Getting Out of the Wedding Business

weddingAsk most pastors which they’d rather do—a wedding or a funeral—and most will tell you they’d take the funeral every time. There are a lot of reasons for that, but I like to explain it terms of focus. At a funeral, everyone is focused on their own mortality, so their attentiveness to spiritual things is heightened. There is anxiety, but it is a focused, real, tangible anxiety—an anxiousness to hear a word from the Lord.

Weddings, on the other hand, often have a different kind of anxiety—a disproportionally whacko brand of anxiety. It’s amazing to see what people will be wrapped around the axle about as so much pressure is put into a day full of too many expectations. What is supposed to be a joyous occasion often winds up as a Maalox moment, not only for the wedding party but for the pastor, too.

Every pastor has stories about whacked out weddings and I’ve got more than my share. There was the outdoor wedding I officiated where the fog was so thick that you couldn’t see past the first row of guests (I wound up doing play by play). Or the one where I showed up only to discover that the whole wedding party were dressed in 3 Musketeers outfits, puffing on cigarettes and threatening to start a swashbuckling brawl with their fake swords. Or the one where I walked into the rehearsal to find the mother of the bride and male wedding coordinator (think “Franc” from Father of the Bride) screaming at each other and the bride in convulsive tears. Or the couple who insisted on writing their own wedding vows—she wrote two pages, he wrote three sentences, each of which began with, “I will try…” I quoted the eternal words of Yoda to him: “Do or do not, there is no try.”

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A Family on Mission

Lessons from the Jesus Trail, Part III

Mark 3:31-35

Section of the old Via Maris. The Valley of the Doves and Sea of Galilee are in the distance.

Section of the old Via Maris. The Valley of the Doves and Sea of Galilee are in the distance.

The trail from Nazareth down to the Sea of Galilee winds downward through small villages and gentle valleys dotted with dairy farms and groves of olive and banana trees. We don’t know for sure what route Jesus took when he left his childhood home and went down to Capernaum on the north end of the Sea, but he might have used the Roman road known as the Via Maris (the way to the sea) for at least part of the journey before taking a shortcut through the Valley of the Doves, which cuts below Mount Arbel, one of the tallest peaks of the region.

Though we saw a section of the Via Maris on the second day of the hike, the Jesus Trail doesn’t generally follow the easiest route. In fact, it skirts the Valley of the Doves and goes over Mount Arbel which the founders of the trail no doubt included for its beautiful view of the Sea of Galilee. From the top of the peak you can see virtually all of the area where Jesus conducted most of his ministry over a three year period—a small triangle between the towns of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum.

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The Kingdom Party

Part III of “From Nazareth to Capernaum: Lessons from the Jesus Trail”

John 2:1-11

A Bar Mitzvah party in the square, Jewish Quarter, Jerusalem

A Bar Mitzvah party in the square, Jewish Quarter, Jerusalem

One of the things that you discover when you travel to Israel is that people in the Middle East like a good party. I’m not talking about the “whoo hoo” kind of par-tee that we tend glorify in films and beer commercials, instead I’m talking about celebrations with a purpose. In a land where there are deep divisions between religions and races, the one thread that is common to all of them is a deep sense of hospitality which is extended to everyone.

I gain about 6 pounds every time I travel there and this trip was no exception. Even after 40 miles of hiking, I’m still trying to trim down. During the tour, we had buffet breakfasts and dinners, but we also experienced the hospitality of people like our bus driver, Ishmael—an Arab with a big belly, a big laugh, a big family, and very big heart. As we got to know him, he opened his life to us. For lunch one day, he and his wife prepared us a massive dish called Maqluba, which is rice, vegetables, and meat cooked together and flipped over right before serving. We ate it as a picnic lunch overlooking Jerusalem—a special treat made with great love and hospitality. We were honored guests.

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Nazareth and The Mount of Jumpification

From Nazareth to Capernaum: Lessons from the Jesus Trail (Part I)

Scripture Readings: Isaiah 61; Luke 4:14-30

Jesus TrailA couple of years ago, I came across an article in Backpacker magazine about The Jesus Trail, which was established 8 years ago by an Israeli couple, Maoz and Schlomit Inon along with an American named David Landis. Their idea was to put together a hike that would not only incorporate some of the key sites in the region, but would also give people a chance to be immersed in the various cultures that live beside one another in the towns and villages of northern Israel. Having been to Israel 5 times with tour groups, I immediately wanted to hike this trail and spend some time on the ground going to places that tourists rarely see. Thanks to our SPRC and the grant of some additional study leave, I was able to do this bucket list trip and during this mini sermon series I want to share with you some of what I learned on the way while following in the footsteps of Jesus.

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Strangely Warmed

Pentecost and the Future of the Methodist Movement

Acts 2:1-21

flame

Photo credit by Scharx on Deviant Art: http://scharx.deviantart.com/art/Flame-on-Fire-280535683

There are weeks in the life of a preacher where a lot of things come together at once that seem like an intentional convergence that requires some comment. This was one of those weeks. Yesterday, for example, we had the convergence of three holidays—two that you may be familiar with and one that you may not. It was the Sunday before Memorial Day, of course, when we remember those who have fallen in service to our country, but on the church calendar it was also the Sunday of Pentecost, the festival in which we remember the day the Holy Spirit came upon the early church in Acts 2—an event that many consider to be the “birthday” of the church.

But May 24 is also a Methodist holiday specifically. We call it Aldersgate Day, the anniversary of John Wesley’s conversion from a troubled Anglican priest to the founder of the Methodist movement, one of the greatest movements in Christian history. It was on May 24, 1738, that Wesley went to a meeting on Aldersgate Street in London; this after returning from a failed missionary venture in the colony of Georgia that ended with Wesley feeling like a spiritual and clerical failure. Wesley wrote in his journal that day:

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