The Author does *not* say "let us swim the 800m relay that is before us"

Hebrews 11:29-12:2 It's the Olympics, and as I write track and field competitions are on television, at least to the extent that any part of the Olympics could be said to be on NBC. In any case, they're supposed to have center stage. So perhaps it's appropriate that we talk about running metaphors this morning. (Don't ask me about actual track and field, though. I don't know a thing about it.) I read a pastor the other say that he got a lot happier with his career when he figured out that ministry is not a solo shot like the 400 meters or even a marathon. As he says, ministry is more like a relay race: you take the baton from the guy before you, do what you can, then pass it off to the guy after you. It's the team that wins, not the individual. I like that metaphor. I like it a lot. You try not to fumble the hand-off in either direction, and in the middle, you do the best you can. If you think about it, it applies not just to pastors and their ministries, but to the life of the church in general. St. Paul's has been here for 170 years. In many ways, we're just trying to keep going what we've been handed, and to hand it off to those who come after us. The anonymous author of the letter to the Hebrews (we don't have a name) has the same idea. »

Do not make "one toke over the line" joke, do not make...

Luke 10:38-42 Once again, I find myself having included a second reading, but crawling back to speaking about the gospel. Luke has some magnetic hold on me, I guess. In any case, those of you who have been around the church world for a while may have come across what they call Martha Mary societies. It's another name for a women's guild, with the idea that you're supposed to "work like Martha and pray like Mary." Martha Mary groups are falling out of fashion these days, as are women's guilds in general. There are women's fellowships and Bible studies and small groups, but those plain old guilds with the women who made the funeral dinners are mostly going by the wayside. That's it, Schultz, insult the grandmothers. That's the way to ensure longevity in the church. No, I simply mean to point to a reality that I think we all acknowledge. The church world is changing. People feel like they have less time to devote, and they choose what time they do have in different ways. We know this, we've talked about it before. One of the long-running debates in the church has been whether to focus primarily on spiritual development, or on acts of service. Some people say—with a little justification—that we can't all just show up for worship on Sunday morning and do nothing else. (Why do they always look at me when they say that?) Somebody has to make the coffee and set out »

Tomorrow can break into today--if we want it

Luke 10:25-37 I had intended to speak this morning on God's material blessings, hence the lesson from Deuteronomy. But I think I should talk about what happened in Dallas this week, and St. Paul and Baton Rouge. You would expect no less from me. The Christian gospel at its best lives in a series of interlocking promises. The first of these is that there will be a tomorrow, and a better one. The second promise, which goes along with the first, is that we can have tomorrow today, if we want it. The great hope of the gospel is that tomorrow breaks into today. Third: God is committed to removing the barriers to the fulfillment of this hope. Death and sin, we are promised, will have no more power over us. Fourth and last, because of God's commitment, it is possible to leave the power of sin behind: to be both forgiven and healed. It is possible to live in friendship with the God who desires us to live in solidarity with our neighbors. The mention of neighbors of course brings to mind Jesus' parable. "Who is my neighbor?" the Pharisee asks him, by way of a test. The obvious lesson we typically draw from Jesus' response is, "everyone." We should be like Good Samaritans, compassionate, kind, and helpful to those in need. And this is true. After all, when the Pharisee admits (perhaps grudgingly) that the Samaritan is the best example of a neighbor, Jesus tells him, "Go »

Now that we have "can't" and "won't" straight, what's "shan't"?

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 I don't think I've mentioned this before here, but when it comes to reading about leadership, I'm a big fan of the author Peter Block. He has some ideas that I find very helpful, such as leadership through asking good questions, rather than supplying answers, leadership as drawing people together and facilitating their discussions, stepping out of the way and letting people make their own decisions. If you've ever been in a meeting with me and I say something that makes you think "That's different," chances are that I'm either getting it from Peter Block or being a flake. You choose. I only bring it up because Block's most recent book has the wonderful title, "The Answer to How is Yes." What he means by that is that when communities set their minds to a challenge, they will find a way around any obstacle they encounter—if they want to. And if they don't? Well, they don't. Now, it's important to note right away that Block insists that leaders have to be okay with the decisions made by the people they lead. What he wants is for us to understand that there's a difference between "can't" and "won't." Can't is something physically impossible: "We can't repair the church after the fire because there's not enough undamaged material left to work with." Won't is something we'd rather not do: "We won't be holding worship at church today; it's too cold to ask people to come out." Very »

Jesus on the main line, ask him what he wants

Luke 9:51-62 Some of the best moments of my career in ministry have been the least expected, right from the start. In seminary one day, I was sitting in my polity class—where they teach you about the theology and rules of working in the United Church of Christ—and the Conference Minister comes walking in. "Well now, that's interesting," I thought. "He doesn't have time to just show up at random. What does he want?" Sure enough, he was looking to see if anyone was interested in applying for a position covering for a pastor on sabbatical. I needed a summer job, so I said sure, I'd be interested. Now, mind you, this was at a time when I was still intending to go on for doctorate and teach, rather than become a pastor. But I got the job, and when I sat down behind the desk my first day, I thought, "This just feels right." And there I go, sucked into ministry. Later, when we lived in Pennsylvania, I had some trouble finding a new position in ministry. So I was working in an office and doing pulpit supply, trying to preach as often as I could. One day, I got a phone call from the president of a congregation I'd visited months before, some 80 miles from us. Their yoke with another congregation had fallen through, and though they couldn't afford to hire a minister, they were determined to continue. What would I think about doing »