Monday, October 24, 2005

Rites of Passage - A Day in the Life

We've just finished the annual birthday barrage in my family.

I now have a teenager (boy, do I). More on him in a minute.

I have a 10 year old, caught in-between. So full of himself, he longs to be 18, but still so much a boy. Caught in-between...I am a middle child. I get it more than he thinks I do.

And then there's the King of the Castle, my 4 year old, in whose realm I am privileged to dwell.

The stuff of one day in the life of my family gives me pause to consider the rites of passage that occur daily...if I'm paying attention.

My favorite Robert Fulghum book is not the one about kindergarten. Rather, it's "From Beginning to End: The Rituals of Our Lives." In this book he talks about the many rites of passage we experience in each and every relationship. Each moment, each transition carries the sacred with it, and if we're attuned to it, we recognize the gifts the little "rites" are.

They make up a life.

So, on one particular day this past month, I was especially struck by these rites of passage.

It was Andrew's (13) birthday. And he had a date.
Yep...that's right, he had date.

We participate with some other clergy families in monthly social outings, and this month, it was bowling/skating/lasertag. Andrew invited his "girlfriend" with him. We had not yet met the "girlfriend." I'd spoken to her several times on the phone.

Well, I don't know if you call "hang on a moment, and I'll get him for you," a conversation, but I've said it to her, several times, while she was on the other end of the line. (Did I miss something? When was it o.k. for girls to call guys?)

We met her, her mother and little sister before taking off on our "date." Her mom hadn't met us yet, either, and she was more than a little curious about who these people were that were going to be with their daughter for a night. Can't blame her that.

So we had that going on...

Also, that evening before we took off, Christopher (10), and Jack (4), got into a, uh...disagreement. That's not so unusual in my house. But this was different. As they stood before us to explain what happened, it was the first time that Jack waited patiently, with his hands on hips, for Christopher to give his side of the story, and then, when asked, offer his rebuttal and give his own version.

It was stunning, and he did it perfectly! I think he's going to be a lawyer.

I caught myself thinking, "Gosh, I have no more babies." Of course, that is by my own choice given the very specific thing I've done to make that no longer possible. So any longing for more or misgivings of my choice, if present, are fleeting.

But there was more going on in me. Recognizing that it was a big birthday for Andrew, and obviously a big night (at least he hoped), I was struck by the continuum of life and how it does march on. You see, if you want to know what Andrew looked like as a baby, as a kid...look at Jack.

The resemblance is amazing.

So, I'm listening to Jack, thinking about Andrew, and realizing how much we've all grown...and changed.

That's what the recognition of these rites of passage do. They cause us to reflect. They bring out the essential character of life. It is through the little thing that the big thing becomes so clear. More and more I'm convinced this is how God works.

Perhaps in each of our days there should be time to reflect upon that which has and is changing in us and use that as cause for celebration or warning for behaviors gone awry to be brought back into check before they get out of hand.

And now, the rest of the story...

As if my moment of reflection had not reached an apex, there was more to come. At the end of our evening, I had to drive Andrew's "date" home. And of course, Andrew went along, too.

Now, some of you have noticed that I'm driving a different car. I'm driving a '92 Lexus. It belonged to my in-laws, and they "made me an offer I couldn't refuse" (imagine Vito Corleone's voice here). It's a beautiful car, and I'm glad to drive it, and it's certainly not anything I could drive under any other circumstance. And let me tell you, it'll gitty up and go, too!

But, if you're a guy and you're escorting your date home, driving from Collierville to Germantown in a sweet ride is a plus. I have to confess a combination of unease and curiosity as they both climbed into the back seat, and I became chauffeur.

Being the conscientious driver that I am, I was proud of how often I needed to check my rearview mirror to make sure we were safe on the road. Precious cargo aboard, don't you know!

But wait, my work wasn't done. There was one more role to play - DJ. As soon as we got rolling, Andrew asked me to turn on some music.

But did he want the radio? No.

Did he want "his" music? No.

