Monday, February 21, 2011

Not Today

   You have heard of a repeat or a rerun? Well, this story is a three-peat.   James W. Moore, in this little book, When All Else Fails…Read the Instructions, retells a story told by Cecil Myers in his book, Thunder on the Mountain.   Now I am about to retell it a third time to you. 
  A group of American explorers went to Africa where they hired local tribesmen to be their guides.  The first day they rushed through the jungle.  And on the second day they were up at dawn, ready to push forward.  And likewise on the third, fourth, fifth and sixth days.
     On the seventh day, the American explores were up early again, anxious to get started.  But they noticed that their guides were lying very quietly in their places.
   “Come on,” shouted the Americans, “we are in a hurry!”   But the lead guide replied quietly in his broken English, “We no go today.  We rest.  Let souls catch up with bodies.”
     This week we will look at the Fourth Commandment :  Remember  the Sabbath.   Or as the wise lead guide said, “Let souls catch up with bodies.”   Any chance your soul is trying to catch up with you?  
See you Sunday.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Buddy Rich, Ringo, Jason and Richard

    The entire staff is excited to welcome our new Director of Contemporary Music, Richard Ramsey.   Yesterday was a good day for Richard: his furniture, including his bed,  finally arrived from Indianapolis.  After spending the last few nights on an air mattress, the real thing was like manna from heaven. 

You will enjoy getting to know Richard.  His smile lights up the room and is reflected in his upbeat, joyful music. Today, a gaggle of the staff  went into the sanctuary to discern how best to arrange the chancel area to accommodate both the needs of the early service and the late service.  We are excited about new possibilities for contemporary worship, and also value and treasure more traditional worship music, so we want to make sure we can serve the needs of both services. Jeff Weston was there, too, adding his invaluable expertise to the whole process of sound in the sanctuary.   He is a gem.   Those of you who attend the early service will see a few new twists and a new  placement of instruments, all of which is designed to  engage the entire congregation during our time of song and praise.   After lots of noisy exchange of ideas and moving the synthesizer, amplifiers, microphones, music stands, bell tables, guitars and drums, into several different configurations, we all felt good about our collective choreographing for this new arrangement.  

It was then that Richard said, “oh, I just remembered  that this week both of our usual percussionists, Vern and Michael,  will be out of town.   So unfortunately we won’t have any drums this week. “   At which point our own Buddy Rich (Jason Robbins) said, “ I play the drums.”    At first I didn’t believe Jason, but then he got out the sticks and dazzled us with his percussion skills that rival Ringo Starr. Who knew? Goes to show that you never know the talents hiding inside another person.  And you might even see another pastor singing with the choir this week: she will be easy to spot.  

All of the staff is so excited to welcome Richard in a special way on his first Sunday.  Isn’t it grand when we can be a part of a group that pitches in to encourage and support each other.

This spirit of cooperation will also flow as Richard, Jason and Catherine work together to energize our youth through music.  So a special word to all of our youth: Richard  is looking forward to meeting and getting to  know you and your hopes and dreams about music at Sardis. 

So be sure, whether you can sing like an angel or can’t carry a tune in bucket,  to welcome Richard in your own wonderful way.  Whatever your hidden gifts, you have a part in making Sardis a wonderful place to worship God! Richard will be introduced at both worship services this Sunday.  See you then.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What's in a name?

Shakespeare's Juliet famously asked, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." I don't know how many roses were sold yesterday at premium prices to desperate husbands and boyfriends. I like to think I am more technologically advanced, so this year instead of roses I gave my love an Amazon gift card so she can buy books for her Kindle.   

Juliet's "what's in a name?" question argues that the essential "thingness" of an object or person is more significant than the label we give it. But is it? We humans use language and naming of objects as our way of making sense of the world. So a rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but it wouldn't be a rose, the ultimate symbol of romance and love. A carnation might smell sweet too, and might be beautiful, but it's not a rose. We can look at a rose and see that it is a flower, with many petals growing in a clustered whorl pattern, with a thorny stem. But we don't truly know what a rose is unless we also add in its symbolic attributes--which have nothing to do with the physical aspects of the rose, and everything to do with it's name. Moreover, it's impossible for us to look at a rose and remove from our psyche what we know about it symbolically.

There are a lot of name changes in the Bible. Abram becomes Abraham, Sarai becomes Sarah, Saul becomes Paul. Names tell the world something about us, and tell us too something about ourselves. You can't separate signifier from signified.

