Monday, July 30, 2007

The church versus the Church - Part VII

And when he had given thanks, he broke [the bread] and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." 1 Cor. 11:24

Holy Communion -- with God.
Though Jesus and the Twelve shared unleavened bread at their last supper together, in Christian gatherings today the bread may be a chunk of crust torn from a yeasty homemade loaf, a paper-thin wafer, a bit of saltine cracker or matzoh, a piece of pita or tortilla, or a small square of sandwich bread. The "cup"--whether wine or grape juice -- may be served to us from a simple chalice carved from wood or one fashioned from silver or gold. Perhaps you drink from a tiny "communion glass" plucked from a tray, or perhaps sip from a plastic or glass tumbler from the kitchen cupboard.
I Cor. 11:26 and 28 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes... Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
We are communing with God in this act of worship. Each time we partake of the bread and the cup, we reenact, in however brief a manner, the Lord's death at Calvary.

At its best, this ancient ritual allows us to stop, quiet ourselves, focus, remember, give thanks, search our hearts, forgive and ask forgiveness, repent, rejoice and anticipate Christ's return. The experience of worship as we come to "the Lord's table" at his sweet invitation can be deep and profound. The liturgy, the words, or music or prayer may be skillful or awkward, casual or formal, presented with polish and pomp and ceremony or with almost none at all, but our heart's desire should be for "communion" -- connection with our beloved Savior and his Holy Spirit. But there is more to communion.

Holy Communion with His "Church"...and His "church"

The "Church" is mystical and wonderful in my thoughts. When I stand behind our church's communion table preparing to bless the bread and the cup, I am often reminded of all those who have shared these simple elements, the body and blood, throughout the generations.

Ever since Christ's supper with his twelve disciples, we, the believers, have remembered his death and anticipated his coming again. I see it as a long line of people, an unbroken chain stretching back to Jesus.

I also think of the many believers around the world who are doing the same thing on any given Sunday. I visualize a beautiful sanctuary with stained glass and a vaulted ceiling, or a quiet congregation in China or some other restricted country. I can see believers gathered sharing communion in a home. I see Africans and Europeans and Native Americans, old and young, men and women, those full of hope and passion and those who take the bread with a kind of desperate longing for truth and peace. This is real to me and is especially vivid during the Advent season, particularly on Christmas Eve. I am one small part of the glorious "communion of the saints." That phrase from the Apostle's Creed means different things to Roman Catholics and to Protestants, but I do believe there is one Body of Christ, one Church, and that those who have died before me are part of it.

Communion is best as a shared experience. We are all called to the table, all called to partake freely, all called to receive grace and healing. The communion that happens is vertical, to God, but also horizontal, with those who are with me in "the way," who pray with and for me, who teach me and are taught by me, who sing and laugh and listen and learn and cry with me on this journey as we wait for Christ. That is "the church." The less-than-mystical group of believers that I know and see every week. The couple struggling with rebuilding their marriage. The parents of a new baby, the widowed or never married, the single parent trying to be more than it is humanly possible to be, the mother and children waiting for a husband and father's return from war, the husband or wife who sits alone, wishing their spouse would join them in the journey of faith, the awkward teenager, the confused and broken and precious and loving people who make up my little part of the body of Christ. When we observe Communion we show our participation in that body. His life becomes our life and we become members of each other!

"Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17

The New Living Translation puts it this way: "When we bless the cup at the Lord’s Table, aren’t we sharing in the blood of Christ? And when we break the bread, aren’t we sharing in the body of Christ? And though we are many, we all eat from one loaf of bread, showing that we are one body."

I have had a solitary communion with God, just me and the Holy Spirit and the elements. That is good. But the experience of communion is meant to be shared. If I should see you in the congregation, I will not ask what church you belong to. It is the Lord's Table, not mine.

I hope you find a welcoming place this Sunday to participate and partake.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Tammy Faye--A Riddle Wrapped in an Enigma

Tammy Faye Bakker Messner has died. Many who see this blog are too young to remember the heyday of the PTL Club. For Pentecostals, we thought (at first) that at long last we were coming up in the world. Long before Tammy Faye became a bad joke, before the shocking revelations, and Jim's prison sentence and the Jerry Falwell takeover, and all the rest, we saw Tammy Faye and Jim as innocents made good.

The PTL Club changed over the years. It's beginning was nothing like it's end. The same was true for Jim and Tammy. The pictures of the two of them in earlier years show two naive, smiling church kids. Amazingly, Jim once called Tammy his "little holiness girl" because she wore no makeup at all.

