Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Church Membership -PC(USA)

Recently, Westminster Presbyterian, Santa Fe held a new member class in which those who participated were asked to write a brief personal statement of faith and present that to the session when they sought to become members. Those who did this exercise opened themselves up, and shared things they believed and things they did not believe. Through their honesty they made themselves vulnerable and subject to critique. We have never done this before, so many questions and concerns have presented themselves, which can be explored here.

The concept of membership in churches, in and of itself, is quite strange.
Why does our church have "membership"? Are we joining a club?
Here’s some of what the Book of Order says about membership:


“The incarnation of God in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ gives to the church not only its mission but also its understanding of membership. One becomes an active member of the church through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and acceptance of his Lordship in all of life. Baptism and a public profession of faith in Jesus as Lord are the visible signs of entrance into the active membership of the church.” G-5.0101a

“The congregation shall welcome all persons who respond in trust and obedience to God's grace in Jesus Christ and desire to become part of the membership and ministry of his Church. No persons shall be denied membership because of race, ethnic origin, worldly condition, or any other reason not related to profession of faith. Each member must seek the grace of openness in extending the fellowship of Christ to all persons. (G-9.0104) Failure to do so constitutes a rejection of Christ himself and causes a scandal to the gospel.” –G-5.0103

And once becoming a member:
“An active member of a particular church is a person who has made a profession of faith in Christ, has been baptized, has been received into membership of the church, has voluntarily submitted to the government of this church, and participates in the church's work and worship. An active member is entitled to all the rights and privileges of the church, including the right to participate in the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, to present children for baptism, to take part in meetings of the congregation, and to vote and hold office. Other conditions of active membership that meet the needs of the particular church and are consistent with the order and confessions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) may be adopted by the session after careful study and discussion with the congregation.” G-5.0202

Most of my experience in ministry has been in campus ministry where there was no such thing as “membership.” We didn't care who participated, so long as they were coming to the ministry and growing in their faith. However, only those who demonstrated maturity in their faith, and a belief system that was compatible with that of the campus ministry were invited to be in leadership roles (this criteria was not very well defined). We felt like it's better they come grow in their faith, than to have certain requirements for participation. Were we to transpose that model to this context, perhaps we would have "looser" standards on membership, so that all who feel called would feel welcomed "into the fold" so as to grow in their faith, but for officers we would have a higher standards which conform more to shared values and beliefs. To me, it seems like if certain requirements are made on membership, it would have more of a club type feel.

That said, when considering those who want to be members or who might be considered as an officer: Is there a requirement in terms of beliefs?
Should the session make a "standard"? What are "essential tenets" in terms of Creed? We must be very careful in discerning what those are, as we have seen over the history of the church that what has been considered essential in a particular place and time has been looked upon with suspect by later generations. A debate that comes up from time to time at General Assembly has been to define "essential tenets" as referred to in Book of order W-4.4003c. (For an example of what this debate has looked at see: http://index.pcusa.org/NXT/gateway.dll?f=templates&fn=default.htm&vid=pcdocs:10.1048/Enu

How do generational differences, as well as varying worldviews--post-modern verse modernism--play a role in determining these things? Is being a Christian desiring to be Christ-like? Can you follow Christ and not believe in heaven or miracles? The notion of heaven is actually more platonic than it is biblical in terms of the whole scope of the Bible? And in the Gospel of John, we see a very critical attitude of those who believed because of the signs, or miracles they witnessed (cf John 4:43-54, John 20:19-31).

Finally, what's key in this discussion, in my mind, is relationship. Before we judge or concern ourselves with beliefs or orthodoxy, have we had a chance/ taken the time to get to know someone and sought to be in relationship with them? What does Jesus' example teach us? In this relationship: can we sit down on the same pew with someone who feels called to belong in this church but may think very differently from us (on both essential/ non-essential issues), and sing worship songs together, pray together, break bread together, and love one another.

I think the early church reflected a variety of creeds and beliefs because empire had not yet standardized, or normalized "Christian belief". Nothing had been formulated except for very basic creeds passed through oral transmission:
"Lord I believe, help my unbelief"
“Love the Lord your God...”
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“I believe you are the Christ, the son of the Living God.”
“Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

Jesus dined and hung out with “sinners” not because of what they believed in terms of the piety and orthodoxy of the day that “Pharisees and scribes” upheld among the religious community, but because they sought after him. Do those who seek to be members in churches seek after Christ. I certainly hope that would be the case in our church as we continue to proclaim Christ Crucified, through our worship and day-to-day living.

