Great Thanksgiving together, we “offer ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to [God]." When we participate, God is including us in God’s story today.

It is my desire to make the celebration of the Eucharist central to our worship. I will seek to teach a United Methodist understanding and explain the sacraments to members of all ages. I strongly endorse This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion as passed by the General Conference in 2004. I also support the report’s recommendations and seek to fulfill its directives. As the report suggests, I encourage my congregation and will encourage future congregations to adopt the weekly celebration of communion as part of our ordinary Sunday service.

In the end, the sacraments are what we accept by faith. They are a gift from God given to the Church. Unbelievers may even find it peculiar the way we perform the sacraments. They are difficult to explain, but once they are experienced one knows they are real. “When the Bible speaks of mystery it refers to a way in which God is disclosed to whomever God chooses. It is a self-giving that transcends human ability to understand fully, yet it can be received in wonder and awe. God’s self-giving is mysterion, beyond our power of intellect.”[6] The sacraments are mysteries, but these mysteries are wonderful, ordinary gifts of God’s grace. For them I am very thankful.

Monday, July 23, 2007

My blogging hiatus... I know you missed me

Things are busy. I have never been as busy as I have been since the Senior Pastor at the church left in May for sabbatical. In fact, I told the part-time, retired visitation pastor and my SPRC chair that I am starting to feel a little burn. A couple weeks ago I had a meeting every night and a wedding rehearsal on Friday (Thank God I didn't have to officiate the wedding on Saturday), Of course, then I preached Sunday. Last week was VBS. We are planning a concert (Twila Paris on August 6) and that is taking up much time. As well, the Trustees are investigating the purchase of the building next to our new office. On top of all of that I am preaching more and the ~$700,000 project in the lower-level brings its own set of problems. We are also planning a celebration concert with Ken Medema in September for the Senior Pastor and his wife. I am also planning the All-church picnic as well as a young adult event each month for the young adults (and their kids) at the church. Further, I am trying to coordinate a young adult group to stay active and get some of our great ideas for the young adults in our Conference to become a reality.

I have been asked to be on the board of Kokomo Urban Outreach, teach a lay speaking class this Fall, and be on a Kairos Prison Ministry team. On top of that, I have e-mailed my DS and Bishop Coyner and asked to be part of the young adult team that will work with the Imagine Indiana implementation team. I have not made firm commitments to the former three and would give up one or two to make latter happen -- I feel that young adult input is important to the future of our conference.

Family stuff includes: My wife still working 2 nights a week (baby sitters for the children when we are both out); early July was my oldest daughter’s b-day; this past week was my youngest daughter’s b-day; family from out of town came the week in-between for their birthday party; My 9-year anniversary was mid-July and I am still trying to plan a night out for my wife and I. And of course, my wife is pregnant and I try to go with her to the OB appointments

So my life is CRAZY.

PS: I just finished Unbinding The Gospel, from the Bishop's Bundle. And this past weekend I read Confronting the Controversies by Adam Hamilton. Don't ask me how I find time to read. The Unbind the Gospel is great book.
Cost of the War in Iraq
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