Thursday, May 26, 2016
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Friday, May 13, 2016
Friday, May 6, 2016
36 Jesus also told them a parable: ‘No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old. 37And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. 38But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. 39” ’
* --Luke 5:36-38
In the passage referenced above, Jesus declares that the kingdom he is ushering in is greater than any other before it. What Christ was teaching was brand new, it was radical. Jesus' ministry and teachings are built upon the foundations created by the prophets that came before him but his teachings cannot, and will not, conform to the traditional patterns of the law and piety that have previously occurred.
In Jesus' time, goatskins were used to hold wine. As fresh grape juice was fermented within the skins, the wine would expand and thus the new wineskin, which was pliable, would stretch. However, a used wineskin, that had already been stretched would break. A challenge for us as Christians, particularly when it comes to congregational life, is to be ready for new skins and new wine. We love our traditions, familiarity and comfort are paramount. Thus, we often fight to preserve our old wineskins. You might argue that aged wines are more delectable than new wines. Fair enough. But, what happens when you've used up all of your portion? What happens when the supply from which you draw becomes soured over time? You cannot simply begin to pour all of your new wine into the vessels as they currently sit. No, you must be at the ready with new skins to accommodate the new wine.
An important commitment for leaders in ministry--whether for pastors, educators, youth directors, chaplains, elders, deacons-- is continuing education. In the same way that you would want your physician to be up to date on the most current medical procedures, you want your spiritual leaders to be open to deeper study of the Scriptures and learning new ways to engage in ministry. I like to think that as church leaders, our time spent in Continuing Education--whether away at a conference, or reading the books in our libraries--helps us to let go of the old and be remolded into new wineskins. It renews our spirits and refreshes us that we might be vessels of Christ's good news! The education that we receive is then fermented into nourishment for those around us who thirst in their lives.
I can certainly do a better job of engaging in continuing education. It is difficult for me to travel very far for a long period of time and leave my young family behind. But I can certainly continue to read and share in thoughtful dialogue with my peers. Because you see, I find that we can never know all there is to know about God. So, lifelong learning is a really important part of being a Christian. I desire for my congregation to embrace this truth. I hope each of them will engage learning more about our faith in a way that is meaningful to their spiritual journey. As I ask this of them, I commit to doing the same. I don't want to become old and stale. The present culture in which we reside demands that we open ourselves up to new experiences. I don't want to break under the pressures of a changing world, I want to be strong enough to stretch and grow with it. I want that for my faith. I want that for my Church. I want to take every opportunity presented to me to experience the new things God is doing in my life, my community, and the world. What about you?
Thursday, March 10, 2016
Thursday, March 3, 2016
Thursday, February 25, 2016
In all seriousness though, when I heard that a tornado had touched down in Appomattox County yesterday afternoon, my heart immediately sank as I reached out to my beloved friends in that community to find out if folks were safe. I am thankful that they have met no bodily harm and that for those whom I know personally, damage can be repaired. But not everyone faired so well, life was lost, homes destroyed, tangible memories ripped from people's possession forever. It is good today to hear of the clean up work that is taking place. It is good to hear of people coming together as a community to support one another (as the people of Appomattox have always done in times of heartbreak) with water and supplies, with makeshift shelters, with the support of prayers. The power may be out, the town may be literally sitting in the dark, but a great light shines in their collective spirit.
We often beg the question: Why do bad things happen to good people? Or to phrase the question as Donald McKim does in his book Presbyterian Questions, Presbyterian Answers, "Does God will evil and suffering in the world and in our lives?"
As Presbyterians we believe (or are taught theologically) that God is Good and that all which God creates is good. In Genesis 1:31 we are told "God saw everything that God had made and indeed, it was all very good." 1 Timothy 4:4 says, "For everything created by God is good."
In simple terms "evil" is what opposes God. We use the term evil in multiple ways, to describe groups or individuals that are in opposition of God's purposes. For an example of what God's purposes are we can look to Christ, who is described as the "image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation" in Colossians 1:15. What we are questioning today is "natural evil". Natural evil are those things that occur in creation which bring tragedy and devastation to the human experience.
We do not believe that God's wills evil or that God wills suffering to happen in the world. We do believe, however, that God can use such situations for the ultimate good. That is to say, God did not send a tornado through Evergreen, Virginia yesterday to bring a small community to their knees in repentance for a sinful life. Such a tragedy is not the result of any immorality on the part of humankind. It was not God working through nature to create a tool of punishment in any way shape or form. Nor is any other natural disaster used for that purpose in any other place in the world (remember Haiti...Katrina...Joplin). It is just what we are calling it... a natural occurrence in creation. However, God is already using it for the good, as is being witnessed by organizations and individuals who are coming forward to show love and compassion to their neighbors in a time of great need.
As Don McKim writes, "We do not know reasons for evil or suffering. What we do believe by faith is that God will be with us in the midst of our sufferings and that God's grace and power of love will enable us to endure, even in the 'darkest valley' (Ps. 23:4). So we are sustained. We believe God can use the evil and sufferings we encounter and do within us, 'far more than all we can ask or imagine' (Eph. 3:20). This is our comfort and our hope."
I hope you will join me in prayer for this little community in the heart of Virginia that has in the past few years had far more than its share of tragedy and grief. But do not feel pity or sorrow for them, they would not want that. From my few years living within the community I feel that the citizens that make up Appomattox and Evergreen, they would welcome your prayers, they would appreciate your assistance, but they would foremost want you to know their strength. Not only their physical strength as a community, but their spiritual strength as well.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, 4who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God."
--2 Corinthians 1:3-4