“All in the Family” — New Sermon Series to Begin November 12

Advent is the season where we prepare for the coming of Christ. Every year we return to the familiar story of Jesus’ family and birth—stories of Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah, John the Baptist and the journey to Bethlehem. This year, however, I want to offer a series of sermons that will take us back even further in Jesus’ family history—all the way back to Genesis, to the stories of Adam, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and others whose lives provide us with the foundational story of Israel, humanity, and our need for a Savior. In this six-part series, we’ll look at these stories from a new perspective, making connections between the Genesis generations, the coming of Jesus, and the implications for our own family relationships. Join us at 9:00 or 10:30AM each Sunday as we explore this historical, theological, and spiritual look at the Bible’s beginnings through the lens of the Bible’s first families.

November 12: Adam and Eve—The First Children

November 19: Noah—The Story of Salvation

November 26: Abraham—Father of Nations

December 3: Isaac—The Promised Son

December 10: Jacob—Wrestling with God

December 17: Joseph—The Goodness of God

In addition, on Tuesday evenings beginning November 14, we’ll start a new Bible study called "Invitation to Genesis" that focuses on these stories in more detail. Cost for the study book will be $15 and classes will begin at 7:00PM. I hope you’ll join us for this look at the Bible’s first family!

Another Clergy Scandal

The scandal encompassing Ted Haggard of New Life Church in Colorado Springs has been all over the news the past couple of days. Ted resigned as head of the National Association of Evangelicals and has taken a leave from his 14,000 member church because of allegations concerning sex with a gay prostitute and buying methamphetamine.

Stories like this aren’t new, but every time I read one it forces me to do some reflection. The truth is that all of us deal with temptations and with personal issues that bite at us constantly. Clergy are not exempt from those temptations and hypocrisies–in fact, we may be even more susceptible to them given the fact that we are expected to always be above reproach. Couple that temptation with a sense of power and you have a recipe for disaster.

My guess is that many clergy and church people will look at this latest of scandals and fall into a couple of camps: one saying that Ted Haggard is getting his just desserts for hitching his spiritual wagon to politics and another saying that it’s just another sad tale. For me, however, it is a stark reminder of the vulnerability that all of us experience. We are always just one wrong move from disaster. And the higher one has ascended in power and prestige, the farther one has to fall.

There’s a sense that many clergy have that makes them feel invulnerable–that they can be the moral authority and example and tell others how to live their lives. In one sense, that’s true: we are called to live an exemplary lifestyle. But for me part of that example involves being vulnerable–admitting our weakness, asking for help, not spending our time condemning others but working on our own stuff–not just when we get caught, but all the time. None of us are fully above reproach. None of us has a corner on the morality market. All we can do is point people to Jesus as our example and do our best to follow him ourselves.

Ted Haggard is a good man who failed to practice what he preached. All that means is that he’s human, and when we hold up our own humanity as the example and authority we will always fail to measure up. Better that we admit our humanity and give ourselves over to the grace and mercy of God who can move us toward a humanity crafted in his image rather than our own.

I won’t be throwing any stones at Ted Haggard. I feel for him and will pray for him and for all of us who struggle to lead God’s people despite the temptations of pride, ego, and invulnerability that are the bane of our profession. I think this is all a good wake-up call to Christ’s servants.

A Different Drum

In a Reuters news story from March of 2005, it was reported that tax defaulters in southern India were being forced to “face the music” after city authorities hired drummers to play non stop outside their homes until they paid up. After many residents ignored repeated demands to settle overdue property taxes, authorities in a city in Andhra Pradesh state have sent 20 groups of drummers to play outside offenders’ houses for the past week.

“They put up a spectacle outside the houses of defaulters, draw them out and explain their dues to them and the need to clear it at the earliest,” said T.S.R. Anjaneyulu, municipal commissioner of Rajahmundry city. “They don’t stop until people agree to clear the dues.”

The city, owed a total of 50 million rupees ($1.15 million), had been at its wits’ end after strategies like waiving interest and penalties had failed to recover the arrears. The new method seems to be working, though. One week of incessant drumming has cleared 18 percent of the backlog.

I’d guess you’d call that a “sound” strategy.

But what works for tax collection in India isn’t necessarily the best strategy for raising money for the work of the church. In fact, some people believe that the church is always beating the drum about finances and, when it comes time to talk about pledges, they’d rather plug their ears.

Speaking as a drummer, however, I’d like to offer a different technique to think about our giving. I think of issues like discipleship, giving, and stewardship as being the rhythm that we work by as followers of Christ. As a drummer lays down tracks for a jazz recording or a drumline sets the pace for a marching band, the Gospel of Christ sets our daily rhythm and agenda. We give our time, talent, and treasure not because we are being “beaten” into it, but because we want to be part of the band.

As we move toward our Consecration Sunday this Sunday, November 5, I hope you’ll be hearing the call of God as an invitation to join the band and march to the beat of a different drum—a rhythm of giving and service. Consider how God is calling you to “step up” in your giving in the coming year.