"Dad, why don't you turn on some of that music you like?"

"You mean my 70's Soul and R&B?" I asked, knowing all along what he was thinking.

He is my kid, after all.

So, on Andrew's 13th birthday, with his first date, the old man escorted the young couple home as Earth, Wind & Fire sang "Can't Hide Love," and "Reasons" (the live version, of course).

You have to understand, EW&F was a pivotal band in my adolescence. I have owned several of their albums since the mid-1970's, and now CD's. I learned to sing soul by imitating Maurice White (a product of Memphis). Back when my voice was really high, I could give Phillip Bailey a run for his money (not really, I just thought I could). I learned harmonies with buddies as we sang cruising in south Jackson. EW&F was among the groups comprising the soundtrack of my teenage years.

To have my kid serenading a girl to my music - while I'm in the car....

(in the words of Frank Barone) "Holy crap!"

déjà vu. . .

twilight zone. . .

rite of passage. . .

ontological shock...all rolled up into one.

That's one day in the life of my family. I'm going to bet that if you pay attention, you'll be amazed at all the little things that become huge when cast across the span of your days. These rites of passage define the transitions of our living.

In those transitions, there is God, waiting, I suspect, to see what we'll make of them.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Rise Up...Reach Out! NOW! Pentecost 23

On the occasion of our
Rise Up...Reach Out Stewarship Campaign Commitment Sunday

Pentecost 23 Matthew 22.34-46

34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ 37He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42‘What do you think of the Messiah?* Whose son is he?’ They said to him, ‘The son of David.’ 43He said to them, ‘How is it then that David by the Spirit* calls him Lord, saying,44“The Lord said to my Lord,‘Sit at my right hand,until I put your enemies under your feet’ ”?45If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?’ 46No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.


There is a progression in relationships that is expressed in language.

When does an acquaintance become a friend?

When does a friend transition into that inner sanctum of a handful of people with whom you'll share the totality of your life because you know sanctuary with them?

Or, what of relationships that are of a different sort? Dare we say, the romantic side?

You have interest in someone, they in you, what language you use to refer to them...especially in the company of others? Whether it's the first time you ever had to deal with such questions, or, even if you find yourself in such a position later in life, the stress of language is the same?

What to say about her? him?

When to say it?

How to say it?

Are we dating?

Going steady?

Seeing one another?

What is this...THIS?

In such a relationship, there comes a point, if it in fact gets there, when "like" becomes "love.” It's a pretty distinct line, and we don't drop the "L" word hastily because there's really no going back once you've done it.It's not as if you can say,
"you know, I realize I said 'I love you" for the first time a couple of weeks ago, but I'm new at this, and I've reconsidered, I just like you."
Our cultural understandings of the "L" word, are wrapped in emotion..feeling, not to mention a good dose of “eros.” And whatever chemical processes occur in the brain that brings about the giddiness, euphoria and makes you want stand up and sing –

"I've got the world on a string, sitting on a rainbow, I've the string around my finger, what a world, what a life...I'm in love!"
Yea, well that pretty much makes me sick!

Maybe that's because once the "love drug" wears off, you're left with a decision. That being, will the love I claim that no longer sits me on a cloud now be lived out from the standpoint of my commitment?

Feelings wax and wane, and too often, due to the business of life and its stresses, wane more than wax. But what do I do with that?

We come to realize, there is no love without commitment. And commitment cannot be words only, and will not be emotions only, it is love that hangs on.

Paul had it right in his letter to the Corinthians.

"[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
And he wasn’t talking about young lovers. He was talking about Christian community needing to be in covenant commitment to one another no matter what.

It’s a love that knows something of maturity. Later in that chapter Paul talks about how he was a child and thought of life from the standpoint of immaturity. But when he became an adult, he started to understand that there was something deeper at stake.
The kind of love Paul talks about in this Christian community is not contrived, neither is it based on how you "feel" about it. It is a love lived out obliged by the self-giving love of God through Jesus for the world.

But make no mistake...this love in community is one of purpose and intent.

