Last Saturday was an amazing day at the Chapel as we celebrated Charla’s ordination to be a pastor here at Snowmass Chapel. It has been a long journey for her that demanded tons of work, much prayer, learning about herself, and deepening her relationship with Jesus. That said, her ordination reminds me of something else important for all of us to consider.
A number of years ago, long before I was in ministry, I was stuck in a huge traffic jam. One of the kinds that makes you want to get out of your car and simply walk away. This was not an Aspen traffic jam, rather this was an LA rush hour scene. Something that would make the bridge project in Glenwood Springs look like a bike path in comparison.
Anyway, as cars were merging from 10 lanes to 3, a few folks were kinder about letting others in than some people. I’ll never forget this one guy, he was a real piece of work. I could see him in my rear view mirror cutting people off and pushing his way through traffic. Finally he got next to me.
He blasted his horn in a language that means, “hey buddy, I am cutting in front of you, this is my road.” I looked at him with dismay. As I did, I began pointing to my neck with my index finger. The reason? While I was a lay person with a t-shirt on, the fellow was clearly a clergyman wearing his collar.
What was interesting was that as I was pointing to my own neck, in the the hopes he might remember his collar, he appeared to realize something. He stopped honking. Put his head in his hands. And let a bunch of cars go ahead of him.
I need to be clear that my intent was not to be holier than thou, nor to create shame, but rather to try and bring some levity into the whole situation as everyone on the road needed some perspective, including me. Nor is this story is not about me pointing out the erring ways of a clergyman, as goodness knows I’ve been off base often. Rather it speaks to something far more important.
And that is, if we follow Jesus, like it or not, we all wear a collar. Everyone one of us has been given gifts by God to serve God and God’s people. Said another way, all of us are all called to some kind of ministry.
For some it is ordained ministry. Others are called to serve God through music, helping with worship, Stephen Ministry, teaching, working with teens, and the list goes on and on and on. All of us, whether ordained or not, are servants of God wherever we find ourselves (e.g., on the road, at work, at a store, on a busy trail, etc.).
My hope is that Charla’s ordination will remind each of us that we too are called to serve God in difference-making ways. I pray to that we will look at Charla’s call to ministry as pastor as the opportunity for each of us to re-up our own commitment to serving Jesus wherever we find ourselves.
People ask me all the time in which denomination I will be ordained. With seminary complete and full-time ministry on the horizon, it seems more urgent for everyone from my aunt to the lady at the grocery store to know what group I will belong to. Isn’t that just like humans, to need to categorize people into tidy little boxes? But I’ve been Christian long enough to know we are anything but tidy.
In churches around the globe people of all denominations profess that we believe in “one holy catholic and apostolic church.” But catholicity (or unity) does not require uniformity. An Episcopal church and a Pentecostal church, for example, look noticeably different in their Sunday worship but last I checked their Jesus is one and the same. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians that Christianity is one body made up of many parts. Many, MANY parts. Parts that are scattered from Tanzania to Tasmania to Texas. Yet the same Spirit moves in our worship whether to the beat of a tribal drum or the rhythm of a gospel choir. We read the same Bible, follow the same Jesus and profess the same Lord of all, do we not?
This is not to say that our denominational differences should be minimized at all costs; there are some things too difficult to agree upon, I know. Even still, I believe God is molding and shaping all things all the time. As theologian and writer Rachel Held Evans says about Christians, “We’re a family, after all, and so we fight like one.”
Which is why, rather than taking a stand firmly in one camp or the other, on the occasion of my ordination I think I shall call myself a Bapti-Christi-Metho-lic.