Oh, and on Sunday I promise you that my drumming will be aimed at worship, not extortion!

The Method in Methodism: Part VI–Worship (Sermon 10/29/06)

Today we wrap up our sermon series on “The Method in Methodism.” We’ve moved pretty far and fast in the last six Sundays, talking about the history of the Methodist movement, the theology of grace, and the Rule of Discipleship. If you’re still trying to catch up or missed some of the sermons in the series, I’d encourage you to check out my blog where the text for each sermon is posted, or you can go to the church web site and download the audio.

            So, this week we’re looking at the fourth quadrant of the Rule of Discipleship (the rule is on the front of the bulletin). It’s that public act of devotion we call “worship.”

            Now, when you say “worship” to people it’s one of those words that evokes different emotions and images for people in the church. For some, it is something formal and liturgical with robes and grand language. For others, worship is more informal and contemporary. The modes and forms of worship have long been the hot topic of debate in churches…even flaming into the “worship wars” of a few years ago when the traditional and contemporary camps came into open hostility.

            My first appointment, for example, was in a very traditional church on a college campus—organ, choir, robes every Sunday. Well, we wanted to add a second worship service that would give voice to the college students right outside our doors, so we started talking about a contemporary service with drums and guitars—not to replace the traditional service but as an additional option. I remember one very contentious board meeting where all this came to a head. We had several people who actually came saying that classical music was the only valid expression of worship—that drums and guitars weren’t really music at all.

            I was young…and a drummer…and not very bright. So I stood up in the meeting and said, “I would invite you to open your Bibles to Psalm 150…what does it say there? It says to ‘Praise God with loud clashing cymbals’ and with ‘stringed instruments.’ Now if you can find a reference in here to an organ as the only acceptable worship instrument, I’ll be quiet.”

            I spoke passionately (mostly because I was a drummer and wanted to play!), but in retrospect I could have used a much better argument than that. I now know that people tend to like what they like. I’m not a fan of rap, for example, and probably wouldn’t be all that thrilled with a hip-hop service, either.

            But personal preference and music styles are not what worship is about. Worship is about God. The form is less important than the function, and function is to give glory to God as a community of faith. We come to worship not to receive—it’s not a concert or a lecture—but to give our devotion to God.

            If I had been smarter as a young preacher, I would have put aside my instrumental bias and appealed instead to the Methodist tradition as the reason we wanted to offer some new expressions and opportunities for worship that would draw people into the presence of God.

            We know that John Wesley was an Anglican—a product of the Church of England and thoroughly steeped in the Protestant tradition (protestant meaning “protest”). Remember that during the Reformation the protest was against the rigid tradition of the Roman Catholic Church that, at the time, mediated everything through the priests who conducted all the services in Latin. People were generally illiterate in the Middle Ages and thus the Church ruled people’s lives with practices and forms that weren’t necessarily tied to biblical worship. Martin Luther argued that the Bible should be available to all people and that worship should be directed to God by all people and not mediated only through the priesthood.

            In England, as we have said, King Henry established the Anglican Church in protest to the Pope’s refusal to allow him to marry his mistress. While his reasons were specious, the result was not. The Church of England immediately set to work drafting it’s own liturgy in the English language so that all could understand it. In the 16th century, Thomas Cranmer put together the Book of Common Prayer which still guides worship in the Anglican/Episcopal tradition.

            Wesley used the Book of Common Prayer as a rubric, but he also realized that Methodism was taking shape among the common people of England—the poor and the uneducated, people who could not always access the scriptures or the music of the Church of England. Wesley himself often preached in the open air—in marketplaces and workplaces, so while he still held to the central pattern of worship in the Anglican tradition, he also recognized the need for freedom and flexibility in worship. In his revision of the Book of Common Prayer called “The Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America” (prepared as a guide for those going to the new United States to plant Methodist churches), Wesley inserted many opportunities for extemporaneous prayer and instructions for singing. His biggest concern was that worship be done “in spirit and in truth.” He was, as we have been saying, an orderly person and structure was important to him, but he also believed that there was a great deal of flexibility within that structure that opened new avenues for people to embrace the grace God was offering.

            “I design plain truth for plain people” was Wesley’s operative guideline. The Sunday Service of the Methodists, then, reflected this simplicity. He was most concerned that several elements be present in order to make this plain truth evident:

1. Scripture reading and preaching that interpreted the Bible and its application for common people.

2. Prayers, both written and extemporaneous, that engaged people with God.

3. Music that was simple and able to be sung and understood by the people

4. An opportunity for people to respond to the Gospel

5. The Lord’s Supper as a communal expression of God’s grace

            Methodist “preaching houses” were the places that the people would gather. Wesley still encouraged his people to go to the Church of England for the sacraments (remember, this was still a reform movement at this point). But he believed that the Anglican church had become stale and rote in its recitations of worship.