In every relationship...there is a decision…that line of demarcation, and we are left with the decision to Rise Up..Reach Out and meet love's language with love's commitment, or turn away from it.

Your relationship with partners...

with friends...

with God...

with your church’s present vitality and prophetic future …

It’s not that much different. It really isn’t.

What is the nature of your relationship with Jesus of Nazareth expressed in the practice of your discipleship here at Saint John's? Is love's language matched with love's commitment? This is the a moment where we approach that line and make our choices.

That’s what today is.

As we prayerfully seek God’s vision for our future at St. John’s. As we long to dream God’s dream for our work to practice Gospel hospitality as radically as Jesus, it’s time for us to RISE UP…REACH OUT and do it RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW!

The reading for today constitutes what Martha Greene, in her article in The Christian Century calls Jesus’ final exam. After all the tests, tricks, and his parable responses…it comes down to this. The thing that would, in the minds of his critics, concretize the quest to pursue Jesus' demise, was a recitation of that which always was, is and will be the measure of enacted faith against the emptiness of religious speak.


Love of God and love of neighbor.

How could it be that basic? How could over 600 commandments from the Torah be reduced to these two? The radical word of Jesus to those who confronted him, a word that at once confounded and enraged them, was that the son of David is the fulfillment of these words and unless at least the love of God and love neighbor are paramount, the rest is just religious "busy work."

Love of God and love of neighbor. Love of God expressed through love of neighbor, loving the "other," whoever that is, as if they were your own kin. This is not a matter of emotion, or warm fuzzies. No, the “love” to which the Scripture refers is of a specific sort.
"In an age when the word 'love' is greatly abused, it is important to remember that the primary component of biblical love is not affection but commitment. Warm feelings of gratitude may fill our consciousness as we consider all that God has done for us, but it is not warm feelings that Deut.6.5 demands of us, but rather, stubborn, unwavering commitment. Similarly, to love our neighbor, including our enemies, does not mean we must feel affection for them. To love the neighbor is to imitate God by taking their needs seriously.” Matthew Hare (Matthew Interpretation Commentary)
This is what defines us...this is who we are. Our quest to live as disciples of Jesus is measured not by our words, or our emotions, but our “stubborn, unwavering commitment” to those things that Jesus said matters most, and making those things the central planks of our gathered community’s agenda, and, by faith, doing everything within us to rise up..reach out, and meet those challenges.

We’re endeavoring to do that and be that here at Saint John’s for no other reason than that we see ourselves as Christian community seeking to be made perfect in Love.

And if this is who we are, sisters and brothers, it’s time to Rise Up…Reach Out and take the next steps into the community of faith God dreams for us. If we dare.

If we claim this as the central theme of our being, what does that look like here?
What is Saint John’s?

Of all the places we could associate ourselves, even practice our discipleship, why here? And why are we called to commit our loving commitment to this our common quests?

It is simply this…

We will not be the largest church on the block, but there will be no equal in our faith commitment to live out the Gospel and to makes it precepts the authentic expression of what brings us into community.

We will not build a gym, we will not be all things to all people.

But we will be the place where all those who’ve tasted the mega-church and found it bitter will find home.

We will be the place that needs the totality of your presence.

We will be the place that needs the maximum of your gifts.

We will be the place where those disenchanted, disenfranchised, and disinherited by it will hear the word of the Lord proclaim, “I have called you by name, and you are mine.”

We will be the place of new life. The place of the butterfly. Resurrection. The place that announces that what we’ve been is not nearly as important as what you’re becoming.

We will be a people continually gathered around the Sacramental life. Our frequent practice of the Eucharist will be for us but a metaphorical expression of the loving servanthood we take upon ourselves.

We will be the place where your desire to love and God your neighbor is the label you wear that matters most. All other labels will subject you to no harm here, except that we know that in Christ Jesus that we are healed and made one.

We will be the place where, when the Gospel challenges are placed before us…we will Rise Up…Reach Out to meet them.


