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Friday, October 28th, 2016
7:44 am - Philology is phun
Every language has its own way of pronouncing certain things. You can't just assume by the way a word is spelled how it should be said. Take the double L. In Spanish or French, the double L is pronounced like a Y: Allende, Versailles. In Italian, though, the double L is just L: pollo in umido. Then come the Welsh. Their double L stands for a sound that exists in no other Indo-European language that I know of. It's sort of like a cat hissing. Llanberis sounds like something between hlanberis and clanberis.

Well, English also has a distinctive sound. In Old English, the letter Ash, now written as Æ, stands for a vowel sound nobody else uses. It's the flat A you hear in "The fat cat sat on the mat." Virtually every other language I know pronounces A as "ah," as in "Father" or "small." Old English had the letter A as well as Ash, and pronounced A as "ah." But when the ligature æ went out of use, the letter A was employed for both sounds.

Meanwhile, what we call "long A," which isn't an A sound at all, but a diphthong of long E + I ("face" is really pronounced feh-ees) is the result of the Great Vowel Shift taking place in Chaucer's time. This accounts for the dislocated way in which English pronounces various letters compared to other European languages, but it doesn't add any unique sounds. We just shuffled the sounds we started with, pronouncing them higher in the mouth and diphthongizing a bunch of them (a diphthong is two vowel sounds smashed together -- think Southern drawl, as in dayyum for "damn"). But the Ash is all our own. We started out with it, and kept it.

Yes, I know, you'll hear something close to it in German, when A comes before a double consonant, as in Mannheim. But nobody else says "ram-a-lam-a-ding-dang" with the flat A English speakers use. Just listen to a bunch of American students taking first year German. The way they pronounce the A in German words is painfully un-German. But it is very, very English.

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Wednesday, October 26th, 2016
9:43 am - Just a little bit of philology on a bright and chilly morning
I was reading a bit in The Towneley Play of Noah, which is written in Middle English verse. Noah is praying, and he says,
Bot yit I will cry for mercy and call:
Noe, Thi seruant, am I, Lord ouer all!
Therefor me, and my fry shal with me fall,
Saue me from velany, and bryng to Thi hall
In heuen;
And kepe me from syn
This warld within;
Comly Kyng of mankyn,
I pray The, here my stevyn!
This is followed by the mind-boggling stage direction, God appears above.

OE stefn, ME steven, stevyn, means "voice." Here my stevyn! is "Hear my voice!" The angel Gabriel in a carol on the childhood of Christ comments on what he sees "upon a good set steven," that is, with a loud voice. Steven is a native English word and has no connection except its sound with the name Stephen and its derivatives, which are from Greek stephanos, "crown."

The only use of the native word "steven" in modern English is in the childhood expression, "even-steven," meaning the game is tied, or all accounts are paid off. The various dictionaries I have consulted over the years say that "even-steven" is a bit of rhyming slang, made for its euphony, that is, the pleasing quality of its sound. But I suspect that before it became a childhood phrase it meant, literally, a tie vote: even steven = equal voices on either side.

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Monday, October 24th, 2016
11:05 am - We're on the upward trail
Yesterday, Boy Scout Troop 119 held its sixth Eagle Court of Honor of the year. It's been a great year of Scouting around here! Congratulations to Anthony, our newest Eagle.

I was looking over the Court of Honor program during the ceremony and noticed the dates listed for each rank Anthony had achieved. The list confirmed something I have noted for a long time: the lower ranks come easy; the higher ranks are progressively harder and take much longer. This is partly because the lower are mostly about developing basic Scout skills, which we use all the time in the conduct of the program. But also, the drive to collect merit badges and do service projects and take responsibility in the Troop begins to chug and sputter when faced with increasing school work, athletic opportunities, early job experiences, and, well . . . girls.

Here are the intervals between each of the ranks on Anthony's ascent toward Eagle.
Joining to Scout: 1 month
Scout to Tenderfoot: 3 months
Tenderfoot to Second Class: 3 months
Second Class to First Class: 7 months
At this point, all is on track. We say that a boy should shoot for becoming First Class within about a year; Anthony made it in 14 months.
First Class to Star: 16 months
Star to Life: 13 months
Once a boy reaches Life, he usually has all the fun merit badges he needs. He has to slog through the tougher required ones, doubling his total to reach the end. Plus, there is the Eagle Service Project: the equivalent of doing a dissertation. So, Life rank is the ABD of Scouting.
Life to Eagle: 45 months.
It took Anthony 43 months to get to Life and another 45 months to reach Eagle. But he made it. So many don't. When I was a boy, only 2% or so of boys reached Eagle. The percentage is up to somewhere close to 4% nowadays, but still, it's a long, hard climb.

I finished my Eagle in September, 1970. I was a month shy of my 17th birthday. So, I had a whole year to wear my Eagle badge on my boy uniform and take a victory lap of sorts. That was a long time ago, but I still remember what it meant to me. Congratulations to all our Eagles in Troop and Crew 119, to their parents, and to their leaders. Well done!

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Sunday, October 23rd, 2016
6:26 pm - Sermon Series: Pulled In Every Direction
Sermon Six: How the Spirit manifests himself

1 Corinthians 12-14

This is my sixth sermon from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. We’re taking it in huge chunks, in order to make sense of the argument of his letter; so, once again, forgive me if I don’t read this section, which is three whole chapters. Just follow along with me, please, in your Bibles.

I mentioned last week that the early Church’s worship service had two, and sometimes three parts: there was the Liturgy of the Word (Scripture, hymns, and preaching); the Liturgy of the Table (thanksgiving and communion); and, in many places, a Liturgy of the Spirit, where people prophesied and prayed in unknown tongues and did other kinds of prayer ministry, as the Holy Spirit directed. This Liturgy of the Spirit was both amazing and attractive; it certainly got a lot of attention from unbelievers, such as the Gentiles among the Corinthians. Witnessing this, participating in it, they wondered how this came to be, and what they could expect for themselves. And also, what the boundaries were: I mean, how do you evaluate what you’re hearing and seeing? How do you judge those who claim to be speaking by the Spirit’s power?
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were heathen, you were led astray to dumb idols, however you may have been moved. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says "Jesus be cursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit (12:1-3).
Paul says the grace of the Holy Spirit is poured out upon his people in different ways, and this is so that Christians can do the work God wants them to accomplish.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one (12:4-6).
And every Christian is gifted. No one is left out. What does that mean?
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills (12:7-11).
Well, okay, so we’re all gifted. But is a spiritual gift something spooky or flashy or otherwise miraculous? Or is it something you’re already good at? How will I know my gifts?

Let me tell you the story of Cædmon. Cædmon lived way back in the 7th Century in the kingdom of Northumbria. It was the early days following the conversion of the English. Cædmon was an illiterate cowherd who worked for the abbey at Whitby under the leadership of the abbess, St. Hilda.

They used to hand around a harp in the evenings, and one person after another - monk or nun or guest – would take it up in turn and tell a story or chant a poem. Once when they did that, Cædmon was abashed, because there was no poetry in him. So he fled out the barn where he slept among the cows. That night, an angel came to Cædmon in a dream and commanded him to sing. "What shall I sing?" he asked. "Sing of the wonders of the creation," he was told.

In the morning, Cædmon awoke with a poem all finished on the creation of heaven and earth. He went to share it with the abbess, and everyone was amazed at his gift. The abbess tested him, and found that his gift wasn’t a one-off; he kept writing more and more hymns, though he apparently never learned to read and write. He became the first great English hymnodist.

Only that first poem survives. It's known as Cædmon's Hymn, and it is the earliest Christian hymn in English which we possess. It’s written in the Old English alliterative meter, with its clashing stresses and repeated initial sounds. Dan R. wanted me to preach in Old English last week, so if you'll indulge me, I will recite Cædemon’s Hymn for you. (Dan, this one's for you!)
Nu sculon herigean heofonrices Weard
Meotodes meahte and his modgeþanc
weorc Wuldor-Fæder swa he wundra gehwæs
ece Drihten or onstealde
He ærest sceop ielda bearnum
heofon to hrofe halig Scyppend
ða middangeard moncynnes Weard
ece Drihten æfter teode
firum foldan Frea ælmihtig.
That's what English sounded like 1500 years ago. In Modern English, that would run something like,
Now must we praise heaven-kingdom’s Guardian, the Measurer’s might and his mind-plans, the work of the Glory-Father, as he, eternal Lord, the beginning of wonders established, each one. He first created for men’s sons heaven as a roof (holy Creator) then middle-earth (mankind’s Guardian); the eternal Lord afterwards made for men the earth (Master almighty)!
Now the point of this is: there were lots of scops (Old English poets) who could do what Cædmon did, but Cædmon did it without training; indeed, without even basic literacy. So, some spiritual gifts are miraculously bestowed, and others are natural gifts that come to their fullest expression only when they have been given to God, to glorify him.

And I would say, the whole church has all the gifts of the Spirit. Every Sunday, when we pray for the sick, we all together exercise the gift of healing, even if no one is present in whom that gift has a special expression. But what about tongues? Well, if you could sit on a satellite out in space and gather in all the sound of all the congregations around the world today, then you would hear God being praised in every tongue under the heavens; so the whole Church has the gift of tongues, even if no one here is engaging in ecstatic utterances. But since each one has at least one gift, and in using that gift, we contribute to the whole body, Paul uses the metaphor of the body here.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single organ, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body (12:14-20).
Everyone has something to contribute to the work of the Church, and that means that no one is fundamentally more important than another. All are necessary: something the fractious Corinthians needed to hear.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts (12:27-31a).
This is how the Holy Spirit manifests himself in the life of the believer and in the life of the Church - by giving these gifts. But none of these gifts are as important as this one, ultimate gift. Paul says, "And I will show you a still more excellent way" than these individual gifts.

