I went to two different worship services Sunday morning – I met my sister-in-law and my two nephews at their church, Bell Buckle United Methodist, and then rode with them to Goose Pond United Methodist, the church where my father has been serving since last summer, arriving not long after he’d started his sermon.
Both Rev. David Adams at Bell Buckle and my father at Goose Pond were using the Wesley Study Bible, instantly recognizable even from the pews from its two-tone green-and-brown binding.
It only served to remind me that I haven’t seen my Wesley Study Bible in months. I have no idea where I might have left it, perhaps at some church where I went as a lay speaker. I was looking at the lectionary passages tonight for this coming Sunday – I will be speaking at my home church, First UMC Shelbyville – and wishing I had my Wesley Study Bible to look them up in. I have plenty of other study Bibles, but I really do like the WSB.
I have several Bible translations on my Kindle, but an e-reader display isn’t ideal for the footnotes and marginalia of a good study Bible.
I’m not necessarily recommending that you go and listen to Dan Harmon’s “Harmontown” podcast, because it can be a little profane, and there’s a lot about Harmon’s humor that some people might take the wrong way. But I thought one segment of it was interesting this week.
Harmon, for those who aren’t familiar, is the creator of, among other things, the TV show “Community,” which he ran until the end of last season. He was fired by the producers after various situations including a public feud with one of his stars, Chevy Chase. Chevy eventually left the show this season, even without Harmon around to feud with. That’s not to exonerate Harmon completely; even the description for the podcast describes him as “self-destructive.”
Harmon is not, by his own admission, a religious man. But one theme of “Community” under his watch was tolerance and co-existence among those of different beliefs. The show features a Christian character, a Jewish character, and so on, and there were some episodes that specifically dealt with how they could be friends while holding different beliefs about the world. The Christian character, Shirley, is sometimes portrayed a little stereotypically, but she’s also portrayed with a lot of sympathy.
But Harmon and his podcast co-host, Jeff Davis (whom some of you may remember as an occasional cast member on “Whose Line Is It Anyway”) have no particular love for outspoken atheists like Bill Maher, whom they consider just as dogmatic, unthinking and harmful as some of the worst believers. They have an interesting conversation (joined by comic Kumail Nanjiani) about some of what offends them on both sides – the anti-scientific bent of some fundamentalists, but also the arrogance of some scientists towards others, including other scientists, who choose to believe that some aspects of life are beyond science. Many of the Richard Dawkins class of militant atheists point to various holy wars, inquisitions and so on as proof that religion is harmful, but Harmon says that they’re more about humanity than about religion – and if religion disappeared, those same abuses would go in in the name of some other cause. (“South Park” made much the same point, in an episode set in the future where Dawkins has managed to eliminate religion but where two different atheist organizations are fighting a holy war for supremacy over some arcane point.)
By the way, Harmon responds to the rumor floated last week that he might return to the show now that it’s been picked up for a fifth season and now that Chevy is gone. There’s apparently no such plan in the works. At one point, weeks ago, when the show’s fate was still in question, someone from the studio made a very informal inquiry to Harmon’s agent about whether Harmon would be willing to come back. At the time, Harmon suspects, the studio might have been brainstorming tactics to get the network to renew the show. But nothing ever came of it, and now that the show has already been renewed without Harmon he doesn’t expect there to be any real offer.
Anyway, I’ve warned you that there are aspects of the podcast you might find offensive. But if you want to listen, here’s the web site.
My tastes in music are eclectic, but I’ve always professed that my two favorite musical talents are Randy Stonehill and Terry Scott Taylor, both of whom I grew to love when I was in college. Randy, who goes back to the very early days of contemporary Christian music in the 1970s, is a singer-songwriter. Terry is the focal point of two overlapping bands, one called Daniel Amos (also known as DA) and the other called the Swirling Eddies, and he’s in a third band, Lost Dogs, and also releases solo albums. I still remember going with friends to see Randy Stonehill and Daniel Amos as a double bill in, I think, Bartlesville, Oklahoma, while a student at Oral Roberts University.
Two or three years later, when I was a senior in the spring of 1984, I was vice president in charge of student activities for the ORU Student Association. Our concert chair, Mike Rapp, brought in Randy on a double bill with Mark Heard (another favorite of mine, who died tragically young). I’ve told this story before, but I’m telling it again. I intended to sit next to Randy at the after-concert meal, and meet someone who was already one of my musical heroes.
