Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Monsters, Van Helsing and Jesus: A popculture understanding of All Saints

I have spent the last three weeks preaching a sermon series inspired by Halloween and ultimately All Saints day. We focused on the monsters that live amongst us in Christ's Church. Like something out of the darkest corners of our imagination these church monsters arise and threaten our safety, our effectiveness and our futre. They threaten to devoir the body of Christ from the inside out, like a stage four cancer ravaging the body of our loved ones...they are very real and they are in every church across America. Vampires, Zombies and Werewolves roam the halls, sanctuaries and pews of our local churches and often we just tolerate it, but we need to over come them.

Over the past weeks we have talked about the life sucking church vampier, the contagious and devouring church zombie, and the ravenous church werewolf. There are ways to remove and stop their reign of terror, but most importantly there are ways to cure, to heal the monster among us. Ultimately its a combination of love, patience, hope and courage that leads to the healing of these church monsters and even more at the core of the source of healing is Jesus and the Saints.

There's a list of "monster hunters" out there, none more popular than Van Helsing. Van Helsing is a German/Dutch Doctor who suffered the loss of his true love at the hands of the famous Dracula and has devoted his life to ending dracula's reign of terror. Van Helsing was nearly killed by Dracula early in his hunting life and was saved by a man who became a father figure and taught him all he needed to know about hunting Dracula. There's Blade, another vampier hunter, but he's half vamp and half human. Blades mother was devoured by Vampier Deacon Frost, who ate her during Blades birth. Blade was then taken in by Afari, who was a jazz musician and vampier hunter. Afari helped Blade hewn his skills and learn to use the special vampier enzyme that was transferred to him from Deacon Frost at his birth.  There's Red, an adaptation of the Little Red Ridding Hood story. Red is the great, great, great grand daughter of Little Red Ridding Hood. Red is now the most recent of a line of Werewolf hunters, who devote themselves to ridding the world of werewolfs. She was trained by her mother, who was trained by her mother, who was of course trained by her mother and so on. There's Rick Grimes, the Georgia Sherifs deputy who is the leader of the remnant group of survivors in the Walking Dead's post zombie apocalypse world. Rick was left to die in a hosptial. He was unconscious when the outbreak happened and woke up 6weeks later. He was wondering in the post apocalyptic chaos when Morgan Jones and his son Duane recused him. They taught him about surviving in the new zombie world, they told him about all that had happened and they provided him with food and shelter.

What all theses monster hunters have in common is they all owe their survival and success to others. If it were not for those who came before them, they would have never survived. Because of their survival and success the world is a better place. It's safer, there are less monsters and all the oppression and injustice that societies monster often cause is righted. Much like these monster hunters the world is a better place because of the Saints and we owe all our life and success to Jesus. Jesus saved us. He taught us how to live, how to make it in this wilderness, how to stop the injustice and the monster who plagues or world and even or churches. And much like the monster hunters we saints not only owe our survival to Jesus, but to the Saints who come before us, on whose shoulders we stand. This all Saints the Gospel invites us to celebrate the lives of those who come before us and to remember that with out them, and most importantly, without Jesus we would be lost.

Monday, October 21, 2013

"All the Fat is the Lords"- Leviticus 3:16

On May 21st of this year, on the 18th anniversary of my Baptism and new life under God's covenant of grace, I decided to make a life change. At 32 I was seriously obese. At 254lbs I was diabetic, had hypertension and seriously high cholesterol. I made a choice to allow holiness to extended into the way I eat and treat my body. I choice to eat right and exercise everyday. Since then I have lost 55lbs. I no longer suffer from any of the medical problems that plagued me when I was fat. In 6months my life has been extended another 30 years. I encourage all my clergy friends and peers who struggle with their weight to seriously as God for the strength and the courage to make these changes in their lives as well. Our obesity as clergy does affect the way our members see us, it does affect the way we minister and even preach and it does affect our witness. I pray that all clergy will consider the truth that Christ's salvation holistic, which means spirt, mind....and BODY. May God grant us the courage to live holy lives.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Hospitality culture

I'm so interested in church growth and reaching young unchurched people. I've read books, taken classes and attended seminars, but I'm unable to translate their success into my own ministry, at lest on a large scale. While in Oklahoma one of the two little churches I served grew and had significant changes, but since being at my current appointment we've not. Which causes me to wonder...is it the pastor or the people that make a church grow. Now before any of you have the chance to say "neither, its the Holy Spirit." let me say you are absolutely correct, but in all practicality there is some kind of incarnational thing happening in the church that allows the Spirit to work. Does that come from the pastor, or the congregation?