And then he launches into 1 Corinthians 13, the “Love Chapter.” This is often used at weddings, which is kind of misleading, because the type of love spoken of here is not natural, romantic love. That kind of love, wonderful as it is, cannot do what has to be done. Look at what Paul says in this chapter.
Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (13:4-7).
Now replace the word "love" with “people.” People are patient and kind, people do not envy, do not boast; people are not rude or self-seeking or angry. Really? Does that sound like the people you know? Now, some people may be that way most of the time, and probably all of us can be that some of the time, but none of us can keep it up very long. In fact, if you were to “fact-check” those statements, you’d have to say that they’re mostly false.

The ability to love like this comes only from God, for it is his nature: God is Love. So now replace the word "love" with “Christ.” Christ is patient and kind, Christ does not envy, does not boast; Christ is not rude or self-seeking or angry. Well, yeah. That sounds right.

Now, it is the work of the Holy Spirit to make us like this – to make us like Christ - and only he can. This is what we call “holiness.” Which doesn't mean hyper-religiosity, but simply the empowerment of God to enable us to love as he loves. It is the greatest work of the Holy Spirit, and the ultimate goal of the Christian. This is what heaven is like. The Holy Spirit is making us fit for the company of heaven, where this kind of courtesy is natural to all who belong there; which is why Paul says, "Love never ends." Prophecies will end, knowledge will end, tongues will end; but faith, love, and hope are eternal – “and the greatest of these is love.”

Well, from these heights, Paul gets back to the fractiousness of the Corinthians again. That Liturgy of the Spirit – that free, unordered time of hearing and responding to God - is breaking down under the egotism and immaturity of the Corinthians, which leads to disorder. Some want to speak in tongues, others want to question the prophets as if they were visiting a fortune-teller, and some people just like to hear themselves talk. So in Chapter 14, Paul has to tell people to take turns and not interrupt each other. This is also where he issues that infamous line about women keeping silence in the church.

Now, keep in mind, there were lots of women in leadership of that church, so it can’t be all the women, all the time he’s referring to. I suspect that Paul had certain very specific examples in mind, but was refraining from naming names here in order to spare some feelings. If that is so, then when his letter was read out in the church in Corinth, I imagine there were some people (who were mostly women, for what it’s worth) who would recognize themselves. And if they didn’t, I’ll bet everyone else would recognize whom Paul was talking about!

Well, the Liturgy of the Spirit keeps returning in various forms from time to time in the life of the Church, and it is always in danger from the egotism and immaturity of those who are attracted to it. Sometimes, it breaks down because of those who mistake the sound of their own voice for the sound of God’s voice. And sometimes, it’s not just blather that crowds out the holy wisdom being shared; sometimes, it’s egotism that peeps through and leads to abuse.

A young friend of mine who attended a charismatic church used to attend youth mission conferences sponsored by her church, and there she found a number of leaders – some not much older than herself - who would take people aside and say, “I want to ‘speak into your life.’” Meaning that God was telling them to tell this young person something or other. Sounds wonderful, but sometimes what was being said was just nonsense, or worse, for more people imagine themselves to be wise or inspired than actually are. And this can lead to all kinds of problems. But even among those who are not trying to blather or puff themselves up, remaining open to the Spirit’s direction is hard. And so, even those communities most devoted to following the Spirit’s lead usually end up routinizing the Spirit’s prompting, and liberty becomes liturgy, as we do again what worked before.

Years ago, when I was in seminary, one of my classmates had been invited to attend a meeting of the Full Gospel Businessmen's Association. They were excited to have a seminary student in attendance, and several made the point to him, "You'll like our meetings. We don't follow any fixed order, we just follow the Holy Spirit." Then someone said, "Hey, let's sing a song to start our meeting!" "Well, what song should we sing?" someone else asked. And the reply came, "Let's sing the one we always sing first!"

Here’s the plain truth: only those who are striving with all their might to reach for the gift of love – which is the transformation of the whole life and personality by the power of the Holy Spirit – can keep up with the full liberty of the Spirit. Everyone else either falls back into comfortable repetition – patterns, routines, liturgies – or else strains to speak for God when God hasn’t spoken to them – with unsatisfactory or destructive results. Nevertheless, this is how the Spirit manifests himself in your life and in our church: by making holiness attractive, then empowering us to pursue it.

"Oh, but I couldn’t live that way," you say. "Not all the time." Well, put it this way: God has a design for your life; but if you prefer a different design – just because it’s yours – then that always comes with a loss of power. And not just for you; the whole church feels it when the people in the church are just trying to grab the spiritual goodies they’ve heard about instead of challenging themselves to try to become like Christ.

Every United Methodist minister is required at his or her ordination to answer a series of pointed questions, which sometimes makes the candidates squirm. One of those questions is this: Are you going on to perfection? – meaning, perfection in love? holiness?

Most of my generation of ministers were in our 20s when we were asked that question, and we hardly knew what to say. It seemed a remote kind of goal, at best. I remember someone telling me of a time once in some Annual Conference when one candidate simply froze up, and didn’t know what to say when the question was put to him: Are you going on to perfection? An awkward silence fell. Finally, the kindly old bishop prompted the young man: "Well, son, if you’re not going on to perfection, then what are you going on to?"

Going on to perfection means going on to the fulfillment of God’s design for your life, his way. Which means that if you’ve got a different idea you like better, well, then you and he have some talking to do. And maybe you think that you'd have to give up an awful lot to do what God wants. But holiness – perfection in love – is not bondage; it’s not a cramping of one’s style or personality. To be filled with God and enabled to do what God designed you for is freedom. It is power. And it is joy.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Saturday, October 22nd, 2016
8:31 pm - A dose of bromide
I toodled on over to Wilderstead last night, with block in the truck bed along with a bag of mortar mix and several bags of sand. It was my intention to get some serious block laid today.

Hail, hail, the gang’s all here

I arrived about 8:30 p.m. I saw several large sticks in the road, and one huge tree trunk that had come crashing down (luckily, beside the road). I stopped to clear some downed brush out of the way. There had been a tremendous hail storm in the area last Wednesday, but I wasn’t worried. After all, my cabin is pretty sheltered down in the holler. And everything looked right when I pulled up to the door.

When I came in, I smelt a musty odor, as if something had gotten wet. My cabin has always been very snug, so I couldn’t imagine well what that odor could be coming from. I thought maybe some rain had come in the windows, so I made sure they were drawn fairly low. Then I went to bed.

Getting up this morning, my bare feet discovered a damp patch of carpet, just below one of the skylights. Looking up, I saw a nice, big hole in the skylight. Checking closer, I found that all four skylights had holes in them of one size or another. That immediately re-arranged my day; laying block would have to wait. Time to fix the roof when the sun is shining.

Patching the skylights would require me to get up on the roof. Those of you who know me well know how much I love roof-and-ladder work. *shudder* Still, needs must when the deel drives, so I got out my 24’ fiberglass extension ladder and got ready to rise in the world. I pre-cut several small pieces of flashing material to cover the holes and put them on with duct tape. I noticed a piece of shingle missing over one corner of a skylight, so I used some more flashing and nailed it over the bare spot.

I went into town and bought some window and door sealant. (On the way back, I checked with some tire people about getting new ag tires on my little tractor. I’ll get that done in a couple of weeks.) Once I got back to Wilderstead, I used the sealant on the inside of the skylights, with a dab or two on the outside. That ought to hold things for a while. Monday, I’ll check with my insurance guy and see what it’s going to take to get the skylights replaced. May need to re-roof the cabin just to make sure everything’s up to snuff while I’m at it. We’ll see.

Five, six, pick up sticks

I still had time to lay some block, if I could; however, the trench was all muddy, with standing water in the part I needed to work on. It needs a couple of days to dry out before I can get down in there. I may have to take some extra time off to catch the good weather, since I really, really want to get this first course completed all round before we get a hard freeze.

Baulked of my goal, I got my wheelbarrow out and picked up fallen sticks to throw on the woodpile. Then I got out my bow saw and cut down some saplings that needed to be trimmed up. I also did some digging and patching on my road spur to keep the water flowing in the side channel. It tends to fill up with mud and then overflow onto the road, washing out the gravel as the water finds its way downhill.

Overall it’s been a productive day. Gorgeous weather, too. And the damage to the cabin could have been far worse if I hadn’t come out here so soon after the big storm. So I guess I’ll give thanks to God for the gift he gave and quit grumbling about the gift I was hoping for. ‘S’all good.

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Wednesday, October 19th, 2016
1:57 pm - Me and my shadow
I've been shadowed today by a high school senior. Not that he was eager to learn about professional ministry, but Edgewood High School has set apart this day for out-of-school activities for seniors: seniors are encouraged to go on college visits, participate in service projects, or shadow somebody doing one's work. Brad -- one of our Venturers -- had already done all the college visits he was interested in and didn't know of any service projects to do. So I told him he could come shadow me.

We started in the church office. I told him watching me work on my computer would be dull (though that's mostly what I do in the office), so I gave him the two-dollar tour of the church and grounds and we talked about what all the rooms were used for and how the church was built. Then we walked downtown to show him the RBB Family Store -- a thrift store in which many of our parishioners are engaged. We talked about the way non-profits of all sorts connect with each other. I also made sure he understood what "civil society" means, because it's not a concept you learn about in school much anymore.

By this time, Keith was ready for us to start work on the newsletter. We folded and taped the newsletter for the next hour and a half. Just part of the monthly routine of church work. While we were working on this project, a couple of people came to the church looking for help from our food pantry, and Keith left us to it while he assisted them. After finishing with the newsletter Brad and I took off together to do calls and errands.