I heard Jim Bakker speak at an Assemblies of God General Council almost 30 years ago. It was one of the most powerful sermons I ever heard, and I still remember parts of it. How many sermons can you say that about? Sad, isn't it? It was before Jim morphed into a vocal proponent of the "prosperity gospel." (Gag.)

Ken and I almost ended up as part of PTL, back when things looked exciting and many reputable and fine people we personally knew were associated with the Bakkers. Thankfully, we landed elsewhere. Nonetheless, I can remember the Jim Bakker who was young and smiling and had a sweetness about him--with his infectious grin and his 70's mop of hair. We met him briefly. There was a humility about him in those days, an open, friendly warmth. We all loved him. As for Tammy Faye--well--it was hard to know quite what to think.

Later the show got more and more strange and glitzy and unsettling and we simply felt ashamed and I wished Tammy Faye would go away and stop being a big embarrassment to Pentecostals-- and that Jim would go with her.

Watch the You Tube Video. Watch people respond, and watch their hearts melt. There is much I vehemently disliked about the woman, and there was more I just could not comprehend (was the woman insane?) but we have some significant things in common. Please, don't mock poor Tammy Faye now. She was one insecure little woman, so very flawed and so very human, and so very loved by her Savior. My heart goes out to her family and her children, especially to her son, Jay, a most remarkable young minister.

If you want to hear Jim's side of the story, I recommend his fascinating book, "I Was Wrong."

Tammy Faye Bakker Messner Tribute 1942-2007

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Rev Gals Friday Five: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Yesterday the Rev Gal Blog Pals celebrated their second year of web ring existence. With that in mind, Sally from Eternal Echoes shares this week's Friday Five.

When I began work here at Downham Market a wise friend told me that after one year I would see a few changes and sense God at work- years two and three would cause me to question and to wonder why I had chosen to accept the post here and in year four I might see the beginnings of something new.And so with that in mind alongside yesterdays celebrations I bring you Friday 5 Looking back, looking forward..
1. Share a moment/ time of real encouragement in your journey of faith.
There have been many. Here is a strange one. I had been struggling with my calling to the pastorate for some time. Many times I was ready to quit, seeing no hope that anything would change or that I'd ever find a church (within driving distance of my husband's workplace) that was willing to give a woman preacher a chance. I was completely and utterly discouraged, feeling I had missed God's voice and taken a wrong turn and that's all there was to it. Around that time I took a short vacation to visit my sister in another state, and I went with her to her church, a place I'd never been. At the end of the service, the pastor said to me, "Are you a minister?" I replied "Yes, did my sister tell you?" "No" the pastor replied (she was new to the church) "but I have been noticing you since you came in and just knew you were a minister, and I'm to tell you not to give up." Do you think he had my attention? I later asked my sister who confirmed that she'd only just met him and had never had a conversation about me. I also discovered his wife was a minister and they were co-pastors of the church.
2. Do you have a current vision / dream for your work/ family/ministry?
Yes. I have many. I don't want to share them right at the moment though, because I am in the middle of trying to discern which are God and which are me.
3.Money is no object and so you will.....
Travel! Part will be for fun. I'll visit Europe and traipse around old buildings and historical sites and castles and theatres and lovely spots. Oooh, England, Scotland, Ireland, then Italy and Spain....Then maybe Australia to see my friend Bronwen, then maybe Peru....who knows. But since money is no object I will go LOTS of places. Not all travel will be for fun. Most will be for ministry. I'll do short-term teaching in many of our Assemblies of God pastor's school in various locations like Africa, India and South America. I will give money to all the ministries I long to give to, and lots of it. I'll do things that make a difference for individuals, right now, and I'll plan for the future so that I will give gifts that keep giving.
4. How do you see your way through the disappointments? What keeps you going?
When I was a child my mother had a rather tacky wall hanging that read,
Only one life,
'Twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ
Will last.
It wasn't beautiful poetry, but it stuck--the idea that this life was temporary and I could spend my time on transitory things or I could try to focus on eternal realities and invest in people. People last forever. When I want to quit and do something easier, I remind myself that I was meant to do something that has eternal realities. I also just keep going. Some days a person just has to put one foot in front of the other and do what is right, because it is right and that's it.
5. How important are your roots?
I wish they were important. I grew up in California and the rest of the family, both sides, was in Texas. We loved them dearly, but we rarely saw them. In my 30 plus years of marriage I have lived all over the place, and that tended to make me pretty detached from "home" and family. I envy those around me who have lots of family close by, but I never did. I don't much care where I live as long as my husband is there with me and I can see my children (and now Trinity) fairly often. As for church roots....the Baptists kinda disowned me...and the Assemblies might if they really knew of that!
6. Bonus= what would you like to add ?
I try to keep the "looking back" mostly to looking back to recall the times God has been faithful. Other things in my past are not so pleasant and would also tend to make me fearful, discouraged, dependent and lonely. So I'm with St. Paul in saying I "press on" to gain the prize at the end of race the where the Savior waits for me.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Holy Spirit--Breath of Life

