Wednesday, January 27, 2010

JEREMIAH 1:4-10 The Reluctant Prophet
“Then I said, Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy...

These days I teach the first course for second career students who are entering the Course of Study at the Saint Paul School of Theology. These students are middle age and beyond. One aspect of the course is to have the students reflect on what finally brought them into the pastoral ministry. A good number of them will say “well we thought about ministry when we were sixteen, but just put it off. There was first one thing then another”. These people are in good company because in the Hebrew scriptures many of the people that God calls protest or find some excuse to stay out. Mose, Jeremiah, and Jonah to name a few, protest long and loud.
Tex Sample once told some of us that if the call is real, it will be like having to throw up. You can put it off for a time, but it will happen. I think the call to ordained ministry that is real is irresistible. That is why I some times say to students “if you can possibly stay out you should”. After all this is hard work. According to Jeremiah we are called to “pluck up and pull down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant’.
These “come lately” students are a real blessing for the church. They are eager to learn, willing to read books, and they serve in small places where hope is thin. And do you know what? They don’t seem all burned out and exhausted. And, wonder of wonders, in those tiny congregations where they are appointed, new life emerges.
Some years ago I had a student who was seventy two. She was a retired Librarian with a Master’s Degree. I asked her why she was entering the Ministry at her age, after all the COS takes about five years to complete. She said that in her little town the D.S. was planning to close the church. She told the D.S. that she would talk if the people wanted to come and listen and the D.S. was wise enough to allow that to happen. Soon the church began to grow and there were babies needing baptism and the people were asking for the Lord’s Supper so she said “I decide to come over here to get my union card punched”. Then she said to me,
, “what are you doing here?” I had just turned seventy. I said “well I suppose I am here to help you with that union card.”
The ministry of the ordained is an amazing gift from God. Why not go find a few of those sixteen year old kids and encourage them not to put the call off too long. Preach well! The Memo is now available on my blog at 

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

From: cottonbillcotton
Subject: Memo for Jan 24
Date: January 19, 2010 7:35:27 AM PST
To: "Paul burrow" , "art mcclanahan"

Memo for Sunday, January 24.
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6,8-10
A return to Watergate
When the people returned from exile to find the temple in rubble, no wall around the city and Jerusalem less than golden, there was something of a merger of church and state--a rebuilding of city, temple and people. The governor, Nehemiah, and the priest and scribe Ezra got together for a very special occasion. In an earlier repairing of the temple someone had found an old scroll--they took it to Hulula the Prophetess to determine if it was authentic, probably Deuteronomy, and Hulula declared it authentic. (Do you find it interesting that Israel had women in such high places of authority )?
Ezra will read the law to the people gathered before the watergate from early morning until mid day. They were hungry for story. There is weeping, rejoicing and that day was declared holy because an exiled people had found their story again.
All of this is to say when the people lose their story they are no longer a people. Preaches are custodians of the story. That is why biblical preaching is so important.
And that is why we are not free to ride our favorite hobby horse too often.

Luke 4:14-21 First Sermon
In the Gospel for the day Jesus preaches his first sermon. Do any of you remember your first Sermon? I certainly do. I came home from two years in the Army ready to enter the ministry. The committee, remembering me from MYF days, was not so sure about me. That committee did its work with great care in our church. They wanted to hear me preach. In that first sermon I told them about the prodigal son, the ten commandments threw in a bit of Revelation and looked at my watch and five minutes had expired. I sat down. The committee was gracious so they let me in.
It was was not the same with Jesus. He was from Nazareth, and according to some scholars Nazareth was such a bad place that it is seldom mentioned except in derogatory ways. “Can anything good come out of that place”. Jesus read from Isaiah, verses well known, but then he goes too far. He wishes for them to know that the long wait is over--the Messiah is here. Can?t you just hear them saying to each other, “isn?t that Joe and Mary?s boy”? What has be been smoking”? Well we need to wait until next week for the rest of the story...

The call: " We were dreamed for a long time before we were born. Our souls minds and hearts fashioned in imagination. Such care and attention went into the creation of each person.... The great law of life is: be yourself. Though this axiom sounds simple, it is often a difficult task. To be your self you have to learn how to become who you were dreamed to be. To be born is to be chosen. There is something that each of us has to do in the world. The call is to find it." To Bless the space between, by John O'Donohue Doubleday, New York 2008 , p.135.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Memo for Second Sunday after Epiphany
January 17
John 2: 1-11 “On the third day there was a wedding at Cana...”

I think it is nice that the first miracle in John’s gospel has Jesus turning water into wine--and lots of it. Who needed all of that wine? He filled six stone jars each holding 20 to 30 gallons. That is a lot of sauce!

A friend tells me that some scholars think that the disciples crashed the wedding party and drank all the wine and that is why Mary brought the problem to Jesus. There are lots of strange aspects to this story. Would any of you dare call your mother “Woman”? That’s how Jesus addresses Mary. And why did the event happen on the third day? Why was Jesus attending the wedding? And who got married?

I once had the President of the old Temperance League in the church I served. She was sure that the wine was grape juice. She took me to task after I said to the congregation that being Christian is about the business of turning the water into wine. I was trying to say that the Christian life needs to be about joyous abundant living and wine is a symbol of such joy. The Temperance Lady was not having any of that.

Paul Tillich once was asked about our practice of using juice rather than wine at communion. Tillich said that we should never dilute a symbol. (I know all the reasons to justify using the juice and I would not argue for change. I do think, however, that Bishop Welsh had a good thing going).

The wedding at Cana is the first of seven miracles in John’s Gospel. The writer looks back through the Easter event to help us see Jesus as the risen Christ--the new wine- that the old wine skins will not hold. And there is joy. He will say that he came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. Scarcity, the rule of the day then and now is restored by abundance. What if we decided as the church to be the new wine--the confident people of hope and joy. Do you have “the joy, joy, down in your heart?” Well let it out--Christ is risen. The epiphany light shines in the darkness. Go tell it on the mountain.

New Resource
On the third Monday in January we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was assassinated On April 4, 1968.

To honor King’s life I have been reading Just Us or Justice? Moving toward a Pan-Methodist Theology by a young teacher at the Saint Paul School of Theology, F. Douglas Powe Jr., and published by Abingdon Press.

Powe makes the case for integrating African American and Wesleyan theologies and reveals not only our sorry history but also the new possibilities for reconciliation and reunion. His chapter on Engaging Friendships using the sources of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Fine, and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple to provide models for friendship is just wonderful. A good book for the Church Library.