Well, Randy ended up going through one of those airport-hell trips on his way to Tulsa – delays, missed connections, everything that could possibly go wrong. He arrived exhausted. Then, we had to tell him that, because of an arcane ORU rule, we wouldn’t be able to hand out flyers for Compassion International, a worthy charity with which Randy was closely affiliated and which he promoted at all of his concerts. Randy probably had every right to object or make a scene. He didn’t. He was the perfect gentleman. He gave a great concert – I guarantee, no one in the audience had any idea how tired he was – and stayed down front afterward to talk to anyone who wanted to talk to him. He behaved exactly as you would hope a Christian artist would behave. It’s so nice to meet one of your heroes and have them live up to your high expectations.
Needless to say, and quite understandably, he didn’t stick around for the after-concert dinner, and so I didn’t get the chance to have any sort of conversation with him. I met Mark Heard, and asked him a question which I realized as soon as I heard it coming out of my mouth was ridiculously stupid.
I saw Randy one other time in concert, a few years after college, when he was at the War Memorial Auditorium in downtown Nashville. I only saw DA in concert that one time.
OK, let’s jump to 2011. After not having toured in years, DA books a few dates, including one in Smyrna. Smyrna! But they failed to check with me on the scheduling, and managed to book the concert during one of the two weeks that summer when I was at Camp Cumberland Pines at Mountain T.O.P.’s Adults In Ministry program. By a strange coincidence, my roommate in camp that week was devoted Mountain T.O.P. volunteer “Smitty” Smith, a member of the very church in Smyrna where DA was performing.
Now, it’s 2013. Randy Stonehill was scheduled to appear May 18 and 19 at the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville as part of the “One Way Experience,” a sort of CCM nostalgia event also featuring Chuck Girard, Michael Omartian, Evie and The Archers. For my birthday, my wonderful sister, Elecia, gave me a ticket to the May 18 concert….
… which has now been cancelled, for some unannounced reason.
For the second time in two weeks, Mountain T.O.P. has lost a great friend. Last week, of course, it was Mary Margaret Willems. This week, it was Ken Swift.
If you’ve only been involved in Mountain T.O.P. in the past few years, you might not have ever known Ken. He was the ministry’s food service manager for many years, and in the last few years of his tenure he worked with facilities as well. He had been involved in the ministry since the very beginning, if I recall correctly, when George Bass and his youth group from Blakemore United Methodist founded Mountain T.O.P. in 1975.
Ken was a member of our 20th anniversary storybook committee in 1995, providing a vital link to those early years. He was a man with a kind spirit and a quiet disposition. He was also a great cook. He loved the Mountain T.O.P. ministry deeply.
Obviously, I never met Roger Ebert. But I admired him greatly as a writer. Most people knew him from TV, but he was a newspaperman first and foremost, a Pulitzer Prize winner and a living symbol of the Chicago Sun-Times. When cancer took his voice and reshaped his face, he kept on going, both in print and on television.
In recent years, his online presence allowed him to write, in thoughtful and brilliantly-expressed views, about a wide range of subjects unrelated to movies. He policed the comment sections under his blog posts, and they consistently drew a high level of spirited but respectful discussion. I often agreed with him and always respected him.
The other life lost to cancer today was Mary Margaret Willems. Her, I knew. We’d been halfway across the globe together as members of a LEAMIS International Ministries mission team. I saw the love in her eyes and the cellophane gloves on her hands as she handed peanut butter sandwiches to special needs kids from Grundy County as part of Mountain T.O.P.’s Kaleidoscope program. How many hours did she spend in the dining hall kitchen at Cumberland Pines, feeding kids, teenagers or adults? There’s no way of telling. I’ve stayed with Bob and Mary Margaret on several occasions when LEAMIS was holding a training event or a board meeting in Monteagle.
Mary Margaret and my mother were both breast cancer survivors. The pancreatic cancer that claimed my mother was, we were told, completely unrelated to her breast cancer. But I believe the cancer that took Mary Margaret was a holdover, an enemy thought vanquished but only lying in wait.
Damn, I hate cancer.
