| Some of David's Thinking |
Wednesday, 27 June 2012
One of these days I am going to preach a series of sermons on the ten things I wish Jesus hadn’t said. The Sermon on the Mount contains many of these words of Jesus. Jesus had quite a bit of audacity and/or inner authority to reinterpret something as sacred as the Mosaic law. “You have heard it said…but I say unto you.”
However, in reinterpreting ancient laws, Jesus was in no way discounting their importance. The one thing neither nature nor the human race can tolerate is chaos; to survive we need some semblance of law and order.
But beyond human survival is human well-being, and that is something that demands a love that cannot be forced, a love that goes beneath the law to address the question of motivation, a love that in its unconditional form of forgiveness goes beyond the law. Maybe that’s why Jesus used the imperative form for the very thing that cannot be commanded – “Love your enemies,” “Pray for those who persecute you.” He knew that while laws may be irritating, love is far more demanding. Most of all, he knew that we must love our enemies, and not for their sakes alone, but for our sakes as well. Hatred simply has no place in the lives of the children of God. Better our hearts be broken than they be hardened.
In life we can’t prevent occasional sinful thoughts about others from coming to mind. But when these thoughts come, we don’t have to invite them to stay. Hate, spiritually speaking, is devastating. It is diminishing emotion.
“Pray for those who persecute you.” Jesus did not deny the cruelty and unfairness of persecution, and he fought it his entire life. “Pray for those who persecute you” is an admonition that sin can only be canceled by intercession and forgiveness. Whatever cannot be condoned is that which must be forgiven.
What can we do? Remember that Christ never allowed his soul to be cornered into despair. Remember St. Augustine: “Never believe that your enemy can do you more damage than your enmity.” Remember, again, Jesus: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” – not for their sakes alone but for ours as well. Either we love or we die.
What we need to do is to “let go and let God.” We need to take on the love of Christ which is there for the having. Our faith must be lived. The force of our lives must be a love for all human beings, including our enemies. Christians are called to out-love, out-pray, out-live, and out-die all others. The only road to peace within and among us lies through that love which once walked the earth, in whose name we gather every Sunday morning for worship.
Tuesday, 19 June 2012
I have been asked recently about questions in the baptismal liturgy that are asked of adults in response to their own baptism or the baptism of their child. In the liturgy we, as a congregation, are called to respond as well as those who are before us seeking Christian baptism.
Each time I ask these questions during a baptism, they take on new meaning for me. In the sacrament of baptism, those who can respond for themselves are called to renounce “the spiritual forces of wickedness” and reject “the evil powers of this world.” Wicked and evil are words that I commonly do not use in expressing my understanding of our need for God. I do not talk about infant baptism in this way at all. And yet, the first two questions in the liturgy confront us with these words. We are asked if we “renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of (our) sin.” The assumptions appear to be that we have been supporting the spiritual forces of wickedness, accepting the evil powers of this world, and that we have sinned. If we hadn’t been doing these things, there would be no reason to “renounce,” “reject,” and “repent.”
When we participate in worship in the sacrament of baptism, we are asked in the liturgy to renew our commitment not to participate in those things that lead to brokenness in our world. My friend and colleague, Walter Wink, related the biblical phrase “principalities and powers” to the dominating sociopolitical structures of the modern era. Most of us do not overtly support evil and wickedness; however, it is difficult not to participate in corrupt and unjust systems in the world. I unknowingly support companies and institutions that are unjust. I accept the existing power structures that I know favor one group of people over another. I do so because the way things are in this nation and the world favor me and because it is easier than confronting the powers that be. Also, I am not that eager to reflect on my own life and go deep into myself and find those things about which I need to repent; therefore, I also need to repent for my lack of enthusiasm in exploring these things. So the first question in the liturgy assumes things about me that I don’t particularly want to assume about myself: my own need for repentance.
The second question gives me hope. It’s about accepting God’s gifts of freedom and empowerment to resist those things that disrupt God’s reign: evil, injustice, oppression, repression. God takes the initiative in giving us grace to be God’s people and participate in God’s purposes. Repentance is hard. To turn from how we are thinking and behaving and go a new direction is difficult, but God gives us the freedom to respond and the power to change.
Baptism is the beginning of our journey toward loving God and our neighbors, all of whom God has created, as our ourselves. When we renew our commitment to love God and all God loves, we experience anew that God’s grace is sufficient along the way in our becoming the people we have been created and called to be. As Martin Luther said, we are to “remember our baptism and be thankful.” The gospel is both gift and demand.