We visited a parishioner in the nursing home. Then we grabbed a bite to eat in Highland Village. While there, I schmoozed briefly with another parishioner who was getting lunch, too. Then we poked our noses into another parishioner's shop round the corner to say hello. Back to E-ville to make a deposit of popcorn money for the Cub Scout Pack, of which I am Treasurer. Then it was over to Spencer to pre-order some special things for a future event from Rice's Meats (25 lb. of goat stew meat and 10 cases of apple slices for the Winter Rendezvous in January).

As we drove around, we talked about different work schedules and what it means to be in charge of your own schedule. Brad's ultimate goal is to start his own landscaping business. I warned him that the problem of being your own boss is not that you don't work hard enough; it's that you tend to work all hours of the day and night trying to keep up, and don't take specific breaks from the job. It all blurs together after a while.

We got back to the church, and I let him go home. I went home, too, to rest up before the Wednesday evening meetings and activities (always a heavily scheduled night at the church). It was fun to have someone to go the rounds with me today; I trust he also learned something about being a professional from spending the day with me.

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Monday, October 17th, 2016
10:54 am - Sermon Series: Pulled In Every Direction
Sermon Five: Worship

1st Corinthians 11:2-34

I’ve been preaching my way this fall through Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians – largely because the Corinthian church is the textbook case of various cultural forces pulling the church in one direction after another; indeed, threatening to pull it completely onto the wrong track OR to pull it apart. Which is fairly similar to the case we find ourselves in today. In Chapter 11, Paul turns his attention to the conduct of worship in the Corinthian church, and he finds much to praise, but also much to correct.

Worship is the beating heart of the church. Under the tyranny of the Communist Party, the Soviet Union forbade the Russian Orthodox Church to evangelize, forbade it to conduct mission work, forbade it to teach classes to explain Christianity, forbade it to build new churches or repair old ones. In this way, it only carried to an extreme the policy of another autocratic regime, the Ottoman Empire, which for centuries had refused to allow the Greek Orthodox Church to do anything other than conduct worship.

In both cases, the regimes hostile to Christianity wondered how the Church could hang on – even grow – when they had placed so many obstacles in its way; but then, they had not forbidden the Church to gather and worship. And so, week by week, even under the most severe repression, the believers in Christ met and were strengthened and renewed, so that they were able to stand up under the disabilities and scorn heaped upon them.

Worship matters. We gather to give ourselves to Christ, and he meets with us, as he promised: to give us his Holy Spirit, and empower us to accomplish his will in our lives and in our world. When we encourage people to be regular in their attendance at worship, we do not do so because the church will be weakened if they don’t come. That may be so, but it is much less important a fact than that those who do not come will grow progressively weaker: less able to face the challenges the world throws at them, less able to carry the loads that are laid upon them by life, and more likely to be distracted from their path into folly that claims to be wisdom.

Paul lifts up two problems in the Corinthians’ worship in Chapter 11, but in order to assess his instructions properly, it would probably help to describe what worship looked like in the 1st Century. Paul opens this section by saying,
I commend you, because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you (11:2).
Christianity was a new religion, but it had deep roots. There was no Book of Worship, no required form of words or copied order of service, yet worship was conducted in accordance with tradition. The tradition included, of course, the stories of Jesus and the teaching of the apostles, but the apostles didn’t sit down and create a new religion from scratch. They were all Jews, and still considered themselves to be Jews, so they took over the traditions of Judaism and ordered their new common life accordingly.

They were all used to attending the synagogue weekly, on Saturday. Meeting on Sundays with the Church, the first part of the worship service was basically the synagogue service. It consisted of a cycle of prayers and readings, psalms and hymns, and preaching. The first part of the worship service was what we call the Liturgy of the Word.

The Jewish believers had also grown up on the ritual meals of the temple, as when an animal was offered. Old Testament worship was a lot like our traditional Thanksgiving dinner: there was the gathering of friends and family, the ritual offering and giving of thanks, and then the feast. The temple meals were imitated in every Jewish home with the lighting of candles before sundown on the Sabbath and the family Sabbath dinner that evening. Even though the new Christian rite of communion was derived from the Passover, the Haggadah (the Passover seder liturgy) was not followed, but rather the more familiar form of temple offerings and Sabbath dinners. So the second part of the worship service was what we call the Liturgy of the Table.

Now, the reason we don’t do communion every week has more to do with the availability of ordained ministers on the American frontier - and with the rise of revival preaching services in the 19th Century - than with our theology, but lay that aside for a moment.

There was often a third part of the worship service in those early years of the 1st Century: a kind of Liturgy of the Spirit, as people lingered after the conclusion of the meal to share prophecy, and to speak in tongues and hear the interpretation of tongues and engage in other kinds of spontaneous religious expression. This eventually died out in most places. By the middle of the 2nd Century, it was mostly a memory, and “prophecy” usually meant preaching by authorized leaders rather than spontaneous speaking on behalf of God by whoever was so moved. The liturgy of the Spirit keeps coming back, from time to time, and I’ll have more to say about it next week when Paul discusses spiritual gifts, but for now, I just want you to grasp what a typical worship service looked like in a New Testament setting like Corinth.

The first “issue” Paul raises with the Corinthianss concerns women in leadership of the church's worship. Listen to what Paul says:
But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered [that was Jewish practice] dishonors his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head -- it is the same as if her head were shaven [a mark of shame in Judaism] (11:3-16).
And so on. This sounds very negative. And, of course, Paul has a reputation as being very hostile to women, generally, telling them to keep silence in the churches – again, something that’s brought up in the next section. But the thing I want you to see is that Paul, in fact, is all for women speaking in church; otherwise, why is he giving instructions for what they should do concerning their head covering when they do it?

Now, most of us don’t get what he’s driving at it. "The head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” Our view of the universe is more likely anarchic rather than hierarchical. We see order in creation as a matter of random actions producing spontaneous patterns, rather than as expressions of a divine nature being re-imaged on level after level. So this seems like an imposition to us, based on a hostility to women engaging in certain activities.

But remember: Paul’s closest co-workers in Corinth had been Prisca and Aquila, a wife-and-husband team (in which the wife is always mentioned first in the New Testament). Paul refers to “Chloe’s people” as his informants about goings-on in Corinth. In his various letters, he mentions many fellow workers, about a third of whom are women, some referred to as deacons. There is even a case to be made that “Junia(s)” (mentioned in Romans), who is associated with the apostles, or may in fact be one, is a woman’s name rather than a man’s. Later on, in Acts 21, we read of Paul staying with Philip the Evangelist, who had four unmarried daughters who prophesied. The New Testament Church is full of spiritually mature, spirit-filled, capable women in leadership, and Paul was completely comfortable in their company.

Let me reiterate. When Paul says, If any one is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no other practice, nor do the churches of God (11:16), he is not just saying that all the churches think head-coverings are important. That might be true, but what he's also saying is that in all the churches of his day, women were in leadership. So why the thing about covering the head when prophesying or praying? Largely a cultural thing, I think, displaying the order-of-creation ideology which meant so much to the 1st Century believers. So Paul didn’t have a problem with women in leadership as such; in fact, it may only be some particular women he had in mind, who were going about things in a way that created some problems, but in order not to name names and embarrass people, he may be making a general statement in order to drive home the idea that leadership comes with some challenges.

“Just being yourself” is not something any of us in leadership can appeal to. All of us, men as well as women, have to take into account how we’re being processed by others. For instance, I wear an alb and stole, not because I really dig the ecclesiastical glad rags, but because I want people to be paying attention to what I'm saying, not trying to figure out what's on my tie. And when I walk into a funeral home wearing a suit (something I don't do every day), people aren't distracted by how I'm dressed; they receive me instantly as a minister of the gospel sent to their need. And, yeah, certain expectations laid upon how leaders act or dress may not be “fair,” but wanting to see things done fairly is not the most important thing; wanting to see things done effectively matters a whole lot more, or should, to those of us who have undertaken leadership roles.

I am glad that in the United Methodist Church, all leadership roles, among both clergy and laity, are open to women equally with men. That doesn’t mean that women and men are interchangeable, or that we are not processed by others apart from our sex, but simply that God can use anyone, man or woman, young or old to do his work and to speak his word.

The other issue Paul raises in this section with what’s going on in the Corinthian church has to do with the celebration of communion.
But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you assemble as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and i partly believe it, for there must be faction among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you meet together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not (11:17-22).
Remember, the Lord’s Supper in those days was a full meal. It was also more a bring-your-own affair than a pitch-in. It was less structured, more open to what people made of it; and therefore, more open to disorder, especially for those who hadn’t been raised in the tradition of temple sacrifice and Sabbath dinners and the Passover seder. If you were a Gentile believer who had been raised on pagan religious banquets, your idea of what was proper behavior on such an occasion was probably in need of some fine-tuning.

Paul then talks about the meaning of communion:
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes (11:23-26).
And, he issues a warning:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged But when we are judged by the Lord, we are chastened so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another - if any one is hungry, let him eat at home - lest you come together to be condemned. About the other things I will give directions when I come (11:27-34).
Unworthiness in this regard is about the outward manners of the people taking part in the meal, not about one’s unworthiness before the Lord, which is quite another matter. All of us are unworthy of the Lord’s regard, not to mention his sacrifice upon the cross, and yet we are forgiven and welcomed to his table. But having been welcomed to his table, we ought to behave like it’s the Lord’s table, which we do by recognizing his body – that is, the Church - and showing heaven’s courtesy to each other.

When we so honor him by honoring each other, we line up rightly with him, and the Spirit is poured out in power upon us. Really, there is no separating what we believe or what we hope to accomplish from how we treat other people – especially how we treat each other. For not only is God watching, but so are those we would most like to reach for Jesus Christ and make disciples of.

Years ago, the small town church I was pastoring hired a new pianist, a high school girl from the big General Baptist Church in the county seat town. She played well, and she had a good feel for accompanying a worship service, and we all made much of her. One day, she said, "It really bugs me that I want to take communion with you guys, but I’m busy playing. Is there any way you can serve me after the service is over?"