For more discussion on this download the podcast: godcomplex.com
and listen to the first show called: “the first” and listen beginning at minute 32:40

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Jn17-Pray for us Jesus

Pray for us Jesus” - John 17:6-19 WPC, Santa Fe May 24, 2009

Summer,Summer, Summer time (singing). School’s out for summer (singing):
Sodo you practically have your bags packed? Ready to get somewhere, anywhere, a long way from here? Family Vacation? Getting away from it all, Turning off your cell phone, your tv, and the news, and disconnecting completely. How many of you experience stress? When are those times when life becomes unbearable: difficult people, disappointments, bad news; and we just need a break and to get away: Beam me up Scotty. Travel agents, the tourist industry, and the real estate business know this “need”; and spend millions to lure us to travel to exotic destinations.

Surely this dream of escape was a temptation for the early Christian community. They were a fledgling group that had been inspired by Christ to live a new kind of way…But then came some rejection and persecution. Strange looks from people in the neighborhood as they were walking down the street singing some praise songs. “Oh just be quiet will all of that Jesus nonsense!” Some got kicked out of the neighborhood gathering places--synagogues. And it wouldn’t be tool long before some would lose their life defending their faith. It would have been easy for this early community to want to escape, to just go to a separate place and tell memories and stories about Jesus and leave it all behind.

But Jesus, before he goes away, prays this prayer found in John 17. It is often called the priestly prayer. Jesus’ prayer for the people. It is a prayer of Jesus just after the last supper that he has had with his disciples and just before he is Crucified. and taken away from them. This is not the easiest passage in the Bible; and one can get lost in some of the wording: but at the heart this is
a beautiful prayer that Jesus prays—he prayed it for disciples then…he prays it for disciples now, in every time and place, this is Jesus prayer for those who are his.

Before we dive right into the prayer I want to point out that the prayer opens and closes with two very important things: First, it opens with what is essentially Jesus mission. (mission impossible theme song) Did you hear those words? What was Jesus mission and purpose at it’s core?

This passage says, To make God’s name known. What do you think this means? To
make the name known that is is love. The name that is forgiveness. The Name that is mercy. This is the good news that Jesus came to bring. And now he is going. And before he goes, toward the end of the prayer Jesus says, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”

IN John, Jesus has a strange relationship with the world; it is unique to this gospel. Kind of a love hate relationship. Disciples are from the world and to remain in the world, but they do not belong to the world; instead they are sent to the world. Have you heard it said that Christians are to be in the world, but not of the world? What is it about the world?

What should our relationship with the world be? Are we supposed to reject the world? You know, claim that the world corrupts, and keeps us from being holy. Send our kids to Christian schools and not let them read Harry Potter, or participate in Halloween activities. How many of you weren’t allowed to play cards or dance years ago? These things were pagan. Are we to reject the world totally, withdraw? Not participate in institutions? in Politics?

Another problem is that sometimes we too readily accept how the world is…the status quo…must be the way God wants things. Sure there is injustice and oppression, and war and famine, but what can I do? Eat, drink and be merry? Who then is doing the work of making God’s name be known if we accept the world for what it is?

Just as I was sent into the world, so I am sending my disciples. As attractive as it might be to want to escape from the world, or embrace the world for what it is, if we are to fulfill this mission disciples must be living, acting, and doing in the world, but we do not belong to the world.

Jesus knows that this relationship to the world for disciples is not an easy one to figure out. So let’s look at what he asks for? At what he prays in John 17? Does he pray that we can get anything and everything we want? Does he pray that we will be healthy wealthy and wise?

In this prayer, Jesus prays for three things: did anyone catch them?
1. Jesus prays for protection
2. Jesus prays that the disciples may be sanctified in the truth.

3. Jesus prays that disciples may have his joy complete in themselves.
And it is in these three things that we gain better insight about our relation to the world.