Thursday, 14 June 2012
The following is adapted from remarks I made on Mother’s Day, May 13, in worship.
For those of you who have not yet heard, at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, none of the efforts to remove the discriminatory language from our denomination’s Book of Discipline against lesbian and gay people passed. In fact, even the most moderate changes were defeated. I have heard from, this past week, several people in other churches who have felt the need to tell somebody this, and so they told me: They have decided that they can no longer be United Methodists. We have had one person from our congregation ask that their membership be removed from Kessler Park UMC and the United Methodist Church.
I fault no one who decides they can no longer be part of our denomination. I understand why some are choosing to leave. Having said that, I want to share with you what I think are new signs of hope. I also want to say a word about how I intend to go ahead as senior pastor of Kessler Park United Methodist Church.
The biggest sign of hope is you, Kessler Park Church. You make the difference by who you are and the witness you make. You are a sign of hope. You are smart, passionate, and committed. I know it must be hard sometimes for you to share your story, your witness with someone, those of you who are gay and lesbian. I am very proud of you and grateful for you.
Another sign of hope is something that happened at General Conference: an effort by the pastors of our two most visible evangelical mega-churches in the country. Rev. Adam Hamilton, pastor of Church of the Resurrection UMC in Leawood, Kansas, and Rev. Michael Slaughter, pastor of Ginghamsburg UMC in Tipp City, Ohio, took the public step to give evangelicals and moderates permission not to condemn gay and lesbian people and to think differently about these matters than they had been given permission to think before. Their petition lost, but it was a very significant witness they made.
Rev. James Howell, pastor of Meyers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, became the first pastor from a significant UMC from the south to make the public witness at General Conference that we need to acknowledge to the world that there are United Methodists who believe in the inclusion of lesbian and gay people fully within the life of the church.
There were signs of hope at General Conference. You, Kessler Park UMC, are a sign of hope.
Let me say a brief word about how I intend to serve as your pastor after General Conference 2012. There may be those of you who have a calling to witness and to teach and to change the United Methodist Church. The United Methodist Church is one of our mission fields. Not everyone in this congregation is called to that. Some of us may have a mission to feed the hungry, some of us may have a mission to end homelessness, some of us may have a mission to teach English as a Second Language. There is a diversity of callings in this congregation. Some of us have a mission to heal our denomination. And, as your pastor, I will support this calling one hundred percent. In the conduct of my personal ministry as your senior pastor, my intention is to serve Jesus Christ before whom there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, straight nor gay.
In this church we will treat everyone as a child of God. God has no bastard children in this church. We will baptize everyone who comes to be baptized. We will confirm everyone who comes to be confirmed in the church. We will elect everyone who has gifts for leadership into any office in this church. We will teach a God who is no respecter of persons and who welcomes and loves all of us.
In other words, we will keep on being the Church of Jesus Christ here. We know who God is. We know who Jesus is. We know who we are. We will be transparent about our beliefs and practices.
So we are going to keep on being the Church of Jesus Christ as God reveals to us how we should live together and how we should witness to the world. Amen.
Tuesday, 05 June 2012
We are beginning a new sermon series on Sunday. I will be preaching on six call stories from the Bible during June and July. I selected these particular stories because they are each about God leading or calling people to do something - leave home, lead revolutions, take risks, change jobs, change sides, have a baby…
There are lots of stories like this in the Bible. I selected these particular six stories because they involve different sorts of people at different stages in their lives: older people, children, teenagers, men, women, couples. And I selected these particular stories because the way that the people in the stories experience God’s leading or call are different in interesting ways.
The question I am inviting us to ask ourselves over these two months is: Does God still call us today? Does God still lead and call people to do things, to take certain paths in our lives, to live in certain directions? Because if God does, knowing what God is leading or calling us to do would be a pretty big deal. If God is leading us or calling us, it would be the sort of thing we’d really, really want to know.
On the other hand, thinking God is leading or calling us to do something if God isn’t, might be one definition of being wacky. It could be a delusion.
My goal in these sermons is to pay attention to these particular six stories from the Bible, to try to read them as though I were reading them for the first time, and to see what we might learn about this idea of God leading or calling people.
This blog is written by Senior Pastor David Carr, (email,
214.942.0098 ext 25).