I said, "Why serve you after? We’ll just serve you first, and then you can play while we serve the rest of the congregation."

She was floored. In her big, fancy church – her home church was the biggest congregation in her denomination – musicians vied for the privilege of playing, and if you got the job, you didn’t ask for any personal considerations, you were there to play for others.

I said, "Kristi, in the small membership church, participation counts for more than performance. We’re glad you’re here. You perform your duties very well, but you matter to us quite as much as what you do for us. Of course I’ll serve you during the distribution, just like I would anybody."

So, this is what I want to leave you with this morning. Anybody can be called upon to exercise leadership - in worship or in some other way – and that leadership may place certain demands on you that you will have to get used to, or grow into. But leaders are not just leaders only; leaders also belong, and need what everybody needs. Meanwhile, how we treat others, how we love each other, how we reverence and encourage everybody, determines how clear a channel there is for the Spirit to flow and fill us with the power of God. And every Sunday you and I get another chance to love and be loved, to fill others and be filled by God.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Saturday, October 15th, 2016
10:41 pm - It works
While out at our cabin today, I opened the shed to fetch a barrow and spade for Deanne, who wanted to transplant some strawberry plants. A very live mouse dodged from under the barrow to beneath the generator. Hmmm...

Dealing with mice in the woods is a given. I don't expect miracles, but I really don't want mice nesting in my shed. They make an unhealthy atmosphere, and they chew through the covering of electrical wires on machinery, among other things. When I am staying overnight in the holler, I frequently leave the shed open, so that the coyotes and foxes can enjoy a mousy smorgasbord, if they will. I am skeptical of poisons and traps; I've never managed to catch a mouse in a trap out in the wild, and I swear they eat D-Con like popcorn. In fact, the most reliable form of mouse control I've found is my Redneck Mousetrap.

This is a five gallon bucket with a gallon of anti-freeze in it. A dowel rod pierces the rim of the bucket, passing through a plastic Coke bottle smeared with peanut butter. The mouse crawls up onto the rim and steps out to get the peanut butter, and the plastic bottle spins beneath the critter, dropping it into the anti-freeze. It had been a while since I had last re-charged this contraption, so I went to empty out the anti-freeze. Proof that it works was evident in the dozen or so embalmed mouse corpses that I dumped out with the liquid.

Fresh anti-freeze in the bucket and fresh peanut butter on the plastic bottle are all it takes. Though I also helpfully lean up a piece of wood from the floor to the rim of the bucket.

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Tuesday, October 11th, 2016
9:34 pm - Making progress
I took advantage of the spell of nice weather we're having -- and the fact that it's Fall Break in the local schools, so there are no Scout meetings at the church this week -- and scooted over to Wilderstead Monday afternoon for a quick overnight orgy of block laying.

The Fall is getting under way in fine fashion. I found no paw-paws (doggone it), but there was a profusion of fungus growing right in the middle my drive. These three specimens were all close together. They look magnificent, but I don't know what they are. Can anyone tell me?

Fungus in the road

Fungus in the road

More fungus

More fungus

More fungus

Still more fungus

I did get across the Pishon to check things out. No water is flowing in the creek or over the ground from the various springs. There's still a fairly deep pool above the log bridge. I get water from it to mix mortar and to clean my tools. Up till this weekend, I've also taken creek baths in it, but it looked a little murky today, and I cleaned up in the cabin before I headed home.

Low Water

Low Water

Both Monday and today were glorious Fall days. The temperature during the day was warm, the night chilly. I had to fire up the propane space heater this morning to knock the chill off the cabin while I ate breakfast.

Anyway, I got to the holler in time to mix a half-batch of mortar and do some more on the North end wall. This morning, I cleaned out the mud in the low spot down in the Southwest corner. While that was drying the best it could, I mixed a second half-batch of mortar and finished the North end wall run and turned the corner with a 12" block. The back wall of the undercroft, up against the hillside, will be twelves, while the other three walls will be made of eights.

After lunch, I mixed another half-batch of mortar and turned the low corner. When we poured the concrete, we couldn't get the chute down at this end, so we had to drag the concrete as best we could. The low spot is a full two inches below the level of the rest of the footer. Hence, the use of spacer blocks and lots of mortar-filled block cells to strengthen that corner.

Turning the corner

Turning the corner

Low corner

Low corner

The wooden pegs in some of the cells indicate where I will eventually insert 10' rebar rods and fill those cells with concrete or cement all the way to the top. Those will also be the cells that the big ol' bolts that hold down the sill plate (2" x 8" lumber) go into. The walls will be 15 courses high -- 10'. Two feet will be below grade, and eight feet will be the height of the undercroft.

Once I get the first course laid, things should go faster. I won't need as much mortar, and I won't have to get up to check the position of every block quite as finickingly as when I'm putting these down. Also, I won't have to worry about keeping the footer clear; I can let the dirt drift back into the trench; indeed, as soon as I've got two or three courses laid, I can start backfilling the trench and getting the area around the downhill side cleaned up.

My goal is to get as much done as possible before the hard frost comes, after which more block-laying will have to wait until spring.

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Sunday, October 9th, 2016
9:21 pm - Hard truths spoken as lovingly as I can speak them
I shared with my Church Council tonight about the Wesleyan Covenant Association launch. In order to make sense of it, I had to explain what-all has been going on in the UMC over the last year and a half. I think I've been more pro-active than most in telling people about this, but I haven't really told them the whole story. I've been reluctant to.

For one thing, I don't want to be seen as some sort of zealot, or be defined by what I'm against. My main focus is on making disciples and leading the church here, not dealing with denominational controversies.

But also, I am aware, even as I tell the story of what's been going on, how much it will probably hurt some people. There are lots of people, even in mostly-conservative, traditional congregations, who want to hang onto their church family, even as they love members of their home families who are gay, or transgender, or into progressive advocacy. They don't want to choose which to stay with and which to leave; and they shouldn't have to choose which to stay with and which to leave. It is monstrous that anybody should be wounded and torn by the inability of the Church to maintain its dedication to both love and truth.

Unfortunately, the rapidly deteriorating situation in the UMC is forcing everybody's hands. Whether we like it or not, change is coming to the UMC; indeed, the UMC may not exist in the form we know it in a few years. If we don't find a way to live together, we will either implode or explode. Finding a way to live together is not possible when General Conference writes rules that clergy (mostly, but also some lay members) will not obey and the bishops won't enforce. As Lincoln said of our country long ago, I don't think we can continue part this, part that, much longer. Either we will all become one thing, or all the other. Or we will simply break apart.

Many of us clergy have tried to hide from this. And we've tried to protect the laity from it. We kept hoping that the Church could figure out some way to get along. But it's not going to be possible to hide much longer. If the UMC starts to break apart -- or threatens to -- then all of us will have to say on which side of some line or other we will take our stand. And as the clergy are finally forced to say where they will stand, so too, the laity, the congregations, the conferences. And no such break, if it comes, will be clean. Congregations will be divided. Conferences will be divided. Even families may become divided.

The WCA wants to uphold orthodox teaching and maintain the covenant we (especially, we clergy) entered into when we joined. I agree with those goals. At the same time, I know and love many people with contrary opinions, some derived from their theology and some derived from their life experience. I am committed to be in ministry to all my flock, including those who disagree with me or who practice alternative lifestyles. I don't want anybody to have to choose between values or relationships in order to prove somebody else right. Insofar as I can, I want to hold people together in love and help each one face whatever demands may be placed upon us by the changes that are coming.

And so we wait for the Bishops' Commission on a Way Forward to meet and report. We need to pray for the commission members and for their meetings. And in the meantime, we need to study how to live out the love and integrity that the Lord expects all his disciples to manifest.

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3:43 pm - Sermon Series: Pulled In Every Direction
Sermon Four: "Putting God First"

1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1

I’m continuing on with my series of sermons from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians; once again, forgive me if I don’t read the entire Scripture passage before beginning, since it’s three chapters long.

There’s a lot in those three chapters – a lot of good sermon material. And that’s how it’s usually been presented to us over the years, as little snippets of good stuff, used as the basis of a sermon on this, or that. But when we take it that way, we miss the larger point. We miss the whole argument that Paul is making – and that larger whole is more important than the various parts, and it’s what I want to focus on today.

The Corinthians sent Paul several requests for guidance on various issues, and one of the biggest issues dividing the church in that city was the issue of “food offered to idols.” You see, pagan society was built upon pagan beliefs and pagan values, and cemented together with all kinds of little instances of pagan worship. And nowhere was the ubiquity of paganism more noticeable than in the practice of offering food to the pagan gods – or to pagan ancestors.

Every Gentile banquet began with the equivalent of what we call "grace" – a libation poured out to pagan gods. This is one reason why Jews did not accept Gentile hospitality; it offended their profession of exclusive devotion to the God of Israel. Gentiles who had accepted Christ, of course, didn’t do this; but then, the meat you bought in the marketplace may have been prayed over by the very butchers in the act of preparing it for sale. It was part of the practice of their trade – so it may already have been “offered to idols.”

This is why Jews insisted on kosher meat. Not only was it prepared differently, it wasn’t prayed over by pagans beforehand. And though Christians weren’t required to keep kosher, they were worried about buying meat in the open marketplace. Would it be a betrayal of their faith in Christ? This would be a problem even between Jewish and Gentile Christians – a bar to accepting hospitality even among believers in Christ. Where did that meat come from? Was it acceptable to eat?

Beyond this, every trade guild would offer the meat for their guild banquets before consuming it, so if you belonged to a trade guild and wanted to remain in good standing, you wound up participating in a banquet where everything had been offered to idols before you started. By the way, these guild banquets were typically held in a pagan temple, too. How, then, could a Gentile maintain one’s standing in a trade guild after his conversion to Christ?