Raised Baptist, baptized Disciples of Christ, confirmed Roman Catholic, and graduate of a Methodist seminary, I get that my particular “brand” of Christianity can be hard to pin down. But I am the sum of all my parts: from my Baptist roots I learned all the books of the Bible, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” and know John 3:16 is more than a football stadium slogan. The First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) gently anchored me through my parents’ divorce and the tumult of teen years. I was baptized in a pool there at age 13, my white robe clinging to a Speedo one-piece underneath, and the church will forever hold a special place in my heart. I then spent ten years in the Catholic Church, attending mass, teaching religious education, witnessing my brother-in law’s ordination to the priesthood, and baptizing my children there, until finally one day I decided I would rather focus on our similarities than on our differences and I officially joined the church. From my Catholic faith I learned our magnificent shared history, the gift of the sacraments, and a deep sense of connectedness to the very beginnings of Christianity. And then some 15 years later God called me to seminary and it just happened to be Methodist, where I fell in love with John Wesley and amazing grace.
For nearly two millennia ministers have been being ordained. The Bible tells us that Jesus gave Peter authority to teach and lead the people of God. Later, in the Book of Acts, Paul appointed elders in the church, praying over them and committing them to service. To be ordained is to be anointed, appointed, installed, consecrated or conferred with holy orders, and it is a tradition as old as Christianity itself.
I find it appropriate and humbling that this Bapti-Christi-Metho-lic will be ordained by the non-denominational congregation of Snowmass Chapel in the laying on of hands by Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist and Episcopal ministers who have gone before me, and one Rabbi for good measure! Confusing? Perhaps. Messy? Of course. But Jesus wasn’t one to stick to rules and religious orders either. It may not be a tidy little box but it’s BIG box, and there is most certainly room for all.
I really like garages that are well organized. The kind you walk into and there is a specific shelf space for each tool, pegs to hang things on, and work tables that have nicks and dents but are nevertheless all cleaned up.
A number of years ago when I was a small boy, my dad brought home a large metal gray box with small clear plastic drawers. I can’t remember if there were 30 or 40 little drawers, but there were a bunch. He asked for my help in getting the box organized by putting like objects together in each drawer.
Over the years I’ve learned it is pretty handy to go about life as if our minds were a box with separate drawers. I believe that it is healthy to have a mental drawer for work, a mental drawer for activities to do with children, a drawer for working out, a drawer for responding to specific ongoing challenges, a family dynamics drawer, a relaxation drawer, and a mental fun drawer.
Said another way, learning to compartmentalize things like putting like objects into a plastic drawer in a metal box, is a way of living that brings about health, resilience, and greater effectiveness.
But as I think about it, as I study scripture, as I ponder what others with far greater minds than mine have said, there is one thing, I believe we should not compartmentalize. That one thing, worshipping God. You might even say that worship is the box that holds all of the drawers of who we are.
A number of people have said that worship is not something we do, rather it is about a lifestyle. As one person writes, “Early Christians viewed their whole life as being an act of worship, a living sacrifice offered to God.” Another notes, “Worship refers to the way we acknowledge God’s worth; the way our knowledge affects the way we live.”
In the Letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament we find, “Let us offer a continual sacrifice to praise God.” In other words, we are called to worship God continually, not just on Sunday mornings.
I find the idea of bringing God into every drawer in my life and praising God is each area of my life to be challenging. That said, I find the words of William Temple to be helpful with regard to what we are talking about this morning. William Temple was the Archbishop of Canterbury during World War II, which makes his words even more potent.
William Temple wrote, “Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by God’s holiness. The nourishment of mind with God’s truth. The purifying of imagination by God’s beauty. The opening of our hearts to God’s love. The surrender of will to God’s purpose, and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centeredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin.”
Said another way, worship is submitting all parts of our lives and who we are to God in a spirit of adoration and love that makes us selfless. It is in this way we can place worship at the heart of all aspects of our lives.
And so, I end with a question. A question we each are called to answer for ourselves. That question, “How am I going to worship God all throughout this day?” And to ask that question each and every day.
I believe the more you and I engage this question, the more we will find our lives, relationships, and our walk with Jesus fundamentally altered. I think we each will be amazed how much changes when we worship God not just with our lips, but with our lives.
