- 9:30am: Prayer for our Church
- 9:45am: Sunday School
- 10:55am: Worship
- 3:00pm: After-School Tutoring
- 5:30pm: Wednesday Night Dinner
- 6:15pm: Wednesday Night Program
- 7:00pm: Choir Practice
Last spring in the wake of the Lent and Easter season, I found myself pretty worn out. I was still going through the motions of ministry, but soul felt dry and I needed a break. Luckily, several weeks earlier, I had followed through on a desire that I had been carrying for many years to spend some time at the Saint Meinrad's Archabbey, a Benedictine monastery in Southern Indiana. So the day after Easter, I pointed the Corolla north and made my through Kentucky into the rolling hills of Indiana.
It was a formative week for me in many different ways, but perhaps the most important thing I experienced during my time at Saint Meinrad's was participating in the daily prayer times with monks of the Abbey. Monastic communities are a church tradition going back to at least the 4th century. They arose in the desires of faithful persons who withdrew from normal life to the deserts of Egypt in their search for God. Over time these "desert fathers and mothers" would gather together in communities focused around the Godly life, and the practice of prayer. Prayer became the first priority of these communities, and monks today continue to pray according to a schedule of "divine hours" which involves gathering together anywhere from 5 - 8 times daily for communal prayer. It was this practice that I experienced and came to love at Saint Meinrad's.
Every morning I would awaken between 4:30 and 5:00 a.m. to get dressed and ready for the "morning office" (also known as Matins and Lauds). Then I would make my way into the grand and gothic Archabbey Church, sometimes sitting in the dark until the bells began to ring and the monks arrived for prayer. We would then pray together, using the Psalms as our guide. The monks would be chanting the prayers according to a simple musical system, and then would read three complete Psalms responsively. It was a structured time, but I found it to be a holy time when God seemed near. Most important, the gathering of a community for prayer both held me accountabile to the practice, but also helped me to recognize that I am not engaged in the life of faith on my own, but rather in a community of love and support.
In comparing monastery notes with a community friend a few weeks ago, we both quickly recognized the longing for a similar experience in "the village." I recognized that this form of prayer isn't for everyone, but it offers and structured and communal means of connecting to God, and so we agreed to give it a shot, to gather at 6:30 a.m. every morning to pray a single daily office.
Trust me, our prayer time is based on the monastic tradition, but it isn't a slave to it. We have our own unique Old Hickory spin, but we've rooted what we are doing on the praying of the Psalms and offering up prayers for one another and our community. It's a short service -- 20 minutes or so -- but it draws on the ancient traditions to help a new generation of folks connect to the holy.
I hope you will come check out our prayer time some time during the Advent season, or maybe even commit to joining us on Monday through Fridays.
In doing so, I believe that you too will come to see the value of prayer in community.
Last night Anna and I traveled down to the Brentwood United Methodist Church for a special worship service in celebration of the appointment of our interim bishop, Ben Chamness. During his sermon to the annual conference, Bishop Chamness challenged congregations take seriously the mission of our denomination to be engaged in “…making disciples for the transformation of the world.” He suggested that we haven’t always been engaged faithfully in disciple-making. “We’ve focused more on getting people to be good church members,” he said, “rather than being faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.”
Bishop Chamness is right, and it us unfortunately the fault of pastors, D.S.’s, and bishops who far too often equated church membership with being a disciple. In the desire to make our statistics look good, we’ve been guilty of not expecting much of church goers. “Just come to church,” we said, “that’s all that’s required of you.”
It’s no wonder that our kids have drifted away from the church. A recent survey of teens and young adults in the church discovered that very few understood the radical call of Christ on their lives. The researchers found in fact that these kids actually practiced what the researchers called “moralistic therapeutic deism,” a religion which suggests that faith is about being a good person, feeling good about yourself, and having a general sense of a creator who loves you. While that may sound well and good, in fact that really isn’t what Christianity is all about.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the famous German pastor and theologian, begins his opus on discipleship with these words: “When Christ calls a man he bids him to come and die.” What Bonhoeffer is saying is that discipleship is not something to be taken lightly. The gospel is not simply about feeling good, but rather knowing that God’s love compels us to a new way of life, one in which we are called to “take up our crosses” to follow Jesus daily.
So what DOES it mean to be a disciple?
One definition that I have been living with recently is that disciples of Jesus Christ are people who witness to the love and grace of Jesus in the world, and who follow his teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Disciples are people who take Christ’s great commandment to love God with all heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves seriously. Disciples do this through engaging in the various “means of grace” (prayer, study, accountability, worship, sacraments, etc.) and participating in ministries of mercy and justice. In the United Methodist tradition, disciples gather together to hold one another accountability to a commonly held “rule of life,” which guides our faith and practice together. This rule may be the vows we make when we join the church (the call to support our church through prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness) or it may be John Wesley’s “General Rules” (avoid evil, do good, and attend to the ordinances of God), but in any case it involves participation in some form of small group in which we can mutually hold each other accountable in love.