And then there were the pagan funeral dinners, where the “idols” were not images of pagan gods so much as the imagines – wax masks – of the deceased and other ancestors. Offerings were made to them as part of the ritual. Some of these banquets, even the funerary ones, in addition to the tinge of pagan worship attached to them, would also degenerate into debauchery – drunkenness and sex and so on.

Well, the Corinthians wanted to know the Christian way to deal with all this. They couldn’t get away from it; they had to live amongst it. How, then, should they live as Christians in the midst of it all?

Paul seems to give two contradictory answers, one in chapter 8 and another in chapter 10. In between, he goes off in another direction entirely, on what looks like some rant about his rights as an apostle. In Chapter 8, he looks like he’s pooh-poohing the concerns about meat offered to idols. He says that idols – things made of stone or metal or wood – aren’t gods, and they don’t have any power; certainly, they can’t make meat unfit for Christians to eat. He says,
Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that "an idol has no real existence," and that "there is no God but one." For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth - as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords" - yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist (8:4-6).
But then, over in chapter 10, he seems to imply that there’s real danger for Christians in all this.
Therefore, my beloved, shun the worship of idols. I speak as to sensible men; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the practice of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he? (10:14-22)
The distinction he’s drawing, though, is important. Paul points out that though idols can’t harm you incidentally – that is, by your eating something offered to them; nevertheless, if you go so far as to join in the offering, then you are betraying your exclusive commitment to Christ.

So, what’s the difference? Well, let’s suppose somebody, like say maybe the Chamber of Commerce, or Ellettsville Main Street, has invited a group of Balinese fire-walkers to open a community event with a display of their ability to walk on hot coals without being burnt – which is an act of religious devotion on their part. I can watch them do it; indeed, I will respectfully attend to their performance and conduct myself with great dignity, and thank them afterward for gracing our event with their presence. But then, they’re not asking me to walk on the hot coals with them; nor would I do so, not even if I were as sure of being delivered from the fire as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. (Old Testament reference – that’s another sermon.)

Even if there were no hot coals, I could not join in their act of devotion to their gods, for I belong only to Christ. The difference is between allowing them to be who they are and do what they do, which doesn’t hurt me at all – and my assent and participation in their prayer, which, even if done in silence, is a betrayal of my Lord.

Those images of stone or metal or wood can’t harm me. Not even other supernatural beings – Paul calls them demons, but at this time of the year, we could call them “ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggety beasties and things that go bump in the night” – no other power in earth, or heaven, or hell, can harm the soul that belongs to Christ, nor taint the food the Christian eats with some kind of spiritual toxin. But the follower of Christ must not pray to other powers, must not bow down in the house of Rimmon – not even if he dies for it. (Those twenty-some Egyptian Christians led out onto a beach and beheaded by Islamic fanatics had only to say a few words, to do as their captors required, in order to be spared. But every one of them died with the name of Christ on their lips rather than deny their relationship with him.) For to join in the pagans' offering, to receive their pagan sacrament, is to commune with the demons themselves, not just their material representations, and that we must not do.

At the same time Paul is making this case, he points out that not everybody draws the line at exactly the same place, and you have to take into account that other people are involved. In the case of those who know that idols have no real existence and the food offered to them can’t hurt you, he says,
However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through being hitherto accustomed to idols, eat food as really offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. Only take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if any one sees you, a man of knowledge, at table in an idol's temple, might he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? and so by your knowledge this weak man is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, your sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of my brother's falling, i will never eat meat, lest I cause my brother to fall (8:7-13).
You have to be careful not to scandalize people for whom this is a big, big issue. Sure, you can go to dinner with unbelievers – and certainly with fellow Christians – but don’t flaunt your superior enlightenment in people's faces.

The argument in between, in chapter 9, where Paul talks about his rights as an apostle, is basically in answer to the Corinthians’ tendency to look elsewhere for advice when they didn’t get the answer they wanted from Paul. He’s asserting his right to decide the issue. He returns to his own example at the end of this section, where he says,
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please all men in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (10:31-11:1).
Now, this all seems pretty far out there and irrelevant to today’s world, but I want you to consider this. When we were all much younger, our society’s beliefs and values were basically the same as the Church’s; not that everybody was a believer, let alone a very faithful one, but the default position on all major questions of morality or identify was taken from Christianity -- or, at least, conformable to Christianity. For even if we were never a “Christian nation,” nevertheless, we were, by and large, a nation of Christians.

This is no longer the case. There are lots of different kinds of people, with different religions and no religion, who are part of American society these days. Not only that, but many of those who have adopted other beliefs and values have deliberately done so in rejection of the dominant, Christian, beliefs and values they grew up with, to which they are actively hostile. We are now a post-Christian, a de-Christianized, society.

So the question arises, far more than we woud like, How far we can go to accommodate someone else’s beliefs or values? In fact, it has gone so far that we now find, far more often than we ever thought we would, that we are challenged when we try to operate on the familiar beliefs and values of Christianity. Instead of the minority religions having to assert their freedom of religion to be who they are and do what they do, without our interference, we now find that we – the majority religion – are having to assert our freedom to be who we are and do what we do, as government and the schools, and public opinion begin to see our beliefs and values as outdated, and our traditional practices as examples of institutional bigotry to be modified or eradicated. It’s all very confusing and disagreeable.

So let me say just a couple of things about how to handle this. The first thing to acknowledge is, that people who are different from us are not necessarily bad people, and how we treat them says a lot more about us than it does about them.

I have a cousin my age, who was into really heavy drug use as a teenager, but he had a religious conversion and left all drugs behind. I am very glad for this, for if he hadn’t found a new spiritual relationship to build his life on, he would probably be dead or in prison long since. But the new spiritual relationship he found was not with the Lord Jesus Christ – but with Lord Krishna.

For the last forty years or so, Robert has lived in a Hare Krishna monastery. We still keep in touch, usually by Christmas card. (He noted some years ago the oddity of Hares sending Christmas cards, and then said, "We even celebrated Thanksgiving this year.") I love him as much as I did when we were boys together – and I pray for him – but there are things we cannot share. And I have to respect his choices, as he has to respect mine, for to try to argue each other into the “right” religion, or to try to pretend that the other is “really” just following the same religion by a different name, would be unloving - indeed insulting – either way.

The people who are on a different path – whether morally or spiritually – who have declared their allegiance to different beliefs, different morals, a different lifestyle – whatever it is – are still the same people we have always loved, and we must never cease to love them. The same goes for all those on those paths with whom we have no personal history. They are not radioactive lepers – none of them. They are children of God. Lost children perhaps, but that’s as may be. You will not get anywhere with them – let alone present Christ as an attractive alternative to them – by your disgust or horror or anger.

So the first rule of love is, you have to let people be who they are, and do what they do. But it works the other way back, too: they have to understand that you have to be who you are, and do what you do, also. You have spiritual commitments that you can't just dump because they make things awkward for you.

Meanwhile, however you figure out how to get along with the rest of the world, others will probably draw the line somewhere else. You may be in advance of some people’s understanding, as you are behind still other people's. Remember to take other people’s feelings and opinions into account, and don’t be a jerk about things, ya know? That seems to be Paul’s advice.

But most of all, at the bottom of everything, don’t forget: Your relationship with Christ is the single most important fact of your life. Don’t ever compromise on that; but try to live like Christ, not just argue for Christ, in all that you do. That’s putting God first, in a godly way. I remind you again of Paul’s conclusion in this section:
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please all men in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (10:31-11:1).

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Saturday, October 8th, 2016
12:49 am - The Nicene Creed in Old English
Ic gelyfe on ænne God, Fæder Ælmihtigne, Wyrcend heofenan and eorðan, and ealra gesewenlicra ðinga and ungesewenlicra; and on ænne Crist, Hælend Drihten, þone ancennedan Godes Sunu, of ðam Fæder acenned ær ealle worulda, God of Gode, Leoht of Leohte, Soðne God of Soðum Gode, acennedne na geworhtne, efen-edwistlicne þam Fæder, ðurh þone sind ealle ðing geworhte; se for us mannum and for ure hæle niðer-astah of heofenum, and wearð geflæschamod of ðam Halgan Gaste and of Marian ðam mædene, and wearð mann geworden. He ðrowode eac swylce on rode ahangen for us, and he wæs bebyrged, and he aras on ðam ðriddan dæge, swa swa gewritu seðað, and he astah to heofonum, and he sitt æt swiðran his Fæder, and he eft cymð mid wuldre to demenne þam cuicum and ðam deadum, and his rices ne bið nan ende. And ic gelyfe on ðone Halgan Gast, ðone Lif-fæstendan God, se gæð of ðæm Fæder and of ðam Suna, and se is mid ðam Fæder and mid þam Suna gebeden and gewuldrod, and se spræc þurh witegan. Ic andette ða anan halgan and ða geleaffullan and ða apostolican gelaðunge, and an fulluht on forgyfennysse synna; and ic andbidige æristes deadra manna, and þæs ecan lifes þære toweardan worulde. Sy hit swa.

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Friday, October 7th, 2016
11:54 pm - Impressions of the day
So, I'm safely home now. Very tired.

There were 1720 pre-registrations for the Wesleyan Covenant Association launch. Several more came in for same-day registration. Best guess, probably 1750, 1760 persons? They came from every Annual Conference in the US. There were people there from every Central Conference in Africa. Two observers from the British Methodist Church. And even two or three bishops (plus several others sent greetings).

It was quite a day. I saw many friends from Indiana, and talked with several people from other parts of the country. They came despite the expense (hotel rooms near the Conference Center for some of my friends were $260 per night; someone pointed out someone else who paid $350 per night -- BTW, I camped at Illinois Beach State Park the night before for a whopping 25 bucks) because they wanted to be part of this.