I’m allergic to horses. And hay. And to the cats that roam the barns and the ragweed that blooms in green pastures, and even the dust kicked up by oh-so-handsome Wrangler-wearing cowboys. But, my goodness, horses are gorgeous creatures.
We in the Roaring Fork Valley are privileged to see the new foals each spring as we trudge up and down Highway 82 near Snowmass Canyon, and the herd at Owl Creek Ranch, and the gentle ponies ready for young riders at Cozy Point. But one of the most memorable might well be watching the herd run home after a Wednesday night rodeo in Snowmass.
Recently I was out with friends and at the suggestion of one we spontaneously stood at the side of the road just in time to watch this weekly procession. It was dusk, the smell of fresh rain hung in the air, and the rodeo announcer could be heard on the loudspeaker bidding good night to the cowboy-clad visitors. We were perched on some rocks midway between the rodeo grounds and the pasture where the horses grace us with their presence all summer. Within minutes the herd barreled toward us, making their way from the roundabout up Brush Creek Road, past the Visitors Center and Town Park, and into the meadow at Horse Ranch. The galloping thunder was not unlike the thunder earlier in the evening — a slow rumble that grew in intensity and power as it passed us by, then dissipated into the night.
Life offers us such moments. Moments that rumble through our lives leaving us entirely overwhelmed — sometimes with joy, sometimes with sadness — but which in the big picture are fleeting and eventually past. Like the horses, life’s events can absolutely shake the ground we stand on. And if we are truly present to the moment, on whatever side of the emotional spectrum it lies, we can acknowledge the Divine power and beauty of “even this.” There is something healing about standing in the eye of the storm. Perhaps this is what it means when God promises us peace that surpasses all understanding.
The seasons of life are ephemeral. Consider the joys of watching a newborn turn toddler; the celebration of weddings, graduations, successes; the butterflies of first love. These beautiful moments are, sadly, short-lived, as are the agonizing and angst-filled times: the uncertainty of career or job security; the pain of loss and the deep grief of death; the hope for a future fading from view. Standing in the moment — in the eye of the storm — and being present to the very miracle of life unfolding, is where we meet God.
Last week God happened to look like a gorgeous herd of galloping thunder. I stand in awe.
Within the Gospels, there are very familiar stories that generally follow the same theme.
For example, one time Jesus went to a man’s house for dinner. Many of those gathered were disliked, thought to be less than, and were certainly considered to be sinners because of prior and current actions. The most religious people present that night were not happy Jesus would eat with such off track folks, let alone be around them.
On another occasion, some of Jesus’ disciples began to eat. They did not wash their hands before doing so. Some nearby religious leaders chastised Jesus for enabling his followers not to follow strict religious rules and guidelines around food consumption.
Story after story after story in the Gospels, we find a pattern. Jesus does something and the folks that have a problem with Jesus are either religious leaders or just people of faith who claim they strictly live according to biblical laws. People who had a problem with Jesus thought of themselves as religious, faithful, upstanding, righteous, and on the right side of issues.
Those who challenged Jesus the most and in fact were responsible for killing him were religious people that were too certain and too confident about too many things, especially about biblical law. Their certainty and overconfidence not only made it impossible for them to understand Jesus, placed them in opposition to the love of God, but prevented them from following Jesus and building God’s kingdom.
From the beginning of the Old Testament through the New, there is a way of living, an approach to all aspects of life, that God calls us to embrace. And that is humility.
Humility is upheld all over scripture. For example, Paul writes in his letter to the people in Rome, “Do not be wise in your own sight.” In the letter of James we find, “Humble yourselves before the Lord.” In the Book of Jeremiah, “Let the wise man not boast in his wisdom.” And there are dozens and dozens of other examples.