Not unlike Jesus being tested once more by the principalities and powers of the religious order of his day, so too, are we. There’s far too much in the politics of the religious establishment that would prefer that we just “go away.”

But we will not…when faced with the questions of our future, we will RISEUP..REACH OUT!

As we face the financial realities of our congregation and it’s mission to be more than we are, to invest in Gods work in this corner through faith by creating the ministries now that we aspire to tomorrow..we will RISE UP… REACH OUT!

And we do this not because we are great, but because we’ve come to know that Grace is amazing, love is real…and this day, everyday, we will RISE UP…REACH OUT! There is no real "love" without commitment. And as you live out this great commandment, as we live it out together, the time to make that commitment has come.We are called to love God and love our neighbor …let’s rise up…reach out and do it. NOW!

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Yours, Mine and God's - Some Thoughts on Pentecost 22

Pentecost 22 - Matthew 22.15-22

15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ 18But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. 20Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ 21They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ 22When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

First...I'm not preaching this Sunday.

It's Laity Sunday, and I celebrate the life, witness and ministry of the Laity in this service. I'm amazed how many times people think that I'll "take the Sunday off," and not be there because I'm not preaching. Often there is surprise that I'm present.

Where else would I be? If I'm not present for this Sunday, then I really don't believe in the church, do I?

Although I'm not preaching, there are a couple of thoughts that come to mind on this text. First, why does this text always seem to show up during "stewardship campaign" season? Seems to me that such association, even if unintentional by the lectionary selection committee, vitiates the power of the text and puts it in a nice little box. Jesus' answer to their question was of such power that they were left "amazed." So much so that they just "went away." Granted, they were trying to get him to blaspheme. To acknowledge a human who ruled demanding to be recognized as "divine" would be the ticket they thought.

Instead, though, he offers a deeper truth. Give to the emperor that which is his, and to God that which is God's.

And here's the "aha" of this is all God's.

The One Jesus called "Abba," has dominion over all that is. It's an interesting point of conversation in a sermonic moment. We, who are of the Protestant work ethic, who value possession of personal property, the sense that we work for what we get, therefore we are entitled to it. If I hear Jesus right, and taking from the heritage of Mr. Wesley, nothing is mine. It's been entrusted to me. Whether or not I'll steward it well is solely dependant upon my exercise of that other gift of God for the will.

But make no mistake about it. There are expectations and leanings of God through Gospel people to exhibit stewardship for the sake of the "widowed and the orphaned."

My freedom is not without responsibility.

Never has been. Never will be.

Watching children grow up is a reminder of how life is. In the past year, I've watched my youngest, now 4, discover the word "mine." I'm amazed at how many things he thinks are "his." And lest you create chaos, you best not touch what's "his" without permission.

We're teaching him the discipline of sharing. And we've learned that sharing works only to the point that it doesn't threaten the balance of what's left. When that's in jeopardy..forget it, you're on your own, and you're not getting anything else that's "mine."

Seems like that's a trait that transends childhood too often, doesn't it? Could that be something of what Jesus was getting at?

Monday, October 10, 2005

Never Mind

All that stuff written about my first class reunion?

Never mind.

My streak's intact.

"Something has suddenly come up," and I ain't goin'.

Oh, well.

Such is life.

But the post was pretty good, wasn't it?

Saturday, October 08, 2005

By George, W.'s Right!

The time has come for all responsible Islamic leaders to join in denouncing an ideology that exploits Islam for political ends, and defiles a noble faith.

President George W. Bush October 6, 2005

Yes, indeed. I believe this to be true.

Substitute the word "Christian" for "Islamic" and "Christianity" for "Islam," and it's even more true.

So I guess the point is not whether Christianity is being used for political ends..shh, here's the dirty little is.

The question is whether or not there'll be responsible leaders courageous enough to denounce it, and offer the radical nature of the Gospel in it's place.

Will I?

Will you?

You see, it’s not about “them.”

It’s about you.
It's about me.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Party Apparel - Pentecost 21

A quick preface.

