Subway Prophet

…and the words of the prophets were written on the subway walls…


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Crown Him With Many Crowns (A Sermon for Christ the King Sunday)

(Below is the preaching manuscript of the sermon. Due to the nature of preaching and the movement of  the Holy Spirit, it is not the same as the video above which was recorded at Memorial United Methodist Church on 11/16/17 at the 9:30AM worship service.)

Eph. 1:15-23   I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.  I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,  so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,  and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.  God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.  And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Today is Christ the King Sunday. Kingship is a difficult thing for Americans to comprehend. Our country was literally founded on a rejection of monarchy. I lived in England for a year during seminary and while I was there, I got to understand just what a monarchy can look like. It is a subtle influence. I didn’t even notice it at first, however, every day you are surrounded by symbols of the monarchy. It is on the money you use, the stamps on your mail, signs around town, mail boxes, and even on some of the foods you use. The monarchy also features on the news, it punctuates every major holiday and sporting event. There are no institutions or people who so dominate our society in quite the same way.

When thinking about the Lordship of Christ, such a pervasive influence and impact makes more sense. Consider your Thanksgiving table.  God does not intend to be relegated to a corner of our world like cranberry sauce on my family’s Thanksgiving table. It almost never got eaten. I swear my mom just put it on a dish out of obligation. Instead, Jesus should be like the gravy. It seems into every other item, even when you don’t necessarily intend for it to.

Both of these metaphors fall far short in describing what it means for Christ to be King. The monarchy in England is pervasive, but is a figurehead with little real power. Gravy may fill your plate, but no one would mistake it for the whole meal. Christ as King not only has influence, but also has complete authority in every corner of creation.

Christ the King Sunday provides us with the opportunity to take a moment before the start of Advent and celebrate the fact that the baby we will begin to focus on is now the King of the World. We celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ did not stay a baby in a manger, but grew up, died, was resurrected and now sits at the right hand of God the Father and everything in earth and in heaven is under his control.

There is such darkness and chaos in our world. In the newspapers, on TV, social media we find reports of violence, war, political unrest, suspicion, corruption, oppression, and so much more. I have heard of many people who have quit reading the news or going on Facebook in an attempt to stave it off. However, chaos and distress creep into our lives as well. They come when a friend receives a diagnosis, a relationship becomes strained, work gets stressful, or our lives become somehow knocked off center. It is in these moments when we need to remember that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Paul gives us this vision of Jesus, raised from the dead and sitting at the right hand of God, “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, above every name that is named not only in this age, but in the age to come…all things under his feet. Just when our world seems like it is careening into chaos, Paul reminds us that God is in control. There are no forces in heaven or on earth that are more powerful. There is nothing in this age, or any age to come that will come out victorious.

Such a statement is not Pollyanna optimism or plugging your ears and pretending it is not real. Recognizing Jesus Christ as Lord does not give us an escape from the world and all its troubles. The reality that Jesus Christ is Lord helps us to live in the midst of those troubles with the knowledge that those troubles will come to an end. No matter what this life throws at you, God is with you and will be with you through it all.

Every Sunday this month, our affirmation of faith has been from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Every Sunday this month, we have reminded each other that nothing can separate us from God’s love: hardship, distress, death or life, angels, rulers, things present or things to come, powers or principalities, nothing at all will be able to separate us from the love of God. This is all true because of the Lordship of Jesus.

Whereas other places in the New Testament describe Jesus’ future return and triumphant victory over the forces of Evil, Paul in Ephesians uses the present tense. It is not that we are forced to wait for a future savior. We have a savior now and his name is Jesus. The forces of evil, the powers and principalities of this world that threaten us and cause us to live in fear, they are already defeated. Christ is already sitting at the right hand and everything is under his feet.

The question then becomes, if Jesus Christ is Lord, how do we live in the present chaos? Paul gives us a glimpse of this in the beginning of his prayer. “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you…”

As followers of Jesus, we need know the truth. We need to know that the violence of our world will end in peace. We need to know that the oppressed and forgotten people of our world will receive justice. We need to know that the political debates and back and forths pale in importance to the message of the Gospel. We need to know all of these things because we know that Jesus Christ is Lord. This is not only the end of the story – this end is alive and well in the here and now.