I suppose it's a bit of both, but I'm leaning towards the later. I think a lot of it comes down to the people in the congregation. Are they warm? What kind of reputation does the church have in the community? What do they value and do they really value what thy say they value, i.e "we value children, but we have no children's ministry." Pastors come and go. We set the tone, we vision cast, we delegate and lead by example, but if a church is to grow all those things must be second to the hospitality of a church. If I were to plant a church the thing I would focus most on would be hospitality. You can get by with average music, average preaching, average programing, but not with average or worse, poor hospitality. Hospitality is the key tenant to a growing faith community. God hates inhospitality. God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their inhospitable ways and it seems like so many of our churches are experiencing this same kind of judgement for their inhospitality. I hope to change the culture of inhospitality in my own churches so that we can grow.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Healthcare, Shutdown and Other crap from the News: A Gospel Approach

The talk of the town, or of the nation, is the government shutdown over funding of the Affordable Healthcare Act, popularly known as "Obamacare".  Jimmy Kimmel proved how little we know about this law, or at least how much demonization has occurred by opponents of the law. He went to the streets and asked people which law they favored, the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare (keep in mind they are the same thing). Everyone that appeared on the skit said "the affordable care act" over "Obamacare" because they thought Obamacare was a waste of taxpayers money. I suppose it's funny, especially knowing that they are the same thing, but it's also sad that a very small radical faction of one political party has been able to, not only poison peoples public opinion and even understanding of a law that will perhaps grant them and nearly 50 million other Americans access to healthcare, but also cripple our government so much that it stopped operating. These 30 white privileged men have managed to take hostage the US federal government in their  terroristic ideological crusade to prevent Americans from having affordable healthcare!

As a Christian I am charged by my Rabbi and Lord Jesus, to "love my neighbor as myself." I have wonderful health insurance, which my 2-point charge so graciously provides (mostly because they are required to by mandate of the Annual Conference). As someone who loves their neighbor as themselves, or who at least gives it a very good attempt daily, I want my neighbor to have healthcare because I have healthcare. I want whats best for my neighbor just like I want whats best for myself. It's amazing to me that these 30 white privileged men, who all claim to be devote Christians have made it the utmost ideological point to prevent their neighbor from having what they have, which is quality, affordable healthcare, which you and I pay for through our taxes. This is the utmost of all evils. To lie, cheat, and bare false witness to the extent that peoples lives are at stake. These 30 men have worked tirelessly to keep the afflicted afflicted and to comfort the comfortable when the Gospel calls us to afflict the comfortable and to comfort the afflicted.

Now their godless crusade has extended into affecting not just the 50 million uninsured Americans, but also around 800,000 federal workers plus another 250,000-300,000 contract workers. All to ensure that not everybody is insured. It is during moments like this that I like to direct these 30 white males of privilege to the biblical prophets, including Jesus and John the Baptist. These men stood up for the oppressed and the under privileged and lost their lives for it. Now this isn't that serious. Honestly of the 4.1million federal workers most of them (some estimate nearly 80%) will keep working. The parks are closed, the Army/Navy game will be canceled and discretionary spending and non-essntial employees wont get paid, but the military, the Department of Homeland Security, the FAA and VA hospitals and clinics will remain open.

The worst of this is the people who won't be paid. Many people still have to report, but won't be paid because their jobs are essential, but their pay is tied to congressional appropriations. Also people who rely on Social Security to survive will not be paid. Their payments are mandatory spending and are not affected by a shutdown caused by a failure to pass appropriations, but the people who process and mail the checks their salaries are...so those social security dependent people will not get their checks either. Also the people who process VA benefits are deemed non-essenatital so the already back logged VA will become even more so the longer this drags on. Finally the cost is a real problem. These 30 white male privileged rich, who are always complaining about government spending will spend close to one hundred million dollars per day! (this number is based on the cost and number of days the government shutdown caused in '95).

I gospel response to anything always starts with, "What would Jesus say/think/do?" What would Jesus' response be to these white, wealthy, privileged male 30? Would Jesus advocate for the "fiscal responsibility" (as they call it, I call it congressional terroism) of these 30 men? Would he want the vulnerable who live on very little through the SSI system to not have anything? Would he want the men and women who fought and served this nation to be further bogged down by administrative back log? And would he want some kind of ideological war waged on the premise of not providing healthcare for the most vulnerable of societies population at the expense of one hundred million dollars per day? I don't think so. I want to end with this passage from Amos. This passage perfectly describes the will of these 30 men and their wealthy co-conspieres.

"I will not revoke their punishment;
because they sell the righteous for money,
   and the needy for a pair of shoes— 
7 they who trample the head of the poor into the ground,
   and push the afflicted out of the way;"-
Amos 2:6-7

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Josh