I never manuscript sermons. And those of you who know me are wondering what I'm smoking - especially since this one was finished on Thursday, no less. This one just sorta happened.

Most frequently, the homiletical moment is scribbled or typed on a half sheet of paper. And while the script may not be as filled in as this one is, the methodology to get there is the same.

I live with the text each week. At this point in my ministry, I have not found myself capable of going several weeks in advance on the readings. I'm not convinced, however, that's a bad thing.

The centrifuge out of which spins points of contact between the text and life is the time spent weekly with four other clergy friends.
Lectionary/Covenant/Support - the two hours spent weekly with these folks help me contexualize the lectionary from the lives we're living as clergy, friends, and all the varied networks of contact we bring in the room with us. In one form or another (itineracy can take a toil on group dynamics, don't you know), this group has existed since 1990. Even after moving away from it myself in the late 90's, and having not found what I needed for support in Jackson, I drove weekly to Memphis to continue my place in it.

So, in addition to all my other ranting and ravings, I'll also use this medium to throw out the thoughts and questions that emerge in preparation for the preaching moment. Maybe it'll be a manuscript - but I doubt it. I offer it not as authoritative, but as one who believes the questions of the Gospel live among us to be asked together.

Whatever emerges, jump in, something you offer may show up from the Saint John's pulpit some Sunday morning!

Pentecost 21 - Matthew 22.1-14

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” 5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” 10Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 ‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. 13Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 14For many are called, but few are chosen.’


Let’s take stock of where we are in Matthew’s Gospel

Jesus has entered Jerusalem -

He taught using a series of parables as teaching moments for all to hear, but they were aimed squarely at the religious leaders. The people functioned as "grand jury" and in the face of Jesus' teachings, the indictments were obvious. The perceived influence of the Divine has been laundered to yield unaccountable power for the few at the expense of the many.

So, we get . . .

The Laborers in the Vineyard.

The son who said "no" but went to work anyway, the son who said "yes" but didn't go at all.

The tenants who kill all who come to collect the profits for the landowner.

The progression in Matthew is growing to a crescendo and it is becoming clear -something has to give. And we know in the Gospel story what that "thing" is...that, having had enough, the religious authorities conspire for Jesus' arrest, but even that is not done with any integrity.

Knowing that they've been exposed by his teaching, that their perversion of power and authority has been spoken aloud, and fearful that the politics of the moment would do them in, they coax the response they seek from their occupiers.

It’s the slash and burn politics of 1st century Jerusalem.

A coalition between Jerusalem and Rome, strange bedfellows, indeed.

The occupying nation-state will do the dirty work of the religious authorities. Sound familiar? Apparently, we've still not learned well the lessons of how we wrap ourselves in our religiosity while we crush dissent.

Maybe a quick press conference in which we really answer no questions but act like we're in control will help.

But lest we think we are buffered by historical distance, or are protected by our enlightened, post-modern superiority, WATCH OUT!...the universality of the Gospel confronts us as well.

The temptation to leave such hard teachings trapped in time perpetuates the very biases and prejudices we are called to shirk. Anti-semitism is birthed from the failure to recognize that Jesus' hard teachings and death were not only about the point in time he walked the earth confronting self-righteousness, unfaithfulness, and abuses of power at the expense of the voiceless.

These parables "cast alongside of our lives” expose our desire to claim residence in the Realm of God, but not adorn ourselves with the manifold expressions of faith that give witness that such an invitation matters.

We're invited to the Party that is the Kingdom of Heaven, where love and justice prevail, but are we willing to clothe ourselves in the apparel befitting such an occasion?

And if we are unwilling to yield the false sense of power and control over which we rule our little micro-kingdoms, then the Gospel makes us squirm today, and we are left ultimately with the feeling, like those religious folks so long ago, that something's got to give.

But the parables, if they do nothing else, remind us that we are not the only ones who would say "something's got to give."

God is saying it, too.