Our task is to turn our eyes so that we can see it. Every week in our staff meetings, we share with each other where we have seen God at work in our lives. Each Sunday in the Connect, we highlight one place where our church and its members are living into our vision to be a “grace-filled family of Jesus followers.” These regular habits help us to make sure that we are paying attention to all that God is doing. It is too easy to get caught up in our lives and the frustrations, difficulties and routines that fill our days. The more difficult life gets the more we retreat into our selves and lose focus on God’s presence with us and distance ourselves from those around us. Worse yet, we try and dull the pain. Some people distract themselves with food or shopping. These options can be all the more tempting as Christmas approaches. Others turn to the internet, gaming, or other diversions. Still others use alcohol or drugs to try and escape. Each of these distractions may seem to work in the short-term, but over time they all fall short because instead of trusting in God’s power to lift us up and carry us through the chaos, we have turned to a lesser power.

By trusting in the power of Christ who is our King, we begin to live into Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians.  Instead of keeping our gaze on the darkness around us, Paul asks that they would lift their eyes beyond their present circumstances and that God would give them eyes to see the world as it is with Jesus on the throne. By shifting our perspective we see that there is hope. Not only are we not alone, but the one who is with us is the only one who can see us all the way through to the other side.

When our eyes are Kingdom focused, however, we do not turn a blind eye to the struggles around us, but instead we see them in their context within God’s active presence in our world.

In this way, we can walk through the storms of life with the One who stilled the waves, we can face the threats of death with the One who defeated the grave, and we can engage with the broken places of our world knowing that our God is the One who is making all things new.

My prayer for each one of you is that God would give you the same spirit that was given to the Ephesians. That your eyes would be able to see the world as it truly is and that God would give you the grace to know that all things are under the lordship of the one who is Emmanuel, God with us. And he is with us still. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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Meet St. Cuthbert

So, I know that today is Palm Sunday, which is super important, however, it is also the feast day for my favorite saint, Cuthbert of Lindisfarne. In the United Methodist Church, we do not have saints. They have never been an important part of Wesleyan spirituality, however, I have always had a strong attraction to saints, and my own faith is always strengthen when I read about their lives.

I first heard of Cuthbert during the year I spend studying in England. He was a shepherd, then monk, then Bishop in northern England in the 7th century. His life was marked by humility, simplicity, a love of nature, and reconciliation.

Foundations of Cuthbert's cell

The foundation of the monastic cell where St. Cuthbert would go and pray on the island of Lindisfarne. The tidal patterns cut off this island from the main island at high tide. 

My favorite story is from one of Cuthbert’s many times when he would leave the monastery and pray. Once a younger monk followed Cuthbert to see where he went and observed him wading into the ocean where he would frequently recite the psalms. When he came out, otters came and helped to warm his hands.

St. Drewbert

Me imitating St. Cuthbert’s prayer in the ocean at Lindisfarne. Sadly no otters washed my feet when I came out.

St. Cuthbert is buried in Durham and I would frequently visit his shrine in the Cathedral which was a short walk from my dorm room.The Cathedral and his shrine were places when I could palpably feel God’s presence and was for me a tremendous means of grace during a wonderful and difficult year.

On this day each year, I have a cup of tea, remember my friends in England and the ways in which God shaped my understanding of my call to ministry, and I give thanks to St. Cuthbert for helping me understand how to better follow Jesus.

Cuthbert's Shrine, Durham Cathedral

The shrine of St. Cuthbert in Durham Cathedral. 

Here is the prayer for today from the Church of England:

Almighty God, who called your servant Cuthbert from following the flock to follow your Son and to be a shepherd of your people: in your mercy, grant that we, following his example, may bring those who are lost home to your fold; through Jesus Christ, you son, our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.

