Rhythms: Service

We’re about to read the story of the Last Supper. I’m skipping ahead; it’s a story we typically read on Maundy Thursday, which is the day before Jesus dies. The name “Maundy” is derived from the Latin mandatum, meaning a mandate or command: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” It begins with washing feet. This story of foot washing is part of the climax of the entire Gospel in the way that John tells the story. Compare John’s story of this night with the other three Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke.  In the other three Gospels, Jesus and his disciples are at a Passover sedar meal. Jesus takes the bread, blesses, breaks and gives transforming it into his body. He takes the cup calls it his blood for the new covenant. John doesn’t give us Eucharist—cup and bread. Instead, takes a basin and towel and gets down on his knees. Matthew tells the Last Supper in eighteen verses; John’s version of a meal, followed by foot washing and instruction, is one-hundred and fifty five verses and takes up five chapters in our Bibles. It’s the longest single discourse we have from Jesus. We’re just going to read the first seventeen verses this morning.

John 13:1-17 Continue reading “Rhythms: Service”

Rhythms: Fasting

My first real experience with fasting took place in college. I was assigned a three day detox fast as a requirement for yoga. Yes, I took yoga for college credit. College can be a beautiful thing. Do a little stretching; get an A. Don’t judge me. I couldn’t touch my toes and needed to get more limber. We had two options for this detox fast: three days only drinking water, mixed with apple cider vinegar, lemon, and cayenne. Or, three days of only eating fruit. It was not a difficult decision. The first option, honestly, sounds disgusting. I went to Piggly Wiggly and cleared out the fruit aisle. For three days, I ate heaping mounds of fruit—baking apples for appetizers and mushing up bananas and freezing them for desert. The point of a detox fast is to clear your system out. The detox worked, well, because of fiber. Fruit has a lot of fiber. I’ll say no more. Continue reading “Rhythms: Fasting”

Prayers for Transformation: Transfiguration

Introduction to Scripture

The transfiguration makes me think of a Japanese art form called kintsugi. Kintsugi artists work with broken pottery, something most of us would throw in the trash. And that’s actually the key to the art—the pottery must be broken. Then, the artists create a lacquer of gold and use it as a glue to rejoin the shards of clay. The end product is a clay pot held together by a web of golden seams. It’s still a broken pot, but it’s bound with beauty. Continue reading “Prayers for Transformation: Transfiguration”

Praying for Miracles: Resurrection

A theologian I admire asks whether you’d let God babysit your child. It’s a strange hypothetical. But would you? He asks this question, tongue in cheek, because it sometimes seems like God isn’t trustworthy. God arbitrarily intervenes here and other times God couldn’t care less. If God is babysitting Eden, would God step in when a car is speeding down Melton and she’s playing in the street? We can never pin down when God is going to do something and when God is just going to sit back and let our free-will wreak havoc. (Tripp Fuller talks about this)

Continue reading “Praying for Miracles: Resurrection”

Prayers for Presence: Incarnation

There was a story on NPR about the Belgium town, Geel. Saint Dymphna, the patron saint of the mentally ill was supposedly martyred in Geel. And in the 1300s a church was built around her remains. And in time, that church became a pilgrimage site for people seeking a cure for mental ailments. Townspeople allowed those pilgrims to stay with them.  The tradition stuck. The mentally ill eventually moved into houses with residents. By the 1930s, a quarter of the town was mentally ill. Continue reading “Prayers for Presence: Incarnation”

Pray for Me: Why?

Leon was the kind of guy who had never been interested in religions. As a reasonable man, he considered faith to be irrational and damaging. Yet, one day a friend of Leon’s was walking past a small church in the heart of the city and happened to look in. To his amazement, he saw Leon kneeling before some candles and mumbling a prayer. Leon had recently fallen upon hard times, so his friend guessed that this must be the reason for his newfound religiosity. But something seemed amiss, so he entered the church and approached Leon. The sanctuary was dark and almost empty. Sure enough, there was Leon, crouched on the floor, reciting a religious incantation at the foot of the altar. Upon getting closer, his friend realized that Leon was reciting an old folk prayer that was believed by many to bring wealth and health to those who would recite it daily. His friend was amazed and interrupted Leon, saying, “I thought you didn’t believe in such superstitious nonsense. Do you really think that this prayer works?” In reply, Leon looked up and angrily proclaimed, “Of course I don’t believe it works, what kind of idiot do you take me for?” “Then why are you reciting it?” said his friend, in shock. “Ah,” replied Leon, “it is because the priest informed me that this prayer works even if you don’t believe in it.” (Parable by Peter Rollins). Continue reading “Pray for Me: Why?”

