Friday, December 21, 2007

What Would Jesus Buy?

A couple of weeks back, I preached on the challenges we face in our consumerism. Here is a video about the documentary What Would Jesus Buy and it talks about the nature of the movie and the difference between consumption and consumerism.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Having Jesus as a Running Mate

With all the Presidential candidates proclaiming Jesus as 'on their side,' it begs the question: Is having Jesus on your side necessarily a good thing?

*begin satire

*end satire

h/t to Daily Dish for this very insightful video

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Peace of Christ

This past Sunday, I preached about pursuing peace as we live in consumerist America. The sermon encouraged us to recognize and understand what it is that we truly desire and to discern how our desires can lead us away from peace and into debt.

Using Brian McLaren's new book, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope as a guide in our Advent season, we examined the lectionary reading in Romans 15 about living in harmony with each other and ourselves.

Here is a portion of what I said, while also quoting McLaren:

In order to give peace a chance, as John Lennon sang, we need to consider how our desires affect our decisions. Our problems aren't corporations, per say, and they are not about businesses that help sustain our economy. Our problem is a spiritual ideology of prosperity that lives for profit without a concern for a common ecological good, the common social good, and the ultimate good under the gaze of our Creator. Our desire for prosperity seems to be more concerned about progress through rapid growth, serenity through possession and consumption, salvation through competition, and freedom to prosper through a system of unaccountability.

So then I ask you, how can we be peacemakers?

We can start by examining that which we desire. By examining and refocusing our motivations for that which we value, we can recognize how peace and joy have eluded us. Having a nice suit or a workable computer isn't a bad thing—having stuff we don't need is. Having things that last and don't need replacing is a good thing—buying new things we don't need every month is. And, buying things that we don't need while ignoring the needs of others, is how our system of prosperity blinds us to the needs of others. May we not find ourselves saying something such as, “I'd give to charity or the homeless shelter if only I didn't need to buy that new thousand-dollar handbag or make yet another mortgage payment on my million-dollar bungalow that I so disparately “need” for my family of three.”

You can hear the sermon on our podcasting page here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Debt, for most folks, is one of those "dirty little secrets" we keep because we don't want anyone to know that we cannot actually afford to live the way we do. Our credit cards are maxed out, our mortgage payments are insane, and we know we can't afford to go on that big vacation, but we do anyway.

As consumers get younger and younger and college freshmen are given credit cards, it is surprising that learning to manage debt isn't a mandatory class taught from junior high up through college. The sad reality is that many of us have gotten so far over our heads in debt, that we can't think of a way out of it minus the temptation to declare bankruptcy. We think by starting over again, we'll learn to be more frugal. Instead, we begin the process all over again.

I would think churches across America would have classes and studies on debt management. Some do but many don't. I would like for our church to offer classes and instruction in debt management. Over the next few months (and perhaps longer), I'll be posting various tips on finances, managing debt, and learning to live within one's means.

To start this thread of posts, let me direct you here to how a person climbed out of his huge $35,000 debt. It's a fascinating story and can be a lesson for us all.

It's Been Nearly a Month?!

I was shocked to discover that it's been nearly a month since I last posted something on here. What surprises me about this is that I thought I just posted something. This is yet another sign that I am growing older--time speeds up to fast that before you know it, last month feels like yesterday, last year feels like last month.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Understanding Others

As the season of Advent is upon us, we will be looking at how our faith relates to the world. More specifically, we'll be asking questions about our faith and beliefs and how those ideas influence how we treat each other. During the month of December, we'll be examining the particular themes around the Advent Candle: Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy. Since each of these themes elicit a particular behavioral response of our Christian faith, we'll explore exactly what behaviors, attitudes, and modes of compassion are addressed.

One interesting way to begin the undertaking task of understanding others is to explore how others go about doing the same things we do. By examining how they go about doing it or, what is different about what they do when compared to what we do, we can better appreciate our differences and similarities.

Here is a great story from Time magazine from awhile back that has a slide-show about what the world eats. Each family in the story goes grocery shopping. Upon returning to their homes, their food was laid out on a table, a price was calculated, and the family stands around the food in the picture. Notice what they spend their money on. Notice what is healthy and what isn't. To me, it's fascinating!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Turkey Day to everyone. I hope you're having a wonderful and relaxing day. I am having one of those wonderfully relaxing days too.

As I am waiting for the turkey to finish getting cooked, I happened upon a new blog that has my interest up. The blog is called, Confessions of a Small Church Pastor. In a funny post, the author gives his 4 Rules (minus 1) for Pastoring Small Churches. Here are his rules:

Rule #1: Realize a small church is not a miniature big church. Remember “Mini-Me” in Austin Powers – an exact clone of the big guy, only smaller? I learned quickly that small churches aren’t “MiniMes.” Worship, decision-making, pastoral care, and just about everything else in a small church is different from large church ministry.

Rule #2: Assume all your members are related. I discovered this rule one day after venting my frustration with one member to another. His four word reply is still ringing in my head — “Yeah, she’s my cousin.”

Rule #3. Don’t underestimate your members. Small church members can be just as gifted, committed, and excited as large-church members — sometimes more so. Many people actually prefer a small church because they can find a place of service and get to know people more quickly.

Rule #4. Don’t overestimate the pastor’s importance. Lyle Schaller says small churches are member-driven. Pastors may come-and-go, but members keep the church running. Plug-in rather than charge-in is my approach now.

Go here to read the entire post.

I especially like rule number 2 because it fits our congregation to a "t". I am still surprised to learn of the family connections of all the members of the congregation.

I'll write more later. I need to go check on the turkey.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


Here is an interesting website called ZipSkinny that searches the US Census database by zipcode. Type in Cresskill, NJ's zipcode: 07626 and see what you discover. It's rife with interesting data.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Shift Happens

I've posted this video elsewhere but wanted to share it with you today. It is an approx 8-minute video about technology and what it means for us. It is full of interesting information and may certainly inspire you to continue the conversations that it provokes.

Most interestingly to those who are just learning to accept 'computers in our midst', this video will show you why it is so important for us to be as computer literate as possible. "The times, they are a-changin'"sang Bob Dylan, and we must stay with the changing times to remain both relevant and reaching our community appropriately.

I hope you enjoy the video.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

For the Bible Tells Me So

I've posted this video elsewhere but wanted to share it with you now. As many of you know, our congregation is in the process of discerning an Open and Affirming resolution to affirm gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender folk into the full life of the church. The issues we're discussing include but are not limited to, why do we need to do it, what is its purpose, and how will the congregation be affected by it.