When we are too certain and too confident about too many things when it comes to our faith, we end up getting in the way of what God is wanting to do and we end up following ourselves instead of Jesus. I believe we are called to be confident and certain about some things but that much of what occupies our attention, our actions, and our zeal is in fact better left out of the confident and certain realm.
For example, I am confident that Jesus is God in the flesh, that he died on the cross of our sake, was resurrected on that first Easter morning, and that his spirit, the Holy Spirit is living within each of us. I also believe he actively leads, heals, and shapes us as the years go by.
Over the years I have found my relationship with Jesus has deepened the more I yield myself to him and gain comfort in the unknown because I am confident in Jesus and less confident in what I believe about this issue and or that. I am confident God has it all covered.
In my experience, the more we become confident about more and more and more things, the more we put ourselves at the center of our lives instead of God.
The point, if we want to follow Jesus, we are called, I believe, to attitudinal humility not self-righteousness. Paul warned early Christians about self-righteousness because he knew that the more we make room, more room for people who might be very different than we are, we end up being more faithful than if we do the opposite.
When we are not self-righteous and too certain, we begin to listen far more than we speak. We don’t spew out whatever comes to mind. We are clear about what is central to our faith, but willing to be open to the periphery. We avoid getting into litmus testing people about their faith. We allow God to be God even when it makes us uncomfortable.
Prior to last night, things have been bone dry in Snowmass Village and across the Rocky Mountains. Above average temperatures, intense sunlight, and long daylight hours have wilted plants, turned lawns brown, and trails have begun to look like the Chihuahuan Desert.
The other day, an hour or so before sunset, I took a hike along the southern Rim Trail. It is a great trail with breathtaking astonishing views. As I walked along, I quickly noticed that I stirred up quite a bit of dust with every step. There was so much dust I began to feel like Pig-Pen in the Peanuts cartoon.
About 30 minutes into the hike, something caught my attention. A magnificent wildflower which is pictured in this e-letter. Given how dry everything had been, I was surprised to see such a beautiful flower. But there it was.
As I thought about being surprised by seeing a flower despite drought conditions, I began reflecting upon the many things that have caught me off guard, the unexpected events that have come into my life, both good and bad. I then thought about God and how in some ways God is much like that wildflower.
Our God is a God who continually shows up in unexpected ways and in surprising places. Sometimes God’s presence is subtle and it can be hard to see God walking right alongside of us. But unlike the wildflower whose existence is transient, God’s presence is not and God is with us regardless of the conditions we are enduring. There is no place, no circumstances, where God is not.
I love the words found in Psalm 139. “I can never escape from your Spirit. I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, and if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me. I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night – but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you.”
As we journey through life this week, I pray that like seeing a wildflower on a dusty trail, each of us will encounter God in surprising ways and places. That we will be given the eyes to see God acting through whatever challenges we are faced with. And that even if things are feeling barren, lifeless and hopeless, that we will trust that God is with us no matter what.
An important marker in the lives of young people is the transition from child care or Sunday School to worship. This workshop will help prepare children and their parents for children’s full participation in the community of faith. We’ll go over different parts of the worship service and prepare young worshippers to participate and lead. All ages are welcome, though this is especially designed for those entering 6th grade and up.
- Identify the parts of the worship service
- Tour “secret” places in the church and identify their uses
- Practice saying or singing the parts of the liturgy
- Talk about ways they can be involved in worship
There is little doubt we live in a time filled with immense challenges in virtually every domain. Little is easy, much is arduous, and levels of conflict and hostility are extreme. Like the terribly dry conditions in the Rocky Mountains this July, it often feels as if things might just explode. In the midst of such realities, much of what we have known and counted upon is on shaky ground. Not much is certain and social trends are morphing faster than 24 hour news cycles.
Even how people spend idle time is quickly shifting. Service clubs like Rotary often struggle to find members. The numbers of people playing golf, going to movie theaters, taking time to browse in a bookstore or a shopping mall, or taking the time to have lunch during a busy work day is diminishing. And of course, across the nation, fewer people are active in a community faith and not as many folks as in the past are willing to engage in much that requires consistent participation over the course of time, let alone a sacrifice.