Earlier this year I preached several sermons, and posted some, about the Holy Spirit as the wind or breath of God. This post is adapted from an article by Rev. James Miller, United Church of Canada. It spoke to my heart today. Perhaps it will bless you as well.

It was the first day of the new week. The disciples were in an upper room which was locked, out of fear. Jesus appeared before them. He said “Peace be with you.” Then Jesus breathed on them, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (Paraphrase of John 20:19-23)

No wind. No fire. No speaking in unknown languages. On this occasion, just a simple breath...the Holy Spirit is the breath of life...

It is hard to miss the Holy Spirit when it is a mighty wind. You have to be paying attention when it comes as a simple breath. If God’s spirit is coming to you in every breath you take, then every moment of your life is a holy adventure. What are you doing with this wild and precious gift?

What great things has the Holy Spirit revealed to you today? The Spirit of God is present in you. Do you perceive it? The Holy Spirit is working through you. Do you recognize it? The Spirit of the risen Christ is speaking to your heart in sighs too deep for words...When you get up in the morning, do you ask yourself this question-“What wonderful things is God’s Holy Spirit going to reveal to me today?”If you don’t, why not?

If God is with us...why shouldn't’t we expect God’s Holy Spirit to have something to say to us each and every day?. If you get up in the morning looking for the breath of God, you will find it. If you get up in a hurry and rush into the day, most of us are not even aware of our own breathing. All too often we head into the day focused on our schedules and our problems...We don’t take time to count our blessings. We don’t take time to breathe.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Disappering Into the Mist

Just about a year ago I posted some early morning thoughts on mortality. I was sitting on the deck with my aging mother, noting her increasing fragility and musing on the brevity of life. For some reason I felt the need to read that post last night.

Life has not been good for my mother lately. She already had dementia five years ago when she came to live with us, but things were manageable. Though homesick for her native state of Texas, she mostly enjoyed life. Last year's post found us waiting for the first visit from someone "outside"--a home-care aide. After a while mom improved and that stopped. Then a bit later, Laurie, a woman from our church, began coming on a fairly regular basis. Mom and Laurie had an uneasy truce, most of the time, and Laurie did a good job of caring for her even while my mom insisted she did not need help.

Then on April 28th this year, my birthday, mom had a stroke. She's had many smaller ones. This was more significant. She spent a week in the hospital, and has been at the nursing home ever since. She is not improving much. She is sad, angry, confused, disoriented and frustrated. Yesterday she was almost asleep during most of church and I wondered if it was time for churchgoing to cease. If so, that will be very difficult. As we pulled up to the curb in front of the nursing home, she looked at me angrily and asked, "What is this place? Why am I here? Why aren't you taking me to the house?"

Inside, she cried, then she fumed. She said, "I need my family. No one here helps me do anything anyway. " (Not so.) "You just don't care about me." When I said she could no longer walk unaided, and could not be alone, she responded with more anger. I left about that time. Poor woman.

I'm not being altogether rational about this. Yesterday I found myself thinking, "Perhaps she is right. Perhaps we could work something out, or perhaps I should stay home and care for her and work from home, or perhaps....." I know it is not going to happen, but I still feel guilty and sad and a little afraid that I am doing the wrong thing. We had quite a strange relationship, mom and I, and old ghosts can still haunt me sometimes.

Someone commented once about this. I apologize for not remembering who it was. But he or she was talking about their grandfather who had Alzheimer's and how it was like Grandfather was in a boat that was drifting farther and farther from the shore where they stood, disappearing slowly but inexorably into the mist. That is such a lovely, sad, but apt description. I can't stop the boat, I can't clear the mist, I can only stand on the shore and feel lonely and reach out with love but helplessness and grief. It is the same with my sister. She is lost in the mist, and I can't find her. I want to share this grief with her, because she would understand more than anyone. I miss her so much.

Meanwhile, this verse from my older blog post was comforting.