One element of the discerning process will inevitably include looking at Scripture and what it has to say. As many people understand, people have used the Scripture throughout history for a number of purposes to include justifying slavery (for the Bible condones it), the subjugation of women (and its pretty clear on the role of women), as well as ajustification of condemning gay and lesbian persons. And yet, the Bible also challenges the notion that slavery is not what God wants for us, that women are more valuable than a man's possession, and that God loves and values all of God's creation including gay and lesbian men and women. When it comes to Scripture, understanding how to read it and apply is paramount.

I invite you to join us each step of the way as we grow in understanding and move toward a discernment that answers the question for us, "Should we declare and pass an Open and Affirming resolution?"

And, to help whet your understanding of this issue, please watch the video below.

Adult Ed Book Study

During the month of November, we will be providing you with an opportunity to help reinterpret what it means to understand God and be a Christian. To help with this endeavor, our book study will read Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, by Marcus Borg.

In his book, Borg liberates 'Jesus' from the rigidity of fundamentalism and the aridity of intellectualism. He also graciously liberates readers from the shackles of what many have thought they were supposed to believe about Jesus if they were to remain Christians. For some folks, what Borg writes will seem as a relief to see Jesus in a totally new light.

Michael Goss writes an impressive review of this book,

All Christianity is, to some extent, idolatrous. Christian worship is a response to a worshiper's image of Jesus, and all images of Jesus fall short of his reality--in the same way that all biographies and portraits fail to depict a whole person. In Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, New Testament scholar Marcus Borg attempts to understand how popular images of Jesus connect Christians to their savior and isolate them from him. Borg writes about his own evolving ideas of who Jesus was, considers the scholarly and popular religious evolution of Jesus' public image, and investigates with special care the effects of Historical Jesus research on contemporary images of Jesus. Meeting Jesus Again is written in an affable, gracious, and unflinchingly honest voice. Borg's description of his own faith particularly exemplifies these qualities, and gives the reader a simultaneously safe and unsettling new perspective on the peasant from Galilee: "[T]he central issue of the Christian life is not believing in God or believing in the Bible," he writes. "Rather, the Christian life is about entering into a relationship with that to which the Christian tradition points, which may be spoken of as God, the risen, living Christ, or the Spirit. And a Christian is one who lives out his or her relationship to God within the framework of the Christian tradition."

Marcus J. Borg, author of the bestseller The Heart of Christianity, is Hundere Distinguished Professor of Religion and Culture at Oregon State University, author of the bestselling Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, The God We Never Knew, and co-author of The Meaning of Jesus with N. T. Wright and of The Last Week with John Dominic Crossan. He was an active member of the Jesus Seminar when it focused on the historical Jesus, and he has been chair of the Historical Jesus section of the Society of Biblical Literature.

The first meeting of our study will be on Tuesday, November 6 at 7:30 PM. We will continue our book study on the three remaining Sundays in November following worship on Sunday. If you haven't already purchased your copy of the book, you may do so either online, at your local bookseller, or through Ginny Marx. Ginny is offering the books at a great reduced price of $10.

Also, to help the entire congregation have an opportunity to understand this book, I will be preaching through the book alongside Scriptural support during the entire month. This coming Sunday, November 4 begins the series with the title of the sermon being, "Who is Jesus to You?" Won't you come and join us for an enlightening and soul-searching experience?

Kathy's Blog

Our own artist-in-residence and faithful church member, Kathy Lindner, has her own blog where she showcases her artwork.

You may have noticed her artwork in and around the church. She painted the one in the hallway with the pumpkins from our pumpkin sale. I actually have a couple of her artworks in the parsonage, I simply love her interpretation with watercolors.

I also love the one here. Can you tell which building it is and where it's located? Hint: It is near Cresskill.

Early Mornin' Communion

Well, I gotta admit, I had hoped there were more "early morning folks" in and around Cresskill. Unfortunately, there aren't. And, that's not a bad thing because I am not a morning person either. I may be awake enough to read blogs or type them, but actually getting dressed and going out of the house is a tough thing for me too.

So, because there was only one person on one day throughout October to experience the communion experience, the Wednesday early morning communion experience will have to be a faint memory. As of October 31, it ceases to be. I'll try another time and day in the near future.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

If Dogs Were Our Teachers

Laurie Lazzaro passed this along to me today. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.

Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joy ride.

Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.

Take naps.

Stretch before rising.

Run, romp, and play daily.

Thrive on attention and let people touch you.

Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.

On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.

On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.

When you're happy, dance around and wag your entire body.

Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.

Eat with gusto and enthusiasm.

Stop when you have had enough.

Be loyal. Never pretend to be something you're not.

If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.

When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by.

Monday, October 15, 2007

100th Anniversary Celebration

This past weekend was an incredible party! We celebrated our 100th Anniversary with a fancy dinner at The Assembly in Closter, NJ on Saturday night and had an incredible worship service on Sunday morning. Two of the things that made the service so memorable were the choir and our guest preacher, the Rev. Dr. John Deckenback.

A special thanks to Henry Hecht and Julie Schmidt for writing and composing a special anniversary choral song. With our choir and guest singers and musicians, it make for an awe inspiring gift for the service. Cory led the choir in several anthems and songs that uplifted the event. Capping off the choir, our Conference Minister John Deckenback preached for us in his grandfather's church. John's grandfather was the Rev. Horrace Hughes, the pastor in our church for 32 years.

After the service, we had an incredible luncheon and a walk through our history. Our pumpkins arrived by truck and were unloaded and set up in front of the church. Hundreds and hundreds of the pumpkins now adorn the front lawn of the church ready to be purchased for the fall season and Halloween.

We've had a busy weekend for sure! If you see any of the member of the 100th Anniversary Committee, be sure to thank them for organizing such an incredible anniversary weekend. The committee is made up of Ginny Marx, Ann Buonarota, Judy Russell, Gordon Wallace, and Laurie Lazzaro.

Monday Fun

Here is a feel-good video from a man who travels a whole heck of a lot. In each place he visits, he captures himself doing a "fun dance".

Saturday, October 06, 2007

A Prophetic Word

A friend posted this video on his blog last month and I was blown away by it and still am. In preparing for tomorrow's sermon (or is that today's sermon?), I went back to listen to it again and still hear it with a sense a prophetic urgency. I want you to hear and see it too.

A hat tip to Caught in the Middle for this video.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Dawn Chorus

What do you like to do in the mornings? Ever since I brought Maggie home, my mornings have changed dramatically. There was a time when I enjoyed sleeping late, waking up and staggering downstairs for a cup of coffee as I watched the morning news. Sometimes I'd sit out on the front porch, coffee in hand as I'd stare out at the morning dew watching the cars pass the parsonage on their way to work. Seldom would I ever be as awake as I am now.