First,knowing that disciples are sent into the world Jesus prays for protection. Kind of like a prayer for safety. But is seems that Jesus isn’t necessarily praying that no ailments will come our way, and this isn’t a prayer for safe travel. It’s a prayer of protection in our relationships. Protection so that disciples may be one as he and the Holy Father are one; and he prays for protection from the evil one. Somehow, the health and wellbeing of our relationships are what is vital to this ministry disciples are commissioned to do. When we can demonstrate love for one another it is when we best proclaim the loving name of God. When there is unity, there is peace. Now unity does not mean uniformity: I don’t think this means that we all think alike, believe necessarily the same things, and dress the same way. But we can show unity in our diversity. Like when we ordain people in our church who are very different from one another, those ordained as elders or deacons promise to work toward the peace, unity and purity of the church. And the evil one would want nothing more than to tear those relationships apart and keep us from this purpose. For us to experience brokenness and separation in relationships. Families torn apart, churches split. To hurt one another. To lie, steal, or cheat to get ahead. To deceive each other and ourselves. The evil one is most effective when we are not loving: and John says we have to love. Love isn’t easy. There is the day-to-day grind that leaves us tired and frustrated and we can get on one another’s nerves; misunderstand one another; and betray one another. There is suffering and evil; and the evil one wants nothing more than for us to carry a lot of bitterness and hatred in our hearts toward others. Jesus is still praying for protection so that we might be one so that we might carry out the mission of making God’s name be known in the world.

But if we go into the world might we become corrupted by the world?

This leads to another aspect of this prayer: Sanctify them in the truth, Jesus prays. The world is so attractive with all its glam and glitter. What if the greed that is found in the world makes me
greedy? The world is so sly, so me focused what if I just start looking out for me? I want to be the next American Idol..or at least the next Westminster Idol. Jesus prays in this prayer that disciples would be sanctified in the truth: your word is truth. Knowing the lures and temptations in the world, to seek fame and fortune, to have fun all the time, and to not worry about other people’s problems, with all of the different ideas in the world that don’t seem to fit with ideas of God; Jesus prays that disciples would be made holy.

But how do we become sanctified in truth? A few weeks ago, Sander van Doorn (aka the colonel) and I went camping; and he told me a little more about how he became an evolutionary biologist. He grew up in a church community where anything that smacked of evolution was
suspect: This was not Christian the young Sander was told. But Sander enjoyed studying biology; but in order to try and be a good Christian he avoided those classes that got into evolution, or just kind of closed his eyes and ears when they talked about it. But, he went off to university, and continued to walk this tight-rope until he could no longer simply avoid the issue. So instead he took it head on, is evolution contradictory to my faith, and to the Bible or not? And he concluded that it was not, and in fact now sees how God is using him to help bring understanding between biblical faith and science. The prayer of Jesus: sanctify them in the truth.

Sanctify: that we would become God like, through mediation on God’s word and seeking after God in our lives, even as we are in the world. And this is done not on our own, but as we gather in community and share our experiences with each other.

And the final thing I want to mention about Jesus prayer is that he prays that his joy would be made complete in the disciples themselves. What do you think gave Jesus joy? I’m sure he loved hanging out around the fire late at night with his friends. I’m sure he enjoyed a good harvest party when the occasion would arise. But what seems to have given him the most joy is fulfilling the mission for which he had come. IT is when we fulfill Jesus mission of making God’s name be know that we experience this joy of Christ.

Have any of you ever seen a life transformed because a word of love was spoken to places where there had been hatred and brokenness. A word of forgiveness where there had been bitterness and mistrust. A word of mercy where there had been guilt and pride? Have you seen a life
that was spinning out of control or full of destruction and hate, be transformed into a life of love? Is there a greater joy than this transformation.

Trasie told me about one of her clients who was depressed lonely and decided that he was ready to kill himself. But before he did he went up to the plaza one last time, and there he found, “a bum”. This “bum” told him about God’s love and told him about a program that could help him. And the young man changed his mind, and is on the road to recovery.

It is when we make God’s name known, and share good news with others, that we find great joy in life...immeasurable joy. When we pass the peace to someone who is lonely, give a hug to someone who is ill, speak a word of love to someone who feels rejected; in this hurting world we can experience God’s grace.