I had my cynical moments. I've been at this a long time, and I've seen a lot to be cynical about. And I don't like the tweedly worship music that constitutes most of what we sing at these big gatherings these days. That said, as soon as the event opened with prayer, I felt my eyes fill with tears. And my eyes burnt much of the day.

Now, I'm a passionate person. I feel things deeply, and occasionally, I get choked up. But I rarely ever cry -- particularly in public. To spend most of the day at the point of tears is highly unusual for me. But I was deeply moved by much of what I heard. And certainly, God was also speaking directly to me.

For those wondering about the value of what was on offer, I can also say that I stayed in my seat for every bit of it. Those who know me well know that I rarely go into the plenary sessions at Annual Conference. I get bored (and sometimes, offended), so mostly I hang out in the exhibits area and schmooze people about Scouting ministry or something. But I spent all the official time crammed in a room with 1700 other people, attending to what was going on. It surprised even me.

Is the WCA a magic bullet that will accomplish X and save the UMC? No. But it's a place to say who I am and what I believe, and stand with others who share my concerns. Now, at the eleventh hour, with the UMC on the verge of either imploding or exploding, it seemed important to me to be counted in that group. I also paid my hundred bucks and joined the Association.

We heard many powerful speakers. It wasn't a pep rally, or tag-team preaching; each had some particular thing to present or to have us ponder. Still, for me, the best thing was the bishop's communion mediation at the end. He preached on the folly of the cross, and ended by saying that we believe in Jesus Christ, and him crucified. I turned to my friend Beth and said, "I have never heard a bishop say that before." She replied, "I've never heard a white bishop say that before." I corrected myself: "I've never heard an American bishop say that before." And now I have.

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Tuesday, October 4th, 2016
2:06 pm - For Evelyn
A friend's little girl asked her if God ever laughs. This generated quite a thread in the social media post it appeared in. I thought I would follow up that thread with this one.

Years and years ago, I was pondering the nature of church music. Our hymn tunes come from all different sources, secular as well as sacred. But what I was wondering was, is there anything intrinsically more appropriate -- or less appropriate -- for use in church; that is, in the music itself. I mean, we all remember Bart Simpson's practical joke in giving the Springfield congregation a hymn to sing called "In the Garden of Eden" by I. Ron Butterfly. "Wait a minute," said the slow-witted pastor after a verse or so. "That sounds like Rock and/or Roll."

Well, just to test the bounds of appropriate music, I decided to go looking for the most inappropriate or silliest folk tune I could find, just to see if I could write a hymn to that tune which would make the tune serve the worship of God. I settled on the rollicking fox hunting tune, "John Peel." Nothing could be weirder than that, I thought, except of course, for "Rock and/or Roll."

The result is a hymn I call "The Laughter of God." I've had congregations sing it a couple of times, usually around Easter. They love it. So, as far as I'm concerned, there is no music -- qua music -- which is off limits for the church. It's just a matter of finding the right text and the right occasion. Here is the hymn.

The Laughter of God
2. To the grieving folk bound with chains of gloom
he spoke of his kingdom of joy and of room
that he'd make for those who with tears by the tomb
had denied there could be a new morning. REFRAIN.

3. Then remember how in the garden there
he trembled and shook as he knelt in prayer,
but he still found faith in the dark night to dare
that with God he would rise in the morning. REFRAIN.

4. So then let us sing and in him delight
for Christ lives again and has set us aright
with God above and we'll pass through the night
when he calls us to joy in the morning. REFRAIN.
Words: Arthur W. Collins
Music: Traditional English melody ("John Peel")
Words Copyright 1986, 2002 Arthur W. Collins

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Sunday, October 2nd, 2016
7:23 pm - Sermon Series: Pulled In Every Direction
Sermon Three: “Marriage”

1 Corinthians 7

I’m preaching my way through Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians this fall. The Corinthian church was ground zero for the cultural mashup and confusion of its day – the Roman Empire in the 1st Century. The congregation of mixed Jewish and Gentile converts had sent a letter to Paul, asking for his advice or instruction on a number of issues that were troubling the young church. Having addressed them off his own bat on the issues of factionalism and church discipline, he then takes up these requests, one by one, and the first in the laundry list of items the Corinthians have sent him has to do with marriage.

Now, there was broad agreement in the ancient world on what marriage was for. Obviously, it involved mutual affection; people “fell in love” then as now, and sought to build a life together. But marriages were often arranged between families, as well, and this had to do not only with relationships between clans, but also with economics: in a society built upon the family, not to belong to a family, to have no home of one’s own, is to be a perpetual child, or a perpetual burden. In Sub-Saharan Africa today, this is still the case. There is no “social safety net” provided by government, so if you lose your family – as in, you’re a widow with no living children – then you don’t belong to anybody, and if you’re old or unable to work, then you’re facing extreme poverty.

So, most people married, and most marriages were about as happy as most marriages are. At the same time, there were all kinds of other relationships that competed with or paralleled marriage. People weren’t always faithful to their spouses – or were really more interested in other kinds of relationships than the traditional model. We think our generation has discovered all this, but the Roman Empire was pretty wide open on sexual matters, and there’s nothing much new under the sun. Christianity, however, did bring something new. The Christians constituted a challenge to the ethos of love, sex, and marriage prevalent in that day – and that in two ways.

As far as marriage goes, they inherited the holiness code of ancient Israel from the Jews. The Christians were very strict about all matters relating to sex, which was reserved exclusively for the marriage of man and woman. No extramarital sex of any kind was approved of. Marriage was intended to display the relationship of God toward his creation. It was one of the great binary pillars of creation to be found in Genesis, marking the six days of creation: light/dark, day/night, heaven/earth, water/dry land, man/woman. Its fruitfulness was an imitation of the creative power of God. In Christian eyes, marriage was also a symbol of the relationship between Christ and his Church; indeed, each family was a little church in itself, where all the members thereof helped each other on to godliness. Martin Luther may have been the first to say that marriage is a school for character, but he was only encapsulating the teaching of Paul and many others. Marriage isn’t just about falling in love, nor about providing for your old age, or even about having children. Marriage is a call from God, a covenant two people enter into in order to glorify God and find the fulfillment of themselves therein.

And, here’s a new wrinkle. Beyond even the law of the Jews, Christians wanted marriage to be lifelong as well as exclusive. The early Christians were very stringent about divorce, allowing it only in a very few cases – and they were even more stringent about remarriage for divorced persons. Seen against the lax and lazy customs of the Roman Empire – but even seen against the high standards of Judaism – Christianity stood out for its very high view of marriage, and its extremely protected view of sex. You might have thought that Christianity would thus be seen as unattractive to outsiders – and many no doubt thought the Christians were downright weird or repressed – but at the same time, the idea that people would value each other (their marriage partners) so highly, also was extremely attractive. Who wouldn’t like to be so valued? Who wouldn’t like to find someone to value in that way? And so we find that down the centuries, Christianity keeps coming into new cultural situations where people have more relaxed standards. And though the situation sways back and forth, and there is always much hypocrisy everywhere, nevertheless, the ideal of Christian marriage remains very attractive.

But if this view of marriage as a call from God for two people to engage in together is to be taken seriously, then that view automatically creates a new opportunity: If marriage is a calling, then so is singleness; and indeed, Christianity was the first to offer the idea of singleness to the world. Oh, there were single people back then. There have always been single people: those not yet married, as well as those widowed or divorced. But the idea of singleness – of not simply being unmarried, and certainly not of being a “player,” of a person dating around, but of someone who is (permanently or just currently) not in a love relationship, nor necessarily looking for one – was brand new.

Heretofore, celibate adults – the never married, nor sexually available – were generally limited to a few religious devotees, like the Vestal Virgins of Rome. But Christianity opened up the possibility that God’s best choice for your life right now might be to have no one as your spouse, or betrothed, or sweetheart, at all. Christianity was the first value system to say that you didn’t have to have a Somebody to be a Somebody - that you could be a whole person, a normal person, a fulfilled person, even if you weren’t married. Indeed, in some ways, the single life was to be preferred, since you could devote yourself more single-mindedly to God, without the worldly distractions of being married and managing a household.

Both these aspects of Christian teaching need to be more widely discussed these days: That marriage is a high calling, as our traditional service says, “not to be entered into unadvisedly, but reverently, discreetly, and in the fear of God”; but also that singleness is not a defective status, and you aren’t damaged goods if you don’t have a somebody to wear on your arm.

Paul goes into all this here in 1 Corinthians 7. He affirms the exclusivity and mutual submission of man and woman in the marriage covenant. He talks about the pressures that can tear a marriage apart, and gives advice about them. He is reasonably sympathetic to people’s difficulties, while emphasizing the goal of lifelong marriage. He talks about the goodness of the single life, too. Still, the organization of his argument is sort of now here, now there, and we are sometimes still left wondering exactly what he is driving at.

This is because there’s a particular situation here in Corinth (it was found elsewhere as well) that we are not familiar with, but which can be inferred from his argument. You see, there were people in those days who were betrothed – which meant that they were legally married, but they hadn’t taken up living together yet. Probably, they had been betrothed by their families as children. And they wanted to honor that covenant – because if they didn’t, it would create economic hardship for some people, particularly the young women involved; and besides, they wanted to fulfill all their vows as honorable people. But, since they hadn’t actually set up house together yet, and since Christianity had made singleness as holy a state as marriage, therefore celibacy was very attractive to them, and they wanted to do that, too. So, these young couples were attempting to live together in the same house and operate as an economic and social unit – as husband and wife – sharing all things, but not each other’s bodies.

You can imagine how well that worked out. It was asking too much of people to try to make that work. And so, they were feeling guilty about it; they had failed in their attempts to live up to what they thought was their calling. Paul’s advice to these couples was pretty straightforward: Quit trying to be holier than God. If you’re going to be married, be married; if you’re going to be single, be single. Don’t play games with this, which can only come from your own sinful pride. Accept the state to which God has called you, and seek to please him in that state.