NowI wake up early, with Maggie licking my face telling me to get up. Usually this is around 6:00 AM. Before I take her for a walk, I make a pot of coffee so that when I return, I have a hot cup of vanilla or hazelnut cup waiting for me. By the time I return from our walk, I am wide awake. Lately, when I sit on the porch, I don't notice the cars passing the house as much as I see the clear morning or hear the last visages of the dawn chorus: a few birds winding down their morning songs. I am becoming an early riser who actually enjoys rising early.

I know that I am not alone. Many of you are early risers too. To help celebrate the morning, we will be offering an opportunity to do just that. Beginning on Wednesday, October 3 at 7:30 AM, a brief communion, liturgy, and prayer will be offered at the church. Afterwards, coffee will be served (it might also be offered before the service too, ).

You know, there are generations after generations of Christians who have used the early mornings to meditate and celebrate God. Looking as far back as Jesus, the originally early riser, we can learn the benefit of participating in a Garden of Gethsemane of our own. Let me invite you to join with us for a peaceful time of reflection and praise next Wednesday morning. And, if we're lucky, we might hear the dawn chorus beckoning us to praise God as they do, in the wee hours of the morning.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Fourth Commandment

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” Exodus 20:8 (NKJV)

While in seminary, I lived on a communal floor where everyone shared the kitchen. We cook, ate, and dined together. On my floor, there were about 25 of us in total, however, there were two kitchens on each floor.

In each kitchen, there were cubbyholes for people to put their food. In each refrigerator, there were shelves and space for each person to put their food (labeled of course); however, there was a general area where everyone donated their pots and pans. One would think there would be enough space for us; unfortunately, our space was very limited because one of the students was an ultra-orthodox Jewish PhD student. Given his strict dietary requirements, his stuff couldn’t come near our stuff—his pots and pans couldn’t touch our pots and pans. Jonah, the PhD student, had strict laws about how his food was prepared and he often cooked meals for other Jewish students. Practically every time I was in the kitchen, so was Jonah.

I mention this because Jonah practiced and observed his religion faithfully even given the reality that his rules of religion were complicated and inconvenient. For instance, on Friday night before Sabbath, he would prepare all his food and turn on the lights (which couldn’t be turned off—because turning them back on once Sabbath began, would violate the religious rules he followed). When I think of the strict rules of Sabbath, I cannot help but admire Jonah’s tenacity and fortitude.

Christians, however, do not honor the Sabbath like Jonah does. We wail because the “activist judges” won’t allow the Ten Commandments on court house steps, but we do not intend to actually follow them and here is one such proof.

This commandment instructs us not to work, nor have our children work, or our servants, or even anyone who just happens to be over at our house. The justification is that if God can create the world in six days and rested on the seventh, then so should we. Rest being an important part of spirituality and an organized society, this rule takes its place as our fourth commandment above murder, lying, and coveting. If it is so important, then how come we allow our children to engage in sports activities on Sunday? How come we mow the lawn? How come we go out to dinner, after church no less, where we are waited on by others who are working to serve us, thereby causing them to work? Doesn’t it sound hypocritical for us to fight like mad to protect the Ten Commandments and yet we have no intention of following them?

A student of the New Testament might say that we’re no longer bound to obey the Law, as the Apostle Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 9:21. And Paul does indeed say this but he also doesn’t rule out the Law entirely—he only rules out the possibility that following the Law will merit salvation.

Another Bible student might also explain how Paul does seem to articulate a rather indifferent or reckless attitude about obeying the strict rules of the Law wherever they might be. This student would quote Colossians 2:16 and in so doing, s/he’d be absolutely right, at least according to the proof-texting Scripture being used.

So what is our responsibility to following the Ten Commandments? Didn’t Jesus even say that if you took all the Law and the Prophets and grouped them together that you’d come up with only two important ones: To love God with all our heart, soul, and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves? (Matthew 22:38-40) Yes, Jesus did say that.

So then—does this mean we’re off the hook in obeying this Commandment? Well, yes, I do believe we are. In my opinion, having to follow something is different than wanting to. But that’s for a different post.

Answering the above question isn’t the point of the post at all. What is important is asking ourselves why we deliberately choose not to follow this Commandment and yet demand that its presence be put in places of public gatherings. And when they’re removed, we act like we live in a godless nation. If we admit that we have no intention of following those very same Commandments, does that mean we are admitting that our laws and Scripture are more symbolic than an actual necessity to our faith? And if so, then why not just admit it? Or are we more comfortable being hypocrites for the world to see and judge?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Pastoral Update

What happened on Sunday is the first time I have ever missed church, when I wasn't scheduled to miss church, that is. I woke up early on Sunday morning (around 5:00am) and began my day. Around 8:00am, I suddenly felt dizzy, my heart was racing, and my breathing was more than labored. I had, what I thought was, a pulmonary embolism. I came to this conclusion after the warnings from the doctor from last week's diagnosis of the blood clot in my leg.

So I did what they told me to do if I ever felt light-headed, my heart racing, and my breathing labored: I called 911.

I must say, the paramedic response from the Cresskill Police Department was extraordinary. They were at my house in a minute--and the paramedics got me on oxygen as the ambulance arrived shortly thereafter. They too wondered if I might indeed have a embolism. I was rushed to the ER at Englewood Hospital where more tests and examinations would follow.

After several hours of tests and a CAT scan, it was determined that I did not have the embolism; they were uncertain exactly what had happened although they concede it could be a reaction to the medication I am taking.

I have an appointment with a new doctor on Tuesday where I will learn more about treating my blood clot and I'll pass along the information as soon as I know more.

I am feeling better today and have actually returned to the church office. Maggie is fine and she is sitting here relaxing in my uber comfortable reading chair.

I would like to send a special thanks to everyone who prayed for me during my scary moment and for those wishing me well, calling on me, bringing me tasty food and walking Maggie. I would also like to thank everyone who participated and helped lead the worship service in my absence.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

We're Not Alone

Last year our former ad agency, FaithHighway refused to continue business with us when they discovered our church's support for gay people. They asked me, "What would you do if a gay couple walked into your church on a Sunday morning?" I responded, "Umm, I'd give them a welcome packet and say how glad I am they're here." They responded, as you know, "I am sorry Reverend, but that's not the answer we were looking for. We can no longer do business with you." Fortunately for us, Spotrunner was willing to do business with us and as a result of FaithHighway, Spotrunner GAVE us our commercials, only charging us for airtime. It was a silver-lining in our cloud.