 


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What’s in a gown? Sartorial Reflections on Baccalaureate

I am not sure that anyone would ever call me a stylish person. I try more than some and less than others, but overall I wear what is comfortable and if that happens to include a humorous T-shirt, fun pair of socks, or exciting tie then I am all the more excited. However, when I was thinking about what I was wearing for Baccalaureate It seemed rather significant.

For those who do not know, Baccalaureate is essentially the graduation for Duke Divinity School. Sure I will not technically graduate until Sunday when the President of Duke University and other people say things that few people listen to or remember, but the good part with worship, sermon, and hoods is what we have all been waiting for. For the service there are two required pieces of attire:

1) Black robe–Unlike High School and College there are no required styles of robes. Most people wear the robes they have purchased for leading worship as pastors. I think this makes it that more significant. In Divinity School, we have been working with the end in mind. I know that four years ago when I began the dream I had was to be a pastor standing in front of my congregation and proclaiming the Word of God. Wearing the same robe to graduate that I will wear when I deliver my first sermon as a pastor reminds me that the four years of work that I have put in were not an end in themselves, but were instead a preparation for my future ministry. My particular robe is extra special because it is one that I got for free while I was in England. The Wesley Study Centre where I was studying received the robes and stoles of a former Methodist minister. No one else could fit in the robe and so I got to keep it. It is a very nice (and expensive) robe and I am extremely grateful for it. However, I am even more grateful for what it represents. My time in England was one which reaffirmed my call to ministry and helped me to understand what it was that God was calling me to as a pastor. I am so excited about what God is doing missionally in England and the friends that I made during that year inspire me in so many ways. As I wear my robe in the service as well as in the pulpit I know that they are a part of my story and ministry.

2) Hood–The hoods represent the fact that I have mastered divinity graduated with my masters of divinity. My particular hood is one that I am borrowing from Rev. Chris Brady who was the lead pastor of Living Hope, the new church plant that I was a part of for most of my time at Duke. While Living Hope has been closed by the Bishop, the community that God brought together for that season of my life remains an important part of who I am, and the ways in which I grew as a person and as a pastor will forever mark my ministry. Chris Brady who is now the pastor of Wilson Temple in Raleigh has been my pastor during my entire time at Duke and a generous mentor and friend.

While most people will only see the robe and the hood, for me they represent both the communities that have shaped and formed me in the past, but also the ways in which God has used those people (and countless others) to prepare me for the work that I am called to in the future. If there is one main thing that I have learned in Divinity School it is that ministry is not something that can (or should be) done alone. Without my community here in Durham as well as all over the US and UK I would not be here today. As I cross that chancel area my wife, parents, mother-in-law, and many friends will be sitting in the congregation of Duke Chapel as well as worshipping online and I am so grateful to be able to share with them that moment and the many other ones to come.

GHS Graduation

June 2006, Me and my parents after my High School graduation.

FSC graduation

May 2010, Me and my two best friends after graduation.


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Thoughts on Tea: Part 1

I was never a big tea drinker. Even though I grew up in the South, where sweet tea is delivered in an IV drip, I never had a taste for it hot or cold. As I was getting ready to graduate from undergrad, a friend made it her mission to make me into a tea drinker. She took me to a tea shop in Lakeland and after searching almost their entire collection, I found my gateway teas which were herbal and fruity and tasted nothing like tea.

I went on with my fruity tea ways until I learned that I was going to be studying in England. If you know nothing else about England, you know that tea is a BIG deal. Therefore I knew that I needed to work on my taste for tea.

Enter the British exchange students. After sharing with them my hesitancy with tea, they made me a “proper British cuppa.” It was when they poured a splash of milk into the steamy tea that the tea-gates opened and my first step of inculturation was born. It was truly a revolution. The milk dulls the bitterness which I so disliked of tea (brewing it for the proper amount of time I have found also helps), and gives it a nice creamy flavor. I was a born again tea drinker. I was ready for England.

Towards the end of my time in England, people liked to ask me, “So what will you miss most about England?” The more  thought about it since then, I have realized that what I will miss most are the tea times. For the British, tea creates a space for hospitality, friendship, invitation, and consolation. When moving to a new house, your tea supplies are the first things you unpack and you “put the kettle on.” When someone comes over to your house-“put the kettle on.” Someone crying in the common room? “Put the kettle on.”