I had a long day of work today, but tonight I’m doing the work of Relay. Bob knows, and Mary Margaret knew, about the American Cancer Society Relay For Life. They were participants, there in Grundy County. They donated to me the first time I did Relay.
On my way back from working for our sister paper in Marshall County, I stopped by House of Prayer Ministries here in Shelbyville to take photos of the dress rehearsal for the annual “Hee Haw & Howdy” revue, a cancer society benefit here in Bedford County since the 1970s. Opening night for this year’s “Hee Haw & Howdy” will be April 12. That was the birthday of another cancer victim: my mother.
After leaving the Hee Haw cast to their hilarity, I had to drop by my father’s house to pick up the strawberry cake he has baked for the Times-Gazette’s Relay For Life bake sale tomorrow. Now, I have the first of two loaves of home-baked bread proofing on my kitchen table, ready to go into the oven in a few minutes. Those loaves will also go into the same bake sale.
Even if you didn’t know Mary Margaret, or my mother, and even if you weren’t a Roger Ebert fan, you have lost someone to cancer. You also know someone who has beaten cancer, almost certainly with the help of advances derived from American Cancer Society-funded research.
The Relay For Life motto is “Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back.” As we celebrate cancer survivors, and remember those we’ve lost, let’s not forget the third part of that equation. Get a colonoscopy. Use sunscreen. Exercise. It’s not too late to form a Relay For Life team, wherever you are, but if that’s not in the cards you can donate to a team or individual. Drop by your local Relay; it’s not just for the registered participants. There will be concessions, and fun activities, and a moving luminaria ceremony.
He’s right. Let’s make some noise; let’s finish this fight.
Because I got the call to preach at the last minute, I dug through the “sermons and devotionals” folder on my hard drive and found two earlier occasions when I spoke on Palm Sunday. This is basically my 2009 sermon, with a few tweaks and a paragraph lifted from my 2002 sermon.
Mt. Lebanon UMC and Cannon UMC
Palm Sunday – March 23, 2013
Luke 19:28-40 (NRSV)
19:28 After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
19:29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples,
19:30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here.
19:31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’”
19:32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them.
19:33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”
19:34 They said, “The Lord needs it.”
19:35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.
19:36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road.
19:37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen,
19:38 saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”
19:39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”
19:40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
In 2005, I made my second short-term mission trip to Kenya. On my first trip the year before, we’d been working in the Kibera slums right outside Nairobi. But on this trip, we were working in a place called Ndonyo, in southwestern Kenya. It was a six-or-eight-hour drive for our team, which was riding in two weather-beaten vans. Continue reading →
My high school graduating classmate Ronnie Helton attends Ransom United Methodist Church, which my father used to pastor, and Ronnie was kind enough to invite me to Ransom’s Passover meal tonight.
Rabbi Ken Gibbs is the leader of Yeshuat Yisrael, a Messianic Jewish congregation in Franklin. Messianic Jews (a term that some other Jews find offensive) are people who are Jewish by ancestry and heritage but who have converted to the belief that Jesus is the Messiah. Like the earliest disciples, they worship Jesus within the context of Jewish practices and customs, believing (as all Christians do) that Jesus is the fulfillment of Judaism’s messianic prophecies.
This is the second year that Rabbi Gibbs has come to Ransom to lead a Passover meal, explaining the traditional Jewish customs and explaining how many of them contain symbolic ties to Jesus. I’ll be writing a story for the T-G, and I’ll link to that once it’s done, and so I won’t go into a lot of detail tonight. But I found it moving and illuminating. We had bitter herbs, and unleavened matzoh bread. Instead of drinking four cups of wine, as in the authentic tradition, we took four sips, spread out at various points in the evening, from a glass of grape juice.
Rabbi Gibbs spoke about the tragedy of anti-Semitism that was the shame of Christianity for centuries, and how it caused the early church to purposely reject some of the Jewish traditions that the earliest disciples held so dear, even as a part of their new understanding.
The photo, if you don’t recognize it, is matzoh ball soup.
Our actual meal, apart from some of the symbolic items used in the ceremony, was chicken – but that’s actually common, said Rabbi Gibbs. Lamb was the original Passover meal, but lamb is associated with animal sacrifice, and the Jews cannot make sacrifices in the present age because the temple mount is occupied by the Dome of the Rock. Using a lamb for the sacrifice would be suggestive of a sacrifice that had not take place, and so Jews from some parts of the world don’t do it. (Others do, according to a little quick online research.)