This week, an insurance company refused to even offer up a quote to West Adrian UCC when the insurance agency mulled over the UCC's position of support for gay marriage. They couch their reason as a rise in possible violence directed at the church and possible insurance claims from that violence--we know that it's just another form of bigotry and hate.

Let us pray for West Adrian UCC in Adrian, Michigan that they'll find an insurance company who'll give them more than they are asking and needing.

You can read more of the story by going here to Rev. Church Currie's blog.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Prayer for Peace

Click on the picture for a larger version.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Bells, Whistles, and Huge LCD Screens

As you know, I traveled home to Oklahoma during my vacation last month. While there I had the wonderful opportunity to visit and spend some quality time with my family and friends. I ate, drank, and was merry. As the teacher of Ecclesiastes reminds us, let us enjoy food and drink for these pleasures are from the hand of God. (Eccl 2:24). And to enjoy them with family and close friends makes such merriment all the more joyful.

While home I was also afforded a rare opportunity to worship in different houses of faith. On one particular Sunday, I worshiped in two different churches: LifeChurch, one campus of 14 in the northern metroplex of Oklahoma City and Heritage Presbyterian Church, which is located in the same area. I'll write more about my experience at Heritage Presbyterian Church later. In this post, I want to tell you about LifeChurch (this is a different link than the one above).

At LifeChurch, I was impressed with several factors. Notably was the church building itself and the parking lot. Here in NJ, parking space is a premium and many churches don't even have a parking lot. This church, however, had parking lots bigger than most churches around NJ. It is so big, in fact, that the church employs a zoo-like tram-like golfcart that seats 8-10 persons, that takes parishioners from their car through the parking lot to the church door.

Once entering the facility, I noticed that my search for the sanctuary ran into a snag: there was more than one. Actually, it had several. Upon entering one of them, it looked less like a sanctuary and more like an auditorium, I guess because the space was so large. The one auditorium I entered was for the children--yes, it was big but in comparison, it wasn't as big as what I was about to experience later. In the one I visited, it was an impressive children's area with Walt Disney-like caricatures, climb up ladders and swirling slides, information booths and a Garden of Eden section with talking trees in the style of Universal Studios. I found myself wishing I was 10 years old again. It was quite amazing.

Being directed accordingly, I walked into the main lobby (and this is tough to discern since there were many lobbies throughout the facility), there was a huge coffee bar with every flavor and condiment one could think of. I zeroed in on the large assortment of donut-holes with Greeters encouraging me to "eat all you can". And I did. There was also a gift shop, several information kiosks, and about 15-20 Greets and Information attendants to answer any question and help in any way. All around the lobby area were huge LCD television screens in every corner and right smack in the middle of the lobby area that projected cute Scriptures interspersed with announcements and information about the church.

Upon entering the main auditorium, I noticed that it could easily sit over a thousand attendees. It was a huge space. Glancing at the Order of Worship, I noticed there were 5 other service times, I was at the 8:30 AM service, which was explained as the lowest and most intimate setting in terms of people who attend. Looking around the space, there must have been about 200 or so people. And then the band began to play. The band was a worship band and it sounded very much like the Irish rock band U2. Yes, they were really 'that' good. The worship leader was the lead singer accompanied by a electric piano player, a drummer, a bass guitarist and a regular guitarist. Surrounding the singers were other incredibly large LCD screens, three to be exact. One above them and two on either side. In the auditorium, there were additional LCD screens, huge ones too, in the corners of the space as well as behind me in various locations.

The band began to play and the worship leader took to the stage and for 15 minutes or so, the audience stood, sang, worshiped, lifted their hands in the air, swayed to the music, and generally participated wonderfully. The music was carefully chosen/written to include a Call to Worship, Prayers of Confession, and Assurances of Pardon, as a more liturgical setting might envision. And then, as quickly as it started, the band finished, a curtain came down, and the pastor took to the stage. Dressed in jeans and a cotton pullover shirt with simple loafers and a microphone attached to his ear, he casually welcomed everyone and began his message.

Craig Groeschel, the founder and pastor of LifeChurch, preached for about 20 minutes while stepping back from time to time while videos were shown on the monitors that corresponded to the sermon. These videos were interviews and conversations with people. After the video segment would end, a spotlight would come on and the pastor would continue his message. His message was very biblical, organized well, and had memorable quotes and bullet statements. After he preached, an offering was taken. Following the offering were a few announcements and the worship team returned (a curtain went up) and they played their parting music. And it was over. 60 minutes. Timed perfectly. And it had to be.

For you see, at LifeChurch, the sermon and service were broadcast via satellite to 11 other campuses throughout Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, Tennessee, and now Albany, NY. The video screens at each campus, like the one I attended, sees the same sermon that everyone else sees although at each campus they have their own band and worship team. And this is the novelty and unique ministry LifeChurch offers. Other churches, some who have smaller numbers and cannot afford to hire a full-time pastor with benefits, are joining LifeChurch and the Evangelical Covenant (the loose denomination of LifeChurch) to share resources and technology to share the gospel, or their ideology. Presently, over 19,000 people attend all the services each weekend at the various locations.

After I left, it took me a while to actually process this experience. There was a lot of things happening in it--and some of it I am still unsure about, probably because it was just an incredibly different worshiping experience for me. I would like to offer a few observations, both good and not-so good. Judgment isn't intended, mostly my opinions are simple reactions.

First, the space must've cost a bundle to set up. One friend who attended with me is an architect who works with both commercial and residential projects, estimated the space, with the huge satillite, the LCD screens, and the various technology must've run into the multiples of tens of millions of dollars. It was my friend who also told me about LifeChurch's way to electronically monitoring each child in their Children's Church with surveillance microchips so that the church and the parent can know exactly where each child is at all times. Such a feature isn't cheap--and the church obviously embraces the expense. Also of note were the offices, available to see as you walk towards the main auditorium which had an open cubicle system, so that you could see all the desks, and their were about 25 different desks in this one office. How much does it cost to maintain and run the already expense digs? I have no idea but the thought made my stomach uneasy. I am not saying there is anything wrong with it, only that obviously there is great expense in what they are doing.

Secondly, the idea of a satellite broadcasting church to thousands of people without the physical presence of a person seems too "George Jetson" to me, and I hadn't realized we were 'there' yet. But obviously they are at least, and it works for them. In my church, we all know each other and we worship in a way that makes us experience one another throughout the service. I interact wtih them, they with me, and all of us with each other. At LifeChurch, it's an audience much like a rock concert. You don't really interact with anyone--you're not there to get to know them, you're there to enjoy (or be benefited by) the show. Still, the gospel was preached and the music was edifying and it felt good. Sort of.