Bishop Chamness shared the story last night of Clarence Jordan, author of the Cotton Patch Bible and the founder of the Koinonia Farms community in Georgia. At one point in his ministry of racial reconciliation in the 1950’s he asked his brother, a lawyer who was considering running for office, for his assistance. His brother was reluctant to offer it believing that it would negatively affect his political career. “Hmmm…” said Jordan, “I remember when you and I walked an aisle in our church at the same time and said that we want to follow Jesus.” “It sounds to me now,” he went on that you are more of an admirer of Jesus, wanting to look from afar at him on the cross, but not wanting to be a true disciple and follow in his footsteps.”
Are you an admirer of Jesus, or are you on the road toward becoming his disciple.
Our mission as a denomination and as a church is to be in the business of disciple forming.
Will we truly be involved in carrying out that mission?
Updated 10/10/11: The Talents Survey distributed during Sunday morning's worship service is now available for you to download.
Each year, often in the month of October, we take a few moments as a congregation to intentionally think about the issue of stewardship. "Steward" is an interesting word, for it is a derivative of the Old English phrase "sty ward," which literally meant "the keeper of the pig sty." To be a steward is to be given something to care for (such as the pigs in the sty) and having the responsibility to ensure that whatever we are given is well cared for. Within our current context, we have been given the responsibility to care for God's mission and ministry through this community we call the Old Hickory United Methodist Church, and our stewardship is about ensuring that this ministry and mission is well cared for.
This year our theme for thinking about stewardship is Something2Share. As people of faith, we believe that everything we have been given by God is given for the benefit of the entire world; that we have been blessed to be a blessing. Simply put, the gifts we've received are meant to be shared -- indivudally and as a church community. This includes the gifts of time, talents, prayers, resources, and our very lives. Throughout the month we are thinking each week about what each one of us has to share, moving toward a time of re-commitment in which we share our gifts with the church and with one another.
However there is another question in all of this we can't ignore: "Do we as a church have something to share?" In many ways, this is the central question for if we don't have a message, a purpose, and a ministry to share with those around us, then it doesn't make much sense to invest our time, talents, prayers, and resources in this institution. We don't exist simply to exist. We exist because God has brought us together for the express purpose of being a witness of God's love and grace, sharing that love and grace with others throughout the Old Hickory region. If a church has nothing to share, frankly it ceases to be a church.
I believe that we indeed have something to share. As people in the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition, we have been given the task of sharing the message of God's amazing grace, a grace that is present even before we are aware of it. We have been given a vision of a faith balanced between head and heart, balanced between piety and service, a faith that understands that love of God and love of neighbor are two sides of the same coin. We are a church that is welcoming of all persons seeking after God's presence in their lives, rooted in the scriptures and the traditions of our church, but open to asking the difficult questions of faith without fear of attack. We don't claim to have all the answers, but we embrace a theology of the journey which understands that all of us are in different places in our growth in discipleship, and that we are all moving on toward being perfected in love. Yes, we have Something2Share, and in this post-modern world we live in, that message is even more important than ever.
I hope and pray that you will be thinking seriously about what you have to share this month, as well as how your sharing contributes to the sharing of the Old Hickory United Methodist Church. I firmly believe that we all have Something2Share, and when we live into that reality we will see amazing things happening among us.
Karl Barth, the respected theologian of the 20th Century, is often cited for noting that Christians should “…hold the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” What Barth was trying to get at was that the bible, as well as our faith in God, has real world implications.
Barth understood the call of Jesus as something which doesn’t take us out of the world, something that isn’t a call to hide behind a pile of rocks, but rather engage with the stuff of this world, both good and bad, as we work together to help Christ’s kingdom reality break forth. The stuff of the newspaper – the headlines that stir up the fears inside us – offer an invitation to shine Christ’s light and love in the face of the powers and principalities that try to overwhelm us. Barth recognized that we live in a real world, and in spite our best efforts to hide, we are unable to remove ourselves from the circumstances that surround us.
For many years, I’ve heard good church members suggest that politics and religion don’t mix, often appealing to the American constitutional “separation of church and state” as their basis for that belief. I understand that fear that comes with dealing with “political” issues, for politics these days is often divisive, led by pompous pundits screaming at one another on TV. And yet, politics (derived from the root word “polity”) is simply how we as a society organize ourselves to avoid anarchy. If our faith means anything, it’s likely going to have an impact on our vision as how society is to be best organized, and likely to lead us to argue for the primacy of love and justice as a guiding vision for life in the world. As circumstances arise, our faith will lead us to proclaim a vision of mutual respect and honor, responding out of fear and anger, but with a different way of looking at the world, given by God through the Holy Spirit, reflecting God’s desires for the world. Faith is integrally intertwined with our view of the world, which is the way God has intended it from the beginning.
During September we are going to spend some time looking at faith as it intersects with the real world. We’ll begin this Sunday with a word for live in the midst of an economic crisis. Next week we will consider the implications of 911 ten years after the fact, and how our faith helps us to make sense of all that has happened since. We will follow that we an examination of the problems and issues faced by children and youth in our world today, and end the month thinking about how our faith provides a vision to guide our decision making on the issues that face us.
I don’t claim to have all the answers, nor for that matter know all the questions that face us. My hope is that we can open our hearts and minds to God’s Spirit and begin to think about how our faith is connected to the real world.
Come join in the conversation in September,
A friend of mine in England name Jonny Baker clued me into the following video. Enjoy!
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