2 Corinthians 4:15-17 All of these things are for your benefit. And as God's grace brings more and more people to Christ, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory. That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are quite small and won't last very long. Yet they produce for us an immeasurably great glory that will last forever!

"Immeasurably great glory..." Oh Lord God, may it be so!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Thomas Trask to Resign

In some surprising news from our Assemblies of God national office: Thomas E. Trask, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God since 1993, announced that he will step down from office at the 52nd General Council next month..."As a result of seeking the Lord as to His will for my continuing to serve out the remaining two years of the present term, I have reached a decision to step down as general superintendent of the Assemblies of God at this forthcoming General Council that will convene August 8-11, 2007, in Indianapolis," he said. Due to age, it does not seem likely to me that any of our current office-holders will want to fill the top spot. This election could be quite significant in a number of ways. Please pray with me and other AG folks that God's will be done.

"Feminized Church" is Maybe -- Okay?

Yesterday, dong some research on the web, I read an article that stated, "A woman preacher has made herself an abomination to the Lord" and the article concluded with this, "A woman's place is a man's queen at home. Outside of that, she has nothing. I know that sounds old-fashioned ['old fashioned? that doesn't begin to say what it sounds like] but I know that many of you young children will find, in the days to come, that this is exactly the Truth, because I speak it in the Name of the Lord."
It is the truth because he speaks it? WOW! I cannot believe such people still exist. But they do.

Well, that is not the point of this post. Yesterday I also read a post from Questing Parson about the "feminization of the church" that actually says that this is not necessarily a bad thing! That was a first.

All right, I do not want the men to feel they are overrun by the women. As I told Questing Parson in a comment, we just want to stand beside you guys and lend our voices to the chorus with you. I have a CBE bumper sticker on my car, put there yesterday after reading QP's blog, that says,

Put Women in Their Place: Right Beside Men.

That is it exactly! I've had that bumper sticker for two years and was somehow indimidated to put it on my car for all to see. Why? I do not know.

This is the second time I've mentioned the QP recently. It is not because he and I agree on everything. I know we don't. It is not because he is from my denomination. He isn't. (I'm a Pentecostal--Assemblies of God--and Parson is a Methodist. We AG people do spring from the Wesley branch of the Church tree, but that is beside the point.) It is because this dear "retired" (ha!) parson so often reveals the grace and love of Jesus Christ in his life.

This article made me want to shout with joy. It is wonderful to be around (or in this case, communicate online with) men who genuinely love and respect and honor women--and I don't mean because we are delicate flowers. ;-) I wish I knew QP in "real" life.

It is no wonder we RevGals all love you, dear Questing Parson. Thank you for your wisdom, your insight, and your respect. And for the article. It made my day!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Summer Prayer

Inside Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota*
And outside


Our days are long
and our schedules are full.
You said when we are weary
we can come to you
and you will give us rest.

So we come to you now and ask you to…
Renew Our Spirits
Restore Our Strength
Refresh Our Hearts
Thank you for being the source of all we need
to do everyone you have called us to do.

Because that is the only place
we can truly be rejuvenated.


Holly Gerth
*I changed the picture. This one is my attempt to capture the beauty of the stained glass at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis. We spent a few days in Minneapolis with Trinity and her mommy, daddy and uncle. One day we stepped in to this beautiful old church both to get out of the hot summer sun and to view the lovely buillding. We were fortunate to catch the church organist at practice, so we listened to the wonderful pipe organ for a few minutes too. In the entryway they had a small stained glass collage that had been designed and made by the church's 5th grade Sunday School. I wish I had a picture of that as well. Beautiful, and unlike this one, very contemporary. It was a lovely and refreshing moment on a hot summer day.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Just a Couple Things

First, I just remembered that Proclaiming Softly tagged me for the "Jesus meme" and I was going to play and never did. So I added my own to Patches' thoughts. See post below. I'm not tagging anyone, since almost everybody has done this one!

Second, yesterday I attended a trans-denominational gathering in Green Bay that was convened for the purpose of prayer and repentence. I thought about Questing Parson who put this on his church sign, and someone corrected it for him! "The noive!" He changed it back.
I love it, don't you?

This is my yard. If you look closely you can see Paches in the window. The sign says "God Bless America." I like Parson's sign better. Maybe I can repaint mine for next year. Not that I don't want God's blessings...but God has already blessed us. Maybe read the Lincoln quote a few posts down if you have not done so yet.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Yakking Women and Silent Men?