Jesus weaves this familiar story into the consciousness of his hearers. As it was with most of what Jesus taught, it was hewn from the wellspring of wisdom that resided already in the domain of the people. Often it was the Hebrew Bible. Other times, still, it was the folklore of the time.

A man had two sons

A man planted a vineyard

And today, a King is throwing a wedding banquet.

Already, there are preconceived expectations about where this story should end up. The turn of the parable is inevitable in our hearing of it. You know that the hearers are going to get "caught" in an unexpected turn. Are you ready for the parable to turn on you?


If the Kingdom of God is like a Party, why don't we start acting like it? Somewhere we've got this idea that Party and Piety are incongruent.

That's not what Jesus indicates.

Ever been to a great party? I mean a great party?

Aren't you “out of yourselves” in that moment? Pretense is gone, true joy and fellowship pervade every moment, and when it's time to leave it you wonder where the time went?

Would that more of our lives in community of the church mirror that spirit of togetherness and community to which the Gospel alludes.

Ah, yes, but then there's this. Ever receive an invitation to a party that you didn't want to go to? Be honest.

The thing about invitations. To some, they are wonderfully received gifts. To others, a flat out imposition.

Jesus tells of those first invited to the party...they wouldn't come. Too busy? An imposition? Didn't want to? Do you create an “excuse” for why you can’t come? Or, maybe it's that old "Brady Bunch" excuse, employing the words of Marcia, Marcia, Marica, that "something suddenly came up."

Who knows, but for this story - at the invitation, they were not willing.

BUT THE PARTY IS READY AND NO ONE IS HERE. Invite anyone, everyone. Notice that all are invited. Goodness and badness are no longer criteria for entrance - that you ARE is reason enough to receive an invitation.

That's how desperately gracious God is.

You are invited simply because you are, YOU!

God is gracious that way. God's character, often against our better judgment, is to allow entrance to those for whom we haven't the time of day, or whose lives, beliefs, politics grate on every fiber of our being. So, even if we rejoice at our invitation, we might think differently about it because of who else is invited.

I mean, really, do I want to be at a party with Pat Robertson? Jerry Falwell?

Do I want to be at a party with those who weaponize their religious zeal to exlude?

Do I want to be at a party with those who might welcome me, but not those I care about?

Do I want to be at a party with those who use God to justify war?


Admittedly, the end of this parable stuns us. And with Matthew, you've always got to cast someone into the outer darkness where there's all this weeping and teeth gnashing.

And over what? Somebody didn't have the right clothes on? Are you kidding me? C'mon, don't fixate on the garment. Consider what the garment means. You can't enter the party without honoring the expectations of the host. You can't enter Realm of God and keep the same mindset you had before.
David Buttrick says, "If you come into the Kingdom of God, do you think you can wear the same old prejudice you wear now?...You will want to match God's own unlimited generosity with an extravagant love for others, particularly those in need. Anything less would be out of place in the Kingdom."
The Host of the Party expects that if you’re coming, you’re at least going to put on the apparel befitting the event. To do otherwise is to “dis-grace” the measure of grace given you.

Contrary to our “once saved, always saved” friends, wherein you announce that as long as you believe, you’ll be fine, our spiritual forebear, John Wesley, talked about “falling from grace.” And to fall from grace is to fail in responding to grace’s impact on your life. While grace is free, it carries a requisite level of responsibility that shows by your inward and outward expression that grace received is motivating the servant actions of your heart. Anything other than that is to wear the wrong apparel to the party.

And if the Kingdom of God is a party, then we need to hear that some of the attire we wear is not welcomed, will not be admitted, and will be cast out if you try to bring it in.

Take our varied responses, or lack thereof, to the disaster on the Gulf Coast. Two distinct quotes typify what garment needs to be shed for it will not be admitted, and what needs to be put on:
"We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did." Rep. Richard Baker (R. La.) reported by Wall Street Journal

"It's a war of all against all--'you're on your own--in the center of an American empire. But now that the aid is pouring in, vital as it is, do not confuse charity with justice. I'm not asking for a revolution, I am asking for reform." Cornel West


There is wonderful good news here. You're invited. And to be at this party, you have a choice in how to respond. With God's lavish grace, why wouldn't we want to put on appropriate party apparel?