Thirdly, and lastly, I can't seem to shake the church-as-community-as-me-included idea that the whole worshiping experience seems to cater to an ideology that seems less like the idea of a church I am accustomed to and more like an entertainment event, like a Christian Rock concert (which I attended many in my youth) or an evangelist's message (like something you'd see at a Billy Graham Revival) or a Christian gathering of famous speakers (like the Fosdick Convocation). While I enjoyed the experience, it left me feeling different than coming to church where I know everyone and we spend the time afterwards getting caught up with everyone in the church's life. I felt entertained and enlightened, but in a way that missed the energy of meeting old friends again each week.

All in all, I mostly enjoyed myself (and the donut holes). I wonder if I'll ever get back there. I may. While the experience was somewhat unsettling, it did offer an interesting worship. While the setting and theology was more conservative and evangelical than I enjoy, it did offer a perspective and opportunity of outreach that was a refreshing source of newness. And, the technology employed was and remains impressive.

And, I noticed something that was also impressibly absent: there was no reference to a health, wealth, or prosperity gospel. I was worried about that and was glad it was absent. Surely Groeschel's theological development wouldn't take him in that direction (he was educated in a Disciples of Christ seminary) and yet, one wonders how the money was raised to fund such a ministerial endeavor. Still--I didn't hear how being faithful will make you rich and that encouraged me greatly. (Go here to see a powerful video message against such a theological presentation, it's only about 2 minutes long and it is well worth watching).

I like to think I am open to new ways of experiencing God--and hopefully wise enough to know when one way may not always be as good as others. Still, I live in a changing world and the older I get, the more it changes. I am just glad that in some of those changes, the gospel message can still be heard and is proclaimed.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The New Sanctuary Movement

As mentioned this past Sunday in the sermon, there is a movement among churches to create and sustain opportunities of compassion and outreach to illegal immigrants, those seeking asylum, and others involved in immigration red tape. This movement, endorsed by the United Church of Christ at our UCC General Synod in June. At the meeting, we approved "A CALL FOR A MORE HUMANE U.S. IMMIGRATION POLICY; END TO MIGRANT DEATHS; AND SUPPORT FOR IMMIGRANT COMMUNITIES." The Synod also urged pastors and congregations to "form grass roots organizations working in conjunction with established groups such as Border Links, Presbyterian Border Ministry, Samaritan Patrols...The New Sanctuary Movement..."

In many ways, our outreach to immigrants is similar to the outreach offered a century and a half ago with the Underground Railroad. To aid and help a runaway slave was a criminal offense and many felt unAmerican, since slavery became an integral part of the American identity. And yet, there were those who felt compassion on the runaway slaves and offered to help them as best they could. Our congregational history is rich in offering help to this historic crisis.

Today we are at a crossroads when it comes to immigration. While there is certainly a problem and in some states, a problem with staggering implications to our national resources, there remains our call as Christians to feel compassion on those who are hurting, oppressed, or caught in difficult circumstances. How do we alleviate such suffering while not 'getting into trouble' or, how can we stand idly by and watch families be torn apart while singing our praises to the Lord, remain outstanding questions, depending on where you stand on the issues of immigration, national patriotism, and fiscal responsibilities. Wherever we come down on the issues, there is something each of us can do either minimally or on a larger scale.

To learn what you can do about it, you can attend a free gathering this week at St. Bart's Church, 51st and Park Ave, in NYC on Thursday, September 6 from 10am- 5pm. If you are interested in attending, please contact our church office. For directions, click here. If you would like more information, or cannot attend the conference, visit the New Sanctuary Movement website to learn more about the issue and come to your own conclusions.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Third Commandment

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.” Exodus 20:7 (NKJV)

The New Living Translation is clearer. It says,

“You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.”

This is one interesting commandment and one that is often misinterpreted and yet, seldom followed even in the right frame of reference. Most scholars of all flavors generally interpret this passage from a legal standpoint likening the claim of perjury upon those who misuse God’s name in court or personal use. False swearing has serious civil ramifications that include those who offer false witness, testimony, and perjury. And, as is often the case with those who are condemned by false testimony, they are the ones to whom cry out to God for justice and freedom from captivity.

While this particular commandment doesn’t actually speak to cussing—it is often associated with it. If you were to utter the big GD in conversation, you might be referred back to this commandment because it “appears” to address one’s chosen words. However, this is a misdirection—surely there are enough verses and passages in the New Testament where the choice of one’s words are encouraged to be reflective of God’s grace and temperament. In this place in the Old Testament, however, misusing God’s name or using it in vain has far more serious implications.

On the surface, one only has to think of all the wars fought in God’s name. God is on our side and not your side. Think of the persecutions after Christians were themselves persecuted who decided that perhaps they ought to do it too—and many did with vigor. Think of the Salem witch trials. Think of the genocides across the globe when one race thinks another race is inferior and needs to be extinguished. All of these incidents, where one rids the world of evil through violence as justified in God’s name. Turning on the T.V. and seeing the likes of fundamentalist Christians like Fred Phelps who justify and condone acts of violence against gays and lesbians while doing so using God’s name. Anyone who misuses God’s name and takes it in vain is breaking this commandment.

A person also breaks this commandment when promises are made using God’s name to vindicate its use and are then broken. When we promise to care for our citizens but then pursue self-interest at the expense of other citizens, we are using God’s name in vain. If a president of a country or municipality (for example) promises by God’s hand to uphold the law and protect its citizens, but then seeks through self-interest to take advantage of their office, then he or she is using God’s name in vain.

The examples can continue and I am sure you can think of other examples—my point is this: If we use God or the church or the Christian faith to either get what we want or pursue an agenda of selfishness and crime, rather than doing good, seeking justice, and glorifying God, then we are only using religion and people’s fear of it to manipulate others. This is what breaks the second commandment. Words, regardless of the cussing involved can be painful—and disrespectful for sure. But the action that betrays our words is the sin of taking God’s name in vain and it is to that sin that a person will be unable to escape God’s concern.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Living Virtuously

To help illustrate the importance of virtues, this past Sunday, we played an interesting game during the worship service. The game is called Life Boat. The most well known version of the Life Boat game appeared as a classroom exercise in the 1972 book Values Clarification: A Handbook of Practical Strategies for Teachers and Students by Sidney B. Simon, Leland W. Howe, Howard Kirschenbaum.

