For the past couple of days I have been attending the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference of The United Methodist Church. This is the conference where bishops are made in my denomination. Without going into lots of description about the process, let’s just say it is an odd and holy thing.
The official conference began with Holy Communion and a sermon by Will Willimon, who is the retiring bishop in the North Alabama Conference. He preached from the first chapter of Acts, describing what the church first did after Jesus’ ascension-they had a meeting, and selected an “episcopae” (a bishop or overseer).
He highlighted that God has always chosen odd folks, and not every bishop was chosen with democratic and organized processes like we are experiencing this week. Sometimes the Holy Spirit got a chance to act. He told the story of Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, who was made a bishop almost by accident. A young lawyer who happened to show up in the middle of a big church fight after the death of the former bishop. He was baptized, ordained a priest and then ordained a bishop all in one week. All this to say, God makes bishops, even when we think it is primarily a human process.
This week a good friend, colleague and boss, Ken Carter was elected as a bishop. He humbly accepted this new post by saying that he receives this as a gift of God to be used in leadership. May we all learn of this gift as servants of God.
Every time I have heard Bishop Storey speak, it was a challenge. He has always preached the Gospel unapologetically, and yet he always understood that we in North America have a different context than other places in the world. It may have been his accent, or his simple way of getting to his point, my ears were always open.
This comes from Common Prayer this morning:
South African pastor and bishop Peter Storey said, “American preachers have a task more difficult, perhaps, than those faced by us under South Africa’s apartheid, or Christians under Communism. We had obvious evils to engage; you have to unwrap your culture from years of red, white and blue myth. You have to expose, and confront, the great disconnection between the kindness, compassion and caring of most American -people, and the ruthless way American power is experienced, directly and indirectly, by the poor of the earth. You have to help good -people see how they have let their institutions do their sinning for them. This is not easy among -people who really believe that their country does nothing but good, but it is necessary, not only for their future, but for us all.”
The lections from the Hebrew scriptures continue to extol King David. (Though we know that his story is not without its flaws). Paul continues to be poetic with the Epistle Lesson. And, Jesus in the Gospel of Mark reveals more of himself and his pattern of living. A good week for the preacher, and all three of the major lessons offer a jumping off point for proclamation.
- David lives in a house, the ark of God resides in a tent, the prophet of Nathan brings a word to the king. Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? Israel would never be the same once that house was built. But God also promises to build a “house of David”–God promises a family lineage, and a legacy that is still touching lives even to this day. A powerful story of remembrance and promise for the preacher. How have the promises to David been fulfilled in our lives and in the lives of God’s people? What does it mean to be part of this “house”?
- The Psalm recounts the covenant themes of David and Israel. God’s promises sound even better in poetry. How will we sing the old sing in a new day?
- Paul continues to evoke amazing images in his letter to the Ephesians. He pulls together a series of contrasts to explore: circumcision vs. uncircumcision (graphic for sure); aliens and strangers vs. being made family; far-off being near in Jesus–in Christ Jesus those contrasts have been torn away, the walls have been broken down and we have been reconciled and made one. Paul uses another image to express the new relationships–the temple of the Lord is being built with Jesus as the cornerstone and the Apostles and prophets as the foundation. You might say that Paul is using his skills as a tentmaker and builder to proclaim God’s new building project in Jesus Christ.
- The disciples had been out sharing the Good News, and they returned to Jesus to tell them all that they had done. Jesus takes them on retreat because they had no leisure to eat (the only time that leisure is used in the entire Bible–it is significant). Jesus’ response to the busy-ness was to get away to a deserted place. I think that Jesus attempts to do the right thing, and it is something that we all should consider. In our frantic and crazy lives, we need some time away. Though as we keep reading, the retreat is short lived. Nowhere that Jesus and the disciples went was without the pressing crowds, and their pressing needs. That is also a word for us: ministry never ends. We can take a retreat, take a break, but there is always need facing us wherever we turn. What’s a disciple to do? Continue to share the Good News. Continue to bring healing and wholeness. Continue to retreat and take care of ourselves. And repeat.