            If you went to an early Methodist meeting house like the New Room in Bristol , for example, you’d see a very plain place. The centerpiece of the worship would be the sermon, but you would also have a great deal of singing, generally done without accompaniment with the hymns having been written by Charles Wesley. The words were set to common tunes familiar to people from the taverns and popular music. The Methodists sang their theology as much as preached it.

            So, when we use drums and guitars in worship we’re really being good Methodists—adapting the message to the language of the people.

            When Methodism came to America, the focus shifted to an even more experiential model of worship. American Wesleyans were often referred to as “shouting Methodists” whose worship was characterized by loud singing and physical expression. When we think of the term “holy rollers” it actually comes from those days in the early 19th century, when Methodists on the frontier got so caught up in worship that they would be literally rolling in the aisles!

            In any case, Methodism has long held the tradition that worship must be directed to God, but that its forms can be adapted to the context of the people—anything that would promote “plain truth for plain people.” The goal, for Wesley, was transformation. Like Isaiah, who went into the Temple on an ordinary day and left with a vision for God’s call upon his life, so Wesley believed that worship was a means by which the people called Methodist could be transformed and, in turn, transform the world.

            The legacy of Wesley’s vision is that if you go to different Methodist churches around the world, you will likely experience a whole different range of worship styles. My friend Brian Hare-Diggs, who is pastor at First UMC in Salt Lake , for example, uses a very liturgical style of worship—very formal and by the book. But he does it with a spirit that is very engaging and not stuffy. It’s predictable but not static, ordered but not oppressive. I love to go there when I have a Sunday off because it’s also a very ethnically diverse church, yet in that worship setting all speak the same language.

            By contrast, Christ UMC, also in Salt Lake , offers several different worship services—several “churches within the church” as a way of inviting more people to hear the Word in their particular cultural language.

            Here, we’ve kind of adopted a “blended” style of worship. Mixing traditional and contemporary forms that reflects the diversity of our own community where people come from so many backgrounds and places. The goal is not to please everyone, but to please God by inviting as many people into God’s presence as possible.

            No matter what style of worship you use, though, we believe in structure—that worship is a rhythm of proclamation and response. Our service follows the basic Sunday pattern (you can see how its laid out in the front of the hymnal)—gathering music, a call to worship and a response: prayer and a hymn. We then read and expound upon the scriptures, and then respond through prayer, offering, and acts like the Lord’s Supper. We are then called to go out into the world in the benediction. This is the “Here am I, send me” moment of the service. The structure is always designed to move us closer to God so that we might be transformed.

            Not every church does worship in the same way and I think that’s a strength of our Methodist connection.  We offer multiple ways for people to engage God in their own language. I’ve met people who have come here and said, “Boy, you know, I wish you did X in worship.” And I have no problem saying to them, “You know, this other church does that. Why don’t you check them out?” It’s not about competition with other churches! The truth is that there are lots and lots of people out there who need to hear the good news and instead of trying to be in competition with our brothers and sisters (be they Methodist or not) we should all be playing to our strengths and working together to provide multiple, diverse opportunities for people to hear the Gospel.

            We focus on who we are and our context and let God do the rest. The key for us is to get out of our heads that worship is about us and our preferences. This is not a show for our evaluation. Rather, worship is always about what we bring to it—our energy, our enthusiasm. God is the audience, not us!

            As a pastor I believe that worship is the primary “job” that we do as a church. The word “liturgy” in fact means “work of the people.” Worship drives our life together, focuses us on God, energizes us for the task of changing the world, gets us out of our own concerns for awhile to focus on God.

            That’s why I believe that it’s essential for all of us to take worship seriously. To be here as often as possible to join the community of faith in praising God. To use different expressions and languages of word and music to touch the heart of God and change us. The goal is not to come to the end of a service and ask, “How was that for you?” but rather to ask, “How did we do? How well did we praise God today?” See, if we do a great job praising God, we’ll see the real effect in how God changes us.

            Wesley said that participation in public worship was one of the essentials for discipleship because it is in worship that we encounter God. My prayer is that we, as Methodists, will seek to be here every week expecting God to be present and expecting to be transformed by our encounter with him.

This Week in Worship

Jerusalem_cross_logo_2 This week we wind up our series on the Method in Methodism with a look at the Wesleyan way of worship. We’ll examine how worship is "job one" for the people of God and how it transforms us. We’ll also look at the structure of worship and how we can all be better worshippers as part of the Rule of Discipleship.

We will also have a baptism for a special set of twins at 9:00AM and treats between services provided by our Finance Team. Don’t forget to get your reservations in for our Consecration Sunday Brunch after each service on Sunday, November 5. Reservation cards will be available in worship or you can simply RSVP to the church office (435-649-8131). We want as many as people possible celebrating with us! The brunch is free and will be catered by Kumbayah Kitchens. Great stuff!