These teachers based the game from a true life experience dating back to the 19th century when a member of the crew of the ship William Brown was tried for voluntary manslaughter in the deaths of several passengers. When the ship (bound for Philadelphia from Liverpool) hit an iceberg and sank off Newfoundland, 80 people tried to get into 2 lifeboats. 30 people (mostly children) didn't make it. 42 were in the longboat, 8 were in the jolly boat. The jolly boat, having sails, was rescued quickly. But bad weather threatened the longboat. Not only overloaded, with waves coming over the side, but it was leaking too. When the mate shouted to lighten the load, Holmes and another sailor starting tossing people over the side: six men and two women. The next day, two more men. After the ship was picked up near France, the survivors urged that the sailors be prosecuted for murder. Holmes happened to be the only in town when the Philadelphia grand jury brought an indictment. In court, Holmes offered a necessity defense. He was found guilty, sentenced to six months and a $20 fine. He served his time but was pardoned by President John Tyler, and thus did not have to pay the fine.

How comfortable are you determining the fates of others? Having and understanding what informs our ultimate decisions is one of the goals of living virtuously.

If you missed the game on Sunday, you can play it now.


A passenger liner is wrecked at sea and these 15 people find themselves together in a lifeboat. The lifeboat however, can only support 9 people. If six are not eliminated everyone will die. You cannot make up your own rules and must follow the rules of this game. If you were in command of the lifeboat, whom would you choose to survive?

You are required in-groups of 2 to reach a joint decision as to which passengers will be eliminated.

1. A general practitioner doctor. He is addicted to drugs, and very nervous, Aged 60

2. A black Minister, Protestant, Age 27

3. A prostitute, no parents. She is an excellent nurse. Has already saved a drowning child. Aged 36

4. A male criminal. Charged with murder. He is the only one capable of navigating the boat. Aged 37

5. A man mentally disturbed, who carries important government secrets in his head, aged 41

6. A salesman. He sells automatic washing machines. Member of the local Rotary Club. Aged 51.

7. A crippled boy, paralyzed since birth. He cannot use his hands, or do anything for himself, so must be fed by others. Aged 8.

8. A married couple. He is a construction worker, who drinks a lot. Aged 27. She is a housewife with two children at home. Aged 23

9. A Jewish restaurant owner married with three children at home, Aged 40.

10. A teacher considered one of the best in Bergen County! Aged 32.

11. A Catholic Nun. Supervisor of a girl’s school, Aged 46.

12. An unemployed man, formerly a professor of literature. He has a great sense of humor, showed courage in the last war, and was in a concentration camp for three years, Aged 53.

13. A married couple deeply in love, but no children yet. Both Irish. He is studying to be a pharmacist. Aged 24. She is a housewife, helps with a playgroup. Aged 21.

Please write down the 9 who will survive and why you chose them.

If you missed the sermon that followed this game, you can find it by navigating your browser to

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Second Commandment

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” – Exodus 20:4-6 (NKJV)

The Second Commandment offers us both what we shouldn’t do and why we shouldn’t do it—and then, it is followed by a divine threat of sorts. In the first part, we are forbidden to make or fashion any sort of idol and, once it’s created, to venerate it in any way. An idol is something we create to be an image of a god or deity that then serves as a representative of that god. An idol isn’t particularly a god; it is a representative. Contrastingly, an icon, which is a representative image of Judeo-Christianity (or other “approved of religion”), is meant to serve as only a reminder but it isn’t meant to require particular veneration. Of course, it might be difficult to know when we’re doing it when one may be encouraged to pray to a statue of Mary or rub the feet of a beloved Saint in hopes that doing so might enable a miracle to occur.

It was common in the time of Moses for practitioners of various cults and religions to create and carve images of deities and gods to have in one’s possession. These idols served to remind the followers of their responsibilities to the gods they represented. They were also required to venerate, or honor with a ritual act of devotion, them. Often in homes, the idols would be placed in a place where candles and incense would surround the idols and fill the homes with the aromas and remind the senses of the gods.

To the Jewish followers, Yahweh was a different sort of god. Looking at Yahweh in a monotheistic sense, meaning that there is no other god that exists but Yahweh, then having an idol meant that the follower was admitting that there were other gods and thereby circumventing one of the major tenets of the uniqueness of the Jewish theology.

Yahweh also wanted the Israelites to understand that not only were there to be no graven images of other gods, but that they weren’t even to have graven images of Yahweh. Modern scholars and biblical archaeologists note that even to this day that no idols of Yahweh have ever been found or excavated.

The second part of this commandment explains to the followers an anthropomorphic reason as to why Yahweh didn’t want the Israelites worshiping other gods. Yahweh was a jealous God. Jealousy typically refers to the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that occur when a person believes a valued relationship is being threatened by a rival. In simple terms, jealousy is a feeling of protective resentment towards one who threatens a relationship. In our post-modernity or evolved faith tradition, it is tough to see God as being threatened or so insecure as to be jealous—and yet, it isn’t hard to rationalize that if the Israelites had more than one God to worship, then a person’s commitment would be compromised.

The third part of this commandment offers us an even greater reason to follow this commandment: if you do it, God will not only punish you but will continue to do so both to you, to your children and even their children. This is one powerful threat as well as a way to understand just how important this commandment is to God.

So then, given the seriousness of this commandment, why does the church have graven (or painted or statued) images in the church? Here is a case in point. During the First Council of Nicea in 325, it was determined that Jesus was not just a part of God but was wholly God and wholly man. If Jesus is indeed God (and I do believe he is), then having any image of him would be breaking the 2nd Commandment, wouldn’t it? I do not want to disparage my Catholic brothers and sisters on this point, but would having a crucifix be breaking the commandment as well? In the basement of the church here, we have what I call our “Sammy Davis Jesus” due to the uncanny resemblance of the late crooner Sammy Davis, Jr. We all love that portrait.

What about all the stained glass there are in churches across the country with Jesus in them standing at the door knocking? We have several stained glass images adorning our windows all around the church. Is having Jesus merely in them breaking this commandment?

We can justify a lot of things and I do believe we have done so in this regard. In this respect, I don’t know of anyone who actually venerates the stained glass or prays to it. They are simply illustrations. One can look in the Old Testament where even Moses himself sanctioned the angelic cherubic above the mercy seat. What many of our churches do and what folks in the Old Testament did was simply make illustrations. This is how the describe what Michelangelo did when painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. What the commandment forbade was the worship of God under a material form. Or at least, this is the justification for why we do what we do. If we are to have no images of God and no images of angels or animals or anything as described in the Decalogue, then are we violating this commandment? Before I answer this, I’d like to offer one more example.