Whether significant or mundane, tea punctuates the moments of British life. It brings people together and warms their hands as well as their hearts. There is just no real equivalent in American life. How can we in the busyness of our American lives build those tea times into our routines? Make the time to stop and sit with each other, comfort one another, live with one another?

Because tea is so important, I thought that it deserved two different posts. Next week, I will not only describe how to make a “proper English cuppa” (Be prepared. The process is fraught with fascinating characters (see below) and controversy), but also explore some more of these issues.

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Hello Goodbye

“You say “Yes,” I say “No.”
You say “Stop,” and I say “Go go go.”
Oh no.
You say “Goodbye” and I say “Hello, hello, hello”
-The Beatles

There is a beautiful certainty in routines. I love when I have things figured out, when my life is going in the direction I know. When I have a plan and a destination and the steps forward are illuminated before me. I don’t like transitions. The awkward speed of the on-ramp or the slow taxi to the terminal with the seat belt sign still illuminated.

But that is the season in which I find myself. The lingering effects of Jet lag, the preparations to begin what will be my final year at Divinity School, and trying to process the previous year in England.

In May when I came home for Duke’s graduation, the minute I stepped off that plane everything I left in England became a blur. It was like I had fallen asleep at one airport only to awaken in a different one after having a dream worthy of L. Frank Baum.  This response scared me. Over the previous 10 months I know that I have been shaped and formed in ways that I am only beginning to understand. I have become more passionate about my calling to ordained ministry and more dedicated to my own personal discipleship, And, throughout that process  made friendships all across England that cherish.

The thought of all that growth vanishing the puff of smoke focused my final few weeks. I filled in all the gaps of my London to-do list, I took the time to eat with friends and learn some English recipes, and I wandered around Durham taking pictures and soaking up more memories so that I could board my plane in Newcastle with luggage full of souvenirs and a heart absent of regret. I succeeded in both. So, now the challenge begins of making this side of the transition successfully. Of integrating the lessons I learned in England to the life I live in the United States.

My first Sunday back at Trinity was in many ways a typical American Methodist service. There were two hymns, a creed, some prayers and a sermon. But at the same time, it was all different. The first hymn was “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” (one of my favorite of Charles Wesley), but sung to the American tune. The second, “Bless the Lord, O My Soul (10,000 Reasons) by modern English Christian songwriter, Matt Redman, was one that I sang many times over the past 10 months. As the service ended I realized that this was my new life. I realized that no longer are my only resources American ones. I realized that my theological, ministerial and personal worldview now stretches across the ocean. I am not sure how all of that is going to work. I am not sure how I am going to put the English lessons I learned into practice in the Church in America.

All these things are still a mystery and the questions they raise I hope will be fleshed out in new blog posts in the future, but also in sermons,  prayers,  conversations over cups of tea, or in debates in the classroom. As I said goodbye to those in England, my prayer was that my time would conclude with a comma instead of a full stop, that our lives would cease to intertwine because we not longer live in the same place or the same time zone. And I hope that the hellos to old friends and the new ones that I will make this year will be enriched by the experiences I have had and the people I have met because I am going to need both the old and the new, the English and the American in order to do the work that God has called me to. Where that journey takes me and us I don’t know, but as I merge back into American life I am grateful that I have so many more people in my corner now and though I may want to tell God to stop, all the signs are telling me to Go, Go Go.

Me and friends at my last meal in Durham.

Me and friends at my last meal in Durham.


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Day 3: Minister Matters, Ministers Matter

Today was my first full day of conference. It began as I left my friends’ house at about 7:30 am to catch the train into London. Before i came to this country, i had never ridden a train so the fact that i get to take one every morning is a treat. Now as I write this at 7:30pm I realize just how long of a day it was!  To be honest, though I am not as exhausted as I thought I would be or probably should be. I imagine that this will change as the week goes on, but as the saying goes, time flies when you are having fun.

Once again I got to take pictures for the first half of the day. At the end of the conference I should write a post about my favorites because today was a good picture day. There were some humorous ones and some more somber both of which make my job as a photographer fun.