He says,
Only, let every one lead the life which the Lord has assigned to him, and in which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.
And goes on, then, to say,
Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a girl marries she does not sin. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that.
I see a lot of people today who fail to grasp this. They fall in love and want to be together, without realizing that you can fall in love with more than one person; that you can fall in love with someone who is already married, or with a person of the same sex, or whatever; and that you can fall out of love as easily as you fall in love. They miss all the teaching about marriage as a calling, as a way to seek God together, and they just snatch and grab at having a somebody so they won’t feel like a nobody any more. Sometimes, it works out, but more often they pick up a lot of hurts along the way; and if and when their relationships fail, they just reset to zero and do it all again, with much the same results. The married don’t know how to do marriage, and the singles don’t know how to get what they could out of being single. And a whole lot of people are neither married nor single, but just trying to make it work on their own terms.

Deanne and I were talking the other night about what makes a marriage last. We were so young, and so ill-prepared, when we got married. How did we make it so far? Well, we kept working at it, and we kept trying to honor God together in our marriage, and we sacrificed for each other instead of demanding things from each other. And it’s not been easy – as Paul understood it wouldn’t be – but it’s been worth it. I told Deanne (indeed, I had told her some time ago) that if I suddenly found myself unmarried – widowed, I suppose – I don’t think I’d marry again. This is not because of any sentiment about never wanting anyone to take her place, but simply because I’m too old to go through all that again: too old and too tired to do a marriage justice; to do a new spouse justice; to be remade into a new couple, instead of just two people rubbing along comfortably side-by-side.

This doesn’t mean that those who’ve lost someone should never consider a new love; that’s as may be, as God may call you. But to really love somebody, that somebody has to be more than merely a means to an end, or a comfort for someone who feels lonely. If we’re going to make the grand attempt, then let’s do it, by all means, but if we’re just passing the time, then we’re not really valuing each other properly. Marriage is a holy calling. Singleness is a holy calling. And your life may, at different times, have different calls; only, learn to discern what God is calling you to, and set your mind on fulfilling that call, so that through God you may find the fulfillment of your life.


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4:35 pm - Which way did they go?
Well, we did our troop orienteering course today. I had set up a brand-new one, just under two miles. Everything so easy it made my heart ache. But kids just have a terrible time figuring out how to actually use map and compass together to follow a course. It all turns to spaghetti noodles in their heads. It is easier to teach knots and lashings to a left-handed dyslexic than to pound compass work into their heads. (That's not a slur on left-handers, dyslexic or otherwise; I've actually taught them ropework, and I am making a comparison based on experience.)

Anyway, I made this beautiful little course. Each of the five controls had a line of poetry, which they would have to write down when they found it. When they completed the course, the entire poem would be evident. Plus, they would have to estimate the height of the bell tower from alley to eaves.

Well, they went off well enough. Three Scouts and one dad, all with their own compasses and maps. After a few minutes I walked up the hill behind the church to see if they were on their way. They had gone a half a block, and were searching behind things and inside things. Sheesh. All they had to do was keep going another quarter block, and the control would be right on the telephone pole, in front of the Bohlens' house. My heart sank. I checked back a few minutes later, and saw them clustered around the sign, so they made it at last, but I figured I'd better shadow them and make sure they were getting this done.

The second control was so dead easy, I figured nobody could miss it. It was just downhill from the first control on Association St., behind the Edgewood High School sign. I even gave them a descriptive clue: "An evil and adulterous generation seeketh for a sign." And by the time I'd got my truck and gone after them, I saw them heading up the big hill to the high school, well aimed toward the third control.

I drove ahead of them and approached the third control from the downhill side in the Ridge Springs subdivision. The control was tacked to a big ol' tree right at the main intersection of Louden Rd. and the crossway between the Junior High parking lot and the soccer field. It stood out for 300 yards both directions; you couldn't miss it. I snuck up by the line of trees along the street, however, and there were no Scouts there. I peered around the trees, and there they were, back at the football field, looking for Easter Eggs around the concession stand. Oy.

I drove around toward the Senior High parking lot and got out and approached SPL Daniel. The long leg they were following was over 3500' long. I asked him if he knew how long 3500' was. No, he said. How long is a mile? 5280'? Yes. How much of 5280 was 3500? [Blank look] 35 divided by 53, how much is that? I don't know, he said. It's about two-thirds of a mile. Have you gone two-thirds of a mile from the last control? I don't know. I wanted to hit myself in the head with a five pound sledgehammer; instead, I left him to cogitate upon the possibilities and drove around to my original observation post.

Eventually, they figured it out, walked along the drive a bit and See! Behold! Look! Lo! there it was. The whole thing reminded me of nothing so much as that old campfire skit, where some guy is down on his knees, looking at the ground. When asked, he says he lost his neckerchief slide. When asked where he lost it, he says, "over there." When then asked why he's looking over here, he replies, "the light's better here." Having figured out that they were underestimating their distances, however, they lifted up their faces and did the last two controls, to the little maintenance building in Methodist Cemetery and then the three-way intersection of Thomas, Reeves, and Sale St., with confidence.

When they returned to the church, I got them to estimate the height of the bell tower. Logan was dead on; his method was to estimate how high a basketball goal would be on the side of the church, then stack up basketball goals with his fingers. Not bad. Callahan was a little long; he used the laying-over method where you pace the tower's height off on the ground, and he didn't have a firm sense of how long his pace was. Daniel came up with a number preposterously long; but then, he stacked up imaginary Callahans against the tower at first and actually came pretty close, only to think that it couldn't be that short and thus guessing way over.

I signed Callahan's book and will sign Logan's next chance I get. Daniel passed this requirement long ago. And what was the five line poem I wrote for the course? Well, it went,
This required me to explain to them what the old Burma Shave signs were about. Pardon me while I go feel my age in the corner.

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Saturday, October 1st, 2016
8:15 pm - Feast of the Hunter's Moon
A small group from our happy Crew went up to the Feast of the Hunter's Moon to spend today. Kara, T.J., Brad, and I left shortly after 7:00 a.m. for West Lafayette, and returned twelve hours later. The weather held for the most part, and we enjoyed touring this event.

The Feast of the Hunter's Moon celebrates the founding of Fort Ouiatenon in 1714 by the French, just across from a large Native American village on the other side of the Wabash River. Fort Ouiatenon was the southernmost French trading post in North America.

There were lots of re-enactors, lots of displays and events, lots of stuff for sale, lots of interesting food. We met some old friends. We learned some new things. It was a good day. So, why should you consider attending the Feast of the Hunter's Moon next October? Well, here are some things you can expect to see there.


The various units of re-enactors march in for the opening ceremonies


Scottish country dancing


The smith, a mighty man is he...


Hammered dulcimers and mountain dulcimers



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Friday, September 30th, 2016
2:18 pm - What really matters
I was drizzling ketchup on my french fries today at Steak 'n' Shake and was reminded, as I am whenever I do that, of a conversation I had some years ago with our then-Scoutmaster in another Steak 'n' Shake. He remarked that his daughter would take great exception to what I had just done, even more so if anyone presumed to put ketchup on her fries. For her, as for many people, ketchup must be poured in a pool on a clean part of the plate, in order that each french fry may be properly dredged with the right amount of ketchup, by hand. There is no other way; compromise, live-and-let-live, when-in-Rome, non disputandem de gustibus are out of the question.

If you think that's attaching too much importance to minor stuff (small potatoes, indeed), I am also reminded of my daughter telling about her summer on staff at Philmont, where everybody on staff -- nay, everybody in the backcountry -- had an opinion about how bacon should be cooked. The partisans of Crispy vs. Chewy made Packers vs. Cowboys or Republicans vs. Democrats look apathetic in their loyalties.

Ice or No Ice. Mustard or mayo. Ford or Chevy. Which way the toilet paper unrolls. People have strong opinions about many things which turn out to be of no particular importance. Yet, on matters of faith and morals, they will shrug and say, What does it matter? Isn't it all the same?

I'm not saying that I attach a lot of importance to the superficial differences between religious folk. Robes vs. suits, hymns vs. choruses, even Protestant vs. Catholic, don't stir me much. But the old question, What think ye of Christ? matters enormously. Who is your God? In what do you hope? And what are you willing to do -- or do without -- in order to serve that God? These are not indifferent matters.

The task of the Church is to help people identify what really matters, especially in comparison to all the stuff that really doesn't. The preaching of the Gospel is intended to bring people face to face with the claims of Jesus Christ, in order that they might surrender their lives to him and follow him, no matter the cost, until the day they meet him face to face in eternity.

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Sunday, September 25th, 2016
5:32 pm - Sermon Series: Pulled In Every Direction
Sermon Two: "Church Discipline"

1 Corinthians 5-6

This is the second sermon in my series from Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians, which is my response to all the crazy and depressing stuff I see happening in American society and in The United Methodist Church -- sort of an attempt to go back to the basics and address our current situation by looking at the situation of the Corinthian church in Paul’s day.

The Corinthians were a mixed bag, culturally: Jewish believers rubbed shoulders with Gentile believers, and misunderstandings were rife. Christianity was brand-new, and few people fully understood what it meant to be the Church and to live in Christ. All that was being worked out; meanwhile, normal human sinfulness and quarrelsomeness kept making everything more difficult.

Last week, I spoke of the tendency of the church to split into factions, which Paul addressed in the first quarter of his letter – Chapters 1-4. This week, I want to focus on the nature and need for church discipline, which he addresses in Chapters 5 and 6. Once again, I will forego reading the long passage, and instead dip into it as we go. I invite you to open your Bibles to 1 Corinthians 5, and follow along.