Names are important. Is there anything worse than the feeling you have when you forget someone's name? Most couples I know have a system for handling these situations, whereby one person can give "the look" to the other, which is a signal for the second person to extend their hand and say, "I don't believe we've met, I'm ...." letting the forgetful one off the hook for making an introduction.

This week we take a peek at the Third Commandment....Thou shall not take the name of the Lord, thy God in vain.... Not taking the Lord's name in vain goes beyond avoiding the language of a sailor whose words turn the air blue or make a rose wilt.  Hope to see you Sunday to explore this some more.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Idol Worship and the Super Bowl

As you may know, I am something of a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. Last week, as the Superbowl approached, my excitement was spilling over in the church office. First, I brought in my “terrible towel.” Maybe you saw these yellow rally towels being whipped around in the stands during the big game? The Terrible Towel was created in 1975 by Myron Cope, THE radio broadcaster in Pittsburgh for Steelers games. The Towel has been taken to the peak of Mount Everest, and even into space on the International Space Station. Well, last week The Towel made its debut in the Sardis church office. I carefully arranged the towel, along with a can of Iron City beer bearing a photo of the 1980 Superbowl champ Steelers, in a place of honor on a credenza outside my office. Soon, offerings began to arrive—a calendar page with a Pittsburgh scene of the three rivers was added to the display. A copy of Sports Illustrated with Troy Polamalu on the cover.  A six-pack of Iron City that wasn’t over thirty years old. It was a thing of beauty.

Reverends Alice Johnson and Jane Fobel must have seen that I was veering into dangerous territory when it comes to the second commandment: “you shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” On the Thursday morning before the Superbowl I arrived at work to see my idol desecrated. The shrine had been overturned, the towel now face down and covering the other totemic items. Perched on top was a grotesque rubber figurine of Jabba the Hut, which normally lives on a shelf in Rev. Johnson’s office.  Like King Josiah ordering the destruction of the idols for Baal in order that the people of Judah would return to God, Alice and Jane must have been trying to get me to turn away from my idolatry of all things Steelers.

At first, it can be hard to imagine that the second commandment has much relevance for us today. We might make light of it, as in my story about my Steelers shrine. Most of us live fairly secure in the knowledge that we haven’t made and/or worshiped any “graven images.” Yet perhaps as in no other historical age, in today’s world we are overwhelmed with images.  Magazines and newspapers know that they need to use fewer words and more pictures, preferably with color, if they are to hold a modern audiences’ attention. Practically every one of us carries a device for capturing images (a camera) in our cell phone. Computers, television, mobile devices, print publications, billboards, and more all assault us every day with images to aspire to, to desire…to worship?

So what’s wrong with these “graven images”? J. Ellsworth Kalas, in his study of the decalogue, The Ten Commandments From the Backside, examines this very question:
…why should the commandment be so specific about graven images? Why not a broader prohibition against all perceptions of God? If our graven images come from our thoughts, as of course they do, why doesn’t the commandment forbid thinking about God—or at the least, speculating about God?

I suspect that it is because physical images are so much more restrictive, so much more effective at shutting us in. Tell me about your friend, and my mind will begin drawing a picture of him, but show me your friend’s picture, and my mind has no farther to go.

God is a mystery, and we are told “you shall adore the mystery which is beyond comprehension.” Jesus said, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth,” not in wood, or gold, or even golden rally towels. Reducing God to a manageable, “graven” object makes it easier for us to wrap our human minds around the mystery, even to believe that God is there to do things for us (like make our team win? No, I didn’t pray for that).

Whatever our graven images--be they football teams, super models, sports cars, designer shoes –our “worship” of these images keeps us from the true worship God.

Thank you to my "ghost editor" Jessica Otto for her contributions to this post. She is pulling me into the digital age!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Kudos to our young people who kicked off our series on the Ten Commandments. Many of their words on the first commandment, "you shall have no other gods before me," are still echoing in my brain as I prepare to write a sermon on the second commandment. Their words, such as "many things can trump God," or "the first commandment seems so obvious, until you really stop to think about it." Or "I need God more than God needs me." Or the one that really took my breathe away, "come as you are, but don't stay that way." I scribbled notes all over my bulletin as they spoke. Each one in their own way reminded us that God needs to be the first priority in our lives.

This week we'll explore what it means to worship the one true God. If you have time, read the story of the golden calf in Exodus. It's the basis for our sermon this week. But don't worry, I won't be asking for your gold watches or earrings.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Before there was American Idol

This Sunday we will tackle the second commandment: "You shall not make for yourself an idol." The sermon title is "Before There Was American Idol." What things do we "make for ourselves" as idols today? Fame? money? Athletic prowess?