Jesus: King

Hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving. I was sick this Thanksgiving—I’m sick every Thanksgiving. Every time, my immune system goes on vacation and a virus comes in and throws a house party.  It’s like the best food of the entire year and I can’t taste anything. Don’t worry, I’m not bitter. Why would I be bitter? My mom said to me, “At least you didn’t feel terrible alone.”

I love Thanksgiving because this is one of the few days out of the year that we choose to sit around with our families with nothing on the agenda—bar eating. I think this is why, with Danielle’s family, we always play board games. In my family, you play board games only when there’s absolutely nothing else to do. It’s a last resort, a last ditch effort, for some kind of entertainment. When you can’t eat another turkey sandwich and the Detroit Lions are getting beat—then (and only then) you get out the board game. We’re so competitive and there’s been too many Monopoly boards that have been flipped over in a Boardwalk rage. Danielle’s family will make a game out of a piece of cardboard, a couple of action figures, and a dice. I give them a hard time, but it’s actually a nice thing; we put the screens away and look each other in the face for a few hours. We don’t often pass the time away with laughter nearly enough. Continue reading “Jesus: King”

Jesus: Priest

“So what should I call you?” That’s usually one of the first questions I’m asked when I start working with a new congregation. I get it—Ryan seems informal and there’s a whole host of titles that you could choose from. There’s ‘Pastor,’ but I haven’t yet earned enough respect or trust to be called your Pastor, which means shepherd. I look too young to be called “Father,” even though I did have one parishioner call me ‘Padre.’ He was neither Mexican nor Hispanic, but he had the deepest southern accent: “Paw-Dray.” Then, there’s Reverend. I programmed my iPhone to call me that, which means revered—holy, honorable (I’m not sure what that says about me). Most congregants decide that Preacher or Minister is the safest, and I’m wondering why people don’t just call me Ryan. I am glad that no one calls me, “Brother Ryan.” Doesn’t that sound so Baptist? The name that you give me says something about the work that you expect me to do: a preacher preaches, a minister serves, a reverend practices holiness, a pastor shepherds the flock. This is to say that I’ve noticed that there is one nomination that I’ve never been given: priest. It’s not in a Methodist’s vocabulary. Continue reading “Jesus: Priest”

Jesus: Prophet

Before my brother in-law got married we took him to a palm reader for a bachelor party rite of passage. I’m not advocating for this, but we needed to know the fate of his marriage. The groom was less than enthused, but he also realized that there were far worse places we could take him, so he obliged. We pushed him inside the house and left with the car so he had no option but to open up his palm and receive his fate. She predicted a happy marriage, twins—two girls. She nailed the marriage and the girls. So far, no twins. Would we call this a prophecy? Modern sensibility tells us that a prophet is a fortune teller—the woman sitting at a table in downtown Asheville with a crystal ball.

Many folks are shocked to learn that the Hebrew prophets weren’t fortune tellers. They don’t make many predictions about the future other than large, sweeping generalities.  Sure, there are Scriptures that predict a Messiah.  Isaiah tells us that child will walk among us and he will be prince of peace, mighty counselor. He later says that there will be a suffering servant. But most of these references are pulled out of context. No Jewish theologian would have sketched a portrait of a Messiah who shows up as a homeless Jew, born in a stable in Bethlehem, and grew up in backward Nazareth (nothing good comes from Nazareth). Continue reading “Jesus: Prophet”

Skeletons (Bones)

A favorite professor of mine challenged us to write our own every couple of years. Now, I realize that’s a bit dark, so I’ve never taken him up on his offer. Here’s how I’d love for it to read: Ryan Snider died at the ripe age of 115. He had been retired for seventy five years (optimistic, right?) and spent his time between his four houses, one for each season. He leaves behind 10 grandchildren and 25 great grandchildren. And also, 15 New York Times Best Selling books. That’s all fantasy. We never know when we’ll go, much less will we have control over what someone else will write about our lives. Continue reading “Skeletons (Bones)”