Wrestling, Winning, and Losing
Our family of origin is the place where our personalities are formed, and where we are molded into the adults that we become. For instance, I was raised by a mother who instilled a love of music in me, and encouraged me to use my gifts. At the same time, I was raised by a father who was a pastor, and who loved to tell the story of Jesus. I learned from both of them.
Generally, we move into adulthood with two agendas. Our first agenda is to do things the way our parents did things, and the way they taught us to behave. Our second agenda, however, is to react against those things we received from our family of origin that we didn’t like, and certainly have no intention of perpetuating.
How sad that for many of us, we never stop and analyze what we’re doing and where our lives are going. We learn bad habits from our childhood that become destructive ways of living when we get older. And we move headlong into self-destruction believing that the way we’re behaving is the right way to do things.
We’re talking about Jacob today. Jacob and his twin-brother Esau had a rocky and destructive relationship. Esau was his father’s favorite. Jacob was his mother’s favorite. They played out their sibling rivalry in ways that would confound the most skilled psychologists today. Jacob was a little smarter, a little faster, and a whole lot more devious than his brother. So it was easy for him to take advantage of Esau.
One day, however, Jacob learned that he had outsmarted his brother one too many times, and suddenly he had to leave everything familiar and run for his life. Talk about self-destructive! He made his brother angry enough to kill him.
There would be other deceptions, and other hasty exits. Then one night, in a private moment, it happened. Something bigger, stronger, faster, and smarter than Jacob wrestled with him. Jacob couldn’t talk his way out, wiggle his way out, or outsmart his opponent. He limped away, knowing that God had broken his will and injured his hip. Jacob finally learned that God was not to be defied, and that God was not interested in any of Jacob’s smooth talk. He named the place “Peniel,” which means “the face of God.” Once Jacob saw God, he was different. That’s when he got a new name.
Are you tired of fighting the ghosts and bad habits formed long ago? Are you tired of wrestling with yourself and wrestling with God? You don’t have to do it all on your own. And you can’t do it all on your own anyway. Jacob limped away. That’s the price of fighting too long.
We’ll talk about this more today.
What we do here matters.
What the mirror shows
Years ago, the phone rang late one Saturday night. The call was from the Police station. The person receiving the call was the Associate Pastor on my staff. They were holding her son, a college student, at the city jail, and they were willing to release him into the custody of his parents. Otherwise, he would be held until he could appear before the judge on Monday.
His charge: stealing pumpkins. It was Halloween, and his fraternity sent out its younger members to pull a fraternity prank. The boys were having a good time, stealing jack-o-lanterns off peoples’ porches, right up until they got caught by a police officer. Now, they were taken downtown and booked into the system. The poor preacher’s kid had never been in any trouble before, not even for a traffic ticket. Suddenly, he was thrust into a new, very different environment. He found himself in a holding cell with people he described as “real” criminals.
His mother was not happy, bailing out her son. She was not happy that she had been awakened and forced to retrieve her son from police custody. She was angry. Her son, trying to lighten the mood on the ride home said, “Mom, they put me in the cell with real criminals!”
Mom’s response: “You’re one of them now.”
The young man is now a father in his mid-thirties, has a good job, and hasn’t been back to jail. Seems as though what the police failed to do, his mother did quite well. She held up a mirror to him, and he didn’t like what he saw.
Today, we’re sitting in church with a bunch of real criminals, people who are guilty of violating God’s law. The reason I’m here? I’m one of them. And so are you. When we look in the mirror, we may not like what we see. There’s still time to change the reflection.
What we do here matters.
One at a Time...
A call came in to the Church office one day. “This is Bill, from the Monday morning prayer group. This morning, we got ready to pour the coffee, and noticed that none of the mugs we bought for the kitchen was there.”
“How many mugs do you have?”
“We bought ten, and it seems like the number just kept dwindling. Now, we have none. Could you ask around and see what might have happened?”