Take off the blind pursuit of power.

Disrobe yourself of the prejudices and biases that bind you.

Robe yourself in Christ.

Put on Love,

pursuit of justice,



the willingness to give yourself away, which becomes an extension of the invitation you've received.

The invitation to the party is given, but the decision of what to wear must come from you.

In the Name of the Holy and Triune God. Amen.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

My First Class Reunion - VDS, Class of '90

I never go to school reunions.

Never have.

High School? Wooddale HS class of '82?


I have some reasons for that one. I'm not sure they're good reasons, but I have a few. I think it has to do with questions I don't want asked...questions I don't want to answer. Even after all these years.

But truth be told, I was only really close to a handful of folks anyway.

And then there's this.

I'm a preacher's kid. I had to move. Two times in my life I felt close to many folks who make up a grade. By the time I actually got into high school, I was pretty self-protective. I'd been burned once by leaving childhood friends in Mayfield, Kentucky. Once again, after recovering from that to leave new relationships a few years later in Jackson, Tennessee. By the time I got to Memphis for High School, culture shocked aside...I was running with shields up and phasers ready to fire.

Much of my personality, I think, comes from that fear that I can't afford too many people to know me - really know me - in part, because I've endured the pain of taking leave too many times. So, while I guess I'm an alright guy, there's far too much of me pushed beneath the surface.

Among the critiques I've continually encountered as an adult is that I'm "too serious." I don't think that's the case, so much... I'm just working hard to maintain the appearance that I've got my, uh, "stuff" together.

Sounds like I need a "Dr. Phil" moment, doesn't it? Yikes!

College Reunion?

I went to Memphis State. 20,000 students. Who am I going to have a reunion with, the Philosophy Department? Please...they're in my head all the time anyway, I don't need to go see them.

In about a week I'm going to go to my first one. I'm going back to the hallowed halls of Vanderbilt Divinity School to celebrate, in part, the class of 1990.

Vandy was the only place I applied for seminary. That probably wasn't the smartest thing in the world to have done. I think I shorted myself opportunities and experiences that could have been lived in a multitude of places.

But I don't regret it, now. In fact, the farther away I get from that experience, the more I'm starting to appreciate it for the richness of theological grounding it gave me. This was the place that gave me language for what were already many observations I had about the nature of God, the role of the Church, and the responsibility of the minister to function as theologian.

And this was the place that challenged my core - it confronted me with the reality that issues are not just issues, there are children of God attached to them, too often marginalized, in need of advocacy.

But those were hard days. First time really away from family. I served student appointments all the way through for not only financial issues, but also for the benefit of getting some pastoral experience immediately. There were some trade offs for the that decision, but, on balance, I think I was better for having taken the path I took.

I'm not sure how many of my classmates are going to be there, but I feel I need to be, if, for no other reason, to give thanks for that band of brothers and sisters who traversed those halls with me.

They came from different places and agendas, but somehow we clung to each other through those years and made it. We studied, anguished, practiced our craft, drank ourselves silly sometimes, and pushed each other to be more than we thought we could. It was fraternity house, residency, and clinical pastoral education all rolled up into one.

In the end, we were "congregation" for each other when it was clear that no one else could be at that time.

I'm thankful for that experience for many reasons. Foremost among them, there's a group of about 12 folks I ran with during those years who saw me for who I was and loved me anyway. In that crucible, there was no room for pretense. At times it was raw, other times vulnerable. Masks and put ons were not allowed, and each had the skill to recognize it and the obligation to call any of us on it when tempted to revert to it.

It was the first time in my adult life I experienced that on such a level. We've all scattered into the far reaches over these years. I've stayed in touch with 4 or 5 of that group. I want to know how all the rest of them are doing.

So, I'm going back. And even if the crowd is sparse, somehow walking those halls again--I'll remember, and when I do, I'll truly be glad.