Archive for ◊ May, 2012 ◊

• Thursday, May 24th, 2012

It is reported that Leo Tolstoy said “The problem with Christianity is that no one has ever actually tried it.” His perspective was that Jesus was such a good and superior being that he could do all that he taught, but that we, as faulty human beings, have never acieved the same level of love, forgiveness and trusting faith Jesus teaches.

I think Tolstoy had a point. To live out true quintessential Christianity in its purest form is virtually impossible. You and I will certainly never be “perfect” Christians, but shouldn’t we try to to be? I know what Jesus asks of us is difficult: to put other’s needs before our own, to love without condition, to stand up and stand for justice and kindness and truth. Someone remarked to me recently, “Did you ever notice that after every day of creation, God said it was ‘good,’ not ‘perfect?’” I sincerely believe we can be good at Christianity. I completely expect that we can be better at it than we are right now, but many of us give up trying because we think we must be perfect.  No, what Jesus asks of us is not and has never been perfection. Jesus simply asks us to try to be better, to get as close as we possibly can to fully living out our faith. You and I will never be perfect Christians, but shouldn’t we try to be the very best ones we can be?


• Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

What makes for a good sermon on Sunday? I’m sure there are as many different answers to that question as there are people who read this blog. However, I suspect all would agree that the best Sunday sermons are those that you think about afterwards. It’s one thing to say “yeah, right” while hearing a sermon; it’s quite another to recall a sermon message midweek when you’re doing something that has nothing to do with church.

For me, personally, I love sermons that:
• are based on a Bible story
• provide a little historical perspective
• have a personal angle (to me or to the speaker)
• provide a reality check
• surprise me a little
• teach me a lesson
• make me nod my head in agreement
• make me shake my head in amazement
• result in several of us discussing the point of the sermon during the fellowship hour
• get me thinking outside the box
Of course no one sermon has to include all those factors, but a few each week can hold my attention

As a lay person, I have no idea how a pastor comes up with a good sermon every week. But kudos to our church leaders who consistently convey a message to their congregations week after week. It can’t be easy to awe and amaze every Sunday. Granted there may be occasional misses – but truthfully, pastoral leadership is to be commended.

What is the best sermon you’ve ever heard? What was the topic and what point was made? Wouldn’t that be a wonderful – and informative – discussion some Sunday after church? I bet everyone of you reading this is thinking “oh, gosh – I remember when the pastor talked about thus and such.”

Now I’m not going to venture too deeply into my favorite sermons (although I have several). A topic that entrances me might be the exact opposite of what you believe. Dangerous waters.

But – oh, well – let me thrown this one out. For some reason – as a child, I thought you had to bargain with God. You want a new puppy? Then you have to promise God that you will eat all your veggies on your plate at dinner. Or to take it to a more adult level: You promise that if God helps you land that new job, you’ll give up chocolate cake for a year. Silly isn’t it? What do I know? Maybe that is how it works, but I sort of doubt it.

A sermon I heard when I was in my twenties nixing this whole bargain with God concept was an epiphany for me. Now maybe you believe that if you do A, then God will do B. And that’s fine – more power to you. But for me – I now eat my veggies by choice (and truthfully I don’t want a puppy) and if I am after a particular job, I trust that God will give me the strength and courage to hone my skills to be the best candidate for the position (and I skip the chocolate cake anyways because of all those calories.)

So what’s the best sermon? Happily  just about every sermon I’ve ever heard has had a kernel of truth for me. It’s rare for me to leave church on a Sunday and not feel I’ve learned something. And some sermons have been outstanding – absolutely stupendous – and have positively changed my life and perspective.

Thank you to our church leaders. You need to know, your words can and do make a difference to that sea of faces looking up at you each Sunday.

• Tuesday, May 08th, 2012

While I applaud Linda’s perspective on children and worship, I must say that I think there is more to be said. Not necessarily about children in worship, but about adults in worship. There is a plethora of, frankly, obnoxious worship behaviors that I suspect cuts completely across denominational and faith tradition lines.

Some of these bad behaviors/habits come from tradition. While there was a time when ladies wore hats to church on a regular basis. Thankfully, this is no longer the case. Just two weeks ago, I went to a wedding the bulk of which I missed because the woman in front of me was wearing a gigantic hat. Everytime I got myself settled so I could see the couple around her hat, the woman would shake her head or readjust in her seat so my view was once again entirely blocked. Now, please don’t misunderstand me, I happen to love hats, but if you are going to wear them to church (or to the theatre for that matter), please either choose a classic close fitting bonnet or be prepared to remove your hat when you sit down.

Some bad church attendance habits are relatively new, too. It still astonishes me that in a world where you must turn off your cell phone in every music event and doctor’s office where you might find yourself, why is it so difficult for us to remember to silence our phones during worship?

Then there are the “sniffers.” The folks who spend every silent moment of the service sniffing. Do they like the smell of candles and old bibles? Are they chronic allergy sufferers? Do they resist the idea of Kleenex on some religious grounds? I’m not certain what the explanation is, but the sniffing has to stop! It’s really annoying!

One of my favorites is the whisper fighters. The couple who comes in to worship, clearly unhappy with one another, and proceed to sit next together during church fuming at each other in loud whispers while the rest of us are trying to worship. These folks are right up there with the fellow who has to make an under-his-breath remark about everything the pastor says. Look, if you’ve got an issue with your spouse or your kids, for that matter, resolve it before entering the church or leave it outside the door to pick up later. If you have an issue with the pastor, make an appointment for another time and address it with them directly. For many of us, that hour on Sunday morning is the only true peace and quiet we get all week. You muttering close by kind of puts a damper on my peace and quiet.

This brings me back to kids in church. Kids who feel welcome in the sanctuary during worship seem to me to behave better than those in congregations who clearly think children should not be seen or heard during that sacred hour. One of my fondest memories of going to church with my parents when I was a child was a man named Jack Tucker. Jack was probably 50 or 60 when I was a kid in that congregation. He had no children himself. And yet, as the head usher, he never failed to say good morning specifically to me, using my name and bending down to look me straight in the eye. This was long before children’s bulletins or worship bags were given out to keep the tykes quiet. This was before children’s sermons. Jack always made sure I had my own worship bulletin, and it was never an afterthought. He would speak to me and give me my bulletin before my parents ever got theirs. That small act made me feel more welcome and more special than I felt anytime the rest of that week. Because I was treated with affection and respect, I wanted to behave well during church. But you know what? Whenever, I would become bored and squirmy and start looking around, I would inevitably notice Mr. Tucker standing in a doorway smiling directly at me. Then, suddenly, he’d wink with a knowing nod and I could settle down for a bit longer. Jack Tucker made kids feel welcome at my home church for over fifty years, and I never remember a kid acting up in the middle of a service at that church!

The thing is that children know when they are not wanted. They see you rolling your eyes when they kick the back of your pew, even by accident. They can feel you scowling at them when they try to stand up on the pew so they can share the hymnal and the singing with Mom or Dad. Kids know when people don’t wish to have them around. But if that’s the image of God’s love we leave children with as they grow up in church, what is it that will bring them back to church as teenagers, adults, parents and grandparents? Nothing.

The key idea here is that a congregation is a place where we should be loving and respecting God’s people, no matter what. So please, take off your hat, silence your cell and take a minute to smile kindly at the kids in the next pew. Do your part to make worship respectful, peaceful and loving for all.