The secretary assured him she would. She then came to me, since I have been known to drink a few cups of coffee at my desk. I looked around, and sure enough I had borrowed one of their mugs and had forgotten to take it back. That accounted for one, but where were the other nine?
Another staff member who kept a very messy office and work space caught wind of the investigation. He wanted to know what the mugs looked like. Armed with that information, he walked into his office, scooted some things around, and returned carrying the other nine missing mugs. He explained that he had misplaced the mugs, one at a time. They just kept piling up in his messy office until one day, he realized the error of his ways. He hadn’t set out to take nine mugs, but by the time he stopped to inventory his office, he realized that one mug at a time, he had taken nine mugs.
The case of the missing mugs was solved. But it leaves me to wonder if our lives become piled up with mistakes and errors because we never stop to take inventory of the ways we mess up. We want to do the right thing, but we can become very habitual about doing the wrong thing. When confronted with how wrong we’ve been, we’re surprised at what is left in our wake.
What do you see when you look behind you? Have you slowly compromised principles, or slowly let things clutter your life that shouldn’t be there? It’s time to take the mugs back to the kitchen, and get a fresh start!
What we do here matters.
August 16th, 2018
What about Holy Communion?
From My Perspective – August 5, 2018
It’s interesting that one of our most sacred moments in the life of the church is that time when we celebrate Holy Communion. Many of us have found special grace during those moments of Communion. Many times in my life, when I’ve needed an extra nudge from God, I have received it at the table. I know I’m not alone in this, because many folks tell me their stories of how God transformed them, or shook them up, while receiving Communion.
I’ve also found that Holy Communion is a time when we get really emotional if someone doesn’t do it “the right way.” I have fielded more than my share of complaints because I, or another minister on my staff, didn’t say the right words, didn’t use the right method of serving the sacrament, or “ruined the moment” by not controlling all the variables.
The common complaint I hear is that Methodists make it look like we’re “herding cattle” when it comes to Holy Communion. Some believe that lining up to receive the elements resembles herding cattle. Others believe that when ushers lead people to kneel at the chancel rail, we’re herding cattle. I’m reminded that anything can serve as a useful metaphor when the intention is to disparage the worship and rituals of others.
But it’s not just us. The church at Corinth messed up Holy Communion so badly that at times, it became a messy, drunken brawl. Instead of herding cattle, they had a cattle stampede! Paul’s letter reminded them that all that stuff was unnecessary.
He said that when we come to the table, we do three things: we remember, we participate, and we anticipate. That’s it. The method is not important. The meaning is.
I look forward to celebrating our first Holy Communion together today.
What we do here matters.
From My Perspective – August 1, 2018
A teenage boy was sitting in the choir during a Sunday night worship service. He was the only teenager in the choir, surrounded by adults. Just before the service started, the boy noticed a girl. She was walking into the back of the church, and even a long way off, she looked really good to the boy in the choir. She was wearing a navy dress, and she had long, straight hair, almost down to her waist. Her skin was perfectly tanned.
As she walked down the aisle to take a seat, the boy asked the man sitting beside him, “Who is that girl?” He explained to the boy that she was a girl who lived in the neighborhood, and she had friends and family in the church. The boy, having fully fallen under her spell - this was based on looks alone at this point – said to the man, “I’m going to marry that girl some day!”
The girl was fourteen years old. The boy was fifteen years old. They became friends. Then they fell in love. Then six years later, they got married. Her name was Angela Owens, and his name was Dale Gilbert. Today, Dale and Angela celebrate thirty-seven years of marriage. It all started in church. It continues today because God gives us grace and keeps us together.
I still sit up on the podium at church and watch her walk in. My heart still skips a beat or two every time.
We talk about love at church all the time. Love comes in many forms. I’ve experienced them all at church.
See you Sunday. What we do here matters.
Dale has been in ministry for over forty years. He's a teacher, singer, and story teller.