- Working Preacher notes
- Sunday Starters from the Church of Scotland
- Clippings (technical notes) from the Anglicans in Canada
Today from Taize:
God our Father, fill our lives with your compassion; may we live in the generosity of forgiveness.
For those who cannot believe and who give their lives in the service of others, Lord, we pray.
For the Church, ferment of communion: Lord, make your light shine upon her.
O Christ, light from above, come and visit all those who are in darkness; show them the way of your love.
Support those who are going through times of difficulty and discouragement, O source of confidence and life.
Guide us by your Spirit so that we may accomplish the will of your love; give us new hearts.
Jesus our peace, if our lips keep silence, our heart listens to you and also speaks to you. And you say to each one of us: surrender yourself in all simplicity to the life of the Holy Spirit; for this, the little bit of faith you have is enough.
Two weeks ago, David danced with reckless abandon before the ark. This week, David does the dance with Bathsheba that shows just how flawed a human leader can be. The Gospel Lesson is the feeding of the multitudes. The choices that the preacher have are great this week. Will you choose to speak the word of God’s grace in the midst of human failures, or, preach God’s abundant provisions in Jesus?
- It is quite a contrast to go from David the great king to David the great adulterer and murderer. Though it is what happens when we put too much trust and power in the hands of a human. We are going to find the flaws and failures. Some will be more grandiose with their flaws than others. Even as failed a human being as David is at this point, he is not beyond redemption and not beyond setting a new course. Though David failed to live up to God’s covenant, God continued to be in covenant with David. We get the story of Jesus centuries later because God is faithful to the House of David. How do we deal with those persons who have failed us and are fallen creatures? (How do we deal with ourselves?)
- Psalm 14 is short but succinct. It is the perfect compliment to David’s failure: The LORD looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God. They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one. If we understood this, we might be more quick to confess and slow to point fingers.
- The Epistle is another lyrical word from Paul. Paul prays for the Ephesians and calls the church to see that all people on earth and heaven are made one in Christ. That the love of Christ brings all creation together, and he prays that the church might find this same kind of love. My favorite line (v.18-19): I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
- The Gospel Lesson is John’s version of the feeding of the 5,000. This one of a handful of stories that shows up in all 4 gospels, so it is important to give it some emphasis. If you are not sharing Eucharist today, you are missing a great opportunity to put words into action. A couple of questions-what is similar in all 4 gospels about this story? What is unique in John? The unique features of this lesson are worth a look. John’s Gospel tries to explain why the 5000 are there, the other Gospels don’t give explanation. In John, there is a Passover setting–this is unique. The cost to feed them is included (that could be interesting to do some calculations). And then there is the response of the people: “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”
- Sermon Seeds on John 6
- Faith Futures (has comments on three lections)
- Preaching Tip of the Week
I have been reading through the Book of Acts recently, and today in Common Prayer, Acts 19:1-20 was the suggested text for the day. It is Paul’s meeting with the church at Ephesus. Here are a few insights on this passage…
v.1- Paul is always on the go. Modern disciples should be on the go.
v.2-6 With baptism comes power. We should expect the work of the Holy Spirit in each of us who have been ot the waters.
v.7 It was a small church. 12 people doesn’t seem like much. But when the Spirit is involved, anything can happen.
v.8-10 Paul gave it a shot for three months in the synagogue. He had to dust off his feet and go to the lecture hall of the Greeks. He didn’t quit, just changed tactics, and stayed for two years.
v.11 God was doing some unusual things through Paul. Words followed by signs. Word and deed.
v.12-16 Examples of the signs.
v.17-19 More examples of those unusual signs.
v. 20 In this way the Lord’s word grew abundantly and strengthened powerfully.
Just thinking out loud: What if all of the small churches and faith communities were to discover the Holy Spirit alive and well among them, and lived the Good News in their communities?