John Wesley is a delegate ex officio.

John Wesley is a delegate ex officio.

Today was the last day of the Presbyteral session of conference. As a person who is looking forward to (hopefully) being ordained it was interesting to watch the presbyters at work.  One of the phrases that is used a lot in the UMC for elders (presbyters) is “covenant community.” Yesterday, during the opening prayers, the ordination vows formed the basis for some of the petitions along with the Covenant prayer. I thought that was a really nice way of reminding the gathered clergy of the things that hold them together.

I think the moment that stood out the most to me was the service of remembrance for those who had died in the past year. As I talk to many members of conference this service rivals the service of ordination as the favorite moment if worship of the week. There is something really special about celebrating not just a life well lived but one that was dedicated in service to God and God’s Church.

Candles to honor those ministers who have died in the past year.

Candles to honor those ministers who have died in the past year.

The service was followed by a report on ministers with ill health. At one point, someone pointed out the significance of the placement intentional or not. In a lot of ways, I wish that this session had been during the full session of conference. Ministers stood up gave stories of mental burn out, family moments missed and the other sacrifices of ministry. Others, however gave moving stories of congregations that helped them protect time and held them accountable to care for themselves.

I am by no means suggesting that clergy have tougher careers than those in the pews, or that they are more busy than the average person whose time is taken up trying to make ends meet. However, statistics show that clergy in the US have more health problems than the national average and many leave ministry with their faith in pieces, and thus clergy health is something that needs to be at the forefront of the Church’s mind.

As we enter into what will be a very grueling week let us be in prayer for the Methodist Church, as well as the delegates to Conference as they make important decisions, but let us also take time to rest and pray for those people, lay and clergy, whose service to the Church costs them and their families. Let us also work to create environments where sabbath is taken seriously and rest and retreat and self-care are seen as a am important piece of a successful life and ministry.

(This is a series of blog posts during the British Methodist Conference. For other posts click here: Day 1, Day 2)


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Day 2: And so it begins!

It was an easy start for me today. Because the main business of Conference began in the afternoon I got to sleep in a little and have the morning to be a bit of a tourist.  🙂

US embassy building in London

US embassy building in London

Because it was July 4th, a trip to the US embassy only made sense. It proved to be less exciting than I expected because like everything else in America it had the day off. The guards were friendly, but definitely not letting any tourists in, no matter their nationality.  I did get to enjoy the many presidential statues all around Grosvenor Square. There was FDR, Eisenhower, and Regan (not to mention the one of Lincoln next to the Houses of Parliament!)

The morning ended with a simple midday communion service at the not-so-simple St. Paul’s Cathedral. It really is a beautiful place!

Conference began after lunch with the Presbyteral (ordained Elders/minister) session. Conferences used to be only for the clergy and local preachers. As the movement grew, however, the church realized that the leadership needed to be shared with the laity–and it has been the stronger for it!

My main task was to walk around MCH and capture the feel of Conference with pictures. For a shutterbug like myself this was a dream come true! See the gallery below for some of my favorites, or go to the Methodist Church’s Flickr page for more.

Walking around I got to talk to many of the staff and volunteers who were helping to make the conference run. A little while ago a message went out to the circuits around London requesting volunteers and the people who stepped up have a passion for Methodism and a seriousness to their task. Methodist Central Hall is a very open place, so as one woman told me her job was to “help the right people in and keep the wrong people out.”

In the session, the highlight for me, and many, was the pastoral address given by the outgoing president of Conference, Mark Wakelin (click here to listen). He reminded the presbyters of three simple truths:

  1. God is God
  2. God is with us
  3. God believes in us.

There is going to be a lot of business done in the following days which is the result of the decline in membership of the Methodist Church in Britain. This reality can be responded to in many ways, however, I believe that if we as faithful people of God (who are also called Methodist) can  keep those three truths in mind we will witness God doing amazing things in and through our churches and the wider Connexion.

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(This is a series of blog posts during the British Methodist Conference. For other posts click here: Day 1)