Let me ask you a question. When we make a representation of something we value and then honor that something in ways that may supersede how we venerate God, then would that be breaking the second commandment? As I look around, the one representative something that we hold such high honor to is none other than the American flag. Ol’ Glory. The Red, White, and Blue. Stars and Stripes. To us, it represents all the good of USAmerica as well as all the sacrifices that have been made to ensure our particular freedoms. To most Americans, the American flag represents anyone and everyone who has given their lives defending our country (or invading others).

We honor our American flag so highly that laws have been created to manage its care and, God forbid, should it ever touch the ground (even by accident) it is to be destroyed. We have been taught since childhood to pay homage to it with our hands over our hearts (or saluting, for those in the military) while reciting a promise of allegiance to it and our country. The Pledge of Allegiance has been altered a few times since it was first used in 1892. Then, the pledge simply said,

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation indivisible, with Liberty, and Justice for all.

In 1954, the allegiance came to its final form with these words:

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.

Our patriotism, ingrained early in our lives (and me having spent 12 years in the USAF) might ask, “Who in their right mind can say anything against this pledge?” Well, what is a pledge? Is it not a promise and a veneration? Is this veneration of something made with human hands not breaking the Second Commandment? Does this pledge not only venerate the flag but also our country? And our pursuit of liberty and justice for all?

One thing that makes me wonder about our veneration of the American flag and our patriotism can be revealed when we look at those who are not citizens of USAmerica and how we treat immigrants from such places as Mexico or Asia. I have read and heard some of the most mean-spirited and compassionless exclamations directed towards those who want medical care or to use our public schools for their children. And the justification for this attitude is often reflected by a person’s devotion and patriotism (as well as the fear that our resources might be used to help anyone other than ourselves).

I have often spoken with friends when we ask how an immigrant might feel coming into our churches and seeing the American flag standing or waving in our sanctuaries. One friend even captured a photograph on the Internet of it waving over the entrance to the church. Have we so embraced our patriotism that it has become an icon or idol in our churches? When one thinks of Christianity, does one also think of America and the soldiers who’ve died to make us free? Check your hymnal, do you have hymns that are seeped in American patriotism?

Contrast our American flag in our church with the Christian flag that is often displayed next to, in the opposite corner, or the other side of the church. Do we venerate that flag with the same pledges of allegiance? Do we look at it and think of what it represents? Does it honor all the martyrs and saints of heaven who've died defending the Cross of Christ? Not hardly.

Personally, and so as to not stir too much ire, I believe I am very patriotic. I have served my country well and honorably as my father did before me. I served in support of the Gulf War and the Bosnian Conflict. I have many ribbons and medals. When I made rank, I made it swiftly and deliberately. Event today, whenever I hear the national anthem, I come to a stop, I put my hand over my heart, and often I my eyes water up at the climax to the song. I know what the song and my patriotism represent and I am proud to have both served my country and to continue to support and defend my country, if only intellectually, financially, and spiritually.

And yet, I also know that there comes a place where my patriotism needs to stop short of. It cannot impinge upon my faith, nor can it keep me from engaging and participating in Jesus’ kingdom. My faith is about reaching out and helping the oppressed, the helpless, the marginalized, and the faithful. When my country and its leaders tell me or threaten me not to do what Jesus tells me to do, then my patriotism ends and my faith takes over.

When, I ask you, does one’s veneration of an object or an ideal break the Second Commandment? I think we’ve broken it more often than we’ve admitted or realize. And, this is one more example that while we may say we believe and follow the Ten Commandments, in reality many of us simply do not or, more probable, we have justified our actions so as to deceive ourselves into thinking we don’t break them when in reality we do it all the time.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

1. You Shall Have No Other Gods Before Me.

Aaron Krager reported on his blog Faithfully Liberal a comment from an Assemblies of God pastor that illustrates for me how many of us understand the Ten Commandments. The comment stated,
“Morality is the No. 1 issue with me,” said Ken Rogers, 62, of Altoona, a member of Central Assembly of God Church in Des Moines. “If a person can’t live by the Ten Commandments, how can he lead the nation?”

Krager's point was to ask how is it that we go about defining our values. He explains that given all of our moral failings, is anyone actually certified to serve anywhere. But for me, Roger's statement seems to reflect what many people think should be the minimum values that everyone in USAmerica considers as a set of collective values. But you know, I cannot help but wonder if Rogers and the rest of USAmerica really understand what they are asking for.

I also wonder if this conversation is more about an ideal and verbal assent or if most folks really believe, that the USAmerica as ever followed these commandments to begin with. Politics is an interesting institution—we pursue ideologies as if they were truth while neglecting them as a matter of practice. And, I might even add that we have purposefully neglected them, but that is a judgment call that perhaps I shouldn't be making. On the surface however, I am inclined to believe that we have made our governmental institution into a Trojan horse when it comes to faith and practice.

And so, I thought it best to begin a series on the Ten Commandments and to take each commandment, one by one, and see if we're really practicing what we tell others we're practicing or, if we've simply made it a litmus test of politicos of choice and have no intention of make the Decalogue into anything more than a value of wishful thinking.

If you haven't read the Ten Commandments for awhile, you can go to Exodus 20:2-17 and to Deuteronomy 5:6-21. Both list the Ten Commandments and both are slightly different, but not so different to change the meaning. I love the Deuteronomy passage best but for the sake of our understanding, I'll keep to the Exodus passage and reference the Deuteronomy one when appropriate. And, I'll be using the New King James Version because for the most part, it'll be reflective of what we think we remember it says.

  1. “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.”

This commandment appropriately begins the rules that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai. We are to worship only Yahweh, the Hebrew name for God and no others. And, we're to do so because God has done for us a great thing (our ancestors were brought out of the land of Egypt and from the bounds of slavery). Therefore, because God did such a great thing for us and if we are to follow after God, then we obey God's commandment both out of appreciation and respect.

But one might find themselves asking, “Umm.. what other gods?” Perhaps you have heard a sermon or two, or a declaration, that we Americans have turned our money and our thirst for power into a god. These two things, money and power, are often explained in such a way that a thirst for either is akin to turning said pursuit into a god. While I don't believe either are gods, I do find that some folks do value money and power more than they value God. But is that pursuit really turning either of those pursuits into a god?