I was really glad I got to go and participate in this.
Christianity Today, in the wake of Dr. C. Everett Koop’s death this week, has re-posted a 1989 profile of Koop by its editor-at-large Phillip Yancey. Yancey writes about how Koop, who at the time of his appointment was hailed by conservatives and vilified by liberals, was later hailed by liberals and vilified by conservatives – all the while following his own beliefs as a Christian and a physician.
Some years after that profile, Yancey wrote one of my favorite books, Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church. The book is a series of profiles of people whom Yancey admired and whose examples had strengthened Yancey’s faith (later editions of the book altered the subtitle to make the book’s content a little clearer). They were honest profiles, not whitewashed, and Koop’s chapter included the scandal which came a few years after the earlier 1989 profile. Koop participated in, and allowed his name to be used for, a medical web site which didn’t disclose that some of its medical advice was advertising-driven.
Koop also testified before Congress about latex allergies without revealing that he’d been a consultant to a latex glove manufacturer; I don’t think this was in Yancey’s book, and I only read about it today.
Black marks aside, however, I think that Yancey’s 1989 profile reveals a man of compassion, principle, and a devotion to honest dialogue. I highly recommend you read it.
Psalm 27 (NRSV)
27:1 The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
27:2 When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh– my adversaries and foes– they shall stumble and fall.
27:3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.
27:4 One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.
27:5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.
27:6 Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD.
27:7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!
27:8 “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, LORD, do I seek.
27:9 Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!
27:10 If my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me up.
27:11 Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.
27:12 Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence.
27:13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
27:14 Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!
(Concord had special music today, featuring Jonathan and his daughter Corinna Lingle of Trinity UMC, and they were wonderful.)
The first verse of the 27th Psalm is one of the most beautiful in the Bible: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
Of whom shall we be afraid? Of what shall we be afraid? Continue reading →
Normally, I preach from the Revised Common Lectionary, and had every intention of doing so this time. People don’t always expect guest speakers to follow the lectionary, but I find it a great discipline, one which forces me to look at the scripture rather than sticking to stories or themes with which I’m comfortable. When I went to look up the week’s passages on the web site, however, I looked at the wrong date — a special mid-week observance rather than what were supposed to be the Sunday passages. By the time I realized my mistake, I’d already started working on the sermon, and — with Rev. Nan Zoller’s permission — I went ahead with it.
Feb. 3, 2013
Luke 2:22-40 (CEB)
22When the time came for their ritual cleansing, in accordance with the Law from Moses, they brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. (23It’s written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male will be dedicated to the Lord.”) 24They offered a sacrifice in keeping with what’s stated in the Law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.
25A man named Simeon was in Jerusalem. He was righteous and devout. He eagerly anticipated the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27Led by the Spirit, he went into the temple area. Meanwhile, Jesus’ parents brought the child to the temple so that they could do what was customary under the Law. 28Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God. He said,
29“Now, master, let your servant go in peace according to your word, 30 because my eyes have seen your salvation. 31You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples. 32It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles and a glory for your people Israel.”
33His father and mother were amazed by what was said about him. 34Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “This boy is assigned to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that generates opposition 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your innermost being too.”
36There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, who belonged to the tribe of Asher. She was very old. After she married, she lived with her husband for seven years. 37She was now an eighty-four-year-old widow. She never left the temple area but worshiped God with fasting and prayer night and day. 38She approached at that very moment and began to praise God and to speak about Jesus to everyone who was looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
39When Mary and Joseph had completed everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to their hometown, Nazareth in Galilee. 40The child grew up and became strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was on him.
Our Bible passage begins with Joseph, Mary and Jesus heading to Jerusalem, a trip of about six miles from Bethlehem.
There’s a reference to ritual cleansing – and many Bible versions refer to “their” ritual cleansing. That pronoun is a little bit of an evasion. The first reason for the family to go to Jerusalem was specifically for Mary to be ritually cleansed. Under Jewish law, childbirth made a woman ritually unclean – for 40 days if the child was a boy, and 80 days if the child was a girl. (This was, of course, a very patriarchal society, a society where men had a lot more value than women.) During that time, women couldn’t participate in any religious ceremonies or services. Continue reading →