"Another stereotype — chatty gals and taciturn guys — bites the dust. Turns out, when you actually count the words, there isn't much difference between the sexes when it comes to talking." R. Schmid, Associated Press

Ha! I knew it, I knew it, I knew it, I knew it.

Just sayin'....

How many times have we heard (usually in marriage seminars or from the pulpit) that women talk about three times more than men? (Ha ha ha...oh poor husband who must listen to his wife talk when he just wants to put his feet up....or poor wife who wants to talk and husband has used his word quota for the day). I heard it, again, just last week and I rolled my eyes and made a gag motion to my husband -- who sat next to me trying not to laugh at my face making.

It turns out there that just maybe there never was any data supporting this stereotype. Some men are quite talkative. Some men are quiet. Some women are quite talkative. Some women are quiet. What a surprise!

Want to read more? See this article for study results.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Five Things I Dig About Jesus

I'm not playing this meme. At least not at the moment. Patches the cat has been tagged. No, I kid you not. Check out the guest bloggers over at Psalmist's place. So Patches is coming out to blog.

Update for 7-8: I take it back. As mentioned above, I am adding comments.

Five Things I Dig About Jesus

1. Jesus cares about cats. I know he does because if he cares for those silly birds outside the window (yes, it is strange, but he said he did) he certainly must care about cats.

Owl says: I love that Jesus cares. About cats, and about all creation. Especially those who need him most. He cared so much he went to the cross. Oh the wonderous mystery of such love!

2. In a similar way, I dig that Jesus rides horses. You don't think so? Read Revelation! It isn't that I like horses, just that I think anyone who feeds sparrows and rides a horse is cool. Some people don't understand how wonderful animals are, but Jesus must! Hmmmm...I wonder how he feels about dogs?

Owl says: I love that Jesus treated the women in his life with respect and honor, as well as love. He never shooed them back to the kitchen, never patronized or talked down to them, never made suggestive comments, never sneered, literally or otherwise, at them.

3. I dig that Jesus liked the children and that they liked him back. He must have played with them, and been gentle with them for them to like him so much, don't you think? I like to play too! I'm going to go chase my little ball with a bell for a while.

Owl says: I like this about Jesus too. Jesus must have laughed and smiled a lot. Just think about the kind of person children love to be around. That is what Jesus was like! There is a scene in the Johnny Cash film from the '70s, "The Gospel Road" that I still recall vividly. Jesus is splashing water on children at the shore, teasing and building sand houses with them. That scene changed my thinking forever.

4. I like that Jesus was a morning person. I am one too...err...a morning cat, that is. I wake SingingOwl and Bearded Eagle up every morning by meowing loudly at their door. I'm helping them wake up nice and early so they can meet with Jesus. Meeeeooooowwwwww

Owl says: I love that Jesus wants to meet with me, that he waits patiently for me, that if necessary he gives me a spiritual poke to get me moving towards him once again.

5. I think it is wonderful that Jesus liked fish so much. He must have smelled sooo lovely from all that hanging around the Sea of Galilee and being with fishermen and such. He even likes fish for too!

Owl says: I love that Jesus, the eternal Word, was willing to be made "flesh." To be like me and suffer hunger, pain, lonliness, frustration, anger, sadness, rejection, heartache,...dirty feet and stiff muscles, a tired back, sunburn and insect bites, deal with people who despised him or just did not understand and sometimes simply refused to hear the truth, to love anyway, to keep on the path that was set before him, to determine to do God's will no matter the cost. I will never even begin to understand the love that compelled my Creator to choose to be like me.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Timely Words from Abraham Lincoln

I wanted to post a cheery holiday message, but I found this, and decided to share it instead.We are heading out late Tuesday for a couple of days. Have a safe and happy Independence Day, American friends.

"We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.” President Abraham Lincoln

These words are from well over a century past, but they seem to me to be so sadly true for the present day.

Gracious God of the Nations,
I realize I can hardly sing "God Bless America." You have already richly blessed us, and we Americans have all too often been prideful, arrogant, and deluded that somehow we "deserve" the special blessing of this rich land and our power and prosperity. May we Americans not be too proud to thank you for our many blessings, to seek you first, and to humble ourselves before you. God, I ask not for blessings, but for your mercy, for right thinking, for compassion, generosity, conviction and strength to do what is right as best we can. Give us the courage and boldness to make the right choice even when it costs us. May we remember the widows, the orphans, the homeless, the prisoners...the least of these among us. May we give to others as if we were giving to you...our time, energy, talent, finances, focus, and passion. Forgive us our sins, O God and grant us mercy and pardon as we seek your Kingdom first. Amen