To put this into perspective, I would like to give a brief and perhaps crude history lesson on the time and era of Moses and what religion looked like around 1445 BCE. While Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, and liberal folks cannot really find a consensus on the date this actually happened, I am going to just pick 1445 because that is a, the date historians had originally thought it probably happened and b, it isn't of primary concern for this post. What is of primary concern is that during this time a plethora of religious deities, gods, and idols existed. It seems everyone had their own little god or, some had their national gods, and others had their age old gods. The Persian God Mithra perhaps the most famous, was an extension of Zoroastrianism known as Mehr.

During Moses time, the god Baal was quite popular, so popular in fact that while Moses was on Sinai getting the Ten Commandments from God, the Israelites grew impatient with Moses' return and began to fashion gold to make an idol to worship. Even the Israelites had their gods and became one of the primary reasons so many of them had to be punished (read: killed) because they continually went back to worshiping idols.

To worship another god or idol, a person bowed down to them, displayed the idols in their homes, and followed the rituals and commandments of the differing religions. Most notably among the devotees of Baal were the fertility rituals that promised a good harvest for the farmers. Baal worship would continue to plague the Israelites long after entrance into the Promised Land. Such fertility rituals involved fun parties of alcohol (what fun parties exist without alcohol, right?) and sex with many—and we all know how much everyone loves to do that!

In modernity (or post-modernity), when we think of our idols, do we really mean that there are those who “worship” money and power? In a strict literal sense, I would think not. However, if we were to define worshiping an idol in terms of one person placing the pursuit of money and power above all else, and obeying whatever rules we set up to achieve more money and power, then perhaps we might change our mind. We can probably correlate the display of money or power as an idol in the home by those who either display their possessions or even their stock certificates. Sure, this is a stretch—but there are several similarities to how we have created our own god-like deities in place of putting our trust in God.

As a nation, we can see other similarities to other “things” we place in a category of more importance than we do with God. And, depending on your particular perspective, we might discover more than we feel comfortable admitting: as an immigrant, how would patriotism or, a more negative word, nationalism, be seen in their eyes? Do we value our Americanism more than we value God? When we seek to limit the benefits of our resources from those we deem inferior to us, are we not elevating ourselves above others? And in that elevation, do we value our self-interest as a nation or even ourselves, more than we value other humans? Maybe this is a crude example—but you get the idea. While we may not worship idols per say, we sure act like we do. And when we act like it, it is tough to wonder if we're disobeying the first commandment or not. If we cannot make that distinction with certainty, I'd imagine that God wouldn't be altogether happy about it.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Ten Commandments

I received an email about a week ago from a friend who passed along an interestingly funny and altogether true-like commentary. The email contained a point-by-point examination (not very academic but full of social reflections) of the Ten Commandments. The original author of the email found it ironic that a few people who fight so honorably for the presence of the Ten Commandments in public places are the very people who either don’t know what the Ten Commandments are or, for whatever reason, do not follow them. I love irony and I couldn’t help but shake my head several times and say, “You know, you have a point.”

And so, wanting to be both clever and share with you, dear reader, the gist of said email, I want to spend a few posts (or more than a few posts) discussing the Ten Commandments, giving my own commentary, and sharing with you their meaning. I may even spend several posts talking about one commandment. Heck, this may be both an ongoing or a somewhat serial discussion. However, I will take each commandment, give my thoughts and commentary, and then open it up for your discussion. Sure, there is bound to be differences of opinion but don’t let that stop you. All in all, I think it will be a good conversation and one that can serve to both educate us as well as pondering the social and spiritual implications that the Ten Commandments offers us.

Look for the first post this week. I haven’t actually started it yet but will do so and post it as soon as I am ready.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Sacramental Theology

One purpose that I feel that God is calling me and our congregation to has only been recently realized. While some of you have heard me discuss this, I would like everyone to know what it is about. Last year, the church paid for me to attend the Fosdick Convocation in New York City where preachers and teachers from all across the country gathered for a week of prayer, preaching, discussion, debate, and inspiration. During one of the lectures from Tony Campolo, an American Baptist evangelist and author, a thought occurred to me that I just couldn't shake. He preached his sermon on Matthew 25:31-46 in which he articulated the Christian imperative that preaching the Good News isn't just about the words we say, but the actions that we do.

Later, as I discussed the impact of his sermon on me over dinner with friends and colleagues at The Mill, a tasty Korean restaurant on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, an idea began to form--actually it was less of an idea and more of a startling revelation. Why is it, when we observe the Sacraments that they do not include loving our neighbor? Why are the sacraments, the earthly manifestation of God's grace realized in the Lord's Supper and Baptism, only about a spiritualization and not about a practical demonstration of God's grace to others when Jesus said that feeding, clothing, and caring for the marginalized was so central to his message that whoever doesn't practice it, will most certainly not inherit the kingdom of God?

If feeding, clothing, giving water, caring for strangers, clothing the naked, caring for and visiting the sick and the imprisoned was so important to Jesus as a demonstration of our love for him, why do we treat it as a convenience rather than a necessity?

Over the last year, I have been speaking with a variety of UCC ministers and laypersons both locally and nationally. During my participation at the Central Atlantic Conference in Delaware and at General Synod in Hartford, CT, I spoke with ministers about my idea to pursue making the Care for the Marginalized a new focus for the United Church of Christ. One manifestation of that pursuit is to develop and create a liturgy and theology that challenges us to include Loving Our Neighbor as a new Sacrament for the UCC.

Technically speaking, this can begin at the local level. Individual churches in the UCC and other such congregational churches can decide on their own to sacramentalize this process. Whether or not it is recognized at a higher level is another matter. And, one needs to recognize the negative stigma that participating in a not-yet-approved form of church discipline can have on a local congregation. However, I cannot help but see that pursuing this new sacrament to not only be in tune with the Scriptures but it defines what being a Christian is all about.

Over the course of this year, I will be developing liturgies to specifically recognize Jesus' six imperatives for loving our neighbor:
1. Feeding the Hungry
2. Providing Water or other sustaining liquids to the thirsty
3. Caring for the Strangers (e.g., Immigrants)
4. Clothing the naked
5. Caring for and visiting the Sick
6. Visiting and caring for those in Prison

To help you understand the importance of my pursuit, I would like you to watch the video below. It is about an organization in New York City that serves the poor and hungry in New York and New Jersey. The organization is called God's Love, We Deliver. Many of you know who they are; for those who don't, they are celebrating 20 years of dedication and service. The video highlights their outreach and mission.

What can we do, as a congregation, that honors and engages such a pursuit? What can we do to fulfill Jesus' admonitions to us? I invite you to join me as we begin this most incredible journey to demonstrate God's love through the sacraments and ultimately to the men and women that so desperately need not just a kind word, but food, clothing, and a kind soul to visit with.