Where are you going this summer? Maybe you’ve got a great vacation lined up…a nice get away. Well, enjoy, it but the world that is so full of pain and hurt is waiting for our return. That we might go into the world this summer, and be his hands and feet, that we might make the loving name of God known to everyone we meet, that we not fear those we encounter but come before them in love, so that Christ’s joy may be made complete in us and throughout the world.

Close: Teresa of Avila said "Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands
but yours, no feet but yours; yours are the eyes through which the
compassion of Christ looks out on a hurting world, yours are the feet
with which he goes about doing good; yours are the hands with which
he is to bless now." Amen

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Pastoral Care and visitors off the street

During any given week, I am visited often by people who are not part of the congregation with a variety of needs, concerns, and situations. Some are one-time deals, which were especially frequent when we used to give out gas cards. Food from our food pantry has not been our most popular attraction as of late; maybe there are better places to get fed or free food. Sometimes I have repeat visitors, many of whom I’ve gotten to know, and I’ll hire them to clean up the yard (not anyone’s “job”) or other odd jobs when there is a need. But, most often I would get stories, and these stories were shared with the hope of getting a helping hand out. I found that often times in these chance meetings, my day was altered significantly if I took the time to really try to listen to the stories, or I would have to be disingenuous and short with others when I didn’t have the time and/or patience to listen. Several months ago, I thought to have those who were serious about seeking me out, seeking spiritual guidance, and maybe a helping hand, to make an appointment when it was convenient for both of us, and come at that time. Our agenda would be to talk about whatever he or she wanted to talk about. A counseling session lite. I would offer to do this for free, or to even pay the person seeking the services out of my pastoral discretion fund (what is this money for?). Well, finally I had my first taker. CC came on a Thursday afternoon just as I was leaving the church to get somewhere. I could smell alcohol on his breath, he was unkempt…looked rough. Said he wanted to talk. So, we made an appointment, one week from that day was okay with both of us. I wrote it down on a piece of paper for him. Thursday May 14, 2009, at 3 pm. At 3:05, I figured he wasn’t coming…then a few minutes later he shows up at the door. His hair was a little crazy, and he still smelled like alcohol, but he was wearing a sports coat and some loafers, as if he was trying to dress up a bit for our time together. He shared about his life, and how it had gone down the tubes, but he wanted to try to get it back together again. Our time was up at 4; at the end we read scripture and prayed together. He seemed very appreciative; said he wanted to come back. So we made another appointment. I figure I can do this until I feel we’re not going anywhere, the pastoral discretion fund runs out, or he stops coming. And who knows, maybe God will work a miracle through these kinds of encounters.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

This is such an accurate reflection on society

Lesson, we are spoiled brats. How can we take on an attitude of thankfulness in this generation, when we feel like we are owed so much?

I dropped her

And now I can't sleep. Well, I can't sleep for other reasons, too: not enough exercise, things on my mind. But yes, I dropped her. She was sitting in my lap as we lay on the bed together. I heard her stomach start to rumble a bit, so I decided to adjust the spit up rag. I lifted it to straighten it out...and next thing I know her weight shifts and her face is heading straight for the mattress. I react as quickly as I can, but too late. She has fallen about 4 inches, well more with momentum, as her face started about 15 inches from the bed. And yes she did a face plant. She looked at me, her face turned red, and then it squinched up, and her eyes said, "Why, Daddy? Why?" She began to cry. I lifted her into my arms and held her close and told her I was sorry. I stood up out of bed, and began to sway and walk around...trying to comfort her. She calmed down, but when I lay back down in bed with her in the same position as before-one we both know well and one that had previously been safe-she again squinched up her face , it turned red and her mouth openned so I could see her tonsels and she squelched her raspy cry. Wheee Whee Whee.

It was never my intention, and I felt so bad. At three months has gained strength and is less easy to control. It is easy to see how free will can create so many problems. She, unknowingly, exercised her new ablility to move in new ways. And, in the past when I have seen her sway one way or another on my lap, I catch her. This time, I missed it. How does this relate to the Creator and Creature? Are we allowed to fall flat on our faces? How many times have we been caught before we fall? Are some falls are more harsh than others? And then are we lifted up and swayed and soothed until we can be at peace again?