In response to all of this, one Christian writes, “if we are going to survive, if we are going to be for the world as Christ meant for us to be, we are going to have to spend more time away from the world.” I disagree with this perspective.
Certainly what I have outlined in terms of our current zeitgeist is difficult at best, Yet I believe as Christ followers we have an astonishing opportunity as we move into the second half of 2017. I don’t believe we are called to retreat from the world, but rather to do just the opposite. This is not the time for us to circle the wagons.
It is time as Christ followers we take our faith and our walk with Jesus seriously, that we keep our eyes on Jesus, and that we follow him out into the world. Jesus was not partisan nor did he drop out of the immense social conflict surrounding him. Rather he focused on what he was called to do which was to demonstrate that God is love, to heal, to bring about justice, to confront misdirected religious folks, to forgive humanity, to offer a path forward, and to initiate changes so the world could begin to look more like God, the Kingdom of God, etc.
We are in dark times. Jesus is the light of the world. As things darken, we have the opportunity to offer Jesus to those around us. The darker things become, the brighter the light of Christ will appear.
In a short weekly article it is impossible to be concrete with how to follow Jesus more fully out into the world. Hence I begin a two part sermon series this week to get into this topic more fully. And, immediately following each worship service we will gather for an informal discussion and Q&A. I look forward to hearing from you on this important topic as well.
That said, the takeaway from this short piece is to invite us all to focus more and more on Jesus, engage more fully in prayer and in our faith communities, disengage from conflict and partisan hostilities, and take the love, healing, forgiveness, and message of salvation out into the world which desperately needs to hear the good news. I pray we will not retreat, but rather engage filled with love for God and for each other.
As you all know, the last two years working at the Chapel have given me many opportunities to spend time with kids. Indeed, there have been more than a few weeks where I feel like all I did was spend time with kiddos. This week at the Chapel has been no different. Currently, we are halfway through Vacation Bible School (VBS) and loving every minute of it. VBS is always a highlight of the year for many, but recently I saw something pretty special that I want to share with you. Yesterday we were talking about the great wisdom of Solomon (check out 1 Kings 3 if you want to brush up on the story). We went on to tell them how King Solomon, presumably the wisest man ever, wrote down much of what he learned in the Bible. It was at this point that I saw something in a kid that challenged me personally. As soon as this little guy realized that there was this great source of wisdom to be found within the Bible he started asking me questions. “Where can I find it? How do I know what it all means? What do all these little numbers mean? What is the difference between Ecclesiastes and Proverbs?” And throughout all of these questions (some of which I could answer and some of which I may need to do some further learning myself) I found that I was being challenged by the way this young person was eager to apply the wisdom found in the Bible in his life. Why aren’t I always hungry to open the Bible and make sense of how its teaching applies and changes my life? You know, I think this is one of my favorite things about working with children. Every time I start to think that we at the Chapel are teaching them really well something happens that makes me realize that I am as much the student as they are. In fact, I think God uses younger people and older people to teach each other.
This has been such a valuable experience for me I’ve decided to share it with you. The recipe is simple, combine one part Biblical wisdom with one part interaction with children. So here is your homework: First, find a child in your life to spend time with. Read a book. Go on a walk. Try to find sleeping ants. Anything you like. Secondly, read the following Proverbs one per day until Sunday. When you read them, try to find an example or area within your life that could be changed in some way due to the wisdom found within the Proverb. After all, like my little friend challenged me to consider, we should be thankful and eager that we have a book that gives us all some pretty awesome hints on how to live well in this life.
Thursday Proverb: Proverbs 3:5 —Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding
Friday Proverb: Proverbs 4:23 — Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
Saturday Proverb: Proverbs 27:17 — As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.
Sunday Proverb: Proverbs 15:1 — A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.