Paul isn’t ready to address the questions the Corinthians have forwarded to him yet. He’s still addressing issues others have brought to him that they would rather not talk about. And Paul bluntly calls to their attention a certain scandalous thing in their midst.
It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

For though absent in the body, I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
So, a man who is part of the Corinthian church is living with – and I don’t just mean sharing a residence with - his step-mother, his father’s former wife. Note that they can’t marry, because the union was illegal under Roman law; under the Jewish law – which was not abrogated by Christianity, by the way, at least not this part - this was not only illegal, but also considered an abomination.

Nobody in the Corinthian church has done anything about it. Perhaps nobody wants to make waves, or interfere with somebody else’s happiness, or be thought a bigot or something. And there may have been all kinds of mitigating and sympathetic circumstances in this situation: the incest may be technical only, for all I know, but that doesn’t matter to Paul. He orders the man excommunicated until the situation has been rectified.

Now, in doing so, Paul short-circuits what we would think of as due process – a thing he is careful to insist upon on other occasions. In this situation, however, Paul sees that if this is allowed to go on, pretty soon, all kinds of things will be overlooked, even celebrated. So somebody has to draw a line and make it stick, and he flexes his apostolic authority to do just that – a rarity for him, by the way.

From this situation, he goes to talk about another flabbergasting thing the Corinthians are doing: suing each other in court as a means of settling disputes.
When one of you has a grievance against a brother, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?
And just to make the point clearer, he says,
To have lawsuits at all with one another is defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud, and that even your own brethren.
The Corinthians overlook really important stuff – let it go, lest they make somebody mad – and then they sue each other over merely worldly matters, as if they were a bunch of pagans.

Paul points out that they have been redeemed from their sins – for they were once as bad as anybody else in town, and that in various ways – but they have been forgiven. But the certainty of that forgiveness is not to be used as an excuse to keep doing un-Christian things.
"All things are lawful for me," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be enslaved by anything. "Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food" - and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for immorality, but fore the Lord, and the Lord for the body.
And while the main thing being talked about here has to do with sexual immorality, Paul is stating a wider principle, that our behavior matters – not just in the sense of keeping score over this sin, or that, but in what we do with our lives.
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Now, at this point, we need to come back to our world and our current situation. The UMC has two problems today that threaten it – one more common among the clergy, and the other more common among the laity. Our Church has never been known for excommunicating people, or for church trials generally, though the procedures for enforcing our rules about behavior exist. On those rare occasions when they are invoked, they are almost always leveled at a clergyperson who has broken one of our bigger taboos; but even then, the whole process of charges and trials and so on is a last resort – nobody really wants to go there. Nevertheless, we sometimes have to – and right now, we are facing a situation in The UMC where certain clergypersons are blatantly disobeying our rules in order to provoke change, and they expect to get away with it.

In response, our bishops are tending to play “nobody here but smoke” and won’t enforce the rules. Which means, ultimately, that the will of General Conference means nothing in the face of a few people who want the rules to be otherwise. And if they are allowed to have their way, then the rules will be as they want them to be, not just for them, but for all of us; hence, the undercurrent of crisis and confrontation you keep hearing about, and the threat of schism.

I personally think we need to crack down, hard, on this kind of thing – not because I’m a vindictive sort, but because I think dithering around does no one any favors. We can talk about what the mutineers think is so important after they have returned to their obedience and the Church has resumed regular order and we have all reaffirmed the need to obey the rules even when we disagree with them. And I could ramp and snort on this subject for the rest of my time, but important as it is, it’s largely a clergy problem.

The laity have a different problem regarding expectations of behavior – one which John Wesley addressed in the General Rules of our movement. Three things were expected of those who wanted to identify with the Methodist Movement back in Wesley's day. One was to “do no harm” – meaning, to avoid obvious sins and anything that would hurt somebody else. In short, don’t be like the Corinthians.

But the second expectation was to “do good” by all the means at one’s disposal. Not just to avoid immorality or quarreling, but to do helpful things for others, to live a life of charity and volunteering and expressing the love God has graced you with to others who are in need of it. Methodism was to be an active kind of Christianity, not just avoiding sin but devoting yourself to doing good.

And the third expectation was to be “faithful in attendance upon all the ordinances of God” — which meant attending public worship, taking communion as often as possible, fasting, praying, reading the Scriptures, and so on: what we might call the devotional life.

The early Methodists enforced these expectations in an interesting way. They didn’t have a lot of formal procedures. They didn’t spend their energy writing policies or investigating misbehavior. But, you see, the core of Methodist belonging wasn’t the preaching service, it was the class meeting – that weekly gathering in which you met with other, like-minded persons to help each other on to perfection in love.

It was a tremendously important part of being a Methodist. It was where people really experienced the love and belonging and spiritual growth that we all talk about. When the famous frontier explorer Jedediah Smith wrote home to his brother from the Rocky Mountains in the 1820s, he said, "Oh, for a society to bear me up before a throne of grace!" He was longing for the support he had experienced in that little Methodist class meeting.

In Wesley's day, you had to have a ticket to get into the class meeting. Tickets were renewed every quarter. And if the class leader or the society leader or the itinerant preacher saw that you weren’t keeping up with the expectations of the Methodist life, you could have your ticket pulled. Now, that could get ugly in a hurry, if people were of a fault-finding disposition – or if certain, very well-connected people had their tickets pulled, I suppose. But however that might be, no one could hope to contradict Mr. Wesley himself, when he came to town and examined the membership rolls of the societies. Wesley was known to drop a third of the whole membership just because they were no longer actively engaged in trying to live up to the expectations of the Methodist way. That didn’t mean they were bad people, just that they weren’t trying anymore, and John Wesley saw no value in having mere “names on a roll.” Did this mean the movement suffered? No, it flourished! The more Wesley pruned the bushes, the more they bloomed. And there’s a lesson here, for us today.

Making rules and enforcing them may be necessary, but it isn’t what makes people grow in Christ. We don’t want to be a church of rule-mongers, or finger-pointers. But, wouldn't you like to belong to a church where everybody in the church was excited about following Christ, and experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives, and engaged in doing things that helped others – and incidentally, made you feel good to participate? Well, here’s the thing: that only happens in churches where people have high expectations for each other, and where people accept high expectations for their own behavior and participation.

It’s like being on an athletic team. Everybody would like to be part of a winning team. It’s a great experience. But if you have a team where some team members are dogging it, where attendance at practice is hit or miss, where nobody spends much time in the weight room, where people fear to confront each other’s laziness because they think they’ll be ostracized, where team members are only interested in their personal stats and awards, and where nobody listens to the coach, that team will not only not win many games, but will form a miserable experience for everybody who has the misfortune to be a part of it.

Such a team will not be turned around by hard-and-fast rules, though the coach may have to crack down some at first. But no, that team will really begin to turn around when the individual team members decide to work harder, to play more unselfishly, and to demand from each other what they are beginning to demand from themselves. A team that plays that way, that trains that way, that has high expectations of themselves, will be a joy to play on – and, coincidentally, will win more games.

Sociologists of religion divide religious denominations into “high-demand churches” and “low-demand churches.” High-demand churches have clear expectations for what their members will do, and they communicate them. Low-demand churches have fewer expectations, and they don’t press them.

The UMC (unlike the Methodism of Wesley’s day) is a rather “low-demand church” – and lots of people like it that way. They don’t want to make a great deal of effort, either morally or relationally. They don’t like being asked to give money. They don’t want to feel self-conscious about their low attendance. They don’t want to feel gauche because their prayer life is non-existent – so don't call on them to pray! They don’t want to be responsible for anything. As for rejecting sin and embracing holiness – well, they don’t want to really be held accountable, even by God, for that. They want their church to be strong, but they don’t want it to ask anything much of them. But then, who will give the effort necessary to make the church strong, if everyone just wants to come along for the ride?

A low-demand church is like a low-demand team. It doesn’t win many games, and it provides a mediocre experience for the team members. It also easily descends into selfishness and blaming each other. The Lord says in the words of the prophet Hosea, “my people perish for lack of knowledge” – meaning, not just "head knowledge," but the wisdom that accompanies experience. You could also translate that, “ my people perish for want of discipline.”

Not for want of rules; rules are not discipline, though an unwillingness to enforce the rules can destroy discipline pretty effectively. No, discipline is about what you demand of yourself – and then what you will let others demand of you – and finally what you will demand from others, so that all of us can reach the peak experience that we’re aiming for. It's not just about personal effort; the genius of early Methodism was that people sought the fullness of Christ together - in a disciplined, methodical way.

So discipline is about glorifying God in our bodies – that is, with our behavior. Not just with our emotions, not just with our minds, not just with our affiliation – but by how we actually live our lives. It’s about living for Jesus, rather than living for ourselves. As Paul says here, “You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body" – with your behavior. And see if that doesn’t change everything – not only for you, but for everybody.


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Saturday, September 24th, 2016
8:55 pm - Making progress
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements -- surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together,
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Job 38:4-7

This photo doesn't show the red cord stretched out from batter board to batter board very well, but it's there. This is the first block I've ever laid. It's reasonably straight, and reasonably level, and I'm learning more and more as I go along. Three more sides to do. After that, I expect the additional courses will go much faster.

Anyway, I'm shouting for joy, praising God for progress. Also for beautiful weather: Wilderstead was gorgeous. The stars last night were all bright and distinct. When I called Deanne about 9:00, she asked what I was doing. I said, "I'm watching a centaur shooting at a scorpion." Where? she asked. "In the sky," I said. (Sagittarius and Scorpius were the most prominent constellations of the Zodiac I could see, with Mars and Saturn between them.)

I drove over Friday and waited for the afternoon heat to abate, then laid some block. Got a good night's rest and laid more block this morning. Ran out of cement, went into to town to get some, and finished the run about 4:30 p.m. 24 block = 32 feet.

First course done

First course done
Downhill side

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